"The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

The origin of the blast was, surprisingly enough, from Tali herself. Her arm came up and an object left it, after which she ran for cover behind crates left in the alleyway. The explosive that went off didn't actually harm any of her would-be killers, but it contribute to the general chaos of the moment.

With the force within him guiding his aim, Robert's pistol came up and tracked the Turian closest to Tali. He fired off a shot, a bright blue spark of light that hit the Turian in the shoulder. Return fire from the others forced him to duck behind cover.

There was a surge of energy around them. A warped sense in the air… Robert felt it and knew it was biotic power being unleashed. Shepard's, to be precise. Wreathed in the purplish blue light of dark matter, Shepard shot forward and slammed into another of the mercs. Her shotgun swept over and blasted through the large helmet of a Salarian shooter. She slipped back into cover under the protective fire of Wrex and Kaidan, firing from cover themselves. Robert contributed with an aimed shot that grazed the leg of a Human assailant. This stopped said attacker long enough for Tali, wielding a Predator pistol, to squeeze off her own shot that brought him down.

At this point, only ten or so seconds of firefight had been waged, and the two sides were mismatched; despite their losses so far the mercs were pressing ahead with numbers. Grenades would be used, Robert sensed; they were devoted to fulfilling Saren's orders of killing Tali.

Unfortunately for them, those ten seconds had been more than enough time for Lucy to get into position.

She'd jumped over head to a catwalk along the upper reaches of the alley, allowing her to move further in while the gun battle kept the mercs' attention. Now she landed among them with a wave of power that knocked several of them over. Her lightsaber flashed to life, snap-hiss, a sapphire blur in the air. A limb flew and a scream from another Salarian filled the alley. Lucy turned, deflected a shot from another merc, and sent a wave of force into that shooter that sent him and a second one flying into the alley wall.

Lucy's arrival in their midst completely disrupted the mercs' attention. Alone, she had a chance of beating them before being overwhelmed. But she wasn't alone, and more than that, she had Shepard's help. Even without the same gifts Robert and Lucy shared, Shepard understood Lucy's tactic completely. She threw out a blast wave of biotic power that sent another pair of mercs flying, exploiting the distraction Lucy's maneuver created. Her shotgun barked once, twice, and both mercs were down.

Wrex charged in, shotgun blasting away, as if any return fire mattered nothing to him. Which, given the robust nature of Krogan physiology and Wrex's defenses, was inherently justifiable.

Given the nature of the battle Robert felt free to disengage. He went to Tali and knelt beside her. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, I am alright," she said in accented English. The twin points of light in her face mask seemed to focus on Robert. "Wait, I know you. You are the Captain of the Aurora."

"Former Captain," Robert corrected. "So… you're the Quarian we're looking for? You've got the evidence about Saren and the Geth?"

"I do," she confirmed. "Saren's agents have been trying to kill me for days over it."

"Well, we can protect you," he promised. The growing silence around them seemed sufficient proof off that. Shepard approached. "They're all down?"

"Every one of them." Shepard nodded at Tali. "I thought I recognized you. It's good to see you're alright. Do you still have the evidence?"

"I do. It's a recording I retrieved from a Geth scout."

"We'd better get this to Udina and Atama." Robert stood up. The fight was over; most of the mercs were dead or incapacitated. Lucy and Wrex were disarming the survivors while Kaidan approached them. "Are you okay with joining us at the Embassies?"

"They don't allow Quarians there, normally," Tali said. "I tried to approach, but they kept me out and threatened to call C-Sec."

Robert and Shepard exchanged frowns. All of this effort might have been avoided if not for the casual anti-Quarian bigotry of the Citadel. "They'll make an exception this time," Shepard promised. "You're with us now."

Meridina, Julia, and Captain Anderson were waiting with the ambassadors at Udina's office when Robert and the others arrived. "This had better be good," Udina growled. "Three shootouts in the Wards, all attributable to you two. The Council will have our balls in a sling if you don't have something to show for it."

Shepard nodded to Tali, who activated her omnitool. "I recovered this audio-file from a Geth memory core I found on the Galactic Rim." She hit a key and allowed audio to play.

"Finding the beacon on Eden Prime was a major victory," the recording began.

"That's Saren's voice!" Anderson proclaimed, prompting Tali to briefly pause the playback.

"There's more," Tali said. When she had silence, she resumed playing the file.

"The Systems Alliance defenders will never expect something like the Geth. And the loss of the beacon will be humiliating to them. It will buy us time to put together the other pieces we need to find the Conduit."

"And the ruins on Adrana?" The speaker sounded female. Robert thought he'd heard the voice before, and he sensed the same sentiment from Julia and Meridina. "We went to great lengths to discover the extent of the Dorei defenses."

"I am aware of your efforts, and I applaud them. The ruins on Adrana must be dealt with, yes. Any fragment of data left by the ancient Adranians might help our enemies. By attacking both worlds at once, we can ensure their reaction is divided and uncertain. And the attack on the Reich Fleet in S4W8 will provide the perfect opportunity." Saren went silent for a moment. "Finally, after all of these years, everything is falling into place. With the information in the beacon we will be able to find the Conduit."

"And with it, ensure the return of the Reapers."

Meridina visibly started at the term, and it did not go unnoticed. Udina barely seemed to notice, however, as he was more interested in the recording. "It is authentic? Saren will not be able to claim it a forgery?"

"The data is unmistakably Geth," Tali insisted. "Any analysis will show the data couldn't be faked."

"I'm quite sure the Council will put that to the test," Udina remarked. "But we'll make use of it regardless."

"What do they mean by Reapers?" asked Kaidan.

"Nothing," said Udina. "Perhaps a ruse of some sort for Saren to keep his control over them. Commander, Captain, thank you for retrieving this information. The Council will have to disavow Saren now, no matter what his original orders were. I'm going to present this evidence to the Council immediately. Ambassador Atama, as the evidence proves Saren plotted the attack on Adrana, would you like to join me?"

"I would," answered the Dorei. "This matter must be dealt with." He looked to Robert. "I will call when you are needed."

"I'll be waiting," he answered.

After the two diplomats left, Shepard looked at Meridina. "Meridina, that recording, what made you react to it?"

With all attention on her, Meridina answered. "I made contact with the intelligence inside the Adranian computers. The last surviving echo off that long-dead species has little in the way of memories, and almost all are of the extinction of her people. I saw the images of that terrible slaughter and the enemies that committed them."

"Going by the recording, Saren doesn't want us to learn anything about what happened," Robert noted.

"You say you saw visions of the Adranians being attacked." Shepard directed her attention at Meridina. "The beacon on Eden Prime showed me something like that. And Saren tried to destroy it by blowing up the colony after he left."

"You were given visions as well?"

"Images. But I can't make sense of them."

Meridina nodded. "I can link our minds together, Commander, if you are willing. There may be a deeper connection."

Shepard drew in a breath and nodded. "Alright. Whenever you're ready."

"Bring the visions to the surface of your thoughts. This will only take a moment…" Meridina stepped up to Shepard and focused her mind. She felt Shepard's thoughts. A resistance that was instinctive, but which gave way much as skin before a probing needle. Shepard's thoughts were ordered, disciplined. The thoughts of a tried soldier.

And then the images began. The Prothean beacon's imagery was not complete, perhaps due to Shepard's brain not having the means to understand their alien thoughts or languages. But nevertheless the images came, one by one, showing the killing, the slaughter. The machines showed no mercy, ripping and tearing the flesh of their enemies. Leaving butchered victims that numbered in the thousands… millions.

Meridina ended the connection. Shepard blinked and rubbed at her head. "Well?" she asked.

"There are similarities, yes," said Meridina. "I cannot be completely sure, but if I am correct, the Adranians and the Protheans encountered the same force of destruction. The aliens that the Adranians knew as Reapers."

"So the same force wiped out two species two hundred thousand years apart?" Robert asked.

"I believe so."

"That doesn't sound good," said Alenko. "What could this force be?"

"I don't know," Meridina admitted.

"But it's clear Saren is interested in them." Shepard shook her head. "For whatever reason. And whatever he's up to, it's a danger to all of us."

"Yes it is," Robert agreed. He felt a deep sense of foreboding at the subject. Not just foreboding… warning. Focusing on his powers didn't alleviate it either. If anything… it made those feelings worse.

He thought back to that sense he'd gotten, that feel of a constant stain of death in the Flow of Life.

"We should get to the Citadel Tower," said Julia, noticing Robert's look. "Udina and Atama may need us."

After their trip to Tayneri Ward, Cat, Vee, and Tra'dur returned to the Presidium. Cat took Violeta off to see if they could say hello to someone called the Consort, leaving Tra'dur to meet with Chorban. The Salarian slipped up beside her while Tra'dur was looking at the Krogan Memorial. "You've finished?" he asked.

"We have." Tra'dur tapped at her new, Stellar Navy-issued omnitool. This transferred the scans to Chorban. It was a complete transfer, leaving nothing on her system. She couldn't risk C-Sec finding the data and causing her, and her new crew, trouble. "What do you hope to accomplish?"

"By understanding the Keepers, we might be able to understand more about the Protheans. About what kind of society they had. Why they left the Keepers as they are. It may even tell us more about the Keepers themselves." The Salarian's eyes blinked in a way that seemed to reinforce his species' amphibian origins. "This kind of study work is centuries overdue. But there is always concern because the Keepers destroy themselves if analyzed too closely, so if we learned too much, all the Keepers might shut down. And without the Keepers, the Citadel might not function anywhere as well as it does. Another mystery about them that needs to be solved, and one I intend to solve. Your contribution will be noted, in name if you want."

Tra'dur leveled a look at him. "Why would I not want credit due to me?"

"It may make further trips to the Citadel difficult if our work with the Keepers is considered dangerous."

It was a reasonable point. That it conflicted with Tra'dur's burning desire to be published in the Multiverse, to be seen as a scientist, was beside the point. "I desire my due share of credit," she insisted.

"I'll note your contribution then, Lieutenant Tra'dur." Chorban noted something on his omnitool. "I took a few minutes to research your species."

"Oh?" Tra'dur wondered where he was going with this.

"I won't hold it against you, being a Dilgar. You clearly have evolved socially away from the behaviors you evinced in the wars against other species. And honestly, the Multiverse can use more non-Humans. Not that I am as suspicious of Humans as others of my species are. I simply want to avoid their numbers swamping us in the end."

"It is a reasonable worry," Tra'dur granted him. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Cat and Violeta approaching. "My friends are returning, so if you have nothing else to ask?"

"No. Good luck with your work, Lieutenant. Goodbye."

Tra'dur watched him walk away quietly. "So, was that…?" Cat's voice prompted her to turn and face the young science officer.

"Yes," she answered simply. She looked back up at the Krogan Memorial. "It is… strange to be here. To learn so much."

"In what way?" asked Violeta.

"I remember meeting those two Krogan on Tira, Wrex and Drack. I wasn't sure we could trust them at first, not until they proved themselves in the fight for the gate controls. If only I had known about their species' history, I might have known better." A dark look came to her face. When Cat and Violeta had no response to it, said look dissipated. A small smile settled. "I really must thank you for bringing me with you. This is an amazing place, truly."

To that Caterina nodded in agreement. "I'm glad you enjoyed it," she said.

"And there is still so much to learn about it. These Keepers, for instance. They run all of the critical systems, it seems, and with little regard for the rest of us. But why are they so secretive? Why do they not communicate? Are they truly mindless?" Tra'dur sighed a little. "Now I wish I had insisted Chorban let me keep the scan data. The chance to figure out what we're looking at with them…"

She let the sentence trail off at the look of bemusement on Cat's face. Cat quietly activated her omnitool and displayed a list of files. Scan results, to be precise. "I won't tell if you won't," she said, much to Violeta's amusement.

Tra'dur nodded. "You have my complete confidence, Caterina'Delgado," she answered.

Robert and the others stood toward the rear of the audience platform with Ambassador Atama, allowing Udina and Shepard to be the ones directly addressing the Council. There was clear aggravation on Sparatus' face as the evidence was shared and, more importantly, as their own experts verified the authenticity of the recording. "There you have it," said Udina, his voice betraying none of the feeling of smug satisfaction Robert sensed in him. "The proof you need."

"The evidence is clear," Tevos agreed. "Saren has betrayed us. He is responsible for the attacks and is conspiring against the Council."

"We are revoking his Spectre status and issuing an order for his arrest or destruction," Sparatus confirmed.

"And not just Saren." Robert stepped up to join Udina and Shepard. "The other voice on the recording, I recognize it."

"So do I." Robert could sense Tevos' bewilderment. "Matriarch Benezia. A powerful, respected leader among my people, with many followers. I don't know why she would throw in with Saren, but she's a formidable ally for him."

"I wonder about their mention of the Reapers, and the Conduit Saren speaks of," said Valern. "What is Saren's plan here? He is not one to embark on an operation without a clear idea of what he can accomplish."

"The recording speaks for itself," Shepard said. "He's looking to bring them back."

"Why, though?" Tevos asked.

"The Reapers are a race of machines that destroyed the Protheans fifty thousand years ago. And the Adranians two hundred thousand years before that," Shepard answered. "There's no telling how much power Saren might wield if he finds a way to activate them, or use their technology."

"Preposterous," Sparatus declared. "You seriously expect me to believe Saren is going to willingly bring back a race that has wiped out galactic civilization at least twice? What's in it for him? How could he expect to survive?"
Robert felt a voice in his head, in his memories. "We must serve if we are to survive." "Maybe he thinks he's saving the galaxy by helping them," he said. "If he thinks they're coming back anyway, by helping them he hopes to gain their favor."

"I wouldn't put too much stock in Saren's claims," Valern said. "The Reapers are a myth, a discredited theory on the fate of the Protheans. For Saren they're a means to control the Geth for whatever his true purpose is."

"No. They're real," Shepard insisted. "The beacon the Protheans left behind showed them, what they did."

"The Adranian computer intelligence we found also remembered the extermination of their species by machines," Robert added.

"An intelligence that your own reports indicate was incomplete and half-mad because of it," Sparatus retorted. "And we have no way of knowing what the Prothean beacon was made to show us. It might have been an entertainment fiction the Protheans left behind for all we know, much like your species' own apocalypse fantasies."

"Are you willing to risk being wrong?" Shepard asked. "We're talking about a threat to civilization, not just a single rogue Spectre. If Saren actually finds a way to bring the Reapers back, our entire galaxy, even the Multiverse itself, could be destroyed."

"Or he may be planning to use their technology for his own benefit," Meridina offered, sensing that Shepard's argument was not swaying them.

"Whatever Saren's purpose, his threat will be easily neutralized," Sparatus said. "He's been stripped of his Spectre status. He's a wanted man in Citadel space, deprived of all of his legitimate channels of supply, and on the run."

"That's not good enough!" Udina insisted. "You know he's hiding in the Traverse. Send in your fleet!"

"A fleet isn't the right tool to find one man," Tevos said.

"No, but it will keep the Geth from attacking any more of our colonies!"

"Sending a fleet into the Traverse could spark full-scale interstellar war with the Terminus Systems," Valern retorted. "With the war against the Reich drawing away portions of our fleets, we cannot afford to provoke the Terminus states into launching another one."

Udina looked ready to protest. Atama stepped up and shook his head. "They have a point, Ambassador," he remarked. "And while the Allied Systems would also welcome increased Citadel fleet presence to assist against the Geth, we recognize it as a political impossibility in the current environment."

"And are you willing to let Saren's Geth kill more of your people, Ambassador Atama?" Udina asked harshly. "Because that is what is going to happen, Reapers or no Reapers."

"Send me in."

All eyes turned to Shepard.

"I can take down Saren," Shepard explained. "I'm an N7 of the Systems Alliance Marines, Saren is the kind of threat I've been training my entire career to face. Give me the support and resources of the Council and I can hunt him down in the Traverse without causing a war."

"I know what you're aiming for, Shepard, and it's too early!" There was an urgency in Sparatus' voice. "Your species isn't ready!"

"It is an elegant solution," Tevos pointed out.

"Exactly. It gets the Ambassador his Human Spectre and lets the Council show it's taking charge in dealing with Saren without causing a war," Shepard said.

"Indeed." Valern nodded. "I call for a vote."

Sparatus glared at his colleagues, but there was no dissuading Valern and Telos. Wordlessly she tapped at her control board, after which the others did as well. "Commander Shepard, please step forward."

For a moment Shepard turned to Anderson, her commander, her mentor. A very slight smile formed on the older man's face as he nodded at her. Shepard stepped forward, Udina moving away to give her space. And as she did so, Robert sensed the energy in the chamber. More and more people were coming over to observe the proceedings, called over by the initial observers as it was realized what the Council was debating doing… what it was about to do.

"Commander Jennifer Shepard, it is the decision of the Council that you be invested with the powers and responsibilities of the Spectres," Councillor Tevos declared.

The crowd was now watching with rapt attention.

"Spectres are not trained, they are chosen…"

As Valern and the other Councillors expounded upon what being a Spectre meant, and what they represented to the galaxy, Robert and the others watched quietly. This was history in the making, every bit as important as the history they had already made themselves. Commander Shepard would be the first of M4P2 Humanity to stand as a defender of the Citadel and the interstellar peace it embodied. Given how brief her branch of Humanity's time in space was, it was a meteoric rise. There was danger in it, the danger of other races concerned with what it meant for Humanity's increase in influence, coupled as it was with the knowledge that Humanity was indeed the most common species of the Multiverse. Shepard would face scrutiny beyond what any Spectre had ever known before. Her decisions would be argued, debated, and used against her, and many would be eagerly awaiting the first inkling of unworthiness for her position.

As far as Robert was concerned, they would wait in vain. He'd had the opportunity to work with Shepard and to fight at her side. He knew full well that her training of his crew, and her leadership and skill in the Facility at Gamma Piratus, had been crucial to defeating the SS there. As far as he was concerned, this was long overdue.

When the Council was finished and adjourned, everyone gathered to congratulate the newest Spectre. "I'm proud of you," Anderson assured her.

"Thank you sir."

"Anderson." Udina gestured away from the platform. "We have matters to discuss. The Commander's mission, in particular."

"Of course. Captain, everyone…"

After they stepped away, with Atama as well, Julia beat Robert in extending her hand, which Shepard took. "You'll do great," Julia said.

"Thank you for the vote of confidence."

"I wonder what they'll do for assigning you a ship," Robert wondered aloud. "I chose the Aurora as my base of operations, but I'm still waiting for the personal ship when I'm on missions away from her."

"We'll need something to chase Saren." The remark was from Sergeant Williams. She and Kaidan saluted to Shepard. "And congratulations, ma'am. Please tell me you're bringing me along. I want to make sure my comrades in the 2-1-2 are heard from when we take that son of a bitch down."

"You'll be there, Williams. And you, Alenko. I'm just not sure where yet."

"Udina's arranging something, I'm sure," Robert said. "In the meantime, I have a report to file with Maran. Let me know what you find out?"

"Of course," Shepard answered.

Robert and Julia sat quietly in her ready office until the signal came from the bridge. With a press of a key Admiral Maran appeared on the display of her office comp. "Captains, I've gone over your report on the situation." Maran's expression was somber. "My congratulations on your success in proving Saren's duplicity. Even without Council support he is a severe threat. If he still had that support as a Spectre, moving against him would have precipitated a political crisis between the Alliance and the Citadel Council."

"Will you be sending me to go after him?" Robert asked.

"That was our thought. Actually, given the situation, President Morgan wants the Aurora herself participating in the hunt for Saren."

"We're high profile," Julia noted. "It'll be hard to go unnoticed."

"Agreed. Which is why you will be cooperating with Commander Shepard. I've already spoken to Admiral Hackett on the matter."

"So she's getting a ship?" Robert asked.

"That's being arranged right now. I leave it to you to decide on the best way to cooperate on the matter of finding Saren and stopping whatever he's planning."

"We'll need leads," Julia said. "Even counting for everything being on the relay network, the Traverse is an enormous section of space. There are literally hundreds of planets, moons, or stations that he could be hiding on."

"You don't know the half of it, Captain," Maran said. "General Hatcher's report on Saren Arterius has been eye-opening. With his Spectre status to back him, Saren has amassed a literal fortune to finance his operations. He owns, in way or another, several corporations, including Binary Helix, a research corporation chartered on Noveria."

"Noveria? I've heard of that world." Robert frowned. "There are a lot of reports of unethical experimentation by the corporations there."

"Yes. It is going to take some time to see into Binary Helix's operations there. Among other reports of holdings belonging to Saren, safehouses and redoubts… Intelligence is devoting as many resources as it can manage to the effort, but it may take time to get you information you can use. And we know that Matriarch Benezia has a daughter, named Liara T'Soni, who is a xenoarchaeologist who specializes in the Protheans. There may be a link there as well."

"We'll look into it," Robert said. "Anything else, sir?"

"Not at the moment. Good hunting, Captains. I'm leaving this investigation with you two." Maran reached forward and tapped a control, disappearing from their screen.

"Well, it looks like you're getting thrown in the deep end for your first official mission as a Paladin," Julia remarked. She grinned slightly. "It's only fair, given what my first mission was like."

"At least diplomacy was a possibility for you," Robert retorted. He was grinning regardless. "We should have Jarod get Conference Room 1 ready, I guess. I'll invite Shepard and her team over." He was answered with a nod.

The command crews of the Koenig and Aurora took up some of the seats in the Conference room. Several more were taken up by Commander Shepard and her current team. Sergeant Williams and Lieutenant Alenko had been expected; that they were joined by Wrex, Garrus, and Tali was less-expected. Three more officers joined Shepard: Lieutenant Pressley, Navigator on the Normandy, the Normandy's medical officer Doctor Chakwas, and Engineer Adams.

"I've been given command of the Normandy for this mission," Shepard explained. "Udina intervened with Admiral Hackett directly, and he agreed."

"Congratulations," Julia said. "Welcome to the club."

Shepard smiled slightly at that, but the look on her face wasn't amused. "It feels wrong," she confessed. "This was supposed to be Captain Anderson's ship. Now they're assigning him to Udina until another command is opened up."

"You will do him proud, I think," Meridina offered, feeling Shepard's mixed feelings, specifically her pain and the sense she had helped betray her mentor. "Do not doubt that."

Shepard nodded once in gratitude.

"So… where do we begin?" Tali asked. "We're supposed to find Saren, but it's such a big galaxy."

"We've been given some intel on Saren's movements and Geth sightings," Pressley offered. He gave an uncomfortable look toward Tali. Robert sensed he was not happy with her presence, nor those of the other aliens in Shepard's team. "I'll have courses ready for us as soon as we figure out which targets we're going for."

"There's also Matriarch Benezia's daughter, Doctor T'Soni," Shepard pointed out. "I hear she's an expert on the Protheans. If Saren's after more beacons, she may be helping him, intentionally or otherwise."

"Or she may be a target," Garrus pointed out. "Either way, I think finding Doctor T'Soni should be our priority."

"We're still waiting to hear from her academic contacts on possible sites she's working on," Jarod reported. With a tap of a key he brought up known dig sites. Many were on the fringe of the galaxy. And some were dangerously close to either Terminus space, or the Batarian-controlled clusters. "It's a lot of space to cover."

"Since so much of it is close to Batarian space, we might need power more than stealth," Julia said. "We can direct our efforts into finding Doctor T'Soni. And the Aurora has the scientific equipment to examine any Prothean finds she may have uncovered."

"Then we'll focus on the Geth sightings," Shepard said. "And I already have a list of Saren's known supply dumps in the Traverse, we'll hit those while we're out there."

"And what if we run into more Geth ships than we can handle?" Ashley asked.

Robert turned his head toward Julia. "Why don't we have the Koenig on patrol with us?" he asked. "Have Za-" He caught himself. "...have Atreiad move back and forth between the Aurora and Normandy to support whichever ship needs it."

"A good idea," Julia agreed. "Consider it done."

"We'll be ready to launch whenever you give the order," said Will.

"Are there any other matters to consider?"

For a moment nobody replied to Shepard, since the matter seemed to be decided. Meridina was the first to notice Robert was deep in thought. "Captain Dale?" she asked.

"Just having a thought," he said. Seeing attention his way, he directed his eyes toward Shepard. "I was thinking that to make sure we keep in communication on the investigation, having someone on the Normandy who can access Alliance communications and intelligence is going to be vital. So if it's okay with you, Shepard, I'd like to join you on the Normandy."

Those on the Aurora crew looked toward him with surprise.

Shepard, for her part, nodded. "We'll be glad to have you. Report to Dock 33 and I'll have you assigned a bunk and work space."

"I'll get my things as soon as we finish." Robert glanced toward Julia. "Is there anything else?"

"No," she answered, her tone reserved, very reserved. With a look that was both thoughtful and, he thought, more than a little hurt, she nodded. "We're done here. Everyone, you're dismissed. I want all crew recalled from liberty and the ship ready for departure within the hour."

The orders given, everyone departed the conference room.


Robert felt Julia's approach nearly a minute before she was pressing the door chime on his quarters. He looked up from the duffel bag full of belongings he was bringing with him and said, "Come in."

She walked into the door and faced him. "You never said you were planning this," she remarked, almost accusingly. "That you intended to go with Shepard."

"I wasn't sure I was going to do it, not until the meeting," Robert confided. "I…" He looked at her stony expression and sighed. "I guess I didn't want to leave."

"Did you? Or is this because you're having trouble fitting back in with the Aurora?"

There was a subtle accusation in the voice, and some pain. Robert closed his eyes and lowered his head for a minute. "You know, the whole time I was in Umintamil, I kept trying to think of ways I could come back to the Aurora. The only reason I didn't try when I finally left was because I hadn't figured out how I could justify living on the ship. Now… now I realized how short-sighted and selfish I was."

"It wasn't selfish," Julia chided him. "You missed us. It's why I can't understand why you want to leave again…"

"It was short-sighted to not think about how it might affect you, Julie," Robert pointed out. "To have me around, trying to get involved in things… I mean, that was always going to cause problems unless I did it right. And I haven't been. I should be following your lead, not trying to take it."

"As much as you hate to admit it, Rob, you find it pretty easy to take charge sometimes," Julia reminded him. "So it was no surprise you did it here."

"But I shouldn't have. And that's where I made my mistake."

"And this is what… apology for it? You messed up your big return so you're just going to leave again?" There was a raw hurt in Julia's voice that surprised her, a pain in her heart that she hadn't expected. "Did you ever think that whatever the problems we've had getting you fitted in here, this is where you belong? With us? With the people you love?" She took his hand and looked deeply into his green eyes. "With me, Robby?"

He responded with a smile and the shake of his head. "I don't doubt I belong here. I… maybe I'm just overthinking it. And this isn't a goodbye, Julie. This is just me doing what we have to in order to stop Saren. I… I can sense that I need to be working with Shepard on this one. Just for this mission. I'm not trying to avoid the problems of moving in. As soon as we've dealt with Saren, I'm coming back to the Aurora. This ship is my home, and I don't want to be gone long."

The passion and heat in his voice did its magic. Julia didn't doubt his intention. "Promise me you're coming back?"

He grinned and nodded. "I'm coming back."

And with that, they hugged.

The Aurora beamed him back to the Citadel. Lifts brought him to the dock in question, not far from the C-Sec office where he and Lucy met Wrex. The Normandy was waiting in her berth, held to it by circular magnetic clamps attached to what looked like wings or nacelles.

The Normandy was small, in the same size category as the Koenig, shaped almost like a 20th Century passenger jet aircraft with her long body and stabilizer fins. She looked like she was atmospheric, in fact. White was the primary hull color, with black along the side of the body and wings and thinners strip of red. The designation SR-1 on the wing was joined with the name written in white on the main black strip: NORMANDY in block letters.

Anderson and Shepard were waiting for him, Anderson in his formal uniform and Shepard in the blue duty uniform of the Systems Alliance. Robert had opted to stay out of uniform this time; he was in his blue-colored Gersallian armor and a set of brown Gersallian field robes. "Captain, Commander." He walked up to them. "Seeing us off?"

"Yes." Anderson nodded. "She's got a good crew, Shepard. They'll treat you well."

"I'm sorry it had to be this way."

"Don't be. This is your mission, your time, not mine," Anderson insisted. "I don't have any regrets."

"They'll find you another ship, right?" Robert asked.

"In time, perhaps. But the truth is…" Anderson shook his head. "The damn truth is, I've been doing this for too long. Normandy was probably going to be my final command as it was, and I'd either make admiral or find myself ashore. Well, the former isn't so likely now. But don't mind that." He faced Shepard again. "This is the mission you were born for, Commander. Go out there and make us proud."

"Yes sir," Shepard said. Her voice wavered slightly from emotion. Anderson was passing her the torch, and she recognized how much that meant.

He stepped away at that point, leaving Shepard with Robert. "Ready?" he asked.

Despite her feelings, there was no hesitation in her voice. "Yes."

"Permission to come aboard, Commander?"

"Granted." Shepard smiled and nodded. "Follow me."

They stepped into the Normandy through the dock. They had to wait for a decontamination system to run its course before the airlock green-lit their entry. The ship's operating VI acknowledged their arrival. "Commander Shepard is aboard. XO Pressly is relieved."

"You've never had to put up with that," Shepard remarked. "This way." She turned to her left, leading Robert into what was more of a cockpit than a control bridge. Alenko was seated in a side station beside the central one, where another figure was. Said occupant turned, revealing a Caucasian Human with a beard, in Systems Alliance duty blue with a baseball cap reading "SR-1". "Captain Robert Dale, this is Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau, one of the best pilots in the Systems Alliance. We all call him Joker."

"Joker, then?" Robert nodded and offered a hand. "Pleased to meet you."

"I'll pass on the handshake," Joker said. "I've got Vrolik's Syndrome, brittle bone disease. I'd rather not have the broken hand. Had that happen from a handshake once and let me tell you, it's no fun at all."

Robert answered with a single nod and a reply. "I'd say not."

With the introduction finished, Shepard got down to business. "Joker, it's time to go. Get our final launch clearance."

"Aye Commander." Joker turned in his seat and began the procedure.

"All stations reporting in," said Alenko. "Everything is good to go."

"And the team?"

"Aboard and assigned to bunks." Alenko eyed Robert. "They don't use the same sleeping bunks in your Alliance, do they?"

"Not on the ships I've worked on," Robert admitted. "But I know what you're talking about. I'll be fine. Not much different from the sleeping bags when my Grandpa Robert and Uncle Jim would take us camping in the White Mountains."

"I thought you were from Kansas?" asked Shepard.

"Yeah, but my Mom's family is from Massachusetts," Robert replied. "We visited in the summer while I was growing up."

"We have final launch clearance," Joker said. "Ready to go."

"Take us out," Shepard ordered. "We're heading to the Traverse. We'll start our search in the Hades Gamma Cluster."

"Right. Docking clamps releasing…"

On the screen the Citadel dock receded. Robert felt a thrum through the deck as the Normandy pulled out of the berth and turned to face the open space between the Citadel arms. They flew past the Destiny Ascension and toward the Aurora, already on her way to the Relay as well. He watched the ship, his home, grow large and then fall to the side.

It wasn't goodbye, not for good. He'd be back to her. Just as he promised.

The Aurora command crew were at their bridge stations watching the holo-viewer as the Normandy approached the Relay. The massive structure was lit up blue, a circle around its eezo core spinning about from the energies contained in the device. As the Normandy came up beside the core energy in the form of lightning crackled, connecting the core to the Normandy. A corridor of massless space opened up and the Normandy shot through it.

"I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of seeing that," Caterina confessed from the science station.

"It's certainly an interesting sight," Locarno agreed. He looked back at the others. "Do we have a final destination in mind?"

"There are a number of potential Prothean sites along the outer arm and the border space of the Traverse," Jarod noted. "I'm still waiting to hear from Asari authorities on where Dr. T'Soni reported she would be digging, but going by her prior reports and works, the Maroon Sea and Artemis Tau are our best choices."

"Then we'll start with the first cluster we can reach by relay and work out from there," Julia replied. "Mister Locarno, chart us a course through the relay system."

"Aye Captain."

"This will be quite the difficult mission," Meridina noted. "Saren Arterius is a skilled agent, and the Geth are a foe unlike any we have faced before."

"True." Julia nodded. Her expression hardened into a determined look. "But he's a threat to this galaxy, probably to the entire Multiverse. We have to stop him, and we're going to." She nodded at Locarno. "Helm, take us out, best speed."

"Aye aye, ma'am," Locarno answered, directing to the Aurora toward the Widow Mass Relay.

The video played again at the touch of a key. In the darkness of his command room, Saren Arterius watched the Council declare him a renegade. He watched as they yet again yielded to the impertinence of the Humans. As they elevated a Human to the same status they had just stripped from him.

Fools. They had no idea what was coming.

For all he had done for them, all he was yet doing to save the galaxy, that he was to be repaid like this, to be condemned to be hunted down like a varren by the Humans of this universe and the others… it was too much. Saren let out a shout of rage and slammed his hand on the controls hard enough to smash them. The image blinked out.

"Our agents on the Citadel have confirmed that Shepard has departed," said Matriarch Benezia, in a calm, level tone. As if she had not just been denounced herself. "It will be difficult to track the Normandy due to its stealth systems. However, the Aurora will be far easier to locate. Shall we order the Geth to pursue and destroy her?"

Saren was ready to say yes. He remembered the last failed attempt to eliminate the Alliance vessel. If they were assigned to the hunt, so much the better. Get rid of the Aurora and he could focus on Shepard…


The voice sounded in Saren's brain more than anything, a droning replete with ancient power. The voice of Sovereign, his ship, the vanguard of the Reapers and their invasion of the galaxy.

"While the removal of the Darglan vessel at an early stage would have been a benefit, now it is of little consequence," Sovereign stated. "The Geth are better employed to finishing the work necessary to locate the Conduit. Nothing must interfere with that task, not even an attack upon our enemies."

"If we do not stop them first, they will interfere," Saren pointed out. "We should attack first. Draw Shepard out and destroy her and all of her allies, keep them from-..."

Before he could finish, Sovereign's voice thundered once more. "You will do as I instruct, Saren, if you wish your species to survive the coming cycle!"

Saren silenced himself. That was, indeed, the entire point of his actions. The Turians, the Citadel Council they upheld… he had to save them. He had to prove they could serve!

"Let Shepard and the inheritors of the Darglan do as they please, it matters nothing," Sovereign continued. "They are too late to stop you from locating the Conduit, Saren. Concentrate upon that task and that task alone. Once the cycle begins, you will not regret proving your worth."

"Yes, Sovereign," Saren answered quietly. "It will be as you have said. The Conduit will be ours. The door will be opened. The cycle…" For a moment, just a moment, Saren stopped himself, as if he couldn't quite finish what he was thinking. But the thought finally, inevitably came. "...the cycle will be fulfilled."

"And your species spared, as no others shall be, so long as you serve," Sovereign finished for him, even as it continued its quiet course through the stars.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »


Personal Log: Robert Dale; 8 June 2643 AST. We're in our fourth week in the search for the rogue Spectre Saren Arterius. So far, our leads have all turned up empty. As things stand, we may have to wait until he makes a move, as much as I hate giving him any initiative. Maybe we or the others will get lucky and find something relevant before he strikes again.

Robert looked up from his digital pad and considered his surroundings. The lighting on the Normandy seemed dull compared to the Aurora. The low lighting made the walls navy blue in color. The surface of the floor was metallic hull plate, no carpeting or padding, so the blue meditation pad that Mastrash Kilaba had gifted him when he left Umintamil was kept rolled up along the wall. He would meditate later, but right now he wanted to continue his log.

Adjusting to life on the Normandy is a continuing process for me. It's a small ship, with a lot of space reserved for the ship's operating machinery. Doctor Chakwas continues to let me have access to her lab storage unit for personal space and meditation. I find the privacy necessary for the process.

Over the last month I've spent whatever available time I've found between missions to get to know some of the others on the team and crew. Due to my use of her lab, I have often conversed with Doctor Chakwas, for whom the
Normandy is just the latest in a long series of postings in the Systems Alliance Navy. Her only time in a planetside posting these past few years was at New Brittany in S4W8 after its first liberation. Her stories of her experiences there match up with those Leo shared.

Robert stopped for a moment. New Brittany, and the Retzoff concentration camp the Nazi SS had run near the planetary capital, was a particularly dark memory from his time as Aurora's captain. After several moments of considering that, he continued.

The ship's main helmsman, Joker, is a wit for certain, and he reminds me of Tom at times. I have to admit I did get tired of his mockery over my need to meditation. Not that I have to put up with it anymore. I seem to have convinced him that I am something of a living reactor and will explode if I don't meditate regularly, and since then I have not heard one mocking 'Ommmmm' from him.

The rest of the team are an interesting set of individuals. Garrus Vakarian, the C-Sec officer, talks at length about his father's distrust of the Spectres. Garrus himself seems more frustrated with his father's attitude and the bureaucratic nature of C-Sec. Looking back, Garrus would have been quite a good fit into the Facility crews back in the day. His complaints sound little different than the ones I've heard from Angel and Tom about how things have changed since we founded the Alliance.

I have to say I'm still a little surprised Shepard let Urdnot Wrex join the crew. His execution of Fist was uncalled for, contracts be damned. He's obviously a good fighter and a strong biotic, so he's certainly got a role on the team, but the way he shot Fist… and yet Lucy still seemed to be understanding of him last time I spoke to her. I know his switching sides at Tira was instrumental to preventing the genocide of the Dilgar, and maybe I'm being too harsh to him… I may have to meditate on this. As strange as it feels to replace "think" with "meditate", which demonstrates how my life has changed over the last couple of years.

At that moment Robert decided he didn't want to dwell on Wrex any longer. When it came down to it, this was Shepard's ship. Shepard's team. He was here by her invitation and that meant he was obligated to show trust in her decisions. Given his prior experiences with Commander Shepard, training with her, fighting side-by-side on Gamma Piratus… she deserved that faith. He continued on.

Tali'Zorah nar Rayya is another familiar face. So to speak. Tom sang her praises after that affair with the Batarian attack on the Aurora and I can see why. Engineer Adams seems ready to induct her into the engineering staff officially. His reaction is a bit of an outlier, unfortunately. Some of the Normandy crew seem to be unhappy with her presence, or her constant presence in the engine room. I overheard Pressly complaining to Shepard that she was a 'security risk'. The Normandy is a state-of-the-art stealth frigate for the Systems Alliance Navy and he felt letting Tali, or any of the aliens, have easy access to her workings was inappropriate. Shepard didn't dress him down like I thought she might, but I have to say she's very good at dealing with her crew's disagreements with her decisions without caving in to them. If I must be honest, Shepard, like Julia, is better suited for starship command than I was.

Robert stopped at the moment and thought about what he'd just recorded. Almost two years ago, Jean-Luc Picard - himself an experienced starship captain - told Robert he considered Robert a promising captain. Was Picard wrong to think that way? Was he mistaken? Or was it a case that Robert had the capability to be one, if he actually devoted himself to it? He remembered when Maran asked him to command a ship in the new Alliance fleet with much the same argument; that he was a promising commander, and the Alliance could use him. Maybe it just comes down to my choice taking me away from that path, Robert thought to himself. As that thought crossed his mind, his memory recalled another voice, that of the Doctor's TARDIS. If you do this, your life will end.

Before Robert could continue those thoughts, or his log, a tone came over the ship P.A. "This is Commander Shepard. All team members, report to the conference room immediately."

Robert locked his digital reader and set it aside. It was time to see if they'd found any more traces of Saren.

The uppermost deck of the Normandy was taken up by various control stations, with the cockpit far to the front at the ship's bow and the Captain's station at the rear, just in front of a division wall bearing the ship's name. To either side were the doorways leading to the stairs down to the second deck, where the living spaces and infirmary were located, while behind the division wall was the door to the conference room.

Said conference room was now occupied by Commander Shepard and the team she assembled. The aliens Robert had been mentioning in his log were already on hand, as were those team members he'd yet to comment on: technical specialist and biotic Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko and Marine infantrywoman Gunnery Sergeant Ashley Williams, sole survivor of the Geth massacre of her unit on Eden Prime.

"We've still got nothing on Saren sightings for the last six days," Shepard said upon their assembly. "And nothing from the Geth cores we've recovered in our last operations."

"It looks like the Geth may have figured out how I recovered the recording of Saren from the last core," Tali elaborated. "I can't get recoverable data from them anymore."

"We could transmit it back to the Aurora," Robert offered. "Jarod and Cat might be able to find something."

Shepard nodded. "I'll have Tali send all recovered data to you. Now, we do have one item of possible interest to consider. There's been increased activity at the Binary Helix labs on Noveria. The Citadel Council's had forensic accountants going over the company's books. Saren and Benezia have been funneling a lot of credits into the labs, enough to show they've got a major project of some sort that we know nothing of. Given the timing of the payments, though, we can be sure it involves their hunt for the Conduit."

"Getting Noveria's authorities to let us into that lab won't be easy," Garrus pointed out. "They're big on privacy there."

"Still, they're not completely independent," Robert said. "If they thought they were facing a direct Alliance and Citadel investigation into their businesses they might decide cooperation is safer for their other clients. Especially with Saren tied to Binary Helix, and through Helix to them."

"If we have nothing else to consider, Noveria sounds like our best bet," Shepard said. "Anyone have anything to add?" When there was no answer she stood from her chair. "Then I'll go let Joker know about our new destination. We'll meet again when we arrive at Noveria. You're all dismissed."

Undiscovered Frontier
"A Race Through Ruin"

After the meeting Robert went down to the armory. While the gear was almost entirely M4P2-made mass effect weapons and gear, he'd set aside a section for his personal armor, a set of Gersallian combat robes in brown color, and a rack of standard model pulse pistols.

He sat on the bench and began checking his weapons. Since they were directed energy firearms, there was no need to be concerned with the kind of problems a chemical-propellant firearm, or even a mass effect one, might have. But these weapons had their own maintenance needs. Capacitors had to be checked to ensure they could hold the necessary charges, the firing chamber had to be calibrated, the charge clip loading area checked for any buildups of dust or material that could impede transferring the charges to the gun proper.

Robert was halfway through the check procedure on the second gun when he noticed he wasn't alone. The next bench over was occupied by Ashley. She was in the middle of disassembling the M7 Lancer assault rifle in her personal kit. The weapon had its own unique look with the slope formed in the gun's body above the barrel, giving it a curved, circular look.

For a moment it looked like Ashley hadn't even noticed Robert. It was only after he returned to work that she asked, "Why the robes?"

Robert looked up. She was looking his way now. "They were a gift," he said. "From Mastrash Kilaba, the abbess of the Umintamil monastery on Gersal. It was her way of congratulating me for finally gaining enough mastery over my augmented swevyra powers that I could go back out into the Multiverse safely."


"My pronunciation of it sucks, even now," Robert mumbled. He cleared his throat. "The word has no proper translation into English, or German, or any other Human language I'm familiar with. It roughly translates as 'life force energy connected to all things'."

"Sounds like a bunch of alien mysticism."

There was something dismissive in her tone. Robert, for the moment, ignored it. "It can. But I've felt the truth in it. Some truth, anyway. There is an… energy, a force if you will, connecting all living things. Binding us together in a great flow of Life. It's what the Gersallians call it, actually. The Flow of Life. They just don't understand everything about it. I spent my time debating with them if the Flow itself had a guiding thought to it, an intelligence or being you might say."

"God," Ashley said. "That's what it sounds like you're talking about."

Robert nodded once. "It could be the Almighty, I guess. He, or it, or whatever… it spoke to me. In the form and voice of my grandfather. The force shielded my mind from the effects of the Time Vortex, it saved my life."

"That's…" For a moment Ashley seemed at a loss for words. Robert sensed her incredulity. "I've heard a lot about these aliens wielding powers. I'm a little frightened by it, actually. They have enough advantages over Humanity. But if you… are you sure what it was?"

"I'm not sure of the specifics, no," Robert replied. "It was a presence in the Flow of Life, a guiding Force, but it never gave me a name. Just a sense of its existence, and that there was far more to this than I or even the oldest Gersallian masters understand."

"That sounds like what God should be." A distant look came to her eye. "Greater than anything we can think of."

Robert nodded in agreement. He didn't feel it necessary to say anything. But he did have a question. "You said you were worried about aliens having these abilities. I get the feeling you're not happy with having non-Humans aboard."

"Well, Tali's not a concern. The Quarians aren't a threat to Humanity. I'd almost say they're a warning of what can happen to us if we rely on the Council too much." Ashley glanced over to where Garrus was leaning against the ship's ATV, an M-35 Mako vehicle. "But the Turians? And that Krogan? I don't like the idea that they get to move freely around the most advanced ship in the Systems Alliance. They can learn things that might hurt us."

Robert considered Ashley for a moment. He'd been around bigots before. He could remember the toxic nature of blind hate and fear. He remembered the taint of it on Admiral Davies and his aide. But he didn't sense that here, at least nowhere near to that level that disgusted him still. There was perhaps a level of fear, of worry anyway, and firm pride, but no hate.

And yet… and yet he still got a whiff of it, of the mistrust and paranoia he'd felt in Davies. This was a woman who, with the wrong stimulus, could become just as bad.

"I know I can't speak for the experiences of Mankind in this universe," he said, "but I've seen other universes that confirm for me that relations between Humans and other species doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. The Alliance has four species as full members right now."

"But aren't the aliens a minority?"

"There's no majority in the Alliance, actually," Robert said. "In individual states, yes, because the Gersallians, Dorei, and Alakins each have a unified government. But population-wise, Humanity only has a plurality of the Alliance population. So the Alliance is a truly multi-species…"

Robert was interrupted by the sudden sound of the ship's klaxon. Someone, likely Shepard, had the Normandy going on combat alert. Without a pause Ashley began putting her rifle back together. Robert set the pistol he'd been working on back on the work table, to finish later, before activating his omnitool. He tapped the blue light controls of the holographic light over his left forearm and brought up communications. "Dale to Shepard. Is everything okay?"

"We just picked up a distress signal from the colony on Feros," said Shepard. "They're being attacked by Geth. We're on our way to give whatever help we can."

"Right. Dale out." Without wasting a moment, Robert worked to get the pistol back in working order. The Normandy might be needing it soon enough.

The Normandy's arrival in the Theseus system went unnoticed on any sensors there. "Heat sinks are still showing green," said Joker. "Looks like they're clueless that we've shown up."

"What do we have, Kaidan?" Shepard asked.

"There aren't any Geth ships in orbit that I can see. The colony's automated distress signal is still transmitting."

"Take us in," Shepard instructed. She turned to Robert and nodded once.

He returned it. Together they left the cockpit area, headed for the armory.

The Normandy descended through the atmosphere, Theseus illuminating the sight of the many old Prothean skyscrapers that dotted the planet. The ship approached one of these in particular, where berths for ships had been built - or re-purposed? - to support the Feros colony.

An automated signal controlled by the ship triggered the docking system to grip the Normandy. An airlock swiveled into place to connect to Normandy's primary upper airlock on the command deck. When the door opened Shepard stepped out, in full combat gear. Ashley Williams and Garrus followed her, Robert and Tali behind them, and Wrex and Kaidan in the rear.

The attack began the moment they stepped from the walkway to the airlock onto the area around the dock. Robert was familiar with the humanoid-form Geth platforms that acted as their main troops. Their weapons fired specialized rounds that converted to plasma. The weapons fire sent everyone to cover.

But just for a moment. While Ashley and Garrus provided cover fire with their assault rifles, Shepard stood up and advanced in a blast of biotic energy. The impact disabled one of the Geth platforms. Her shotgun blasted through another, sending fluid and debris flying from the impact point.

Robert noticed another Geth, further down, taking aim. He reached out through the Flow of Life, willing the weapon of the Geth platform to rise. The Geth's shots missed Shepard completely. Her return fire, in turn, shattered the Geth's head, shattering the flashlight-like viewing aperture.

"Wrex, Kaidan, you're on guard duty," Shepard ordered. "Nothing enters the Normandy without my say-so."

"Roger that," Kaidan answered. Wrex affirmed the order with a grunt.

"Alright everyone, let's clear a path." With that order, Shepard continued on, shotgun raised and ready. The others followed with weapons similarly readied.

The resulting firefights with the Geth were short, violent affairs, each laden with danger. One shot nearly went through Tali's personal shield in a way to ensure a likely-fatal suit puncture. Another brought Garrus' kinetic barrier to collapse. Robert himself endured several close calls, even with the foresight provided by his abilities.

One by one, the units of Geth fell to their gunfire, aided by Shepard and Robert using their respective talents.

They approached the entrance to the colony… and promptly took cover from the fire of the residents. Once the shooting stopped Shepard shouted, "This is Commander Shepard, Systems Alliance Navy! Hold your fire! We're here to help!"

A woman's voice cried, "Come out where we can see you!"

Shepard immediately rose from cover, her weapon lowered, and stepped out into the sunlight. "Well?" Shepard asked expectantly.

From his place in cover, Robert sensed relief in the armed woman. Relief and… fear? There was a nebulous feeling of fear around him, fear and despair.

"I'm Greta Reynolds," the woman said. She lowered her assault rifle. "I'm sorry for shooting at you, but the Geth have been attacking us ever since they overran ExoGeni's HQ. We're all a little fast on the trigger."

"No harm done," Shepard said.

By this point the others emerged from cover. "We're here to investigate the Geth attack," Shepard explained. "Is there a way to get to ExoGeni's headquarters?"

"The skyway should still be intact, but it's filled with Geth," Reynolds replied. "But before you go… would you mind helping us? Our power systems are almost drained, we're low on food, and our water supply's been shut down. We can't hold out much longer."

Shepard looked back to the others. "The longer we stay here, the more time the Geth have to finish whatever they're doing and leave," Garrus pointed out.

"Still, we can't just leave them without helping," Tali countered.

"I agree." Ashley nodded. "It's not going to do us any good to get to the HQ if the Geth overrun our fallback position here."

Shepard looked to Robert next. He remained quiet, considering the choice. As he did so, he continued to feel something odd. The fear and despair, an edge off resignation… was it just the Geth attack and the colony's plight? He wasn't sure. Given the needs of the moment, he finally nodded. "We should help them."

Even as he said those words, Robert could sense Shepard had already made her decision and was awaiting the recommendations of her team to implement it. She turned her head to Greta Reynolds and nodded. "Alright, you've got some help. What do you need done?"

"I'll have someone show you to the access way for the aqueducts," Greta said. "You may be able to find power supplies in our backup stocks as well."

"And food?"

"There are wild varren packs…"

"Garrus and I will handle those." Shepard turned next to Tali. "Tali, I want you to get the water supply running, and check those stockpiles for any batteries or other supplies the colonists can use. Ashley, Robert, go with her and watch her back."

"Yes ma'am," Ashley answered. Robert let her reply stand for him too.

Another colonist, a Mary O'Donnell, was summoned to take them to the aqueduct system. Robert sensed the same thing in Mary as in Greta, indeed as it was in everyone here. There was a nebulous sense around him, that something was not quite right…

"It must be different for you," he heard Tali saying. He realized she was speaking to him. "Not being captain of a ship anymore."

"It is," he agreed.

"I wonder how they're doing?" Tali asked. "I never got to speak with Tom when we were on the Citadel. Everything was happening so fast…"

"I'm sure he's doing fine. They're all doing fine." Robert allowed himself a wistful smile. "If we're lucky, maybe they already know where Saren is and they're on the way to blow him to atoms."

"Ha!" laughed Ashley, not hiding her amusement at the completely unlikely scenario.

Robert allowed himself a chuckle in reply, but his thoughts couldn't help but wander to the issue of how the others were doing...

Among the stars of the Artemis Tau cluster, the Starship Aurora continued her voyage at relative ease. A kilometer long and over three hundred meters wide, the advanced starship represented the pinnacle of starship design for much of the Multiverse. Her four warp nacelles, arranged in a flat X centered around the drive hull, thrummed with energy. With ease they maintained the warp field that kept the ship and its two thousand crew and residents moving along at Warp 9.2.

The Aurora's captain, Julia Andreys, was not watching the sight of colored streaks that was the usual visual effect of being inside a warp field. Her focus was on the display monitor for her ready office computer. Said monitor was displaying a caller, an Asari. Doctor Umari Lasana had a dark blue complexion and a fine, thin-cheeked face. Her shoulders were covered with a lavender material. "Captain, I thank you for your patience," she said in translated English. "The University of Serrice is hosting a Multiversal conference on xenoarchaeology currently. I'm afraid we're quite busy here in Serrice."

"I understand you have a lot to do, Doctor," Julia replied diplomatically. "Has there been any follow up on my requested information?" She kept any hint of frustration out of her voice for the weeks of effort she'd spent dealing with Asari academics and bureaucrats being troublesome over her attempts to find Doctor T'Soni. Most of those she'd dealt with seemed more worried about being associated with Benezia's daughter than her location. It took a lot of inquiry to finally track down Lasana.

The Asari professor checked something off-screen. She let out a little sigh. "Ah. Doctor T'Soni." Her expression betrayed what Julia thought to be sadness. "She was one of my best students. Utterly determined to become an archaeologist, in defiance to her mother Matriarch Benezia too I'll add. Her doctoral thesis on the differing natures of Prothean ruins across the galaxy was one of the best I ever read."


"She became sidetracked by… well, Captain, this is delving into academic politics here on Thessia… how familiar are you with the Protheans?"

"I know they existed fifty thousand years ago," said Julia. "And they are supposed to have built the Citadel and the Mass Relays." It took some will to keep her impatience from her voice.

"That is the generally-held belief, yes. The greatest question in the galaxy has always been 'What happened to the Protheans?' We have never found their homeworld and there have been no traces of their remains. We only know of their existence from their ruins, in fact. So there are many theories on their disappearance, ranging from a mass exodus to another galaxy to a plague that destroyed their biological remains in some fashion. One of the… less credible theories is the Reaper theory, which argues the Protheans were exterminated by an unknown force at the height of their empire."

Which is what the Eden Prime beacon seems to indicate. "Much like how the Adranians were wiped out a quarter of a million years ago," Julia noted.

"I have read some of the papers from that investigation and find the theory insufficiently proven… but yes." Doctor Lasana nodded. "And Doctor T'Soni has become a devoted adherent to the Reaper theory. She has argued in many of her papers for the theory's acceptance, citing evidence and observations from her dig sites."

"But you don't agree," Julia said.

"I have to admit some of her arguments make sense, logically speaking, but the theory's greatest weakness remains. We have no sign of such an eradicating force. No ruins. No debris from battles between the Protheans and their destroyers. There is absolutely no proof that you would expect to find from a galaxy-spanning war. The theory expects us to just accept as an article of faith that these ancient destroyers cleaned up all indications of their presence and the Protheans' remains, but left their ruins intact for us to find. It's… unfathomable."

And yet probably true. Julia didn't say so out loud. Instead she asked, "I've heard about Reapers being responsible. Given what happened to the Adranians…"

"They are just a legend, Captain, nothing more. And Doctor T'Soni has damaged her reputation trying to prove otherwise. That's what she's up to out there, trying to find the proof for the existence of the Reapers."

"Do you know where she is?" Julia asked. "It's imperative I meet and speak too her."

"Hrm… I suppose she could be on Therum. The Prothean ruins there are still being explored, the ones that the miners haven't ruined anyway." Lasana glowered. "It's been difficult to get approval to dig at sites from all of the hunting for heavy metals."

"Where is Therum?"

"The Knossos System on your charts. In the Artemis Tau cluster near the Galactic rim. It is the second planet. The Systems Alliance annexed the world years ago to build mining and industrial facilities to process the heavy metals that are plentiful on the planet. It's a very important world for Human mining efforts, I'm told the planet's resources are directly supporting the expansion of industry in the Human core worlds." Lasana frowned again. "Unfortunately it's made exploring the Prothean ruins on the world difficult. The mining corporations are dragging academic organizations through the Citadel courts in our efforts to protect Prothean ruin sites. They're more interested in the mineral wealth than the prospect of new discoveries. For someone looking for evidence of the Reapers like Doctor T'Soni is, the untouched ruins there can't be overlooked."

Julia nodded in reply. "We'll investigate it immediately. Thank you."

"You are welcome. I am always pleased to ensure our friendship with other species…" A look came to her face. "She's not in any trouble, is she?"

"Maybe, maybe not. She may need our protection."

"I hope it all goes well, Captain." Doctor Lasana said. "Whatever her errors of academic judgement, Doctor T'Soni is a good archaeologist, and once she gets over this flight of maiden fancy she'll be a credit to the field of Prothean researchers. I'd hate to see anything happen to her."

"That's what I'm here to prevent," Julia said. "Thank you for your assistance, Doctor Lasana."

"You are quite welcome, Captain Andreys. Good day." The Asari disappeared a moment before Julia could close the line herself.

Julia tapped a key. "Andreys to Bridge."

"Go ahead," replied Locarno, currently sitting a bridge watch.

"Change our course, we're heading for the Knossos System, Warp 9.6. We may find our subject of interest on the second planet, Therum."

"Aye Captain. We'll change course immediately."

"I'll be out shortly. Andreys out." Julia returned her attention to the daily reports that were part of running her ship. She amused herself with the thought of how much Robert hated this part of the job. I wonder how he's doing with the Normandy crew, she thought even as another report came across her screen. At least he won't be able to complain about the paperwork.

Between fighting Geth and restoring the water lines, it was hours before the entirety of Shepard's team was assembled again. If anything the time proved that the worry about the Geth leaving before they got to the HQ was erroneous - the Geth seemed more interested in attacking Zhu's Hope. "We are very grateful for your assistance, Commander," said Fai Dan, the head of the colony. He looked completely relieved, although Robert felt lingering discomfort in him. "Thanks to you we can hold out for days should the Geth return."

"It would be nice to know why the Geth are so insistent on overrunning your colony," Garrus said. "If they have ExoGeni's headquarters, what can they get from you? What does Saren want with Zhu's Hope?"

"I… I'm not sure," Fai Dan said. Even as he spoke, Robert thought he felt something wrong with the man. He couldn't get a feel for what was making Fai Dan fear so much.

"Maybe we'll find out when we get to the HQ," Shepard answered. "Do you have any vehicles to travel the skyway?"

"Yes. One of the Mako vehicles that ExoGeni bought for security… it should be in the garage above us," Fai Dan confirmed.

"Well, at least we'll be armed," Ashley observed.

"Right." Shepard turned to Garrus. "Garrus, head back to the Normandy. If the Geth hit Zhu's Hope again, it'll be up to you, Kaiden, and Wrex to help out."


As he walked away, Shepard turned to the exit Fai Dan indicated. "Let's go." She brought her shotgun to a ready position and entered the doorway leading to the elevators. The others followed, Ashley's assault rifle up. Tali was busy monitoring things with her omnitool.

As they walked away, Robert considered the feeling around him. The more he thought about it, the more he felt there was a presence of sorts in the colony. Near it, maybe. He couldn't be sure, though. Indeed he wondered if it was just the result of the foreboding feeling he got from the colonists.

"Are you okay?" he heard Ashley ask. She was looking to him, her eyes visible through the visor off her combat helmet.

"I'm… I think. I just feel like there's something else here. But I can't be sure."

"Well, that's reassuring," Tali muttered.

"Eyes sharp, people." Shepard glanced back once. "We've got other things to worry about right now."

Robert nodded and kept further thoughts to himself for the moment. The Geth were the main worry right now.

Again Julia's computer screen displayed an incoming comm call. This time, however, the image showed the familiar visage of Admiral Maran, in his office in Defense Command on the north bank of the Columbia River. Through the window behind him the skyline off 27th Century Portland was visible. "We've finished redeployment of the Seventh Fleet to Adrana to protect Alliance space from any further Geth incursions. The Seventh's dreadnoughts have been reassigned, of course."

Julia nodded. Not only would they still be needed at the front, but under the Treaty of Farixen with the Citadel Council races the Allied Systems were only allowed to deploy six dreadnoughts in the M4P2 Universe during local peacetime conditions. The Geth threat was unlikely to lead to the Citadel accepting a finding of wartime exemption.

"Every colony in our Alliance and the Systems Alliance is still under alert for the Geth," Maran continued. "Alliance Intelligence has been searching for Saren's base of operations in coordination with Citadel elements, particularly the Salarians' Special Tasks Group. Two of their Regiments are currently prowling the region for signs of Saren. But our leads are few. Saren was ready for this outcome."

"Given his reputation, I'm not surprised," Julia noted. "But taking the Seventh Fleet off of the front, isn't that setting back our operations?"

"Yes. But it can't be avoided. And in the long run it is not a severe setback to our plans. The Fifteenth Fleet's activation is nearly complete and we have the ships gathered for it. While it may cause some trouble in the rear areas from our need to re-assign ships, we'll have all of the vessels we need to hit Earth in about six weeks' time."

"I hope we have Saren by then so we can join the fleet," Julia said.

"If at all possible, I want you there, Captain. The Aurora has fought the Reich often enough, and we know the SS have a particular interest in your ship. Having you join the attack on Earth will send a nice message." Maran looked off screen for a moment. "Warmaster Shai'jhur is calling, and I have some issues to discuss with her. Keep me informed of your operations, Captain. Maran out."

He disappeared from the screen. Julia checked her final bits of paperwork and prepared to finish them… just for the comm system to chime. "Bridge to Captain Andreys." This time Meridina was speaking. "We are preparing to drop out of warp at Therum. Sensors are detecting a Geth ship in orbit."

Julia stood immediately. "I'm on my way. Go to Code Red status."

"Yes Captain."

By the time Julia reached the door to the bridge, the ship's alert klaxons were blaring.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

On the Aurora bridge the command crew were all at their stations. Jarod was at Ops, Locarno beside him at the helm. The Delgado sisters Caterina and Angela were at their respective stations, science and tactical, with Tom Barnes seated in front of Caterina at Engineering and Meridina moving over to the First Officer's chair when Julia stepped onto the bridge. The klaxons had ceased, but the ship's running lights were shifted entirely to red. Across her kilometer-long hull the two thousand crew of the ship were moving to their battle stations due to those red lights.

Julia lowered herself into the central chair and secured her safety harness. "What's our status?"

"Coming out of warp in ten seconds," Locarno answered.

There was no need for a countdown. Julia waited the ten seconds until the ship's warp drive disengaged. The holo-viewscreen came online at Jarod's command, presenting the image of a planet with red streams of lava covering part of the otherwise reddish-brown surface. A single Geth warship was still in orbit, shaped like a wingless dragonfly. The insect like ship turned away from the planet.

"I'm picking up a power surge. Their FTL drive system is activating."

On the screen the Geth ship suddenly disappeared, shooting away in the blink of an eye.

"Bring us into orbit," Julia ordered. "Stand down from Code Red, make our status Yellow."

"Yes Captain," Meridina answered. Across the bridge everyone removed their harnesses, allowing them freer movement.

"Scan the planet. We're looking for a Prothean dig site where an Asari is present. There may be more than one."

Caterina immediately reacted to Julia's command. "I'm running the scan now." Cat looked over her readings. "I'm getting something in the northern hemisphere, the other side of the planet from the Human colony. An active power source is showing in what looks like an underground dig site… I can't get life sign readings though, there's an energy field interfering with the sensor returns." After double-checking something Cat turned to Julia and nodded. "And there are Geth there. A whole bunch of 'em, including a very big one."

"Lieutenant, can you relay those to me?" asked Jarod.

Caterina nodded at Jarod and did so. He looked over her readings and shook his head. "That energy field is going to make transporting down to the site difficult. We may need to beam down about two kilometers or so from the site."

"What about landing with runabouts?"

"Even with shields, the Geth have heavy weapons that might damage them, I wouldn't recommend sending any down until we've neutralized the Geth," Jarod answered.

"That means fighting through all of those Geth," Julia noted. "Could we have Laurent's fighters move in first and hit them with airstrikes? Or use our light weapons for orbital bombardment?"

"I wouldn't recommend it," Jarod replied. "Even with precision weaponry, they might cause damage to the entrance tunnel."

"So it's the Marines after all." Julia turned to Meridina. "Tell Major Anders I want a full Marine strike team deployed, heavy units included. And let Lucy know she's joining them. Make sure they know about the atmospheric conditions and temperature."

Meridina nodded. "I am relaying the order now."

"And inform Commander Atreiad I want the Koenig ready for launch within the hour." After Meridina nodded in acknowledgement, Julia turned her attention to Caterina. "Lieutenant, I want regular long range sensor sweeps," she said. "The Geth may be back with reinforcements, and I'm not letting them catch us by surprise."

"Yes ma'am," Cat answered. "And may I join the mission to the site once it's secure? There's a lot we might learn about the Protheans down there, maybe even something relevant to whatever Saren's trying to do."

Julia considered the idea, noting the concerned look on Angel's face. Still, Cat was the right person for the job, especially given the importance of the site. So she nodded. "Alright. Go put your team together, Lieutenant, and pick a runabout."

"Yes ma'am," Cat replied, slipping out of her chair in favor of one of the standby officers.

Julia returned to her seat and to her primary job at this point, possibly the hardest job on all the ship.


Only a single Geth scout patrol interrupted Shepard's team on the way to the lift, one easily dispatched. Once it was defeated the four took the lift up to the garage for Zhu's Hope. The Geth clearly had little concern for the vehicles present, most of which were unarmed civilian craft that would be death traps on the way to ExoGeni HQ. Alone among them was a M-35 Mako, a literal copy of the one still in Normandy's cargo bay.

Shepard triggered the vehicle to open with her military ID code. The engine came to life within it, as did all of the control screens and surfaces inside. Right inside the door was a driver's seat flanked by a gunner's seat with controls for the turreted guns of the ATV. Robert, more by habit than desire, slipped into said seat while Shepard took the driver's seat. Ashley and Tali took seats in the rear. "Ma'am, with all due respect, maybe I should drive," Ashley said. "I got top marks on the range."

"Commander's prerogative, Sergeant," Shepard answered.

"Oh dear," Tali said. "It's a good thing I updated my suit's motion sickness mods since Klensal."

Shepard frowned toward the Quarian as she slipped into one of the seats. Tali ignored the frown and pulled the protective harness down to hold her in the seat. Ashley took up the one across the way, giving each plenty of room given the vacant seats to each side.

Robert, who hadn't gone down on the scouting mission to Klensal, glanced briefly toward Shepard. Shepard's green eyes met his and narrowed. "Not you too," she grumbled. "Perhaps you'd like to drive?"

"Well, now that you mention…"

Before he could finish Shepard's foot slammed on the throttle pedal. The Mako leapt forward and Robert was thrown back into his seat. The shock of the sudden movement took his breath away for a moment and kept him from finishing the sentence.

Ahead the door of the garage automatically opened. The Mako was going so fast that it zipped through only a second after the garage opened high enough for the vehicle to have sufficient clearance to exit. The bright sunlight of Feros shined down on the skyway, a literal mid-air highway linking the tower where Zhu's Hope was located to another in the distance.

Robert glanced over to Shepard. "You did that on purpose," he accused.

"Yep," she confirmed.

"And you wonder why people are worried about your driving." He eyed the edge of the skyway. Even though it was curved upward to a lip along the edge, it wouldn't take much for the Mako to go over said lip and off the edge to a long, very long, very fatal plummet to the rubble-laden ground below. "Especially since we're what, a kilometer above the ground?"

"Kilometer and a half, easy," she replied, her eyes still focused forward. "And you've got bigger things to worry about."

Robert felt the danger even as his head turned to face it. A massive four-legged Geth platform was standing behind a line of bipedal Geth platforms. Each brought up a rocket launcher.

"You're in the gunner's seat, Robert," Shepard reminded him. "Taking them out is your job."

Robert looked down at the controls. "Right," he said, while gripping at the joystick that controlled the turret. He reached up and pulled the gunnery camera down to eye level, showing him a view of the enemy troops from the gun-camera mounted on the turret. With his right hand operating the control joystick, his left hand was free to control the camera, letting him zoom in and out and bring up the distance, displayed in meters counting down on the screen.

"Thumb trigger is for the machine gun," Ashley said behind him. "The index trigger controls the 155 millimeter main gun."

"Both mass effect?"

"Yeah. Composition is good for both armor penetration or area effect."


By this point the first rocket was already in the air, flying toward them so quickly Robert was sure it'd hit. But Shepard's driving was precise, swinging them just out of line of the rocket and leaving it to fly past. Robert brought the crosshairs over the center point of the four rocket-armed Geth and pulled the index trigger. The main cannon thundered. A plume of flame erupted from the midst of the Geth, blasting the two closest to it into clouds of flaming debris and sending the other two flying like rag dolls.

"Main gun has a safety lock to keep it cool," Ashley added, as if just remembering the point. "You can only fire it every four or five seconds."

With that in mind Robert put the crosshairs on the big four-legged Geth. His thumb pressed down. The machine gun attached to the main turret sent a spray of hyper-accelerated alloy metal, no piece larger than a grain of rice, into the big armored Geth. A kinetic barrier absorbed the shots with decreasing effectiveness.

Then the Geth fired a bolt of plasma that shot down the skyway at them. Shepard turned slightly to evade, preventing a direct hit, but the plasma impacted against the rear edge of the Mako's side. There was a slight tremor in the vehicle. "Looks like the barrier held," Tali noted, watching the action from her seat.

"I don't exactly have a lot of room to maneuver," Shepard warned. "Take that thing down."

Robert was already releasing the thumb trigger, given the heat warning for the machine gun was near the maximum level. The main gun was ready to fire again, though, and he put the crosshairs right on the Geth's torso and squeezed the trigger. The round from the 155 gun slammed into the kinetic barrier and through it, smashing into the silver surface of the four-legged machine. Again Robert triggered the machine gun and this time watched the Geth's body spark, wounds and tears forming in its skin. He let off again when the machine gun was about to overheat.

The Geth was shooting again. Shepard turned hard and braked by necessity, ensuring they didn't go over the edge. The shot flew right in front of them by less than a meter.

To Robert's benefit, the turret control systems ensured the turret turned as well, sparing Robert the need to turn the turret ninety degrees to face the Geth. It was already charging up another shot at the temporarily-immobile Mako.

Before it could fire, the Mako's main gun finished cooling down. Robert targeted the machine's chest and fired again. With no kinetic barrier to even slow it down, the round shot right into the heart of the Geth platform and wrecked its interior systems. The plasma charge dissipated and the flashlight eye of the Geth died out. After a couple of moments the entire Geth exploded, victim of an overload in its critically-damaged systems.

"Great shooting," Ashley said. "You're a natural at this."

"I have a little assistance," Robert said.

"There'll be more where those came from," Shepard warned, already gently pushing the throttle and turning the Mako back into line with the tower ahead. "Keep an eye out."

"Yes ma'am," Robert answered. As the Mako shot down the skyway again, he thought, And maybe Shepard's not really that bad a driver after all. Just… very precise.

He decided that it was best not to speak the thought aloud, though. Just in case.

Lucy had been to hot planets before. Abdis, or Abydos as it was called in R4A1, had been a broiler during the day.

But Therum took the cake. And, Lucy imagined bitterly, baked it too.

The temperature meter on Lucy's visor HUD showed a deadly 59.8 degrees Celsius as she and the Marines around her approached the dig site. Moving on foot with light and regular power armor - or swevyra power in Lucy's case - allowed the team to avoid a prepared defensive outpost the Geth had taken control of. Lucy felt hot in her armor. She hadn't bothered with the robes, which would only weigh her down and do little to help with the heat. The Gersallian armor was at least built to have cooling systems for extreme environments, combined with the standard issue helmet she used, and together it kept the internal temperature at a little over half the outside temp.

Which, granted, meant it was nearly ninety degrees Fahrenheit inside her armor, and that was distinctly uncomfortable.

But there were ways it could get worse, which is what happened when they arrived at the dig.

The Geth were waiting for them with a defensive perimeter supported with cover. Lucy felt a sense of danger and brought her lightsaber out. It flashed to life just in time to intercept the sniper round aimed at Anders. "Snipers!"

Another shot rang out. Another of the Marines, an Alakin, took a hit before he could get to cover. "My personal deflector is down to twenty percent," the Alakin said.

Even as the warning came Lucy sprang into action. There was no use feeling for her foes. The Geth were not connected to the Flow of Life themselves. She couldn't sense them. But nor were they invisible to her senses. She could sense the danger they represented to her and the others. An instinctive knowledge, revealed to her through her connection to the Flow of Life, that let her know where to attack.

One moment she was running over the volcanic soil. The next a shot came for her, deflected by her lightsaber, then another. She batted away the round, triggering its plasma discharge that instead went right into the flashlight head of the Geth platform that had fired the shot. While it fell its companions continued to fire.

But now they fired at nothing. Lucy made a leap into mid-air just as they fired. She jumped further and faster than a normal human being could have managed and landed behind the barricade the Geth were using for cover. The nearest Geth she sliced in half with a single swing. The same motion of her lightsaber became a deflection of another Geth's fire, sending the bolt of plasma intended for her into the hip joint of the third. Lucy reached out with her hand and through the Flow of Life to grip the damaged Geth. She threw it into its compatriot and sent both into a nearby rock formation.

That was when she felt another sniper shot being prepared. She brought her weapon up and caught the shot sent her way, sending it off into the rock wall across the pathway. She swung again to stop another shot. Looking up she could see the towers from which the snipers were shooting, towers beyond easy attack range for her. Especially with the other Geth in close range and still threats.

Then there were streaks of flame in the air; missiles, fired from the Marines in their armor suits, now crashing into those towers and engulfing the shooters' nests with flame and pressure. A flaming Geth platform flew from one due to a slightly off-angle hit. The other Geth were not seen, presumably blown apart from the closer direct hits.

Even the two Geth platforms she'd been fighting were eliminated before she could finish them herself. She tracked the fire to Anders and a squad of Marines advancing quickly on her position. The other Marines were behind them, either moving ahead or in cover returning fire from those Geth platforms not yet taken out. "Excellent work, Lieutenant," Anders said, a hint of sardonic amusement in his voice. "Charging ahead without orders and being able to survive is a hell of perk, isn't it?"

"It looks like you've made good use of it," Lucy countered, attempting an equal tone and not quite avoiding irritation. With no imminent danger the heat inside her suit was reminding her of how damned unpleasant this planet was. Why couldn't the Protheans have built their ruins on a cooler world?... and now we'll end up going to an arctic world at some point since I'm asking.

"Well, you disrupted their entire defensive formation, I'll give you that. And got the attention of their snipers." Anders chuckled to himself. "I'd bring up what I was actually about to do, but we should move on ahead." He gestured to where the other squads had already moved on to the rise beyond them. "The ruin entrance is just ahead of us."

"Lead the way," Lucy answered.

With Anders' squad trailing, they advanced on to link up with the advancing Marines. The Geth platforms clearly weren't experienced in dealing with retreats. Lucy sensed the elation of Anders' Marines at their successful advance.

Then there was apprehension. Shortly thereafter Lucy saw the bright burst of white-blue light ahead and a cry of pain and knew there was trouble.

The trouble wasn't from the agile Geth platforms slinking along the sides of the structures at the dig sites. The Marines were putting them down. It was the other Geth threat, the biggest one. A colossal four-legged Geth platform that looked like a cross between a metal turtle and a giraffe with its longer neck connecting the body to the big flashlight head. A plasma projector was already nearly done charging when it came into view, aimed at a squad of Marines, one of which was badly wounded. They were behind some cover, but the cover was flimsy and wouldn't absorb the entire plasma blast.

"Go go go!" Anders shouted at her, knowing his own teams weren't in position to properly engage before the Geth could land a fatal hit on his people.

His permission hadn't been necessary, but it was appreciated. Cursing the heat of the whole damned planet, Lucy reached for the warm power inside of her and felt it fill her body. Her muscles started moving faster, without strain, aided by the energy of life pulsing within her courtesy of the Flow of Life. Again her lightsaber flashed into existence. Not to deflect a shot, though. Even without the instinctive clairvoyance of the Flow of Life she knew, immediately, that the plasma discharge from the big Geth was simply too big for even a lightsaber to adequately deflect. If she could get to them before the shot, maybe her raw powerful could deflect it...

In the time it was taking her to close the range she looked about her surroundings, trying to figure out if she had an alternative. Her eyes settled on a sheet of metal. Given its shaping and structure, she figured it was heat shielding, and with the time left she had to hope it was. She raised her arm and extended her free hand, using it as a focus for the power flowing through her. Invisible force gripped the sheet and tossed it into the air.

The Geth fired. The orb of deadly plasma raced toward the stricken Marine and his compatriots.

The sheet got there first.

The orb splattered over its surface, crackling like lightning. But it could not get around the sheet.

Lucy turned her attention to the Geth war machine itself. With its main weapon she didn't want it blasting everything, given it could damage the tube leading to the underground dig site. She'd have to give it a target.

Namely, her.

So she ran toward it over the open. Her lightsaber swung to deflect incoming shots from the other Geth platforms. A couple shots were angled to go right back toward the Geth, one even hitting a Geth right in the flashlight head, while the rest sprayed everywhere. Behind her more Marines were moving into a firing position. This was good; it let her focus on the main target.

The big Geth's head tracked her. It's four feet shuffled, shifting it around to meet her as she came in. Energy surged near its head until another orb of lethal plasma was coming toward her. With a mere second to react Lucy dove and rolled under the shot. The blue blade of her weapon flashed in the air again, catching more of the fire from the smaller platforms, while her legs kept going.

It was going to be close. The Geth heavy platform was charging another shot, and she wasn't sure she'd get to it in time. Indeed, as it became brighter, a brief thought came to her head, that she'd miscalculated, that it was going to fire just before she got too close for it to hit her…

That was when a missile slammed into the flashlight head. The Geth's neck flailed wildly after the impact, the light broken, the machine blind.

Behind her, and in her helmet, Ander's voice cried out, "You're clear, Lieutenant!"

And so she was. As Lucy moved toward the Geth machine she brought her lightsaber up. It was well-constructed and gave resistance to the weapon, so the leg was unsevered by Lucy's cut, merely damaged. She twirled about and cut through it again, aimed at a weaker point in the armor around the joint. This time the blade cut cleanly through. The leg fell to the side. A confused, angry electronic warble came to the air, as if the Geth was crying out in pain.

As the Geth machine teetered, trying and failing to keep balance with just three legs, Lucy cut its other fore leg out from under it. Now it pitched forward and fell to the ground, Lucy getting out from under it before it could crush her. Her lightsaber lashed out again, carving an angry red wound into its side. Fluid from severed hydraulic lines spilled and steamed where it struck the melting point-hot metal skin around the wound.

And yet the Geth creature wasn't dead, simply wounded. Its head flailed. Plasma was still building up in its firing chamber, now targeting Anders and some of his Marines. They took cover in the moments before it fired, utilizing the misshapen stack of sheet metal Lucy had previously employed, which allowed them to survive the orb of plasma that came for them.

"Lieutenant, get clear!" Anders called out. "Marines, switch to anti-armor munitions!"

Moments later another pair of missiles from the power armored-Marines hit the front of the Geth machine. They penetrated toward the heart of it, blowing out large chunks of debris and fluid through two gaping wounds caused by the jets of super-heated plasma created by the anti-armor warheads. Lucy was already running for one of the last group of singular Geth platforms when the second salvo hit. More of the torso was blown out.

By the time Lucy was cleaving through the last Geth platform, another salvo had hit. This time, the Geth war machine was blown to pieces.

"Good job Marines. And Lady Knight." There was some bemusement in Anders' voice at referencing Lucy like that. "Sanders, Sanger, secure the perimeter. Khraa, Kutalaran, set up sniper nests and heavy weapon firing stations. If the Geth come back, I want them to find us ready for war. Step to it Marines!"

"Sir yes sir!" was the collective reply.

Anders wasn't finished, however. "Aurora, this is Major Anders," he continued, now on open comms to the ship. "Site is secure. I repeat, site is secure. Send in the science team, and we'll need medbay ready for one casualty."

"Good job Major," Julia said. "The St. Johns and Warri are en route. Tell your Marines that Hargert will have a meal waiting for them when they get back."

"Let him know it's appreciated, ma'am."

The St. Johns was lifting off with Doctor Walker already tending to the injured Marine inside. On the Warri, the rear module was full of specialized gear being packed up by the mixed team of science, operations, and engineering officers, some taking up the available seats.

Caterina took in a breath and observed her team - as chief science officer she was in command of these officers - while Tra'dur checked her helmet's seals for her. The field action uniform was the same she'd worn on Tira during the fight, with the attached helmet, gloves, and boots that made it an environmentally-sealed suit for her to survive the hellish volcanic temperature of Therum. "Seal checks are good," said the Dilgar woman. Her helmet was already in place on her own action uniform.

"Thanks." Cat turned to the other members of the team. Barnes was finishing suiting up with the helm of Ensign Tulari, a purple-complexioned, teal-spotted Dorei woman and one of the junior engineering officers. The last pair of officers were Lieutenant (J.G.) Theek, a male Alakin science officer with geologist specialty, and Ensign Talara, the Falaen/Altean helm officer who had some training for field operation support.

"So, sixty fraking degrees Celsius out there," Barnes grumbled. "And people actually live on this place. Why not just use mining drones?"

"Well, the kind of VI automation you're thinking of isn't common in this universe, at least not pre-Multiversal Contact," Cat reminded him. "Plus they might not have been able to afford it."

"Bah." Barnes sighed and reached down for his pack, carrying a collection of sensor gear and emergency survival gear. "Aren't we just here for some Asari babe? Why are we hauling this stuff?"

Cat gave him a sour look. "Because it's a Prothean ruin, Tom, er, Lieutenant. And our secondary mission is to see if there's anything of interest here about what destroyed the Protheans. Given what Commander Shepard saw from the beacon, and what Meridina was shown by that intelligence on Adrana… well, we need proof of the Reapers to get people to take it seriously."

Barnes grumbled something inarticulate before heading for the door.

Cat turned slightly and noticed the frown on Tra'dur's face. Her English had a faint Anglo-Indian accent when she asked, "How can someone that undisciplined be an officer?"

"It's his way of coping with discomfort," Caterina explained. "Once an engineering problem presents itself, that's when he shines."

"I see. Your people… they give allowances in exchange for merit."

"Some do." Caterina could remember, darkly, how nasty Admiral Davies and others like him could be around her and her friends. "Others, not so much."

Tra'dur put on her own pack. It had other science gear, as well as its own survival gear. "This is why Captain Andreys puts so much effort into maintaining formality, then."

"Yeah." Cat lifted her own, with some effort. There was a visible grimace on her face.

"The fate of the Protheans is an interesting question." This was from Ensign Talara, who stepped up to join them. "I've read some papers in my spare time since we began the mission. Although most of them dismiss the idea of an outside force destroying them."

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," Caterina said. "I mean, yes, without evidence you can't logically prove something, but it just means something is unproven. Disproving it would require confirmation that the Protheans' fate didn't involve the Reapers or whatever they are…"

They departed the Warri by the side airlock. Cat took in the sight of the battle, including the ruined carapace of what had been a big Geth combat platform. Anders approached with Lucy. "There aren't any more Geth on the surface," he confirmed. "My squads just took out the last stragglers, and Commander Laurent's pilots removed the Geth at the nearby checkpoint. But there's no guarantee that there aren't more inside. Combat sensors are showing too much interference."

"So we'll need you to cover us," Cat said. She tapped her sidearm holster, where a pulse pistol was secured. "We're armed too."

"Good, but if things go right you won't be using those. I'm leaving Lieutenant Sanger up here with a rear guard, but I'm taking a couple of squads with me to be your vanguard."

"And me, of course." Lucy smiled inside of her helmet. "To help both of you as necessary."

"Right. We'll follow you, Major," Caterina said.

Anders nodded and started gathering his squad. The other officers huddled around Cat, with Lucy joining them. "It'd be nice if Doctor T'Soni and whoever else is running the dig site has a climate-controlled atmosphere down there," Lucy said. "I'm sweating enough out here."

"I know. My fur already feels damp," Tra'dur complained.

"There are worse," Cat remarked idly. "The Doctor took me to this volcanic planet where the atmosphere could set you on fire if you stepped outside the atmospheric forcefields."

"A terrible way to die," Talara, observed.

"Yeah, it was," Cat answered, her voice a little hollow, more than enough to let the others know she'd observed it firsthand. Ahead of them, Anders and his Marines were already approaching the entrance to the dig site. "Well, let's go find Doctor T'Soni and see if there's any cool Prothean stuff here."

"Right behind you," Lucy assured her.

The flaming ruins of another four-legged Geth war machine burned as the Mako roared by. Robert returned the turret to its default forward-facing position. A quick check of ammunition levels showed that they still had another two hours worth of combat ammunition in the block, minimum. This was the great advantage of mass effect field-based firearms; whatever they lost in punch or versatility compared to directed energy weapons like phasers or Darglan-tech pulse guns, they made up for it with sheer firing capacity.

"No more Geth on sensors," Robert said. "No indications of jamming either."

"Right." Shepard kept her eyes on the skyway road. Ahead the entrance to another tower loomed. "Tali, what's our status? Any damage?"

"Nothing severe," Tali said, hunched over the access hatch to the Mako's engine and critical systems. "The kinetic barrier is at half strength and improving. Although it looks like you took some splash damage to the middle axle. Give me a few minutes and I can repair it."

"That might not…"

Shepard stopped speaking when a voice crackled over the open radio lines. "....that engine noise? They're getting closer…" She glanced to Robert as they pulled up to a ramp leading further up the tower, beside another ramp that was partially blocked and leading downward.

Instead of checking sensors, Robert felt out through the Flow of Life. With so much of the planet dead, the Flow was weak here, anemic. That made the handful of living beings near them all the easier to sense. "A half dozen or more," he said. "Very close." He eyed the downward ramp. "That way."

"Tali, looks like you're getting the time to fix that axle," Shepard said. "Ashley, Robert, with me." She pulled the Mako up beside the downward ramp and secured it.

"It'll be done when you get back, Shepard," Tali promised as the three stepped out of the Mako.

Shepard took the lead, as always, leading the two around the Mako and down the ramp. As they approached one of the barriers a gunshot rang out. Robert reached a hand toward his holster, the other up and ready to help him focus power if he needed it for defense.

"Not Geth," Ashley observed. "Sounds like a Predator pistol."

Shepard nodded. "Whoever's there, this is Commander Shepard of the Systems Alliance, we're here to help!"

"Oh thank God," a voice cried out from below, that of an older woman. "Would you idiots put those guns away?!"

When there was no gunfire for several more seconds, Shepard finished leading them down the ramp. At the bottom was a makeshift camp where several people, all Human, were spread about. Two were in combat armor, flanking a man of mostly East Asian ancestry. "Are you in charge?" Shepard asked him.

"Ethan Jeong of ExoGeni Corporation," he replied. "I'm the administrator here." He frowned at another figure, an older woman.

"You're the one who cried out to stop firing?" Robert asked her.

She nodded. "My name is Juliana Baynham. And thank God you've come. Maybe you can save my…"

"Your daughter's probably dead, Juliana," Jeong said, his voice loud and irritated. "Right now the important thing is we may have a ride out of here."

"Aren't you the optimistic type?" Ashley gave him a disapproving look.

"I'm here investigating the Geth attack," Shepard said to them. "In fact, we're on our way to your HQ tower to see what the Geth are doing there. Is there anything you can share with me?"

"I'm afraid nothing of value," Jeong answered. "ExoGeni's purpose here is to research any remaining Prothean technology recovered. But we've had very little success with substantial new finds. Frankly the colony is costing my company money. I'm not sure what the invaders want."

Robert felt a prickle at the back of his head. An instinctive sense within him of deception. He kept any look of surprise off his face, saying nothing as Shepard continued to ask Jeong more about what ExoGeni was up to.

The gray-haired woman approached him. "Please, if you're going to the HQ, find my little girl. Find Liz." Robert sensed the very real worry and terror in the woman, suffering from one of the most primal fears many sapient beings could ever know: being a parent with a missing child. "Even if she's dead, I…"

"You have to know," he said. Robert nodded and tried a comforting smile. "I know what you mean, Miss… Baynham, right?"

"Yes. Juliana Baynham. My daughter is…"


"Yes. An excellent guess."

He nodded. In truth, it hadn't been just a guess, of course. "When we get there, I'll do what I can."

"We all will, ma'am," Ashley assured her. "Family is important."

To that, Robert nodded in heartfelt agreement.

When the three returned to the Mako, Tali met them at the door. "Everything is fine," she said. "I even realigned the axles. Whoever does the mechanic work here is horrible."

"Excellent work, Tali." Shepard returned to the driver's seat. Robert, again, took up the seat beside her, leaving Ashley and Tali to their prior seats. Shepard glanced over at Robert. "So, how much was Jeong telling the truth about?"

"Not hard to guess he was covering something up, huh?" Ashley asked.

"He was certainly lying when he said he didn't know why the Geth were here, and that there's nothing here of value worth an attack," Robert replied. "He's a decent liar, but I still felt the deception."

"He's a corporate type, who knows what kind of skeevy work he's trying to cover up?"

"I don't know." Robert shook his head. "I sensed something back in Zhu's Hope. Something… off. There's more to this colony than we're seeing."

"But what would Saren be interested in here?" Tali asked. "Could there be another Prothean beacon, like on Eden Prime?"

"It's possible, but I doubt it," replied Shepard. "Covering that up couldn't be done forever, and ExoGeni would get hit by so many sanctions and charges by the Citadel Council and Systems Alliance that it would ruin their business. No, this has got to be something else." She put the Mako into drive. "Now let's go find out what it is."

Robert braced himself this time, saying nothing as Shepard sent the Mako rocketing up the the next ramp.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

A literal tube sticking out of the ground was the entry to the Therum dig site. The Marines went in first, led by Major Anders, and the science team followed. Lucy led them down to the end of the tube, where a door was closed with a green light beside it. She waved her left hand over the light and her omnitool automatically triggered the door to open. It led to a lift, a large one made for carrying machinery and supplies as well. All seven of them easily fit into the lift. Once the door closed Lucy ran her hand over a control on the far side. The entire lift shuddered slightly before it began to descend.

The descent was quiet. Lucy looked over everyone. Cat, Tra'dur, Barnes, and Theek were going through gear. Tulari was by herself running her sensors. And Talara…

...the Falaen woman was standing to one corner alone, but not going over gear or her omnitool. Lucy felt her anxiety and concern, so she approached her. "Are you okay?"

Talara turned and faced her. Her blue eyes, over blue half-moon marks, also had lavender-colored irises, a marked difference from the eyes of many other intelligent species. "I am.. I am fine," she said.

"I sense otherwise."

"Right." Talara sighed and shook her head. "It's just… I feel this sense of imminent danger. Like our lives are about to be threatened."

To that Lucy nodded. "I see." She allowed herself a confident smile. "I feel the same."

"You don't seem worried about it."

"I've nearly died several times today, Ensign. I'm used to the feeling of danger."

"Ensign Talara." The new voice prompted them to turn and face Tra'dur. "I haven't had the chance yet to speak with you."

"You're Beta Shift, Lieutenant. I am Gamma."

"Yes. And I've often been busy with my orientation studies of the Aurora, so let me take this chance to say hello. I am very interested in the history of your people, as the Falaens' past is relevant to my species' current situation."

"As in, being the survivors of a near-extinction," said Talara.

"Indeed. And your species recovered from an even smaller surviving population than my own. Only fifty thousand, correct?"

"Yes. Just enough population to sustain sufficient genetic diversity."

"Then we Dilgar should feel fortunate." Tra'dur shook her head. "Although it is hard to say that for either of us given what had to be endured. But allow me to say that I consider the Falaen people to be an inspiration, a model that we Dilgar can aspire to…"

The lift shuddered again, coming to a stop and interrupting Tra'dur. The door slid open. Immediately the sounds of weapons fire came to them. "Stay back," Anders warned over the radio. "We've got a Geth squad holding the pathway. Give us a few minutes to clear them out."

"Please be careful," Cat urged. "I mean, if you throw around grenades or explosives, you could damage the cavern, or the walkway, or the site itself. We…"

"We're being careful, Lieutenant. Don't worry. Lieutenant Lucero, please remain with them for the moment, we've…" Anders stopped. A loud shot could be heard. "...we've got this under control. We'll let you know when we can move ahead."

"Let me know if you need anything. In the meantime…" Lucy, recognizing the readings on her helmet, released the faceplate and allowed it to slide open. Cool, climate-controlled air rushed in and struck her sweat-coated face. "...I'm just enjoying being out of that volcanic sauna above us."

Caterina let out an amused giggle in reply.

After another gauntlet of Geth rocket troopers and quadruped war machines, the Mako rumbled to a stop inside the tower serving as ExoGeni's HQ. The four piled out and Shepard secured the Mako.

Robert felt the life nearby immediately. It didn't come toward them, not like he expected it to do. "There's someone here, but they're acting shy. Afraid."

"Liz Baynham?" Ashley asked.

"Probably," Robert answered.

Shepard drew her shotgun from its holster at the base of her back. "We'll get to her if we can. Let's move out."

With weapons readied the four approached the entrance to ExoGeni. Upon sight of the blue energy barrier over the opening Tali ran a scan. "A Geth particle barrier. Given the power I wouldn't be surprised if it's being powered by a dropship, probably attached to the building."

"So we're not going through this way," Ashley said.

"I'm sure Jarod and Cat and Scotty could come up with something, but they're not here," Robert mused. He sensed out and felt a slight pull to their right. "This way. I think we can find a way under the barrier."

The team went in the direction he indicated. They came out into a large chamber full of dead varren. Robert immediately recognized the wounds; gunshots. He noticed Shepard steeling herself. She didn't need his senses to know an ambush could come at any moment.

He knew there was no 'could' about it. He felt the terrified intent. The gun come up, shaking in a pair of hands. The tension between fear, the need to survive, and the ingrained discomfort of a thinking being preparing to kill another.

Robert turned and reached out through the Flow of Life. A gunshot went off, going over their heads, accompanied with a shout of surprise and terror as the weapon in those shaking hands was wrenched upward by invisible force. A moment later he felt the weapon pull free. The stunned cry was joined by the thump of a falling body, then another…

...and a woman came rolling down from above them, following the inclined side of the Prothean-built chamber. Dust billowed from where she finally made an impact, graying her white jumpsuit, an ExoGeni patch on one arm. Nearby a pistol, one of the curved Phalanx models, clattered to the ground.

Ashley, ever ready to fight, brought her assault rifle up toward the woman. Her blue eyes widened in terror. "Please don't kill me!" the woman shrieked. "Oh God! Please don't!"

"She's not a threat," Robert said, holding his pulse pistol to the ground. "She's just terrified."

Shepard nodded to Ashley, who lowered her rifle. Turning her attention to the young woman, Shepard said, "Elisabeth Baynham, right?"

There was no reduction to her fear. "I… I can help you. Please don't kill me. I'll keep my mouth shut, I won't talk about…"

She stopped herself at that point, sensing their confusion, but Robert felt the word she was about to speak. "What's the 'Thorian'?" he asked.

"Oh God, you're one of them," Baynham gasped. "You're one of those telepaths from the other universes. Jeong actually hired…"

"We're not working for Jeong," Shepard insisted. "I'm Commander Shepard, Systems Alliance Navy and Council Spectre. We're here investigating the Geth attack on Feros."

Disbelief and hope warred inside of Liz Baynham. Robert knelt down beside her and offered a hand. "Here," he said, bringing a friendly grin to his face. "Let me help you up."

Wordlessly Liz did so. She stared in bewilderment at him and then at Shepard. "I… I didn't know the Systems Alliance had telepaths now."

"We don't," Shepard replied. "Captain Dale here is a Paladin agent from the United Systems. We're working together against the Geth."

"I'm a metaphysical life energy wielder, like Gersallian Life Force Knights," Robert explained. "I don't read minds directly so much as I can sense the essence of your thoughts and feelings through my abilities. You don't need to be afraid. Whatever the Thorian is, it's not why we're here."

"It should be," Liz replied. "I… I was trying to get through to Colonial Affairs back at Arcturus. It's why I was left behind. But the Geth cut the power before I could establish a connection."

"What is it the Geth want?" asked Shepard.

"The same thing I'm talking about," Liz said. "They're here for the Thorian. To kill it. I don't know why."

"Okay, I'm confused," Tali admitted. "Why would Saren want to kill… whatever it is?"

"I don't know. I don't know who this 'Saren' is." Liz shook her head. "But I know the Geth will have to kill everyone in Zhu's Hope to get at the Thorian. They won't be able to flee, it won't let them."

"Maybe you should start at the beginning," said Shepard. "What is this Thorian?"

"It's some kind of ancient life form we found, a living plant of sorts. From the samples we've seen, it's been here for tens of thousands of years, at least. It may have predated the Protheans."

Robert immediately mused to himself that it would explain why Saren's Geth were here. This creature could have witnessed the Reapers exterminating the Protheans. But he didn't say so out loud to avoid distracting Liz Baynham.

Liz was continuing to explain. "I was assigned as a researcher for ExoGeni's examination of the Thorian. But it's all gone wrong… it's why I was trying to reach Colonial Affairs. Jeong's been keeping me away from offworld communication. He's basically kept me a prisoner, put me on probationary status..."

"Why?" Shepard asked.

"Because I opposed the project," Liz answered. "The Thorian gives off spores that let it take control of other life forms. It's how it protects itself. Jeong and ExoGeni… they wanted to test the spores, see how they interacted with other beings. So they used them on the colonists. ExoGeni turned the population of Zhu's Hope into test subjects."

Guilt was radiating from Liz Baynham. Robert felt horror and anger in the others. It matched his own. So much of the sense of fear and despair he'd felt in the colonists now made horrifying sense. "That's why things felt so off back at the Colony," Robert said to them. "I was sensing the Thorian and its control over the colonists. Their despair at having no control over themselves."

"Those bastards," Ashley swore. "We should go back and put a bullet in that lying son of a…"

"First things first, Sergeant," Shepard said, firmly. "I want proof of this."

"And we have to finish fighting off the Geth first," Tali pointed out. "We can't fight this thing and the Geth at the same time."

"I'm more interested in why the Geth want the Thorian dead. We need to see what they're doing in the HQ and neutralize them."

"There's a way under the barrier," Liz said. "I'll show you to it." She reached for her pocket and pulled out a piece of plastic that Robert quickly recognized as an ID card. "The system will think you're me. You can get all of the information I have access to from one of the VI terminals."

Shepard accepted thec ard. "Thank you. Alright everyone." Shepard gestured forward. "Let's go shoot some more Geth."

With the last Geth cleared out, the science team moved ahead to join with the Marines. With two Marines left behind the group took a couple of lift rides to head down to the next level. The science team was coming second and were together when the tower appeared.

"It's definitely Prothean make," Caterina observed. "And the source of the power signature."

"Including a particle barrier." Tra'dur checked her omnitool. "Someone must have activated the Prothean technology. Why?"

"I can think of a few reasons," Barnes said.

The lift came to a stop. Lucy and Anders were waiting at the bottom. "We're holding here for the moment," Anders explained. "Lucero and I will move ahead with you in case there are more Geth."

"Good. The less we disturb the site, the better," Caterina said.

They approached the tower via the catwalk. The particle barrier forbade entry at this level, but there was another lift to their left. Anders called for some of his Marines to come up and join them, leaving behind a rear-guard of four to watch the first lift. He briefly frowned as Cat and the others piled in. "You should let us go first."

"There's no Geth on sensors," Cat replied. "We'll be fine for the few minutes before we get down there. Besides, Lucy can jump down and join us."

Lucy gave Cat an accusing look. "You've been dying to see me do 'super-jumps', haven't you?"

"Yep." Flashing a grin at Lucy, Cat hit the control. The lift gate closed and the lift descended downward.

Lucy sighed and readied herself to make the jump.

Once the lift reached the bottom Cat frowned. "This says there's another level.

"It's blocked below here," said Tra'dur. She'd stepped out and turned to check below the lift. "Someone placed a container below the left." The Dilgar glanced to her right, toward the tower. "Wait, did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"I think someone's calling out," said Talara. "This way!"

As they emerged from the lift, there was a loud thud and an expanding cloud of light dust. Lucy looked up from where she'd jumped and asked, "Happy?" Seeing the others ignoring her, she felt out with her senses and realized why.

Near the tower, the catwalk had been broken as well, leaning down to the lower level. Tra'dur jumped down first, in a very fitting, feline way for the Dilgar woman, and Talara and Cat were next. Lucy got there just as Barnes finally worked up the nerve to join them, already knowing what they would find.

"Thank the Goddess," a female voice said. "I was afraid I was losing my mind."

On the other end of the particle barrier on this level was an Asari in a green and white working jumpsuit. Her complexion was sky blue, with sapphire-blue eyes that looked at them pleadingly. She was hovering in mid-air, trapped in a bubble of energy.

"Uh… Doctor T'Soni, I presume?" Cat asked.

Barnes chuckled lightly at that.

"Yes," the Asari said, her tone betraying a surge of relief. "I am Doctor Liara T'Soni." She looked them over. "You're with the United Systems, aren't you?"

"Lieutenant Caterina Delgado, Science Officer of the Starship Aurora," Cat replied. "These are my friends and subordinates. You're safe with us. You can lower the particle barrier now."

"I would like to, but I'm afraid I can't access it from here," Liara said. "I can't get out of the bubble. I'm not even sure how it came on, I was just trying to activate the barrier."

"Perhaps it was a security measure," Tra'dur suggested. "The technology was looking for Prothean biosigns or an approved biometric signature, and Doctor T'Soni is seen as an unauthorized user."

"Well, we need to find a way to disrupt the particle barrier," Cat said.

"Or see if the system didn't bother covering sections buried under the rock," Lucy added. "If the programming is sophisticated enough it may adopt power-saving methods like that."

"Well, how can we dig down quickly enough?" asked Talara.

"Given the rock type…" Lieutenant Theek checked his omnitool. "We're going to need heavier equipment."

"Yeah. I'm thinking a laser drill," Barnes agreed.

"Exactly, sir. Of course, it will take some effort to assemble…" Theek glanced toward Barnes in time to notice his grin.

"Not as much as you think, Lieutenant Theek," Barnes said, grinning widely.

The others saw the grin and followed Barnes' eyes… to the laser drill left by the vacant excavation team. He immediately ran up to it and began examining the machine.

"Lucero to Anders," Lucy said into her omnitool. "Standby up there. We're going to be firing a laser drill shortly."

"Understood. Be advised that the Aurora just sent us an update. We're expecting unwelcome company."

"That does not sound like a good thing," Liara observed.

"It usually isn't," Cat sighed. "More Geth?"

"That's the way it sounds. I'll take my team up and cover the door. Keep me informed."

After the call to Anders finished, Barnes called out, "Yo, Lucy, science geeks, this thing isn't going to fix itself!"

"Uh, stay right…" Cat stopped that thought before she said something silly. "...hold tight, Doctor, we'll be right back."

"I have nothing better to do," she answered, in a way Cat thought was more a desperate stab at humor in her situation than something meant nastily.

The moment the Geth ships dropped out of FTL, the Aurora and Koenig opened fire. It was a first strike made necessary by the numbers of Geth ships, with several of their wingless dragonfly-like cruisers backed by waves of smaller craft.

Meridina looked up from her console as the ship shuddered. "All fighter squadrons launching."

"Laurent can task the squadrons as he sees necessary," Julia replied. "What's our status?"

"Five of the Geth cruisers and ten smaller ships," Jarod replied. The ship shook again. "They're firing mass effect-propelled mass drivers and more of the plasma weapons. Shields still holding at eighty-nine percent."

"Return fire. Tactical, focus fire on their cruisers. Helm, keep us in orbit, don't let them past us."

Both Angel and Locarno affirmed their orders. The Aurora's main weapons began firing in retort of the Geth. A Geth cruiser to their bow endured, with little success, the hammer blows of the Aurora's powerful pulse plasma cannons. The Darglan-designed weapons, based as they were on the technology of R4A1's powerful Asgard species, blasted great melting chunks out of the Geth ship. Beams, from the plasma cannons and emitters of similar origin to the pulse cannons, lashed at the particle barrier fields of the Geth ships. The heaviest of these weapons also managed localized penetration of the particle fields, allowing them to carve deep wounds into the Geth cruisers.

While the Aurora engaged the larger ships, the Koenig went after the lighter. Under Will Atreiad's leadership, with Apley at the helm, the Koenig dodged and weaved around the Geth fire, drawing their attention so that Laurent's fighters got clear attack runs on these lighter vessels while other fighters engaged their Geth counterparts.

On the Koenig bridge everything shuddered. "Geth attackers to stern," Magda said. "Shields down to eighty-four percent."

"Helm, Attack Plan Charlie Sierra… execute!"

At Atreiad's command Apley pulled the Koenig into a tight maneuver, moving "upward" and flipping the ship in what, within atmosphere, would resemble a "Cobra maneuver". The Geth ships maneuvered away while Koenig continued the flip until her forward weapons were brought to bear. Pulses of amber energy shot through the orbital space of Therum and found their target, ripping the guts from one of the Geth vessels.

"The other ship is breaking off… wait." Magda checked her sensor board. "I've got another ship trying to slip past us. I think it's trying to get into low orbit, probably to launch dropships."

"Bring us about. Fire when ready, April."

At the tactical station, Lt. April Sherlily was already working her controls. The moment her systems showed a target lock thanks to Apley's maneuver, she opened fire with the phasers and a solar torpedo. The phasers did their job, blasting away the Geth ship's protective particle barrier so that the solar torpedo could hit bare hull. The naqia warhead within initiated and blew the Geth vessel apart.

With nothing but remnant radiation showing on her sensors, Magda turned her attention to other targets. The Koenig moved away from her wrecked foe.

Given the amount of energy being tossed around in orbit, those monitoring sensors or the same electronic instruments could not be blamed for missing the slight signature of the Geth dropship that emerged from the broken hull, damaged but intact, to descend upon the dig site below.

The ExoGeni headquarters, like much of Feros, was repurposed from whatever the Protheans had built it for. Crumbling rubble still marred the interior, either from the ancient age of the structure or the Geth takeover. Shepard moved ahead with care, Robert and Tali behind, and Ashley in the rear.

They found a set of stairs leading upward. From above a voice could be heard. "Access denied."

"Lousy machine", grumbled a deep voice. Hearing it, Shepard motioned to the others to be ready for a fight. "Give me the damn files!"

"Please contact your supervisor for a security exception."

By this point they arrived at the top of the stairs. Down the corridor a Krogan was standing in front of a holographic avatar. "If you don't give me the damn files, I'll blow your holographic ass into actual dust!

"Access denied. Please speak to your supervisor for a security exception, and remember company policy regarding the use of profanity while on duty."

They drew closer, as quietly as they could with weapons readied, attempting to get a clean shot without risking damage to the computer terminal.

The VI continued speaking. "At this time, I must ask you to move on. There is a queue forming behind you."

The Krogan, bewildered, turned toward them.

"Stupid VI," Tali grumbled.

By this time the Krogan was already lifting his weapon. He snarled and pulled the trigger.

There was no hope of getting to cover. So Robert jumped ahead of Shepard and felt through the Flow of Life, gathering its power and forming a wall of invisible force with it. It wasn't as easy as moving an object, and there was no time for him to even hope to grasp the individual metal slivers being fired from the rifle. He had to imagine force itself, a constant push away from him and toward the Krogan, with enough fine power to force the ME-field-accelerated slivers to stop.

He succeeded. Mostly.

Tali was the next to move. She lifted her omnitool and used its internal systems to project a thermal field, a use of the tool so delicate only an engineer or machinist of great skill could manage it. The weapon in the Krogan's hands stopped firing, emitting hot steam from its cooling vents, the sign of an overheat for a weapon using mass effect fields.

Shepard shot forward, wreathed in biotic energy, and slammed into the Krogan with enough force to drive him into the wall beside the VI avatar. The VI, aware of the fighting, stated, "It is against company policy for firearms to be discharged on company property. It is also against policy for any sort of physical altercation to take place. Roughhousing, throwdowns, and other such activities are…"

As the machine issued its complaint, Ashley fired on the Krogan. Her assault rifle's firepower was met by a biotic field that protected their foe for the critical moment he needed to stand. He reached to his back and retrieved a shotgun.

Shepard fired first, a shotgun blast into the Krogan's torso that went through the weakened biotic field and armor into flesh. The Krogan roared, just to be cut off by another shot from Shepard straight to his jaw. The result was a bloody mess and a gargle from the mutilated Krogan. Not to be outdone, Tali's shotgun fired as well, sending a spray of metal slivers into the Krogan's neck and torso. Ashley poured another few shots into it.

Robert did nothing. It seemed unnecessary at this point. And he had other concerns.

"That's pretty useful," Ashley said, turning toward Robert. "Being able to… oh God."

Robert grinned weakly while the blood oozed through his fingers, where his left hand was holding a point in his armor between his left hip and side. Multiple impact points showed where the armor had successfully stopped further projectiles. "Stopped most of them," he said. "But I didn't have the control to stop them all. A few slipped past." He moved to lean against the wall.

Shepard approached him and looked down at the wound. "It looks like a lucky hit," she said. "Slipped between thicker plates and hit just above the hip joint. Will you be able to walk?"

"Probably," Robert said. "Just have to stop the bleeding."

"Let's get some medigel on that." Shepard pulled open a pouch of gear on her suit and brought out a medigel dispenser. Moving it over the bloody area on his armor, Shepard found the gap caused by the lucky shot and dispensed a full dose of the gene-engineered healing substance into the wound. The pain immediately subsided, as did the flow of blood.

"Now I see why the Citadel Council turns a blind eye to this stuff," Robert murmured.

"Too damned useful, especially without dermal regenerators," Shepard agreed. Content that Robert was alright, Shepard turned her attention to the VI.

"Apologies. Due to technical difficulties, I am unable to summon medical assistance," the VI apologized.

"That's alright, it's handled," Shepard replied.

"Very well. I shall make a notation on your file, Researcher Elisabeth Baynham, that you are proficient in the provision of first aid. ExoGeni values employees with a variety of skills and talents. May I assist you further?"

"Yes, you can," Shepard replied. "To start with, just what was the Krogan before me asking? What did you tell him?"

"I was unable to provide access due to lack of proper company identification. The unknown individual was inquiring about Species 37."

Shepard immediately understood what that meant. "What did they want to know about the Thorian?"

"The inquiries were into the behavior off the test subjects enthralled to its control and alternate routes to its location."

"The Thorian is under Zhu's Hope, correct?"

"As of last recorded readings, yes. The Thorian is in the substructure of the tower beneath the colony. However, sensors observing the Thorian have been offline for several cycles. Current location cannot be verified."

Everyone exchanged looks. Indeed, everyone had the same thought. "What are its vulnerabilities?" asked Shepard.

"I am afraid that data is classified beyond your current access level, Researcher Baynham."

"Under whose authority?"

"Feros Administrative Operations Officer Ethan Jeong. It is recommended that you consult with Mister Jeong to learn more about your probation and limited access, Researcher Baynham."

"Oh, I think I'll be having a long talk with him." There was an edge to Shepard's voice Robert didn't often hear. "We're done."

"Shutting down. Remember, I am always here to assist you in improving your performance. ExoGeni would not be the firm it was without its dedicated employees." With that final remark, the VI shut down.

"I can see what the Wal-Mart back home might do with those things," Robert mumbled. "And it makes me nauseous."

"I've never understood why corporations speak to their employees like that. Like they're little children," Tali said.

"We can speculate about economics later," Shepard said. "Let's move out."

Anders was in the middle of that standard Marine duty - "hurry up and wait" - when he got the call from topside. "Major, Geth dropship on approach. They're bypassing the perimeters," said Sanger.

Damn. "I guess one got through the fight in orbit," Anders responded. "Get all teams back to the opening. My teams will cover from the inside." He motioned to the others. "Back to the lift, go, go!"

The other Marines responded. Anders followed them while calling up the geeks. "Better hurry up down there," he warned. "We've got company."

"We're almost done, dammit!" Barnes replied. "Just give us a few more minutes!"

"I'll do what I can," Anders pledged.

Geth fire streaked over Robert's head from where he and Tali were ducking behind cover. Below them, in what had once been a machinery space, the Geth were holding an open port through which their dropship was clinging to the tower. Computer interfaces nearby were joined by controls for the port in question. "If we can close that door, we'll shear off the arm," Tali noted.

Nearby Shepard and Ashley were opening up with assault rifles. Given the larger Geth platforms and the number of guns, Shepard was refraining from her usual biotics-fueled charges. Instead, whenever Robert felt the ripple of energy from biotics being employed, it was to see Shepard throwing bolts and shockwaves of biotic force.

Ashley threw a grenade down. A shower of rubble flew up, joined with parts from a broken Geth platform. "There's an awful lot of them." She glanced to Robert. "Why not rip the claw with your powers?"

Tali gave an answer before he could. "No, it's tied too tightly into the structure now. He could damage the entire tower ripping the claw loose."

"Right now I wish I had one of Lucy's lightsabers," Robert admitted. "I could have cut it loose easily."

"Can you try and force the door closed?" Shepard asked him.

He considered it. He had the power. Control… that would be the hard part. "I can try," he said. "But I need to be able to concentrate. And it'll help if I can see it."

"Get down toward the bottom of the stairs until you can see it from the wall. We'll cover you."

Robert nodded. Keeping his knees and back bent, he moved over to the stairs leading down to the area of the platform where the Geth were. Shepard moved up behind him and gave cover fire. He didn't see the effect her fire had until he could finally see the door from cover and noticed, to his left, the broken Geth platform that had tried to cut him off. Shepard knelt beside him and held her weapon up to cover the stairs. "Good enough?"

"Yeah," Robert said. He looked at the door and felt out through the Flow of Life, directing the warm power within him to grip the port from both sides and slide it inward.

Around him weapons fire continued, the ongoing firefight a distraction that was dangerous to him. Again he felt control slip. The immense power threatened to expand beyond his reach, to lash out wildly, and there was no telling the damage he'd cause if that happened. No. No, I am in control. Breathe in, breathe out, feel the Flow of Life and the connection within…

With the lessons he learned from Kilaba and Ledosh he held his control, forcing himself to breathe carefully, using that breath to direct his struggling grip.

There was a shriek of metal grinding followed by a loud crash. He'd closed the door partially, up to the claw itself… but he hadn't shut it hard enough. He kept the control he needed, refusing to let it slip, and directed the doors to open up completely and slam together again. This time the force almost did it, but again it wasn't enough.

So he tried again. One more time.

The doors sheared right through the trunk of the Geth ship's claw.

The loss of the connection was too much for the Geth ship. The tower shuddered as the other claw came loose, unable to keep a grip by itself. The shuddering stopped. The Geth ship was free of the tower and beginning its long, terminal fall to the rubble below.

"...hear us? Commander, this is an emergency!" The voice cut in from nowhere, immediately recognized by all as Joker.

"I'm here," Shepard said. "We just cleared the jamming source."

"That's a relief. The Normandy is under attack, Commander."

"More Geth?"

"No, that's the strange part. It's the colonists. They've all gone mad, they're trying to break in. I don't think they can, but Lieutenant Alenko and the others have a fireteam ready to open up if they come through the airlock."

"It's got to be the Thorian," Robert said, now moving over to join Shepard. He squeezed off a series of shots that took out a Geth approaching the front of the stairs. "It wants to take over your crew too. Or it thinks we're a threat to it."

"Well, it's right about that," Shepard remarked. Over her omnitool, she said, "They've been exposed to something, Joker. Just make sure it doesn't get into the ship. Switch to life support only if it looks like the filters are compromised. We'll see what we can do but right now we're still busy with Geth!"

As if to punctuate her point, Shepard rose above cover and fired her shotgun. The shot blew open the torso of a Geth platform. Robert was certain Joker overheard it. "Yes ma'am," he said. "We'll keep you informed."

Once the call ended Shepard gestured to the others. "Ashley, Robert, cover fire! Tali, you're with me, we're sweeping this place clear!"

Everyone responded in the affirmative and followed Shepard's lead.

In the Therum dig site, Anders' voice echoed over the science team's comm units. "We're holding them at the entrance right now. But they've got some Krogan mercs with them too, and they're not going down easy."

"We're almost done here," Lucy replied.

The sound of weapons fire and explosions echoed in the background of their linked comm units. Anders seemed unflappable when he replied, "Good. We'll hold the door open for you."

"So, it looks like the focusing lens is good. And the power source is ready." Barnes stood up. "I say we fire this fraker up!"

"Everyone over here," Lucy called out to the others. "Just in case."

The assembled team all came together behind the drill. Barnes finished a final check and then crowed, "Fire in the hole!"

A bright beam of concentrated light surged from the end of the drill. The chamber rumbled violently and debris flew upward, blown away by the violence of the energy being driven down toward the tower. Wisps of mostly-atomized rock formed clouds around the forming tunnel through the earth.

"Keep going," Cat said. "Keep going… stop!"

Barnes shut down the laser drill. Wisps of steam and debris rose from the new tunnel carved into the ground. As the cloud of debris settled the gray of the tower became visible, as did the bluish tint of the interior.

An interior uncovered by a particle barrier.

"Alright! You did it!" Cat hugged Barnes. "Good job!"

"Well, it's one of the reasons I became an engineer," he answered. "Blowing crap up is cool."

The team hurried down through the rock and into the interior, lit up and entirely different in atmosphere from the cavern they'd just exited. They arrived at the middle section of the tower, where a console was present. "This whole section is a lift," Tra'dur noted. "Most likely controlled from there…"

Cat looked over the control in question. Remembering what happened to Liara, she accessed it with her omnitool instead of pressing it with her hand. "Hrm, looks like some general security precautions. I think we can bypass it…"

"I believe so, Cat'Delgado," Tra'dur agreed, working her own omnitool. "Is everyone ready?"

"Well, yeah," Lucy said.

A few moments later, the floor under them shuddered and began to rise.

"This will get us to the next level," Tra'dur said. "Then all we need to do is free Doctor T'Soni."

"And get past a bunch of angry Krogan and Geth," added Lucy.

"Yeah." Cat looked over her scans. "The Protheans built this thing from some pretty exotic minerals. I doubt a transporter can safely lock onto us in here."

"We'll have to be ready to fight, won't we?" asked Talara.

"Most likely," said Tra'dur, as the lift finished its trip to the next level. Liara T'Soni was still trapped in her bubble and unable to look behind her back. "Give us but a bit of time, Doctor T'Soni, and you shall be free," Tra'dur assured her.

Cat went to the controls and interacted with them through her omnitool. Liara turned her head toward her. "Do you know why the Geth are attacking the dig site? There's nothing valuable here. Or is this some sort of trick by the mining companies?"

"Oh, they're Geth," said Cat. "And they may be here for you."

"Me?" Liara's surprise was obvious. "Why would they be interested in me? I'm just an archaeologist."

"An archaeologist specializing in the Protheans," said Lucy. "And one who's in favor of the Reaper theory, which may be far more true than anyone imagined." She gave the others a look to silence them. They'd bring up Benezia later.

"Wait, you mean you have evidence of the Reapers annihilating the Protheans?" Liara asked. Her voice rose in volume and excitement, hinting of almost desperate eagerness.

"Not enough to convince the Council, or even our own government," Lucy replied. "But we know they were behind the destruction of the Adranian civilization a quarter million years ago."

"The Adranians... Yes, I remember reading the papers that were published in our archaeology journals. When I was done here I planned to request permission to join the team exploring their ruins."

"One moment… Tra'dur, do you see…"

"Yes, the security programming. Very sophisticated. Tom'Barnes, if we link our omnitools with Cat'Delgado, I believe we can bypass the program that imprisoned Doctor T'Soni."

"Sure thing." Barnes brought his forearm up. Once his omni-tool came alive he operated it with his hands, creating the link Tra'dur proposed and running infiltration software. "Some pretty sophisticated stuff. The Darglan could have given them a few pointers on computer software though."

The bubble around Liara faded from existence, letting her drop to the floor. The particle barrier around the tower also died out. Lucy went to help her, but Cat beat her to it, helping Liara to stand. "Goddess, I was afraid I would die in there," Liara confessed. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Caterina tapped at her omnitool. "Delgado to Aurora, we've got Doctor T'Soni and the particle field is down. Can we beam out?"

"Negative, Lieutenant," Jarod answered. "We're still engaged with a Geth squadron. The shields are up."

"Then we'd better get back to the Marines," Lucy said. "Just in case."

Cat motioned behind them. "That lift can take us back to the top level of the site. Can you walk?"

"I think." Liara took a ginger step. She looked stiff from her prolonged time in the bubble.

"How long were you in that fraking thing?" Barnes asked.

"Um… a day or so, I think. I feel very weak."

"Here." Cat offered her canteen. "Have a drink."

"And rations." Tra'dur offered these, in the form of a bar of food matter. "Asari are levo-compatible, yes?"

"We are." Liara took the water first. Tra'dur continued to help her to the lift, then Cat took over, with some visible effort, when she switched to eating at the ration bar.

Barnes activated the lift. This time the shuddering beneath them was stronger. "That… wasn't the lift, was it?" Talara asked.

"No, I fear not," Theek said. The Alakin geologist had his omnitool active and was going over scan results. "Whether it was the particle barrier being raised and dropped or that laser drill, someone has destabilized a magma pocket under the tower. The internal pressure is building and will likely lead to a surface eruption within half an hour."

That drew a sigh from Lucy. "Nothing is ever simple in this job."

Shepard led the way out of ExoGeni HQ. Liz Baynham was waiting for them at the Mako, as Shepard had instructed her to do. Everyone piled back into the Mako, with Ashley taking the gunner's seat this time so Liz and Tali could look over Robert's wound. "It looks like the medigel seal is holding," Tali said. "You'll be fine."

Robert nodded. "A relief to know." There was still a sting of pain at the impact site, but nothing serious now.

He felt slightly more than a sting a moment later as the entire craft kicked into gear. Shepard's rapid turn pulled him into his seat, followed by an acceleration that drove them out of the garage. "No sign of any Geth, ma'am," Ashley said from her seat. "It looks like we got 'em all."

"Best news I've heard all day," Shepard muttered. "Now we just have to deal with this Thorian thing. Baynham, any suggestions? I'd rather not have to shoot my way through people who can't control themselves."

"My mother may know something that could work, she's done far more work on the Thorian than I ever did," Liz replied. "But don't ask her on the radio, if Jeong overhears…"

"You seem quite afraid of him," Tali observed.

"All he cares about is the corporation's bottom line. I… I thought he sent you to kill me," Liz confessed. "It's why I shot at you. He knows I'm trying to alert the government about the Thorian, and what he and ExoGeni have done. He might even kill my mother, anything to save the company."

"We'll deal with him when we get there, don't worry. But for now, hold on." With that Shepard accelerated the Mako down the Skyway, past the still-burning remnants of the Geth they'd fought before.

The trip up the lifts was nerve-wracking given the increasing rumbling. Once the lift stopped Cat shouted "Go! Go!" Lucy was impressed by the fact Cat waited until everyone was off the lift before continuing, letting Tra'dur and Tulari carry Liara. The entire shaft shuddered around them with enough violence that loose chunks of rock were flying free. They were met at the lift by two Marines. "The Major's above, holding the line," one of them said in a Gersallian lilt.

Cat nodded and followed everyone onto the lift. Lucy activated it the moment everyone was aboard. More shuddering threatened to knock over Liara and Tra'dur, the latter helping the former keep her footing. The lift began to ascend.

As for Cat, her heart was pounding and her legs felt rubbery from all of the running. She mused to herself that the Doctor would be teasing her, given how much they'd had to run during her journey with him. Her finger tapped at her omnitool. "Delgado to Aurora. We're less than half an hour from a major eruption in the magma pocket under this site. We need beamout ASAP."

This time it was Meridina who replied to them. "We are still heavily engaged, Lieutenant, and the enemy's positioning will not let us lower shields. You will have to fly out by runabout."

"Alright. We'll do what we can." Cat looked at Liara and cringed. "We left your suit behind, didn't we?"

"I am afraid the Geth took it," she said. "Probably to keep me from escaping on my own."

"We bring emergency spares, although they're only soft suits." Caterina reached into her pack and brought one out, a folded up square of insulated material with a plastic faceplate. She unfolded it and handed it to Liara. "It's got a small compressed breathing pack, but it won't last more than an hour. And with the top-side heat you're probably going to feel temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius, so hydrate again before the lift gets to the top."

"Thank you," Liara said, already fitting the legs of the one-piece insulated suit over her jumpsuit. "Although I doubt I will die of heat exposure before we all die from the lava eruption."

Talara heard that and drew in a breath. She felt trapped here, surrounded by danger. It wasn't the first time she'd felt this way in a life-threatening situation, certainly, but today it seemed even greater in intensity. She noticed Lucy looking toward her. "I'm just anxious, Lieutenant. It won't affect my performance, I promise."

"I know," Lucy said. She pulled her inactive lightsaber from her belt. "Get ready, everyone. The moment the lift gets to the surface, we're going to be in a firefight."

"Right." Cat felt toward her hip, where her pulse pistol was. She was a terrible shot, admittedly, and the Doctor would have shaken his head at her for carrying a gun.

Still, I don't have much choice, she considered before willing the lift to go faster.

The Mako raced into the next tower and turned onto the ramp leading down to the next Skyway level. As they moved in a voice cut over the radio. "Commander Shepard, this is Juliana Baynham. Please, I need to…"

"What are you doing?!" a voice demanded in the background.

"Get her away from that radio!" Jeong screamed.

"Mother!" Liz darted for the door. "Let me out!"

"Hold on." Shepard brought them to the bottom of the ramp. As soon as she brought the Mako to a stop Liz opened the door and jumped out. "Dammit Baynham, wait!"

"I'm with her!" Ashley responded. She finished removing her harness and leapt from her seat, pulling her rifle over her shoulder. Tali followed behind her, shotgun ready. Shepard and Robert took the rear.

Liz rushed down the ramp. "Mom! Mom, are you okay?! Mom, I'm…"

A gunshot rang out. There was a burst of blood and Liz Baynham collapsed to the floor in a scream.

"Liz! NO!" cried Juliana's voice.

"Shepard?!" Now it was Jeong. "Shepard, I want you and your squad front and center, no guns! Do it now or I'll be forced to take extreme measures! You've got thirty seconds or I start shooting!"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

"Twenty seconds left, Shepard!" Jeong's voice nearly vibrated with the tense emotions Robert felt in him. Fear bordering on terror, frustration, anger.

"This guy's going off the deep end," Ashley remarked. "If we go in unarmed he could shoot us all."

"And if we go in with guns blazing, who knows how many people get hurt?" Robert asked. "I can stop him if he acts, but I say let's play along."

Shepard looked back at them, her green eyes moving from Ashley to Robert. After Jeong shouted five seconds she nodded. "Alright." Louder, she shouted, "We're coming out, weapons down!" Shepard holstered her shotgun and held her hands out.

Ashley gave a frustrated look and put her rifle up. Robert holstered his pistol and joined her in following Shepard into the open.

Behind them, Tali grumbled in Quarian, not bothering to let her vocoder translate it.

Stepping into the open gave them a view of what was happening. Liz Baynham was on the ground, a growing pool of blood below her and her mother kneeling over her. Juliana's hands were stained with her daughter's blood, trying to stop the bleeding from Liz's hip. Standing over them, gun extended, was Ethan Jeong. His security personnel had their guns drawn as well, if at rest. "I've read up on you, Shepard. And your team." Robert sensed the desperation, the near panic, within Jeong. Something had gone wrong. "I was still hoping you wouldn't find out about Species 37. That you'd get rid of the Geth and clear out. That this treacherous little bitch would be dead."

"Well, we know," Shepard said. Her voice was firm, but without the edge of active threat. "You used the Zhu's Hope colonists as test subjects. Little more than lab rats. You broke the law and made yourself a monster."

"Who cares about a few stupid colonists?" he shot back. "Analysis of the Thorian could lead us to whole new ways of understanding how to manipulate a brain. ExoGeni had the chance of a lifetime here on Feros, we couldn't let the colonists screw it up! Imagine being able to control violent prisoners without guns? Or being able to break up riots? We could do this with the Thorian's spores if we can figure out how to reproduce them and use them ourselves."

"You're talking about slavery," Robert said. "That's what this is."

"No it's not!" Jeong retorted. "But I'd expect to hear that kind of thing from you. I've read up on you too. You're worse than Shepard! You made a career out of sticking your nose in and demanding everybody obey you or get blown away by a starship gun."

"Put the gun down, Jeong," Shepard said. Again her voice was firm, and now it took a commanding edge. "I don't want to hurt you."

"I don't care what you want! Because of you, because of Saren, I'm ruined!"

Robert felt it then. Jeong's uncertainty, his fear, all of it held him in check. But it was starting to shift. Within seconds he would build up the nerve and give the order to open fire.

He reached up with his hand. With the movement his power reached out and gripped Jeong's firearm. Jeong cried out in surprise when the gun was wrenched from his hand and sent flying into Robert's own hand.

Biotic energy surged from Shepard's arm and struck one of the guards. He went flying backward.

The other guard brought his weapon up. But before he could fire Robert reached out with his energy again. This time, however, his control slipped. Instead of grabbing the weapon like he'd done to Jeong, Robert felt his energy become raw, unchannelled force. It struck the man directly and sent him flying as if struck by a car. He slammed into the opposite wall and fell, utterly still. Nearby researchers rushed to check on him. With a sense of panic himself Robert desperately sought out the man's life energy, to make sure he survived, and was relieved to feel said life was intact and not fading. He hadn't killed the man on accident.

Jeong stared at his open hand with wide eyes, followed by glancing back at the guard Robert had just tossed. Accident or not, it had a clear sobering effect upon the ExoGeni officer. "God, you… you're… you're not going to kill me, are you?"

"That wasn't in the plan, no." Shepard glanced toward Robert with evident concern. He returned the look sheepishly. "A bit much, wasn't it?"

"Not intended. I let my control slip."

"I'll say," Ashley said. "He looked like he was hit by an aircar. If he wasn't in tactical armor I think it might have actually killed him."

"Be more careful next time, please," Shepard instructed Robert. He responded with a nod. "And can you help Miss Baynham? It doesn't look serious, but I want to make sure she's alright."

"Sure." Robert went over and kneeled beside the mother and daughter. He could sense the wound was indeed not too serious, so long as the bleeding was stopped. "I'll hold it in while you get a medical kit," he told Juliana, who responded by pulling her blood-coated hands away. Robert, rattled as he was at his failure in control, didn't want to risk it again by using his life energies, instead pushing his hands to the wound and applying pressure. "You'll be okay," he assured Liz.

The wounded young woman responded with a nod.

Shepard turned her attention to the rapidly-paling Jeong. "Alright, why did you want to kill us? What's going on here, and what's it got to do with Saren?" Her eyes narrowed. "Start from the beginning."

"Saren Arterius found out about our experiment," Jeong said. "I don't know how, but since he's a Spectre I guess he had ways to do it. He came to me about a week ago and threatened to expose ExoGeni if we didn't give him access to the Thorian. He wouldn't let me call Corporate so I had to make the decision."

"And instead of helping us set a trap for the most-wanted man in the galaxy, you knuckled under," Ashley said accusingly.

"If these experiments were exposed, the company would be ruined!" Jeong insisted. "The fines alone, and plus the lawsuits…"

"Don't forget the jail time," Robert added from where he was aiding the Baynhams. Juliana was now returning with a medkit, including a medigel dispenser. "Especially for you. Your bosses certainly would've negotiated a plea deal."

"I couldn't let news get out!" Jeong insisted. "So I let Saren have access and thought it was over. Then yesterday the Geth attacked!"

"Whatever Saren got from the Thorian, he must be afraid we can get it," Tali said.

"I'm not sure… listen, the Thorian made him give someone up. One of the Asari he went with didn't come back." Jeong shook his head. "The Thorian, I don't think it sees us as living beings. We're… we're tools to it. Potential thralls, that's it."

"And you were feeding people to it." Ashley glowered at him. "How would you like it if the damn thing enslaved you?!"

"It was for a higher cause. The company… we would've compensated the subjects!"

"If any survived, you mean," Shepard said. "So why are you freaking out now? What's this about being ruined?"

"Since you got rid of the Geth, I was able to reach Corporate," said Jeong. "They've ordered a purge. They want the colony shut down."

"And the colonists?"

"As I said, purge." Jeong shuddered. "And my career is in shambles. I'm going to be blamed for this."

"Maybe. But you had bosses, right? People who approved this? Ordered it? You turn states' evidence on them and I'll put in a good word for you. If your bosses' bosses are smart, ExoGeni may even get out of this intact."

Jeong actually had to think about it. Robert sensed the calculation. He knew his career was over either way, but a reflexive part of him still didn't want to betray his company, still had a faint hope that maybe, just maybe, the company might make it out of this, and he'd keep his job intact. In the end, resignation won out, and Robert knew Shepard had won even before Jeong's reply of "Alright. I'll testify."

"Good. I'll hold you to that, don't doubt it," Shepard said. "Now, is there a way to disrupt the Thorians' control over the colonists? This thing is already attacking the Normandy with them. I don't want to kill them trying to get to the Thorian."

Juliana looked up from where she was finishing the medigel application to Liz's hip. "In testing we found there was a way to briefly disrupt the Thorian's control, using a weak, non-lethal concentration of a specific nerve gas mixture. It doesn't eliminate the spores, but it disrupts their control over the nervous system and knocks the subject out."

"We're going to need that gas, then," Shepard said. "And a plan on how to distribute it."

With Liz stabilized, Juliana and Robert stood. "This way," Juliana said. "We have the compound already loaded into gas grenades. We use them to secure colonists for taking blood and tissue samples after infection."

"You're okay with this?" Robert asked her.

"No, and most of us weren't," Juliana replied, guilt radiating from her. "But we didn't have the courage to stand up to Jeong and the bastards at Corporate. They made sure we couldn't leave until the tests were done and forbade anything but e-mails, which they read before sending." She shook her head. "It was just too easy for us to give up. I don't know if I'll ever sleep again." They arrived at a pile of crates. "Here, we should have a few dozen of them ready for use…"

In the orbital space over Feros, the Starship Aurora was still locked in combat against Geth vessels. Railgun and mass effect-propelled projectiles joined the plasma bolts of the Geth weapons striking her shields, while her own energy armament returned fire. Torpedoes from the bow launchers raced out and impacted against a Geth cruiser. Denuded of particle shields, the cruiser couldn't resist the naqia-enhanced warheads of the torpedoes. It was broken in half by the resulting detonations.

"Enemy target destroyed," Angel reported triumphantly. Her hands moved effortlessly over her tactical board, directing the Aurora's advanced Darglan-based plasma weaponry to continue the onslaught against the Geth ships. On her tactical sensors she observed the Koenig contributing. Under Will Atreiad, the ship was weaving in and out of Geth fire and returning said fire with its own. Torpedoes from the Koenig flew from the rear launcher and collided with a light Geth craft, nearly vaporizing it.

In her seat Julia could see they were winning the engagement, but not fast enough. Three Geth cruisers were still intact, weaving around each other to keep Angel's gunnery from tearing them apart one at a time. There were six more of the light ships and still many dozens of fighters engaging the Koenig and the flight group. "Can we beam anyone out yet?"

"I wouldn't recommend it," Jarod said. "Those Geth ships pack a punch against unshielded targets. If we drop shields and they get a direct hit, we could lose vital systems."

"How long do they have?"

At the sensor station, Lieutenant Amira al-Rashad checked her sensor readings of the planet. "Going by the readings, no more than twenty minutes."

Julia tapped a key on her chair. "Andreys to Anders, Andreys to Delgado. You need to get out of there, now."

"We're trying, Captain, but they're not making it easy," Anders answered. "They've brought a lot of firepower."

"Well, we won't be able to beam you out. So do what you can."

"Aye ma'am."

From their safe place at the entrance to the dig site, Anders and his Marines could fire back at the Krogan and Geth that were assembled. Above them a Geth dropship was still hovering, providing support fire and having driven off the relatively unarmed runabouts.

"I'm open to suggestions," Anders said. "Before we all get terminal cases of hotfoot."

From her point in the hiding place, Cat was looking out at the firefight through the helmet plate of her suit. They were back out in the hellish temperature, which didn't make the situation any more comfortable for any of them. "Well, Lucy can always do her badass Life Force Knight stuff to get the dropship."

Nearby Lucy shook her head. "I've never made a jump that high. If we can get it lower to the ground…"

"I doubt they're going to comply," Anders remarked.

"Do your heavy suits not have anti-air rockets?" asked Tra'dur.

"They do, yes, and I'd love to use them, but we're also under fire from multiple angles, and my perimeter teams are already hard-pressed trying to get through to us," noted Anders.

"We want the Asari!" a voice shouted. "Send her out and we let you live!"

"He's lying," Lucy said.

"Your powers aside, Lieutenant, I was already pretty sure of that," Anders observed sarcastically. "So, any options before we try a likely-suicidal charge? Or do we just hope and pray Captain Andreys can retrieve us without risking the ship?"

"Your landing craft, I thought some of them had transporter technology as well?" Liara asked.

"They do, Doctor, but that would require them to drop shields, and they can't with that Dropship here," Talara said.

"Why not order the pilots to fly a distance away, outside of the Dropship's effective firing range?" Liara asked.

"Ordinarily a good plan," Anders agreed. "I'd already be having them try it if it didn't likely mean they get shot at by the Geth ships in orbit."

"Although it might be an effective way to lure that Dropship away," Lucy pointed out. "The Geth may not want to divert attention from the fight in orbit."

"Yeah, but I'm not sure…"

As their tactical debate continued, Caterina checked her omnitool. She was thinking of their briefings on what the Geth were. "The Geth maintain an active uplink, right?"

"Yeah, according to the Quarians," Lucy said.

"Then maybe we can disrupt it," Cat suggested. "Enough to get that Dropship out of the way, at least. Or force it to come closer to maintain the network with the other platforms."

Anders smiled. "Okay, I like that one. Some good old-fashioned e-warfare. What do you need?"

"I need to isolate the frequency they maintain their network on. Then we can tie our omnitools and armor suits together and disrupt it." Caterina was busy operating her omnitool. "Wait… Lucy, Tra'dur, do you see…?"

"I do," Lucy said.

"As do I," Tra'dur added. "Operational at the one hundred and twenty-four point six kilohertz range in the second Groenitz-Hallen band. The omnitools, together, could create a short-wave disruption effect."

"Everyone, link your omnitools to Lieutenant Delgado's," Lucy ordered.

The science team did so. At the instruction of "You heard the lady, Marines!", Anders and his team did likewise. "Here," he said, checking over their findings. "For best effect, send out the disruption pulse at this…"

"Got it," Cat confirmed. "Ready… now."

Slinking near the entrance, and barely out of the incoming fire, Caterina brought her left arm up to point it in the general direction of the Geth dropship. After a couple of keystrokes she activated the pulse, powered by not just her omnitool but those of the others as well.

For several moments nothing happened. Then she noticed it on her scanners. The Geth ship was starting to descend. "It's working," she said. "They're trying to reacquire their network signal with the other Geth."

Lucy nodded and stood up. Everyone could see she was bracing herself. Talara even thought she could feel the energy settling in Lucy.

"What are you doing?!" demanded the Krogan outside. "Pull back up! Pull…"

It was too late. Lucy shot forward. She raced to the opening of the dig site entry tube and, just before the first step down, jumped. The energy in her leg muscles was amplified considerably by the life energies she was calling upon, sending her higher and further than even the best Human athlete could have managed in this gravity. At the apex of her jump Lucy's lightsaber flashed to life. The moment she landed on the Geth dropship she brought it down, slicing a gash through the vessel's armor-plated hull in defiance of its flickering particle barrier.

This spectacle, and the failed attempts of the Geth and Krogan to fire on Lucy, gave the others the moment they needed. "Semper Fi!" Anders called out, and at his order the Marines charged out of the tube firing. The heaviest armor went first, drawing fire they could better withstand and dealing out even more. Grenades and missiles flew through the air. The missiles exploded on impact, blasting through particle barriers to destroy Geth or kill Krogan. Some that missed still created explosive shockwaves that sent foes flying. The grenades did much the same.

"Behind us!" Anders shouted, and the science team, with Liara, fell in. Liara was in the worst shape. The water and rations had given her some energy, but she was still weak, and the emergency suit she was in was proving as incapable as feared in fully protecting her from the deadly heat of Therum's inhospitable surface. It took everything she had just to keep herself in the rear, where Cat was following. Occasionally plasma fire started to come toward them, but the Marines' own fire would quickly eliminate the Geth platforms making those attacks.

Anders himself spotted one of the biggest Krogan he'd ever seen emerging from cover, a massive shotgun in his arms. "Down him, now!" Anders cried. He opened up on the Krogan, as did the squad around him. The Krogan roared in retort and opened up with the shotgun. Anders didn't turn, but he heard the sickening sound of the powerful slug in the Krogan's shotgun shattering the helmet plate of the Marine beside him. Like that he knew he'd lost one of his Marines. That their mission was almost successful, indeed, that the runabouts were ahead and his perimeter teams already in place to cover their retreat into the waiting craft… that was soured by the knowledge he'd lost one of his people.

He was darkly satisfied to see the Krogan didn't last long enough for a second shot. He went down in a hail of energy pulses.

To remind him he had other problems, the ground quaked. The magma pocket below was about to erupt. "Double time it people, get to the runabouts!" Anders guided his Marines in, continuing to direct fire at the Geth force even now moving on his flank. "Just a bit longer, Marines! We hold until our science people are safe!"

"We're almost there," Talara urged the others. Ahead of her Tulari, who was holding a wounded arm, stumbled into the protection of a power-armored Alakin corpswoman who pulled her toward the Warri. Other Marines were already boarding the Gonzales. Talara looked back to where Liara was collapsing to her knees from exhaustion. She stopped, as did Tra'dur. "Doctor T'Soni, just a little further."

Cat came up and helped Liara up. "We're almost there," Cat said to her. "You can make it."

"How… do you… do this?" Liara asked between gasps.

"Practice. And not my first volcanic planet." Cat smiled from a memory. "But my first when I wasn't being chased by a lava monster. The Doctor and I got a little lucky with that one, we… watch out!"

Cat noticed the threat just before the enraged roar echoed in everyone's helmets. The bleeding, battered Krogan battlemaster was back on his feet and already charging toward them. A mad gleam filled his ruby-colored eyes, eyes that looked so close to Wrex's, but now full of nothing but mindless rage. "Look out!" she shrieked. With a heave of her arms, Cat threw Liara forward to get her to safety.

Then there was raw pain when the Krogan slammed into her. His arms gripped Cat by the ribs and carried her along until, a couple seconds later, he rammed her at full force into the pillar of the dig site's half-completed structure. Cat screamed from the pain of the impact, a savage pain that filled her chest and drowned out everything else.

That pain increased as the Krogan slammed her into the pillar again. And again.

With the Marines fully engaged fighting the remaining Geth, Tra'dur was the first to react. She raised her sidearm, the same heavy slugthrower with which she had shot down the raging Weyrloc Tral on Tira, and opened up. The first shot hit the Krogan's hip, shattering armor and sending blood erupting from the wound.

Cat, rendered nearly mindless herself from pain, feebly reached for her pulse pistol. But then the Krogan slammed her into the pillar again, this time with enough force that her head snapped back and slammed into it as well. There was a brief surge of pain in Cat's head and then a nice, merciful blackness that put an end to the agony.

Again Tra'dur's slugthrower rang out. This time the shot was nearly fatal, but the armored carapace of the Krogan's head and the angle kept it from penetrating fully. In agony and still raging, the Krogan roared and tossed Caterina at Tra'dur. Tra'dur didn't have time to evade before Cat slammed into her, flailing like a thrown rag-doll. The impact knocked Tra'dur to the ground.

The Krogan was already moving forward. Without even thinking about it, one of its powerful legs slammed down on Tra'dur's left leg. Pain exploded up the limb accompanied with the audible snapping of the bone. Tra'dur brought her arm up with the gun and fired again. This shot was the best yet, going through the Krogan's chin and pulping his right eye. But in the throes of a blood rage this pain was insufficient to register. If anything, it won the instinctive attention of the creature, who slapped Tra'dur's hand with enough force to send her gun flying from it. His other foot came down on her arm with enforce force to fracture bone. Tra'dur yowled in response, and thought frantically. She could already see the Krogan's next act. Likely to either be a boot on her head, or a punch. Unless the Marines acted, of course, and turned their weapons on the raging Krogan.

But the shots that hit Krogan were not from their rifles. It was the slightly weaker shots from a pulse pistol. Talara took up a firing stance, both hands on her weapon, and put shot after shot into the wounded Krogan. The setting was high enough to wound, to kill if she hit the right point, but the redundancies of Krogan physiology were making that difficult.

The benefit was that she'd drawn the Krogan's attention. He turned away from Tra'dur.

The downside was that he was charging her now.

It was a moment that, in retrospect, could have gone many other ways. Talara could have tried to dodge to the side. She may have even made it. Or she wouldn't have and, like Cat and Tra'dur, would have endured a hammering at the hands of a blood-raged Krogan. Or she might have opened fire, with similar chances of succeeding or failing and taking a hit.

But she did neither.

There was, for Talara, a moment of absolute clarity like few she'd ever realized. It was perhaps like the one she'd felt when she heard that the Alliance had gone to war with the Nazi Reich, and that it was a war she had an ethical obligation to fight in, a war where she and her fellow Falaens would be called upon to uphold the spirits of the mythic heroes of their Altean past, the memories of King Alfor and Queen Fala and Princess Allura that should be honored.

That moment of clarity kept her from leaping out of the way. It kept her from just trying to shoot. Instead, as if by instinct, Talara raised her hand and screamed, "No!"

Within her body, within her soul, Talara felt something resonate with that cry. A feeling similar to when she was trying to interface with the Castle of Lions, endeavoring to save the lives of Princess Allura and Lucy Lucero, came to her, but stronger. Greater. The feeling surged with power, and surged from her hand and from her, from everything that was Talara, leaping toward the Krogan.

Raw force, unseen, unheard, slammed into the blood-raged alien, sending the Krogan flying back into the pillar it had just been slamming Caterina into.

Tra'dur, despite the pain she was in, forced herself to sit up. Her eyes widened briefly at seeing what Talara had wrought.

Talara herself stared at her hand in surprise. Inside she felt strange. Like something within her was stirring. A part of her just now waking from a slumber that had lasted her whole life.

The Krogan roared and charged at her again. Talara focused on that feeling within her and drew from it, imagining the Krogan falling back, insisting it must.

Another wave of force answered. Yet again the Krogan slammed into the pillar.

And this time, he didn't move. He didn't have time. Anders and one of his Marines poured more fire into the blood-raged Krogan until even his robust physiology couldn't function any longer. He collapsed beside the pillar. Talara sensed something like a light going out. A flicker of flame dying, replaced only by nothingness.

"Move move move!" Anders' voice broke her from her thoughts. "Tend the wounded!"

"Right away!" Talara rushed forward and picked up Caterina. She was unconscious but alive. That Talara knew for certain.

There was an explosion from above them. Everyone briefly looked to see the Geth dropship blow apart. A moment later Lucy landed fifteen feet away, slamming the ground and creating a ripple of fine dust from the impact. Her lightsaber, still active, was held out and ready for more fighting.

But it wasn't a fight they had to worry about. The ground shuddered beneath them, more violent than before.

"Lava eruption imminent!" Theek shouted. "We must get to safety!"

Lucy shut down her lightsaber and returned it to her belt. She went straight for Tra'dur and helped her up while Anders picked up the exhausted Liara. "Let's go! We're out of time!" she shouted, running toward the Warri as she did. The rear hatch of the runabout opened, revealing the modular area in the back for storing their gear.

The shuddering under them ceased for a moment. Lucy and Talara both felt what came next in the seconds before it did. A loud roar filled the air and, behind them and the dig site, a jet of lava flew upward by at least twenty meters. As Lucy made it to the Warri with the hobbling, injured Tra'dur, lava spewed violently from the dig site tube. She helped Tra'dur into a seat and dashed to the cockpit. The Warri moved under her as she passed through the small living space between the cargo module and the cockpit. By the time she reached the cockpit the ship was already in mid-air. She took a seat at operations and tapped a key. "Warri to Aurora, we're clear. I repeat, we're clear, and we have wounded. How do you want to..."

"...handle this?" Lucy's voice said over the speaker.

The Aurora shuddered again, taking another hit to her degrading shields while, on the screen, another Geth cruiser was burning from Angel's efforts. "Shields are down to fifteen percent," Jarod said.

"The Koenig's shields are also down to twenty percent," Meridina confirmed.

"Status on pilots?"

"Four fighters lost. One escape pod."

Julia frowned at that. Six dead flight crew. "Tractor it or have Koenig pick it up. Helm, put us in position to receive our runabouts without exposing them to enemy fire. All ships, I want those runabouts back safe and sound."

"Aye ma'am," said Locarno.

"Orders relayed," Meridina confirmed. "Received."

"Aurora, we've received your course," Lucy's voice said. "We'll be out of atmosphere in ten seconds. Nine… eight…"

The Geth attackers finally seemed to notice the two runabouts climbing through the atmosphere. They broke away from where they were keeping Koenig boxed in. The attack ship maneuvered to open up on the aft of one of the ships, blowing it to pieces with pulse phaser cannon fire. Angel's plasma beams lashed out at the ships as well, slicing one apart and damaging the others. Nevertheless they fired.

"They're shooting at our runabouts. But no hits yet," al-Rashad said.

"...two… one…"

The two runabouts entered orbit. The Aurora was already moving to meet them. Of the remaining three Geth attackers, one went up to the Koenig's continued attack. The two remaining ones continued to move for the runabouts.

"Miss Delgado, I want those attackers out of the way!" Julia insisted.

"Aiming now, Captain," Angela assured her.

This time the Aurora's main bow cannons opened up. The thick sapphire pulses utterly obliterated one of the attackers. Sapphire beams carved into the remaining attacker, joined by the amber bursts from the Koenig's pulse phasers. It dodged and weaved, trying to get a clear shot on the Warri or Gonzales.

The Koenig's solar torpedoes raced out and struck the Geth attacker in the mid-section. It blew apart in a burst of white light.

More heavy shots from the lone surviving Geth cruiser struck their rear shields. "Shields down to ten percent," Jarod said.

"Come about and reinforce bow shields," she ordered.

The order was followed. It provided two benefits; bringing their biggest weapons to bear on the target and bringing the shuttle bays out of the line of fire.

"The runabouts are landing in the Main Bay," Jarod said.

"Good. Tactical, give them everything we've got left."

"Aye ma'am." Angel grinned at the order before finishing her new firing solution.

The resulting exchange of fire filled the orbital space over Therum. More sapphire pulses and beams were joined by over a dozen blue-white sparks, the drive fields of the solar torpedoes that followed the target lock Angel had achieved. The shields of the Aurora flashed blue as they struggled to repel the incoming railgun and plasma fire.

The exchange, when finished, clearly went against the Geth. The Aurora's bow shields were still intact, if degraded, while the Geth cruiser was reduced to a burning wreck. "I won't have the Geth attacking Nova Yekaterinburg in retaliation," Julia said. "Finish them off."

"With pleasure."

Again the Aurora's weapons fired, this time on tandem with Koenig. All energy fire, no torpedoes, which were unneeded. This barrage blew the Geth cruiser apart, leaving only debris field of inert, blackened shards.

"Status on Geth fighters?" Julia asked Meridina.

"They are under control," Meridina replied. "Commander Laurent assures us they will be eliminated within the minute."

"Task the secondary batteries to help finish them off."

Meridina did so. The particle interceptors on the Aurora continued firing where they could safely engage the Geth without hurting their own fighters. Julia watched with satisfaction as every glowing red dot on the holotank disappeared. She tapped the panel on her chair. "Bridge to Main Shuttle Bay. How did it go?"

"Anders here. Mission successful, but not without casualties."

Julia nodded and forbade herself even the slightest celebratory grin. "How bad?"

"Private Yamashita is KIA, headshot. Lieutenants Delgado and Tra'dur are wounded, Delgado badly wounded."

Julia glanced back to see the quiet look cross Angel's face. "How badly?"

"She got tackled and slammed around by a Krogan in a blood rage, Captain. She's alive, but the corpsman confirm head trauma, suspected concussion, and broken ribs at the least. Internal bleeding is confirmed. Doctor Gillam's just now arriving to get her to medbay."

"And Tra'dur?"

"Broken leg and arm. She's otherwise fine." There was an edge in Anders' voice. "I assume full responsibility for the injuries to the science team, Captain. I'll have a report to you by 2230 hours."

"I understand." Julia nodded. "Bridge out." She tapped the key on her chair again. Again she was looking toward Tactical, where Angel was quietly stewing in anger and worry, while one of her subordinates, Syrandi Luneri, remained quiet at her battle station, Secondary Tactical, along the starboard side of the bridge beside Auxiliary Communications. "Lieutenant Luneri, please relieve Lieutenant Delgado."

The Dorei, her dark purple skin joined by the teal-colored spots of her spotline and purple hair, looked up and nodded. "Aye Captain," she said in her accented English, the sound vaguely Pacific Islander to Julia's ears.

With gratitude showing in her hazel-colored eyes, Angel rose from her station and went straight for the nearest lift.

"Stand down from Code Red," Julia ordered. She released her harness and stood. "Maintain Yellow status. Commander Meridina, please join me. Commander Jarod, you have the bridge."

"Yes Captain," Meridina said. She released her harness and stood. Jarod did the same, leaving Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi to take Ops while he went to the command chair. Meridina followed Julia off of the bridge.

Once the Mako pulled back into the vehicle garage for Zhu's Hope, the trouble began.

The Baynhams, and a much-subdued Jeong, cooperated extensively with Shepard and her squad. Thanks to them the squad knew precisely where to go to get to the Thorian and what to expect. They found that the moment they pulled into the garage and encountered the husk-like humanoid figures, all that remained of age-old servitors of the Thorian. They resembled walking shoots of green plant more than anything, but Robert sensed the malevolent intent within them and pulled the trigger on his pistol. A WHUP sound filled the air with each shot, the resulting blue bolts of energy blasting away part of the creature. A shotgun roared, then another; Tali and Shepard were joining him.

There was more weapons fire from ahead. Robert sensed that veneer of despair and fear, made stronger now that he knew what it was. The colonists had a defense line here and the Thorian was forcing them to fight. Its control was absolute; any rebellion, even a thought, brought with it intense and unstoppable pain.

Ashley responded by firing from the cover of the Mako. "The grenades, now," Shepard ordered, pulling one off. Robert and Tali each added one. With a little nudging from Robert the three grenades landed in a perfect pattern to spread the gas to all of the shooters. One by one they collapsed.

This was only the start. At the lift, in the halls leading to the colony, at the colony itself, the colonists were all armed and fighting to hold them back. The Thorian had them shooting to kill while Shepard refused to give the same order, insisting on suppressive fire to support the throwing of the grenades. The Thorian undoubtedly realized what was going on. The colonists were becoming more aggressive as they continued, more heedless of their own lives. But regardless of the danger, Shepard continued to insist on the grenades.

By the time they got to the colony proper, the incoming fire was inescapable. "Commander, whatever you're doing, it's working. They're no longer attacking the ship," Joker said over their comms.

"Good. Get everyone you can spare into hazmat-compatible protection and send them out on my order," Shepard replied. "I'll need them to secure the colonists."

"Shepard, there's too much fire," Tali said. "We'll never get a grenade thrown without getting shot."

"Ma'am, maybe we should cut loose," Ashley said. "The way this thing sounds, they're better off dead than enslaved to it."

"I understand the sentiment, Sergeant, believe me," Shepard answered. "But I'm not killing these people unless we have no choice, and we still do. Get your grenades ready. Robert, we'll go in and draw their fire as best as we can."

"You want me to project a shield again." It wasn't a question. And Robert knew he didn't need to bring up what happened last time. There was still a sting in his side from it.

"Exactly. I'm counting on it. Ready?"

He drew in a breath to ready himself. "Yes. Let's go."

The two went out into the fire. Shepard's biotic barrier absorbed the initial shots to strike it. Before it could falter Robert focused his power forward, creating the same area of reversed force he'd tried in the ExoGeni HQ. His control strained to its limits.

Shepard spread her arms forward. Energies gathered before her, the purplish-blue of dark matter, joining Robert's shield of force and reflecting the attacks. "Now!"

Ashley and Tali came up and tossed their grenades, one after the other. Two, then four, then six were flying into the various areas of cover, all while shooting continued to wear at their defenses. Robert felt a sharp pain in the middle of his head from the strain he was taking on. Sweat dripped down Shepard's face at her own efforts.

Sickly green gas formed in clouds ahead, each grenade adding to it. The colonist shooters began choking. There was no cry of "Fall back!" as normal enemies might give. For the moment, their foes were not people; they were tools, mere things, reduced to such by the Thorian.

The grenades kept getting thrown so long as the shooting continued. When it finally stopped, and several seconds passed, Robert and Shepard dropped their defenses. Robert's legs felt little better than rubber and he went to his knees. Unable to wipe the sweat from her face on account of her helmet visor, Shepard satisfied herself with a gulp of water and several bites from an energy bar. Combat biotic rations, Robert knew.

"We're clear, that's all of them," said Ashley.

"No." Robert got back to his feet, with effort, and took a drink from his own canteen. "There's one more."

They advanced to the center of the colony. As they turned a corner around one of the prefab buildings, they found the last of the colonists still awake. Fai Dan stood with his hand on a pistol and trembling violently. "I… I was supposed to lead these people," the leader of Zhu's Hope gasped. "I… I failed them."

"This wasn't your fault," Shepard said to him. "ExoGeni did this to you. It allowed this."

Slowly Fai Dan's hand gripped the pistol. It came up with jerky motions, as if he were in the middle of a seizure. Robert felt his despair, his pain… and defiance. "It wants me to stop you," Fai Dan said. "To protect it. But… I won't. I won't be a… puppet!" He let out a wordless cry afterward as the pain within spiked. The spores in his brain were flooding his pain centers with sensation. "I won't!"

"No!" Shepard cried, realizing his intent.

Robert also sensed it. As Fai Dan brought the gun barrel to his temple, finger already tensing on the trigger, he acted. He reached out and grabbed the weapon with his abilities. The barrel rose before it fired, letting off a shot that tore skin and hair from Fai Dan's scalp, but did not hit his skull. Blood started to flow immediately from the wound.

"No!" Fai Dan cried, even as Tali's arm shot forward. The gas grenade landed at his feet and went off, creating another cloud of green-tinted gas. He inhaled it and began to shudder before collapsing, unconscious.

"Good job," Shepard said to them.

"I could sense the intent, and the defiance behind it. The Thorian's spores are literal torture, Shepard. Mental and physical." Robert scowled. "Even the most innocent independent thought is punished. Killing himself was the only way Fai Dan saw to get out of this."

"We should be careful going down," said Ashley. "If this thing's spores get into us..."

"We'll keep helmets on and run on internal air," Shepard said. Her left forearm came up and her omnitool appeared. "Shepard to Normandy, is my hazmat team ready?"

"We're on our way, Commander," Alenko answered.

"Good. Now…" She looked around until she found what the Baynhams had described. "They said the ship is blocking the path down. Let's get that crane moving to get it out of the way."

"On it," said Tali.

Shepard looked at Robert again. "Can you sense this thing?"

Robert attempted to do just that for a moment. There was life here, below, vast and ancient, and oh so very frustrated… and afraid. "I think. It's not happy we shut down all of its puppets. And it's frightened out of its wits, I think. I would expect trouble as we go down."

"Well, I can see it's smart." Shepard's expression was grim. "ExoGeni's crimes aside, this thing enslaves people. I don't take kindly to slavery."

"Nor do I," Robert admitted. "And you know what I used to do for a living."

"Yeah." She smiled at him. "So, ready to face another slaver?"

"Always," was the answer, with a smile added to the reply.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

In the primary hull of the Starship Aurora, on Deck 12, the ship's large medbay took up several internal sections. Designed from the getgo to handle humanitarian crisis events with enough bed capacity to deal with much of its crew, the wards of the medbay were the territory of Doctor Leonard Gillam, "Leo" to his friends. Standing at about six feet in height, Leo still consciously thought of himself as African-American from over a quarter-century of life on the home Earth he shared with many of the Aurora command crew, even though said designation didn't apply in many of the more advanced universes that they had encountered upon the opening of the Multiverse.

For the present moment he was finishing his final scans and examination of one of those friends. The injuries endured by Caterina were prominent on the biobed scanners and further data showed on his monitool. "She'll be okay," Leo assured Angel, Julia, and Meridina. "The helmet absorbed most of the blunt force, so she only endured a concussion. We've already taken steps to ensure there is no permanent brain injury. As for her busted ribs, they'll heal with time. And all internal bleeding has been dealt with."

"When is she going to wake up?" Julia asked.

"Probably by tomorrow," Leo promised.

Angel nodded. She remained beside her sister while Julia and Meridina followed Leo to his other patients. One, Tra'dur, was still conscious. One of Leo's nurses, the Darfuri woman Nasri, was busy tending to the Dilgar woman's broken limbs. "Captain," said Tra'dur. "Commander."

"Lieutenant." Julia stood at the foot of her bed. "Good job down there."

"Thank you. I was afraid the Krogan would kill her. I only wish my fire had been more accurate."

"Killing Krogan is pretty hard, from what I've heard. Don't be worried about it."

"When may I return to duty?"

"Well, I want you on light duty for a week," said Leo. "While we treat your injured limbs and make sure the bone fractures have regenerated properly. We'll see where you are then, okay?"

"Yes, Doctor." Tra'dur laid her head back and glanced toward Cat.

Their last stop was the one the entire mission had been intended to ensure. Liara T'Soni remained on her back on the biobed, relaxing after her ordeal. "She's suffering from mild heat exhaustion exacerbated by lack of sufficient food and water over the last twenty-four hours." Leo shut down his omnitool as they approached Liara. "Doctor T'Soni, you'll be fine, but I'm keeping you for the next sixteen hours minimum to oversee your condition. As a precaution."

"I understand, Doctor Gillam," the Asari answered. Her blue eyes shifted slightly to face Julia. "I'm afraid I'm not very familiar with your Alliance's military. You're a commanding officer?"

"The commanding officer, actually," Julia clarified. "Captain Julia Andreys of the Starship Aurora, at your service. This is my First Officer, Commander Meridina."

"So you're in command of this ship? You seem younger than most human ship commanders I've met."

"I am one of the younger ones, yes," Julia confirmed. "How are you feeling, Doctor?"

"Bewildered. And tired." Liara shifted her arms and closed her eyes for a moment, as if to rest them. "I never imagined I would ever face a Geth. What are they doing beyond the Veil? And who were those Krogans they were working with?"

"They are working for a rogue Spectre, Saren Arterius," Julia replied. She eyed Liara carefully for signs of recognition, but there were no noticeable tells to her. Meridina gave no indication of falsehood being sensed. "With them he launched an attack on the Dorei colony on Adrana and on the Systems Alliance colony of New Eden."

"And then he comes after me. First worlds with old ruins, then an archaeologist." Liara frowned. "But why would he want me? I'm not the best archaeologist in the galaxy. Many consider me to be foolish for advancing the Reaper theory. I can't be his best choice."

Julia and Meridina exchanged looks. Liara's reaction to this next part would be telling. "Doctor, we have uncovered evidence that Saren is not working alone," Meridina stated. "He has a conspirator on his side, one with immense resources to add to his own. That is the reason why he came after you."

"But, I don't have any enemies…" She still seemed to not understand.

"No. But…" Meridina stopped. She glanced toward Julia.

"Doctor, I'm sorry," Julia said. "But our evidence indicates Matriarch Benezia is the one working with Saren."

There was clear surprise on Liara's face. "Mother… no, why would she… why would she work with any Spectre, let alone a rogue one? She has always been an advocate of peace!"

"We are uncertain as to her motives," Meridina stated. "But Saren was in her company last year when we met her for a diplomatic meeting, and we have audio evidence that she is in collusion with him concerning the attacks. They seem to be working toward the return of the Reapers."

Liara's eyes widened. "What? The return of… but that's… that's insane! The Reapers annihilated the Protheans at their height! Why would they want to bring them back?! What possible... " Horror dawned on her. "Could this be some form of conspiracy against the Multiverse?"

"I'm not sure that's their motive," Julia said. "Nobody's sure of it. But we're tasked with stopping them, and finding and debriefing you is part of that mission."

Seeing how agitated Liara was, Leo stepped between her and his commanders. "For the benefit of my patient, this should continue later."

"We have to stop them," Liara insisted. "Any way I can help…"

"I understand, Doctor," Julia said. "And we'll discuss that later. For now, let's follow Doctor Gillam's advice. We'll leave you be for now and talk later."

Liara's head descended back to her pillow. Disbelief and horror still showed on her expression.

Julia and Meridina left Leo to tend to work, or as the occasion required, meet Violeta as she entered the ward to speak to her about Cat's condition. They walked until they had the privacy of a corner. "I sense no deception," Meridina said. "She is having trouble grasping her mother's complicity, but she recognizes we are not lying."

"I don't blame her for not wanting to believe something so terrible about her mother," Julia answered. "So she's not working with them?"

"That I am sure of."

"Then the question is, why did Saren send troops to capture her? Was she intended to be a hostage? Or did he need her for something?"

"Either is possible, I believe…"

Their omnitools chimed. Blue light appeared above the back of their left hands. Julia pressed the light and said, "Andreys here."

"Captain, we have received a report. Saren's forces have been spotted on the colony of Feros," Jarod said. "The Normandy is already there, but they haven't sent any updates."

"Set a course for the Mass Relay and get us the necessary Relay path to Feros, Warp 9.2."

"Yes ma'am. We're putting in coordinates now."

By the time the two women left the medbay, the Aurora warped away from Therum in a flash of light.

After a short descent from the Zhu's Hope colony, Shepard led the squad into what looked like the central chamber of the tower. An open center reminded Robert of the interior of some older towers he'd seen, where the floors were along the walls while there was nothing in the middle, nothing but a long drop to the bottom of what might be the tower itself.

In the middle of that center, suspended by long cables of organic plant matter attached to the walls, was the Thorian.

A sickly, pale green was the primary color on the alien creature's body, marked by what looked almost like eyes in pale color facing toward them. A mass of tendrils hung from the bottom, and three larger, longer ones were formed at at the front, as if to mark the spot of a mouth.

A heart. That was what the Thorian made Robert think of. A big, ghastly heart with its aorta as the thick cables holding it in place.

"It knows we're here," he said to the others.

"Ugly son of a…"

Before Ashley could finish that statement, the Thorian's "mouth" opened. An orifice around the three tendrils distended enough to allow a form to begin emerging, coated in mucus. Disgust was the primary feeling among the others Robert felt at the sight of the humanoid figure emerging. The figure stood, revealed as an Asari in a dark suit. An Asari with green skin. She spoke blandly, and clearly with another's voice. "I have watched you closely, Shepard."

"Then you know I'm not very happy with you," Shepard said.

"I know why you have come. Saren." There was a moment of silence, in which nobody spoke. "Yes. I would treat with you. I would bargain as Saren did. I alone can tell you what Saren wished from me."

"But you're not just going to tell us, are you?" Shepard asked.

"As I said, I would treat with you. I will give you what I gave Saren. In exchange, I ask you to leave me and my thralls be."

Robert narrowed his eyes. The Thorian was… not being entirely deceptive. He could sense the creature was thinking of betraying them as Saren had betrayed it, but it was also scared. Scared that Shepard would actually succeed in killing it. When Shepard glanced toward him he nodded. "It's being genuine. Mostly. It's too scared of you to stab you in the back. It's afraid it'll lose."

"You are a strange one," the Thorian said through the Asari. "It has been aeons since I experienced a being with your power. Are you the true leader here?"

"No," Robert said. "I'm just a member of the Commander's unit, by invitation."

"But your power... " The thing seemed uncertain before returning its attention to Shepard. "Very well. What say you, Shepard? Will you make the agreement?"

"I have a counter proposal," said Shepard. "You tell us what Saren wanted and release the colonists you've taken over, and we'll leave you alone. We'll seal your chamber back up and you can live down here in complete safety."

"Unacceptable," the Thorian protested through its Asari puppet. "They are my thralls. My tools. Your people gave them to me willingly."

"Those people were criminals. They had no right to give you anyone," Shepard retorted. "If you want a deal, release them."

There was no reaction for several moments. Robert could feel the anger, frustration, the terror of the Thorian. It considered submission. It was afraid of them. It knew they could kill it.

But it was also afraid it would be killed anyway. Stripped of thralls, it had no defense, only the word of other beings, of aliens, whom had already proven untrustworthy.

In that moment, Robert sensed more of the history of this proud being. Through millennia the Thorian had never negotiated with anything. It always took, from the Protheans, and from species before that.

"Would you sacrifice your future for a mere handful of your people?" the Thorian asked. "I have seen the things Saren would call down upon you. They destroyed those who came before you. They will destroy you. I can be more useful than they."

"What you're doing is wrong," Shepard replied. "Thinking beings have a right to their own will and thoughts. You've taken that from your thralls."

"You torture them," Robert added. "I've sensed it. You inflict terrible pain on them for even the slightest independent thought. You make their existence a literal living death."

Right then and there Robert knew they wouldn't convince it. He sensed the disbelief the Thorian had at their argument. It simply couldn't comprehend the principles he and Shepard were speaking of. It had no concept of engaging with them as fellow sapients, it couldn't even conceive of that kind of equality. All other creatures, thinking or otherwise, only existed to be its thralls.

When the attack came, it was sudden. The Asari puppet lunged forward with hate in her previously lifeless eyes. Shepard's shotgun snapped up and thundered. A solid slug blew a massive hole through the Asari's neck and it collapsed.

Ashley unloaded her assault rifle on the Thorian. The slivers of material, accelerated to supersonic velocity, ripped into dense, thick flesh, but to little effect. "It's got some sort of organic armor within its upper layer," Tali said, observing her omnitool.

In the distance, they heard shrieks.

"It's sending those plant-husks toward us," Robert said. "And I think it's got more of those Asari to fight us with. I can feel the emptiness of everything that's not us or the Thorian." He touched a hand to his forehead. "It's like a cold spot in the Flow of Life. No sensations, no thoughts, just an empty shell for the Thorian…"

"Well, let's just shoot it until we blow through the armor," Ashley said. "Or set it on fire."

"It'll take forever," Tali said. "We can't kill it that way."

"The trunks," said Shepard. Her eyes were already tracking the thick, aorta-like cords emerging from the top of the Thorian. "We sever those." She raised her shotgun and fired a slug into one of the trunks. A loud, animal sound filled the chamber, but the cable remained intact.

"It may be weaker at the other end," Tali suggested.

"Now I wish I'd accepted Lucy's offer," Robert muttered. However strong the Thorian's organic hide was, he suspected a lightsaber would cut through it given enough time.

"You can regret your ego later, Robert," Shepard said. "We've got incoming."

He turned and saw what she meant. A whole host of the Thorian's husks were coming their way. He raised his pistol and started firing. At the setting he was using, the pulses were literally setting fire to the husks, although they didn't seem to pay attention to this.

Ashley switched to a shotgun, one of the Katana models, while Shepard continued to use her N7 Crusader prototype and Tali her Scimitar. The solid slugs of Shepard's weapon smashed the torsos and heads of the creatures; the sprays of flechette shot from the other two shredded them. Robert's shots set them on fire. "Go!" Shepard urged.

"This way!" Tali and Shepard took the lead. Tali's scans led them up a path where even more of the husks were coming. Enough that they would have stopped them cold if Robert hadn't thrown them out of the way with a wild, barely-controlled burst of force.

Partway up the level, they found one of the trunks holding the Thorian in place. The shotguns of the others thundered while Robert used more projected force to throw the Thorian's husks back. He felt the creature's panic spike, and for good reason. Tali proved correct; at this connection point the cable wasn't as dense, and repeated blasts from the firearms of his allies completely severed it in about ten seconds. A horrible wail filled the air, accompanied by sharp pain and rage. "We pissed it off," Robert observed with a hint of snark.

"Oh well, I knew I'd be pissing people off when I took the job," Shepard remarked, answering snark with snark. "Just a sign I'm doing something right. Now move!"

More Thorian husks came at them at the top of the ascent. Robert didn't need to use his powers; the shotguns of the others cleared them out in a few shots. They moved ahead to the portal leading to the next trunk…

Robert felt the familiar ripple of biotics and shouted, "Look out!"

A singularity pulse flew ahead and went off over the squad. The dark matter gripped the others and pulled them from the ground. Tali went flying into one wall, Ashley into another. Shepard flailed in mid-air, trying to get her bearings.

Ahead of them, beside the second trunk, was another Asari, literal clone of the first. Whatever process the Thorian used to recreate her, it kept at least some of the biotics intact. More dark energy gathered.

Robert threw his hand up. Solid force slammed into the Asari and sent her flying back. Using the moment this bought him, he used the same to grip Shepard and pull her clear of the singularity. This got her out of range just before it exploded in a burst of dark matter, enough force that there was lethal danger in the prospect. Shepard rolled when she hit the ground and brought her shotgun up just in time to shoot the Asari as she recovered. The clone shrieked and collapsed, her right thigh a mess of ripped flesh and muscle. Shepard stood and put another slug into the clone's head to put her down for good.

"Ugh. I hate those." Tali got up while Shepard went to work on the trunk, shooting her shotgun into the end repeatedly. "One moment. I need to make sure… ah, good, my suit is still intact. No punctures."

"Fighting biotics is always a pain in the ass." Ashley got back to her feet. "No offense meant, ma'am."

"None taken." Shepard fired again, Tali joined her, and after a couple of shots the trunk was ripped away.

The Thorian screeched again. Robert felt its sheer terror and the rage it was fueling. It realized it was likely going to die and was desperately trying to gather its remaining husks to overwhelm them. "We'd better keep going," he said. "It's calling in everything."

"Double time it!" Shepard led the way yet again.

They moved around the outer circle of the chamber, blowing away husks as they encountered them. With a wave of his hand Robert sent an entire group of them flying through the air and into the Thorian, pulsing with only one of its large aortic trunks still linking it to the wall of the chamber. Its fury and fear only grew with each moment.

"Another Asari, up ahead," he warned, feeling this one also preparing a biotic attack. Ahead were husks gathered into a barricade of bodies, trying to hold them from the opening ahead and the last node.

Shepard's arm lit up with biotic power. Her arm came up and a shockwave of dark matter moved ahead and slammed through the husks. Tali and Ashley opened up with their guns, firing until the weapons overheated, adding to the carnage. With the way still blocked by those left, Robert let loose with the force inside him again. His control was bad, but it was the husks that suffered for it, as he hit them hard enough that some were literally blown apart by the power he released. This final attack opened the way for them all.

The Asari was waiting on the other end. She released her biotic power at Shepard in a bright, large pulse of biotic power.

But she was too late.

Biotic energy wreathed Shepard's body and shot her forward like a cannon projectile. The biotic pulse thrown by the Asari fell apart at the impact when Shepard struck it with her charge. She slammed into the Asari and sent it flying back into the partition wall at the opposite end of the section. Ashley, Tali, and Robert opened up on the Asari before it could get up, their shots ripping through flesh until the Asari toppled.

Immediately Tali went to the opposite portal while Ashley turned and faced the way they'd come. The final trunk holding the Thorian was here and vulnerable.

Now despair gripped the Thorian. Robert felt an instinctive plea rise within it. Mercy! Mercy mercy mercy pleasedonotdestroymemercymercymercy! "Wait," he said.

Shepard had her weapon up. She looked at him pensively. "What is it?"

"It's… it's begging," he said. "It wants mercy."

Do not want to die nodienodieMERCYHUMANSMERCYPLEASE…

"It can hear us, right?"

At that Robert sensed an acknowledgement. Understand yes understand please mercy do not want to end! He nodded.

"Alright." She turned and looked down toward the Thorian's core below. "I'll let you live under these terms. Cooperate with us against Saren, release your thralls, and swear never to make more. Do we have a deal?"

The creature understood. Yes, a deal. Mercy. Do not want to die. Mercy and I will obey. Will give the Cipher Saren wished.

"It says yes."

Shepard lowered her weapon. "Then we're almost done here."

Robert nodded in agreement.

A feeling came over him then. It was a small one. For the most part the Thorian was relieved. It would live. It would not end. It would release the colonists.

But there was another sense, deep within it. A sense of defiant rage. Robert focused upon it. He wanted to see what it meant. He felt through the Flow of Life and tried to sense the future from this point on.

He saw the Thorian cooperate. An Asari released from a pod, with the Cipher, and the colonists' spores going inactive. It was sealed away. Left to its own devices.

And then… it would brood. It would plan.

It was a flash for Robert, a brief image, but he saw it and knew what it meant.

In that moment, he knew the only thing he could do with that knowledge, and he acted with more instinct than thought. He reached up with his hands, and the power within him, and gripped the last trunk. He ignored the sudden surge of terror from the Thorian, that realization of what was about to happen.

He ignored the MERCY that it again pleaded, and with one solid yank, ripped the trunk free from the wall.

The Thorian fell. It fell screaming, cursing them, hating them, so much hate…

...and then there was nothing.

"It's dead," Robert muttered. "Gone." He pulled off his helmet and wiped at his forehead with the other hand.

The others were looking at him. "Why?" Shepard asked. It was a simple question, but he felt the incredulity and anger behind it. "It agreed to work with us. To let everyone go."

"It did. But I sensed what it felt. What it planned, what it would do. Right now it just wanted to live." Robert moved his hand through his shoulder-length dark hair, disheveled as it was, and coated with sweat. "But it would never have forgiven. Next time it would have been quieter and more subtle. It would have taken the colonists over again, if they were still here, and exposed even more to the spores. Bit by bit. More suffering. More torture. I… I couldn't let it do that to those people. I had to stop it. And that was the only way."

"That works for me," Ashley said. She secured her gun at the small of her back. "So why are you so pale?"

"I killed it with my powers," Robert said. "I… I've never killed a living being like that before. Not with my swevyra, my life powers. And not even in the heat of battle, just… just killing it… while it was begging for mercy." He shook his head. "I'm supposed to uphold Life, and I just killed the only being of its kind in all of creation."

"It sounds like it didn't give you a choice." Shepard put a hand on his shoulder. "So…"

Something made a disgusting liquid sound nearby, in the next section. They went on to find a pod made of the same material as the Thorian starting to fall open. Once again an Asari figure fell out, but this time she was lavender in complexion. Cords dangling from the inside of the pod gave the impression of having been plugged into the Asari. She went down to a knee when she hit the ground before standing up. She shook her head as the others approached. "I'm… I'm free." She looked to Shepard. "I… thank you. Thank you for releasing me."

"Are you alright? Who are you?" Shepard asked.

"I will be fine." Green eyes looked them over. "I just need some time…" After shaking her head again, she seemed to remember the other question. "And my name is Shiala. I serve…" She stopped. A painful, betrayed look crossed her face. "I served Matriarch Benezia. When she joined with Saren, so did I. He gave me to the Thorian."

"Why did you let him?" Tali asked. "Why would Benezia let him do that to you?"

"He… he has a way of assuring the loyalty of his followers. To make us completely loyal. I was a willing slave until he gave me to the Thorian in exchange for knowledge he needed. Somehow… I don't feel his influence anymore. I don't…" She started to topple.

Robert stepped up and helped Shiala steady herself. He could sense the hurt within her, not to mention the weakness. The Thorian had only given her enough nutrients to keep her alive while dormant. Now that she was active again, her body was starving for energy. "We can continue this in the Colony," he said. "Right now you need food and rest."

Shepard nodded. "He's right." She activated her omnitool. "Shepard to Normandy hazmat team, we're bringing up a survivor. I need levo-compatible rations and water waiting."

"Acknowledged," was the reply.

"Let's get back to the colony and get you situated, Shiala." Shepard stepped up and helped Robert steady her. "We've got a lot of questions for you."

By the time Shiala was ready to continue speaking, normalcy was starting to return to Zhu's Hope. Some of the colonists were waking up. The spores were still in their bodies, but without the Thorian to control those spores, they were completely free of any pain or control. The Baynhams and other researchers from ExoGeni arrived - although with no sign of Jeong and his immediate followers - to help the wounded and to examine the dormant spores.

For their part, members of the Normandy crew were helping with the post-battle repairs to the colony. The exceptions were Shepard and her squad. They were in one of the residential pods in the prefab housing, quietly waiting for Shiala to finish her meal.

"I am ready," she finally said. She gently moved the mostly-finished meal to a waiting tray beside her seat.

"Start at the beginning," Shepard said. "Why is Benezia working for Saren?"

"A few years ago, Saren came to Benezia's attention. She recognized he was a formidable man and an asset to the Council, but feared his hatred of Humans would lead him astray. So she approached him and offered to guide and assist him. Saren agreed, and soon, the Matriarch and all of her followers, myself included, found ourselves in the Traverse, working with Saren. It seemed to be normal work for a Citadel Spectre at the time. Intercepting arms shipments, dealing with criminal elements, supporting research programs. Matriarch Benezia even founded a corporation with Saren for research on Noveria."

"So we've heard," Shepard said. "But what I want to know is what you meant by Saren being able to ensure the complete loyalty of his followers."

"Well… it's not Saren himself. It's his ship."

"A ship?" asked Kaidan. "How could a ship cause you to blindly follow him?"

"I'm… I'm not sure," Shiala admitted. "He has a dreadnought he calls Sovereign. It's not like any ship I've ever seen. And being aboard Sovereign, it gets to you. Over days, maybe weeks, your thoughts change. I can see that now, but at the time none of us realized it. It just… everything Saren said made sense. Saying no to him didn't. Even Benezia couldn't resist forever."

"So what did Saren want from the Thorian?" Tali asked.

"Something called the Cipher," Robert said. "That's what I felt it think."

"The Prothean beacons were made from a Prothean mindset," Shiala explained. "Language, and the way it was used, that was unique to the Protheans. Without it, you can't make sense of what the beacons are showing you."

"Yeah, I know what you're talking about," Shepard said. "I still can't figure out what the beacon visions actually mean."

"Good luck finding a Prothean to interpret all of this," Garrus said.

"Normally, you would be right," Shiala said. "But the Thorian has been around for many millennia. It was here when the Protheans settle Feros long ago. Even they fell victim to it. Because of its Prothean thralls, the Thorian learned their language and way of thinking."

"And that's what Saren was after," Shepard finished for her.

"Yes." Shiala nodded. "By offering me to the Thorian, Saren was able to get the Cipher himself."

"And now that the Thorian's dead, no more Cipher." Robert sighed at that. He thought back to that moment, when the clarity of the future he saw led him to that choice...

"I was the conduit for that exchange," Shiala informed them. "So I still have the Cipher." She looked to Robert. "Your mental skills should help you form a strong link with my mind. I can give it to you."

"I'm not the best candidate for it," Robert said. "Shepard had the contact with the beacon. The information's in her head."

"I see." Shiala turned her attention to Shepard. "I have enough strength to make the transfer to your mind, Commander. Are you willing?"

"I am."

"Are you sure about this, Commander?" Ashley asked. "What if she's still under Saren's control?"

"I'm pretty sure she's not," Robert interjected.

"But you can't be certain, can you?"

"It'll be fine, Sergeant," Shepard assured her. Shepard faced Shiala. "How does this work?"

"I will bond with you mentally. Please, relax, and stay still." The Asari reached forward and placed her hands on Shepard's head, a hand for each side of her face. "Embrace eternity," Shiala murmured.

While not a telepath in his own right, Robert sensed their connection through the Flow of Life. It was not a deep one. Shiala lacked the strength to form one, and the purpose didn't require it. For several moments they remained in that pose until Shiala fell back into her chair. She was patently exhausted.

Shepard put a hand to her head before running her fingers through the red locks of her hair. "The vision's… it's more intact now. I can understand it. It was a warning. But it's still not entirely together."

"Since the beacon was destroyed, maybe you didn't get the entire message," Robert suggested.

"Then we need to find another beacon," said Kaidan. "Maybe that will tell you what you need to know."

"Either way, we still have some cleanup to do."

At Garrus' remark, Shiala nodded quietly. "I won't stop you if you decide to kill me. Honestly, I'd rather die than risk being Saren's puppet again."

"No," Shepard said, her tone forceful. "You're a victim as well, of Saren and of the Thorian." She glanced at the others on the team. But none challenged her assertion.

"Then I am yours to command, Commander Shepard," Shiala said. "I am no longer one of Benezia's followers, and I doubt another matriarch will take me into their entourage."

"Why not stay here?" Shepard suggested. "Zhu's Hope will need to be rebuilt. You have talents the colonists could use, and with what you've been through, the colonists will know what it was like."

Shiala seemed to consider it for a moment. "I see the wisdom in the suggestion. If they will have me, I will stay here."

"We'll let Fai Dan know." Shepard stood. "In the meantime, get some more rest. There'll be plenty of work waiting for you tomorrow."

Fai Dan proved more than accepting when the offer was relayed by Shepard, with Robert accompanying her. "This Asari is as much a victim as we are," the colony's leader said. "She'll be welcome."

Shepard nodded. "And how are you?"

"I am…" Fai Dan shook his head. "I failed my people, Commander. I should have realized what ExoGeni was doing. I should have protected them."

"They misled you," Shepard said to him. "You can't blame yourself."

Fai Dan didn't seem too convinced. He glanced toward Robert next. "Thank you for saving my life," he said. He put a hand to his bandaged head. "I just wanted the pain to be over with."

"I know. But I couldn't let you die, not when you could be saved," Robert answered.

"Again, thank you both." Fai Dan's eyes narrowed. "If you'll please excuse me."

Robert sensed the resentment and righteous anger flare up inside the man. He and Shepard turned and noticed what Fai Dan had already seen. Ethan Jeong walked into the colony. Despite everything, he still gave off the air of a man who owned everything and everyone present. The ExoGeni bureaucrat noticed Fai Dan approaching and raised his hand to welcome him.

Fai Dan responded by punching him. "You bastard!" Fai Dan cried even as Jeong fell on his rear end.

Shepard chuckle. "Nice punch," she said.

"Yeah." Robert smiled softly. "Reminds me of Angel."

"It should." Shepard rubbed at her jaw. "Your ex-girlfriend has a wicked right hook."

"I'm probably lucky I haven't learned that the hard way."

That drew a laugh from Shepard. "Very lucky," she agreed. When she saw Robert's eyes grow distant, she asked, "Are you still thinking about the Thorian?"

"Visions of the future… they don't have to be set in stone," Robert said. "I've seen things turn out differently. I… I shouldn't have killed the Thorian, Shepard. It was a unique being. Given time and direction, if it could have been persuaded to recognize other sapient beings, the Thorian was a unique being that could have contributed something to the diversity of life in the Multiverse. Now it's dead. And its kind are gone forever." He shook his head. "Because of me. I killed it without a moment's hesitation because of what it might have become."

"That thing was never going to co-exist," Shepard answered. "It saw us as potential tools. Things to take over and control for its own whims and needs."

"But what if I was wrong?" Robert asked. "What if I killed a being that could have been redeemed?"

"Some can't," Shepard answered. "I wish it were otherwise. But sometimes, you just have to shoot the bastard."

"Including Saren?"

They exchanged a glance. Both knew the answer to that.

Then Shepard set a hand on Robert's shoulder. "You're a kind person, and a good man. And if I find the fact you want to save everyone to be occasionally annoying, well, we can't all be perfect. Except me, of course."

At that, Robert laughed. His laughter only ended when Shepard's omnitool activated. Shepard answered the call. "Go ahead."

"Commander, I just thought I'd let you know that the Aurora signaled. They're on their way. And they have Benezia's daughter."

"Looks like we're 2 for 2 against Saren now," Robert mused. He didn't bother keeping the happiness out of his voice at getting to see his loved ones on the Aurora soon.

"Let them know we'll be waiting for them, and relief supplies will be useful."

"Yes ma'am."

The Aurora was through the Mass Relay and nearly to Feros when the call went out for an upcoming meeting. Lucy, just finishing lunch, stood from her table and picked up her uniform jacket before going to the door. It chimed just before she reached it so she stopped and said, "Open."

The door did so. Ensign Talara was standing outside.

"I sensed it was you," Lucy said. "Anything wrong?"

"I… do not think so. But I feel different now," Talara said. "Ever since Therum…"

"You will." Lucy attempted a comforting smile. "The same thing happened to me two years ago, Talara. I called on my connection to the Flow of Life and since then, it's been here. That's how it feels, right?"

"Like a part of me that's been asleep my whole life," Talara agreed. "But it won't quiet. I don't know how to handle this."

"You'll need training." Lucy checked the time. She had to get going to be at the meeting, so she continued walking. Talara followed. "I'll talk with Meridina and see about when she can…"

"Why can't it be you?"

Talara's question caused Lucy to stop and turn. "What?"

"Why can't you train me, Lieutenant?" Talara asked. "Commander Meridina is the First Officer, and she has so many responsibilities as it is. You're the one who goes into the field now. I… I feel like you should be my trainer."

Many feelings went through Lucy at that prospect. She was surprised, frightened, humbled, and flattered all at once. Worst off all, though, was the small bit of uncertainty she felt. Can I train someone?

The prospect that she would one day have to was always there. Half the reason the Order of Swenya tolerated her continued training outside of their authority was the assumption she and Robert would found their own order for Humans with swevyra. But it never seemed she actually would start training anyone. And Talara's not even a Human

"Is… is my species a problem?" Talara asked. Lucy frowned with surprise. "I know you have no issues with aliens, Lieutenant, please don't assume the worst of what I'm saying. But it seems like…"

"...like you're already really good at picking up sentiments," Lucy finished for her. "No, that was… just an idle thought. The Order of Swenya always assumed I'd start teaching other Humans."

"Oh. So… you're saying Meridina has to teach me?"

"No. I'm… ugh." Lucy rubbed at her forehead. "I'm just… I've not given a lot of thought about teaching before, Talara. I have to…" She sighed and forced a smile to her face. "I'll think about it. About what we should do, what's best for us. Maybe I am meant to be your teacher, but this… it's important that we get it right. Important for both of us."

"Okay." Talara nodded.

"That said, you will need to learn control, so as soon as we're done with this meeting, I want you to meet me back at my quarters so I can give you a few meditation and control exercises. We'll see about the rest once you've got some control down…"

"Of course, Lieutenant," said Talara. "I will be waiting."

"Good." Lucy continued on, worried she might end up late now. As she continued on, she called back, "And while we're off duty, it's Lucy, not Lieutenant!"

"Yes Lieu… Lucy, ma'am!" Talara shouted back, smiling as she did. This felt.. right to her. She moved on herself, waiting eagerly for whatever Lucy could teach her.

Shepard, Robert, and the rest of Shepard's team and command crew arrived in the Main Conference Room to join the Aurora and Koenig command crews. Caterina was not present, causing a pang of worry in Robert. An Asari, presumably Doctor T'Soni, was seated with Julia and Meridina.

"Saren left Feros before we even showed up," Shepard said to the assembled. "The Geth attack was supposed to kill the Thorian so it couldn't share the Cipher with me."

"So we're back to square one on that," Julia noted. "What about the Cipher? What did it do?"

"The visions are a little clearer now," Shepard said. "But I still can't understand what they're meant to tell us."

A hand went up. "Um, may I?" Everyone looked toward a very sheepish Liara. She blushed slightly.

"Go ahead Doctor," Julia said.

"Thank you, Captain." Liara faced Shepard again. "A Prothean beacon downloaded images and memories into your mind? That is quite extraordinary."

"So I'm told," Shepard said. "All it gave me was a headache."

"But it does prove the Reaper Theory is true, doesn't it?" Liara asked.

"I believe it does. Especially after Commander Meridina and I shared the visions from the beacon and from the uploaded Adranian mind she encountered."

"I have studied the Protheans for decades," Liara said. "Maybe I could tell you more, if I saw the visions?"

"Are you sure you are strong enough?" Meridina asked her. "You are still recovering from your time on Therum."

"Yes, I know, but Doctor Gillam's treatments have helped. I believe I can manage it."

"I've got no objections," said Shepard. "You wouldn't be the first Asari in my brain."

Julia glanced to Leo and Doctor Allen-Epstein, the CMO of the Koenig. "She appears healthy enough," said the latter in a German accent. "Doctor, she is your patient."

"No harm, as long as we observe it," Leo replied.

"Then let us do so." Liara stood and stepped around the table where the Aurora officers were seated. Shepard left her seat and the two met near the holotank in the middle of the conference room. "Are you ready, Commander?" When Shepard nodded Liara put her hands to Shepard's head. As Shiala did, she seemed to focus her thoughts, and Shepard's, with the phrase "Embrace eternity."

Robert, Meridina, and Lucy all felt something of the meeting of minds. Liara's face twisted into a pained grimace as the images of slaughter and massacre filled her mind. Finally she broke away. She and Shepard both seemed to wobble. Meridina, Jarod, Robert, and Kaidan all got to their feet, as did the three doctors present, all ready to assist.

But it was soon evident it wasn't necessary. "Oh Goddess, that was horrible," Liara said. "I should be happy I'm right, but I can't."

"Will you be alright?" Shepard asked her.

"I will… I simply need to sit." She didn't resist Epstein and Leo bringing her back to the table. "I'm afraid I didn't see anything familiar," she admitted.

"So as th' Captain said, we're back t' square one," Scotty murmured. "Ye didnae recover anythin' hintin' where Saren's base is?"

"We didn't." Robert shook his head.

"I did find some data in the HQ tower," Tali said. She activated her omnitool and used it to relay information to the holotank in the room. It came alive and displayed the galaxy, zooming in one particular cluster around one of the major Mass Relays. "The Geth are gathering forces in the Armstrong Nebula. Saren may be planning to launch a major invasion somewhere."

"If we hit them, maybe we can set him back," Angel suggested.

"It could work," Julia agreed. "Our ships could split up and sweep the Cluster. If we hit any ground facilities they've set up, maybe we'll find enough information to justify sending the fleets in."

"Or at least disrupt Saren's plans," Shepard agreed. "The Normandy will go in first and scout out possible attack locations."


"What about Noveria?" asked Garrus. "Shiala confirmed that they're up to something there."

Liara looked up toward him. "Shiala? My mother's follower? You've spoken to her?"

"Saren used her as a pawn to trick the Thorian," Shepard explained. "Somehow the Thorian's spores seem to have cleared whatever control Saren had over her, so we were able to debrief her."

"Did she talk about my mother? Did she say why Benezia would be working with Saren?"

"She says Saren has a way of securing the loyalty of anyone who follows him," Robert answered. "A ship called Sovereign."

"Apparently the ship does something to you. It alters your mind until you're completely loyal to Saren," Shepard said, elaborating.

"I find that really confusing," Tali said. "How can a ship do that to someone? I understand falling for ships…"

"Dinnae be t' surprised if it be true, lass," Scotty said to her. "In my time, I've seen stranger."

"We have encountered a vessel fueled by a crystal bonded to the Flow of Life," Meridina added. "If another such vessel exists, it could potentially have a similar power, but bent toward mental manipulation and other abilities."

"Or it could be some form of physiological attack," Epstein proposed. "Technology exists to affect brainwaves and other neural mechanisms, perhaps the ship can cause a person's willingness to resist to decline? Or some other form of mental programming?"

"Like a Darglan brainwave infuser, or the Earth Alliance's mindwipe technology," Jarod agreed. "But engineered to alter personality instead of simply uploading data as brainwave patterns or erasing someone's memories."

"Either way, it's a potential threat," Julia noted. "Jarod, I'd like you to help our medical teams consider possible countermeasures. As for Noveria, I'm told there are political issues with just showing up, even for Spectres. That said, Admiral Maran and President Morgan are already working on that end. At the very least, we might be able to prepare the way for you, Commander Shepard, to best use your Spectre status without blowback."

"A good idea. In the meantime, let's prepare for the Armstrong Nebula sweep? And I'd like to give my crew the rest of the day to enjoy some R&R on your ship and its facilities, if you don't mind?"

Julia smiled. "We're ready to have them. Commander Meridina can help you secure holodeck privileges if they're desired, and I'll let Hargert know to break out the tubs of sausage stew. Anything else?" Julia waited to see if anyone spoke on something. When none did, she stood. "Then we're all dismissed."

When the meeting was over Robert approached Lucy. She sensed him coming without looking, allowing her to turn as he reached earshot. "What is it?" she asked. "I can sense you want to ask something, but you're not sure about it."

"More like I hadn't wanted to do it this way," Robert admitted. "But on Feros, there were points where I could have ended a fight before someone got hurt, or nearly so." His mind flashed back to the fight with the Thorian, and how Shepard and Tali had both risked injury because he didn't have the tool that would have defeated the Thorian right away.

Lucy sensed those mental images. And she knew right away what he was going to ask. "Did you bring the parts?" she asked.

"I left them at Transporter Station 2," he answered.

"And you're sure?" Lucy's expression betrayed her concern. "You wanted to do this by yourself. To improve your control."

"I still do," Robert admitted. He shook his head. "But it's selfish to put that ahead of the people I'm working with. I can't let Shepard or one of her team get hurt because I'm too prideful to ask for help."

"That's as good a reason as any," Lucy said. She smiled at him. "Let's go get your weapon made. And in exchange, you can give me some advice."

"Oh?" asked Robert.

"It's not difficult. I just want to know how good a teacher you think I'll be."

When Caterina woke up, she felt like a Looney Tunes character who'd just had an anvil dropped on her head. The lights of the medbay were painful at first, and she blinked several times before she could keep her eyes open and not feel like she was staring into a sunlamp.

She became conscious of her hand being held. Cat turned her neck and saw it was Violeta at her bedside, holding her right hand. Violeta's purple eyes opened fully at seeing Cat was awake. A smile crossed her lovely face. "You're awake."

"My head is killing me," Cat moaned. "And I feel like an elephant tried to sit on my chest."

"It should. That Krogan hit you hard." Violeta brought Cat's hand up to her lips, letting her kiss Cat's finger. It was a pleasant sensation that distracted from the pain. "They're treating you for a concussion. Your head slammed into something. If you hadn't been in a helmet…"

The image of her skull breaking like an egg being smashed against the counter briefly flashed into Cat's mind. It was unpleasant. "Yeah," she said. "I guess it was a good thing Therum was so damn hot."


"Did anyone else get hurt? Did we get Doctor T'Soni out?"

"We did," Violeta assured her. "You did it. You saved her from that Krogan too."

Silence passed between the two. Violeta was clearly agonizing over something. "Maybe I should say no," she finally said.

"To the promotion, the transfer?"

"Yeah. Maybe… I don't know. It's everything I've been building up to. Everything I dreamed. But then you came along and..."

"Don't give up your dreams," Cat said to her. "Not for me."

"Even if it takes me away from you?"

"I love you too much to let you sacrifice everything for me," Cat answered. "It's sort of funny, I mean. In a sad way. For me to keep you, I'd have to want to see you hurt. And then I wouldn't actually love you."

"Love can be selfish," Violeta reminded her.

"I'm not sure that's real love," Cat answered. "Real love is selfless."

"Oh God, you are the sweetest girlfriend I've ever had," Violeta declared, giggling. "I can't think of any of them saying something like that. It'd sound too…"

"...corny?" Cat offered.

"Corny, cheesy, something like that." Violeta leaned forward. "If it doesn't work, I mean, if we don't work out because of this… you'll have someone else. I'm sure of it, and please don't think otherwise."

Caterina responded with a nod. If anything this confirmed that Violeta, while still clearly torn up over it, had never really considered turning down her new posting. And to Cat, that was fine. That Violeta cared enough to not want to hurt Cat's feelings, to make Cat feel like Violeta couldn't wait to get away, as if Cat was the worst girlfriend ever… that was good enough.

"Thank you for considering it anyway," Cat said. She leaned up and allowed Violeta to gently kiss her.

Seconds after the kiss ended Cat noticed a shadow moving over Violeta. She looked past her girlfriend and ot the new arrival. Julia was looking as she always did in her uniform, combining authority and confidence, and even if Cat found some of it annoying at times - Julia's insistence on calling her "Lieutenant" or "Miss Delgado" on the bridge always felt off - she couldn't help but think it made Julia look completely cool most of the time. "How are you feeling, Cat?" Julia asked.

"My head hurts. I feel like something big was set on top of my ribs. But I guess I'm okay."

"That's good to hear." Julia smiled at her. "And I can sympathize with the ribs. I made the mistake of sparring with your sister this morning. I think she was trying to make a point."

Caterina giggled at that. "Why would you do that? Angel always gets wound up when I'm hurt."

"She does. And she needs to unwind." Julia placed a hand near belly. "Although I wish she wouldn't hit nearly so hard."

Again Caterina giggled, and Violeta did as well. "So Doctor T'Soni is okay?" Cat asked. "Violeta said we got her off Therum."

"We did. Your mission was a complete success," Julia assured her.

"And I have the injuries to show it, I guess."

Julia chuckled at that. "Among other things."


"For one thing, Cat, being wounded in the field means you get a commendation for being wounded in action. But more importantly, between this and Tira and your work in the sciences, well, Admiral Maran and I talked about that."

"About what?" Cat asked.

"About you. And what you've contributed. So now Admiral Maran's gotten the final nod from the board and, well…" Julia's smile widened. "Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander Delgado."

The only thing greater than Cat's shock was the smile that came to Violeta at the news.

Main Engineering was active as always when Barnes stepped in. Beside him, Tali looked around and said, "This is… quite impressive."

Barnes responded by leading her to the central control table of Engineering. "It damned sure is," he agreed amiably.

At the table Scott looked up. "Ah, lad, good t' see ye. I've been meanin' t' talk t' ye about…" He noticed Tali and gave them an intent look. "An' who might this be?"

Barnes nodded to Tali, who stepped forward. "I am Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, Commander Scott. I'm currently serving with Commander Shepard's team on the Normandy."

"So ye are. Ye're th' Quarian lass th' Koenig picked up durin' that whole mess with th' Batarians, aren't ye?"

"I am, sir. Tom let me join his engineering team when we attacked that Batarian pirate station."

"So Tom did, did he?" Scotty gave Barnes a bemused look. "An' from th' sound o' things, it was a bloody good idea. Ye did a fine job on th' Koenig's engines that time."

"Thank you, sir. And thank you both for letting me see your engine room. There's nothing like it in the Fleet."

"I knew you'd like it," Barnes said.

Nearby a younger officer with an East Asian appearance looked up. "Isn't this cute?" he asked in an English accent. "Barnes is getting approval for his new girlfriend."

"Uh, what?" Tali asked, clearly bewildered.

Barnes shot a glare toward the officer. "Can it, Li."

That prompted laughter from every engineer in earshot.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »


The Normandy departed Feros the following "morning", by the standards of the Aurora's ship time. For the moment Feros still spun quietly outside of Julia's ready office window. A report from Admiral Maran approving the Armstrong Nebula mission was on her display.

She was pulled from it by the door chime. She looked up and said, "Come in."

To her surprise, it was Liara who stepped in. "Captain Andreys, good morning," she said. She'd replicated a new Asari-style jumpsuit of white and blue color to replace what she'd worn on Therum.

"Good morning, Doctor." Julia shut down her screen and folded her hands on her table. "What can I do for you?"

"I would like to request permission to remain on your ship, Captain," Liara replied. "For when you investigate Noveria."

"Alright. Why?"

"I've spoken with Shiala. The things she told me, I…" Liara shook her head in disbelief. When Julia gestured to one of the chairs in front of her desk, Liara gratefully sank into it. "I've always had a difficult relationship with Benezia," Liara admitted. "She didn't approve of my choice of career. She thought I should be a scholar on Thessia and that I was forsaking my potential."

"I see."

"But no matter how bad things are between us… I simply cannot accept she is willingly following Saren's madness, and Shiala has me thinking… if this is some sort of mental manipulation, maybe I can help undo it. Maybe I can save her. And I have to try."

Julia nodded quietly. There was a part of her that sympathized with that. She would have loved to have saved her mother from the illness that claimed her. "Alright. But this isn't a safe place to be right now, Doctor, and I cannot honestly send you into the field unless I know for certain you can take care of yourself."

"I understand. And I can, Captain," Liara insisted. "I've trained in my biotics for years, and I don't think I'm boasting when I say I'm a powerful biotic. And I know how to use a gun. I had to learn in order to work out here."

"I see." Julia leaned back in her seat and considered the issue. "I'm not looking for a powerful biotic. But someone who understands Benezia, that I could use."

Liara laughed at that. The laugh had a tinge of bitterness. "I am afraid I am not as useful there, but I do understand how she thinks, and I'm familiar with my mother's business holdings. Unless Saren has changed her that much…"

Julia took the moment to consider Liara. She knew that the Asari were, compared to Humans, very long-lived. Liara herself was several decades older than Julia. But seeing her, Julia didn't see a being over a century old, but a very young woman who was determined and, yet, vulnerable. Whatever unfinished business she had with mother… well, that could complicate the mission.

At the same time, there was no denying Liara might be valuable. And if she could turn Benezia against Saren, that might prove vital to stopping him.

"Alright," Julia said. "Welcome aboard the Aurora, Doctor. I'll have quarters arranged for you in the VIP section on Deck 6."

"You needn't arrange anything special for me," Liara protested. "I've spent my career sleeping in frontier camps and run-down starships. I'll be fine wherever you can put me."

"If it makes you feel better, we'll put you in our smallest quarters on Deck 6," Julia said. "But our ship was built to accommodate guests at times, so don't worry. It's not an imposition." Julia stood from her desk. "I'll have an operations officer assign you quarters immediately." She extended her hand. "Again, welcome to the Aurora, Doctor T'Soni."

Liara stood and accepted her hand, clearly familiar with the idea of a handshake. "Thank you, Captain Andreys."

The Aurora was underway by the time the morning shift began its rotations for lunch. Lucy was enjoying Hargert's offering of roast beef and ham sandwiches and leftover sausage stew, among other choices, when Meridina took a seat at the table with her own lunch. "You are enjoying Hargert's meal as usual," she observed.

Lucy finished chewing and swallowed before answering, "It's always good for a pick-me-up."

"And you need one? I sense your uncertainty."

"I shouldn't be uncertain and I know it. I'm just... " Lucy sighed. Across from her Meridina was beginning her meal. "You've sensed Talara?"

I have, Meridina responded mentally, still chewing away at a sandwich. Her swevyra is potent. She has great potential if she is trained. Have you spoken to her on the possibility?

"I'm already showing her the basic control exercises, just as you did with me," Lucy said. "As for training… she spoke to me about it, actually. She asked me to train her."

Meridina swallowed and nodded. "I see. That is a great honor."

"Yeah, but…" Lucy rested her head on her hand, elbow on the table in uncaring defiance of proper table manners. That the thought crossed her head made Meridina smile slightly, amused as always by Lucy's tendency to intentionally defy propriety at times. "I know that I'm expected to train other Humans by your people. But I never put much thought into what I would do. How I would teach. I haven't had the possibility come up before. Is this something I can actually do, Meridina? Can I be a good teacher?"

Meridina seemed to consider the question. "Long ago, my father and Mastrash Ledosh told me that there was no more difficult task than to teach others. We must learn to balance our expectations with the realities of our students. We have to understand their needs and how they may need to be taught differently than we were. I learned this myself with you and with Robert."

"I get that. Talara may easily learn things I had trouble with, or vice versa. And I know it's my job to work with that. I just…" Lucy shook her head. "Meridina, what if I fail her? What if I don't teach Talara the right way, and she gets herself killed? Or if she falls to darkness? It would be my fault."

Meridina's response was a small, bemused laugh. "I know that fear," she confessed. "I felt the same with you. From your passions you often drew close to darkness, and I feared for you each time."

"I know. I remember." Lucy nodded. "I wasn't the easiest student."

"Talara does not seem to be as passionate as you."

"She may be more. She's just so eager."

"Indeed." Meridina sipped at her drink. "Commander Scott believes it makes her one of our best."

"Maybe. I'm just worried that her eagerness and idealism will get her into trouble. She's already charged up from meeting Princess Allura. I think she wants to match Allura."

"Yes. Much as I, as a child, wished to be as great a swevyra'se as my father. And that can get her into trouble, and it would be your responsibility to teach her how to avoid it. Or mine, I suppose." Meridina briefly set her lunch aside. "Do you wish me to train her instead?"

"You're First Officer now," Lucy protested. "You don't have time."

"This is important. I would make time for it. Although I sense that Talara would prefer you as her teacher, that may not be the best for her, if you do not feel you could bring out her potential." Sensing the twisted emotions that remark brought Lucy, Meridina continued with, "There is no shame in admitting such, Lucy, please be sure of that. There are many great swevyra'se who do not take personal apprentices. My father hasn't, as much as I wished he would take me. And he sits upon the Council."

"I don't know if I can or not," Lucy said. "Robert thinks I can. I think I might be able to. But I won't know until I try, and if I fail… Talara deserves better."

"What do your feelings tell you?" Meridina asked. "What does your swevyra lead you to feel?"

Lucy shrugged. "I… I suppose I feel I should. I feel I could do it."

"Then my suggestion is you follow your feelings. Just as I did mine when the choice of teaching you came."

Knowing how much that choice cost Meridina, Lucy accepted the advice with a nod. She drew in a breath and centered herself, pushing away the fears of failure, the stakes involved, focusing only on the question, and what the feeling inside of her told her was the right choice.

Without a further word, Lucy tapped her omnitool and activated the comm link. "Lucero to Talara."

After several moments Talara's voice responded. "Talara here, Lieutenant. What can I do for you?"

"Meet me at 1900 hours in Holodeck 2," Lucy replied, already checking the holodeck scheduling and laying a reservation in. "Tonight, I'll begin your training."

"You will not regret this, Lieutenant! Talara out!"

"See?" Lucy asked Meridina. "Eager."

There was a wide smile on the Gersallian woman's face. "Yes, she is, and in your own way, so are you, my former student."

Lucy sighed and matched the smile. The damned truth was that Meridina was right.

As the Normandy continued on her way to the Armstrong Nebula, Robert sat alone on the armory deck. His omnitool whirred as he finished the repair on his armor for the shot that wounded him on Feros. When he was done he put the armor back on its support rack.

As his eyes went over to his pistols, they focused on the new addition to his armory. He reached over and picked up the cylinder of metal. It was a little sleeker than the one Lucy used, with a prominent green button. He held it away and used his thumb to press it. A green energy blade flashed to life with an electronic snap-hiss. He gave it a few experimental swings, marveling at its lightness compared to the training blades he'd used before. He turned it off and put it back.

The elevator door opened and he turned. Ashley walked out, wearing her standard issue blue duty uniform. She went straight to her gun rack and started her daily routine of checking her guns. She looked over and noticed him. "How's the hip?"

"Healed," he answered.


Robert considered Ashley as she went back to work. Again he worried about her, the benign xenophobia in her character that made her uncomfortable around non-Humans. Relatively-speaking, at least, since she'd worked so well with Tali on Feros. Robert wondered if she was warming up to the Quarian girl.

The real test emerged from the elevator after it made a return trip. Garrus entered the armory/cargo deck and went for his gun rack. He pulled his sniper rifle off and brought the scope up. "Hey Sergeant?"

"Hrm?" Ashley looked toward him.

"Personal opinion. Does this look properly calibrated to you?"

"Let me see." Ashley brought the rifle up and looked through the scope. "It looks off by about a centimeter. Maybe two."

"Just what I thought. Good eye." Garrus received the rifle from her and set it on the desk. "You keep a good armory, Sergeant."

"Thank you," she replied. "Dad always told me that a good Marine always takes care of his or her weapons. 'Take care of them and they take care of you.'"

Garrus chuckled. "My father always used to make me field-strip the family rifle. Once a week, like clockwork, while he checked his C-Sec issue weapon."

"Huh." Ashley continued her own work. "I guess being in C-Sec runs in the family?"

"More or less. I guess we have that in common. Family service."

Robert felt a tinge of anger in Ashley. "I guess we do." She looked at Garrus and the anger faded somewhat, replaced with… understanding, Robert felt.

He didn't get a chance to muse on it. "What about you, Captain?" Garrus asked. "I've heard some crazy stories about your background. Did your elders ever put you in front of a rifle?"

"Grandpa, when I was ten." Robert smiled from the memory. "Took me shooting, and then told me I'd be cleaning the gun. He left me in the shed with the rifle, cleaning kit, and a bottle of cleaning oil. Told me to be careful with how much I used." The old memory made him blush slightly, which didn't go unnoticed. "But I was a kid, and that bottle was empty well before it should have been."

"Oh no," Garrus moaned.

"You didn't," Ashley said.

"Did. Spilled the whole bottle into the barrel."

The reply to that was laughter. Robert laughed too, and it felt good. Not just from the memory, or sharing it, but because he could feel some of that negative sentiment in Ashley draining away. She was starting to see Garrus as a comrade in arms, not a possible alien foe, and it felt good to know she was tilting away from the dangers of her more negative sentiments.

And if he had to endure a little embarrassment in that cause, well, he couldn't really complain, could he?

"Just what did your Grandfather do when he found out?" Ashley asked, genuinely curious.

"Gave me a good, long look, met me eye to eye… and told me to get that crap out of his rifle." Robert sighed. "Then he made me polish the whole weapon and the work table. I spent all night cleaning."

The reply was more laughter. And again, Robert joined in.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 8 July 2643. Captain Julia Andreys recording. At the request of Admiral Hackett, the Aurora is tracking the civilian space vessel Ontario, now present in the Farinata System in the Hades Gamma cluster. According to Admiral Hackett a member of the Systems Alliance Parliament has been abducted by biotic terrorists and the Ontario is the ship they're fleeing aboard. Lieutenant Lucero is leading a team of Marines to investigate while we remain at a safe distance.

With the Ontario having an anti-beaming field up, the approach was made via stealth runabout. The team entered the ship through the port side lock. Lucy, as custom, took the lead. She had her lightsaber in hand but not active. Behind her, Talara was armed with a pulse pistol set to stun. The squad of light-armored Marines, under Sergeant Coleman, had their weapons set to a similar setting.

"I sense them," Talara whispered, her voice clear over the tactical comm link. Her eyes, blue with lavender-colored irises, were focused ahead. She was more intent on what she was feeling than the digital readouts of her helmet HUD. "They're frightened and angry. And in a lot of pain."

"They would be. Jarod did some research. The man they took sits on a committee for biotics and voted down reparations for bad implants." Even though she could send mental messages, she knew the Marines would prefer hand gestures, and she'd worked with them enough that she knew several of them. She signaled them to follow behind her, fire to stun.

They made it into the cargo hold and the fight began. Only a few of the biotics were armed, with mass effect field pistols, and Lucy found their shots easy enough to deal with. It was their biotic abilities that was the real threat, but Lucy had her own special abilities. She used the life-based force inside of her - swevyra as the Gersallians called it - to deal with the bolts of dark matter the biotics used on them. While she worked on defense, Talara and the Marines opened fire. The Marines' shots were made with what would have been lethal precision in a military conflict. One by one the biotics in the cargo hold went down to stun fire.

"We're secure," Lucy said to them. "Sergeant, detail two to secure prisoners. There's a few more up ahead."

"Roger, ma'am," answered Coleman. "Whitfield, Umitam, you're on! Secure prisoners and standby!"

With Coleman and the remaining Marine behind her and Talara, Lucy advanced to the forward section. Ahead was the control cockpit and to each side, living space. She sensed the fear in one room and entered.

"Don't come any closer!" a male voice cried. Two men and a woman, all armed, were standing opposite from them. On his knees was another man, in a nice set of clothes that had seen better days. He was on his knees, hands on his neck, and had a shotgun jammed to the back of his head. "I'll kill him!"

Talara watched with anticipation at how Lucy would handle this. They'd been training for a few weeks now, with control exercises giving way to actual training in these powers. While some of the exercises were uncomfortable - Talara disliked having to stand on her hand and hold things - she'd still learned many valuable lessons at Lucy's direction, with Commander Meridina occasionally observing. Now she wondered which of those skills Lucy would use to stop these people. Would she yank the guns from their hands? Use mental trickery to get them to stand down? Slice the gunhands off their arms to disable them?

To her surprise, Lucy did none of those things. Instead, she simply turned off her lightsaber and knelt on the floor. "Sergeant, fall back with your team. Await further orders."


"That is a direct order, Sergeant," Lucy said, insistent. "Fall back."

With confirmation of the order, Coleman did so. Talara sensed a tinge of relief in him. He didn't like hostage situations.

"Ensign, holster your weapon and join me," Lucy said next, ignoring the pistols raised toward them.

Talara, who was not quite so flippant about ignoring the weapons, hesitated a second before doing so. With her field action uniform and helmet, she might survive…

Lucy promptly reached to her neck and detached the helmet from her combat armor. She set the helmet to the side, allowing her curly dark hair to descend to her shoulders. She had visible Latin American heritage, with a lighter brown complexion and the shape of her face indicating the mestizo background she inherited from her mother. Bright blue eyes focused on both hostage and hostage-taker.

Without waiting, and yet with a great deal of worry, Talara removed her helmet as well. She felt the surprise as the Human biotics took in her alien features, such as her pointed ears, the blue half-moon marks on her cheeks under her eyes, and the lavender color of her eyes' irises. Silver-blue hair held into a small bun at the back of her neck gave her a further exotic appearance. By complexion she looked the most Human, having a bronze coloration just a shade or so darker than Lucy's.

"I'm Lieutenant Lucy Lucero of the Alliance Starship Aurora," said Lucy. "And I'm trained in the arts of the Gersallian Order of Swenya. This is Ensign Talara, a Falaen officer from my ship and my current apprentice in those arts. Who are you?"

"Our names aren't important!" snarled the leader, his gun still held to Burns' head. The bald man, with a formerly-trimmed beard of dark hair that now reflected a lack of care, was full of frustration and rage. "What's important is how the Alliance, our Alliance, has ignored us! This son of a bitch doesn't care how much we suffer, he just cares about pleasing the people who pay for his political career!"

"Please, you don't have to do this!" the hostage wailed. "I've changed my mind!"

"Now that I've got a gun to your head. Isn't that how it always works?! Letters don't do crap, you have to use force!" Next he glared at Lucy and Talara. "And you… you people! Do you even know what's going on here?! Who this bastard is?!"

"Martin Burns," Lucy said. "Chairman of the Systems Alliance Parliamentary Committee on Transhuman Studies."

"We're L2 biotics," the woman said. "The implants they gave us to control our biotics were faulty."

"More than faulty," the leader spat. "Some L2s are nearly crippled from what these implants have done to us! Those reparations were the only hope of many of us to have the damage treated! And Chairman Burns here denied them!"

"It… I'm sorry, all of the reports made it seem like the problem was overstated!" protested Burns. "But it's clear to me now that they were wrong, I was wrong! I never realized how desperate you were becoming! I'll change my vote, I'll see about getting reparations for the L2 biotics!"

"It's too late for that!" the leader insisted. "Like we can trust you anyway."

"You can," Lucy remarked. "I can feel the sincerity in him." Her eyes locked on the leader's. "Just as I feel the pain in you. Even now… you're in constant pain. Maybe… maybe we can do something about that."

"No, it's too late for that," the leader insisted. "A message has to be sent."

"And do you think murdering Chairman Burns will send the right message?" Lucy asked. "Death rarely solves problems so easily. His replacement will be just as likely to stand against what you need simply to avoid being accused of submitting to terrorism. If you want to get any victory out of this, Burns needs to live."

"And you expect us to believe you'll just give us what we want and let us walk free? Do we look that stupid?"

"No. You look like a man in constant pain who needs compassion," Lucy replied. "I know what it's like to be hurt."

"Don't you dare try to compare yourself to us! You don't know what it's like, what this does to us!" the leader shouted. "This is the kind of thing we're reduced to! We're struggling to survive…"

"Yes." Lucy didn't raise her voice. "You are. And it's so easy to convince yourself to do something terrible if it's in the name of surviving. But I'm telling you it's not necessary. You and all of the other biotics can get the treatment you need. You might be in jail, but you won't be in pain anymore. You'll have justice. But only if Burns lives. Without his voice to help you, you won't accomplish anything. You and those you're trying to save will keep suffering."

Talara observed quietly. She sensed the uncertainty in the biotics. The fear. The same was in Burns, joined with a genuine realization of error. He sympathized with these people, felt as if he had let them down. And like them, he did not want to die.

In Lucy, Talara felt… certainty. Resolve. Even with guns pointed at her and no weapon in her hand, she acted as if she was in complete control of the situation and knew it would turn out alright.

Slowly, the leader lowered his shotgun from Burns' head. "Alright," he said. "I… I don't want to die. I just want justice. I want the pain to end."

Lucy nodded. "Chairman?" She stood to her feet and Talara did likewise. "Please step over here. Ensign, secure their weapons."

They did as requested. "I assure you, Lieutenant, that I will follow through on this," Burns said to her.

"It's not me you owe that assurance to, Chairman," Lucy pointed out. "That said, I sense your sincerity, and I wish you the best in putting this right." Lucy brought her left arm up. An omnitool formed around her forearm. She tapped a key on it. "Lucero to Aurora. Everything is secure. We're ready for pickup."

A moment later Jarod answered, "Confirmed. ETA is twenty seconds."

Upon the Aurora's arrival, the biotics and Burns were beamed away first, for treatment and, in the case of the former, for confinement until a Systems Alliance vessel could arrive to secure them. This left Lucy and Talara alone. Talara looked to her. "Lucy, you said to ask questions."

"I did. What's on your mind?"

"This situation," Talara said. "It would have been over in seconds if you'd acted. You could have disarmed them and I would have easily stunned them. Without any threat to Chairman Burns. But you didn't."

Lucy smiled and nodded. "You're right. There were several ways I could have stopped them, even without using my lightsaber. If I'd needed to, I would have. But fighting isn't our purpose. Saving lives and bettering them is. That's why I had to let the biotics' leader surrender peacefully."

"So that they may be shown leniency?"

"Among other things. Had I simply overwhelmed them, it would have left them bitter and angry at being denied again. Even if it was justified. But they made the choice themselves, without being under immediate duress. They chose to spare Burns and accept his promise. He'll deliver on that and the lives of these biotics will be improved. That strengthens the Flow of Life."

"And that is our goal," Talara said. "I see." She nodded. "Yes. And not looking for a fight… I think that is wise. That has been the way of my people for millennia."

"Fighting is only a last resort. It's sad we have to fall back on it as often as we do." Lucy reached for her omnitool. "And it's about time we got out of here. Lucero to Aurora, two to beam up."

Hours later, the Systems Alliance cruiser Seoul jumped to FTL velocity and departed the Farinata system. Julia watched them go on the holo-viewscreen. Meridina and Leo were sitting beside her, the latter waiting to discuss the matter with her. She left Jarod in charge of the bridge when she led the two into her office. "Now that this situation is handled," she said, "we can get back to our primary mission."

"Handled is not the best way to put it." Leo crossed his arms and a scowl appeared on his face. "I looked at the scans on those biotics. Whoever approved those implants for use should be in jail, if you ask me."

"I understand the sentiment," Julia replied. While she and Meridina had command burgundy as the secondary color of their black-toned uniforms, Leo's had medical blue, with an open white lab coat bearing his name. "But it's out of our hands. We have a more important matter to worry about."

Meridina nodded. "Saren."

"Still no new news on him?"

"None," she replied. "Despite the efforts of many specialists in the Citadel races and the Alliance, Saren's location remains unconfirmed."

"It's been a month since he was on Feros," Leo said. "He's got to be somewhere."

"Unfortunately, there are dozens of clusters he could be in within the Traverse," Julia noted. "Hundreds, thousands, of star systems within reach of a Mass Relay. Even more if he's acquired ships with warp or hyperspace capability. And we still don't know what his personal ship is capable of. Meridina, do we have any more information on this 'Sovereign' vessel?"

"Regrettably little. Although by accessing Commander Shepard's reports and body armor footage from Eden Prime, as well as other recordings, we do have a likely suspect for the vessel." Meridina used her omnitool to display an image under a blood-red sky. It was a tall ship landed to New Eden's surface, looking very much like a sea creature from some sailor's fable, but made of metal with red highlight coloring. "Survivor reports claim that the vessel made a 'scream' sound into their minds."

"Which would confirm Shiala's claim that the ship is using some sort of mental effect for keeping the loyalty of Saren's followers," Julia noted. "Leo, any luck on that?"

"Little. Jarod and I have been going over all sorts of records on machines that can alter neurological states. Nothing like what Shiala describes has been encountered. We've been analyzing possible countermeasures, and we think that emissions-shielding could contain anything dangerous. But we won't know for certain without material to test."

"So nothing definitive until we find Sovereign itself." Julia nodded. "Well, continue what you're…"

A chime filled the room. "Jarod to Andreys. Admiral Maran is on IU radio for you."

"Alright." Julia went to her desk and activated her personal system there. She sat in time for Admiral Maran to appear on her screen. The bearded Gersallian man had short-cut dark hair that was just starting to gray at the temples. A decorated war hero of the Gersallian Interdependency several times over, he now served as Chairman of President Morgan's Defense Staff, and was the primary conduit through which President Morgan could personally direct the Aurora's missions. His position also made Maran the senior military strategist for the Alliance's war with the Nazi German Reich of Universe S4W8, a war nearly two years old now, and victory just within grasp of the Alliance and their ever-growing circle of allies. "Admiral."

"Captain, your rescue of Chairman Burns has provided us an unexpected boon," said Maran.


"Due to his position, he has influence with a number of companies that manufacture biotic amps. Most of them have facilities on Noveria and influence with the Noveria Development Corporation, the company that oversees the planet. Admiral Hackett informed him of our interest in Saren and Benezia's activities on Noveria through Binary Helix, and the Chairman followed through. I just received a call from one of the board members for the Noveria corporation. The board has approved our request for the Aurora to investigate Binary Helix."

"That is excellent news. We'll get underway immediately," said Julia.

"Expect a hostile response when you arrive. The Noverian board only barely approved your permission. Normally they only allow limited involvement by the Citadel Council by acknowledging authority from Spectres. Before you ask, we originally intended to let Commander Shepard handle Noveria, but the Citadel Council has something else in mind for the Commander that I'm not at liberty to discuss. So you'll be the one handling the Noveria situation. Expect that the local security forces may further impede your efforts. I'm told they don't like government and military officials meddling on their world. Further diplomatic efforts may end up being necessary. Do as you deem fit to acquire access to the Binary Helix facility on Noveria. We need to know what Saren and Matriarch Benezia are up to."

"We'll get it done, Admiral, that I assure you. Has the fleet moved into Armstrong Nebula?" she asked. Given the two weeks the Aurora, Normandy, and Koenig had spent clearing Geth outposts and detecting more in that cluster, she wanted to know how the fleet was responding.

"Seventh Fleet sent a task force three days ago. So far they haven't seen any further sign of the Geth. It looks like you scared them out."

"That is good news at least."

"It is. Whatever Saren was planning, you may have pre-empted him." Maran reached toward something off-screen. "I'll keep you up to date on any further developments. I look forward to your success at Noveria, Captain. Maran out."

The moment he disappeared from her screen, replaced by the seal of the Alliance's Presidency with its prominent torch insignia and the Alliance flag of blue, green, and white, with the torch insignia set over the middle. Julia was familiar with it and paid it no further thought, triggering the ship's comm system instead. "Andreys to Bridge. Take us to the Relay, our destination is Noveria."

"Aye sir," was Jarod's reply.

Moments later, the Aurora was hurtling away from Farinata faster than the speed of light, due for the next stage in the hunt for Saren Arterius.

Undiscovered Frontier
"A Matter of Survival"

The Aurora was on its way to the last relay that would take them to the Pax system, where Noveria was located. Aboard the ship, the two thousand plus crew and their civilian specialists and support staff went about their day as if it were any other.

With two thousand people aboard, the Aurora was a small town in its own right, and like any such community it needed the facilities and means to support them. Not just with sustenance or medical care, but with activities. The ship's middle decks, where the primary and drive hulls started to meet, often had such facilities interspersed with mission-specific ones or living quarters for enlisted and lower ranked officers. A large gymnasium, holodecks, the medbay that dominated Deck 12's aft-facing section, and multi-purpose rooms used for anything from staff lunches to movie showings to the occasional poetry slam (or greep thep, as the Alakin crew referred to such, given Alakin cultural mores).

One of these rooms was currently occupied by only two people, one sitting in the audience area and the other on a raised stage. With an intent look, Lieutenant Tra'dur continued to blow away at the bagpipes she held in her arms. She manipulated the complicated instrument with care, changing the tone wailing from the set of bagpipes into a tune known in many universes as "Flower of Scotland".

When she finished, Tra'dur allowed the blowpipe to fall away from her lips. The Dilgar woman let out a free breath. Her feline face formed into a grin at the applause.

"Aye lass, well done!" proclaimed her teacher. Commander Montgomery Scott was an old man surrounded by youth, but none denied that the old Starfleet engineer had his place as Chief Engineer on the Aurora. Youth, no matter how talented or skilled, could always use experience, and Commander Scott was free with the experience of his decades in Starfleet.

Tra'dur once spent several days reading up on Scott's home universe of S5T3 and the many successful missions and first contacts of the Starship Enterprise, the Enterprise of James T. Kirk and Spock and Leonard McCoy. It gave her a deeper appreciation that a man of such accomplishment would give his time to help her complete her mastery of the bagpipes. Just as importantly, he expanded her knowledge of the history behind them and the various songs that best suited the instrument.

"It brings a tear t' my eye t' hear th' auld tune played so well," Scott said to her.

"Thank you, sir," she said. "I had thought my use of the instrument was already excellent, but you've shown me how to master the pipes in ways I'd never considered. And these new bagpipes work so well for me."

"That they should." He stood up and picked up his own set. "Now, ye're doin' well with Flower and the Black Bear, but I'd like t' see how ye do workin' with another piper. Ye've been practicin' with th' Blue Bonnets, have ye?"

"Yes, Mister Scott," Tra'dur assured him.

"Aye, good. Then we'll start there, then work with Amazing Grace. That's always a good one, an it's expected for th' services when we lose comrades."

"I will show all due respect."

"I dinnae doubt that, lass, not at all." Scott smiled widely. "Ye're quite th' piper, an' ye're only gettin' better. Now, let's start this right..."

She followed his motions and the two, without further word, began to play their instruments, filling the room with the wail of the bagpipes.

The Aurora contained three science labs - one for computer and data sciences, one devoted to physics, and one for biological science - and the official master of all three was Lieutenant Commander Caterina Delgado, the ship's science officer, and newly promoted. Given her specialties, the second lab was her usual haunt, where she ran all sorts of simulations and analysis programs for astronomical phenomena.

But for the moment she was in Science Lab 1 with her friend, Lieutenant Commander Jarod, the Aurora's Operations Officer. Both were done with their bridge watch for the day, so they were taking the time to analyze data on the Geth, including cores taken by the Normandy and its crew in their operations. Digits of Geth code filled the holo-viewscreens at their workstations.

Jarod looked up from his workstation. "It's getting late," he said. "Won't Violeta being waiting for you?"

Caterina shook her head. "No. She's on watch right now with Nick. It's part of her training now that she's going to be a command staff officer."

"Right. Does she know her posting yet?"

"One of the new Enterprise-class ships."

"Right." Jarod nodded. "So you two, I mean, will you be trying to keep the relationship going or…?"

Cat knew Jarod was just trying to be friendly, but it didn't change the fact that it hurt. Violeta - Vee - was going to be out of her life. Possibly for good. It was strange, as she never thought of the relationship as being permanent, but yet now that it was going to likely end…

When Jarod turned to face her Cat sighed and shrugged. "We're still talking about it," Cat said. "I think we're going to go for something open."

"As in?"

"As in, if one of us finds someone new, we tell the other and there's no hard feelings." Cat couldn't quite keep the bitterness out of her voice.

Jarod looked her over for a moment. "You shouldn't blame yourself," he said.

She turned her head to face him. "I could have been a better girlfriend."

"That wouldn't have changed things. Violeta has ambitions. Things she wants to do in her life."

"Things more important than me."

Jarod sat back in his chair. "And that hurts."

"Yeah." Cat's expression shifted, her frown growing. "But maybe I deserve it. I'd… I'd love to travel with the Doctor again. And I dragged her to Vulcan when I could have taken that trip to Sirius she wanted. I can't blame her, can I? When I do it myself?"

"No, but it won't stop it from hurting." When he was answered by silence Jarod returned his focus to his work. "The Geth encryption is unlike anything I've ever seen."

"That makes sense. They're living programs with a unique neural link architecture."

"One you jammed back on Therum," Jarod said. "I keep looking at this and wondering if there's a way to do more than just jam lone remote connections in their network. What if we could do more?"

"Then, given the data, they'd lose the intelligence that makes them capable of being a threat." Cat shook her head. "I doubt we can effectively break the links of programs in an individual platform. But maybe the links between platforms could be jammed over a wide area."

"If we can make that work, it could protect whole colonies," Jarod observed. "But I doubt we'll finish that this evening."

"Probably not," Cat conceded.

"Since Violeta's on duty, you could always see if your sister is around. I get the feeling you want someone to talk to."

"Tonight she's focusing on training with Julia."

"Well, in that case… want to see what Hargert is spoiling us with this evening?"

Caterina considered telling him no. That she just wanted to be alone. But the truth was she didn't, and she knew it. And saying no to Jarod was hard: while he looked to be in his late thirties, he sounded and acted much younger. Right now he looked more like a younger cousin than the older relative he often managed to seem like.

"Sure," she said. With a few key taps she secured her workstation. She stood up. "Maybe he's made some new chocolate fudge squares that will make me feel better."

Jarod grinned in reply. "Lead the way." Cat did so, and he followed, quietly tapping away at his omnitool as he did to ensure Hargert had such a dessert ready for Cat when they arrived.

In the Aurora gymnasium, a familiar sight was again taking place. Julia and Lieutenant Angel Delgado, the ship's tactical officer, were having a sparring match in the ring. A handful of officers and crew watched the two exchange punches and kicks. Their choice of exercise wear - the service-issued sports bra and shorts in their respective branch colors - revealed the contrast in their builds, with Julia's lean athletic muscle giving her an apparent disadvantage to the thicker, developed fighting muscle Angel trained hard to keep. To many she looked like she was a Marine instead of a starship officer.

The fight itself was going as most did between the two. Angel was on offense, Julia on defense, both employing mixed styles. Julia's fusion of t'ai chi and Klingon mok'bara were vital to her ability to stay in the fight, evading the more powerful strikes from her stronger adversary until she could get in her own attacks. In some fights this even gave her the win, letting her seize advantage of Angel going off-balance to bring her down and get the leverage she needed.

But not today. Today Angel was a little quicker, or Julia a little slower, and she took a punch to the faceguard that stunned Julia long enough for Angel to land a follow-up kick that sent Julia onto her back. Angel dropped down to pin Julia's arms with her knees and hold her in place. After a couple of attempts to escape this, Julia tapped the mat. Angel let her go and helped her stand up. The winner pulled one of her gloves off and removed her teethguard from her mouth. "That's two out of three," she said, and her competitive side ensured there was a feral grin on her face.

Julia removed her own guard and then gently touched the point where Angel's foot had connected with her midsection. "You enjoy beating up on me too much."

"Hey, it's not like you don't get licks in," Angel reminded her. "You won one today, and you won the set yesterday."

"I'm starting to wonder if you let me win." The two slipped through the ropes and picked up water bottles nearby. A couple crew were already moving to take the ring themselves. "I don't have as much time to train anymore as it is."

"You still hold your own. And I don't hold back. Well, save a punch or two. But it looks bad if I send the Captain to medbay." Angel took a swig from the bottle.

Julia chuckled. "Leo tells me I should start wearing a full combat suit when we spar."

"Those take all the fun out of it."

"I'm starting to wonder if this is your way of getting back at me for Cat getting promoted first," Julia added, her jovial look making the intended humor clear.

"Cat getting promoted, no. Cat getting her brain smacked against her skull by a bloodraging Krogan? Maybe." Angel's grin turned sly. "Yeah, you could consider it incentive to keep my sister out of the field."

Julia knew that was as much a joke as her remark, but given Angel's protectiveness of her younger geeky sister, she couldn't help but think there was an element of seriousness in it. "I'll keep that in mind."

The two walked into the female-side locker room. After setting their things to the side they entered adjoining shower stalls. Replicated water from a common reservoir for the gym showers poured onto sweat-slicked skin, a comfort aided by the effect the warm, borderline hot water had on muscles burning from exertion. "Did they ever find out which side that Andorian was supposed to be on?" Angel asked, raising her voice appropriately to be heard over the showers.

"Male. Ensign Thavarash is a thaan. Actually, he's supposed to be called th'Thavarash, according to Jarod."

"Right. Four genders. At least the Gl'mulli have none and the Asari just one." After a moment's quiet, Angel added, "What about that Asari doctor? Has she given us any more useful info on her mom?"

"The investigators say yes. And Leo says she's fully recovered. I'm going to send her with the team we take down to Noveria."

"Somehow I doubt it'll be that easy. Corporate types get antsy when uniforms come round."

"Tell me about it. And I'll have to be the diplomat again."

"I bet you miss having Robert around to do that crap."

To that Julia laughed. "Even when he was Captain, I was still doing diplomatic stuff. Not that I don't miss him."

"Don't we all? But given what the Normandy is supposed to be like on the inside, I'm sure he misses us too."

"Yeah, he probably does." As she said that, Julia allowed her mind to wonder, an easy feat while enjoying the warm water of the shower. She wondered if Robert was missing the Aurora's amenities yet and sighed wistfully at wondering what he was up to.

The SSV Normandy was a small ship by most standards of the Multiverse. In the Systems Alliance she was labeled as a frigate, first of her class, with a crew near that of an attack ship in the Allied Systems. Due to her operational needs and the equipment required, the Normandy had little in the way of living space for her crew, and even less space for recreational activity.

Not that Robert Dale was doing anything he would think of as recreational.

For one thing, recreational activities rarely involved being repeatedly stung by an energy pulse.

Another one struck him an instant before he could move the emerald blade of the lightsaber Lucy constructed for him into place to block it. He let out a little "Ow" and cursed under his breath. His senses warned him another shot was coming. This one he stopped, sending the bolt off to harmlessly dissipate against the wall of the Normandy's lab, set behind the ship's infirmary.

The shots were coming from a training device Lucy assembled for him to go with the weapon. The semi-orb was kept aloft by the anti-grav generator Lucy built into it, along with a dumb-VI program that randomly fired low-energy pulse bolts at him. The sparks of blue light weren't capable of doing more than briefly setting off pain receptors at an impact point, a "sting", but getting stung over and over was starting to irritate.

It wasn't like he was weak in these powers anymore. Like Lucy, Robert had trained with Meridina, but for nearly a year it had been evident he wouldn't be as powerful as either of them, and would likely never powerful enough to wield a blade.

Then Robert briefly wielded the Time Vortex, courtesy of the TARDIS ship belonging to the Time Lord being known as the Doctor, to save his ship and friends. That it hadn't killed him in the process was a small miracle. What it had done was cost him two months of his life, give him memories of a beloved son he never had, and leave him with an unprecedented growth in his connection to the Flow of Life. The energy within him became so powerful he was knocking things, and people, over with no conscious effort. Only after weeks of training did he get such simple control back, control that sometimes slipped whenever he wielded the life energy and connected to the Flow of Life.

Unfortunately, it seemed his experience hadn't expanded his ability to wield a blade.

Another pulse went off, blocked, another, also blocked… and then another that sent a jolt of surprise and brief pain up his hip. "You damn bucket of bolts," Robert growled. When it fired at him again he deflected the shot right back into it.

"Deflection hit successful," said a computerized version of Lucy's voice. "Session over. Increase in successful deflections: one. Success rate: sixty-five percent Conclusion: You're getting better at this, Robert. Just remember anything less than one hundred percent means you got shot." The last part had the voice's monotone replaced by the all-too-familiar bemusement that Lucy could summon. With its report given, the orb lowered itself to the ground and shut off.

Robert took the device and stowed it beside his meditation pad. He felt agitated enough to think that might be in order, but the door slid open before he reached for it. Chakwas entered. "I'm sorry, Captain Dale, but I have need of my equipment."

"Of course, Doctor," he answered. "Anything serious?"

"Not too serious."

"Of course. I'm done as it is, so I'll leave this to you," Robert replied. "Thank you again for letting me use this space."

"You're welcome."

Robert left Chakwas and entered the medical area. Tali was waiting on one of the beds. "Oh, hello," she said, her voice distorted slightly from the electronic vocoder built into her suit's face, just below the faceplate. It lit up in time with her speech. "I hope we didn't interrupt anything."

"Not at all, I was just finishing." Robert looked down. He was wearing a workout vest and sweatpants, the latter borrowed from the ship's stores and marked with the Systems Alliance logo. "You're feeling alright?"

"I'm fine. Honestly, I'm only worried about that Geth data. I'm really hoping Shepard will let me bring it to the Fleet. We have so little information on how the Geth have evolved since the Morning War. It could be of great help to us."

"It's Shepard's call, but if you think it'll help, I'll ask her about it."

"I don't know. I'm afraid she might take it badly."

"Alright. I'll leave it be." Robert slipped up onto one of the other beds, just beside where Tali was waiting. He rested his arms on an upraised knee. "Speaking of the Fleet, how is your father doing? And Admiral Raan?"

"Well, they were fine when I last called," Tali said. "Not that I talk often with them. I'm supposed to be out here proving myself, after all."

"I see your point." Robert recalled Admiral Rael'Zorah vas Rayya and could see Tali being discouraged from calling too often. "The Fleet seems to be doing well for itself from the last reports I've seen."

"It's rare that we find anyone willing to give us anything, usually we have to trade." There was a genuine warmth in her voice. "I still feel surprise that your people gave us sanctuary in your space. I'm sure the Citadel Council didn't make it easy."

"I think there were some frank exchanges of views," Robert said, not hiding his amusement at the sarcasm in the statement. From what he heard, the Council hadn't been pleased at all, but not so displeased that it impacted relations. "Are your people still debating the offer of a new homeworld?"

"Very carefully," Tali said. "We have to find a suitable world first. And worlds with Rannoch's characteristics are very rare."

Robert nodded. The issue of the Quarians' non-existent immune systems was always going to make that difficult. "Hopefully we can find something…"

Before he could finish, a tone filled the ship speaker. "This is your helmsman speaking," began Lt. Jeff "Joker" Moreau. "We are about to make our retrieval maneuver to pick up the Commander's Mako from the surface. Please be ready should my badass flying strain the inertial compensators and give us some turbulence. I wouldn't want anyone to get hurt. Thank you for flying Joker Spacelines."

"Shepard must be done with whatever happened on your moon," Tali said. "I mean, this universe's version of your moon."

"That's what it sounds like." Robert laid out on the bed and got ready for any jolts should Joker's flying produce them. He still had some curiosity as to what brought the Normandy to Earth's solar system. Shepard's superiors were very hush-hush on the issue, and indeed Shepard was enjoined from bringing anyone other than Kaidan or Ashley on the mission. It unnerved him a little that the Systems Alliance was keeping that kind of secret, even if he knew it was perfectly understandable.

It turned out there was little to complain about the retrieval. Joker's flying was precise, art as much as science, and the inertial compensators were barely strained by his maneuver. The next word they received was Shepard herself. "All crew and squad members, report for meeting."

"I wonder what happened?" Tali asked.

"We may be about to find out."

As it turned out, they didn't find out. Instead, shortly after arriving, everyone turned to face the holographic images of the Citadel Council. As usual, the Asari Councillor, Tevos, took the lead. "Commander, we've had a breakthrough in the hunt for Saren. An STG regiment has located his primary base."

The mood in the room shifted, the tension of a meeting with the Council turning to the anticipation for a showdown. "We'll set course immediately," said Shepard. "Where is he?"

"The Hoc system, on a planet called Virmire," said Valern, the Salarian Councillor. "The 3rd STG Regiment is already on planet. They are requesting immediate reinforcement."

"We'll get underway now. When will the fleet arrive?"

The moment the Councillors started giving each other looks, Robert knew it they'd be on their own. Sparatus confirmed this. "Hoc is on the border with the Terminus Systems, Shepard. If anyone deploys fleet assets, it could result in a war. There will be no reinforcement. The removal of Saren's base will be up to you and your assets, with the assistance of the Salarian unit already on site."

"I see." Shepard showed no aggravation at this news. "As I said, we'll be on our way immediately."

"If you can find any data on what Saren's goal is, it must be recovered," said Valern. "The disposal of his base is left to your discretion."

"We wish you the best, Commander."

With that, the Council cut the line.

"So, Saren's main base, and no backup." Garrus leaned forward a little. "Outside of a stranded STG force."

"What about the United Systems?" Ashley looked at Robert. "Maybe they can spare some ships?"

"Not likely." Robert shook his head. "I doubt the Terminus governments will view our ships on their border any better than they'd view Citadel ships. And that's if we had ships to spare. We're just weeks away from the final push for Earth in S4W8, and every available ship and asset is being called in." Seeing the disappointed looks, not to mention sensing it, Robert added, "But we could get a little backup by calling in the Koenig."

"A good idea."

"Then I'll call the Aurora as soon as we're out of here."

Shepard nodded in acknowledgement of the offer. "Anything else, everyone?" When no answer was given, she stood from her chair. "Then we're done here." She tapped a key on the chair. "Joker, we're heading to the Hoc system."

"I hear you, Commander," the pilot replied. "We're already on course for the Charon Relay."

Everyone started filing out of the room. Robert went the opposite way, stepping up to the communications controls and activating the system. After putting in his communication code and accessing the special channel he had for the Aurora, Robert had only seconds to wait before the conference room's holo-viewer activated. Julia was on the other end seated in her office. Seeing his closest friend again brought a smile to his face. Julia smiled as well. "Rob. How have you been?"

"Alright. And you? Everyone else?"

"Doing well. Cat's healed from Therum now, and her promotion is official."

"She's earned it." Robert sighed. "I wish I was there to celebrate with everyone else. This hunt for Saren, it's… it's a burden."

"It is," she agreed. "But we're heading to Noveria now to see if we can finally get answers there."

"Oh? You got permission? That's good news. As good as our own. That's actually what I was calling about."

"What is it? Maran mentioned Shepard would be receiving a different assignment."

"A Salarian STG unit has located Saren's main base and we're already on our way. It's a world on the frontier called Virmire, one relay jump away from the Terminus Systems in the Hoc system. Because of that the Council won't send ships, and I know Maran won't be able to either. But the Koenig can get in without being detected."

"Which explains why they're sending us to Noveria instead of Shepard," Julia said, as if a question on her mind had just been answered. "And you could use any backup that can be spared." Julia nodded. "Alright. I'll let Atreiad know and get the Koenig en route."

"Thank you."

"Good luck," she added. Something drew her attention. Robert could hear Jarod's voice come over the comm system - "We're preparing to drop out of warp" - and she nodded. "We just made it to Noveria. I've got to go. Again, good luck."

"The same to you." Robert closed the channel.

The Aurora dropped from warp and entered orbit of Noveria. On the bridge Caterina was already scanning. "They've surrounded the planet with an anti-beaming shield."

"Well, we knew we'd find something like this."

"Yeah, but there's more than that. I'm showing a handful of space stations at various points in high orbit. They look like they're armed battle stations."

Julia considered that fact. "Are they aiming anything our way?"


"Given Noveria's reputation, they might be for dealing with whatever is being worked on down there," Jarod noted. "Looking over the schematics, they're meant for bombardment more than orbital defense. Maybe against light raiding ships, but no match for a star cruiser."

"Keep an eye on them anyway." Julia started mentally weighing her options.

"The most obvious course is to take down an assault lander and a Marine team," Meridina said. "It would not be the diplomatic choice however."

"Correct. Hail the planet, I want to speak to whomever is in charge."

Jarod went to work on his control board. Julia leaned back in her seat for a moment before glancing toward Meridina. "This is not going to be easy."

"It rarely is with such," Meridina agreed. "This is a world of secrets, and we wish to shed light upon it."

"That is something to keep in mind…"

It took several more minutes before Jarod looked back. "I've got an Administrator Anoleis on for you."

Julia stood. "Onscreen."

The holo-viewscreen shifted to show an office. In the center of the screen was a Salarian in a suit of different shades of blue, a darker as the primary color. The Salarian had a light pinkish complexion with a blue tint. "This is Administrator Anoleis. With whom am I speaking?"

Julia kept her hands at the her sides. "I'm Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora. I'm here to investigate links between the Binary Helix corporation and the rogue Spectre agent Saren Arterius."

"Hrm… request denied."

Julia crossed her arms. "We received permission from the board."

"Which is left to my discretion. I can't have you and your uniformed troops marching around down here. This planet is independent of Citadel and United Systems laws and the investors have paid us handsomely to protect the privacy of their research facilities."

"One of those investors is a company owned and operated by a rogue Asari matriarch and a rogue Spectre who is using Geth troops in attacks on the galaxy."

"Be that as it may, I must insist. You can appeal my decision to the board if you wish." Anoleis calmly pressed his hands together. "And just to inform you, we have quite an impressive array of anti-air weaponry at our disposal. Any unauthorized landing vessels will be fired upon and destroyed. Good day."

Without further word, he hit a key beside him and disappeared.

The Aurora crew remained silent. "Well," Locarno finally said, "it looks like diplomacy's not going to be so easy."

"It never is," Julia sighed.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

The Aurora command officers met a short time later in their conference lounge off of the bridge. "There willnae be any beamin' through those shields," Scotty informed everyone. "I'll hand it t' them, they picked a good way t' stop beaming."

"Alright. That leaves the landing option."

"I can take a Marine team whenever you give the order, ma'am," Anders said. "The Gonzalez can slip through."

"Maybe, maybe not." Jarod shook his head. "Their sensors could be fine-tuned to look for disturbances in air flow from a cloaked ship."

"What about a tachyon detection grid?"

"No sign of one of those," Cat said.

Angel pitched in. "So what if we flew down the runabout at a slower speed?"

"I'd need to know what detection systems they have before I knew for sure." Jarod was clearly thinking. "Although… there is another possibility."


"Simply put, we send a runabout to Port Hanshan," Jarod said. "And we have the Gonzalez follow in the first runabout's wake until the final approach. Once you're that low, you should be below the effective engagement range of any heavy anti-air defenses. You may even be low enough to terrain mask against aerial sensors."

"That's going to require some pretty good piloting," Locarno mused. "And the two runabouts will have to be in a tight formation with complete coordination to avoid a mid-air collision."

"So I fly the Gonzalez and Meridina flies the other runabout," Lucy proposed. "The two of us can remain linked through our life energy, and Meridina's telepathy, to maintain coordination."

"It will work." Meridina nodded at Lucy before turning to face Julia. "And having me with you when you meet Anoleis may be helpful."

Julia pondered that. Aside from the obvious issue that Anoleis hadn't given any landing permission, the plan was workable. She had little objection to it beyond the principle that this would have both her and Meridina off the ship at the same time. And if it worked, she considered letting Meridina handle the negotiations, and might have done so if she wasn't concerned Anoleis might take that as an insult.

Although, in her heart of hearts, Julia admitted to herself that this was probably just a justification to cover her desire to do this personally.

Aloud, she said, "That begs the question of whether Anoleis will open fire on us for approaching Port Hanshan."

"I checked the charter for Noveria, Port Hanshan is not a restricted port, but it is under tight regulation," Jarod said. "Elanus Risk Control Services provides security for the port and consider themselves justified in impounding vessels that land, if they're deemed a risk to the security of the world."

"Do you really think these corporate types would get that hardcore?" Angel asked. "It's not like they have a defense fleet. Their battle stations are good for bombing the planet or fighting off light attacks, but the Aurora can wipe the floor with them and their defenses."

"There are a number of incredibly powerful and influential corporations on Noveria," Jarod answered. "As in companies that have major pull in the economies of Citadel member species, so they have a lot of political influence to go with it. That's what allows them to get away with this, and what they'll use against the Alliance if we employ any kind of force."

"But we're here helping the Citadel investigate the threat or a rogue Spectre," Cat said. "Doesn't that count for anything?"

"Not as much as you might think."

"I don't think Anoleis will go that far," Julia said. "And if he does, we'll break off our approach and see if they track Gonzalez. If absolutely necessary, the Aurora can return limited fire to suppress their defenses."

"If we want to make an impression, an escort of senior officers may be in order," suggested the ship's chief of security, Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond. Her Australian accent had an English, upper class air to it.

Julia considered that. "Then you and Lieutenant Delgado will join us," she said. Angel would provide muscle and Richmond another source of insight, given she had background in investigative work.

"Who's going down to the Binary Helix site?" Barnes asked. "Hell, what is it anyway?"

"It's a facility called Peak 15," Jarod revealed. A couple taps at his controls brought up a holographic image over the conference table, depicting a two-part installation, one at the side of a glacial mountain and the other part buried inside of it, connected by a personnel tram line. "Binary Helix hasn't been forthcoming with what's inside, just that they use it for biological research. From our sensor readings, the surface facility includes a fusion reactor that acts as their primary power source. But given the sensor-resistant material used in constructing it, we can't determine anything like life signs within."

"So we'll be going in blind," said Major Gabriel Anders, the Aurora's Marine Commander of Troops. "Do we at least have a floor plan?"

"I'm afraid not," Jarod said.

"Well, it didn't hurt to ask." Anders nodded at him before facing Julia. "Captain, I'd like to take a platoon. We don't know what the situation is and I don't want an undermanned team."

"You can take them. You'll also be taking along Lieutenant Lucero, Ensign Talara, and Doctor T'Soni," Julia said.

"Are you sure you shouldn't have Doctor T'Soni with you in Port Hanshan?" Leo asked. "If she has any legal rights as Benezia's daughter…"

"She wouldn't," Jarod said. "She's not listed as a shareholder, nor someone with corporate authority. Anoleis wouldn't listen to her."

"She's with you, Major," Julia affirmed. "Is there anything else?" When there was no response Julia stood. "Then you're all dismissed."

The Aurora's secondary shuttle bay existed to compliment the first, providing extra capacity and as convenience for the ship's Marines, who maintained their main armory and bunking in the bottom decks of the ship. If they were called upon to quickly deploy on assault landers, they could do so through this specific shuttle bay, where the stealth lander runabout Gonzalez and several other landing craft were kept.

The Gonzalez emerged and swung "upward", moving around the Aurora's stern to approach the main shuttle bay. It opened as well and another runabout emerged. This one, the Irrawaddy, was a normal-configuration runabout, meant more for transfer of low volume supplies or relatively-small numbers of crew over short interstellar distances. It was, all things considered, larger than necessary for this job, but a shuttle would not suffice.

Lucy felt out with her senses until she felt Meridina's mind. The two linked together. There was a comforting calm in Meridina's mind, a calm that helped Lucy maintain the bond. Each saw what the other was doing, what the other was thinking, to a degree that made it easy for them to fly the runabouts in close formation. The Gonzalez cloaked while the Aurora shielded them from sight. By Port Hanshan's sensors, only one craft was descending from the Alliance starship in orbit.

The mental link remained through the re-entry process. With one common movement the two put their respective ships into atmospheric flight, cutting impulse drives and activating the thrusters. They slipped around a snowstorm and moved on to toward a series of structures built into the mountain plateau below. The approach was a tense one with the possibility of being fired upon requiring constant, wearying vigilance.

But no fire came.

It's time. Meridina's message was acknowledged. Gently Lucy leveled out the Gonzalez until the runabout was no longer losing altitude. Within seconds they were no longer masked by the wake of the Irrawaddy. Lucy kept her senses open for any incoming attack. But there was no threat, by land or air.

"So far so good," Anders said. "How much longer until we reach our destination?"

"We have to maintain a low air-speed to avoid creating a detectable wake from displaced air," Lucy explained. "It's going to be another hour or so. I'll let you know when we land."

"Understood, Lieutenant."

The Irrawaddy came to a landing on one of the landing pads for shuttles and other smaller aerospace craft. The dock's managing VI extended the dock arm to cover the starboard-side airlock. Julia took the lead in heading through the airlock. A decontamination chamber was quickly passed through - it would be used on their return trip - and they walked through the gate path ahead, much like those Julia saw on the couple of occasions her family took flights as a child.

At the other end they emerged through a scanning system and were met by a Human woman of mostly East Asian heritage. "I am Captain Maeko Matsuo of Elanus Risk Control Service. Welcome to Noveria, Captain Andreys."

"Thank you, Captain Matsuo," Julia answered. "These are my officers."

"Yes, and I am aware of their identities as well." Matsuo continued to be formal, if a little stiff. "I'm afraid I must ask you for your weapons. Under NDC regulations only ERCS personnel are permitted to be armed on Noveria." She glanced to Meridina. "That would include your energy blade weapon, Commander."

For a moment Julia considered refusing. She didn't like the thought of being unarmed. There is no ill will from Captain Matsuo, Meridina reported to her mentally. She can be trusted.

But can everyone else?
Regardless, Julia reached for her holster and unlatched it from the side of her uniform pants. The others did the same, and all of their weapons - three pulse pistols and Meridina's lightsaber - were soon placed in a nearby bin. Matsuo tapped at her omnitool. Their own flashed to life with a display. "Your receipts, Captain. For when you leave and your weapons can be returned."

"Thank you."

Behind Matsuo and her soldiers, a Human woman walked up. She was in a fashionable gown, business attire for M4P2, with close-cut dark hair and brown eyes. "Captain Andreys? I'm Gianna Parasini, secretary for Administrator Anoleis. He asked me to escort you here."

"Nice hospitality," Angel said as they fell in to follow Parasini. "At least you didn't try and shoot us down on the way in."

"Administrator Anoleis is very cautious with allowing outsiders onto the planet. And your purpose is at odds with his job. He's here to protect our investors' privacy and interests, even from each other. It's the same reason why nobody is allowed weapons," Parasini said. "Noveria's corporations are competitors in many fields. Mutual disarmament is for everyone's safety."

"It's understood," Julia said. "I've had to disarm before for diplomatic meetings."

"Thank you for your understanding."

As they cleared customs, Julia allowed herself a small grin. Not having firearms hurt, but at the same time, they were hardly helpless if trouble broke out. Meridina didn't need weapons to throw people across the room, after all, and the rest of the team were practiced hand-to-hand fighters. Although if we end up in a fight with security, we'll need a lot of luck.

A journey through glass-paned doors and a large area of open offices and M4P2's version of cubicles led them to an inside plaza that sloped downward. Pathways led around decorative water pools to give the plaza a soothing background sound of quietly-rushing water.

At one corner of this internal plaza was the spacious office of the administrator. Parasini saw them to the inner office, where Anoleis waited, and retreated to her desk at the outer office.

"...won't buy us out, the board won't allow it," Anoleis was saying to someone over a comm line. "I don't care how much money… just stop worrying and take care of it. I've got guests now… yes, I'm sure, now goodbye." Anoleis' finger tapped something on his desk. He looked at them with irritated. "Captain Andreys. I was hoping you would take the hint and leave. If you insist on these strong-arm tactics, the Noveria Development Corporation will issue a protest against you to your superiors and the media."

"Strong-arm tactics?" Julia crossed her arms. "Administrator, I will remind you that you were the one who flaunted having weapons and threatened to use them. I came because of a good faith arrangement between my government and your superiors."

"You call it a good faith agreement, but be honest. You and your government, with the connivance of certain other figures, arm-twisted some of the board members into giving authorization to something that blatantly violates the charter of the Corporation. The fact that I let you land is a concession on my part, and don't expect any more."

"We're here on behalf of the Citadel and the Allied Systems to investigate a rogue Spectre's links to one of the corporations on this planet," Julia said. "This is a matter of life or death."

"I have heard such hyperbole before, and it will not sway me. You may interview anyone here as part of this investigation, but no more. Good day."

Julia didn't need mental powers to sense that Angel was ready to punch the smug Salarian in the face. She felt a similar brief impulse. She glanced to Meridina who shook her head. "Very well. I'll be contacting your board about your lack of cooperation, Administrator."

"You may do so. The board knows I'm acting in their best interest. Now please leave."

With nothing more to say anyway, Julia led the others out. The door to the inner office slid to a close behind them. Parasini looked up from her desk. "You don't look happy, Captain. He's obstructing your investigation?"

"He is."

Parasini nodded. "Good luck, Captain. Maybe you can find someone here with the pull to force Anoleis to cooperate. We have a lounge up at the mezzanine. You can't rent one of the attached hotel rooms - you're not a corporate account holder - but you can purchase anything you want at the lounge."

The obvious hint was recognized. "Thank you, Miss Parasini. Have a good day." With that, Julia led them out of the office.

"So, why do I get the feeling that slimy jerk is up to no good?" Angel asked, frowning.

"I would be careful referring to Salarians as 'slimy', it could be seen as a slur," Richmond noted. "And yes, I know the type well. I have little doubt Administrator Anoleis has his own agenda, not simply the defense of the good investors in the planet."

"I am not used to Salarian minds," Meridina admitted upon seeing the looks she was getting from the others. "I did feel as if he were not only displeased by our presence, but worried about it."

"He didn't say anything about the ship," Angel remarked. Her hazel eyes scanned their surroundings, and it was clear to the others she wasn't talking about the Aurora or the Irrawaddy. "So maybe this is moot?"

Julia glanced toward Meridina, who nodded. Even if it is, I don't want to leave too early and raise Anoleis' suspicions, she thought, trusting in Meridina to relay the thought to the others. Given the nods, they received the message. "Well, let's see how the local cuisine stacks up to Hargert's cooking."

"Most likely inferior," Richmond said.

"Hopefully it's at least 75 centi-Hargerts." When that remark drew the attention of the others, Angel chuckled. "Cat's been using that scale for judging food made by other cooks. I thought it sounded funny."

Julia allowed herself a chuckle of agreement before heading on. As they walked, she noticed Meridina frown. "What is it?"

"I'm not sure," she said. "No danger I can sense, just an uneasy feeling. A distant threat."

"Well, that is certainly helpful," remarked Richmond as they continued on.

From a distance away, a figure observed them walk toward the lift for the mezzanine level. A small smile crossed the lips of a face that was only noteworthy for the sunglasses worn upon the face. Quietly the figure continued on its business.

When the Normandy entered orbit of Virmire, Robert found himself admiring Saren in one respect.

The planet he chose for his base was gorgeous.

Virmire was a garden planet, tending toward "tropical". Deep blue seas girded the planet, the continents dominated by lush green forests and snow-capped mountain ridges. It reminded him of images of other tropical planets known as resort worlds.

While he was looking at the image showing on the cockpit sensor, Shepard was viewing a map of the area the Salarian infiltrators scouted out. "Saren's got anti-air artillery defenses covering the entire area. Joker, think you can land at the speed you'll need to evade those guns?"

Joker shook his head. "I'm the best in the Fleet, Commander, but even I can't beat the laws of physics. The velocity I'll need to evade the guns will make the landing impossible given the terrain."

"It's a shame the Systems Alliance didn't fit the Normandy with a transporter," Robert said.

"I wouldn't recommend that either," said one of the technical officers, a young woman seated at the sensor station near Joker. "There's an anti-beaming field over the area. And there are several Geth ships in the area. Including… it looks like a dreadnought of some kind. But it doesn't even have the same power signature as the Geth ships."

"Show me," Shepard ordered, turning toward that station.

The operator obeyed. A holo-screen came into existence over her station, depicting what looked to Robert like a sea creature, a cephalopoid he couldn't remember the name of, with red lighting along its dull reddish exterior. "It looks like the ship that was at Eden Prime."

"It is," said Shepard, her voice grim. "Sovereign. Where is it?"

"Toward the outer edge of the solar system. It's on a perimeter patrol from the look of things. Still several hours out at STL speeds."

"Good for us, then," Robert noted. "Any idea where Saren could get a ship like that? I've studied more recognition profiles than I can count and I've seen nothing like it."

"Given what Shiala said, I can't help but wonder if Saren found an old Reaper ship," Shepard replied. "Just as long as it stays out there. Keep an eye on it."

"Yes ma'am."

"As for our landing, it sounds like our best bet is a landing with the Mako," Shepard said. She tapped a key on her omnitool. "Deployment squad, report to the cargo bay. We're making a combat drop."

"I'll get you as close as I can, Commander," Joker promised as Shepard left the cockpit, Robert following.

Less than fifteen minutes later, everyone was strapped into the Mako's seats, with Shepard at the driving controls and Kaidan at the gunnery seat beside her. Robert sat with Ashley and Garrus while Tali and Wrex were across from them. "Everyone strapped in?" Shepard asked loudly.

One by one, the riders confirmed their deployment harnesses were in place.

Those harnesses were tested half a minute later when the Mako jerked suddenly, the result of the massive deceleration after dropping from the speeding Normandy's cargo bay. The stealth frigate's approach had been lower than normal to evade the fire of Saren's defenses, causing the landing to be even bumpier than the usual deployment from a higher altitude. The experience was jarring and nearly convinced Robert he'd cracked a rib.

"Hold tight everyone." Shepard, with her usual terrifying exactness, wheeled the Mako into line with the coastal streambed and sent it roaring down the coastline of Virmire.

The Gonzalez came to a soft landing in the snow outside of the Peak 15 vehicle garage. The rear hatch door opened and armor-clad Marines stepped out, seeming to come from nothing should anyone have been viewing the cloaked ship's location. Anders' Marines spread out to secure the entrance to the towering facility. Eight of the Marines were clad in heavy power armor, the others in lighter armor suits. Anders himself was in a specialized command armor suit with customized elements.

At Anders' insistence, Liara was wearing another of the light armor suits, while Talara was, like Lucy, in a set of purple Gersallian-style armor made for the Order of Swenya. Both were in combat robes and wearing helmets as well, given the growing chill in the environment. Talara had no lightsaber or Gersallian lakesh - the memory metal swords the Order still employed - given her lack of training in those weapons, so she had a pulse pistol.

"Nothing so far," Anders noted.

Lucy nodded at him. "But there is something here…"

Anders nodded and went off to give his Marines orders. Liara glanced to Lucy. "What's here?"

"I'm not sure. I sense something… it's not normal, and it's not Geth. Life. But mindless." Lucy frowned. "Let's get going."

Peak 15's garage was empty of any signs of life. The team moved through it and to an entranceway, the only one, which led to an airlock overseen by a control room on the other side.. Everyone noticed the automated turrets present, and how they were pointing inward. "That's not a good sign," Liara said.

"They're more afraid of something getting out than someone getting in," Lucy agreed. She felt through the Flow of Life and frowned.

"Something bad has happened here," Talara said. "I feel wrong. Something is wrong."

"There's been death here," Lucy said. "That's what you feel. The terror of the dying before their lives ended." She glanced toward Liara. "The report indicated your mother arrived not too long ago. Maybe this is related."

"Goddess I hope not," Liara replied.

They cleared the turret defenses. "Should we leave anyone to secure our exit?" Lucy asked Anders.

Anders considered the proposal. "Hutchins, your squad stays here. Hold the entrance."

The Marine in question, a man of dark tanned skin with a mostly Australian accent, replied, "Yes Major." He began directing the Marines in his squad. One of them activated their omnitool and began uplinking to take over the turrets.

The rest continued on. An elevator took them several stories up, into the main body of the facility. The halls and offices and rooms were likewise empty. "This place looks like it employs dozens of people, probably hundreds," Anders observed. "And you say you feel death."

"I do."

"So where are the bodies?"

It was a good question, and it haunted Lucy while they entered what looked like the cafeteria. Arranged along the exterior wall were areas with tables; the interior had closed rooms with computer terminals upon the tables, presumably a rec area.

But now the entire chamber was coated in snow, presumably blown through the ventilation systems.

"I think I'm picking up life signs somewhere," one of the Marines said.

Anders checked his instruments. "Same here. But nothing localized. The damn place is made to baffle sensor readings." He glanced toward Lucy and Talara. "Save yours, it seems."

Lucy, for her part, stopped. She sensed it now. There was something here. Something… mindless. Instinctive.


She sensed the intent and pulled her lightsaber. "Incoming!" Anders shouted immediately. As he did so, and as the electronic snap-hiss of the lightsaber activating filled the chamber, the snow around them exploded.

What appeared were large insectoid creatures. Their hides were a dull brown, with two clawed hands on short arms and two tentacles with gripping appendages - or tearing ones, given their look - raised above the circular head and the long, vicious mouth. From around them issued several smaller insects, four-legged little critters about twenty-five centimeters in length.

The lead creature spat out a glob of material. Lucy reflected it with her powers and sent said material flying into the wall, where it bubbled and started etching a mark. Acid was her thought at that, while her body was already moving almost on its own. Her weapon came up and then around, slicing horizontally through the monster's body. It let out a death screech.

Weapons fire filled the room. The Marines were thorough in their reaction. Liara and Talara contributed with their sidearms, creating a barrage of fire that poured into the largest of them. Even as it was clear the biggest of the alien bugs were being shot up, one of the Marines shouted in pain. "Status?!" Anders demanded when fire stopped.

Lucy was already drawn toward one Marine, down on his rear. Acid bubbled over his light armor torso. "Nasty stuff," she murmured.

"Damn thing blew up on me," the Marine in question said, pain written on his expression. "Just blew apart into a glob of this stuff."

"Acid burns," confirmed the unit corpsman a moment later. "He'll be fine in a minute."

"Alright." Anders looked at the ruined remains of one of the creatures before turning to Liara. "Any idea what the hell these things are?"

"None. Though… they do look familiar."

Talara was already operating her omnitool. "I'll see if there are any records in Alliance databanks."

"You can reach the ship from inside here?" Lucy asked.

"No, but the Gonzalez can. I'm routing through… okay, it looks like we have a result. From historical archives. Something called 'Rachni'."

"What?" Liara glanced toward Talara. "Rachni? You're sure?"

"That's the result."

"Goddess, Mother, what have you done?" Liara asked aloud.

"So you know what these things are?" Lucy asked her.

"Yes. An insectoid species that went to war with the Citadel races over a thousand years ago. This was before the Turians were widely known in the galaxy, and my people and the Salarians weren't able to contain them. It was why the Salarians uplifted the Krogan. To fight for us."

"Huh." Anders shook his head. "Crap. So Saren's making more of these things?"

"It would appear so. Although I do not understand why."

"It's fine, Liara." Lucy sensed her unease and disbelief in her mother's activities. She placed a hand on the Asari's shoulder to reassure her. "Just one more question for your mother. Speaking of, we should probably get moving. Whatever she's here to do, we probably need to stop her."

"Agreed," said Liara. "We do."

In the skies over Virmire, the ASV Normandy banked hard. A slug of mass effect-accelerated metal whizzed just above one of the adjustable nacelle wings of the ship. The Normandy spiraled through the atmosphere and evaded another shot.

Aboard her, the crew were at battle stations, everyone doing their duty… particularly the helmsman of the ship.

Joker brought the Normandy out of the dive his spiral put her in and buzzed meters away from a rock outcropping, bringing her back out over the deep blue seas. "Normandy to Shepard. Commander, please tell me you're almost done."


The Mako's main gun thundered the moment Shepard pulled up to the AA emplacement site. The shot slammed into the wall of the gate structure adjoining the emplacement, creating a blast that took out three Geth platforms.


At Shepard's command, Kaidan was the first to jump from the vehicle. His assault rifle swung up and sprayed suppressing fire at the structure while he rushed for cover. Wrex did the same as he emerged.

Robert was the next out. Rather than go for his pistol, he reached out with his abilities. One of the Geth platforms flew to the side, slamming into the other and reducing the incoming fire. Another platform collapsed from the machine gun rounds firing from the coaxial weapon on the Mako's turret, now under Ashley's control.

Tali emerged with Garrus. The latter found cover and sighted with his sniper rifle. A moment later a Geth platform's head was nearly blown off by a shot. Tali moved ahead and joined Robert in approaching the stairs.

The Mako swung into motion again. Not quickly enough to avoid taking a few rockets to its kinetic barriers, but moving when it did allowed the vehicle to evade more fire. Shepard kept the Mako's motions as precise as she could manage, allowing Ashley to use the turret gun to deadly effect.

With Kaidan, Garrus, and the Mako providing cover fire, Robert dashed up the stairs with Wrex and Tali. At the top of the stairs they had to stop to avoid incoming fire. The Geth platform firing at them kept up said fire until Garrus shot it in the side of the head from his position.

Robert sensed the coming danger and sprang forward first. He felt a surge of excitement within him at the occasion and, for the first time, he ignited the weapon Lucy had given him in anger. The green lightsaber blade met the incoming rocket and sliced it in half, rendering the explosive charge within inert.

This move involved exposing him to fire, so Robert kept moving, and Wrex and Tali followed. He used a burst of force to knock down a squad of incoming Geth trooper platforms, leaving them helpless for Wrex and Tali to shoot. Far ahead of them, more enemies went down to the Mako's main gun. The blast was just far enough away that Robert easily deflected it by concentrating energy into a wall of force ahead of them.

The three continued on to the side of the structure. Above an AA emplacement continued to track and occasionally fire. "The Normandy doesn't have much time," Robert said, huffing as he ran. "We've got to…"

As they neared the end of the corridor to the controls, three of the largest Krogan he'd ever seen stepped into sight. Each was armed with an assault rifle.

To stop them, Robert gathered enough energy to block their fire. Immediately after he acted Tali raised the arm with her omnitool. It activated and a pulse of heat generated by the tool struck the middle and left Krogans from Robert's perspective. It didn't do anything to them but when their weapons tried to fire nothing happened.

Tali's weapon worked just fine, however, as was proven a moment later when she fired. Blood and flesh erupted from the Krogan's neck. The Krogan screamed. Its eyes focused on Tali and Robert could feel the rage coming from the thing.

It started to charge even as Tali's weapon thundered again. The next shot struck it in the head. The Krogan went down.

Wrex opened fire on the Krogan who still had an effective weapon. The shot pulped the Krogan's arm, causing him to drop the gun. Freed from incoming fire, Robert drew on the life energy in and around him and channeled it into a burst that sent the middle Krogan flying back toward the AA controls.

Wrex's shotgun roared again as well. Robert tried not to think of what came flying out of the back of the last Krogan's head.

That left one Krogan, who was still picking himself up from the ground. "You're beaten," Robert said to him. "Stop."

The Krogan growled wordlessly. Robert stared at him and tried to get a feel for the mind within, to see if he could influence it as Meridina and others had taught him.

A feeling of horror gripped Robert at the realization that there was nothing there. The Krogan was… mindless. It had only impulses, directed by an authority it felt compelled to obey. Presumably Saren's authority.

The remaining Krogan charged. But he didn't get far. Shotguns rang out, blast by blast, until the Krogan collapsed in a bloody pile of rent flesh and flowing blood.

Robert put his weapon away. "Tali?"

"Give me a moment." She approached the controls and began operating them. "Clever. They're trying to cut this console off and shift the gun entirely to remote control. But I won't let that happen."

Robert looked up at the gun, even now swiveling to track the Normandy. He contemplated trying to destroy it himself. With the increased abilities he had…

...but would that be all he did? If his control slipped, he might do more than just pull the gun apart. He could blow it apart in a way that might hurt them. Or create a wave of force around him that harmed Wrex and Tali… maybe even bring this entire structure down too.

"Alright…. ha! That will show those bosh'tet monsters." One of Tali's fingers hit a key. The gun above immediately lowered. She triggered her communications. "Shepard, the gun is offline."

"Great work. Get back here so we can move on to the Salarian field base."

As they stepped away, Robert noticed Wrex giving a glance toward the dead Krogan. He sensed the Krogan mercenary's lingering dissatisfaction with the choices his people were making. A sense of helplessness at the fate of his people pervaded Wrex.

Robert said nothing. There was nothing he could say that would bring comfort.

The mezzanine of the Noveria Development Corporation's hotel in Port Hanshan was just as posh to the Aurora crew's eyes as the rest of the facility. They sat at a table near the railing. "Still nothing," Jarod was saying. "But we expected that."

"The same here," Julia said. "Enough that I'm starting to get suspicious. Would you mind…"

"I'll do some research through Alliance networks and see if there's anything to this Anoleis or his company."

"Did you get through to Admiral Maran?"

"No. He's out of Portland now."

"I see. Well, let me know if you find anything out. Andreys out."

Angel crossed her arms. "Glad to know I'm not the only one who doesn't like this," she said. "That guy's up to something."

"That goes without saying, Lieutenant," Richmond remarked. She looked the most settled in their environment. "This is a planet of secrets. We're outsiders."

"Why would Administrator Anoleis risk his job by defying the company board?" Meridina asked. "That is the question that puzzles me. He is a mercenary man. This is not a matter of principle to him."

"Undoubtedly he has something to hide as well," Richmond commented. "Perhaps that is what we should find out…" She narrowed her eyes while looking away from them.

Julia followed the direction of Richmond's eyes to see what caught her attention. She was looking at a distant table.

Seated there was a Human man, or at least Human-looking, although his wear definitely struck Julia as Human. In fact, it was the one business suit here she was most familiar with, a dress jacket of black worn over an ice-blue buttoned down shirt with a formal collar. A black tie was fitted perfectly to the shirt, likely tied to one of the buttons to keep it straight. BIack dress shoes and pants matching the jacket filled out the man's clothing.

And black gloves as well. Black gloves and, covering his eyes, a set of ray-ban aviator-style glasses.

Sunglasses? Inside? On Noveria? Julia thought.

The man himself was not stout or even large, although he had broad shoulders. If he had any strength at all it would be the wiry kind of strength that those with smaller figures could have. His skin was pale and sallow, indicating that if there was more color to it he would have a brown complexion like Angel's.

By now Meridina and Angel were also looking toward the man. "What is it? Why are we looking at this guy?" Angel asked.

"He's been following us," Richmond said. "Watching us. I'm certain of it."

"Do you think Anoleis sent him?" Julia asked.


Julia glanced to Meridina. Meridina was focused on the man. But the look on her face was one of bewilderment. "I cannot look into his mind, not even in a surface fashion," Meridina said. "There is something familiar…"

The man stood up and approached them. "I see I need no longer keep my distance." He spoke English with an accent that wasn't quite American nor English itself. Julia thought she knew the accent, but couldn't place it. "Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora, I presume?"

He offered a gloved hand. Julia met his eyes - or she imagined she did, given the sunglasses - before finally standing and accepting the hand. "With officers," she said. "I'm afraid I've never met you before, Mister…"

"You haven't," he said, still not using his name. "I apologize for the inequity of this situation. I suspect you are here because of the Binary Helix situation?"

"It's owned by a rogue Spectre and his Asari lieutenant," Julia said. "So yes. We're still being denied access, though."

"And you will continue to be denied. Anoleis has been very quick to block any further inquiry into Peak 15. I suspect that Benezia bribed him when she arrived. You will never be given permission to enter Peak 15, and should it be discovered you have done so anyway… Anoleis will undoubtedly react swiftly and without discrimination. Your lives will be endangered, and possibly those of your allies as well."

The stranger's free granting of information - true or false - made his purpose obvious. "What is it you want from us, Mister…"

"I want nothing from you," he said. "Mister Lorik Qui'in, however, has common cause with you against Anoleis." The man indicated a Turian sitting by himself a couple tables down, drinking from a container. "He is mostly sober even now. Mostly. I suggest you speak to him before he is not so." Smiling, the man nodded once to her. "Good day, Captain. I look forward to seeing how you handle this situation. You have quite a reputation to live up to."

With that, the man walked away.

"Well, that wasn't suspicious at all, was it?" Angel grumbled.

"I sensed no deception," Meridina said. But her face betrayed her uncertainty. "I sensed nothing telepathically. But my swevyra sensed honesty. I believe he was trying to help."

"Although not out of the kindness of his heart," Richmond said.

"Probably not," Julia agreed. She'd not sit down yet. "Well, let's see what Lorik Qui'in has to say to us."

The need to check for Rachni made the trip to Peak 15's engineering center take longer than had been anticipated. Upon arrival Lucy and Anders immediately went to work checking the power core. Talara, her pistol still in hand, looked toward Liara. "How are you, Doctor?" she asked respectfully.

"I am… I do not know. I feel…" Liara shook her head. "It's been weeks since I first learned about it, but I still can't understand why my mother is working with Saren. And on things like this. Reviving the Rachni? Why would she do this? This… this isn't like her, Ensign. Not at all. My mother believed in peaceful solutions and negotiation. She was devoted to our belief in diplomacy."

"Given what we have learned, your mother has had her independence stripped from her."

"Is it odd that I hope you're right? That this… it isn't her fault, but Saren's?"

"No, Doctor. Not odd at all."

Lucy's voice called out, "Anders, what's the status on that VI interface?"

"Re-aligning now," the Marine commander replied.

A female voice began to speak. "Mira VI is online. Peak 15 command interface compromised. Heavy damage reported."

"System, we need access to the second station, inside the glacier," Anders said.

"Access to Rift Station is not possible. Trams are sealed due to failure of power landlines. Insufficient power due to reactor shut down."

"Well, there's our answer," Lucy sighed. "Let's go get the reactor back up and those landlines restored."

Some backtracking through the engineering section was necessary to get to a lift that brought them up to the reactor core. Anders detached a squad to hold the lift.

The reactor control area was a maze of catwalks and piping around the central reactor core. They entered the control room and Lucy went to work checking the panels. "Okay, let's see what's wrong with..."

Before she could finish the sentence, gunfire broke out. "I've got hostiles!" one of the Marines shouted. A plasma round slammed into his torso and threw him back.

"Hostiles on this end too!" shouted another Marine. She and her fireteam returned fire.

To either side of the control room, Geth platforms were jumping down from upper levels.

"Looks like Benezia brought more than just commandos," Anders said. "There's at least two dozen of them out there. Sergeant Devakul, bring your squad up."

At that command, the Thai man and the other heavy power armor Marines moved forward. Splitting into two fire teams of four, the Marines moved among their comrades and opened up with the heavy weapons built into the arms of their armor suits. Their fire eliminated several Geth platforms, though not all. Shields helped them get into cover as needed from the return fire.

Lucy finished looking over the displays. "I've got to get to the fuel lines. The shutdown procedure cut them off."

"Well, there's a bunch of Geth in the way, Lieutenant."

"I know." Lucy pulled her weapon from her belt. "Keep them busy."

Anders opened his mouth to protest, but it was too late. Lucy was already running through the left door of the control room. He watched her weapon come up and start deflecting the incoming shots. "Dammit… Marines, suppressing fire! Give our girl the opening to get us the hell out of here!"

Moving out on the catwalk presented Lucy as a target for crossfire from other angles. But no shot could seem to land on her, not with her lightsaber buzzing in mid-air, striking every incoming plasma bolt and sending it back toward the shooter. A Geth that got too close learned what the lightsaber was capable of, losing vital limbs or parts to a flash of blue light.

Lucy had better things to do than fight, though. She jumped to another catwalk, then to a third, and moved on to the fuel line controls.

A sudden warning went through her being. Desperately Lucy threw the metaphorical brakes on her forward movement.

This brought her to a stop just before the Geth Prime landed on the walkway with a loud clang. An electronic, trilling kind of noise came from the big, three meter tall Geth before its weapon came up and opened fire.

The Normandy was already landing at the Salarian field base when the Mako pulled up. A Salarian with green coloring and a white STG combat uniform was waiting for Shepard and her team as they piled out of the Mako. "Commander Shepard?" the Salarian asked.

"Shepard here." Shepard stepped forward from the others and offered her hand. "We got here as soon as we could."

"Captain Kirrahe, 3rd Infiltration Regiment STG. My First Officer, Commander Rentola."

The second Salarian nodded at them.

"My team here." Shepard introduced them, including Robert.

"Captain Dale? Formerly of the Starship Aurora?"

"That's me," Robert replied.

"I am familiar with your record," Kirrahe noted. "Your ship covered the 3rd's extraction from the Reich planet of Clirison over a year ago. I admit I am surprised to see you have transferred."

"I was out of commission for a while," Robert said. "My first officer is in command of the Aurora now, so I decided to move on."

"Understood. It's a pleasure to meet one of the United Systems' new Paladin agents. Not to mention the first Human Spectre." He returned his attention to Shepard.

"What's the situation, Captain?" she asked him.

"We've located Saren's base, approximately two kilometers on the other side of this outer wall." Kirrahe indicated a wall cutting across the coastline nearby. "I have conducted some reconnaissance, but not without cost. Our losses have been heavy. I've lost half of my men in skirmishes with the Geth and Saren's Krogan while investigating this facility. That's why I asked for reinforcements. When is the fleet arriving?"

Shepard seemed surprised at that. "It's not. We're it."

Robert sensed a flare of frustration. "I told the Council we needed a fleet. Saren's defenses are too well-established. AA guns out to ten kilometers have already locked onto your ship."

"We took out a couple of guns on the way in," Shepard said. "But I'm getting the feeling we won't be flying the Normandy to the base."

"Most definitely not. And even with their loss of local coverage, the AA defenses are heavy enough that Saren's forces have a good chance of shooting your ship down."

"But he didn't shoot the Normandy down," Tali said. "Why not if he could have?"

"Maybe he wants us here," Garrus suggested. "After Feros and the Armstrong Nebula, Saren has to want us dead."

"This is why I asked for a fleet," Kirrahe said. "Anything less and Saren's defenses are too strong."

"The Council doesn't want to send a fleet this close to the Terminus Systems," Shepard explained. "They're concerned it could spark a war."

"My government feels the same way," Robert confirmed. "At best, we have a backup ship on the way, but the Koenig's just a light attack ship."

Kirrahe's expression betrayed his frustration. Before he could speak, another voice called out, "Captain." Another Salarian, of amber and white coloring, rushed up and saluted. "I have those scan results you wanted." He activated his omnitool and relayed the data to Kirrahe's. Kirrahe activated his own and started looking over the amber-hued images. Robert sensed his shock. Shepard and the others noticed as well.

Shepard asked, "What's wrong?"

"We took samples from the Krogan fighting for Saren, due to their irregular behavior in and out of combat."

"Yeah, they do act a little weird," Wrex said. "I figured it had to do with what that Asari on Feros told us."

"That may be involved, but…" Kirrahe stopped himself. "There are other factors. This confirms our suspicions. This facility's primary purpose appears to be for producing Krogan for Saren's forces."

"What?" Wrex's attention fixed on the Salarian like a laser. "How?"

Kirrahe seemed to consider his answer for a moment. There was resignation in his voice when he admitted, "It appears Saren has managed to cure the genophage."

Robert felt the incredulity in the others. It was understandable. The genophage, the genetic disorder that the Salarians developed nearly a millennia before to stop the Krogan Rebellion against the Citadel Council by causing the entire species' fertility rate to plummet. Now only one out of a thousand Krogan young were viable, and many female Krogan were entirely infertile due to the genetic alteration.

There was no mistaking the surge of hope he felt in Wrex. "We need this," he said. "We could use this to save my people." He turned his red eyes to Shepard. "We have to find out how they did it."

"I'm not sure we'll have time, Wrex," Shepard replied. "We have to stop Saren. Stopping to ransack his labs could put everything at jeopardy."

Wrex reacted by pulling out his shotgun. "No!" He pointed an angry, clawed finger at her. "You're talking about destroying what may be the last hope of my people for a cure. I can't let that happen!"

"Wrex, the safety of the galaxy is at stake," Shepard insisted.

"I won't let you do it."

And with that, Wrex leveled his shotgun at Shepard. "I won't let you destroy the cure," he vowed.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

All eyes were on Shepard and Wrex, the latter holding his shotgun against the former. Robert reached to his belt for the new lightsaber Lucy made for him, intent on disarming Wrex if he had to. He noticed Ashley quietly reaching for her gun and frowned. He sensed her intent. If Shepard was endangered, she would kill Wrex to stop him.

He sensed the emotions in the other two as well. Wrex was a complicated knot of hope, fear, and anger. The idea of a cure kindled the first of those, the idea of losing it the latter two. Robert couldn't help but feel sympathy for the Krogan's goal.

Shepard… was calm. Like she usually was in a deadly situation. Her green eyes locked onto Wrex's. "I know you want to save your people, Wrex," she said. "I don't blame you for that."

"But you're still going to blow the place up," Wrex said. His gun didn't waver.

"I don't think we have a choice." Shepard shook her head. "Saren's making this army of Krogan to fulfill whatever plan he has, maybe even bringing back the Reapers, the same machines that wiped out the Protheans. He has to be stopped to save the galaxy."

"Haven't we given up enough for this damn galaxy?" Wrex countered. "My people bled and died to stop the Rachni."

"And then you turned on the rest of the galaxy," Kirrahe pointed out. "The genophage was only necessary because of the Krogan Rebellion."

Wrex growled at him. "Without that cure, my people go extinct."

"If Saren wins, we all go extinct, your people too," Shepard retorted. "It's not like he did this for your benefit. You've seen the Krogan in his army, Wrex. You've seen what they're like. They're mindless. Nothing but puppets, they might as well be combat drones. That can't be what you want for your people."

Robert felt the conflicting emotions in Wrex. Even now he couldn't be sure what the Krogan would do. Everyone was waiting to see what Wrex would do, how he would react.

Robert's eyes went over to Ashley, who was stepping closer and closer. He watched as she started to pull her weapon free…

Wrex lowered the gun. "Alright," he said. "You've made your point."

Shepard nodded at him. Her relief was evident. "You're a good man, Wrex," she said. "I don't blame you for wanting to save your people. They still have time."

"If we find the cure, I'm taking it," Wrex informed her, bluntly. "Any problems with that?"

Robert sensed that yes, Garrus and Kirrahe and the other Salarians did have a problem with it.

Shepard, on the other hand, shook her head. "None. As long as you keep your focus on the mission."

"Fine." Wrex stowed his shotgun away at the base of his back.

Ashley put her weapon away as well. There was some relief on her face.

"Alright." Shepard returned her attention to Kirrahe. "We have an operation to plan."

The Geth Prime's weapon was a second away from firing, and Lucy wouldn't be able to stop it.

Even worse, her options were limited. Deflecting the shot could send the plasma into a vital component, damaging the reactor further. Jumping to avoid it might even cause the same - there was machinery behind her - and it would expose her to further fire.

In the instant she had left, Lucy sensed the only way she could make this work. She winced in anticipation as the Geth fired.

Her left hand shot up and caught the shot. The energy within her grabbed the shot, absorbing some of the energy, sloughing it off, weakening it… but not removing it. Enough power remained that it hit her in the palm. Her armor absorbed yet more, but there was still a pain in her hand from what remained of the shot.

Lucy gave a cry of effort and sliced upward and to the side with the lightsaber in her right hand. The blue blade cut through the Geth platform's arms with little effort, disarming the machine. She twirled her hand around, creating a trail of blue light with the blade as she brought it back to bear… and plunged it into the Geth Prime's chest. The machine spat sparks from the damage. It was in no shape to stop her from slicing its head off. With a final spurt of electronic warbling, the Prime collapsed before her.

Lucy glanced toward her left hand. The armor had a partial scorch mark over the palm, showing where the shot had gone through. The Prime's weapon was heavier than other Geth they'd faced. If it had shot her in the head or over the heart…

Lucy forced that possibility from her mind and focused on her work. She extinguished her lightsaber and returned it to her belt, allowing her to use her remaining good hand to operate the fuel line controls. The readout confirmed for her that a broken He-3 line was responsible for the reactor being offline. She bypassed that line with a secondary one and re-initialized the system. He-3 once again flowed into the reactor. It powered up around them.

With her job finished, Lucy pulled her lightsaber back out and rushed to rejoin the others. Running along the right-hand path toward the main control room, she moved over the blackened remnants of several Geth platforms. But she took no fire. In the control center the others were waiting. Liara and Talara were looking over the controls, although Talara was the only one who clearly understood them. "He-3 flow is showing nominal, sir," she said. "The reactor is operating at eighty-percent capacity."

"That's more than enough for the tram system," Lucy noted. "We just need to relink the landlines to the glacier base and we're good to go." She turned her head to face Anders. "Did you get all of the Geth?"

"They retreated when the reactor activated." Inside his face plate, Anders' frown was visible. "We got a lot of them, at least. But now I think we're going to end up leaving another squad behind to cover our rear. I've already got Hutchins moving up to join us."

"Makes sense. With the Geth and Rachni around, we don't want too many groups on their own."

"I'll leave Topa'riy's squad behind to join Hutchins, they'll watch the reactor. The rest of us are moving on." Anders gestured to the others. "Alright Marines, move out!"

"How long will it take you to re-establish the landline?" Liara asked.

"Probably not long. It depends on the damage." Lucy sensed Liara's discomfort and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Are you ready?"

"I… I am not sure," Liara admitted. "I haven't seen my mother in so long. We… we did not have a proper farewell last time. We fought. It was very… oh Goddess, what if those are the last words we end up sharing?"

"They won't be, I'm sure of it," Lucy insisted.

Liara nodded, her blue eyes full of tears. Lucy's assurance hadn't done much for her worry, really, but Lucy hoped it was enough.

"Lieutenant, your hand…"

Talara brought Lucy's attention back to her wounded left hand. Now that she paid attention to it, she recalled that yes, it hurt, and it hurt quite a bit. She winced. "I'll be fine." It was clear that Talara didn't quite believe her, but Lucy still forced the wounded look from her face. "I'll get the corpsman to look at it," she said. "For now, we've got more work to do."

Talara nodded and said nothing more as they walked out.

Lorik Qui'in looked up from his liquor as the shadows of Julia and the others appeared over his table. His dark eyes, coal-black, met Julia's. He was of gray complexion, the color of ash, with white facial markings, and dressed in respectable corporate wear for Turians. "I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the United Systems' rank system," he said. "You're a… Colonel?"

"Captain, actually, but you're close enough," Julia replied. "Captain Julia Andreys, commanding officer of the Alliance Starship Aurora."

"Right. The naval equivalent of a Colonel." Qui'in took a drink. "What can I do for you, Captain?"

"I'm not sure. We're having problems with Anoleis and we've heard you have them too." Julia was surprised a Turian could snort that derisively. "I'm still trying to understand everything that's going on here."

Suspicion laced the next question. "And what is your interest in Noveria?"

"Binary Helix," Richmond said. "And Matriarch Benezia."

"My security chief, Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond," Julia explained as an introduction. "Commander Meridina is my first officer and Lieutenant Angel Delgado is my tactical officer."

"I see. The Matriarch arrived a few days ago with a full escort of Asari commandos and several crates that passed customs."

"Were they disarmed?" Angel asked.

"Yes. But that doesn't do much to reduce the threat of Asari commandos, Lieutenant," Qui'in remarked. "They're all very capable biotics. Anyway, the Matriarch and her entourage left for Peak 15 almost right away. Since then, I've heard the entire research station shut down. A few stragglers arrived but were quickly rushed into isolation by Anoleis."

"We've heard he was bribed by Benezia," Richmond said.

To that Qui'in laughed bitterly. "I wonder how much he took her for. She wouldn't be the only one."

"Oh?" Again Richmond. Julia said nothing, allowing her security chief to direct the interview.

"Ever since he was given control of the office rents, Anoleis has been raising the rates. Unofficially." Qui'in took a drink. "I have the evidence of what he's up to. And here I am, accused of corruption while he has members of security on his payroll ransacking Synthetic Insights looking for where I hid it."

"I see." Richmond glanced toward Julia. "How very naughty."

Julia said nothing. She was thinking of how to turn this to their advantage. If Anoleis was dirty and they found proof… She looked around the table to see if the man that directed them to Qui'in was anywhere, but there was no sign of him. What is that guy up to? This is what he wants.

"So why are you looking into Binary Helix?" asked Qui'in. "I was surprised myself to see an Asari Matriarch going out there. Usually they don't leave Asari space."

"Matriarch Benezia has been linked a rogue Spectre," Julia replied. "Binary Helix is suspected of being involved in their plans."

"And the Council is letting the United Systems participate in this kind of investigation? Into one of their Spectres? That's odd."

"He's attacked us as well as Council space," Julia replied. "It's a joint investigation."

"I see. And sending you here lets the Council avoid angering all of these corporations. Clever." Qui'in folded his hands on the table. "Allow me to make a guess. Your people have quite a few technological tricks that were not around when Noveria's systems were established years ago. I'm betting you have a team in Peak 15 by now."

"And your point is…?"

"My point is that if Anoleis finds out, your people are in big trouble," said Qui'in. "He'll scramble all of his people in ERCS and go after them. And if the situation in Peak 15 allows, he may just have a battlestation put an antimatter missile into the entire glacier."

"We're trying to get ahold of the Board to overrule him."

Qui'in laughed bitterly. "The Board? Even if they approved you, it doesn't matter. They're not here. Anoleis is. And he's got allies with the Board, and in the other corporations. He'll do as he pleases and justify it later." Qui'in's mandibles twitched. "He's a greedy bastard, but he's not so stupid as to operate like this without support in all of the right places. No, if you want your Alliance to walk away from this cleanly, Anoleis has to go."

"And you believe your evidence is the key?" asked Meridina.

"It is," Qui'in answered. "If you can get into the office and retrieve it."


"As I said, you have technological tricks up your sleeve," said Qui'in. "I'm sure you can manage something."

Julia considered it. The risks were high, if something went wrong, but if it didn't… well, their problems here would be solved. And it was better than risking that Qui'in was right about Anoleis. That he would act on his own and possibly kill their entire team in Peak 15. The Aurora might not have time to intercept missiles bound for the surface. And the last thing I want is to have to be that blatant…

"Alright," she said. "We'll see what we can do.

"I'll be here drinking my time away." Qui'in gestured to a waitress to bring another bottle. "It's not like I have anything better to do."

They stepped away from the table. When they were in a corner alone Richmond spoke up. "May I remind you, Captain, that we are unarmed, and Anoleis' security people most definitely are not."

"True. However, we do have an advantage." Julia turned to Meridina.

"I may be able to influence them," she said. "It depends upon their will." Sensing Julia's thought, Meridina frowned. "I am reluctant to attack their minds as you are thinking, however."

"I understand. The Farisa Geenewt, was it? They wouldn't like it."

"Farisa Genut," corrected Meridina. "And no, they would not. But if it is to save lives… then I will act."

"Then that'll work for me." Julia drew in a breath to steel herself. This was not what I had in mind when I beamed down she thought. "Let's go get some evidence."

It took more time for Lucy and the Marines to kill the Rachni that opposed them than it did for Lucy to restore the landlines to what the systems were calling Rift Station, the underground labs built deep into the glacier. Once they were done the gathered troops made their way to the trams.

After they boarded the trams, Lucy checked the tram recorders' logs. She nodded and approached Anders and Liara. A tap of a key on her omnitool accessed a recording depicting a blue-skinned Asari in a black suit, attended by several Asari in M4P2-standard body armor, aboard the tram. "Benezia is here," she said. "And she hasn't left yet."

"And with Asari commandos." Anders nodded. "I've heard a lot about them."

"They're very good," noted Lucy. "I've fought with a squad before, on New Brittany. We wiped the floor with an SS Panzergrenadier strike team. It's not going to be an easy fight." She noticed the roiling emotion Liara was struggling to contain, hidden behind the distant look in the Asari's eyes. "Are you alright, Doctor?"

"It's been so long since I saw my mother," she said. "And to see her again like… this." Liara reached and gripped, for a moment, her sidearm. "It...I never thought something like this would happen. That she'd accept my career choice and welcome me home."

"You're pretty distant then?"

"Very. Mother never approved of my choice to pursue archaeology." Liara went over and leaned against the side of the tram as it moved through the sub-glacial tunnel. "I was the daughter of a Matriarch. I was supposed to be something more, she thought."

Lucy nodded quietly. She recalled her mother had similar ambitions for her future, if put more gently. "Parents often want the best for their kids."

"I'm not sure that was it. My mother has her pride. She didn't want me 'slumming' across the galaxy from dig to dig. She wants me on Thessia learning how to guide our people."

"In other words, she wants you to be a leader."

"Yes. But that's not what I am, and she couldn't accept it." Tears were forming in Liara's eyes. "I received my doctorate and it still wasn't enough. I don't understand why… why she couldn't accept my choices."

"I'm not sure. You'll have to ask."

Bitterness was the reaction from Liara. "Oh, I have a lot to ask. All of the horrible things Saren's done, how could she be involved in it?"

"We'll find out soon enough," Lucy assured her gently. "I just hope the answers are good."

"So do I."

Shepard, her team, and the Salarian regiment's senior officers gathered around the holo-table and the display of the mapped areas of Saren's base. "There are two approaches we can make. This is the most direct, and the one that will gain the most attention." Kirrahe indicated one area. "The 3rd Regiment can strike here and draw attention. This would allow a small operations team to infiltrate from the base's weak side." He indicated an approach to a small set of buildings, the larger ones beyond it.

"That's where we come in," Shepard said. "I'll take a squad from my team and come in that way."

"We'll need to maintain some kind of coordination to ensure peak operational efficiency," Kirrahe said. "We have no room for errors. Commander, could one of your people join us?"

Shepard was clearly considering it. Instead of her answering, it was Ashley who said, "I can stay with the Salarians and maintain communications, Commander. Plus an extra gun in the firefight won't hurt."

"Agreed, Sergeant."

"What about the base?" Tali asked. "What do we do once we're there?"

"We find out as much about Saren's operations as we can," Shepard replied. "And then we blow the place up."

"To get the entire facility, we'll need a nuke," Kaidan said.

"Assemble one on the Normandy," Shepard said. "Tali, you'll assist." Shepard put a finger to one location in the base, an aqueduct. "This is a good central location for the explosive. The Normandy can fly you in with it once we shut down the AA guns and secure the area. Then we'll extract both teams and detonate the bomb."

"An excellent operational plan," Kirrahe said. "Allow me to get my men ready."

Shepard nodded. "Let me know when you're ready. The longer we wait, the harder this will be."


Kaidan and Tali returned to the Normandy - driving the Mako back into it in the process - leaving the others to follow Shepard outside. "Garrus, Wrex, Robert." She nodded to them in turn. "This isn't going to be an easy fight. We're facing bad odds here."

"Been there, done that," was Wrex's reply. "But remember our deal."

"I do, Wrex," said Shepard. "If we can get any access to the cure, we'll do everything we reasonably can to acquire it."

"But we don't jeopardize the mission," Garrus said.

"You don't have to remind me, Turian," Wrex growled. Robert felt his displeasure at Garrus' remark and Garrus' unease. "I'm going to prep my gear."

"I suggest we all do that," said Shepard. "Meet me back here within half an hour."

Wrex and Shepard started their way back toward the Normandy. Robert took a few steps that way before stopping and looking to Garrus. "What's your concern?" he asked. "I can sense you're unhappy."

"The genophage." Garrus turned to face him. "It was either that or exterminating the Krogan. My people chose mercy."

"Or just a prolonged extermination," Robert noted. "The Krogan are dying out."

"That's their fault," Garrus replied. "We didn't sterilize them. We reintroduced a controlling factor into their population, a factor they lost when they left Tuchanka. Without that control, the Krogan were breeding out of control. It's what started the Krogan Rebellion in the first place. A cure for the genophage puts us right back to square one on that."

"Does it?" Robert glanced back toward the Normandy for a moment. "Saving his people doesn't need to become an 'us or them' situation."

"If it's not done right, it will," Garrus warned. "And I don't want that. I just can't help but wonder if we'll all be better off if there's no cure data to recover."

"Maybe, maybe not." Robert shook his head. He had no sense of how this would go. Only the feeling he had that the Krogan shouldn't be allowed to die out. But if curing them actually did lead to violence…

A voice from his past spoke in his head. No matter how noble or well-intentioned an action can be... the consequence it yields could be disastrous. About four years had passed since Robert's first meeting with Jean-Luc Picard, since Picard had warned him that "all actions have consequences", and here again that warning echoed inside of him. Could curing the genophage hurt everyone, even the Krogan, in the long run?

It was clear to Garrus he was in deep thought on the issue. "You may be right," he said. "Maybe if someone like Wrex leads the Krogan, they can cure the genophage without being a threat. But I'm not sure we should risk the safety of the entire galaxy on one old Krogan mercenary with ideas." Garrus stepped past him. "Anyway, I'd better go check my gear. We've got one hell of a fight ahead."

Robert turned and followed him, still pondering the question. "Yeah," he agreed. "We do."

When the tram stopped the remaining Marines filed out. "Are we leaving anyone behind to watch the tram, sir?" asked Sergeant Coleman.

"No." Anders shook his head. "Between Asari commandos and these damned bugs, I'm not splitting our teams up any further. We'll retake the tram if we need to."

Talara walked up beside Lucy. "I feel… something," she said. "Emptiness. Blind terror and hunger."

"I feel it too," Lucy said. "It might be those bugs." She glanced toward Talara. "How are you feeling, Talara?"

"I am fine. Uncomfortable, perhaps. But I will make it."

"Good. Stick with me, let's go."

They continued on into the station. Signs led them toward the labs and a lift. "Access denied," the station VI said upon Lucy pressing the plate.

"Can you hack it?"

"Probably." Lucy focused. She felt a pull away from here. "But I think we're supposed to go another way."

"Operational intel or life force stuff?"

"Life force stuff, Major."

Anders nodded. She could sense his instinctive dislike of relying on metaphysics, but their track record was enough to get him to overlook that dislike. At his prompting she moved on to another door. This one opened, revealing a lift. Above the door, a holo-sign depicted a set of bunk beds. "Living quarters," said Anders. "We'll go up first. Coleman, you follow."

"Yes sir."

He joined Lucy, Talara, and Liara on the lift. A couple of the light-armored Marines stepped in last. Lucy held her hand up to the internal panel to her left and the lift activated. They rose to the next level. "Life signs ahead," he noted. "Be ready for an ambush."

With that in mind Lucy stepped up between the Marines and pulled her lightsaber back out. As the door opened she ignited it and walked toward.

There were indeed armed guards on the other end, hiding behind cover. Multiple weapons focused on her. She kept her lightsaber ready but made no hostile move. "We're Human!" she called out. "You're safe!"

A tense moment came while the Marines behind her stepped out. Lucy sensed the uncertainty of the guards. How were they supposed to deal with this? They had unauthorized visitors, but at the same time they were already fighting for their lives and shooting their best chance of escape was clearly inadvisable. She was relieved to sense the white-armored man in the middle ease up. "Hold fire!" he shouted. Looking directly at Lucy he said, "Sorry. It's been nothing but bugs for days. Who are you?"

"Lieutenant Lucy Lucero, United Systems. The Starship Aurora." Lucy stepped to the side and allowed Anders to be the one to approach. "And Major Gabriel Anders, Aurora's Marine Commander."

"Captain Ventralis, Elanus Risk Control Services, Binary Helix detachment," he answered. "Normally I'd not be happy to see people like you down here, but with those damn bugs running around, I've got other things to worry about."

"How long has this been going on?" Anders asked. "You look like you've got a stable position."

"The bugs broke out about a week ago," answered Ventralis. "Before we knew what hit us, they killed a bunch of the scientists and some of my men. We were able to fall back to this area of the living spaces and hold a perimeter. We still have some supplies to last us."

"Anyone to tend to wounded?"

"There's a doctor downstairs for that."

Anders nodded. "Where are these things coming from, anyway?"

"The Hot Labs below us." Ventralis frowned. "Damned eggheads are responsible for this whole mess. Whatever they've got down there got loose. And they keep…"

Lucy felt the sense of danger in time. She turned as the clattering in the floor reached a crescendo and brought her weapon up. A number of the bugs started to emerge. She sensed mindless fear in them, an emptiness that spawned their terror and violence.

"Open fire!" Anders and Ventralis cried in unison. Weapons snapped into place and the bugs came under withering pulse and mass effect fire. One lunged through the killzone at them. Lucy raised a hand and sent the creature flying back toward the others, where the continuing fire ripped into it until it too lay still.

Once the shooting was over, Anders turned back to Ventralis. "I have a couple of squads of Marines on hand. Is there anything we can do to stop these things at the source?"

"Supposedly there's the neutron purge," said Ventralis. "Like a neutron bomb. It'll wipe out every living thing down in the labs. Tartakovsky, one of our project directors, has the codes to initiate it. But I'm not sending my people down there, Major, and you shouldn't either."

"A risk I'm willing to take," Anders said. He glanced toward Lucy, who was examining Ventralis carefully. "We should go down there and see if we can set off the purge."

Ventralis noticed Lucy's interest. It clearly disquieted him. "What is it?" he asked.

Lucy said nothing at first. When she spoke, it was with another question. "Where is Benezia?"

"Further in the lab. She's been in there for a while."

"We need to see her."

"You can wait if you want."

Something about the answer made Lucy feel something was off. A tinge off deception behind straight truth. She glanced toward Anders. Anders responded with a small frown. "Excuse me," he said to Ventralis before following Lucy well out of earshot. "What is it?"

"There's more to this," Lucy said. "I feel like he wants us to go to the Hot Labs. A reason he's not telling us."

"Even so, we can't focus on Benezia if these bugs are always behind us. They're our priority right now. If we wipe them out we get a free hand to face Benezia's forces with our full strength."

Lucy understood his reason. But she sensed something bad about this approach. Something would go wrong.

"Give me a minute," she said.

Anders responded with an impatient look, but said nothing.

Taking that as permission, Lucy walked back up to Ventralis. "Captain, a moment of your time."

"Lieutenant?" He looked at her. Lucy felt a tinge of uncertainty and hid a smile from it. Over the two years since the first contact between M4P2 and the Multiverse, the existence of the Order of Swenya and similar organizations certainly spread enough so corporate security officers might at least be familiar with their reputations and the idea of their existence. She felt skepticism and concern inside of that uncertainty.

"I have a question for you," she said calmly, hiding a grin. "Has Matriarch Benezia given you any orders about anyone following her down here?"

He gave her a blank look. "I operate under standing orders about anyone coming down here."

It was an evasion. Lucy responded by continuing, "So she hasn't, say, encouraged you to send us to the Hot Labs in the hope we get killed?" Sensing Ventralis' likely reaction, and the emotion behind it, she continued, "Or has she given any orders about the other survivors?"

"None ma'am."

It was a lie. Lucy sensed that deception immediately. It confirmed her suspicions. She looked back to Anders and matched eyes with him. Through his faceplate she could see his face was neutral. Irritated a little, but he was hiding it well.

She sensed the intent just in time. She brought her hand up as her finger hit the button on her lightsaber. It flashed alive with a snap-hiss. Her feet were pivoting as she whirled about, her robes whirling with her.

Ventralis screamed in shock as his hands fell away from his wrists, reduced to cauterized stumps. The weapon he was raising to shoot her in the back fell as well.

The armed ERCS guards raised their weapons to defend their commander. Lucy lifted a hand and pulled her arm back toward herself. One guard went flying, yelling in shock as he did, and moments later slammed into his ally. The Turian and Human fell in a pile together.

Ventralis looked up at her. He held up his stump-tipped arms as if he would try to grip her robe if he still had hands. "Witch!" he shouted, although Lucy could sense he'd intended a different first letter.

"Knight," she corrected. "I'm a Life Force Knight. And you're under orders to kill the scientists and get anyone from the Alliance or the Citadel killed if they show up. And don't bother lying because I'll know." She didn't glance back toward Anders. She didn't need to in order to know he was not very happy with her at the moment.

"Shepard," Ventralis finally hissed. "Or anyone from the Aurora. Benezia's orders. Please, it's… we're under contract."

"And that justifies killing innocent people?"

"Innocent? Like hell!" Ventralis spat. "Those damned scientists killed some of my people with their Goddamned bugs!"

"And so you're going to slaughter them." Lucy narrowed her eyes and frowned. "Yeah. An order from you? Don't lie, I can sense it."

Ventralis snarled in frustration and pain. "No. Other way. It's a dead man switch scenario. If I or my second-in-command don't send the order every half hour, the culling begins."

"How long until you send it again?"

"Ten… ten minutes."

"Your second in command?"

"Off-duty. Getting some sleep."

Lucy nodded. Beside her Anders' Marines were securing the other two guards. "Well, you're going to send the order to stand down the kill order permanently."

"You cut off my hands!" Ventralis wailed. "How am I supposed to use the comms?!"

"Oh please." Lucy rolled her eyes. "Your omnitool has voice activation, doesn't it? Maybe even neural activation. Use that to activate your comms."

Ventralis glared hate at her. He looked over to Anders, as if to plead for him to come to his aid. He was a fellow Marine, so to speak, could he take command over his subordinate navy puke with her witch powers and her energy blade and get her to back off?

"Do as the Lieutenant instructs, Captain, and I'll have my corpsman put your hands in bio-stasis fields," Anders said. "A surgeon can reattach them."

Ventralis sighed. "Open command comm," he said aloud. His omnitool activated. "Everyone, this is Captain Ventralis, stand down reserve order, authorization Bravo Zulu Zulu Kilo Echo. We have friendly reinforcements on site. I say again, stand down reserve order and maintain normal patrol."

One by one, there were check-ins from the others, confirming the stand down.

"We've still got to do something about the damn bugs," Ventralis insisted to them once the line closed.

"We are." Anders looked at Coleman. "Coleman, secure these people, and detach a squad to hold this position and keep watch. Where's our corpsman?"

"Here sir," chirped a young Alakin female.

"Get this man's hands into a bio-stasis field right away. Tend to him and his troops."

"Yes sir." The Alakin, her violet plumage and mottled blue skin visible through the faceplate of her helmet, moved forward to follow her orders.

"Now we're down to just one squad to face Benezia and whatever troops she's got with her," Anders pointed out to Lucy. "Not to mention those bugs in the Hot Labs. We have to deal with them first. If they hit with a big push…"

"I don't think so. They're too mindless for a swarm attack like that. Benezia should be our focus."

"She's been here a day, and we have people on the other end of the tram to keep her here, Lieutenant," Anders said. "She's not getting away."

"She's a powerful biotic with a team of them, and I've seen Asari commandos rip through SS Panzergrenadiers like they were nothing," Lucy countered.

"Alliance Marines are better than SS troops."

"Not that much better."

There was silence in the room. Anders and Lucy wouldn't look away from each other. Each was convinced they were right. That the other had the wrong priorities.

"What if Lieutenant Lucero, Ensign Talara, and I went to confront my mother?" Liara asked. "While you deal with the rachni in the Hot Labs?"

"With all due respect, Doctor, that's a foolhardy idea," Anders said. "Splitting our forces up allows for us to get defeated in detail. As it is I've only one squad left for the Hot Labs because Lieutenant Lucero acted to provoke Ventralis."

"If we'd come out of the Hot Labs alive, he'd have started the culling," Lucy replied. "I was saving lives."

"And acting without orders. I'll remind you, Lieutenant, I'm in charge of this mission."

"That's the problem, then? I didn't give it away by consulting you first?" Lucy frowned. "Major, I'm not out to undermine you…"

"Funny thing to say, since you ignore my orders whenever we're on an op." Anders shook his head. "Whatever this life force stuff is, Lieutenant, it doesn't mean you do whatever you want when you want. I need to know what you're doing so I can act myself and keep my Marines alive."

"You must think pretty lowly of me, Major, to think I'll get your people killed," Lucy countered. "Your predecessor gave me more trust."

"Commander Kane's a good Marine, but I'm not him," Anders replied. "You want my trust? You've got to trust me too, including trusting my orders. Now, before we waste more time and let more of those bug things show up… we're off to the Hot Labs. All of us. And that, Lieutenant, is a direct order. Will you or will you not follow it?"

Lucy took in a breath and focused on the Flow of Life. The quiet question What will happen? passed through her and into the Flow. She felt herself briefly wander, searching for the answer to her question. If she defied Anders, would things be better? Worse? Was he right?

Much to her aggravation, this was one of those cases where the future was too nebulous to sense even an inkling of the better path. She had to rely solely on herself for the choice.


Lucy sighed. "Yes, sir," she said. "I'm ready when you are."

Lucy gave Anders credit. He didn't glory in it and he didn't rub it in. A slight sense of satisfaction was the only feeling he gave on his success in winning the argument by right of rank. "Fall out, Marines," he said, with everyone not remaining behind immediately heading for the lift.

Armed with nothing but their courage, wit, and the telepathic and life force powers of one of their number, the four ladies from the Aurora waited patiently for the glass pane-covered lift to deposit them in the private offices leased to Synthetic Insights. "So, Meridina mind-whammies them, and if it doesn't work…"

"...we start punching and praying," Julia sighed, answering Angel's inquiry.

"You pray, I punch," was her reaction.

"I sense their minds above," Meridina said.

"Anyone have a good lie to make up?" asked Angel.

"We'll have to think of something on the fly." Julia's reply proved immediately true, as the lift came to a stop and the doors opened, admitting them to their destination. They walked ahead until a pair of armed guards moved to intercept them. "Halt," one said. "This office is off-limits by order of Administrator Anoleis."

Meridina stepped forward and waved a hand over them, a focusing gesture to help her goal. Using only her swevyra - not her telepathic powers - she pressed her will against theirs. "You have been relieved from duty. It is time to rest."

The guards looked at each other blanky. "We've been relieved," said the same guard. "Time for a break."


And with that, the two guards walked past them to the lift.

"Scanners show nobody else here," Richmond said after consulting her omnitool. "We're clear for the moment."

"Let us continue," said Meridina. "We have little time."

One of the things Robert learned early into his "post-Facility" life was that plans never went quite according to plan.

Gunfire echoed from the walkways of the approaches to Saren's base. Ahead of them, and behind, Geth and Krogan were attempting to box Shepard's team in. Garrus was busy covering the rear, rising from cover and firing quick, lethal shots from his sniper rifle. Wrex was on the flank facing a shallow streambed, using his rifle for much the same purpose.

If they weren't so hard pressed Robert imagined Shepard would have already rocketed ahead on a trail of biotic light. Instead she was likewise engaging with an assault rifle, a semi-automatic Valkyrie model made specifically for N7 special forces Marines like Shepard. Unlike the Avenger rifle in Garrus' hands, this one sacrificed automatic rate of fire for accuracy.

Robert had a pulse pistol, as usual, and he was firing shots from it here and there. But right now he was relying on life force attacks. He felt the connection to the wider universe through the Flow of Life and used it to full effect, sending Krogan and Geth alike flying whenever one threatened Shepard with gunfire.

"Commander, we've got aerial drones conducting airstrikes on our positions," Ashley said over their tac-comms. "They look like short-range models, not a lot of fuel. I'm thinking there's a fuel depot near you, if you can take it out…"

"I agree," Shepard said. Slivers of metal pinged off the cover over their heads. She glanced toward Robert. "I know you're trying to be careful, but they won't last long under air strikes."

"Yeah." He knew what Shepard meant. "Cover me."

Shepard nodded and leaned out of cover. Her gun thundered, two rapid pops in a row with each pull of the trigger. He heard a yell of pain from a Krogan. She'd scored a hit.

Now it was his turn.

Robert took in a breath and reached within himself. As he always did in these moments, he thought back to his training in the remote Gersallian monastery of Umintamil. Mastrash Kilaba's face filled his mind, her quiet, bemused look whenever they had training exercises, her words about controlling the power of his being, of what the Gersallians called swevyra.

When he rolled out of cover, Robert let loose with the power in question. There was so much of it now, far beyond what he'd known when training with Meridina. It threatened to come loose from his grip. But he held on tightly and directed it forward, against the enemies ahead. He saw them in the Flow of Life, the artificial life of the Geth and the mindless programmed life of the Krogan, and he felt a revulsion in the Flow, pulsing from that sliver of cold death he'd felt within it after the attack on Adrana. As if the two were linked…

Not that it mattered right now. Right now he had to use this power to fight, and he did. He felt stone rip from the steep rock ridges carved by the ancient waters of Virmire over the eons, stone that at his will went flying into Geth to smash them. Solid force sent Krogan flying in defiance of their protective particle barriers. Without thinking his hand slipped to his belt and retrieved the cylindrical shape of Lucy's handiwork that hung there. His thumb found the activation trigger and an emerald blade surged from the weapon with an electronic snap and lingering hiss. His arm moved of its own volition and the blade struck incoming fire. A plasma burst from a Geth gun instead found a Krogan. The bullets of the Krogan weapons went flying off, chipping away sand and rock instead. And with every move of his left hand, energy surged from within him and another enemy was struck down.

Their fire relented. Now it was Shepard's turn. Her Valkyrie was exchanged for the Crusader shotgun, the same she'd used at Gamma Piratus. Dark blue light covered her and with a surge of dark matter she shot forward. She slammed into a large Geth platform, throwing it off-balance and disrupting its protective particle barrier, and fired her shotgun directly into what passed for its chin. The solid slug of the weapon ripped through metal flesh and wiring, nearly severing the flashlight head of the Geth. It fell over.

Shepard immediately pivoted. Dark matter gathered at her arm in the seconds before she threw the arm out. A shockwave of biotic power rippled along the ground and threw a pair of Geth from their cover. Robert reached up with his hand and pulled down, a gesture that focused his power and the straining control holding it to the task of ripping a large chunk of stone from the pale beige ridge above them. The stone crushed the two Geth platforms, which writhed under it like shattered insects until they grew still.

He felt the next shot coming a moment before it did and his new lightsaber intercepted it. The offending Krogan never had a chance to fire again. Shepard slammed into him with another biotic charge and blew his armored head open with her weapon.

Their attack served to break through the enemy line. With Wrex and Garrus holding the rear, they advanced to a circular platform near the edge of the base, nestled between the ridges. A series of tanks were present and drones were in the air around it, some latching on to refuel. A couple turned toward them. Weapons swiveled to lock on.

Shepard fired first, a miss due to the target drone making a quick evasion.

What it couldn't evade was Robert's abilities. He gripped the drone with invisible force and sent it flying into another drone and the attached tank. The impact severed the fuel line.

At that point Shepard fired again.

Even at the relative distance they were at, the resulting fireball baked their skin. Further explosions went off as the destruction rippled through the fueling area, rending drone and fuel tank alike, bursts of flame and smoke rising into the sky until the last blast faded into the flickering of the remaining flames.

"Aerial drone refueling site down," Shepard said into the tac-comm.

"We can see the flames from here, Commander." This time the reply was from Kirrahe. "Thank you. We're still under heavy fire, but we've diverted many of their troops."

"Thanks. We're on our way to the target."

"Shepard, look at this."

At Garrus' request, she looked to the amber light of his omnitool displaying sensor data. "Life signs. Salarian?"

"Just ahead, in one of the buildings," Garrus said. "Probably some of Kirrahe's."

"If we can get them out, we will." Shepard raised her shotgun to a ready position. "Let's push on." She started moving at a brisk pace back toward Saren's main base. The others, without a word, fell in behind her.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

The last of the Geth blocking the way to the cell blocks fell to the ground. Sparking came from the wounds in its silvery body, courtesy of Shepard's shotgun. "Clear!" she called out.

"Clear!" Garrus echoed, sweeping this rifle around.

Robert called the same next, followed by Wrex after he inspected one of Saren's Krogan with an angry eye. The dead Krogan had a burned hole through his head from Robert's weapon. Robert could sense this anger was not directed at him but at Saren.

They moved into the next room and headed down a ramp to a line of cells. There was movement in one. They stepped up and found five Salarians gathered in one, each in the field uniform of an STG member. One Salarian, with reddish coloring, stepped up to the particle barrier that held them in the cell. "Who are you?"

"Reinforcements." Shepard put a hand on the control panel beside the barrier. The barrier disappeared. "I'm Commander Shepard, a Spectre."

"Ah, yes, I have heard of you. Lieutenant Patak Wijas, STG 3rd Regiment."

"They took you alive?" Garrus asked. "What for?"

"Experimentation, I believe," Wijas replied. His eyes blinked. "At least six of our number have already been removed. None have returned."

"Right. We'll see if we can find them too."

"Thank you, Commander."

"You'd better get going," Robert said. "We're planning on setting off a nuke soon."

"I see."

"There are some dead Krogan and Geth in the storage chamber we left to get here, they still have intact firearms you can use to defend yourselves," Shepard explained. "Just in case you run into trouble on your way back to base."

"Understood, Commander. Good luck in finding my men, and again, thank you." Wijas looked back to the others. "Alright everyone, fall in!"

After the Salarians left, Shepard had an unmistakably pensive look on her face. "Experiments," she murmured. "What is Saren doing?"

"I bet we'll hate finding out" Garrus said.

"Either way, we press on." With that declaration from Shepard, they continued through the base.

The lift to the Hot Labs came to a stop. Lucy was the first out, the Marines behind her with Liara and Talara mixed in with them. "I sense them," Talara said. She looked pained. "Mindless with fear. Something's wrong, very wrong. There is no… song?"

"Probably a result of how they were created," Anders remarked. "Alright Marines, heads on a swivel. This is bug central."

"Sir yes sir!" was the echoed response.

The lift exit led them to what looked to be an observation room. Sealed exits led out of it to either side. Laying on the floor near a fallen chair was a Human male of fair complexion and, quite obviously, a missing left leg. He looked toward them when they came in and spoke with an accent. "You… you are not with ERCS."

"United Systems Marines," Anders answered. "Major Gabriel Anders, Commander of Marine Troops for the Starship Aurora."

"I am Yaroslev Tartakovsky, director of research for Binary Helix. I will not ask why it is you have come. The important thing is that we set off the neutron purge."

"Can we?"

"Yes. But I will need your help. My leg…" He gestured toward the stump.

Lucy looked it over. A tourniquet around the stump of thigh was preventing further bleeding. It was, regardless, not a pretty sight at at all. She winced at it, realizing the leg hadn't been sliced off so much as ripped off. And it certainly explained the pain she sensed in him.

"There is a VI terminal in the monitoring room behind me," he said. "We must access it and give the codes for the neutron purge. I will need help."

"Talara, Liara, can you help him up?"

The two stepped up and helped the man to his remaining foot. His face remained pale. "Hold on," Talara urged. "It won't be long."

As they walked into the next room, Lucy felt the attack coming. "Incoming Major!" she shouted.

"We're on it. Get that damn system going!" was the response.

Tartakovsky groaned as Liara and Talara guided him toward the control room. Lucy stood by the entrance and pulled her weapon from her belt.

When the Rachni came, it was through the floor grating. They spilled out and were immediately met with fire from the Marines. Insectoid screeches filled the air, cries of pain and fear and anger, and they kept coming.

One bug that got past the gunfire went for the door. Lucy intercepted it and slashed with her weapon. The blade passed cleanly through one of the long tentacles of the Rachni, slicing the clawed appendage free of the body. The Rachni screeched at its mutilation. The other claw came for her, aimed at her head. Lucy moved to the side to evade it and swung her weapon again, severing the other limb. She twirled the lightsaber and drove it into the Rachni's head, killing it instantly.

Most of the Rachni were not interested in the door, merely in the closest foe. They pressed the Marines on all sides. Their chance to overwhelm them was significantly reduced thanks to Anders' use of the heavy armor squad, and the flexible weapons built into their arms. Instead of a standard automatic rifle weapon, they swapped to a flamethrower. White-hot flames fanned out and burned Rachni until they retreated or, more often, collapsed in near-death.

With her back to the door, Lucy contributed to the fight with warnings and, increasingly, the use of her abilities. She sent Rachni threatening Marine flanks flying into each other and the walls, giving time for the Marines to mow them down.

She turned to see Liara and Talara return with Tartakovsky. He was sweating from how much pain he was in. And, she felt, from fear too. "The purge is set to go off in less than three minutes," he shouted. "We must go!"

"Time to go!" she shouted to the Marines in turn.

"Marines, fall back to the lift station!"

"I have unlocked the cargo lift," said Tartakovsky. "we have room for everyone."

Whether or not the Rachni knew what was about to happen, their attack didn't let up. To clear the way for the wounded, Lucy pushed her abilities to their limit. She reached through the Flow of Life, channeled it into herself, and as focus pushed her arms forward. Her energy resonated with that physical movement and flew outward. It took control to keep the energy from lashing out everywhere, focusing the burst entirely on the Rachni.

The force threw them into the walls of the control room and away from the Marines. They hit with enough force that most were injured simply from the impact.

Talara and Liara moved ahead, carrying Tartakovsky along as quickly as they could, heedless of his pained winces. Lucy followed behind them, arms spread, invisible force keeping the Rachni in place. The Marines poured fire into the new arrivals as they came up through the grate.

Once Talara and Liara were through the door with Tartakovsky, Lucy released the Rachni and ran ahead to join the Marines, forming a half circle around the entrance. One by one they withdrew, stepping backwards toward the door to keep their guns firing on Rachni. Lucy waited at the door and gathered her will for another wave. As soon as Anders came through she threw out another wave of force. Control for this one was unnecessary. The only thing it could hit was Rachni. Hit them it did, sending them flying into each other or the walls and windows, one even going through the far door. Once this breathing space was achieved Anders and Lucy retreated through the door. Lucy raised a hand and moved it to the side. Through her power she gripped the door and it moved in sympathy with her hand, closing shut.

"To the lifts, now!" Anders shouted.

"One hundred seconds until neutron purge!" Tartakovsky yelled.

At the lifts, everyone piled into the heavy cargo elevator. It shut behind Lucy and Anders. With Talara providing him support, Tartakovsky triggered the lift to rise. Nobody spoke until after they heard a muffled blast from below. Tartakovsky examined his omnitool readings. "The purge is complete," he said. "All Rachni life signs are gone."

"Excellent news." Anders looked him over. "We'll get you some medical attention in the barracks area."

"Can you explain what's going on here?" Lucy asked.

"Someone found a derelict Rachni vessel. Eggs aboard from Rachni Queen, one was in effective cryo-stasis," he explained. "We were going to clone it. Make specialized troops for environments hostile to Human life. But we found out the egg was for Rachni Queen. She hatched."

"Are you telling me there's a Rachni Queen in this lab?!" Liara asked, horrified.

"Da. Yes. Rachni Queen on upper level. For Matriarch Benezia to examine."

"So what, you created eggs of normal drones from her DNA?"

"No. Rachni Queen is born pregnant. Like fuzzy creature from… what universe is it? S5T3? Little furball, goes 'coo'? Tribble. Rachni Queen like Tribble. She carries paternal DNA to make her first batches of eggs. Evolutionary adaptation."

"So just one Rachni Queen could conceivably restart the species," Talara said.

"Yes. We took her first generation of eggs, planned to program biologically into soldiers. Separated them from mother. This was a bad mistake. It is why they went berserk. They need mother early in life according to data."

"It explains the sense we get from them."

"This is all well and good, Lieutenant, but I'm more interested in Benezia," Anders said.

"Benezia is dangerous. Has war drones of some kind with her, and many trained Asari Commandos. They are guarding her now. If you fight her, you will be cornered and killed."

"How many ways are there into her lab? Where the Rachni Queen is?"

"Three," Tartakovsky replied. "Lower level maintenance entrance, main entrance off of barracks hall, and emergency exit near tram."

"The latter could be overridden with time," Lucy advised Anders. "But maybe too much time. Benezia has to know something's up now."

"Agreed," said Anders.

"And she may have more ERCS personnel with her commandos and Geth too."

"Also agreed."

Lucy nodded. "So what I was going to recommend is that you take the main entrance and pin down her troops. This will let Liara, Talara, and I go through the maintenance entrance. We can confront Benezia alone. Maybe even reason with her."

For a moment she thought Anders would refuse her, and they might have another fight. He was clearly calculating possibilities. As the lift began to slow and come to a stop, he finally nodded. "A good plan," he said. "That way she's pinned in too. Let me get my squads together and we'll get started."

Lucy nodded. "Be careful with the Commandos. Their biotics make them a major threat even to armored troops."

"We'll be careful," Anders assured her. They stepped out of the lift together. "Let's go get Mister Tartakovsky some medical attention and get this show on the road."

The office of Lorik Qui'in was surprisingly well-kept for a place that had been searched for a hidden data disc. There was still something of a Spartan look to it, which - she supposed - fit Turian mentalities.

"Not much of a decorator," Richmond observed while examining a shelf.

Angel looked up from where she was scanning the wall. "I'm not finding any hidden safes or anything."

"That would be too obvious," Richmond said. "I would assume a more subtle method of hiding the evidence."

"That does seem to be the nature of this world." Meridina inspected the desk. "Everywhere we have been, I can sense the secrecy, the deception. This is a dangerous world."

Julia glanced back out the door. "It doesn't surprise me." She felt her mind wander back to her concerns about the Marines. How were things going in Peak 15? "Anything?"

Angel looked at what seemed to be a wall safe. "Too obvious?"

"Too obvious," Richmond agreed. She was already intent upon the holo-projector for the desk computer system. The others looked her way while she ran her hands over it. Her fingers seemed to find purchase on the base. With a determined look on her face Richmond pulled. The plate she was gripping came away, revealing the internal of the base. It was a small space. After Richmond put her hand in and pulled it out, her fingers were wrapped around a small circular object, barely two inches in circumference. She held her omnitool up to it. "Encryption. Very good encryption."

"That must be it," Julia said.

"I would say so." Richmond tapped at her omnitool. "I'm copying the data to our omnitools now. Each of us will have a piece. Just in case."

"A good idea Commander." Meridina looked relieved. "We need to go."

"Is something wrong?" Julia asked her.

"I sense something… nebulous in the Flow of Life," Meridina admitted. "It may simply be the nature of this world and the experiments conducted here. Or it may be something worse. Either way, I fear we may be in danger."

"Let's get this to Qui'in."

Richmond stuck the disc in her uniform trouser's pocket and the four walked out of the office. They followed the pathway to an area of communal tables and barely made it past the first before armed and armored figures rounded the stairs ahead. A blond Caucasian woman led them, a fierce look in her dark eyes. All were clad in the body armor of an ERCS guard. "I'm Sergeant Kaira Stirling, ERCS. And you are all under arrest."

"On what grounds?" Julia asked. "We have authorization to be here."

"Only Administrator Anoleis can authorize anyone to enter this office," Stirling responded. "And I know you don't have it. Now place your hands on your head…" She raised her pistol. "...and if you resist, I'll shoot every last one of you."

It wasn't hard for Shepard's team to follow the base's internal corridors to find the labs. They came around a corner and found the first chamber, a receiving chamber of sorts with a few pieces of examination hardware. Nearby a transparent door covered a cell with four Salarians inside. They were dressed the same as the last group.

But Robert felt something wrong that wasn't with the others.

"What do you want? I told you everything," one of them said, his voice strained. His dark eyes locked onto Shepard. "Wait. You're Alliance, aren't you? I knew someone would come. Someone would get us out. It told me nobody would come. It tried to break me. But I shut it out."

Robert glanced toward Shepard with undisguised worry. She noticed it but looked back to the Salarians. "You're with the 3rd Regiment?"

"Private Menos Avot of the 3rd Regiment STG, ma'am. Captured while on reconnaissance five days ago. Glad to help, ma'am." The Salarian's voice gained an angry tone. "Five days of nothing from these bastards. Just whispers and poking and cutting. I'd do anything to get out and give some payback."

"What did they do to you?" Garrus asked.

"Experiments. Testing. Seeing the effect of the whispering on my shortening temper!" The Salarian gripped his fists. "Whispering is loud, you know! And I can't take it anymore! I'd do anything to make it go away!"

"Something's not right about this," Wrex grumbled.

"Whatever Saren did to them, we can't just leave them," Garrus said. "Otherwise they're as good as dead."

Shepard nodded at their arguments. She looked to Robert next, to see if he had anything to add. For the moment, he didn't. He was too busy focusing on the Salarians' mental state. Most of them felt… empty. A chill came to him at the realization they were just as empty as the Krogan soldiers under Saren's authority. But Avot was different. There was something more in him, a subtle sense of wrongness. Something was twisting him. Breaking him.

The closer Robert examined them, the more he felt sick. There was a malicious influence on Avot and the others that Robert couldn't grasp, but he could see how it was corrupting Avot.

"This isn't just drugs or brainwashing," Robert said. "This is… this is more. It's a corruption of being. I can feel it twisting his mind. Corrupting what he is. Just as it destroyed the others."

"Are they a danger to us?"

Robert shrugged. "I...I don't think so. At least not now."

"Then I'm not leaving them to die." Shepard reached for the door control. "Not without giving them a shot." When the door opened she said, "Get out of here. This entire place will go up."

"Yes! Good! It will go boom, all boom, no more whispering! The whispers still aren't going away, they just want me to…" Avot shook his fists. "You! You can make the whispers go away! They whisper because you're here! If you're gone, they'll stop! The only way they'll stop is if you're dead!" Avto promptly charged at Shepard.

But he never got to her. Wrex blew a hole through the Salarian's chest with a single shot. Seeing the dead Salarian, the only thing Shepard could say was, "Damn."

"What about the rest?" Wrex asked.

"They're not going anywhere. The bomb will catch them." Shepard didn't seem happy. "Just what the hell is Saren doing here?!"

"Something that is inherently corrupting." Robert felt a chill in his very being. "Whatever it is, it's malevolent." He walked over to one of the work stations. A tap of a key brought up a screen. There was only one ongoing file he could read. "Indoctrination," he murmured. "It's some kind of effect that Saren's using on his followers. To keep them loyal."

"Like Shiala said." Shepard shook her head. "Let's keep going. I want to blow this place sky high."

A cavern cut through the glacier acted as the maintenance access for the upper lab. Walking through it was an exercise in nerves for Lucy, Liara, and Talara. "Goddess, how many kilos of ice and stone are above our heads?" Liara wondered aloud.

"More than I am comfortable with," Talara admitted.

"I find your nervousness distracting," Lucy mumbled to them.

"Sorry, Lieutenant," replied Talara.

"Group A to B, we have engaged, repeat, we have engaged," Anders' voice said.

"Roger that, Major," Lucy replied. "At least this way we'll only be facing Benezia."

"Good luck, Lieutenant." Before the channel cut, Lucy could make out the warping sound of a biotic field being generated. Anders was in for a tough fight.

For a moment she glanced back to Liara. She sensed the growing tension inside the Asari archaeologist and knew their fight would, in a way, be no less difficult. Especially for Liara.

A firefight broke out as soon as Shepard's unit reached the labs. Geth and Krogan fought back hard. Wrex grunted from a bullet embedding itself in his arm while he moved to cover. Robert came to his assistance by projecting force into the offending Geth, sending it flying into the wall with enough energy to critically damage it. Wrex finished it off with a shotgun blast.

As usual, Shepard was in the thick of things. A biotic charge into range was followed by a shotgun blast to the throat that killed a Krogan. Her gun roared again, the slug coring the chest area of a Geth platform, and a biotic shockwave knocked the damaged platform over and threw one of the scientists against the wall. Another tried to shoot Shepard from behind only to get a bullet to his head for the trouble, courtesy of Garrus.

The firefight lasted ten seconds. When it was over, Robert quickly realized they weren't alone. He marched over, pulse pistol in hand, and directed it toward the cowering form of the last surviving scientist, an Asari. "Up," he said.

"Don't kill me. Look, I was a prisoner here too!" The Asari rose to her feet. "Saren hired me for a neurological analysis experiment and refused to let me leave!"

"Who are you?" Shepard asked.

"Doctor Rana Thanoptis," the woman replied. "I'm a neurospecialist. Saren tricked me into coming here and has me researching indoctrination."

"That was the file we found back with that Salarian," Garrus noted.

"Yes. The test subject. And not the first. Saren's been investigating it for months," Thanoptis said. "He's still exploring the limits and mechanisms of the effect."

"And yet he was able to use it on an Asari matriarch, among others," Shepard said.

"So you're saying Saren himself doesn't know the full extent of this capability?" Robert asked.

"No, not at all," Thanoptis answered. "Wherever he got it from, Saren still doesn't know the full extent of how it works. Honestly, I think he's more afraid of it than interested in its limits."

"So if he didn't develop it, where did he get it? That big superdreadnought he attacked Eden Prime with?"

In reply to Shepard, Thanoptis shrugged. "I'm not sure. My inquiries were always met with resistance. Saren kept things compartmentalized. I do know he's becoming more and more interested in the long-term effects of exposure. He's not been happy with our findings."

"It loses effect over time?" Shepard asked.

"No. Even worse. It settles. The brain is completely altered and the subject either turns mindless or goes mad. And it's not just research subjects. The researchers lose control over time. My own predecessor was my first test subject."

A very bad feeling started to fill Robert. But he said nothing for the moment, sensing Shepard's continued questions. Unfortunately, it proved Thanoptis knew nothing more of use.

More than that, Robert could feel that Thanoptis' feelings were entirely self-centered. She was worried about her mental health and whether she was indoctrinated. She didn't care for her victims, intentional or otherwise. Saren had hired the right person for this terrible job.

"Please let me go." Thanoptis' voice was full of terror. "I… I'll leave. I'll testify, whatever you want, but I don't want to die here. Here." She reached over and hit a key on the nearby desk, nearly getting shot by Wrex for her troubles. A sealed door on the other end opened and revealed a lift. "Up there is Saren's private lab. He keeps things down there none of us are allowed to see. Maybe you can find something? Saren's your enemy, not me!"

Robert examined Thanoptis more closely at that point. Was she just utterly amoral? Or was there a sliver of the indoctrination in her?

Shepard sighed and jerked her thumb. "Exit's that way, past the bodies. Run fast if you don't want to get hit by the nuke we're going to plant."

Relief flooded Thanoptis. "Thank you!" She ran in that direction. Robert felt her pleasure at living. Her desire to find a better job.

"Let's go," Shepard said. She stepped toward the lift opened by Thanoptis. Wrex moved next and Robert behind him.

He'd made it to the lift when he heard Garrus' rifle fire.

Shepard and Wrex looked to him and then to Garrus, who walked up with the rifle in his arms. "One of the Geth looked like it was moving," Garrus said. "So I made sure."

It was a lie. A thin one, one Garrus only said for form, and Robert could sense both his complete confidence in his choice and Shepard's resigned acceptance. "Good thing you spotted that, it might have caused us trouble," she said, accepting the lie that she clearly didn't believe.

Nobody said another word as the lift doors closed.

At the top of the lift was a two-level chamber. The top level held the entrance and a catwalk ending over the middle of the room, leaving open space. The lower level had stations of varying kind and an object wreathed in green light, including a hardlight control construct. Robert felt the surge of familiarity inside of Shepard and glanced in her direction. "What is it?"

"It's another beacon," she said. "Just like the one on Eden Prime."

Together the group walked down to the lower level. "It looks like Saren was investigating the beacon," Garrus said. "Like he was trying to understand more of it."

"Which still begs the question of what he wants with them," Robert noted. "And how they relate to the 'Conduit'."

Shepard stepped up to the beacon. "There's one way to find out." She set her hands on the controls. After several moments they faded.

The beacon lit up and Shepard froze in place. Robert felt her mind reel as the beacon fed information into it. He caught glimpses, just the barest ones, and sensed Shepard's mind putting the pieces into place. The Cipher, acquired from Shiala on Feros, gave her mind the foundation to comprehend what was in the beacon.

After several seconds the beacon's glow faded. Shepard slumped forward slightly and set a hand to her helmeted head. "What was that?" Wrex asked.

"The beacon. The entire message," she groaned. "It was a warning. About the Reapers. And more." Shepard shook her head. "I need time to process this." She stepped through them and toward the ramp leading back to the second level. They followed.

As they ascended the ramp Robert let out a gasp. There was something in the energy in this room, something wrong. A presence was forming that brimmed with raw malevolence.

As they neared the top, a form appeared at the end of the extended catwalk of the top level. A construct of red light with the shape of a sea creature, Shepard turned toward it and followed the path to approach the construct. "That can't be a good sign," said Wrex.

"I think we got someone's attention," Robert replied in a low tone.

From around them, a voice spoke with an electronic timbre. "You are not Saren."

"It must be some kind of VI interface," Garrus said.

"Rudimentary creatures of flesh and blood. You touch my mind, fumbling in ignorance, incapable of understanding." The voice made a shiver go up Robert's spine.

"Yeah, I don't think this is a VI," Wrex said.

The voice continued. "There is a realm of existence so far beyond your own you cannot even imagine it. I am beyond your comprehension. I am Sovereign."

"Saren's ship," Shepard said. As she spoke Robert felt the same horrible realization in her that he felt. "It's not an old Reaper ship. It's an actual Reaper."

"Then all of Saren's tests on indoctrination, his experiments…"

"'Reaper'? A label given by many races to give voice to their destruction." Sovereign's voice was laced with contempt. "In the end, what any choose to call us is irrelevant. We simply are."

"You just expect us to believe you've existed for over fifty thousand years?" Wrex demanded.

"Your expectations are beneath our concern. You are mere organic life, a mutation. An accident of nature. You live for mere years and decades, withering away until you die. We are eternal. The pinnacle of evolution and existence. Before us you are nothing. We are the end of everything." As the creature spoke Robert felt the chill in his spine travel up and down his body. This… this thing was mechanical, a machine, and just the image of that machine projected through space for communications, but the Flow of Life seemed to be responding to its presence regardless. As if Sovereign by its very existence slowed the Flow of Life.

"And what is it you want?" Shepard asked. "Why did you destroy the Protheans? Or the Adranians?"

"They were among the many who have fallen to the Cycle."

As Robert felt the cold spread dread through him, he heard Garrus ask, "What 'Cycle'?"

"The Cycle has repeated itself more times than you can fathom," Sovereign replied. "Organic civilizations rise, evolve, expand. And at the apex of their glory, they are extinguished. These civilizations you speak of did not create the Citadel. They did not forge the Mass Relays. These are the legacies of my kind, left for them to find."

"Why?" asked Shepard. "Why go to all of that trouble?"

"To ensure your civilizations are based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your civilization develops along the lines we require."

"You must not be too pleased with the Multiverse, then." Garrus eyed Robert, who remained silent. He noticed how deeply Robert's face was paling.

"We have long been aware of the existence of the other universes. The deviations they present are irrelevant. Your kind has still advanced in the patterns we require."

"That still doesn't explain why," Robert said, swallowing as he did so. "Why you do this. What this cycle is for."

"We impose order on the chaos of organic evolution. You exist because we allow it. And you will end because we demand it."

As realization spread through the others, it hit Robert the hardest. He'd already felt that truth. The admission clicked into place, delivered with a tone of inhuman malevolence. "You're harvesting the sapient life of this galaxy," he said. "Your Cycle is about wiping out interstellar civilization whenever it advances to the level you want. The Adranians and Protheans realized this. That's why they called you Reapers."

As he spoke it all became clear. That cold streak within the Flow of Life in this galaxy… it was the equivalent of scar tissue around a wound. His dreams when near the Citadel, of constant slaughter, unending, that was from this scarring left on the Flow of Life, a wound that the Reapers were constantly re-opening whenever their cycles came to pass. It was no wonder he felt so sick just being in Sovereign's electronic presence. The Flow of Life sensed what Sovereign was. And it knew another slaughter was being prepared.

His thoughts began to wander to his discussions with Kilaba and Ledosh in Umintamil, about a guiding intelligence in the Flow of Life. His thoughts might have continued down that path if Sovereign hadn't resumed speaking. "Your efforts to understand us are pitiable. My kind transcends your understanding. We are each a nation, independent, free of all weakness. You cannot even grasp the nature of our existence."

"Someone built you," Shepard said. "Who? Why would they make you do this?"

"We have no beginning. We have no end. We are infinite. Millions of years from now, when your civilization has long been eradicated and forgotten, we will endure."

"Now you're just posturing," Shepard retorted. "If you think we're going to just let you destroy us, you're mistaken. We don't just have a galaxy behind us, but many more. A Multiverse of living beings who will fight you to the bitter end. Do you really think there's enough of you to fight all of us?"

"We are legion," answered Sovereign. "The time of our return is coming. Our numbers will darken the sky of every world. You cannot escape your doom."

"You're not a god," Shepard countered. "You're a machine, as are the rest of your kind. And I don't care how powerful a machine you are, you can be broken. So we're going to stop you."

"Your words are as empty as your future. I am the vanguard of your destruction. This exchange is over."

With that parting remark, Sovereign's image faded.

For Robert it was like closing a window open to arctic air. The chill in his being faded. He was still pale from the shock of feeling what Sovereign was, but at least it was gone. "Are you okay?" Shepard asked him.

"I will be," Robert answered. He momentarily detached his helmet and ran the comfortable material of the robe he was wearing over his forehead, sopping up sweat. "That thing… it's like the Flow of Life itself slows in its presence. Like it knows what Sovereign is and is both angry and terrified of it. I… even now I can feel that sliver of cold in this galaxy's energy. The Reapers' cycles have left their mark on it."

"I've never understood this 'Flow of Life' thing you talk about," Garrus admitted, "but I can believe it. That thing sounded like it came out of a nightmare."

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm with the Turian on that," Wrex added.

"Are you ready to go on?" Shepard asked Robert. "We need to…"

She was interrupted by a tone from their comms. "Normandy to Shepard, Commander, we've got a situation."

"Hit me, Joker."

"That ship of Saren's? That thing just pulled a turn that would shear any of our ships in half. It's heading our way and fast. Whatever you're doing, you need to hurry."

"Roger that, Joker. We're on our way." Shepard pulled her hand from the side of her helmet. "On to the breeding facility. The reservoir should be just beyond it. Let's move, people!"

They rushed to the lift.

Lucy felt the the life forms in the chamber ahead of them even before they came up on Talara's sensors. Overhead a bubbling beaker insignia signified this was a lab. She glanced briefly to Liara, who looked deceptively calm about the situation, before activating the door panel. A second panel existed beyond the first. Through the light gray doors they stepped into a room with an open center, a cylinder accessible on the second floor.

A voice was speaking, accented, stern and demanding. "You've never been a mother," the voice said. "Not truly. You have no idea of what…" The voice stopped.

Ahead of them, at the top of the stairs leading up to the second level, an Asari clad in black looked down. She wore an elaborate headpiece, also black; indeed, the only real color was the light blue of her face and the open chest area of the suit above her cleavage. It looked like she was dressed for death, either in mourning, or like a dealer in it.

"Mother." Liara stepped ahead of Lucy and Talara. "Mother, what are you doing?"

Benezia looked down at her daughter from the height of the second level. A brief register of shock was quickly pushed away. "Was this your plan, Human?" she asked, looking at Lucy. "Bring my daughter to manipulate me? It will not work."

"I asked to come," Liara insisted. She took a step toward her mother. "I had to see for myself. I… I needed to. I needed to see what you'd become…!"

"I am what I need to be," Benezia insisted. "Saren has shown me the future if we do not act. His way is now mine. It is the only way we have to survive."

Lucy almost asked what she meant, but she stopped herself. This was not her conversation to have.

"But you're betraying everything you ever stood for!" Liara cried. "Everything you ever taught me!"

"You are one to speak of that given how often you refused to listen to me." Benezia's voice never lost its monotone sound, not a lifeless monotone, but one of incredible reserve. "Who do you think you are, Liara, to judge my choices? To judge me. I'm doing what's necessary for all of us to survive!"

"Survive what, Mother? The Reapers?"

"Their return is inevitable," Benezia said. "All we can do is ensure we survive it." She brought a hand up. Biotic power, a lot of it, gathered around her right arm. Lucy was stunned at the raw power she was sensing. She'd never felt such a powerful biotic before, not even Commander Shepard.

"Mother, don't!" Liara pleaded. Dark matter began to gather around her as well. "Please don't do this!"

"Your choice is simple, daughter," Benezia answered coldly. "Join me or fight me. Choose."

For all of the pain Lucy felt inside Liara at that point, she also sensed absolutely no hesitation. "Saren has to be stopped," Liara insisted. "Please, see reason!"

Benezia responded with an eruption of biotic energy that nearly sent them all flying. Liara and Lucy absorbed it with their powers, although not with ease.

And so the battle was on.

The last Krogan defending the breeding facility fell to Wrex's shotgun. He looked down at the fallen Krogan and then to the tubes around them. The look on his face was easily-read. This was what he was focused on, the possibilities of this place.

Robert glanced to Shepard. "If there are any recoverable biological samples in the tubes…"

Shepard nodded once in reply. "Wrex, if you can find anything with the cure, now's the time. The reservoir is straight ahead." That led to an uneasy look from Garrus that Shepard didn't react to.

"I won't be long," Wrex said. "Go ahead and get the nuke set up."

"Speaking of that." Shepard keyed her comm. "Shepard to Williams. We're almost to the rendezvous point. We've already taken care of one AA tower, what about your team?"

"The Salarians are overriding the controls now. We'll get to the rendezvous point as soon as we're done."

"Good. We'll be waiting. Shepard out." Shepard turned to Robert. "The Normandy is going to land on the other side of the door, but…"

"...nobody remains alone," Robert finished for her. "I'll stay with Wrex until he's done."

Shepard nodded and moved on to a large gate. Interfacing with the control caused it to open, revealing a water-covered area beyond where the Normandy would be clear to land. Moments after they passed through the gate closed again.

By that point Wrex was already operating the controls for one of the breeding tubes. Machines moved the tube into place and opened it. His omnitool activated and, for a moment, he was intent on the scan results. "Nothing," he finally growled. The noise from another of the tubes drew his attention to Robert, who was repeating the process. "What are you doing?"

Robert gave him a bemused look. "Helping, obviously." He ran his omnitool over the interior. "The sooner we're done, the sooner we get back to Shepard."

Wrex closed the empty tube he was examining and moved over to the one Robert was scanning. He scanned it as well. Robert waited until he was done before remarking, "So you don't trust me."

"On something this important? I can't risk being wrong." Wrex recognized the negative result and lowered his arm. "Maybe if it was Shepard. Maybe."

"But not me."

"No." Wrex moved on to the next tube in line.

They heard an engine roar overhead. Robert glanced up long enough to see the Normandy fly overhead, banking to come in for a landing. He immediately returned his attention to Wrex. "But you'll trust me to watch your back?" he asked.

"I'll trust that you won't let me get killed," Wrex said. Beside him the next tube moved into place. "That's different. That's just me. This is about the future of the Krogan."

"You're worried I'll lie and hide viable cure samples from you."

"Not as worried as I'd be with Williams or Vakarian," Wrex admitted. "You strike me as too honest. Which is odd given your new job. I've never known black ops operatives to be truthful."

"I'm not a black ops agent," Robert replied. "That's not what the Paladins are supposed to be about."

"If you think that, you've got a lot to learn." Wrex grunted at another blank result to a scan. He moved to the opposite tube in the other row. "I've been fighting wars for hundreds of years, Dale. A lot of them were nothing but secrets and lies, piled on top of each other until nobody knew what was true anymore. Your Alliance isn't going to change that."

"I'd like to see us try," Robert replied. "Especially since those same secrets and lies often cause wars in the first place."

"They also keep them from becoming bigger wars." Wrex had another negative result. He felt a pang of uncertainty, of fear. That all of his hopes would be for nothing…

Robert sensed that. He drew in a breath and quieted his mind, letting the instinctive feel of his life force guide his thoughts, his attention. "Fifth tube down to the right," he finally said.

Wrex looked at him for a moment before heading to the tube Robert specified. He operated it for several seconds before grunting in acknowledgement. He opened a section of machinery near the tube and pulled out a vial of fluid, mostly empty. "Krogan genetic material," he said. "According to my omnitool, anyway."

Robert walked up and scanned it with his own. "Mine says the same thing. Although you'll need to give it to an expert to confirm. Chakwas may be able to tell you."

"Chakwas… No." Wrex shook his head while securing the vial in his armor utility pouch. "I think I know someone I can trust."

"I could ask Leo…"

"They're not Alliance. Not entirely. And that's what I want," Wrex insisted. "I'll see to it myself."

Robert sighed. "I suppose… well, I can see why you're being cautious. But curing the genophage is just the first step for your people, Wrex, and trusting other species is going to have to be part of the process."

"You want me to trust the Turians and the Salarians with the future of my species?" Wrex's red eyes reflected old anger. "They know my people are dying out, and they've done nothing to help us."

"How would they? Anything they do will be treated with suspicion," Robert said. "You're clearly not trusting them, after all. You're not even trusting me, and my friends helped you on Tira."

"Your Alliance is also allied with the Citadel. If the Council wants the genophage to stay, your people won't resist that."

"Maybe we'd try to talk them out of it," Robert said. "Encourage the Council to make new arrangements for Krogan. It wouldn't be easy, though. Someone among the Krogan would have to step up, give everyone an expectation that the Krogan wouldn't try to repeat the Rebellion if they were cured. Someone needs to be leading the Krogan toward something more than endless conflict and fighting." As he said those words Robert sensed a symmetry with Wrex. Thoughts in the old warrior's mind that matched what he was saying. With that in mind he continued, "The Krogan need a leader to show them a new way. Otherwise curing the genophage won't be enough to save them."

After several moments of silence Wrex grunted in acknowledgement. "A good point." He tromped past Robert. "We should get back to Shepard and the others."

No sooner did he speak that Shepard's voice came over the comms. "Wrex, Robert, get back here on the double. The Salarians are pinned in and need backup, now."

"We're on our way," Robert replied, and the two ran to the door.

For a moment there was quiet in the Synthetic Insights office. The ERCS guards kept their weapons trained on Julia and her officers. With no weapons and no cover, their options were extremely limited.

Julia considered the possibility of accepting arrest. It would mean a diplomatic fiasco, but no blood was shed and the evidence against Anoleis would likely be exoneration in of itself.

That possibility died with the next thought. Anoleis had these people on his payroll. How many? Was Stirling one of them? If so, surrender likely meant getting shot anyway.

"Anoleis has been bribing your guards to help him shake down Qui'in," Julia said. "How do I know you're not one of them?"

"It doesn't matter if I am or not. It's none of your business. I'm here to take you into custody and whatever happens next is up to my bosses. Now hands on your heads, or we shoot. I'm not taking risks with you people."

Meridina, it's all up to you, thought Julia. She brought her hands up to put them on the back of her head. Angel and Richmond did likewise.

Meridina started to as well. As her hands came up to near the level of her shoulders she acted. "Drop your weapons," she said in a stern tone. The words were simply a verbalization of the mental command she sent to them with her telepathy, an order into their brains to loosen their grips on their weapons and drop them.

Stirling and her comrades did just that. They looked at their dropped weapons with stunned shock.

The other three all dashed forward, selecting a target. Richmond caught one guard with chop to the neck and a follow-up punch. Angel's opponent recovered enough to attempt a first blow. Angel blocked it with her left arm. Her right arm snapped forward in a punch that caught her opponent off-guard, flooring him. She moved to pin him.

This left Julia with Stirling. Julia struck first, throwing a punch that knocked Stirling backward. Stirling recovered enough to not fall. She was still unbalanced, though, and Julia took advantage of that with a snap kick that sent a tooth flying from her opponent's mouth while she toppled backward. Again she caught herself, so Julia moved in to try and put Stirling down.

This time her blow never connected. She barely had time to begin the movement of her next blow when dark blue energy gathered around Stirling's arm. Julia recognized it immediately, but had no time to react before the dark matter struck her. It was pure force, so much that it sent her flying back into the wall with bone-jarring power.

Stirling snarled and turned toward Angel and Richmond, who were now cooperating against the other remaining ERCS guard. She gathered biotic power into her hand.

She never got a chance to use it. Meridina's power, invisible by nature, slammed into Stirling. The dark matter wreathing her hand and forearm dissipated from the loss of focus. After she hit the ground she stood up, snarling in frustration and anger at Meridina. "You'll never leave here!" she shouted. "You've assaulted ERCS personnel, defied the Administrator…"

"You mean we've fought off an attempt to hide the Administrator's corruption," Julia replied hoarsely, picking herself up from the ground. "We know what he's been doing, Sergeant. You can't protect him."

"To hell with Anoleis. I'm not bending for you, for you and your alien freak with her mind powers," Stirling hissed. She gathered more biotic power and threw it in an instant.

Meridina held a hand up. A meter away from her the dark matter blew apart, as if striking a solid object. "Hatred clouds minds," she said in reply to Stirling. "I do not wish to hurt you. I…"

Julia watched as Meridina paled. She had no opportunity to ask what it was, as Stirling sensed the lapse and tossed another biotic bolt. Meridina didn't stop this one and it sent her flying upward into the air. A second bolt crashed into her and sent her flying against the wall beyond with even greater force. Meridina let out a cry of pain when she slammed into the wall and fell to the carpet. Julia felt a surge of panic at the way she flopped lifelessly, her eyes half-closed. As if she'd hit her head.

Stirling snarled with satisfaction before turning her attention to the others. There was a release of breath and the guard Angel and Richmond were tag-teaming went down, unconscious, to Richmond's chokehold. They turned in time to see Stirling's arm wreathed in dark matter. Both lunged.

Stirling threw out a biotic bolt that struck both. They hit the wall beside Julia and went down to the ground.

"Now, where were we?" Stirling asked. "Oh, right. You're all under arrest." She walked up to her discarded weapon and picked it up. "Although I'm of a mind to just finish this here." She lifted the rifle toward them. "Yeah, I think I'm going to just shoot the four of you for wasting my damn time."

"My crew will get to the bottom of this," Julia warned her.

"I doubt it. And it's not going to do you any good." Stirling raised the rifle at her. Julia glared defiantly, the only thing she could do in the moments she had left.

A pair of gloved hands grabbed the sides of Stirling's head. Surprise briefly flashed on her face before her head violently twisted to the right. An audible crack filled the air. The hands released her, allowing her body to fall lifelessly to the ground, her head turned at an unnatural angle.

Stirling's killer looked down at her briefly from behind his aviator's sunglasses. The accented man who send them to Qui'in looked up toward them, as if he'd just dealt with an annoying business matter, not a swift execution. "Captain," he said. "I see you ran into some trouble."

"You could say that." She stared at the killer, relieved at being alive, but wondering just what the hell she was dealing with. "Thank you. She was about to shoot us."

"I noticed." He shifted his head slightly. "Your Forceful officer dropped her guard. Puzzling. Sergeant Stirling was no match for her otherwise."

His words jolted Julia's attention to Meridina. She led the others over to her. Richmond knelt and did a scan with her omnitool. "I'm no medical expert, but I believe she's suffered a cranial injury. I can't tell you the severity."

"We need to get her back to the Aurora," Julia said. "Take her to the Irrawaddy, I'll finish things up down here." She glanced toward their rescuer. He seemed to be deep in thought. "So what is going on? Who are you and what's your…"

"Shh." He raised a finger. "We're not alone."

"What do you…"

Before Julia could finish something rushed in, too fast to be Human. To her amazement he moved just as quickly. There was the sound of flesh striking flesh, their new ally went flying off into Qui'in's office, and a new dark-clad figure was falling backward from them. It - he - rolled with it and wound up on his feet. He was a pale man, with skin more white in tone than even Richmond's porcelain complexion. Wiry in frame, but taller than any of those present. A snarl formed on his face. "What a prize," he rasped, in a voice that rasped so hoarsely it didn't sound like it could come from a Human.

"Holy crap," Julia heard Angel mutter. "It's like that…"

The attacker spoke again. "I thought only to follow the Black, but I have been gifted opportunity. Dawn-Bringers in my presence…"

Julia and Angel exchanged glances at that reference. "What do you want?" Julia asked the thing.

"Your deaths," rasped the being. And without another word, he sprang forward.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

The pale humanoid went for Richmond first. Richmond's defensive stance saved her from the brunt of the first blow. She deflected the second with her forearms. A cry of pain accompanied her being thrown back by the blow until she slammed into the wall.

The being did not continue his attack on her. He seemed to sense Angel's incoming punch as she threw it. He grabbed her wrist and turned her arm painfully, eliciting a pained growl from Angel. His left arm came up and blocked a punch from Julia. When his leg snapped up and struck her, Julia felt like someone had smashed a sledgehammer against her ribs with enough force to crack them. She gave a short, strangled cry from the pain. This debilitated her long enough that the creature was able to block Angel's punch with her other arm. He used a knee block to stop her follow-up kick, all while maintaining his grip on Angel's right hand. There was a cracking sound and Angel's face paled slightly. Her hand limped a little from the broken wrist their attacker's grip inflicted.

He's so fast, Julia thought. Her next move was a diving tackle. The grip of their attacker on Angel's wrist did not give way, so Angel was dragged with him as they all went to the floor. Julia felt a momentary surge of triumph at the tackle's success; wherever this thing's strength came from, it didn't come with mass. She could still potentially get leverage for a pin.

And then the creature's elbow smashed into her face, or more specifically, her cheek. She felt the bone fracture from the impact. Another inch over and her nose would have been completely smashed in. The strength of the blow dazed her enough that Julia lost the leverage she'd gained. Her opponent twisted out from under her and delivered a kick to Angel's shoulder that dislocated it. He regained his footing and twisted Angel's arm around, resisting her attempt to break free. With a look of triumph he completed the twist with an audible snap. Angel screamed.

Richmond was back on her feet and went for a tackle of her own, at his legs. She nearly knocked the man back down and forced him to let go of Angel for the moment. He responded by driving his elbows into Richmond's shoulders. She didn't let go with the first blow, but the second finally forced her to pull her arms back. Richmond had no chance to stop the next blow, a solid knee to her belly that hit with such force she crumbled to the floor.

Broken ribs and broken cheekbone aside, Julia jumped back in and swung at the pale man. With inhuman speed he caught her hand with his own and sneered. "You have spirit, Dawn-Bringer," the man rasped. "But you are not a Forceful nor a psion. You are mortal. You are prey." As he gloated Julia brought her other hand up, trying to land a punch, but he intercepted that fist too. The grip he had on her knuckles and fingers was crushing. She cried out as one of her knuckles finally broke under the strain. With desperation she tried to knee him between the legs, but he intercepted her knee with his own.

Suddenly he was pushing her away with enough force to launch her a foot into the air. She felt an impact behind her. When she landed, she realized Angel was underneath her.

Their attacker, pale face shining with smug triumph, raised his foot and prepared to bring it down on Richmond's skull.

There was a blur of movement. Suddenly their attacker was being slammed into the far wall. Standing over RIchmond now was their unnamed ally, the man with the sallow complexion, his eyes obscured under the aviator's Ray-Bans. He clenched a fist. "You shouldn't play with your food," he taunted.

The pale attacker hissed in anger. He charged the well-dressed man with hatred on his face. His blows were met with blocks and deflections. Julia and Angel watched with stunned silence at what seemed to be a martial arts duel in fast-forward mode. Within the space of a second it seemed two or three blows were exchanged between the two fighters, and the same in the next second, and the next. Punches and kicks in rapid motion, such that it wasn't clear which blows were landing and which weren't.

Given the stalemate, and their likely fate if their unnamed ally lost, Julia knew they had to act. She scrambled over to Sergeant Stirling's body and retrieved her sidearm. A quick check of her omnitool confirmed the weapon's ID software and her own internal software quickly linked with it and provided her access. Julia leveled the gun toward the two combatants and focused. They were moving so fast that she couldn't be sure she'd hit her target.

Then their ally stumbled backward from the fight. Whether or not he did it intentionally or not, Julia was not going to miss her opportunity. She pulled the trigger and heard the particular low thundercrack of a mass effect field instant-accelerating a sliver of metal to high velocity. She didn't bother waiting to see the effect of this on her foe. She pulled the trigger again. And again. And again. Dark blood erupted from the wounds she was inflicting. But with little visible effect.

But even little visible effect was something. Their foe seemed to relent just a bit, just a tiny bit, from his fight. Given the opening, their ally reached in and grabbed the creature's head. A loud snap filled the room and the attacker fell, his neck broken as Stirling's was.

Julia started to stand. "What was…?" Before she could finish, their ally pulled a glinting metal blade, almost a dagger instead of a knife, and plunged it into the pale figure's heart. "What… why…?!"

"To make sure," said the finely-dressed man. "Eliminating blood flow is the only guaranteed way to kill a Pretender."

Julia's first thought was that he was referring to Jarod. It was Angel, now cradling her broken right arm with her left, who said, "It was like that damned thing on Corwin."

"Yes. I am aware of the attack on yourself and Commander Jarod several months ago. And that was a lesser assassin. This one was an older Pretender. Stronger, smarter. Mostly. They are arrogant as hell, though."

"I want an explanation," Julia said. "Who are you? What is your stake in this?"

"Business," said the man. "As for my name, you may call me Mister Black, if you must. I am the personal agent of one of the investors in Noveria sent to uphold my employer's business interests." He looked down and glowered at the corpse of the dead man. "And those interests include dealing with the corruption of Anoleis. That he has made you an enemy allowed for a mutually beneficial alliance between us."

Julia and Angel exchanged glances. There was more to this than they were being told. But the pain in her face and chest and left hand reminded Julia she had other concerns. "I need to get medical attention to my people," she said. "But we're going to make a scene if we take them to the Irrawaddy."

"Then do not." Black stepped over to the railing looking down on the first floor. Julia heard the lift doors open a moment later. She walked up in time to see Gianna Parasini enter. "Miss Parasini, we have people in need of medical attention and need for a clean-up unit. I am afraid there was an unexpected complication."

"I understand, Mister Black." Parasini looked to Julia. "It looks like you had quite the fight, Captain. I'm sorry it came to this. Give me a few minutes and I'll have a medical team here to treat your people. We have the finest medtech in the Multiverse available in our infirmary, so I assure you that you won't be needing a return to your ship to seek full treatment." With that she walked away.

Julia looked at him suspiciously. "Anoleis' secretary? You're working with her? Are you really trying to stop Anoleis?"

"Yes. Miss Parasini is also in an alliance of mutual benefit with myself and my employer. You have just helped her immensely. You do have Qui'in's evidence, do you not?"

Julia knelt down by Richmond, whom Angel was scanning. "She's got internal bleeding and blunt force trauma to her internal organs," Angel said. "She needs help soon."

"It's on the way, apparently," Julia replied, still not very satisfied with what she was being told. She reached into Richmond's pocket and pulled out the M4P2verse OSD. "Here's the hard copy of the evidence," she said to Black. "We've already made partial copies on our omnitools."

"Good thinking, although not nearly as convincing as the hard copy. Give it to Qui'in when we leave here."

"He's working with you too? Another 'mutually beneficial' alliance?"

"Yes, quite." Black turned away from her and walked over to the fallen "Pretender". He picked it up and slung the corpse over his shoulder. "This thing's remains cannot be left for others to take in. I will go dispose of it. Miss Parasini and her medics should be here shortly. Cooperate and everything will be fine." With that said, he walked off toward the direction of the smaller offices.

"This entire thing is just… utterly screwed up." Angel grimaced. "And ugh. Fighting those things is ridiculous. They're not Human."

"Neither is Black." Julia watched him disappear around a corner. "Strange, isn't it?'


"That he resembles it a little? I mean, not just the enhanced physical power, but wearing sunglasses in an interior location on an arctic planet? Didn't your rescuer on Corwin wear sunglasses?"

Angel considered the question for a moment, searching her memory. "Yeah," she answered. "She did."

"I want to find out more about Black," Julia said. "I get the feeling we're being used, and I'm not comfortable with that." Left unsaid was other questions. The way the Pretender had referred to them, for one, and how it made them think of that old Gersallian prophecy that caused so much trouble for them the prior year.

But those thoughts and questions had to wait, just as they did for the medical attention that would tend to them and their wounded comrades.

The exam room under the glacier of Peak 15 was alive with blue light. The blue light of Lucy's lightsaber. The darker blue, almost violet light of the biotics of Liara t'Soni and Matriarch Benezia. The light white-blue of the pulses from Talara's pistol.

Lucy's senses were alive with how powerful Benezia's biotics were. She could sense, through the Flow of Life, the twisting of space from the dark matter Benezia was generating. She brought her lightsaber down toward Benezia's dark matter-wreathed hands simply to be denied again by the dark matter field protecting Benezia. It took everything she had to absorb Benezia's retaliatory blast of biotic power, and even then she still skidded backward across the platform.

"Mother, stop it!" Liara's own biotics surged to life. A surge of raw kinetic force slammed into Benezia's defenses. But they still held. "Please! Saren's mad, you have to see that!"

"I have seen the light, his light. The light of our survival." Benezia's retort was followed by a fresh surge of dark matter. This expanded into a gravity singularity in mid-air. Lucy felt its pull down to the nerves in her body, the cells, and gritted her teeth to resist that pull.

Liara and Talara, as close as they were, could not. It drew them off their feet. Liara reached out and grabbed the handrail beside her, using that to hold herself away. Talara couldn't grab anything where she was, however, and was pulled toward the middle. The Falaen woman desperately tried to center herself as she spun helplessly in the middle of the air. She knew that she could use her new abilities to throw herself free. But the concentration that required was beyond her at the moment.

Lucy nearly went after Benezia again, but she knew just what the singularity was going to do in a few seconds. She could feel its power was building toward an explosion. So she held her lightsaber away and readied herself for what her senses told her was coming.

When the singularity finally ended with a burst of raw force, it sent Talara tumbling wildly in mid-air straight for a nasty collision with one of the chamber's support walls. Lucy reached for her with her power and grabbed Talara from mid-air. She pulled her back toward herself, and a much safer landing on the ground.

A sense of warning filled her. Even as she continued to direct Talara's return to the floor, Lucy focused her will, her power, before her. This caught the tremendous blast of power Benezia sent after her. Dark blue light crackled angrily against an invisible force shield powered by Lucy's life.

Generating both the protective field and the force drawing Talara told her was taxing on Lucy. It took a lot of power, a lot of her connection to the Flow of Life, to maintain. Benezia noted that strain and threw another biotic blast. It too failed to break Lucy's shield, but it increased the strain on her. Then there was another blast… and another…

...which Liara intercepted with her own biotic field. "Please!" she pleaded. "Listen to yourself! You speak as if Saren were a prophet!"

"He is one, Liara. A prophet of what is coming." Benezia's voice was cold. "You should have joined us when you had the chance. That is why we came for you on Therum."

"You sent Geth after me, you mean!" Liara retorted. Beside her, Talara landed. Lucy stepped up, weapon again drawn. "You didn't come yourself! Why?!"

"Because I had other duties."

"More important than me?!"

"More important than anything," Benezia insisted. Dark matter accumulated around her. "If our galaxy is to survive, Saren must prevail. He must, Liara! No other life is important compared to that!" Benezia was becoming wreathed in the dark matter, with power that Lucy and Talara sensed and knew to be a great danger. "Not even yours!"

Lucy moved forward, lightsaber in hand, to strike. But it wasn't soon enough. A massive wave of dark matter poured over her, over Liara, over Talara. She gasped at the feeling it caused, as if something inside of her wanted to rip her in half bit by bit.

Then there was another wave, and all three went flying.

"I am sorry, Liara." Benezia's power continued to surge. "But you leave me no choice. If you will not serve Saren with me, you must die."

For Ashley and the Salarians who survived, one sight among many would always come fresh to their minds when they thought of their desperate fight on Virmire. It was the sight of the Normandy moving overhead, her engines a high pitched roar in the air. The cargo bay opened and from it Shepard and her team jumped onto the tower, firing as they descended. Robert moved ahead of them, the emerald blade of his lightsaber shining in his hand, deflecting plasma fire from the Geth while his free hand moved about, directing metaphysical force to slam Geth about the tower. Shepard shot forward in a streak of biotic fury and sent a heavy Geth biped flying backward toward the edge of the roof. Kaidan and Wrex directed their own biotic talents at it, and two bolts of dark matter struck the platform and sent it flying to a destructive crash in the jungle below.

Ashley, isolated with a wounded Salarian at one end of the tower, looked up from her cover and opened fire on her opponents. A Geth collapsed in a shower of sparks from all of the damage her gun inflicted. She brought her rifle over to bear on another Geth just as it opened fire on her. Her personal barrier absorbed the first shots that struck her. Her weapon fired in retort.

But it was the blast from behind the Geth that brought it down. Tali moved up to join her in cover, firing her shotgun at a third Geth coming at Ashley's blind side. Across the roof Garrus rushed ahead to shelter behind an air cooling unit. He peered out of his protective cover long enough to fire off a shot with his sniper rifle that shattered the light of a Geth's head.

"Get to the Normandy!" Shepard shouted. "Move! Move!"

"All units, fall in!" Kirrahe's order filled the comm line. Across the wide roof Salarian survivors started a cautious, then a not-so-cautious, advance on the Normandy's open cargo bay door. Kirrahe helped a wounded compatriot along toward the ship. "Commander, thank you, your timing was most impeccable. But what about the bomb?"

Shepard gestured to the bay. A couple of Normandy crew in gray combat armor were already carrying the bomb out. "We're setting it here and now. It'll still destroy the base completely."

"I see. Excellent adaptation to the situation, Commander. I…"

"Get down!" Shepard saw the Geth unit direct its attention toward them a moment too late, regardless of her warning. She grabbed Kirrahe, knowing they'd never drop in time…

And then Wrex slammed into the Geth, throwing its aim off, and the plasma fire that resulted played against the Normandy's hull with little visible effect. Wrex's shotgun boomed. Sparks and metal flew from the wound the shot caused in the big Geth unit. Before it could turn its attention to Wrex Robert moved in. There was a flash of green light and the Geth's forearms and hands fell away, along with its weapon. Wrex fired again, a blast that smashed the Geth's head and brought it down.

"Get your people aboard now!" Shepard shouted. Wordlessly Kirrahe obeyed.

Everyone fell back on the Normandy cargo bay, the uninjured providing cover fire for the wounded. Robert and the biotics provided further cover with their abilities, projecting fields and, in Robert's case, reflecting fire with his weapon. Return fire attrited the Geth forces down. Behind them the last Salarians boarded, with Shepard's team following and helping to secure the wounded. Shepard and Robert backed toward the cargo bay door to be the last to board.

From above there was a bright flaring of light. "We're under fire from the Geth ships in orbit!" Joker reported over the comm line. "Barriers holding, but not for much longer! We'd better amscray!"

"We're almost done." Shepard turned her head to Kaidan and nodded. "Set the bomb."

Kaidan's omnitool lit up. "One minute count, starting now."

"Good, now get back aboard. We're getting out of here."

Robert felt the surge of despair and hopelessness. He realized the source and dashed ahead, leaving Shepard behind. "We've left someone!" he shouted.

"Get back here, we don't have time…!" Shepard demanded.

Robert heard the order, but he felt he didn't have far to go. He found the source of the feeling behind cover at the edge of the roof. A wounded Salarian soldier, of white and rust-coloring, looked up at him with big, desperate black eyes. "Help me," he cried. Green blood was seeping from a wound in the Salarian's shoulder and more on each legs. "I can't move."

"I've got you." Robert knelt down and got his shoulder and neck under the Salarian's armpit. "Here we go!" The Salarian cried in pain as he lifted the soldier up. Robert felt that pain vaguely but ignored the sensation. Better pain than getting vaporized. He turned to carry the soldier to the Normandy.

Shepard tackled both a moment later, and in doing so, she saved their lives.

A mere half-second after she carried the two forward, a ripple of weapons fire ripped through the air in the space they had been occupying. Overhead a motor whine was barely perceptible over the continued high roar of the Normandy's station-keeping engines. A gray platform soared overhead and moved downward.

Robert and Shepard stood up in time to see the gray-clad figure on the platform.


The platform soared over to the bomb. Robert sensed what Saren was about to do and lashed out with a blast of force, wild and powerful. Saren generated a field of dark matter that absorbed the hit, barely, while the same force wreathed around his arm. In a single sweep he threw it outward.

But not toward them.

In a burst of dark blue light, the nuclear device that Tali and Kaidan had assembled so carefully was torn apart, leaving it nothing but a pile of fissile material and debris; utterly harmless.

"The moment my forces faced the STG, I knew you'd come, Shepard." Saren moved his platform across the roof and faced them. Dark matter glowed around his arms. "My Geth were convinced the Salarians were the greater threat, but I knew better. I couldn't obviously say so in front of the Council, but I actually respect you for your performance on Elysium and Akuze. You've proven yourself a survivor, Shepard. So you, of all people, should appreciate my efforts."

"You've sold out the galaxy to a Reaper, Saren!" Shepard retorted from cover. She had her gun up and ready. Robert's hand gripped his lightsaber.

Above them there was another burst of weapons fire. "Commander, our barriers are failing!" shouted Joker. "We need to move now."

"Joker, get the Normandy flying again, come back for us when we're done," Shepard ordered. "Take off now."

"But we're still…"

Ashley's protest went unheeded. The Normandy's cargo bay door closed before she or any of the other team members could disembark, leaving Shepard, Robert, and the unfortunate wounded Salarian they'd nearly left behind The ship lifted in the air and flew away even as another shot played against its failing protective field.

"There is no stopping the Reapers, Shepard," Saren said. "You've seen the visions. You must understand that. The Protheans tried to fight back and were annihilated. I will not make the same mistake. I will serve. So I cannot let you continue to disrupt my plans."

"You really think the Reapers will let us live? We spoke to Sovereign, Saren! That thing doesn't care about you, it doesn't care about any of us! It's using you as a tool!"

"I know about the indoctrination. That is why this place is so important to me," Saren replied. "It will provide the means to protect me."

"Can any of us be protected?" Robert asked. "From something as insidious as that?" He peeked around the corner of their cover to see Saren keeping his distance, still standing on his platform. "We saw the subjects, Saren."

"You don't even understand it yourself, what makes you think you can protect yourself from it?" Shepard's voice was thick with disbelief. "Why would Sovereign even let you?"

"I've studied the effects for years," Saren replied. "The more control exerted by Sovereign, the less capable the subject. That is my saving grace. He needs me to be fully capable, not a puppet."

Shepard shook her head. "Why? What's so special about you that Sovereign won't indoctrinate you?"

"Sovereign needs me to find the Conduit. If I succeed, I will win reprieve from the inevitable. This is my, this is our, only hope!"

"It's a fool's hope," Shepard spat. "You can't trust that thing! We're just tools to it! Nothing more!"

"Listen to us," Robert pleaded. "I can sense what Sovereign truly is, Saren. It's malicious, contemptful of life… it has no reason to give you any promises or to keep them, and it won't. Our only hope is to fight these things."

"And we can do it, together!" Shepard urged. "Come back with me to the Council. Admit to them what you've found out, what Sovereign is. We can defeat it together!"

"You are not listening," raged Saren. "This is why I didn't go to the Council! We organics, we don't approach things logically, we follow emotions! We'll fight even when there's no hope in it, no chance to succeed! Our only hope is to serve! Otherwise the Reapers will destroy us!"

As he raved Robert quieted his mind and focused on his being. His energy and the Flow of Life met. It was growing cold and dark from the approach of Sovereign. He shook off that feeling of dread the Reaper was causing him and focused on what he felt from Saren. Certainty flooded that connection, a certainty born from being convinced his way was the only way, that he was right, everyone else wrong. Frustration tinged it. Even with the nuke destroyed, the attack on his base had caused major damage to his efforts and distracted him from his pursuit of his objective. The Conduit dominated that thought. It was the key to everything. He had to find it.

It was when Robert probed deeper that he felt it. Beneath Saren's certainty was… fear. Fear of losing himself. Fear that he was wrong. That Sovereign was controlling him, that Sovereign was lying to him, that he and the galaxy he'd sworn to defend were doomed. That he could do nothing to save them from the inevitable destruction of the Reapers.

There was an instinctive resistance to this inside of Saren. He didn't like these thoughts. He didn't want them. They were unwelcome, they interfered with his purpose, they…

...they were right.

It was barely perceptible to Robert, such that he nearly missed it. The twisting of purpose. The sliver of corruption, smaller, more subtle, than that he'd felt in Avot and the other indoctrinated Salarians. But it was there.

"I sense it in you, Saren," Robert called out. "I can feel it inside of your being, your mind. Sovereign's twisting your thoughts to his needs. It's too late for you to stop it. It's got you."

"No!" insisted Saren. "You're wrong!"

"When you were on the Aurora last year, I sensed there was something off about you, but I didn't have the ability then to understand what I was sensing. I couldn't have known." Robert rose from his place and stepped around it. Shepard eyed him warily while rising, her weapon at the ready. "But I know it now. It's buried inside of you, like a cancer on your spirit. Making you think Sovereign is right. That this is your only hope. Twisting all of your thoughts…"

"You don't know that."

"Deep down you know it already," Robert continued. "I can feel the fear inside of you, just as much as I feel that corruption in your being. You know Sovereign's using you. You just won't accept it."

"You are the ones who won't accept the truth! That we cannot fight the Reapers!" At that, the hovering platform rushed toward them again. Robert and Commander Shepard dove for cover just as Saren's bolts of dark matter flew for them. The attack barely missed them, dispersing against the solid cover they were employing.

"This resistance is pointless!" Saren declared. "If we do not serve, the Reapers will destroy us all!"

"This is insanity, Saren!" Shepard shouted.

"No," he answered coldly. "This is survival."

Since the contact with M4P2 opened up, stories about Asari Matriarchs had begun a silent spread across the Multiverse. Their great age and wisdom, their practiced grace and poise, their sheer capacity for handling the tumult of the e-democracies that governed the Asari Republics, these were the primary focus of such stories.

But there were a few about their power. How the centuries of learning and exercise had turned them into biotic powerhouses capable of immense feats of biotic strength, up until the time their bodies' aging process finally overcame their strength.

Lucy now reflected those stories didn't do justice to the facts. Or at least the facts regarding Benezia.

Biotic energy glowed so brightly around her to nearly become white. With a wave of her hand Benezia sent dark matter bolts that it took much of Lucy's strength to disperse. Liara strugged equally to resist her mother's power. Openings came, at least for Lucy, but they did her little good. For every attempted blow, her lightsaber met dark matter so concentrated that it couldn't break through. With repeated strikes she might succeed, but Benezia inevitably sent her flying or falling backward with a biotic strike.

Talara was having the worst time of it. She squeezed off shots where she was able, but they met the biotic field around Benezia with no better result that Lucy's weapon.

Undaunted, Lucy went after Benezia again. This time she started off by willing Benezia herself fall backward. Her power bypassed Benezia's shield in that respect. But the impact - against the support frame beside the Rachni Queen - could not break the dark matter field protecting Benezia's body. When Lucy rushed in and brought her lightsaber down on Benezia's shoulder, the field caught the blow. Benezia's arm came up and dark matter shot out at Lucy. With concentration she stopped the dark matter from striking her, causing it to crackle and dissipate before her. Another bolt from Benezia had the same effect. She focused on Lucy while ignoring the shots from Talara's pulse pistol with contempt.

Liara was not so easily ignored. She recognized an opening and took it… by charging her mother with her own biotic field gathered around her. She didn't let go of it until she was in literal point blank range, after which she forced it forward in a single burst of biotic power.

For the first time, a direct attack caused Benezia to stumble. She fell backward again, this time genuinely affected by an attack. The older Asari hissed inarticulately when she slammed into the pod containing the Rachni Queen. The hiss turned into a howl, after which dark matter surged from her and struck Liara. The blow caught Liara before she could recover from the effort of her attack. The dark matter enveloped her, a warp field that felt like it was trying to tear her apart. She cried out in pain and fell back for the moment.

Lucy thought she had an opening. There was a weakness in the field, or so her senses told her, and she struck at it with her lightsaber. But the bright light of the gathered dark matter surged back into place the second before her blade hit home and again the weapon was thwarted. Benezia snarled and summoned more of her power, a near stream of dark matter that seemed to be almost alive in its eagerness to tear Lucy apart. Lucy's face froze in an expression of pure effort. Everything she had went into the energy she needed to hold Benezia back.

Talara, kneeling at the wall she'd been batted against earlier in the fight, continued to fire without effect. Her eyes widened as the sheer energy in the room hit her senses. She remembered the feeling of energy when the Castle of Lions was drawing from both Princess Allura and Lucy, but this… this seemed even greater. Everything seemed to twist from the sheer power of Benezia's biotics and the dark matter it was generating. She never imagined biotics might be this powerful. And her pistol, now low on charges, was doing nothing.

With a deep breath Talara holstered the weapon and focused on her own power. Weeks of training with Lucy had taught her basic fundamentals of control and focus. She knew she couldn't hope to match what Lucy was managing, but if she could help distract Benezia… then maybe Lucy could overpower her. Maybe… With a grunt of effort Talara reached with the life energy within her, willing the universe to throw Benezia back.

And Benezia did indeed fall partly backward, as if knocked off-balance. Her attack on Lucy slackened slightly. Lucy, with determination glistening in her blue eyes, advanced on the Asari Matriarch, dark matter crackling around the empty air a step ahead of her, drawing closer and closer with each step. Talara desperately maintained her own attack on Benezia to try and contain her.

A cry of rage came from Benezia. For the second time a powerful burst of biotic power lashed out in a wave. Talara was thrown back into the wall by the impact. Lucy's defenses nearly fell, forcing her onto her back foot and off-balance. She redoubled her efforts, groaning with effort as she did.

Liara picked herself up from the ground. The dissipation of the warp field didn't bring an end to the pain. She felt terrible and, from teaching and experience, could expect possible microhemorrhages in her body from the warp field's effects. She looked to Talara, dazed and trying to stand back up, and to a desperate Lucy fighting her mother's power, and knew she had to act. Biotic power surged around her and she prepared to…

Liara stopped when Benezia's head turned toward her. There was a glint in her mother's eye at complete odds with her circumstances. Liara noticed her mother's biotic field seem to weaken at the section facing her. Presumably fatigue…

But that look in her eye…

And then she heard Benezia's voice speak, without a hint of the cold tone she'd used before. "I am proud of you, Liara."

"Doctor, a little help?!" Lucy called out, her voice strained from effort.

Liara's face betrayed her frustration with the situation, and her knowledge that regardless of anything she wanted… she did indeed have to act. And so she did, gathering dark matter and throwing it out in the strongest bolt she could create. The dark blue blast took barely a half-second to reach her mother. When it struck Benezia's defenses, the pure force behind the attack broke through the field of dark matter and impacted Benezia directly. There was a cry of surprise and pain at the force of the impact. It threw Benezia off her feet and into the air. She flew until she hit the handrail of the elevated platform. She flipped over it and fell to the platform below.

"Mother!" Liara ran to the railing. She looked down to see her mother sprawled out. She was not moving. Liara ignored Lucy's call of "Liara, wait!" and jumped over the railing. She concentrated dark matter sufficient to slow her fall and let her land on her feet beside her mother. "Mother, I'm here!" She bent down next to her. WIth a movement her omnitool came to life, amber light that she used to scan her mother. "Goddess no," she breathed at seeing the extent of her mother's injuries. The holographic image showed the blood seeping through what looked like multiple burst blood vessels in Benezia's brain, not to mention other damage.

"So proud of you, Little Wing," Benezia's voice said softly. "So proud…"

And she did not speak again.

A last exhalation of air came from Benezia's open mouth. Liara's scans told her the bitter truth, but she defied it for the moment, instead grabbing a medi-gel dispenser and pressing it to her mother. "No!" she cried. "Mother, please, no."

Above them, Lucy was helping Talara stand up. Both felt the same thing. They walked over to the railing and looked down. "Doctor… Liara… I'm sorry," Lucy said, even though she knew from her own bitter experience that nothing said could ease the pain of what just happened.

Liara's hands reached for Benezia and took her face. "I didn't mean it," Liara wept. Her tears fell from her face and onto her mother. "I didn't want this. Why?" With the expected lack of a reply, Liara pulled her mother into her arms and wept bitterly.

With discomfort written over her face, Talara looked to her teacher. The lavender of her irises reflected the pain they both sensed from Liara. "What shall we do?"

"There's nothing we can do." In sympathy with Liara's new pain, an old wound in Lucy's heart flared up. She felt that familiar hollowness, first experienced the day Isabela Lucero breathed her last. "Your parents are still alive, right?"

"Yes," Talara said.

"Good. I wouldn't wish this pain on anyone."

The air filled with biotic power and again Saren's bolts of force descended upon Robert and Shepard. They projected their own defenses to absorb the attack, requiring effort. Frustrated, Saren flew on to come in for another attack.

"Commander, we're staying just a step ahead of these guys," Joker said over their comms. "I can't get an opening to swing in and pick you up. And that big ship is getting closer…"

"Do not engage Sovereign, Joker!" Shepard shouted. "Retreat from Virmire if you have to!"

"But what about…"

"That is a direct order, Lieutenant Moreau," Shepard insisted. "Keep the ship safe! Shepard out!"

"When Sovereign arrives, you will understand the futility of this," Saren declared. He flew in toward them. Shepard fired off a few shots that Saren absorbed with a charged biotic field. "You will see I am right!"

They ignored Saren. "It'd be a good time for you to use all of those powers you've got," Shepard said to Robert.

"He's got us running so much I'm not sure I can control them enough," he replied.

Another bolt of biotic energy lashed out at them. Robert projected force ahead of them to disperse it. Shepard fired off another few rounds that had no effect. "Well, we have to do something. What about that platform? If you can knock him off…"

It was a good idea, and it ignored Saren's biotic barrier. But it wouldn't be easy. "I need a moment," he said.

Saren came in for another attack run. Shepard met his dark matter bolts with a barrier of her own that dispersed it. As she did, Robert reached out with his power. Force gripped Saren's platform. Slightly more force than Robert had intended, but that helped do the job, sending the platform flying upward and twisting violently, throwing Saren off.

Whether Saren saw it coming or not, he acted quickly in adjusting. In the seconds he had before he'd fall below the level of the roof, Saren channeled biotic power until he, like Shepard often did, shot forward on a trail of biotic force. He landed closely enough to throw them both off balance with the resulting biotic shockwave.

Shepard regained her footing quickly and raised her shotgun. The solid slugs it fired failed to break through Saren's biotic field. With his attention directed to Shepard, Robert attempted a direct attack with his lightsaber, aiming to remove Saren's arm. He found, quickly, that his green blade could not break the dark matter gathered around Saren. Saren threw an arm out at him and hit Robert with a biotic shot. The blow hit him hard, hard enough that he felt the impact through his armor. He went flying back toward the end of the roof. Instinct took over. He dropped the lightsaber and let it roll away so he could grip the edge with both hands. It strained his shoulders, but it kept him from flying off completely.

Saren grabbed Shepard by the neck and lifted her above his head. She struggled to breathe while reaching for his arm to try and break loose, even as his grip tightened. Robert sensed desperation and instinctive panic build up in Shepard as she tried to break free.

Robert pulled himself back up onto the roof and, motivated by his fear for Shepard, threw out a bolt of force.

It was a mistake. He threw the power out so swiftly that he failed to control it. Instead of a directed blow that would have hit just Saren, a wave of wild kinetic force struck both Shepard and Saren. They went flying through the air…

...and toward the other edge of the roof.

Robert immediately recognized his error. Cursing himself for not thinking his action through, he was already in motion when Shepard and Saren went over the side. Energy from his being filled his body and moved him beyond normal Human speed. He reached the other end of the roof in time to see Shepard spinning down toward the rocks and water below. His arms shot out and his power with it, gripping Shepard in mid-air. She looked back up at him, bewilderment and fear giving way to realization and profound irritation, while Robert pulled her back toward him. "What the hell was that?!" Shepard demanded as soon as her feet reached the ground.

"I'm sorry," was all Robert managed.

"You nearly killed me, dammit. If you can't control these powers you shouldn't…" Shepard stopped herself. "Where is Saren?"

They looked about. Saren was gone. "I don't suppose it was that easy?" she asked.

Robert shook his head. He felt out with his senses. He didn't feel Saren nearby, but he was certain he didn't feel death either. Not a fresh one. "He's gone." With a moment of insight Robert checked his omnitool. "A transport signature. It looks like he's beamed away."

"Damn." Shepard shook her head. She triggered her comms. "Shepard to Normandy. Saren's gone. We need extraction."

Shepard's request for extraction filled the cockpit area of the Normandy, where Joker was busy keeping the Normandy moving in sub-orbit. The flashes of Geth weapon fire filled space around them. Above them, in orbit, several Geth cruisers and lighter ships were firing down at them. "I'm a bit busy, Commander," Joker replied.

Beside him, Kaidan was working on his station. "This thing's not built to shoot at anything not ahead of it, Joker. I can't get a torpedo lock unless you give me an attack run."

"Any attack run and whoever we shoot at, their buddies pick us off," Joker retorted.

Far behind him, at the command station, Pressly overheard their argument over the ship's internal comms and asked, "What about our barriers? Can they hold long enough for us to make a pick up?"

From engineering, Engineer Adams replied, "I'm not sure. We took a few hits during the evac. I might be able to keep enough power going to them for five, maybe ten seconds of intense fire."

"Joker, bring us in," said Pressly. "We're not leaving anyone behind."

Robert picked his lightsaber up while Shepard helped the wounded Salarian over to his location. Joker's voice came over the line. "This has to be quick, Commander. The Geth have a visual and hard lock on us, if we stop for more than ten seconds our barriers won't hold off their fire."

"Understood." Shepard brought the Salarian toward the same edge of the roof where Normandy had previously hovered. "Give me a mark."

"Sixty seconds, starting now."

"I just hope we have it," Robert muttered.

Shepard almost asked why, but stopped when the first Geth platform slammed into the roof, a heavy model. "Damn." She raised her shotgun. The solid slug met a particle barrier, degrading it but not breaking it. She fired again and again.

The Geth was already returning fire, but Robert intercepted the shots with his weapon. Whatever his relative lack of skill with the weapon compared to Meridina or Lucy, the energy within him took over his arms and used the weapon's defensive capability with the same speed and efficiency as they would, sending plasma fire back at the Geth and, now, the other Geth landing behind it.

Shepard's shotgun was steaming hot as a sixth shot rang out. This one smashed the chest of the big Geth, causing it to collapse. "Overheated," Shepard said, explaining the lack of repeating fire. Instead she gathered her failing energy and threw, one-handed, a bolt toward another of the attacking Geth. The bolt struck the Geth and projected a field that sent it, and a second, floating upward into the air.

"Thirty seconds," Joker told them.

With the incoming fire increasing Robert blanked out any thought of counting the seconds. He let the life energy within him guide his arms and the blade in his hands, sending the bolts of plasma fire from the Geth right back into their midst. After several seconds Shepard's shotgun started thundering again. Another Geth went down with a crushed chest. Three more shots and a second had its head explode. The relaxing of fire helped Robert keep up with the rest, protecting himself, Shepard, and the Salarian she was still holding up with her left shoulder.

"Fifteen seconds."

In the air there was a distant engine roar. Robert dared not glance to see if it was Normandy flying in. He was too busy deflecting shots. As more Geth arrived the fire was becoming too much for him to deflect. He managed to deflect one shot into the flashlight head of a Geth platform, but another bolt struck him along the right side. Pain flared in his hip. Nothing serious, as his armor had absorbed most of the shot, but the next hit was more successful, striking his upper left arm almost directly. Pain filled the limb and without his focus, he would have been left with one hand on his lightsaber, a critical loss of control given the circumstance.

"Ten… nine… eight…"

As Joker counted down, the Normandy appeared overhead, flying toward Robert and Shepard from the direction they were facing. It began to turn overhead, spinning on a dime under the control of a pilot Robert was increasingly convinced was a contender for the title "Best in the Multiverse". Behind them the cargo bay door slid open.

Immediately gunfire covered the air above and around the, courtesy of the rest of the team and Kirrahe's remaining forces. "Come on, Commander!" shouted Ashley. Ahead of Robert and Shepard, another big Geth lost its head to a sniper shot from Garrus.

"Geth locking on! We've got ten seconds!" Joker reported.

The bay door was barely touching the roof, but it did enough for Shepard to back her way into it, shotgun thundering. Tali helped her with the Salarian. "Robert!" she shouted.

Robert continued backing himself up toward the bay door. The fire coming toward them was so heavy he knew he couldn't stop blocking, as tired as he felt. "Five seconds!" Joker shouted through the comm line.

No choice… now!

Robert turned and jumped, instinctively calling on his life force to do so as he did. It propelled him into the cargo bay and up beside the secured Mako. "He's in!" Robert heard Shepard cry out. "Punch it Joker!"

The Normandy shot forward even before the cargo bay door started to close. Shepard dashed for the elevator at the back of the cargo bay. Robert watched her go and slumped himself against the Mako. He felt dead tired and his wounds hurt.

"Captain Dale, allow me." Kirrahe motioned to one of his men, currently helping to treat the wounded Salarian they pulled aboard. "You went back for Specialist Lajan. Thank you."

"You're welcome, Captain Kirrahe," Robert answered, allowing the Salarian medic Kirrahe summoned to give first aid to his wounds. He felt a bitter feeling in his stomach. For all they'd learned, all they'd fought, and all of the Salarians killed in the fight… they'd failed. Saren's base was intact.

Even worse, he felt a cold sense in the Flow of Life, and his stomach twisted. "Damn," he muttered.

"What?' asked Garrus.

"Sovereign," Robert replied. "He's here."

As the Normandy rose into orbit, Geth weapons fire surrounding it, Shepard rushed into the cockpit area. Her eyes widened in recognition, and some fear, as Sovereign loomed ahead among the Geth. "Damn."

"I'm trying to break us from orbit. If we try to go FTL here…"

The Normandy nearly came out from under Shepard's feet at the extreme maneuver Joker pushed the ship into in order to avoid the beam of ruby light that came from one of Sovereign's tentacles. "Some kind of particle weapon," Kaidan said. "But sensors can't make sense of it."

The ship shuddered around them as more weapons fire converged on them. "I'm trying to keep them off, but there's so many!" Despite his protest Joker kept his attention on his controls.

"Pick a Geth and make an attack run," Shepard ordered.

"Aye ma'am." Joker did so. A lighter Geth ship filled the screen.

"Disruptor torpedoes locking on," Kaidan added. "I'm about to…" Something appeared on Kaidan's screen. "Wait, I'm getting a…"

Ahead of them, bolts of amber energy crashed into the Geth ship. As flame and debris erupted from along the tail of the ship, twin sparks of blue-white light struck home and the entire Geth vessel disintegrated in a massive burst of light.

"New ship on sensors," Kaidan said. "It's the Koenig."

"Patch me through," Shepard said. An intent look crossed her face. They weren't done yet.

On the bridge of the Koenig, Will Atreiad watched the Geth ship blow apart. Almost immediately the Koenig twisted and turned. A thick beam of ruby light speared the space they would have otherwise occupied.

"Whatever that ship is, it's… I've seen nothing like it," Magda insisted from Ops. "It's power signature is through the roof! And the weapons fire… it's some kind of magnetohydrodynamic weapon."

"Maintain evasive maneuvers," Will said. He tapped a button on his chair. "Koenig to Normandy. We'll buy you time to make a jump to FTL."

"This is Normandy," replied Shepard. "Before we go, Saren's base is still intact. One of your solar torpedoes should do the job."

"Right." As Apley kept the Koenig maneuvering around the Geth fire, Will turned his attention to April at Tactical. "April, a torpedo spread on that site."

"Target identified. If we don't want our torpedoes intercepted…"

"I'm on it," Apley pledged.

The Koenig twisted and turned away from the Geth ships and toward Virmire. The beautiful planet looked like a lush garden world, certainly not the world they should be firing torpedoes at. But Will knew enough from the reports that necessity trumped beauty in this mission. "Fire when ready!" he ordered.

The ship shuddered as a shot from one of the Geth cruisers hit hard enough to degrade their deflectors. But it didn't stop April from getting the shot off. On the holo-viewer Will watched the two torpedoes descend like bolts of wrath from one of the Lords of Kobol. They hit Saren's base dead-center. It disappeared under the resulting white light that scoured the entire area.

"Direct hit. No energy signatures, no life signs," Magda reported. "Reading complete destruction of the facility and much of the surrounding area."

"We've done our job. Apley, get us out of here!"

The Koenig twisted away and toward the hard-maneuvering Normandy. The Geth pursued, as did Sovereign. The old machine's fury lashed out at the two light ships, one ruby beam after another, but Joker and Apley kept their vessels maneuvering too tightly, too quickly, for the Reaper to get a hit in the seconds he had left. With nothing ahead of them, both vessels zipped away at superluminal velocity. With their respective stealth systems, there would be no pursuit.

Apley breathed a sigh of relief when Magda confirmed no pursuit. "That thing looks more like a monster than a starship," he said. "Did you see it?"

"Saw it, scanned it," Magda confirmed.

"Commander Shepard, please tell me you found out more about that monstrosity," Will said into the comm link with Normandy.

"You could say that," she replied. "And believe me, it's not good news."

"I'm not surprised. Lords preserve us." Will let out a sigh and laid back into his command chair, relaxing slightly. "Stand us down from Code Red. And get a signal to the Aurora. Mission accomplished."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

The Marines entered the chamber a few minutes after Benezia fell. Anders walked up to join them. "How many did we lose?" asked Lucy.

"Two dead. Somers and Jhrik," Anders replied tightly. "One of those biotics, she just…" He stopped. "Even the heavy armor didn't stop her."

Lucy nodded grimly. "I know."

Anders looked over the railing and down to where Liara was still weeping over her mother's body. "I'm guessing she did the deed?"

"She did. Her mother let her, I think." Lucy shook her head. "Benezia was fighting the indoctrination, or whatever it is. I'm sure of that."

"We'll get the remains secured." Anders motioned to a couple of his Marines. "And get her back up here."

Lucy sighed. "I was hoping we could capture her. Maybe find out how Saren influences people."

"And what this was all for," Talara added. "Why would Benezia have come? Simply due to the Rachni outbreak? Was getting more soldiers so important?"

Lucy shook her head. She sensed it wasn't and was satisfied, as a teacher, that Talara sensed the same. "No. No, this was about more…"

She sensed a tug at her senses. A mental poke of sorts, not enough to break into her mind, but enough to get her attention. Lucy's head turned until she faced the clear cylinder suspended by the central raised platform. The Rachni Queen inside was facing her directly. Lucy approached it. She raised a hand and put it on the cylinder. Inside the Queen did the same, using one of its long tentacle appendages to press the cylinder on the same spot Lucy did.

"Lieutenant, what are you doing?" Anders asked.

A moment passed before Lucy felt the alien presence in her mind. It came as a mournful song, singing of loneliness and loss and pain. Through it she sensed memories from long ago. A harmony of singing between minds. Cities on a world otherwise hostile to life, teeming with the singing minds, all directed by the mothers underground.

Then shadows came. A sour discord came to the song. Peaceful singing died, replaced by rage and chaos. Other life forms came, without songs, and the singers attacked in madness. Cities fell. Planets burned. Blood flowed.

Then more aliens came. Lucy recognized them immediately for their humped backs and large bodies. Krogan, she thought. The blood and death continued, but the singers died with their new foes, who kept coming. Planet by planet, the singers died.

At this point the memories grew faint. Only distant whispers… and silence.

Lucy felt a revulsion for this outcome that was not hers. A desire to sing in peace. For the children to come. A resignation that silence was more likely to come.

You think I'm going to kill you, thought Lucy.

Surprise. You sing?

No. Not like you.

I hear your song. So bright. So pure. I hear you sing mercy. I will understand if you bring silence instead.

Immediately Lucy knew what she meant. Her eyes went over to the controls and up to the tubes that would, with a button press, fill the cylinder with powerful acid. She gasped involuntarily at the thought of that kind of death.

Anders was looking over them too. He faced the Queen. "So this is the Queen Tartakovsky talked about? What did Benezia want with it?"

"That's what I'm trying to find out," Lucy replied hoarsely, trying to focus on the mental connection. "I'm speaking telepathically with the Queen."

So many died, the Queen sang. We did not want this. We never… the shadows in the song. We know not where they came from. I know not. Our song was corrupted.

I know
, Lucy thought. I sense that.

You what?

For a moment Lucy thought nothing. She felt. She felt within for the life-fueled force that made what she did possible. She felt for the Flow of Life and the gold warmth within, imagining how strong it could be among the greater concentrations of the living.

Such a song! I hear it. You sing of Life, of a golden warmth. It makes me ache with hope.

Lucy nodded. It would. It is the Flow of Life. It permits me to speak to you, to 'sing', as if I were a telepath. I am sworn to keep it strong. She took in a breath. You mean no ill will toward the species of this galaxy?

I wish only to sing in peace with my children.

Immediately Lucy felt the sincerity in the Queen. She was not being deceitful. Again, all she wanted was the peaceful singing in her deep memory.

Behind her, Anders was still watching intently. Talara undoubtedly sensed some of the conversation, but only some. The mental element of her abilities was still being honed.

What did Benezia want from you?

The one called Benezia sang with madness. I felt a shadow in her song, much as my mother felt. She demanded I sing of stars. Of a great gateway…
The image of a Mass Relay flashed in Lucy's mind. It was lost long ago. The image of an exploding star, a supernova, came to Lucy.

A Mass Relay flung into deep space by a supernova. Your people know where it is? The moment Lucy thought that, stars came into her mind. They moved around and through her into a void, a deep void where a Mass Relay continued a lone, solitary voyage through the lightless void of interstellar space.

Her shadow sang of a 'Conduit'. I know not of this.

Lucy nodded once more. It all made sense now. The Conduit, spoken of in the record Tali found. The key to awakening the Reapers. Thank you, Lucy thought.

Will I know silence?

. Lucy shook her head. I am a Knight of Life. I will not destroy you. Go and sing again, Queen, have children and sing of Light and Hope. With that Lucy's finger found a different control.

The cylinder containing the Queen lifted from its place. A mechanical arm pulled it up to a port. An internal airlock slid open, a route to freedom.

"Lieutenant, what are you doing?" Anders asked. It was just short of a demand.

Thank you, sang the Queen. My children will sing of your forgiveness. We will sing of your Light, Lucy Lucero.

The Rachni Queen went through the port and on to freedom.

Lucy watched her go. What she'd just done was sure to anger powerful people. Two thousand years had not diminished the memories of the galaxy when it came to the Rachni. In a moment of doubt she wondered if the Citadel Council might push charges of some kind, or if this would undermine the relationship between the Alliance and the Citadel.

Behind her Major Anders asked, "Lieutenant, why did you do that?"

"Do what?" Lucy asked. "Release her from imprisonment?"

"The Rachni once threatened this galaxy so badly they had to be hunted to extinction," Anders said. "Do you understand the ramifications of just letting that Queen go?"

"Yeah." Lucy nodded. "She doesn't want violence, Lieutenant. She wants peace. Any new Rachni she births will be taught to be peaceful toward other species." Sensing Anders' irritation with her, Lucy frowned. "Are you really saying I should have committed genocide?"

"No, I'm not," Anders said. "I'd never open that acid tank. But we could have brought the Queen with us to the Aurora and let our superiors handle the situation this is going to create with the Citadel. And that decision should have been mine. I'm in charge of this operation and that means I'm the responsible officer. I'm the one who's going to be held responsible for this, for everything that's happened."

Lucy let out a hoarse breath. "Major, I'm… I was trying to do the right thing."

"And you didn't trust me to?" he asked pointedly.

"I didn't say that. I just… acted. On my own."

"And that's not your place, Lieutenant. That's not your responsibility."

Given all of the fighting, not to mention the persistent pain in her hand, Lucy didn't feel like arguing the point. She could understand Anders' viewpoint. He was the officer in charge, and he'd be the one facing repercussions if Command took issue with what happened here. Her acting on her own wasn't enough of a defense from that. It made it clear he couldn't control her.

Anders sighed and turned away, clearly spent as well and not interested in continuing the argument. After taking several steps he looked over his shoulder. "I know your heart is in the right place, Lieutenant. But the chain of command exists for a reason, and if you can't follow it, you've got no place on my strike teams. I don't care how powerful or skilled you are." With that parting comment he walked away.

She was pulled from her thoughts by Talara's hand resting on her shoulder. "I think you did the right thing, Lucy," said her student. "I can feel it."

"Yeah," agreed Lucy. Briefly a smile came to her face at the thought of what she felt. At the Rachni given a new lease on life, a chance to join the Multiverse in all of its glorious diversity of life and thought. Inside she knew that, politics aside, she'd done the right thing.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »


Port Hanshan's hospital was every bit as advanced as Parasini and Black promised it was. The doctors on staff - an Asari and a Human - patched Julia and her people up without a word of fuss. Meridina's head trauma was confirmed as a concussion and treated. She now sat on a biobed across from Julia. "It must be what I was sensing," she said upon the others explaining what happened. "There was a sudden darkness in the Flow of Life. A void I have never experienced before. This creature must have been the cause."

"We're lucky to be alive," said Angel. "I have to say I'm not happy we only survive these things because someone saves our asses."

"Had I not let my guard down, I might have been able to protect you. You have my apologies."

"None necessary, Meridina," Julia insisted.

"Indeed." Richmond shook her head. She was on the bed beside Meridina, across from Angel. Unlike the others she was still laying down due to the severity of her injuries and the process needed to heal them. "What I am more concerned with is this situation. You gave Qui'in his evidence?"

"He was happy to receive it," Julia said. Happier than she was to have carried it to him instead of getting the medical treatment she'd needed, but Julia didn't add that. "But I don't know what else is going on. I've heard nothing from the…"

Her omnitool activated at that moment. A bright blue light appeared over the back of her hand. "Anders to Andreys. Do we have clearance to complete our mission or not?"

Julia breathed a small sigh of relief. Anders' wording indicated that the strike into Peak 15 had succeeded in some fashion. Now Anders was asking permission to launch the Gonzalez and return to the Aurora. But until she knew for certain the defenses wouldn't open fire if they picked up the ship, Julia didn't dare give clearance. Instead she replied, "Standby on that, Major. Matters are still being determined here."

"Acknowledged. I’m going to have Dr. Gillam double check inoculations."

At that Julia winced. They'd taken casualties. She hoped not losses. "What's the status on Doctor T'Soni?" The last thing she needed was a dead civilian specialist.

"She'll live."

"Fine. I'll inform you when we get the all-clear. Andreys out."

"Good news, then," Richmond said, well aware of the true meaning. "Now all we have to do is find out what game we've been drawn into."

They didn't have to wait much longer. Confirmation of at least one of Julia's worries came with a new patient. The four watched in stunned bemusement as a wounded Anoleis was dragged in by Captain Matsuo and Gianna Parasini. Matsuo brought him to a private room while Parasini walked over to join them. "How are you?"

"Better," Julia replied. "Anoleis is under arrest?"

"I just made the collar. He tried to resist. But Captain Matsuo was quick to stop that." Parasini grinned with satisfaction. "The Captain was offended to hear that Anoleis was using her guards as private thugs."

"So what now? What about our investigation?"

"The Board's given me temporary authority here in Port Hanshan," Parasini explained. "I signed the approval as I left the office. With a slight backdating."

She knows. Julia smiled diplomatically. "Thank you. I'll make a note of your cooperation in my own report."

"Glad to hear it."

"So, what about Mister Black?" asked Angel. She crossed her arms. "What's his part in this?"

"Would you like to find out?" Parasini asked Julia.

With just a moment to consider, Julia nodded. "Yes."

"I'll ask." Parasini sent off a text message with her omnitool. Moments later a response came up. "This way, please. If you're cleared to leave the ward, that is."

Richmond and Meridina were not, so it was Julia and Angel who followed Parasini out. After walking through several corridors and taking a lift ride, they found themselves on a level dominated by conference rooms. "This is for meetings between our various clients," Parasini explained as she brought them to the largest room at the end of the central hall. She remained standing outside of the door as they stepped in.

Inside was the kind of opulence Julia would expect of the wealthy. The fine table of brass-colored wood was in-set with hard-light control projectors and a holotank in the middle. Beautiful paintings and sculptures lined every wall save the one to her right, beyond the head of the table, where a large holo-projector could create a 2D or 3D holo-image.

Black was seated quietly at the far side of the table from the entrance. He looked at them through his Ray-Bans. "Ah, Captain. Lieutenant. You are recovered?" He looked none the worse for wear. As if he hadn't just been in a fight with a vicious being he'd stabbed through the heart.

"We are."

"And Commanders Richmond and Meridina?"

"Recovering still. As soon as the doctors approve, we'll fly them back to the Aurora," Julia said. "But I have questions."

"Of course you do. Thankfully, I was just alerting my employer as to our success. He should be returning my call any moment… ah. Here." Black pressed a blinking key before him and turned toward the wall holo-viewer.

Julia and Angel did the same. Recognition showed across her face at the sight of Black's employer.

"Ah, Captain Andreys. So good to see you again," said Sidney Hank, President and Founder of Pan-Empyrean Holdings. The Solarian tycoon had one hand holding a tumbler of what Julia guessed was the same Parthegon brandy he'd once plied her, Robert, and the others with in their visit to Solaris the prior year. His sky blue eyes glinted with amusement. There was no denying he had a handsome face, one that seemed crafted to be photogenic and memorable. Dark hair cut in a business style topped his head. He looked like the epitome of economic power… which, Julia knew for a fact, he was. "Mister Black, I assume the Captain played a role in your dealings on Noveria?"

"A critical one, sir," Black replied. "She helped recover the evidence that allowed Miss Parasini to arrest Anoleis."

"Ah. Thank you kindly, Captain. Administrator Anoleis was something of a pain."

"Wait." Angel shook her head. "What's all of this about?"

Julia thought back to what she'd heard while on Noveria. Specifically, a complaint from Anoleis she'd overheard when they entered the Salarian's office. The facts came together. "You… you're buying Noveria, aren't you Mister Hank?"

"Just about," he replied. "More accurately, Pan-Empyrean Holdings just bought a majority share in the Noveria Development Corporation."

"And Anoleis was stopping you?"

"He was making the sale… difficult. He was trying to shake me down and abusing his power to punish companies that voted in my favor when I didn't pay the bribe." Hank shook his head and twirled his tumbler full of expensive brandy. "I can appreciate a little bit of corruption. It greases the wheels and gears in many economic machines. But he was greedy and he was sloppy, so I take great pleasure in destroying him. Thank you again for your role in this affair. This outcome was everything I could hope for."

"You couldn't have known I was coming," Julia said.

"I expected Commander Shepard, true. But I've been aware of Binary Helix's connections to Saren Arterius for months. Someone was bound to show up, and Anoleis was bound to interfere."

"And that monster thing that attacked us? Did you anticipate that?" Angel asked directly.

Hank frowned and glanced toward Black. "A Pretender, sir. An old one," Black replied. "I put it down."

The frown deepened. "Tracking them or you?"

"Me. My apologies, sir. I must have gotten sloppy." Black showed genuine remorse and shame at that.

"See that it doesn't happen again," Hank said coldly.

"Just what the hell is a Pretender?" Angel demanded. "It's what Jarod's called himself before, but this…"

"Mister Jarod is a far more benign kind of being than they are. Pretenders are… well, I'm afraid I haven't the time to spell it out too greatly, Lieutenant Delgado, but in brief: they're old, they're powerful, they're scary as hell, and they want to kill you. Especially you."

"Because of Swenya's prophecy?" asked Julia.

"Got it in one, Captain. Go ahead and file that report with Admiral Maran, and you can tell him I said it. Some things have to be spoken of." Hank rested his glass down. "Why Swenya wrote that blasted prophecy down I'll never know… she was always so stubborn."

Julia caught that and blinked. "You're trying to tell me you knew Swenya three thousand years ago, during the last interuniversal era? That you've been around that long?"

To that Hank grinned. "In a manner of speaking, Captain. In a manner of speaking. But that's a matter for another time. I suspect you have your own business to tend to on Noveria, so please, don't let me keep you from it. Saren Arterius is a threat to the Multiverse and needs to be taken down. As the majority shareholder of Noveria Development Corporation, you have my full approval to investigate Peak 15. Retroactive approval. Now, if you'll excuse me, Mister Black and I have private corporate matters to discuss."

"Of course," Julia said. She rose from her chair. Angel did the same. She frowned as she followed Julia out of the room. Parasini was waiting. "We're in the clear, then."

"You are." Parasini smiled at her. "I'll escort you back to the hospital now. Make any calls you feel necessary."

Julia tapped her omnitool's comm key. "Andreys to Anders."

"Anders here."

"You are clear to complete your mission."

"Understood. Anders out."

As they approached the lift, another call came to Julia. She tapped the blue light and answered, "Andreys here."

"Captain, we just received a signal from the Koenig," Jarod replied. "Virmire was a success. The Koenig and Normandy are en route. And they've got a lot to share with us."

"We'll meet them at the Relay then," Julia replied. "Prepare to break orbit once the Irrawaddy returns. And have Leo prepare spaces in medbay, Commanders Meridina and Richmond will need some follow-up care."

"I see," Jarod replied. "Consider it done."

Once the call was over, they stepped into the lift. Parasini activated it with her security clearance. "Do you need anything else, Captain?"

"Nothing here," Julia replied. "It's been a pleasure working with you, Miss Parasini, but I just want to get back to my ship now."

"Of course," she said cheerfully. "I'll make the arrangements to have your wounded officers transferred to your runabout immediately."

"Thank you." With that, Julia sighed. She'd have a lengthy and very delicate report to write when she got back, and all she really wanted was a hot shower and some me-time in her quarters with a warm cup of tea.

But at least we're done with this damn planet, she mused to herself.

That evening Cat walked into the Lookout with her sister in tow. "A good meal will make you feel better," she insisted.

"Alright, but not a big one. I'm…"

Before Angel could finish her protest, the two spotted Liara sitting at a table in the far corner. Hargert was standing nearby. He noticed them and quietly gestured to Liara. As they drew nearer they could see the tears rolling down her face. Her blue eyes seemed distant and unfocused.

There was a part of Cat that didn't want to be near her. Not after her near death at the hands of Morinth. But she fought that down. The entire ship knew something of what happened on Noveria. She in particular knew that Matriarch Benezia was dead, and that Liara was the one who killed her. Fully aware of the raw pain Liara had to be in, Cat walked up to her, Angela beside her. "Doctor," she said softly. "I… I'm sorry. I know what you're going through…"

Tear-filled blue eyes briefly looked toward Cat. But nothing was said.

Indeed, Cat realized nothing could be said. And maybe she couldn't speak of Liara's pain as much as she thought. She hadn't been forced to kill her mother.

No. Not directly. We just made her work herself to death to take care of us was the thought in Cat's mind. Normally she tried to ignore that guilt. But right now she grabbed it, held it, and while doing so set a hand on Liara's. Again their eyes met, and then Liara's and Angela's. The sisters said nothing this time, however.

They received no verbal reply either. Just a small nod of appreciation.

Ahead of them, through the viewing transtanium windows of the Lookout, the Mass Relay loomed large. They watched, in quiet mourning, as the Aurora pulled up to the Relay. Blue light crackled and the Aurora surged forward. When the effect ended, the distant forms of the Normandy and Koenig appeared.

Liara sighed and stood. "I need to get ready," she said. "The meeting will be soon."

"Yeah," Angel agreed. "It will."

The Normandy team beamed aboard over the course of several minutes. Wrex went first with Shepard's permission. Once aboard the Aurora he made an inquiry with the ship's computer.

Said inquiry led him to the ship's science labs. At least one of them - he was somewhat familiar with the fact there were multiple labs. Inside were a couple of officers in uniforms with dark blue trim, science officers overseeing experimental data and simulations.

One of those present stood out due to being in operations beige. She was also the first to notice Wrex enter the science lab. Tra'dur approached him quietly. "Mister Urdnot, Wrex, I see you are well. What can I do for you?"

Wrex considered the Dilgar woman for a moment and then glanced around. The other present officers were more interested in whatever they were doing. Tra'dur noticed his caution and she narrowed her eyes. "I need a little help," he said. "Something I can't have done back on Tuchanka, and that I can't trust anyone else to do."

"Oh?" Tra'dur's curiosity was piqued. "What does it involve?"

"It's a science project, you might say. You wouldn't happen to know any Dilgar who can handle genetic testing, would you?"

At that, Tra'dur grinned. "As a matter of fact, my younger sister Nah'dur is not just a Surgeon-Commander, she is a skilled geneticist and well-versed in many biological matters. I can introduce you, if that's what you'd like."

Wrex smiled. "Well then, that's good to hear. I need to send something to her…"

Shepard entered the Conference Room with Kaidan and Pressly. Not everyone was present yet and currently many of the various crew from their ships were off in groups, carrying on conversation.

All except Lucy, whom Shepard found seated already and by herself. She seemed thoughtful and, Shepard though, a little angry. Leaving Kaidan and Pressly to do as they wanted for the moment, Shepard went over and slipped into a seat. Her blue service uniform was a contrast to the black with beige trim worn by Lucy. "You look angry at the world," Shepard observed. "Everything alright?"

Lucy smiled and sighed. "Yeah. Just a… misunderstanding, I guess. Or maybe I'm just a pig-headed, stubborn girl who forgets how this whole 'military' thing works."


"Anders and I haven't been seeing eye to eye," Lucy admitted. "He says I do too many things on my own without consulting him. That I don't obey orders like I should."

"Huh." Shepard considered that. "Does this have something to do with the Rachni Queen?"

"Among other things. He was there. And maybe I should have brought it up with him first, but..." Lucy sighed. "Biotics is one thing, but what I've got, this Flow of Life stuff… a lot of it is based on certainty and instinct. You can't just try to do a thing, or you can fail. You must be certain that yes, you will do it."

Shepard nodded. "Well, I can see things from Anders' perspective. He's the responsible officer for the op. Having one of his people make a decision without consulting him while he's standing right there… yeah, I think it'd irritate me too. If you ask me, you need to talk to him about it. One on one. Lay out how this works and see if he's comfortable with it. If he isn't… well, that's something you and Captain Andreys will have to deal with."

"I understand."

"Glad to hear it," Shepard said. She clapped a hand on Lucy's shoulder. "Between you and me, I think you did the same thing I would on Noveria. Letting the diplomats and the Citadel decide the Queen's fate would have been a nightmare. I wouldn't be surprised if Sparatus insisted we euthanize her."

"That would be genocide," Lucy said, frowning.

"Yeah. But the Rachni scared the crap out of the species of our galaxy, and people do stupid things when they're afraid." Shepard thought of what they'd learned on Virmire, and how much that statement applied to Saren. "I'm glad you made the call you did. It makes me proud to consider you a comrade."

Lucy smiled quietly at that. "Thank you, Shepard."

The door swished open again and Julia stepped in, followed by Richmond, Meridina, and Leo. She looked around and nodded. "So everyone's here. Let's get started." She walked over to her seat.

"What happened on Noveria?" Shepard asked. "Your preliminary report only mentioned Benezia was dead."

"Yes." Julia glanced briefly to Liara with sympathy. "Major?"

Anders nodded. "We've learned Benezia came to extract the location of a missing Mass Relay, the Mu Relay, from a Rachni Queen. Apparently the Relay leads to the Citadel."

"A what?" Wrex looked incredulous. "They're extinct."

"Apparently not," said Julia.

"Binary Helix found a Rachni ship with an intact egg in cryogenic suspension," Anders explained. "They hatched it and found it was a Queen."

"The Mu Relay is in what used to be Rachni space," Garrus observed. "And they were supposed to have genetic memory. It makes sense that a Queen would know."

"Did she get it? Did she send it to Saren?" Shepard asked.

"Apparently so, given the communication logs from Peak 15." This information was from Liara. "But we found an OSD on her… remains." At that, Jarod slid said object into a data reader. The central holotank in the room lit up with a galactic starmap. It zoomed in on one area of space. "So we know where it is as well."

"That's a primary Relay," Locarno said. "It must link to dozens of systems."

"And it's in the Terminus Systems, so getting there will be difficult," Robert added. "At least, getting there with enough ships to confront Sovereign."

"Sovereign? You mean Saren's ship?"

"No." Shepard shook her head. "That's what we learned on Virmire. Sovereign's not just a ship. It's a Reaper."

Surprised showed on the faces of the others. "You're fraking kidding me," Barnes said.

"Not all, Tom," Robert sighed. "We spoke to it. I've felt it. It's… dark. Malevolent."

"The Reapers destroyed the Protheans, and the Adranians before them, as part of what they call the Cycles," Shepard explained. "Sovereign wouldn't say why. It insists we wouldn't understand. The damn thing has a massive superiority complex."

"And the firepower to back it up." Magda activated her omnitool. Her fingers moved over the blue light until another display replaced the starchart in the central holotank, showing a beam of ruby energy being fired from the tentacle of the cephalopod-shaped monster ship. "Its weapons are based on an advanced magnetohydrodynamic system. It accelerates metal to cee-fractional speed. That's why it looks like an energy weapon."

Scotty shook his head. "Deflectors willnae hold off that kind o' weapon for long," he observed. "Dependin' on the material used an' th' mass, even our deflectors cannae take much."

"Can you think of a way to adapt our shields?" Julia asked.

"A few tricks, maybe, but it's a matter o' power, Captain. If it's usin' a heavier metal with a lot of mass, it'll simply overpower our shields, an' faster than th' usual weapons we deal with."

"Do what you can, and we'll relay this information to Command." Julia looked from Shepard to Robert. "What else did you learn?"

"Saren was experimenting with indoctrination," Robert replied. "He's scared of it. It's Sovereign's weapon, not his, and he's afraid he's becoming indoctrinated. Deep down, he knows he is, but he won't let himself believe it."

"Or Sovereign won't let him."

"This indoctrination. Can we sense it?" Meridina asked Robert.

"Some, yes," Robert said. "The experiments had a bad case, and I could feel it. It's like a… cancer on their beings, in their minds. It distorts who and what they are." Quietly he projected those memories, allowing Meridina and Lucy to know what he meant.

"Swenya's Light," Meridina gasped. "Monstrous."

"Yeah," Shepard agreed. "But Saren's not running the show. Sovereign is. And the Conduit is the key to bringing back all of the Reapers."

"If just one Reaper has that much firepower…" Julia swallowed. "We've got to stop this. We've got to find the Conduit first."

"But there's dozens of systems on the other end of the Relay. It'll take weeks to examine them all," Locarno said.

"Maybe, maybe not." Shepard looked at Liara. "Saren had another beacon. An intact one. I received more visions from it, complete ones, from some world."

Liara nodded and stood. "Then let me see." There was a cold resolution in her voice. She approached Shepard, who stood to meet her. "Quiet your thoughts… embrace eternity."

For several moments the two remained locked together where they stood. When it ended Liara slumped backward and nearly fell. "Those images are so intense," she said.

"Tell me about it," Shepard sighed.

Liara waved away Leo and Allen-Epstein. "I will be fine. I'm just considering what I saw. I know I've seen…" Her eyes widened. "Of course! Ilos! The images are of Ilos!"

"Ilos?" asked Julia.

"It's a world we've found trace records of," said Liara. "A research planet of the Protheans. But we've never found it. It must be one of the systems beyond the Mu Relay."

"That must be where the Conduit is," Kaidan said with some excitement.

"Then that's where we need to go."

At Robert's remark, Tali replied, "But it's in the Terminus Systems. If the governments there detect you, it could start a war."

"And if we don't go, and Saren and Sovereign use the Conduit, the Terminus Systems will be the least of our problems," Robert said. "And the Geth fleet will be heading there now that Saren has the coordinates."

Shepard nodded in agreement. "We'll need fleet backup for certain. Especially if Sovereign is there."

Julia breathed out a little sigh. She knew they were right. She also knew that the Council, and the Alliance government, were not likely to agree so easily. Before she could speak on this her omnitool spawned a blue light over the back of her left hand. "Bridge to Andreys," said Lieutenant Takawira.

She tapped the light. "I'm here, Lieutenant. Report."

"We have received an urgent message from the Citadel. Ambassador Atama requires our immediate presence."

"Did he say why?"

"Only that you and Captain Dale are requested to join him for a meeting with the Citadel Council and Ambassador Udina."

"Alright. Let him know we'll be underway shortly." Julia looked to the others. "It looks like our reports have been read."

Robert shook his head. "I have a bad feeling about this. Something's up."

As if on cue, Shepard's omnitool flashed to life. "Normandy to Shepard," said a female voice, one of her junior officers Robert thought. "Ma'am, priority message from the Citadel Council waiting for you."

"What do you want to bet it's a recall order?" Shepard asked Robert.

"That is a sucker's bet," Robert replied. "And I still don't like it."

"Still, we'll need fleet support to reach Ilos. So let's go get it." Shepard stood up. "I'll head back to the Normandy and get her underway."

"The same here, Commander," Julia said, standing as well. "Everyone is dismissed."

The assembled left the room.

In the heart of a machine he had no choice but to trust, Saren looked over the star map, the last communication he received from Benezia before she went silent. "We've found it," he said.

"You and your agents have performed well on this task," Sovereign answered. "Order the Geth fleet to make preparations for the assault."

Saren did so with his console. "I shall take a few ships to Ilos. More than enough for whatever paltry force the Council agrees to send into the Terminus Systems. By the time they realize what we're doing, it will be too late."

"Before you go, Saren, you must be made stronger," Sovereign said. "I witnessed your battle with Shepard and Dale. They are each powerful in their own way, as are their allies. If you face them again, you must prevail."

"I will," insisted Saren. "It was a fluke."

"I will not take that chance. You will be given further augmentation. Your organic weakness will be reduced by machine strength."

Fear built inside of Saren. "I do not think it is necessary, Sovereign."

Sovereign's reply was blunt. "I do. You will obey, or your use to me is at an end. I will find another to serve."

The fear grew, and with it the horrible realization for Saren; he'd given Sovereign what he needed, with his contacts, his knowledge. All Sovereign needed now was for someone to go through the Conduit. If he felt Saren was no longer reliable, he'd simply find another being to do it. Maybe even the Geth by themselves. And all of his works, all that he'd done these past decades, would be for nothing.

"I still serve," Saren replied, his voice quiet with hopeless despair.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »


Only quiet conversation could be heard in the mess area of the SSV Normandy. The advanced frigate, a blend of design work from the Humans of the M4P2 universe and the Turians of the same, had only a few dozen crew, so the mess was a small area with an adjacent counter for the distribution of rations. Although the designers had never anticipated such a technology being available when they initially drew up the ship, the mess's capabilities were improved by the presence of a replicator unit, one of the fruits of Multiversal Contact.

In one corner of the mess, near equipment lockers outside of the infirmary's window, Robert Dale was sitting on the ground with his legs crossed under him and his hands resting on his knees. His eyes were closed. Given the bland cream-white vest, shirt, and baggy trousers he was wearing, plus the neck-length dark hair and the grown-out facial hair, he looked the part of some ascetic mystic deep in meditation.

The meditation part of that description was at least accurate, and arguably the mystic part as well. Over eighteen months had passed since Robert learned his potential with the power that the Gersallians referred to as swevyra. The word did not translate meaningfully into English; its closest approximation, "life force", did not quite capture the essence behind it. The idea of power drawn from one's life and the power of life around them, connected to every other living thing through the power of the Flow of Life. It permitted many incredible things to become possible, powers usually associated with comic book heroes or other speculative fiction about super-beings. Capabilities that even the dark matter-manipulating biotics of M4P2 could not match.

For Robert this power was not always welcome. Learning to use it had costs. His relationship with Angela Delgado, once promising enough that he'd let himself consider a future of a family together with her, ended because of the demands of his training. To save his ship and his friends, friends so close as to be family to him, Robert had nearly sacrificed his life by wielding the power of the Time Vortex. Though he survived, it still cost him two months in a coma and many weeks training to control the enhanced swevyra power the Vortex left him with.

This last issue was the reason for his meditation. Through the meditation he improved his control over the life-based energies surging in his being. Said control was crucial for his work. That it helped him deal with the lingering pain of his wounds from the fighting on Virmire was a tangential benefit.

"How well is that working for you?"

The question prompted his attention. He opened his green eyes and looked up. Commander Jennifer Shepard, Systems Alliance Navy/Marines, and the one and only Human Spectre in the ranks of the Citadel Council's agents, looked down at him with her own green eyes. Brushed red hair down to her neck provided a colorful match to the bright green of her eyes and the dusky brown of her skin. "It helps," he said.

"You really pulled your own on Virmire with your abilities," she said.

"I nearly killed you," Robert reminded her sullenly. His mind flashed back to that moment. Saren holding Shepard over his head on the AA tower of his Virmire base. Saren's grip crushing her throat. Robert desperately lashing out with his life-based power, just to have his focus fail and send both Shepard and Saren flying off of the tower.

"Yeah. But you pulled me back up." She sat down beside him on the floor. "I know what it's like to struggle with powers you still can't quite understand." With her left knee pointed upward and her elbow resting on it, Shepard generated a small globe of dark matter in her left hand. "It took me a long time to come to grips with my biotic abilities, even after they put the implant in my head to help. If you keep working at it, you'll get it."

"That's what I'm trying." Robert straightened his legs, allowing the blood to more freely circulate. He folded his hands in his lap. "I wasn't looking to use these powers. But I had to…"

"Yeah. I remember Gamma Piratus." A wry grin appeared on Shepard's face. "The look on those SS troopers' faces when you started batting them around was worth the disruptor burn."

Robert chuckled at that. "You shooting Fassbinder through the window was my highlight that day. A shame he beamed out before splatting at the bottom of the dock." He sighed wistfully. "As I was saying, I never really wanted these powers. I accepted them because I needed them to protect the people I love and care for. If I hurt them because I can't control them? It defeats the whole purpose of my using them in the first place." He shook his head.

"I understand that. I just wanted to let you know I'm not angry that you threw me off the tower with that, but that I'd really prefer you learn how to not do that kind of thing again." A bemused glint showed in her eyes.

"Message received, Commander."

Any further conversation would have to come later. "Commander,, we're preparing for our last relay jump," said Lieutenant Jeff "Joker" Moreau over the Normandy intercom. The ship's pilot was one of the best Robert had ever known, in defiance of the brittle bone disease that afflicted him. "We'll be docking at the Citadel within the next fifteen minutes."

"Thanks, Joker. I'll be getting ready. Shepard out." She glanced at Robert. "Ready to see the politicians?"

"Oh, am I ever," Robert sighed.

"It sucks, I know." Shepard chuckled. "But we'll need the Council's backing to get the ships to hit Ilos. It's going to be a tough sell."

"But we have to make it, or Saren will get to the Conduit first and summon the Reapers." Robert frowned. "And we can't let that happen."

"We won't," Shepard vowed. "I promise you that."

The Normandy zipped into existence beside the mass relay inside the Serpent Nebula. With its engines flaring with bright light, it raced ahead toward the cloud of particles that hid the Citadel from immediate view.

One reason for the ship's quick maneuver became evident ten seconds later when another ship appeared in nearby space. The Starship Aurora was a far larger vessel than the Normandy. The azure-colored kilometer long starship accelerated in the same direction, pushed by the red-lit impulsor drives built into the stern-facing sections of its drive and primary hull. The drive hull was surrounded by the four long warp nacelles that provided the ship with its faster-than-light travel capability, arranged in an X around the drive hull at just enough length from it to provide forward clearance around the shape of the primary hull forward of the nacelles. A great gold and blue circle - the great vessel's versatile deflector dish - was set into the front of the drive hull, almost directly below the main bridge at the top of the primary hull's middle point.

On said main bridge, Captain Julia Andreys watched the Citadel start to form from within the particle clouds around it. The lights of the towers built into the five arms of the great space station shined through the clouds as if she were viewing a great metropolitan city through fog.

Though the Citadel was an impressive sight on of itself, that wasn't what had Julia's attention. Arrayed around the station was a fleet of combat starships. The great majority of them were Turian, sleek winged warships of gray coloring, fitting the militaristic and utilitarian nature of their builders' primary culture. Rounded, more elegant ships with large interior sections were Asari vessels, including the massive Destiny Ascension, the flagship of the Asari and Citadel fleets, one of the most powerful vessels in the Multiverse. Bulbous Salarian craft were scattered about the formations, primarily lighter attackers that fit the Salarians' preferred tactics in space combat.

It was as they drew closer that the most interesting sight came to Julia and the others. Among these ships of the Council species were a handful of Alliance starships. Three Predator-class destroyers and a light Dorei starbird were in formation together with one larger ship, a vessel that was nearly a twin for the Aurora save for how her more numerous weapons emplacements gave her a more war-like appearance. For a brief moment Julia thought of the Avenger, built by the Darglan just as the Aurora was and in the hands of James Hawk and his band of violent interuniversal vigilantes, but the name on the ship's hull banished thoughts of the desperate fight at Tira three months prior.

The name read ASV Excalibur.

"It looks like they're expecting an attack," observed Lieutenant Commander Nicholas Locarno, the ship's Navigation Officer. The exiled Starfleet cadet glanced over from his station at the helm to the ops station beside him, controlled by Lieutenant Commander Jarod. The biologically older super-savant responded with a nod. "Do they really think Saren's just going to come racing for the Citadel with the Geth fleet?"

"I don't know," Julia said. "The important part will be convincing them this fleet is needed at Ilos."

"I'd say the important part is if this is enough firepower to kill that Reaper," remarked Lieutenant Angela Delgado, seated at her station of Tactical. Her hazel eyes met Julia's green. "Magda's scans show that thing's got some serious damn firepower."

"Make sure the tactical data from the Koenig and Normandy's encounter with Sovereign is relayed to the ships of the fleet. Just in case."

"Right away."

There was a tone from Ops. Jarod tapped a key blinking green. "We're getting a message from Ambassador Atama. He wants you and Commander Meridina to be present for the Council meeting about the fleet."

Julia nodded. "Signal back that we'll be there."

Nothing had changed in the weeks since Robert last saw the Council Audience Chamber. As before, Councillors Tevos, Valern, and Sparatus were at their places, Tevos in the middle with her Salarian colleague to her left and the Turian to her right. The extended platform over the garden below the chamber ended with a circle that acted as a speaker's place for whomever was addressing the three Councillors. Ambassador Udina was there, taking the lead spot, and offering Shepard a place beside him. Shepard would have preferred bringing her entire team, but ultimately she could only bring Kaidan. Although Robert was considered by her and the others to also be a team member, the politics demanded he remain back with the Alliance Ambassador, a Dorei man named Atama, and Julia and Meridina.

"You wanted to see me in person?" Shepard asked the Council.

"Yes. Now that Saren's operations in the Traverse have been stopped and his support structures reduced to only the Geth, we believe he will be left no choice but to make a direct assault on the Citadel itself," Tevos explained. "And we want you here to eliminate him if the chance presents itself."

"Saren's not coming here," Shepard said. "He's on his way to Ilos to use the Conduit. And that's where we have to go. I came back to lead the fleet to Ilos."

"I'm afraid that's not happening, Commander," Tevos said. "You, and the fleet, will be staying right here."

Undiscovered Frontier
"Chasing the Cycle"

The assembled visitors looked in surprise at the Council. Robert sensed the irritation in Shepard. In Udina as well, but not the same kind.

"Staying here is pointless," Shepard said vehemently. "Saren's going to Ilos to use the Conduit. That's what he's been after this whole time!"

"Saren can't afford to waste time and resources hunting for more Prothean relics," Sparatus insisted. "His only chance to succeed in his goals is to take the Citadel and eliminate the Council, then hope that he can rebuild his alliances in the resulting chaos."

Shepard's expression was grim, and it was shared by Robert and Kaidan. "You're still thinking of Saren as out for some kind of political goal," Shepard said. "He's not. He's not even in charge, he's working for the Reapers. He's trying to bring them into our galaxy. We need this fleet to get to Ilos before it's too late."

"He's tricking you, Shepard," Sparatus said in a dismissive tone. "It's all misdirection. He wants you to chase him into the Terminus Systems. Triggering a war between Terminus and Council Space will add to the chaos he needs to survive."

Valern nodded. "Indeed, sending any segment of our fleet to Ilos will immediately trigger a hostile response from the Terminus Systems. It would play into Saren's hands, whatever his motive."

"I know his motives! I heard them directly from him!" Shepard's fists clenched. "You didn't want to believe me when I told you he was behind Eden Prime. You let him talk you into thinking it was all some ploy by Captain Anderson. But I was right then, just as I am now. And you're letting Saren manipulate you again!"

"You're asking us to risk interstellar war over beacon visions only you've had," Tevos said.

"Pardon me, Councillor." Robert stepped forward. "May I speak?"

The Councillors looked at each other. Finally Tevos nodded. "You may."

He looked to Shepard, who nodded back. "I know it sounds farfetched, all of this talk about Reapers," Robert said. "But we heard it from the Reaper itself while on Virmire. Sovereign is a machine, a very old and very malevolent being. It's the real power here, not Saren. And it wants to destroy us."

"Whatever you saw was likely some pre-arranged bait by Saren," Sparatus retorted. "To divert you to Ilos."

"It wasn't a fake, Councillor. I felt it," Robert insisted. "This thing is toxic. Our very existence disgusts Sovereign. I could feel that malice while he spoke, I could feel it in the Flow of Life itself. He wants to end our civilizations, our very existence, and Saren's the tool he's using. "

"I understand you're convinced, Captain, but whatever metaphysical beliefs you may have, it's not enough for us to commit to interstellar war," Tevos replied. "The fleet will not go to Ilos."

"Then I'll go," Shepard said. "The Normandy can slip through the Mu Relay without being detected."

"Shepard, don't be a fool," Sparatus barked. "Whatever Saren's up to, the Citadel is his ultimate target. You're needed here, where we have the most strength."

"If Saren succeeds on Ilos, it won't matter where he goes next," Shepard replied. "Because he'll have brought back the Reapers. My report showed you what Sovereign could do. Can you imagine hundreds of Sovereigns? Maybe thousands?"

"All your report showed was a warship of, yes, great capability, but just as likely a Geth creation," Valern insisted. "Or perhaps some ancient Prothean vessel the Geth refurbished for Saren."

Tevos sighed. "I get the feeling, Commander, that you're going to act regardless of what we ask of you."

"I'm going to do the job you gave me, Councillor," Shepard said. "Protect this galaxy."

"I've heard enough."

Udina's sudden entry into the conversation prompted attention from Shepard. "You've made great strides for Humanity, Shepard, but now you're becoming more trouble than you're worth. Having a Human Spectre rushing off on a wild goose chase into the Terminus Systems is a political nightmare for us, Shepard, and I won't allow it." Udina raised his left arm and activated his omnitool. He immediately began tapping his right hand's fingers on the display.

"What are you doing?" Shepard asked.

"I'm issuing a hold order on the Normandy," Udina announced. "She's being confined to dock until further notice."

"You can't do this!" Kaidan shouted. "Don't you realize what's at stake?"

"I know all too well what's at stake, Lieutenant. What's at stake is our credibility in the galaxy. Allowing Shepard to throw away all we've earned would be irresponsible, and I'm not going to do that."

Shepard's response was in a low voice. "You son of a bitch," she spat.

With contempt, Udina ignored her and looked back to the Council. "The Systems Alliance stands in full agreement with the Citadel Council's strategy in this matter. Our fleets are standing by at Arcturus to attack Saren's rear the moment the Citadel defense fleet engages. You have my word."

"Thank you for your cooperation, Ambassador," Tevos said. "This meeting is adjourned."

Udina smiled with satisfaction and looked back at Shepard. "Stand down, Commander. You've done your part admirably, but you're no longer needed." With that parting shot, Udina walked away.

Shepard and Kaidan turned to Julia. Robert stepped up to her. "Then I guess it's up to us," he said.


Ambassador Atama shook his head. "We cannot afford to provoke the Terminus Systems at this critical juncture in the war with the Reich," Atama said. His voice was brusque and his accent stilted. "All missions to Ilos are banned."

"With all due respect, Mister Ambassador, I am a Paladin," Robert replied. "I'll do what I think necessary. And you don't have the authority to forbid me or Captain Andreys from acting."

The older Dorei man frowned. "I do not, true. But President Morgan does, Captain, and my direction comes straight from him. His orders are clear. No Alliance starship will go anywhere near Ilos." Atama's attention turned to Julia. "Captain Andreys, if your vessel or the Koenig or even one of your light vessels even approach the Widow Mass Relay without orders from Command, you will be court-martialed. Is that clear?"

Julia kept a neutral expression on her face. "It is, Mister Ambassador."

"Good. This is a delicate time for the Alliance and rogue operations cannot be tolerated." Atama gave a pointed look to Robert before continuing to speak to Julia. "Given the situation at the front in S4W8, your presence is needed here, Captain. Report to Captain King immediately. She is in command of all Alliance starships cooperating with the Citadel defense fleet. That is all." With that the older Dorei man walked away.

Julia let out the breath she'd mostly been holding. Her neutral expression turned apologetic. "I'm sorry," she said to Shepard. "It looks like Atama and Udina are together on this."

Shepard looked to Robert. "You've got a direct line to President Morgan, right?"

"I do. And I can try to make some calls and see if I can convince him otherwise, but if I can't, we'll need another option." Robert sighed. "I may know someone who can get us to Ilos, but I've got no idea where Druni and Lennier are, and it might take too long for them to get to the Citadel."

"Plus they only have that armed courier starship," Julia reminded him. "It may be well-armed for its size but I doubt it can take on even a light warship. The Geth will shoot you down long before you make orbit."

Robert shrugged. "I suppose the Eagle is another possibility. Beth might have problems with Morgan afterward… but we're still dealing with time problems here, especially if Yoni Shaham is off on a mission." He looked to Meridina. "Anyone in the Order we can ask for help?"

"I can investigate, but as noted, time is our great enemy," she replied. "While we have many acquaintances and allies, even enemies, who might help on this matter, the matter of how much time it would take to meet with them is still an issue."

"Enemies?" Kaidan asked, confused.

Robert knew what she meant. "As bad as an idea as it'd probably be, I'm desperate enough that if Hawk and his band of brain-fried lunatics were here I'd still ask them for the ride."

"I may have some ideas."

Everyone turned to face Anderson. He was primarily looking at Shepard. She returned the look from her mentor. "Come meet me at Flux. It's a casino down in the Wards, right by C-Sec HQ. We need to have a drink." With that, he continued on past them.

"I have a feeling I shouldn't be anywhere near a bar right now," Julia said innocently. "Commander?"

Meridina nodded. "Agreed. It would be most unwise given the preparations we must make."

"I'll let you know what you've missed, if I can," Robert promised as they walked away.

"I don't know about you guys, but I'm actually feeling a little lucky," Shepard said. "Let's check this Flux place out."

Instead of returning straight to the Aurora, Julia beamed over to the Excalibur first. Part of this was genuine curiosity; she'd never been aboard the battlecruiser or its sister ships, so she wanted to see what it was like. Getting the chance to speak to Captain King face-to-face was the other part.

An Alakin male with rust-colored feathers and greenish-gray mottled skin was at the transporter controls when she arrived. He stood at attention until Julia nodded and stepped out of the room. The corridor was mostly like that of the Aurora, but it seemed slightly smaller and not as inviting. As if to reinforce the Excalibur was a warship first and foremost, and wasn't here for the comfort of crew and visitors.

Regardless of differing size, Julia found the turbolift station in the same spot she would on the Aurora. It brought her up to the bridge of the big ship. She immediately noted that, like the Alakin, all of the officers were armed, wearing their side-arms on their hips in holsters. The bridge layout was nearly the same as that of the Aurora, save that the helm was alone in the center of the front area. Operations was across from Tactical, to the rear port side of the bridge. A Human woman with East Asian coloring manned that station. Tactical was manned by a Dorei man of light purple complexion with dark blue spotting and hair. A dark-furred felinoid Rr'timm, female Julia thought, sat at the nearby sensors station, looking very alert.

From the central chair a tall man of African complexion stood. Besides height he seemed very much on the thin side. "Captain Andreys, I am Commander Jean-Bertrand Granville, First Officer," he said. His accent had a French feel to it, but Julia didn't think it sounded like Patrice Laurent's or any of the other people she'd met from Francophone Africa. She guessed he might be from the Caribbean, or a colony world settled by one of the French-speaking Caribbean islands.

"Commander Granville, a pleasure." Julia extended her hand.

Granville accepted it. "The Captain is in her office." He indicated the door Julia expected to lead to the ready office, since it was the same door on her bridge. "It is an honor to meet you, Captain. I read the report on your stand at Tira. If you do nothing else in your career, and I know this is unlikely, Tira will guarantee you a place among our Alliance's greatest starship captains. My only regret was that we weren't there."

"Thank you." Julia got the feeling Granville had deep feelings about Tira, but this wasn't the place to ask. "If we have time, I'm open to discussing what happened at Tira. For now, I'd better get to Captain King." With a nod of further thanks and a smile, she headed toward the door.

Inside King's office was surprisingly welcoming. Julia had expected something spartan from the coolly professional King, but she had a welcoming couch at the wall to Julia's left and two comfortable chairs across from a desk that looked like it was made of a fine tropical wood. A hardlight-projector for a control board was set into the top, as was a holo-viewer. It was active at the moment, showing a report. King was seated and looking it over, her brown eyes fixed for the moment on the report. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a regulation bun at the back of her head. After a moment she looked up. "Ah, Captain Andreys." King rose from her chair. A thin smile that was, for King, a gesture of warm camaraderie appeared on the Englishwoman's face. "It has been a while. We have both had eventful years, it seems. My congratulations to you for your successes at New Caprica, Phi Perseus, and Tira. And now Noveria, I have heard."

"Thank you, Captain. I hear congratulations are in order to you for the Arkanis issue as well, not to mention the Excalibur's role in the fighting in Argolis."

"It was quite the action. We spent three weeks in drydock." King nodded. "However did you manage to get Commander Granville to let go of your hand?"

"Easily, I guess. I got the feeling he was very impressed by what happened at Tira."

"He's from New Domingo in C5O2, Captain, from the Haitian settlements. If you're aware of the history, you'll understand why he would be impressed by Tira."

Julia tried to think of what she'd heard of C5O2. "I'm afraid I'm not very familiar with that world. I seem to recall it's a barely-habitable tropical planet?"

"It is. With low gravity. An unscrupulous colonization corporation misled the initial colonizers on the world's nature, leaving them trapped on a world that claimed over a quarter of the original colonists in the first year after they landed. They had to turn to artificial reproduction to keep the colony viable. And to make matters worse, when reserves of Cameronite were found in its mountains an Eastern Coalition megacorp tried to seize control of the planet. By the time the British Stellar Union intervened, over half of the population had been wiped out." A grim look formed on King's face. "That was half a century ago, mind you. But it's going to be a sore spot for them for a long time. I imagine Commander Granville is thinking about how your ship might have saved millions of his people had you only been there."

"You're from C5O2, aren't you?" Julia asked.

"I am. I transferred from the Royal Star Navy under the affiliation treaty signed when the Alliance was formed," King replied. "If you must know, my aunt and a distant cousin both served in the intervention fleet under Admiral Kenyatta. I may have allowed that history to influence my decision to ask Commander Granville to be my XO, although his performance on the Churchill early in the war more than justifies it."

Julia remembered that ship, a Stellar Union dreadnought. It'd been nearly wrecked fighting the Nazis in the early weeks of the war. She nodded in agreement.

"Well, now that we have established a rapport, we should get down to business," King declared. "I have orders directly from Command to join our ships to the Citadel Defense Fleet in preparation for an attack by the rogue Spectre Saren Arterius and his Geth forces. Just an hour ago those orders were amended to include keeping you from sending any ships to Ilos. You are under my direct command for this operation."

There was no keeping the frustration off of Julia's face. For one, she admittedly found it very irritating that King was in overall command, not as a slight against King, but because it was a deliberate snubbing. And not by Maran. "Who sent these orders, if I may ask?"

"They come directly from Defense Minister Hawthorne himself," King replied. Her look was enough to tell that she suspected the same motives Julia did. "I admit they seem rather… unnecessary. As if the Minister believes you will, at the first opportunity, race off into the Terminus Systems."

"If he read my report from Noveria and the attached report from Rob… from Captain Dale about Virmire, he knows we want to go to Ilos."

"Ah, that was the world he mentioned in the order. Something about it being a wild goose chase, some mythical Prothean world." King settled into her chair and motioned for Julia to take one. "My greatest concern is over Sovereign's capabilities."

"Did you see the Koenig's logs on Sovereign, Captain?" Julia asked.

"I did. There is certainly something unique about the ship. It doesn't fit anything like Geth technology. Commander Stirling, my Chief Engineer, has already reviewed the logs and insists the ship doesn't match any known Geth profile." King's face settled into a concerned frown. "I have read the reports on the E5B1 First Ones, and on your encounter with an ancient vessel in the Fracture a few months ago. And I'm aware that Sovereign matches a profile in the Darglan Omega Threat listing. That it's a threat is not disputed." King shrugged. "That said, it's obvious forces in Portland see it as a waste of time."

"Or a chance to suck up to the Council, like Ambassador Udina is."

King chuckled mirthlessly. "He is quite the creature, yes. A political animal with a monomania when it comes to the Systems Alliance's role on the Citadel. The man won't be happy until he's a member of the Council himself."

"I'm more concerned with Atama," said Julia. "I don't mind giving respect to Ambassadors, but trying to issue orders…"

"Most inappropriate, yes. For the duration, Captain, you answer to me, not him." King sighed. "I'm sure you feel slighted given the seniority issue, but Command has made its decision. I know you well enough to know it rankles."

"It does," Julia admitted. "But I won't hold it against you. Whatever happens, whatever Saren pulls, we'll be ready for it here." We just have to hope it's not a lost cause because nobody stops Saren from using the Conduit.

"I appreciate the thought, Captain," King said. "I'd like to have a joint command staff meeting within twenty-four hours to go over the logs on the Geth ships and on Sovereign. If we're attacked, I want to be ready. Can I do anything else for you?"

"No, not at all," said Julia. "I'll get back to the ship and make sure everything's ready."

"I must insist on maximum readiness, liberties to the Citadel will be restricted until further notice."

"Agreed." With that, Julia stood. "I'll talk to you later, Captain."

"Of course. Until then." King purposely refused to state the usual "You are dismissed", knowing full well it would be rubbing salt on the wound. She watched Julia leave and returned to her report-reading.

The Flux Casino was a colorful, lively place. The lower floor had a dance floor being used by two very enthusiastic Asari and a nearly-as-enthusiastic Miqo'te couple. Robert noticed a Lurian from S5T3 chatting up the Human woman manning the bar. He looked familiar, but Robert couldn't place where he'd seen him before.

They found Anderson at a table off to the side. A small glass of what Robert was sure was something alcoholic was in his hand, half-finished. Anderson wasn't in uniform but wearing a blue and gray civilian suit, in contrast to Shepard still being in N7 combat armor and Robert in his Gersallian-style swevyra'se armor. Kaidan was likewise still in combat wear. "Commander, I see you're still ready for anything."

"C-Sec's not happy about it either," Shepard noted. "But Saren may still have agents on the Citadel. And the last time I was here I ended up having to shoot my way through Chora's Den, so I probably pissed off quite a few of the local crooks too."

"Good. That's how I trained you to think," Anderson said. They all took seats with him. "We need to get you to Ilos. Staying here waiting for Saren to attack is going to get us all killed."

"I need a ship," Shepard said. "Something that can sneak through the Mu Relay."

"Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of clout," said Anderson. "Udina would see it coming and head it off at the pass. He won't allow anything to disturb his good standing with the Council."

"If we had more time, I could get independent ships to get us there," Robert said. "But I have a feeling we're running out of time. Benezia transmitted the coordinates to the Mu Relay to Saren. He has the Cipher from the Thorian and I'm damn sure that beacon he had on Virmire worked for him. He's probably already on his way to Ilos, if he hasn't already gotten there."

"Then we need a ship already here. A ship that can get to Ilos." Shepard looked to Robert. "Do you think we could slip the Koenig out?"

"Maybe. If we're willing to destroy Julia's career, and Atreiad's," Robert said glumly. "The orders come straight from the top, and Paladins don't have the leeway Spectres do. I can't just countermand them."

"I'm not sure I could either," said Shepard.

"I know Julia. She'd do it if it's our only option," said Robert. "But I don't want to make her. Not if we have an alternative."

"We do," said Anderson. "When I leave here, I can go to Station Control in C-Sec HQ. I'll slip in and override the lock on the Normandy. You fly her out."

"Anderson, you could get killed," Shepard said. "C-Sec's not going to ask questions, they're just going to shoot."

"I'm willing to risk it."

"What if we could get Udina to override the lock?" Robert asked. "Or, more accurately, take over his console and do it?"

"That's certainly something that would work," Anderson agreed. "Although I'm likely to face a mutiny charge afterward. Udina's not going to let that slide."

Robert considered what Anderson was saying. He didn't like the thought that what he was effectively doing was putting Julia's welfare above Anderson's. It felt… vaguely selfish.

Anderson seemed to notice his dislike, as did Shepard. "It's fine, Captain," Anderson said. "My career is mostly over anyway. Captain Andreys still has years ahead of her to benefit everyone. I'd rather end my career doing something meaningful than retiring to fade away."

"If you had to pick, which would you do?" Robert asked. "C-Sec or Udina?"

Anderson chuckled. "As if you have to ask? Udina. And I hope he's in his office. I'd love an excuse to give that man a good punch to the face."

"Anderson, I'm sorry," Shepard said. Robert sensed her fear for him and her sadness at the sacrifice he was about to make. "Maybe there's another way…"

"There isn't. Nothing we can do in time," Anderson said. "Which we're rapidly running out of. Get going. It won't take me long to get to Udina's office. Signal me when you're ready. And once you're out, burn hard for the Relay and don't look back."

"We will." Shepard extended a hand to her commander and mentor. "And we'll have a beer and share a laugh about this when we get back."

To that Anderson laughed. "If we can before they haul us away for a court-martial, certainly." With that he put his now-empty glass down and walked away.

"We'd better get going," Kaidan said.

"Whatever happens on Ilos, it's going to be tight," Shepard said, looking to Robert. "Do you think we could get Lucero involved?"

Robert shook his head. "Not without tipping people off that we're up to something."

"Right. If your ships are in position to stop us…"

"I wouldn't want to test to see if Joker can break free from a tractor beam," Robert finished for her.

Shepard stood. "Then let's get going."

As she spoke, Robert brought up his left arm and activated his omnitool. "And while we do, I need to make an arrangement." He tapped the commlink. "Dale to Aurora. I need someone to put me through to Doctor T'Soni. I have something to show her and I need to meet her on the Citadel."

When Meridina became First Officer, one of the changes to her life was moving from the security chief office deeper in the ship to the First Officer's office on Deck 3. Her study of the Stellar Navy's statements on her duties and related recommendations led her to the practice of maintaining a two hour block every day in the office, after her main bridge shift was over, to allow the officers and crew of the Aurora to meet with her on whatever matter they deemed necessary.

For the most part these meetings went swiftly. Crew members registered complaints, gave recommendations regarding the running of the ship or the behavior of their peers, or matters relating to their careers and advancement in the rates. Occasionally a department or shift supervisor would discuss planned promotions, or make arrangements for crew-bonding exercises. Hargert would make the occasional appearance for assistance with acquiring stores for his kitchen, often plying her with his increasingly-refined efforts at Gersallian cuisine.

Given the lingering headache Meridina felt - probably from the concussion she'd suffered on Noveria - she was looking forward to Hargert's culinary efforts and was nearly ready to leave her office when the door swished open. Major Anders walked in. His olive brown uniform, marked with rank insignia and his name, was noticeably different from Meridina's black-with-burgundy red-trim Stellar Navy uniform. She recalled that the uniform style of the Humans' American nation was the dominant influence on the Alliance Marine duty uniform, albeit with an Alakin-inspired collar, while the Stellar Navy uniform was modeled in the style of the United Federation of Planet's Starfleet in honor of a former Starfleet officer, Carlton Farmer, who died to stop the Daleks of Universe W8R4 from seizing a Darglan Facility. Meridina found an appreciating symmetry there, given Farmer was the primary builder of the Aurora and contributed several ship design concepts to what became the Alliance.

Her meandering thoughts - her father and her teacher would be disappointed that she was letting them wander like that, brain injury or no - ended when Anders stood at attention and said, "Commander, I hope I'm not interrupting anything?"

"You are not, Major," Meridina assured him. She gestured to a seat. "I have not seen you take advantage of my open office hours before."

"I haven't really had cause to, ma'am. Captain Andreys and Commander Richmond usually handle any issues I may have," Anders answered. Meridina considered the dark-haired man. His complexion was close to Lucy's. She recalled he was a… what was the term? She remembered Lucy using "Native American", but Tom Barnes had used "Indian" before to describe Anders, but he looked nothing like the "Indians" Meridina had met before, like Queen Geeta III of the British Stellar Union or Kaveri Varma, the Human lover of the Dilgar leader Shai'jhur.

"What might I do for you, Major?" Meridina asked.

"I wanted to discuss Lieutenant Lucero with you," he said. "I know you trained her in this life force arts mysticism."

"I did," said Meridina. "This is about Noveria, then?"

"It is." Anders took the offered seat. "I'm going to be honest. If she were a Marine officer, I would have already had her shipped off to another posting. She made a command-level decision in my presence without consulting me. It was unacceptable."

"You mean her freeing of the Rachni Queen."

"I do. And I get why she did it. I might've made the same choice myself. But it made clear to me the way she views her position here, and it's not acceptable. Not to me. Otherwise you may as well promote her to Commander and put her in charge of my Marines."

Meridina sensed the aggravation in the Marine commander. She knew this was not a case of the kind of toxic distrust and bigotry that Admiral Davies and his supporters felt toward those with active swevyra. Anders had a legitimate complaint, just as a Mastrash would if a field Knight usurped authority in the same fashion. "I see. I can speak with her about it. And I can explain, if you wish."

"I'm guessing this kind of behavior is to be expected in Knights, or whatever you call yourselves?" Anders asked.

"To a degree… one of the critical elements of how our swevyra, I mean our abilities, works… it involves certainty, Major. In training we are told not to try anything. We simply do. When we act, we must do so without any doubt. It is how we influence the universe around us with the Flow of Life. And I admit it does lead to this kind of behavior. Lucy's ability to sense what will happen from her actions encourages her to act with such resolution. I have done the same."

Anders listened to the explanation quietly. When Meridina finished he nodded. "I see. But it doesn't excuse not consulting me. Or running into a fight without coordinating tactics, like she did on Therum."

"Yes. Over time, Knights learn to discern the certainty they need for their actions from the need to act in a unit, when they are in such circumstances. Lucy is learning this as well. Admittedly Commander Kane was always one for tolerating our, as he put it, 'Goddamned crazy stuff'."

Anders grinned slightly at that. "I've heard good things about Major Kane, but I'm not him. If I'm going to work with Lieutenant Lucero, I need her to cooperate with me. Not just assume I'll chase off after her."

"I will discuss the matter with her, Major, I assure you." Meridina said nothing on the thought that came to her, that Robert wanted Lucy for his team. "Is there anything else?"

"Nothing at the moment, Commander. Thank you for your time."

Meridina nodded. "You are welcome, Major."

Liara was not fooled by Robert's call. Whatever naivety others felt she possessed, she knew there was only one real reason he'd want her on the Normandy. And she was eager to follow through on it. The moment she got the call from him she went to work gathering things on the Aurora and putting them in a carrying bag provided by the replicator.

She was about to leave when there was a chime at the door. Liara finished packing before turning and saying, "Come in!"

When the door opened, it was Caterina Delgado who entered. The short Human sometimes looked and sounded younger than she really was, and usually her enthusiasm could be infectious. But right now Liara thought she seemed reserved. And awkward, which she often was when she ran into Liara while alone. "Are you okay? I wanted to check…" Cat stopped when she noticed the open bag. Liara zipped the bag close. "Are you… going somewhere?"

Liara nodded. "I'm going to check something on the Citadel with your friend, Robert."

Cat nodded. "How long are you going to be over there. I was going to offer to share a meal with you. Beaming to the Citadel is restricted right now but Hargert's cooking dinner for everyone…"

"I'm not sure," Liara said. "Thank you for the offer, but I have other things I need to be doing right now."

"I… I suppose." It was clear that Cat wasn't fooled either. "I was just coming to see how you were feeling. I mean, about your loss."

I am so proud of you, Little Wing. Her mother's last words echoed in Liara's mind. Her heart ached with the loss. All of her hopes of eventually winning her mother's respect in her field, of getting Benezia to recognize Liara by her own merits… they'd died along with Benezia in that chamber of Peak 15's sub-glacial level. With the pain of that knowledge came a surge of sheer anger. This is all Saren's fault!

"Thank you, Lieutenant… Caterina," Liara replied. "You've been understanding."

"I know what it's like. I still miss my Mama, and when I lost her…" Tears formed in Cat's hazel eyes. "...I almost stopped. Living, I mean. My Mama meant everything to me. If not for Angel…"

Liara nodded. "You're lucky. I didn't have a sister growing up." She picked up the bag. "I really should be going. Captain Dale is waiting."

Cat nodded and stepped out of the quarters. When Liara moved past her, she asked, "Whatever you're doing, please be careful. Both you and Rob."

"I…" Liara stopped and nodded. "I'll pass it on. Thank you for your concern. If things were normal right now, I would enjoy the chance to talk to someone." With those parting words Liara continued on to the nearest Transporter Station.

In her ready office Julia went over the reports for the day and made sure to schedule the meeting with the Excalibur command crew. It would come after the meeting that Asari Matriarch Lidanya, the commander of the Destiny Ascension, was already calling for the ship captains.

Even with these thoughts, she was wondering what was going on with Robert. She knew he was trying to find a way to Ilos himself, but that he hadn't checked in… Ultimately, Julia sighed and decided to check into it herself. "Computer, locate Agent Dale," she asked aloud.

"Paladin Agent Dale is not aboard," the feminine computer voice replied.

Julia's face curled into a small smile. 'Paladin' Dale. It fits so well, doesn't it? "Has he returned to the ship at all in the last five hours?"

"Search complete. No movement activity from Paladin Agent Dale has been logged. One communication logged."

Julia suspected that with Paladin operating codes Robert could, if he really wanted, come and go without the computer logging his arrival. But she was certain that wasn't the case here. Hearing the latter item she asked, "Who did he contact?"

"Civilian guest Doctor Liara T'Soni."

That clinched it. She tapped the button on her desk to activate a commlink. "Andreys to Dale."

After several moments Robert's face appeared on the holo-viewer on her desk. Given the background behind him, Julia could see he was aboard the Normandy. "Dale here," he said.

"Is everything okay? I thought you'd be back aboard by now," she asked.

"Oh, I'm just finishing up some things here on the Normandy. Goodbyes to say, favors to return. I'll get my gear and be back on the Aurora soon."

There was another incoming communication, audio-only. Julia accepted it. "Andreys here."

"Captain, this is Chief Hajaman at Transporter Station Two," a Gersallian-accented female voice answered. "Doctor T'Soni is requesting permission to beam to the Normandy. But she doesn't have any authorization to leave the ship, and while I know she's not a full crew member, the orders I was given were pretty clear about the restrictions on transporter use..."

Overhearing this, Robert smiled thinly. "I asked her to come. You can use my authorization codes if you want." His meaning behind it was obvious. Robert was trying to protect her and the crew from any repercussions of whatever he was up to.

"If you want," Julia said, knowing full well Robert wouldn't rest easy if she rebuffed him. She made sure Robert's call was patched in completely with the Chief's commlink.

"Chief Hajaman, Authorization Code Dale Papa Alpha Kilo 4324. Doctor T'Soni is responding to my request."

"Understood sir. Code authenticated. I'm transporting Doctor T'Soni now. Hajaman out."

With that done Robert's attention returned to Julia. "It's just some discussions I want to have while I wrap things up here. We'll both be back as soon as we can get away."

Julia smiled thinly. Robert was selling a good line, but she could see the knowing look in his green eyes. He, or Shepard, was up to something. "Good to hear. You've been missed. And I could use the extra pair of eyes should Tom get into trouble again. He's always up to mischief, isn't he?"

"Always," Robert agreed, smiling. "I'll deal with it."

"Good luck with that. And remember that promise you'd be back aboard when this was over. You'd better keep it."

Robert nodded at that. "I intend to. Dale out."

After his image disappeared, Julia looked at the inactive holo-viewer frame for a moment. "God, keep him alive," she finally said quietly. "Please."

When the door to Udina's office opened, he glanced up in time to see it was Captain Anderson. "What is it, Anderson?" he demanded. "I've got business to attend to…" As he spoke, Anderson continued to approach him in a confident stride. "What are you…?"

By this point Anderson was in reach. His fist shot forward so swiftly Udina had no chance to react. He felt a surge of pain and then blackness.

Anderson, knowing he didn't have much time if anyone below heard Udina calling out to him, didn't bother pulling the ambassador from his seat. He knelt over the desk and ran his fingers along the hardlight keyboard. With Udina's systems unlocked he was able to swiftly interact with the dock systems. He found the order to secure the Normandy from launch and rescinded it with a couple of key presses.

There you go, Shepard, he thought. I've done what I can. It's all up to you.

Robert was standing behind Shepard in the cockpit area of the Normandy. Many of the others were present as well. Shepard and Joker were both watching the dock systems interlink like hawks. Robert felt their impatience for the red lights, showing the Normandy was locked into place and forbidden to leave, to change.

Seconds felt like minutes, minutes like hours. He felt impatient himself for something to happen, anything. Seeing the lights go green drew a sigh of relief he'd not intended to make.

"Take us out, now," Shepard ordered.

"With pleasure, ma'am," replied Joker. He interacted with the dock control and triggered the magnetic grapples to withdraw. With expert precision Joker pulled the Normandy out of the dock and turned her toward the open end of the Citadel. Her engines lit up and she shot off at maximum burn for freedom.

Julia stepped out onto the bridge and looked to Jarod. "Report."

"The Normandy just flew out of the dock," he replied. Julia noticed a slight smile start to form on his face. "Ambassador Atama is screaming for us to intercept her before she can reach the Relay."

"Lieutenant, put the Ambassador on," Julia ordered, glancing toward Tra'dur, currently manning Ops.

"Yes Captain," Tra'dur answered. As always, her English was accented to make her sound Anglo-Indian.

The holo-viewer went from the view of Normandy burning away to Atama in his office. The aged Dorei male had an irritated expression. "Captain, I know for certain that the Normandy's launch was unauthorized. Commander Shepard's gone rogue. Intercept her and tractor her back to the Citadel."

Julia forced complete neutrality on her face, hiding the smile she wanted to form. "Ambassador, I'll remind you I'm under the most strict orders not to move the Aurora from her position with the Citadel defense fleet. I'm afraid I cannot do anything."

To that Atama's face turned into a deep frown. "Captain, I am ordering you to stop the Normandy!"

"As you admitted earlier, you have no authority to order me to do anything, Ambassador," Julia replied. "In fact, the only thing you did was relay my orders from Command, including the provision that without their prior instructions the mere movement of my vessel toward the Relay would be punished by court-martial. Unless you have authorization from Command to the contrary, I have to assume that provision is still in place. I'm not going to throw my career away for Ambassador Udina's reputation."

Angrily Atama reached for his controls. A moment later Captain King's image appeared. She was still in her ready office. "Captain King, I must insist you intercept the Normandy and relieve Captain Andreys from her post! Shepard's gone rogue and Captain Andreys is clearly in collusion…"

"Unfortunately, Mister Ambassador, we cannot move from our station at the Citadel," King replied bluntly. "My orders came straight from Minister Hawthorne. Captain Andreys is only obeying those instructions to the letter, as is appropriate. We cannot pursue Normandy without instructions from the Defense Minister." Julia thought King was ready to smile herself. "As for her purported 'collusion' with Shepard's act of barratry, I believe you personally informed her of the repercussions for disobeying Hawthorne's orders. It is hardly collusion, then, for the Captain to obey her instructions under such circumstances."

"Do you realize the repercussions of your refusal to act?" Atama demanded.

"That, I believe, is your department, Mister Ambassador, not ours. Good day. Excalibur out." King's image disappeared from the screen.

With a disgusted look, Atama closed the channel. Against the holo-viewer showed the Normandy, now approaching the Mass Relay.

"At this point, I do not believe we could catch them even if we could try," Tra'dur noted. "They are already preparing transit."

"Anyone trying to stop them?"

"No. Not at all."

Julia nodded. "We'll see how this goes then." She went over and sat at her command chair for the moment. "Monitor them until they make the transit."

"Aye Captain," said Lieutenant Amira al-Rashad, the junior science/sensor specialist officer manning that station at the moment.

"Robert's with Shepard, isn't he?" Jarod asked.

"He is." Julia nodded. "God help them both."

With that, the bridge personnel resumed work, and Julia and Jarod watched quietly as the Normandy approached the Mass Relay. Blue energy crackled like lightning from the core of the Relay, linking to the Normandy. Blue light surged around the frigate until she was zipped away by the ancient device to another section of the galaxy.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

The Normandy's route to the other side of the galaxy was going to take time, given the need to avoid the Arcturus Relay. They were two transits out when Shepard assembled every spare member of the crew in the mess hall. Only Joker, Adams, and a couple of command deck personnel were not physically present, but they would probably be listening in on the ship's intercom.

Six weeks ago, when he was newly-arrived to the Normandy, Robert might have stood off to the side, out of respect to not being an official member of the crew. But now he stood with Kaidan and Garrus. Tali, Wrex, and Ashley were seated at the table, along with newcomer Liara. Doctor Chakwas was in her chair, rolled out from her nearby infirmary. Navigator Pressly stood near Shepard. "I almost can't believe it," he said. "I never imagined I'd ever be part of something like that."

"I'm going to reflect in my final report that I acted on my own authority and didn't give you time to leave the ship," Shepard said. "It may be enough to protect you."

"To hell with that, Commander!" Pressly declared. "I'm with you on this one. This has to be done, and we're the crew to do it!" As he declared this Robert noticed he glanced toward the aliens, especially Tali. And while before he'd always sensed at least a little uncertainty, even distaste, from the man toward the non-Humans, today there was nothing but pride and respect. Robert wanted to smile just for that.

Pressly's declaration resulted in Chakwas calling out "Hear hear!", and the Human crewmembers all cheered.

Shepard beamed with pride, prompting further applause from her crew. But Robert sensed the guilt inside of her. Shepard knew that they would be held just as responsible by the Systems Alliance. Her actions were going to harm them all.

Compared to the Reapers, it's nothing, Robert thought, using the Flow of Life to send the thought into Shepard's being. Shepard looked his way and nodded. Her guilty feelings cleared up.

"Do we have any idea what we'll find when we get there?" asked Ashley.

"We know there are ruins of some kind," Shepard replied.

"We know of Ilos through references in other recovered Prothean sites," Liara explained. "Images. It appears to have been both a city and a research colony of Prothean civilization. But I can't tell you what to expect."

"Then we have to be ready for anything," said Garrus.

"That's the Marine motto," Ashley said.

"Uh, you mean the Scouts, don't you Sergeant?" Kaidan asked.

To that she smiled in amusement. "They got it from us."

"I'm… not so sure of that," Robert replied. "But wherever it's from, it's what we're facing."

"What about your mystic life force thing?" Kaidan asked. "Is that giving you any insights?"

Robert responded by concentrating for a moment. Usually it only gave him a sense of what to expect. Instead he felt himself fall away from the assembled. He was back in the Council Chamber. Flames still burned from damage around him. The broken bodies of Geth surrounded him. And in front of him, Shepard and Saren were facing off, Saren standing at the audience platform of the Chamber. "This is the only way!" Saren insisted.

"You know it's not!" Shepard replied. "That's Sovereign talking! You have to fight it!"

"I… I'm not… I have to…"

The vision ended abruptly. Robert realized why from the pain rippling up from his backside. He'd literally fallen on his ass, much to his chagrin, while everyone on the crew watched in mystification. He blinked. "It's… it's a vision I've seen before," he said. "Never so strongly…"

"What was happening?"

"We… I saw you and Saren, arguing in the Citadel Council chamber," Robert replied. "As if we'd just fought our way through a bunch of Geth."

"Wait." Ashley frowned. "On the Citadel? But isn't Saren heading to Ilos?"

"You don't think we're wrong, do you?" Tali asked.

Robert could sense Shepard's little particle of doubt. That Saren was seeking the Conduit was indisputable, but was he going to hit the Citadel first for some reason? Had she misjudged him? He drew in a breath. "No, I don't think we're doing the wrong thing," he said. "That's still only a possible future. And it may be something that happens after we deal with the Conduit."

"Have you ever had these future flashes turn out wrong?" Wrex asked.

Robert shuddered. "Yes. Thank God." His mind flashed back to Canary Wharf in London, Earth W8R4. The visions of the result of the Darkness coming through the rift the Daleks created to counter the Doctor's plans had been both horrifying and so strong as to debilitate him. From remembering that occasion, a part of him now wondered if the intensity of these visions was tied to his use of the Time Vortex.

"It doesn't matter," Garrus insisted. "Wherever Saren's going, there's something on Ilos that he wants. If we find it first, maybe we can use it against him."


"I'm not sure what this Conduit is," Liara said. "But it's clearly crucial to Saren's plan. Leaving the Citadel was the right thing to do, Commander Shepard."

Shepard looked to Robert again. He could sense his expression as it appeared in her eyes. He was certain. This helped her own certainty push down that particle of fear that she'd chosen wrong. "Alright," she said. "According to Joker, we won't be at Ilos for a few hours. Everyone should get some rest. You're all dismissed."

It was getting late in the Aurora work day when Julia finally got out of the meetings in the Citadel Tower. Matriarch Lidanya's defense planning was thorough, at least. In addition, should the Citadel's perimeter be breached, the Destiny Ascension was bringing aboard the Council until further notice, ensuring a decapitation strike by Saren against the Citadel itself would not remove the Council from communication. The defense fleet therefore had two objectives: protecting the Destiny Ascension as well as the Citadel.

Julia found that part, giving the Council equal priority, disconcerting. While she understood the importance of maintaining galactic government, she couldn't help but think that three lives versus seven million was an easy choice. Even if the Council were wiped out, the three governments of the Council species would have backups ready to take their seats. Wouldn't they? She found herself wondering, darkly, if the Citadel races were in fact so arrogant and certain that they didn't have continuity of government and succession protocols in play for their Council members.

While thinking Julia began to walk idly through the Presidium. She started on one of the crossbridges spanning the waterway running down the middle of the lush space. She glanced in the direction of a sight she remembered from her last visit to the Citadel, nearly two years before when she accompanied Lieutenant Commander Data of Starfleet on a visit. A scale replica of a Mass Relay was on a pedestal at the edge of the water. According to the history, the Asari found it when they first discovered the Citadel nearly three thousand years in the past. Possibly, Julia considered, within just a few centuries of the Darglan exploration of the M4P2 universe. How would history in this universe be different if the Asari, like the Gersallians, were space-faring early enough to encounter the Darglan?

"Well, someone looks thoughtful."

Julia's eyes widened at the familiar voice. She turned, a stunned if happy smile on her face, and immediately embraced the speaker.

"Woh." Zack Carrey laughed. "You act like you haven't seen me in ages."

"It's been months," she pointed out, still smiling. She enjoyed his acceptance of the hug for several moments before pulling back. To her surprise, and delight, Zack was in uniform. Black with burgundy red trim, the same as hers, three gold stripes on the neck to her four… the only difference was the silver aiguillette over his left shoulder that latched to the front of his uniform jacket, marking him as a staff officer. "They reactivated your commission?"

"As of a week ago," Zack replied, smiling. "Admiral Maran's assigned me to staff duty until the psychiatrists clear me."

"Then your problems…"

"Not a drop," Zack assured her. "I haven't had even a sip of the stuff since that night on the Tri'kep."

Julia recalled the name, that of the Gy'toran wind-sailer Zack and Robert journeyed on some months prior while visiting Gy'sara, the Gy'toran Homeworld. "That's good."

"It is." Zack sighed. "I'm hoping that maybe I can get my ship back. I hear Will Atreiad's been doing great in my place."

"He's a good one, and he tries to emulate your command style, even if it's not what he's used to from Adama."

"Glad to hear it."

"So what are you doing on the Citadel?" Julia asked.

"I arrived a few days ago," Zack said. "I've been assigned as the Alliance military liaison officer to C-Sec. That mostly means handling joint training and equipment deals or dealing with problems concerning Alliance personnel. It's boring work. And local time means this is actually my pre-duty stroll before I have to report to my office at C-Sec HQ."

"Huh. I'm at the end of my day." Julia sighed. "I guess this means no time for dinner?"

"I'm afraid I already had breakfast," Zack said. "Before I looked up the morning's reports and found out you'd made it back."

"You didn't know we'd been recalled?" Julia asked.

"I'm the liaison officer to C-Sec," he said. "Not to the fleet. I wouldn't be on the list to be told first. I get to find out with everyone else." Zack sighed and shrugged. "Although one report they did give me was that the Normandy slipped out without authorization. Robert's with Shepard, isn't he?"

Julia nodded. "He is."

"He'll make it," Zack assured her. "As much as his need to be the hero can be a pain in the ass, he's been getting good at it."

"I know. But I'll still worry." At that, Julia couldn't fight back a yawn. "I'd better get back to the ship. I need to stay rested if the Geth attack."

"Yeah." Zack gave her a small hug, their second of the meeting. "I'll talk to you later, okay. Sleep well."

"Take care of yourself, Zack," Julia said. "And keep going at it. It's time we brought both you and Robert home, where you belong."

To that, Zack could only grin before continuing on to his work.

With the day winding down and Talara's training session completed, Lucy headed for the Lookout for a late dinner and the view. Specifically, the view of the Citadel, which was still awe-inspiring to her. She wondered about it; how it was built, why the nebula was chosen for its location, what the builders had intended for it. Was it always meant to be the center of galactic governance, or did it have some deeper purpose?

"You seem preoccupied, Lucy."

Lucy turned her head and looked up. Meridina took a seat beside her, carrying a plate of liyume. Presumably cooked by Hargert, just as the half-finished hamburger on Lucy's plate was. "How are you today?"

"I'm alright. I spent the day doing boring operations duty. Helping the damage control teams check their gear lockers, mostly. Making sure the oxygen dischargers and emergency forcefield generators in their equipment were working."

"An important task."

"Yeah, well, at least I didn't have to do the general stores," Lucy said. "With two thousand people aboard, maintenance work on all of them is repetitive. Vital, yeah, but repetitive."

"And how is Talara's training progressing?"

"She's getting there. And is certainly getting used to standing on her head." Lucy leveled a look at her mentor. "But you've got something else on your mind." Lucy focused for a moment. "Let me guess. Anders?"

"He spoke to me today."

Lucy sighed. "Okay, right. Yeah, I didn't consult with him about freeing the Rachni Queen. It was just… so clear to me. That letting her go on her own was the best choice. I just acted. Just as you trained."

"Yes. But there is one thing none can train you to do, Lucy, and that is knowing when to ignore that impulse."

"Given it's vital to how this works…"

"It is difficult, yes," Meridina agreed. "But there are times when it is not politic to do so. Major Anders doesn't have the same experience with us that Commander Kane did. You must build trust with him. It will take much effort, and you may have to ignore your swevyra at times."

"I guess." Lucy sighed. "This military stuff, it's… I get the chain of command issue, I do, but I don't think it really matters who makes the right decision when it's made."

"Others will feel otherwise." Meridina used a utensil, the Gersallian equivalent of a fork, to pick at the folded over liyume on her plate. "While there are many reasons swevyra'se do not serve with military forces, I suspect this is one of the more obscure reasons."

"Makes sense." Lucy shrugged. "Maybe I should just resign my commission then."

Meridina gave her a concerned look.

"Rob wants me on his Paladin team, right?" Lucy asked. Meridina nodded once to show she knew. "Well, I don't have to be a serving officer. Not anymore than Garrus or Tali is with Shepard."

"Somehow, Lucy, I suspect that will not solve the problem. Not unless you never work with Major Anders again. And I think that would be a mistake."

"It's not like I'm out to undermine him, Meridina," Lucy protested. "But he's taking this way too seriously. I'm not one of his Marines and I never will be. It's not going to reflect anything on him if I act as I feel I need to instead of asking his permission for decisions. It's not just that either." Lucy put her hands together before her. "Julia's right, I'm not even an operations officer anymore, not a proper one. And whatever Richmond thinks or wants, I'm not going to be a security officer either. When it comes down to it, while I love being on the Aurora, I'm not really a comfortable fit as a member of the official crew. So maybe I should embrace what Robert's offering. He and I will do the work that has to be done without having to worry to inform Anders."

"I do not believe the Major is seeking to… put you in your place, or so your thoughts seem to be considering. He has a legitimate cause. You would never have contradicted me, would you? Nor do you try with Jarod or Tom."

"Because I know what they're doing. All Anders has done since he joined this crew is second-guess me. On Noveria, on Therum, and even on Tira. He wants me to fit in a box and I can't. I won't force it."

"Then perhaps you should discuss the matter with him," Meridina recommended.

"Not sure it'll do any good, but I'll try." Lucy caught herself before Meridina could rebuke her. "Not try. Do. I'll convince him."

Meridina smiled thinly. "Good. Now, I ask for your patience. Hargert has informed me he feels this 'paprika' seasoning will enhance the flavor of the liyume, and I am quite curious as to if he is right…"

A few tables over, Caterina and Angel were finishing a late dinner. Angel could see her sister was in a pensive mood. "How are you doing, Cat?" she asked.

"I'm… okay, I guess," Cat admitted. "I'm just a little worried about Doctor T'Soni."

"She went to the Normandy, didn't she?" At Cat's nod Angel sighed. "Robert is going to be the death of me yet."

"She's going through so much." Cat said, ignoring the remark about Robert. "I wonder if she's thinking this through."

"Whatever she's doing, it's something she has to deal with. Everyone deals with grief in their own way. Just look at how we handled it."

Cat nodded. "Do you think she'd be proud of us?" Seeing Angel's questioning look, Cat specified, "Mama. Do you think she'd be proud?"

"Don't you doubt it for a moment, Cat," Angel insisted. "The only thing she'd be upset about is you being in danger. She'd be completely proud of you."

"And you?"

To that Angel's expression shifted to a wry grin. "When she wasn't chewing me out for letting you go into danger, yeah."

Cat giggled at that. "I wish she was here, Angel."

"So do I."

"All of the things we could show her. And the technology… she'd finally be able to stop working all of the time. She could take it easy."

"Mama, take it easy? Ha!" Angel laughed heartily at the mental image of her mother "taking it easy". "Mama would be vacuuming the carpets all across the ship. Just to do it."

Cat shook her head, smiling, although she couldn't quite keep the tears from forming in her eyes. "Yeah, I guess she'd never stop doing things."

"So there you are." Violeta drew their attention before taking a seat. Her plate had a hamburger with lettuce and pickles. Angel recognized the folded over thing beside it as a Gersallian liyume. "I finally got off the bridge. It's a shame we're at Condition 1."

"Condition 1?" Angel blinked. "Wait, you mean Code Yellow?"

"Yeah. That." Violeta smiled. "Sorry. I've been reading over some material for my next posting. The Captain's alerted us to some of the operating plans."

"So you know which ship you'll be on?" Angel asked the question so Cat wouldn't have to. She could see the distant, sad look in her sister's eyes.

Violeta noticed the same. She reached over and took Cat's hand. It didn't pass her notice that her girlfriend had been tearing up over something. "Yeah," she said. "The newest of the Enterprise-class ships."

"You mean the Thunder Child?" Cat asked.

"No. The one after that. The Huáscar."

"As in that Earthforce ship at Tira?"

"Yeah. They ultimately named her from that ship and because the name has a history with the Peruvians and Chileans," Violeta explained. "Captain Varma, or Zhen'var, is going to be in command, and she's already informed the future command officers of some of the operating procedures on the ship. And some of the staff differences from regular Alliance ships. Half of the crew is going to be Dilgar."

"I've heard some of their ships made it to the front after we were pulled out to start hunting Saren," Angel said. "But they're going to actually do that? Give them half the crew of one of the most advanced ships in the Alliance?"

"Yeah, and the captaincy too. I mean, Captain Varma is one of them now. Literally."

"That's… really weird. More than your cousin Louisa," Cat said.

"It is. But I'd be a horrible Sirian if I let it get to me." Violeta put a fork into the liyume. "Anyway, she's going to use different operating procedures than we do here on the Aurora, and I've got to brush up on them over the next few weeks before…" Violeta stopped, noticing the pain in Cat's face.

"...before you go," Cat said softly.

"Yeah." Violeta's hand tightened around Cat's a little. "I'm… yeah."

"Well… at least you've got a big opportunity," Cat said. "The newest Enterprise-class. That's… that's really special."

"It is," Violeta agreed, not quite able to hide the guilt in her voice. She knew in her heart she'd make the choice again, to put her career first, but it didn't make it any easier to see how much she was hurting Cat. Whatever distance had grown between them since Cat went traveling with the Doctor, it was still clear that Cat loved having Violeta as a girlfriend, and she wouldn't heal from the loss quickly.

"So how is she running things? Going to run things, I mean?" Angel asked, hoping to distract Cat. "I get the feeling Varma would make Julia look like, well, like Robert when he was Captain."

"Oh, that's a fair judgement," Violeta said knowingly before taking a bite of her food.

Again Robert took to the medical lab at the back of the infirmary to be alone. Not just to meditate this time, but to practice with the lightsaber Lucy had built for him. The practice orb, running on an anti-grav Lucy built into the bottom, hovered around him, firing pulses of particles every several seconds. He sensed the shots coming and deflected them… or rather most of them. Occasionally he hissed or frowned upon taking a hit that truly stung.

It was ridiculous and frustrating. A year ago, his inferior capabilities with the weapon compared to Lucy were at least understandable. He lacked her capacity for wielding life energy. There were some things he simply wasn't capable of. And that limitation at least made sense to him. It was inherent, and something he couldn't be responsible for.

Now it was different. Instead of his power being insufficient, it was too much. The limitation was now entirely his, from his issues with control. His lack of focus.

He let the frustration build until he was missing more shots than he was hitting. The repeated stings went from mere annoyance to active aggravation. With his frustration peaking, Robert finally reacted by throwing his free hand at the hovering orb, willing it to just go away and stop zapping him.

He knew his mistake the moment the power surged through him, uncontrolled. The wave didn't just gently knock the orb away, but struck it so hard that it was already sparking from damage when it struck the far wall and shattered like a thrown egg. Small machinery pieces rained down to the floor around the impact point.

Dejected and humiliated, Robert disengaged his lightsaber and stormed from the room. He emerged out into the mess area, determined to see if the ship's shower stall was available.

As he walked past the mess area, he heard Kaidan called out, "Is everything okay?" Upon Kaidan seeing the frown still on Robert's face, he chuckled and said, "I guess that answers that. Training problems?"

"You could say that," Robert replied. "I was just going to jump into the shower if I could. While we still had time." He stopped and walked over to Kaidan. "Freshen up."

"I'm not stopping you. Although Ash will probably break your nose if you walk in on her." Kaidan smiled thinly. "Or maybe not." When Robert gave him a bewildered look he chuckled. "Little joke. Someone started a rumor that Ash was interested in you."

"Ha," Robert laughed lamely. "I'd know."

"Yeah. You're not really her type, I think. Maybe if you shaved, cut your hair."

Robert laughed again, but this time with clear amusement. "It seems nobody appreciates my look."

"Well, if you want to look like a warrior monk or something, I suppose that look works," Kaidan said. "So, how's training with that laser sword thing?"

"Not so well. Frustrating, when it shouldn't be." Robert sighed. "And I… may have broken the sparring device my friend made for my training"


"Okay, not 'may'. Did." Robert shook his head. "Lost my temper, lashed out at it, lost control and smashed it against the wall. It's now a bunch of little pieces in my bag." Robert patted said bag. "Lucy is probably going to yell at me for it. It took her a few hours to build the thing for me."

"Yeah, well, it could be worse," said Kaidan.


Robert sensed the regret in Kaidan's voice as he spoke. "It could have been her neck you broke."

"Ah." Robert nodded and moved over to a chair. He dropped into it. "I sense a story here."

"From my time in BAaT out at Gagarin Station. Or 'Jump Zero', if you want. It's an old space station that served as the point for our first attempts at faster-than-light travel." Kaidan shook his head. "BAaT stands for 'Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training'."

"To deal with the first generation of Human biotics," Robert guessed.

"Yeah. Spent months out there, no communications to anywhere else, being tormented by this absolute prick of a teacher that the operating corporation hired. A Turian biotic named Vyrnnus. He was ex-military but still demanded we address him as Commander. Used to brag that he piloted the dreadnought that killed our fathers in the First Contact War."

Robert nodded. He'd read some materials on said conflict, the disastrous first contact between Humanity and the Citadel species from the Turians attacking Humans re-activating a dormant Mass Relay. After the Turians scored an early victory in overrunning a Human colony on Shanxi, the Systems Alliance had gained its prominence among M4P2 Humanity by organizing the pan-Human counter-attack that drove the Turian invasion out. The Turians likely would have escalated the war from there, but the Council stepped in and brokered a peace.

Seeing he still had Robert's attention, Kaidan continued. "Well, one day Vyrnnus went too damn far. There was a biotic girl, Rahna… she was sweet and beautiful and... " Kaidan stopped and sighed. "Well, she made the mistake of reaching for water with her arm and not biotics. Vyrnnus lost his temper over that and broke her arm."

Robert grimaced. "Didn't anyone vet this guy?"

"The company was desperate to find an alien biotic for the training, I guess. Anyway, I lost my temper and hit him with a biotic strike. Vyrnnus took offense at that and started wailing into me. He drew a knife. So I gave him a hard kick with my biotics. Snapped his neck."

"And that's why I feel a lot of regret from you?" asked Robert. "You wish I hadn't?"

"I do. Not because I killed him. Vyrnnus… he'd already driven some of the others to suicide, or left them broken wrecks as people. He was a serious jerk and he was ready to kill me. But Rahna… she was scared of me after that. We stopped speaking."

"I see." Robert considered the look on Kaidan's face at having revealed this secret. And his story… well, Robert knew his expression was dark. "I guess that's my fear. That I'll lose control and seriously hurt someone. Maybe even kill someone."

"Give it time. I had to," Kaidan urged him. "I learned to control my biotics. Maybe a little too much. I'm not given to displays of biotic badassery like the Commander is."

"Which is a real pity, Kaidan," Ashley's voice cut in. "Because your marksmanship needs work." She walked up to them, hair glistening from the shower water. She smiled at Robert. "Have I ever thanked you for introducing this replicator technology to our galaxy? Engineer Adams told me that the original schematics didn't have a full shower unit, it's only possible because of replicators."

"You haven't, and you're welcome," Robert answered, smiling. "And now that you're out, I think I'd like to spend some time enjoying the benefit myself."

"Water may be a little cold, but it's better than nothing."

"Also better than sonic showers," Robert added, walking past her. "They install those on the attackers in our fleet. Normal showers are for COs only."

"Sounds rough."

Robert nodded once in agreement and continued on.

Over their heads, the ship's intercom activated. "This is Commander Shepard. We're about to go through the Mu Relay and we'll be coming up on Ilos shortly. I want all team members on standby for deployment."

"Sorry, Captain," Ashley said to Robert. "Looks like you're going to have to wait on that."

"Tell me about it," Robert groaned before joining them in heading for the lift. He'd been looking forward to that shower…

The Mu Relay loomed ahead of the Normandy through a wisp of ancient particles left by the supernova that sent it flying into interstellar space. Joker transmitted his desired destination of Ilos to the Relay and flew the Normandy right up to it. For all that the Mu Relay was legendary as a lost piece of the network, there was nothing special about the way it activated, catapulting the Normandy across vast stretches of space in a single moment.

Robert arrived with Ashley at the cockpit area in time to overhear Joker saying, "Commander, we've got company." A glance to the sensors showed the squadron of Geth warships in orbit. Robert frowned a little at their number; entirely too few. Barely more ships than there'd been over Virmire, and Saren's fleet of Geth ships was larger than that. So where are the rest of them?

"Have their sensors picked us up yet?" Liara asked.

"Negative. Stealth systems are engaged. They won't know we're here until they can get a visual on us."

At the sensor station behind Joker, Pressly looked over returns from the planet. "I'm picking up some strange readings from the surface."

"And I'm sure Saren found them too," Shepard noted. "Take us down, Joker."

"Negative on that, Commander," Pressly said. "Nearest landing zone is two klicks away."

"It'll take too long to catch up on foot, we have to find something closer," Ashley insisted.

To that Pressly gave her an irritated look. "There isn't anything closer! I've looked!"

"Then we'll drop in the Mako," Shepard said.

"Commander, it won't work, you need at least a hundred meters of open terrain for a drop like that," protested Pressly. "The best I can find near Saren is twenty."

Ashley shook her head. "Twenty meters? No way we can make a drop there."

That prompted Liara to insist, "We have to try!" Robert felt additional tension from her, a worry that this was for nothing, that she wouldn't be able to get justice for Benezia.

"It's suicide!" Ashley shot back. "We need another landing zone!"

"There is no other landing zone!" was Pressly's reaction.

The frustration in the cockpit grew among the assembled. Even as Tali remarked on the descent angle being too steep for the ship, Robert rubbed his forehead. He knew, deep down, it wouldn't alleviate the pressure in his head. But he needed something as relief from the feelings he was getting from the others. Liara's impatient worry, Ashley's concern for the landing, Pressly's frustration with the sensor findings… it all added up and combined with Robert's own frustration with the situation. To come all of this way and fail because the terrain worked against them...

"I can do it," Joker declared.

Everyone went quiet. Everyone, that is, except for Shepard. She leveled a knowing look at him. "Joker?"

"I can do it," he repeated. Robert felt his confidence cut through the feelings of the others.

Shepard simply nodded. "Alright." She turned to Robert and the others. "Everyone go gear up, now, and head to the Mako. We're going to finish this!"

Ashley still had doubts, but Robert felt her push them aside. Her commander was confident they could make it work, so there was nothing more to say. Together they left the cockpit area at not quite a run.

"Good luck, Commander," said Pressly, saluting as he did. "Give Saren hell."

"That was the plan, Lieutenant," Shepard replied, returning the salute as she did. "Once we're on the surface, get back to the Relay. Head to Arcturus and link up with the Fleet."

"Will do, Commander."

Shepard felt satisfied at Pressly's response. She left to join the others.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

The Geth fleet didn't detect the Normandy as it dove into the planet's atmosphere. With its nose pointed downward the ship flew in toward the ancient ruins that marked Ilos. Sensors quickly detected the presence of Geth power signatures and what looked like a very abnormal Turian life sign. Pressly confirmed the location and left the final approach to Joker. The veteran navigator of the Normandy took in a breath. For all his faith in Joker's flying ability, he still expected the ship to go smashing into the ground. But if their deaths gave Shepard and her team the necessary opening to stop Saren, then… he could, for lack of better wording, live with such an end.

As the ship descended the cargo bay ramp opened. Behind the driver's seat, Shepard gave one last glance to her team of seven. Every seat was full, with Wrex, Tali, and Liara on one side and Garrus, Kaidan, and Robert on the other. Ashley was at the gunner's seat beside Shepard. Everyone was fastened in.

"Hold on!" she called out. An active feed to the ship showed the rapidly-approaching optimum launch point. "This is going to be close!"

When the point was reached Shepard jammed the throttle. The Mako shot from the Normandy and plunged to the surface of Ilos. The thruster jets built into the Mako's belly fired to slow descent to non-lethal levels. Above them the Normandy leveled out. Joker narrowly evaded a spire in the ruins while maneuvering the ship to return to orbit.

Below the Mako, the roar of the Normandy's engines brought Saren's attention. He looked up in time to see the Mako drop. With the new enhancements he issued orders to the Geth, summoning his rearguard to this spot to crush Shepard and her people, while he and the bulk of his forces continued on to a tunnel ahead.

While the Mako descended Ashley triggered the vehicle's weapon systems, using the scope to zoom in on Saren as he walked into the tunnel. A big four-legged Geth platform stepped between them. A plasma shot rose in the air toward the Mako and splashed against its protective fields. "Barrier holding," Ashley confirmed.

Shepard didn't react. She was busy guiding the Mako in. As the ground loomed she watched the door behind Saren begin to close.

Everyone shook violently against their safety restraints when the Mako slammed into the ground. It rolled forward from momentum, heading for the closing door. Shepard nearly hit the throttle to try and get through just to hold back. She knew it wouldn't work, and getting the Mako damaged and stuck was not acceptable. She slammed the break instead. Everyone watched in horror as the big Prothean blast doors closed ahead of them, barring the way, and seemingly ensuring a crash.

But there was no final impact with those doors, simply the lurch of the Mako coming to a stop, mere centimeters short.

Immediately Ashley turned the turret away from the doors. "Geth on all sides, ma'am," she said. "And there's not a lot of room for maneuver."

"Tali, check the shocks, I think one of them failed from the landing," Shepard ordered. She pulled the Mako away from the door and executed a half turn in reverse, presenting the broad side of the vehicle to the door and the opposite end of it. "Ashley, stay on that gun, use your discretion. Everyone else, we need to clear the Geth!"

By now everyone was unlatching themselves from their seats. None were surprised by the fact Shepard beat them to the door.

The incoming Geth fire was vicious. The Mako gave them all initial cover, but its particle barriers couldn't withstand the assault for long. To either side Geth platforms were lining up on higher ground to pour fire down. Others were coming from the opposite direction of the door.

Once outside Shepard immediately began tracking targets. Her biotics flared to life and went out in bolts of dark blue matter. Upon impact the spatial warping her attacks caused sent Geth flying into the air, flailing and utterly helpless. Kaidan, first behind Shepard, picked them off with his rifle.

Toward the other end, Wrex and Robert moved ahead. Wrex absorbed shots with a biotic field and retorted with an assault rifle. Robert called upon his recent training and brought to bear his lightsaber to deflect as much incoming fire as he could. Behind him Garrus raised his sniper rifle and began to pick off the targets showering fire on Robert and Wrex.

Liara moved to assist Shepard. Biotic energy wreathed her figure and she threw a bolt of the dark matter into the midst of several Geth platforms on one of the upper levels of the ruins. The dark matter expanded into a swirling, angry vortex, a singularity that lifted all of the Geth from their feet. They rotated around the singularity. Kaidan began gunning them down.

Before he could finish them off, Shepard threw another biotic pulse toward them. It struck Liara's singularity. The energies mixed and expanded. In a burst of power the singularity exploded, sending the Geth platforms caught in it flying in all directions. They flew with such force they were smashed and broken upon impact.

On the other flank, Garrus' sniper work picked off Geth platforms one by one behind Robert's protection. Wrex moved back into cover and continued to fire into the Geth.

All during this time, the Mako's guns roared. The coaxial machine gun mowed down Geth platforms charging toward them, stopping when necessary to let the weapon cool. Whenever Ashley did so, she made sure to trigger the main gun, which never failed to nearly obliterate the Geth in proximity to its shots.

And yet… the Geth kept coming.

"We've got to get through that door!" Shepard shouted.

"The control to it must be on a remote." Kaidan lowered his weapon and used the omnitool to scan the door. "We'll never blow it down with the Mako's main gun, that's for sure."

"And I don't like our odds for fighting through this attack," Garrus added. After speaking he pinpointed a Geth sniper targeting Shepard from behind and fired. The tell-tale red beam of the Geth sniper vanished.

Shepard stepped back into cover, Liara doing the same. She looked across to the others. "Robert, can you open it?!"

Robert let his arms continue to move almost on their own accord while thinking about it. He knew he was capable of some major feats now. But could he open that door? And could he do it without losing control of the power?


Shepard's voice worked to compel his focus on the matter. The truth was, he had little choice. He had to do it. Without doubt. Or they'd never get out of here, Saren would win… and he would fail Julia and the others. He'd promised to come home, so come home he would.

"I need a minute!" Robert deflected another few shots, sending one of them into the flashlight head of a Geth and wrecking it. Once he was in cover he shut off the lightsaber and returned it to his belt. He got onto his knees and looked up at the door. Inside of him a swell of power rose, ready for use, as if the Flow of Life itself was responding to his need. While gunfire continued around him Robert drew in a breath and focused that burgeoning power within.

He brought his hands up and let his power flow through them, using them as a physical focus. He pressed against the door, demanding it open, willing it open.

Somewhere metal protested. Slowly the giant door slid open, screeching as it did.

Behind him Shepard jumped into the Mako. "Tali, are we good?"

Tali rose from the compartment below the cargo area. "I replaced a couple of bolts and re-calibrated the mass effect field generators. The Mako can move."

"Help the others give cover fire. We're going through the door now," Shepard ordered. She pulled the harness over her chest and reached for the driving controls.

Tali nodded and pulled her shotgun out from the small of her back. She jumped out of the Mako as the main gun roared again. The blast blew apart another group of Geth. One who managed to avoid more than superficial damage went down to a blast from Tali's gun. Nearby Liara generated a biotic field to protect Wrex and Kaidan as they returned fire.

Garrus returned his sniper rifle to its attachment point on his back. As the weapon shifted into its more compact non-use state, he reached down and gripped Robert's arms. "Come on," he said. "We've got to get you through the doors."

Robert let Garrus lift him. He replied only with a nod. Sweat filled his eyes and a strain made him feel like his body, even his inner self, wanted to come apart. The engines keeping the door closed were fighting him, trying to snap it closed. Given the Mako was only a quarter of the way through, he couldn't let his grip up.

At the halfway point a cry came from behind. Kaidan stumbled through the door clutching his leg, the victim of a direct hit that broke through his protective barrier. Tali rushed to his aid. Robert felt Kaidan's pain, his fear, and what felt like shame at being the one to get hit and thus slow his allies down. Those feelings, and those of the rest of the team, threatened to distract Robert's focus. The well of power he was channeling threatened the same.

The Mako cleared the door and Shepard stopped. She jumped from the Mako and advanced, shotgun in hand. Robert sensed why immediately; the Geth were gathering behind them, looking to push through. He felt Liara's strain, and Wrex's; they were trying to hold the fire back with biotic fields while Garrus got Robert through the door's threshold. "If you have to, leave me," he rasped. "Stop Saren."

A part of him recoiled at the statement. Not just the part that wanted to live, but the part that loved his friends, his family, that knew how Julia and Angel and Zack and Beth and all of the others would take it to find out he died here on this dead world…

"Not happening," Garrus insisted, helping Robert through. "There might be more doors further down we'll need you to open." There was a hint of humor in the Turian's voice that, even with everything he was focusing on, made Robert grin.

The others filed in behind them, Shepard coming last to cover Liara. "We're in!" she shouted.

Much to his relief, Robert relaxed. He felt the energy flow cease and his power released the doors. The machines driving them slammed them closed just as a Geth platform rushed to get through. It was flattened for its trouble.

"How are you?" Tali asked Robert. "You look pale."

After removing his helmet Robert wiped at his sweat-drenched forehead and nodded. "Yeah, I feel it too. The machinery here is pretty powerful, and I'm not used to throwing that much power around and controlling it." He drew in a breath. "Let's get going, I'll recover in the Mako."

"Just what I was thinking," said Shepard. "Let's go people!"

The Alliance military liaison office at C-Sec HQ was found in the administrative section of the structure, closer to the Presidium side than the side that led into the lift tubes toward the Wards. It was important enough that the Alliance budgeted a secretary/aide. Zack's predecessor, an Alakin army officer, had thus hired a Turian female, Kalera, with brownish coloring and gray eyes. "Commander?" she asked, standing at the opening to the inner office. "Officer Bailey is here to see you."

"Send him in." Zack looked up in time to see the older, middle-aged C-Sec officer step in. Zack had the feeling the Turian-dominated force assigned Bailey to Zack simply out of disrespect for Bailey… and perhaps for Zack. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm just confirming those shipment of pulse pistols arrived," Bailey said. His voice was rough and gravelly; that and his accent reminded Zack very much of Colonel Sam Tigh of the Colonials.

Zack quickly checked his records. "Yes, I've got the shipment here. We routed it here aboard the Starship Barroso. They've already delivered it to a holding warehouse in Zakera Ward leased by the Alliance. I've got the location here."

"Thanks." Bailey shook his head. "It's nuts. We're expecting Saren and his Geth to attack, and they're still bothering about the pulse pistols."

"It's because they're a non-lethal option, and C-Sec's eager to make use of them, I thought?" Zack asked.

"Yeah. It makes sense to me. Maybe people will stop trying Suicide by Cop." Zack noticed Bailey's pained look which quickly disappeared. "And fewer shooting fatalities is always useful. Although we'll still have to be careful about the Quarians."

Zack nodded. "I can imagine. Although are they really that much of a problem? I've met the Quarians before, I even had a Quarian kid help my ship deal with the Batarians."

"I'm sure they were a help, but the Quarians… they don't have the most respect for property, you know what I mean?" Bailey shook his head. "The damndest thing is that they're otherwise the easiest species to deal with. They stay in their shelters and work well if they're given jobs. But we still end up hauling in the new kids all the time on petty theft. They're always grabbing tools or materials when they shouldn't."

"How much of that comes from prejudice, though?" Zack asked. "I mean, people assuming a Quarian must be a thief?" He thought back to Vidinos, the Turian special forces officer who had proven so bigoted he'd even insisted Zack shouldn't answer distress signals from Quarian ships.

"You can usually tell the genuine thefts from the false alarms," Bailey said. "If you've got the brains God gave you, anyway. If someone comes up saying a Quarian stole their credit chit or some fancy jewelry, it's usually false. If it's a tool or some piece of technology, on the other hand…" Bailey shook his head. "With the pulse pistols, we'll have to do tests to ensure they don't disrupt a Quarian's suit."

"It'd help if you had a Quarian on the force," said Zack. "But from what I've seen, there's not a single Quarian in C-Sec."

"No Vorcha, Krogan, Drell, or Hanar either, Commander. And obviously no Batarians. C-Sec doesn't discriminate, we simply don't get some species volunteering." There was something in Bailey's voice that told Zack it wasn't so simple. "Anyway, I'd better get back to it."

"And I have to do the same," Zack said. He sighed. "I've got a mountain of paperwork on this job." He checked his first report. "And people demanding I have C-Sec do this or that. As if I can command you people to do anything."

"I don't envy your crank notes."

"Yeah. How about this?" Zack called up one. "'C-Sec is allowing a brothel to operate in full view of the Presidium. This is unacceptable and I urge you to do what you must to rectify this intolerable situation.' Signed by… someone I don't know."

"A what? A brothel?" Bailey chuckled. "Let me guess? Some idiot who thinks that's what the Consort is running?"

"The Consort?" Zack blinked.

"An Asari Matriarch named Sha'ira. She runs things out of a building on the Presidium, across from the Embassies. Some kind of self-help thing, I hear. Among other things." Bailey shrugged. "Even if she's running a brothel, Sha'ira has so many connections I'm not sure we could do anything about it."

"Well, not my problem anyway." Zack removed the messages from his screen. "So… have you heard anything about this supposed attack?"

"They treat us like mushrooms, especially Humans," Bailey groused. "You extraversals know that one, don't you?"

"Kept in the dark and fed on crap," Zack said as reply. "Yeah."

"I'd use a longer word than 'crap', but it'll do." Bailey moved for the door. "I'd better file this with my superiors. Thanks for your time, Commander."

"I'm not going anywhere," Zack answered. Once Bailey was gone he sighed. He glanced toward the small window that faced the Presidium. After several days on the Citadel he was starting to enjoy the view.

Depending on one's point of view, it was a good or bad thing that the one visible establishment through the window was an outdoor bar. From here Zack could watch members of many species drinking away their worries. A familiar urge came to him. And with practiced precision he forced it away, after which he glanced at his omnitool. It activated its interface and displayed the time in both Citadel and Alliance Interuniversal Standard. He glanced back toward the bar one last time. A part of him considered whether it would really hurt to have just one drink. Just one. One of the local types. He'd heard good things about Serrice Ice Brandy.

But he knew the truth. The same truth his mother had tried and failed to instill in his father, the truth he'd tried and failed to do the same with. And he knew that, especially with how he felt, one would definitely be too much. Instead he would stay and fulfill his appointment to his psychiatrist for a private session. Or as private as he could get half a galaxy and a universe away from New Liberty.

Zack walked out of the office. The outer area was very small, dominated by the desk behind which Kalera was sitting. "I'm going to be out for a few hours," he said. "Log anything coming in for when I get back."

"Understood, Commander," was the immediate reply.

Zack closed and locked his inner office door before departing. He took the lifts into Aroch Ward. The apartment that the Alliance Defense Command rented for him as liaison officer was one of the mid-range apartments, in the upper floors of a residential tower known as the Laranis Complex. From what he'd observed since arriving, the Asari were the most plentiful species in the tower, including almost all of the personnel. A lavender-complexioned Asari gave him a lovely smile as he walked past the reception desk toward the lifts. "A good day, Commander?" she asked pleasantly.

"So far… T'Mara, isn't it?"

His response was a smile that made his heart ache. "You remembered," the Asari said. "Thank you… are you alright?"

Zack forced the sad look from his face. "I'm sorry, you just… reminded me of someone."

"Oh?" After a moment the Asari maiden put it together. Her own pleasant look slipped away. "I'm sorry. I didn't know…"

"It's alright." He moved on to the lift beside the desk and hit a key to summon the lift's car. As he waited he looked back to T'Mara and asked, "How is your day, by the way?"

"It is alright. I'm actually a little nervous. Today's the day for my appointment with the Consort. I've waited for eight months."

"Oh?" Zack considered what he knew about the Consort by reputation, including his earlier conversation with Bailey. "I guess that costs a lot?"

"Not as much as you think. The Consort sets payment by percentages of income so that anyone can visit. Actually, I'm not just going for comfort, but I'm hoping she might consider letting me be one of her assistants."

Zack considered that and, again, the reputation of the people in question. "You're certainly nice enough," he said. The lift door dinged and opened. "Good luck."

"Thank you, Commander Carrey," T'Mara replied.

The lift ride up didn't take too long. The entrance to the apartment was three doors down to the right once he was on the floor he needed. He entered to find a thousand square foot apartment. A grand vista of Aroch Ward was visible through the giant window that faced outward from his apartment. He calmly set his pulse pistol and its holster down on the table near the entrance door and stepped into the living area. A quick trip to the adjoining kitchen, with its dark gray surfacing glistening from the efforts of the VI-controlled cleaning drones, gave him the glass of cool filtered water he wanted. Once he was done he went to a panel and activated the apartment's communication system and a protocol he'd installed into it. It took mere seconds for the system to link up the galactic extranet with the Alliance interuniversal comm network. Once this was done, holoprojectors in the room came alive. A middle-aged man, Caucasian with snow-white hair brushed back, appeared in a chair. Zack walked over and sat in a chair, a comfortable one within a ring of prepared holographic recorders. This would transmit his image in the other direction, allowing virtual face-to-face conversation between doctor and patient. "Hey Sydney."

"Zachary." The New Liberty-based psychiatrist nodded. He had a warm expression on his face. Even with his workload as the head of New Liberty Colony's psychiatric services, Sydney had insisted on taking Zack's case personally. Although he didn't say so, Zack was certain it was from Sydney's sense of obligation for the old Facility crew, the people who had rescued Jarod and given him the family and place he'd always deeply wanted. "How are you today?"

Zack closed his eyes. "Stressed. Worried. My best friend is off risking his life while I'm here pushing paper." He opened them again and looked Sydney eye-to-holographic-eye. "I want a drink."

Sydney nodded knowingly. "I can only imagine."

"I know one is too much. I know." Zack laid back in the chair. "It still… it gnaws at me." He rubbed at his forehead, feeling that need, resisting it. "I hold it off. But there are times I almost give in. I'm worried that I'll always want a drink."

"Your addiction is psychological as much as physical, Zachary. This is an illness you will be dealing with for a long time. That's why I'm here." Sydney seemed to make a note of something. "How is the Citadel? Are you acclimating well?"

"I suppose." Zack shrugged. "Honestly, I don't expect this assignment to be permanent. I'll either get a ship again or…" Left unsaid was the worry he felt inside, and how it would lead to the end of his hopes.

Sydney clearly knew what went unsaid. "It's always good to have a grasp of your situation and the consequences of your actions. But don't let it weigh on you, Zachary. This is something you have to take one day at a time."

"Yeah, you said that before." There was an edge to Zack's voice. "But right now, as we're talking, my best friend is risking his life to save this galaxy. Maybe even the whole Multiverse. We should be backing him up, but we're not because of politics. And it's so frustrating…"

The Mako rumbled on through the underground bunker. Using the vehicle's internal displays to show the surroundings, all could see the walls lining up to either side, cast gray, with black capsules extending out from both sides. "What are those?" Ashley wondered aloud.

"They must be cryogenic capsules," Liara said. "The Protheans may have used them in an attempt to survive."

Garrus shook his head. He had his sniper rifle in one arm so he could fiddle with the sight. "It obviously didn't work."

"You're correct." There was a wistfulness in Liara's voice. "Still, to be here, to be on Ilos… this is something archaeologists and Prothean experts have dreamed of for over a millennium."

In his seat, Robert remained quiet for the moment. The control and power needed to hold the blast doors open had demanded quite a lot from him. He enjoyed the chance to relax, such as he could given the circumstances. He listened to their conversation without a word while he felt his energy settle.

And yet, through the Flow of Life, Robert sensed something. A feeling that permeated this area of Ilos. For a moment he thought it was the cool quiet of the dead world, and those who died upon it, but after several moments he realized it was something else. "Hope," he murmured.

"Huh?" Kaidan looked to him with surprise. "What are you saying?"

"That's what I'm feeling," Robert said. "A sense of… hope. Hope in the future. Hope that it will turn out alright, an awakening…"

Liara looked at him intently. "You feel what they felt?" Liara asked. "What they felt when they went into the stasis pods?"

"I believe so," Robert confirmed. "There's a lot of death on this world. Some it is… very old. Maybe older than the Protheans. But it's like a small spark of warmth in the cold."

"I wonder why they didn't wake up?" Shepard wondered idly.

"Something must have gone wrong," Liara said. "The Reapers never came here. I think. Otherwise Sovereign would not have needed to hunt the Conduit like he did."

"Maybe the Protheans went to sleep in the hopes they would wake up when the Reapers were gone?" Tali asked.

"It is a possibility," Liara agreed.

"I don't care about that," Wrex said. "What I want to know is what they were doing here. What's this 'Conduit' thing for?"

"Whatever it was made for, we know it's useful for the Reapers." Robert felt a suspicion in that thought. They were missing something. An intent… but even now, with his abilities, it felt nebulous.

"I could spend decades of my life here," Liara confessed. "There is so much to learn about the Protheans on this world." Seeing the others glancing toward her, Liara shook her head. "But that is not my focus. Stopping Saren is."

"Good to hear." Shepard kept her eyes forward. "There will be plenty of…"

The sudden stop of her sentence was joined by the Mako coming to a sudden stop. Ahead of them, a somewhat translucent field of pale gray popped into existence. A similar field appeared behind. "We're trapped!" Tali cried out.

"Maybe not." Garrus indicated another display. There was a door in the wall. "Maybe it's some kind of security checkpoint. We should go check it out."

"We will." Shepard unlatched her harness. "Tali, Ashley, Wrex, you stay with the Mako for now, deal with any Geth that attack and stay in touch." She went to the side door and opened it. "Everyone else, fall in with me."

Robert got out of his seat, as did Garrus and Kaidan, but none could beat the speed of Liara in getting to Shepard's side. Robert sensed enthusiasm swelling within her other, darker emotions of grief and anger. Liara was in a dream come true. As such, she was the first to follow Shepard through the door, and the first on the lift ahead as well.

The final hours of the day were coming for the Aurora. The Gamma Shift watches were assuming their posts, Beta Shift were going into standby, and Alpha Shift was mostly heading to bed.


Two of the ship's senior officers were sitting in the Lookout at a table beside the transtanium windows. For Nick Locarno, the view of the Citadel was the kind of sight he'd once joined Starfleet to see, before his mistakes sent his life off-course. That he was here, now, was more due to his desire to make up those mistakes.

"It's quite a sight, isn't it?" asked Leo Gillam, the ship's chief medical officer.

"It is." Locarno shook his head and took a sip of synthehol schnapps provided by Hargert. It lacked the kick of the real stuff, but with a Code Yellow alert it was the best they could have. "What gets me is that someone wants to destroy it."

"Actually, I wonder about that." Leo leaned forward over the table. "The Citadel is supposed to date back to the Protheans, right?"


"So if these Reapers wiped out the Protheans, why did they leave the Citadel intact? Why are the keepers still around? Or, hell, the Mass Relay network?"

"Damned if I know," Locarno murmured.

"Anyway, what galls me is that Shepard had to go out and deal with this on her own," Leo confided. "The Normandy's got stealth, but the Geth have a lot of ships. If Saren brought just a fraction of them to Ilos, she'll be outnumbered."

Locarno said nothing, although he was reading plenty from Leo's irritated expression.

"Maybe we should have dared the Ambassador to stop us," said Leo. "Maybe we should have gone to Ilos too…"

"In this situation, there's no good, right choice, just mixed ones," said Locarno. "In the end, given the circumstances, Julia's making the right call staying."

"Even with this political bullcrap going on?" Leo grumbled.

"Yeah, even with that. Now, don't get me wrong. It's a stupid decision. But going to Ilos really might have provoked the Terminus Systems. And they'd never miss the presence of a ship like the Aurora."

"They have to know what's going on with Saren, they'd know why."

"Maybe, maybe not. It might give them the excuse to launch attacks on our systems," Locarno pointed out.

Leo knew he was right. He grumbled an acknowledgement, as much as he wished Locarno was wrong. It irritated him that they had to listen to jumped up dictators and warlords like the Terminus leaders. And because of that, the galaxy might yet fall to a threat nobody was willing to consider, much yet ready to face.

"We should probably get some sleep," Locarno said. "We may need the rest."

"Right." Leo stood up. "I'll see you in the morning for that staff meeting."

"I'll be there." Locarno stood from the table as well. They walked out the port entrance, heading for the lift to take them to their quarters on Deck 3.

Upon going through the door in the tunnel, Shepard and her team were met by a lift. The ancient interface for it glowed with power. Upon pressing it, the door behind them sealed and the floor began moving downward at an angle, descending a ramp. On both sides viewing ports allowed them to look out at more capsules. Undergrowth from the vegetation was overtaking the area. "This technology still works, after all of this time." Liara's voice was breathless. "This is amazing…!"

"The Protheans built things to last," said Garrus. "I mean, think of those towers on Feros…"

"And the beacons," Kaidan added.

"Not to mention the various ruins that our species all used to reverse engineer mass effect technology," Garrus continued. Robert sensed a suspicious thought come to his mind. "Although now that we know about the Reapers..."

The lift came to a stop. The door ahead slid open, revealing a walkway looking out at another stretch of the tunnel. Far more black capsules covered the walls on both ends beyond the end of the walkway. The walkway itself terminated in a panel. A garbled holographic image of brown color was hovering in the air in front of the panel.

"What is it? Some kind of VI interface?" Kaidan's question went unanswered as they approached.

"Greetings," an electronic voice stated. "I am Vigil. You are safe here for the moment, although soon there will nowhere safe left in the galaxy."

"I can understand it," Liara said, awed. "It's speaking to us in a language we can understand!"

"I have monitored your communications since your arrival and learned the language to interact with you. As I do not detect the taint of indoctrination on you, unlike the organic I sensed before, I must conclude there is still hope." The holographic image remained garbled, but it seemed to shift and waver with the speech. "I am an advanced analysis program formed from the personality imprints of Ksad Ishan, chief overseer of the Ilos facility."

"Why did you bring us here?" asked Shepard.

"You must break a cycle that has continued for untold millions of years. To do so, you must understand the threat your galaxy faces or you will make the same mistakes we did."

"The Reapers, you mean?" asked Robert.

"Yes. To stop them, you must know how they function. I must explain. The key is the Citadel. It is the heart of your civilization and the seat of galactic governance, just as it was in our time and in all civilizations that come before."

"So why do the Reapers leave it intact?" Garrus asked.

"Because it is a trap," Vigil answered. "The Citadel is actually an enormous mass relay which links to dark space, the starless void beyond the galaxy's horizon. When the relay is activated the Reapers will pour through and everything you know will be destroyed."

"That's… incredible," said Liara. "But how? My people have lived on the Citadel for over two and a half millennia. How could we have missed this?"

"The Reapers are careful to hide the Citadel's secret. They developed the keepers as seemingly-benign organic drones to operate the Citadel. With the keepers maintaining the station, species that discover the Citadel are dissuaded from examining the station themselves. They never learn of the technology operating the station, or of its true capability. Not until it is too late." Vigil's form continued to waver, rippling lines filling the garbled hologram. "That was our fate. We never realized that the keepers were a threat. Once they received a command signal, they activated the Citadel mass relay. The Reapers came through the relay and wiped out our leaders. Once they had control of the Citadel, they used it to seize control of the mass relays. In a single strike, they crippled Prothean civilization and divided it into isolated systems and clusters. We were helpless against their fleets."

"Given how Sovereign spoke on Virmire, I'm guessing they didn't offer any surrenders," Robert muttered. He recalled that malevolent being's voice in his head, its electronic voice sinister and laden with imagined superiority, like a dark god addressing mortals. The ramifications of what Vigil was explaining chilled him. It explained, fully, why the Darglan flagged the mass relays with a warning; they may have realized something of the nature of the Reapers' trap for the species of M4P2's Milky Way.

It also meant that everyone he loved and cherished was at threat. The Aurora and Koenig were at the Citadel. If the Reapers came through…

"No surrender was ever offered. The Reapers had everything they needed from recovering our civilization's data on the Citadel. Colony locations, census records, the locations of our remaining fleet. They moved system by system, annihilating all resistance. Sometimes they outright scoured worlds of all sentient life. On other occasions they seized control, enslaving the local populations with the indoctrination process. These indoctrinated slaves were turned against our people, some as mindless husks used as soldiers, others as sleeper agents accepted as refugees by Protheans on other worlds. They in turn betrayed every plan made to survive the Reapers. Secret colonization efforts, emissions-shielded bunkers… everything was betrayed to the Reapers in the end. For centuries the Protheans fought and died until the extermination was complete. All that was left were the indoctrinated, mindless husks that the Reapers left to die of starvation or exposure when they went back through the Citadel into dark space."

"So how was Ilos spared?" asked Liara.

"Ilos was a secret research facility. All evidence of our existence in the Citadel records were destroyed during the initial Reaper attack. To ensure we were not detected, the Protheans on Ilos went into cryo-stasis, to be awakened when the Reapers were gone."

"But they weren't re-awakened," Shepard said. "They died."

"Yes. The Reapers required centuries to finish the methodical extermination of the space-faring species of our time. The power requirements to sustain the cryogenic process were greater than my power reserves allowed. Under contingency protocols, I began to shut down the pods of non-essential personnel."

"So you just killed them," Kaidan said accusingly. "Did you even tell them about this plan?"

"It was a necessity programmed into my functions. However, over time I was forced to deactivate almost every pod. In the end, only twelve of the senior scientists were still alive when the Reapers returned to dark space. They realized they alone could not restore our species, so they resolved to protect the next cycle."

"How?" asked Shepard.

"By using the Conduit. It was the original purpose of the research facility. My people were on the verge of unlocking the secrets of the mass relays. It was at this height that the Reapers struck us."

There was awe in Liara's voice when she asked, "Then the Conduit… it's a mass relay, isn't it?"

"Yes. An experimental mass relay of smaller size that links directly to the Citadel. After years of study, the scientists realized they could alter the keepers' control program to ignore the activation signal. The scientists went through the Conduit to the Citadel and performed the change."

"Then why didn't the Asari find their remains?" Robert asked. "Even after forty-eight thousand years, something must have remained."

"The keepers most likely processed their remains after they died of starvation or other causes."

Kaidan shook his head. "That's a gruesome end."

"But it's given us a shot," Shepard said. "That's why Sovereign is using Saren. He needs someone who can infiltrate the Citadel and manually grant control to him."

"Yes. That is their most likely plan. You must stop them, or the cycle of extermination will continue." Vigil's garbled image seemed to fade a little. "I have loaded a program left by my creators in this panel. It will temporarily lock out Citadel controls to all but you. Load it into the master control unit of the Citadel and you can prevent Sovereign from opening the Relay."

"Master control unit?"

"It's probably in the Citadel Tower," Liara said, in reply to Robert's question. "Saren undoubtedly knows. He would have to if he's going to give Sovereign control of the station."

"Then we'll have to follow Saren. And he's got enough of a head start." Shepard activated her omnitool. "Let's get the data file and get going!"

"Saren has not yet reached the Conduit. You still have time."

"You're fading," Liara said. "And there's so much you can tell us about the Protheans…"

"My data is limited to matters relating to stopping the Reapers. I am afraid I cannot provide further data."

The well of frustration in Liara was evident. Robert could feel her desire to know more about this species, the species that shaped her galaxy and which even after millennia of study was still such an enigma to the Asari and the other species of M4P2. He set a hand on her shoulder. "It's possible there's other data on them out there," he said. "But we don't have the time for this right now. Saren and Sovereign have to be stopped."

"I know. Just…" Liara shook her head. "I feel so close to learning more about them…"

"I know."

Shepard lowered her arm. She gave Liara a sympathetic look, but there was steel in her green eyes as she glanced to the others. "I've got the file," she said. "Let's go."

"I wish you well, Commander Shepard," Vigil said. "Fulfill the hope that drove the last of my creators to die alone on the Citadel. Stop the Reapers."

"That's the plan," Shepard called back to the fading apparition. The others fell in with her and returned to the lift.

There were many different talents that a being with access to the Flow of Life could attain. Meridina had many of them, but she would be the first to admit that what the Humans called precognition - the ability to sense the likely future - was not one she normally used. Not beyond the small scale timeframe useful in fights.

And yet… yet she felt it. Saw it. Saw the slaughter. The piles of dead in the Citadel Presidium. The burning worlds. The cries of the dying as, planet by planet, sapient life was exterminated. Just as the memories of the long-dead Gylao of the Adranians showed. Just as the beacons left by the Protheans.

When Meridina woke from the nightmarish imagery, she wiped the sweat from her forehead. And she felt it. A twisting cold in the Flow of Life. As if it were feeling darkness, reacting to it much as a living being would. A general sense of raw fear filled her. Fear that was not her own.

On the nightstand by her bed, the frame of her omnitool activated. A blue light shined over where her hand would go. Meridina tapped it. "Meridina here."

"Meridina… do you feel it?" Lucy's voice was hoarse.

"Fear," Meridina said. "Raw fear rippling from the Flow of Life itself. A strand of cold…"

"Just like what Robert said."

"I know." Robert's description of the persistent strand of cold he felt in the Flow of Life matched what she just felt. "If it is becoming more prominent…"

"Something's wrong. Something's very wrong."

"Agreed. See to your student, Lucy, for I fear she may not be taking this well. I will warn Julia." Meridina slid out of her bed. Still in her sleeping clothes, a sleeveless sleeping vest and shorts, Meridina triggered the comm link. "Meridina to Andreys. Captain, please respond."

Several seconds passed before a groggy reply came. "Yes?"

"Captain, something is wrong. There is a threat. Lucy and I feel it."


"It may be coming here, yes," Meridina said. "What I do know is that it is a significant threat to our lives. To the lives of many. The Flow of Life… it chills, as if in anticipation of mass slaughter."

"Alright. Call Code Red. Assemble the senior officers and get them to their stations. I'll contact Captain King and Matriarch Lidanya."

"Right away." Meridina waited for the connection to close and went to work.

Moments later, the Aurora's klaxons blared their angry electronic tones, calling the crew to battle stations.

Julia removed her nightgown and started putting her uniform on immediately. As she was pulling the burgundy red sleeved undershirt of her standard uniform over her head, the comm system activated and displayed the faces of King and Lidanya, aboard their respective ships. Julia noted King was also in her quarters and wearing her uniform jacket open at the moment. "Captain Andreys, you said this was urgent?" King asked. "I can't help but notice you've already put your ship on combat alert."

"Yes. I believe there is an imminent threat to the Citadel. We should put the fleet on combat standby."

"Why do you feel this way?" Lidanya asked. "Have you received some actionable intelligence from Captain Dale or Commander Shepard?"

"My First Officer, Meridina… she can sense threats as a former member of the Order of Swenya. She's convinced me the threat is genuine and we must act on it."

"I see." King sighed. "Although I have my concerns about these things, I won't deny the efficacy of the Commander's metaphysical abilities." King tapped something off-screen. "Put the ship on Condition 2, now. All hands to battlestations. Alert the rest of the squadron to prepare for combat."

Lidanya seemed less convinced. "I have heard much of these abilities, it is true… but to put my ship, the entire fleet, on combat alert without solid intel…" She shook her head. "You ask for much, Captain Andreys."

"If I'm wrong, I look like a doofus," Julia said. "But I'd rather be a doofus than get people killed because we're not ready. Please, Matriarch. I trust Meridina's instincts on this."

For several crucial seconds Lidanya seemed to waver, although Julia could not tell i which direction. Finally the Asari sighed. "Very well. My pride and reputation be damned, I'll concur. We're going on combat alert. I will inform C-Sec to prepare for an attack immediately."

"I'll send them some help, in case the Geth get aboard. Andreys out." Julia tapped a key to end the call. And then another key. "Major Anders, Commander Richmond, I want all security and Marine teams armed up. We're sending a contingent to the Citadel under Major Anders."

"I hear you, Captain," responded Anders.

"Understood," Richmond added.

Next was the trump card for this force. "Andreys to Lucero, get geared up, we need you on the Citadel." As she spoke, Julia was already preparing her next call.

The Mako's long trip through the tunnel ended with sunlight again above their heads. Shepard kept the Mako at speed for the long drop ahead, resulting in a bone-jarring landing in the aqueduct below. Robert felt Kaidan's pain as his face went white. "Sorry, Kaidan," he heard Shepard apologize. "But we're in a hurry."

"It's fine, Commander," Kaidan replied. "I can live with the pain."

"Commander, twelve o'clock," Ashley warned. "We've got company!"

Robert turned his head, as did the others, to see how the front display. A line of Geth platforms were formed with rocket launchers. A four-legged heavier platform, an Armature, was in the middle of the rocket troopers, preparing a plasma blast. Ashley fired the main gun of the Mako and landed a direct hit, disrupting the Geth's shot and sending it over the Mako instead of into it. Shepard swerved the Mako to evade an incoming rocket and swerved it in the other direction to evade a second. A third couldn't be evaded, exploding against the protective particle barrier and partially degrading them.

"Ash, take out what you can, but we're not stopping to fight," Shepard said. She opened up the throttle on the Mako and it roared ahead. With terrifying precision she turned the corner of the aqueduct as the Geth fired another volley of rockets. The Mako nearly seemed to tip over, but Shepard kept it from doing so, an expert feat of handling that saw them through the Geth ambush.

"I doubt that's the last of them," said Liara.

"Let them come, because we're not stopping," Shepard said as she raced the Mako on down the aqueduct.

Zack was nodding off to a particularly boring baseball game - the E5B1 New York Yankees were up 12 runs to 4 against the C5O2 St. Louis Cardinals in an interuniversal exhibition game - when the blue light appeared over the back of his left hand, accompanied by a chime to alert him to its presence. His eyes snapped awake and he tapped it. "Carrey here."

Julia's voice came through immediately. "Zack. I'm calling to warn you, there might be an attack soon."

"Oh?" he asked, concern in his voice. Concern for her, mostly. "What's going on?"

"Meridina and Lucy are both sensing danger. Whatever it is, I can hear the fear in their voices. I think Sovereign actually is going to attack the Citadel. But I'm not sure Lidanya believes it enough to get C-Sec mobilized if Executor Pallis doesn't accept the reasoning. That's why I'm calling you." As she spoke, Zack didn't think of mentioning the fear he was hearing in her voice. A fear he was feeling as well; if this attack was coming, did this mean Shepard had failed? That Saren had "the Conduit" or whatever it was?

Did it mean Robert was dead?

Either way, Zack stood up. "I'll go alert C-Sec," he said. "I've got my own connections, even if Executor Pallis isn't accepting Meridina's warning, I can get the word out to be ready."

"I'm sending security and Marines over, under Major Anders. Lucy and her student will be with them."

"Student?" asked Zack.

"Ensign Talara," Julia clarified.

Zack remembered the Falaen junior officer. He knew who to be on the lookout for. "I'm heading to C-Sec now. I might not be able to get them fully mobilized if Pallis says no, but I'll do what I can."

"Good luck. Andreys out."

Zack rushed to his bedroom. He had only one field uniform issued at the moment, so he pulled it on, hoping the protection from the built-in personal deflector and the protective material would be enough against Geth gunfire. He left the room and ran toward the lift. Thankfully it didn't cost him much time before the lift car arrived.

When he stepped out into the lobby, T'Mara was still at the receptionist desk. He turned toward her immediately. The welcoming smile on her face vanished as she recognized how serious he looked. "Commander?"

"T'Mara, get the word out. Something may be happening. Everyone should get to shelter as soon as they can."

"But… C-Sec hasn't issued any alerts…"

"Not yet, but… please. Take precautions, there are families here," Zack pleaded.

He could see her resistance fade as she took in how serious he looked and how convinced he was. "I… I'll call a shelter drill. We're supposed to be holding those anyway…"

"Good. Thank you. And stay safe." With that Zack turned away from T'Mara. He overheard her calling the drill as he went out the door. He was already activating his omnitool. "Bailey, you there?"


"Is C-Sec mobilizing yet?"

"No." Confusion came over the line. "Why would we be? Have you heard something?"

"Yeah, but the source might not be enough for Pallis," Zack replied. "But it's one I damn well trust, so I'm urging you, get whoever you can together. I'm on my way to HQ now. If something happens, we'll need all the help we can get."

"I hear you. I know some good people. We'll arm up quietly until the Executor gives the order. Stay in touch."

"I mean to," Zack promised, running for the main lift to carry him into C-Sec HQ.

The Mako continued its race through the Prothean aqueduct on Ilos, water shooting up from around its tires as it roared along. Geth platforms appeared again along the side and poured rocket and gunfire down. Ashley tracked the turret to one side and fired a shot from the main cannon that blew three of them apart. The coaxial machine gun mowed down another.

Tali was busy checking the Mako's systems. "The barriers are still holding, but they won't take much more of this!"

They made another curve. A four-legged Geth platform fired a bolt of plasma at them that Shepard had no time to evade. The energy washed over the faltering barriers. Ashley returned fire with the main gun. The shot blew the leg off of the Geth machine, tilting it down and to the side. Behind them more rockets fired their way. Shepard zigged and zagged as much as she could to evade them without losing the forward speed to catch up to Saren.

"I've got a Turian life signature ahead on the scanners," Tali said.

"Saren." Shepard gunned the accelerator and stopped her maneuvering. The Geth rocket platforms behind raced after them. Ashley fired a shot into their midst that sent them flying.

Tali continued examining the sensor returns with her omnitool. "I'm picking up a power spike," she said. "It looks like… it looks like a mass relay."

"The Conduit," Shepard said, frowning. Ahead of them, at the bottom of a long decline in the aqueduct, a small mass relay was pointing toward the sky. A tap of a button on her steering wheel zoomed the image in, revealing the form of Saren and multiple Geth. The Geth were already walking into the relay. Blue light surged around them and they shot up into the sky. As they walked, Saren stopped and looked back. It was clear he saw the Mako.

He immediately turned back and stepped in, letting the Conduit's energies shoot him across the galaxy, while around the Conduit a half dozen of the four-legged Geth moved into position to block access.

Julia arrived on the Aurora bridge to a command crew of bleary-eyed officers. For these situations the rules about drinks at work places were partially suspended; mugs of coffee were visible at a number of points. Meridina welcomed Julia with one. "I am aware you must be tired, Captain," said the Gersallian. "Please, we will need you alert for this."

Julia took a drink from it and enjoyed the warmth of the brew more than the taste. It was one of the stronger, bitter brews she was aware of, so bitter she fought to keep a sour look off her face. "It's raktajino, isn't it?"

"Studies have shown it to be quite an effective means of waking up quickly."

"Mostly because of the taste," Locarno grumbled. "Raktajino was for late-semester cramming back at Starfleet Academy."

"I dunno." Angel finished her cup. "I kind of like it."

"You would," was Locarno's response.

Julia took another drink and shook her head. I'm going to have bitter-mouth for a week, she lamented to herself while walking to her command chair. "Status," she asked.

"We're at full combat alert. All squadrons save Charlie have launched or are in the process of launching," Meridina reported. "Charlie's pilots were off standby rotation and will take another five minutes."

"All systems ready for combat," Barnes confirmed from Engineering.

Beside him, Cat nodded. "I'm scanning now. So far I'm… energy surge! There's an energy surge in the Relay! Something's coming through! A lot of somethings…"

"On screen," Julia ordered. Jarod obliged by bringing up a view of the Widow Relay on the bridge holo-viewer. One by one the familiar, wingless insect form of Geth destroyers and cruisers zipped into appearance.

And each was dwarfed by the massive form that appeared in their midst, red lightning crackling around something that looked like a great sea monster.

"Sovereign," Julia said.

"Geth vessels are approaching at combat velocity," Jarod warned. "And I'm… Cat, what do you make of this?"

Caterina examined the readings. "They're… they're raising deflector shields."

Julia nodded grimly. The Geth would be far more difficult opponents than they were before, then.

"The defense fleet is still going on alert," Meridina added. "Some ships were ready but others…"

Julia shook her head. Lidanya might have heeded her, but it was clear not every captain regarded the warning. Now it might cost them and their crews dearly.

"Tactical, lock weapons on target."

"I'm getting relayed tactical orders from the Excalibur," Angel said. "They want to coordinate fire on Sovereign."

Julia felt her mouth go dry as the sinister-looking machine ship loomed on the holo-viewer. "Do so," she said simply, while she worried about this meant. Sovereign and the Geth were launching a direct attack against the strongest point in the galaxy. Why would they do that unless they had a good reason to think they'd win?

What did this mean for Robert and Shepard and the others? Had they been too late?

Robby, I hope you're still out there, because I have a bad feeling about this…

Shepard wasted no time. Even with the heavy Geth platforms closing in ahead, more than twice the number sufficient to overpower the Mako in a straight fight, she gunned the engine. The Mako shot forward and toward the Conduit.

"The Conduit's energy signature is shifting, I think it's about to deactivate!" Tali cried out.

"We've got one shot at this!" Shepard shouted. "Everyone hold on!"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by U.P. Cinnabar »

Saul Tigh, by the way.
"Beware the Beast, Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone amongst God's primates, he kills for sport, for lust, for greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of Death.."
—29th Scroll, 6th Verse of Ape Law
"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
---Doctor Christine Blasey-Ford
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

U.P. Cinnabar wrote: 2018-07-08 10:44am Saul Tigh, by the way.
...what the hell? I don't even remember typing "Sam". ugh.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by U.P. Cinnabar »

It might have been the fault of autocorrupt autocorrect.

Gripping narrative. I don't want to break the flow of the story just to type that.
"Beware the Beast, Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone amongst God's primates, he kills for sport, for lust, for greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of Death.."
—29th Scroll, 6th Verse of Ape Law
"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
---Doctor Christine Blasey-Ford
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

The Geth opened fire immediately and the Mako responded. Blue bursts of light filled the air around the Mako, which zigged and zagged slightly, weaving its way around the incoming fire on its way to the Conduit, even now starting to lose its bright sapphire glow. Some shots missed, going on to kick up mounds of dirt and material from the ground, or gouts of water and steam from the flowing water.

And some shots hit. Blow by blow struck the Mako's particle field. Inside Tali cried out, "Particle barrier failing! We can't take another…!"

As the Mako raced past the first two of the Geth, Ashley shot one in the head with the vehicle's main gun. This was the second direct hit Ashley landed on the platform, so the shot overpowered the particle barrier of the Geth platform and smashed the head into pieces. The platform flopped onto its belly, lifeless.

On the other side, though, the second Geth fired. And at that range and at that angle, even the Mako's speed couldn't spare it from a direct hit. The blast broke through the particle barrier and scoured material from the Mako's exterior.

"Particle barriers gone!"

Shepard didn't react. She was too busy keeping control of the Mako as she weaved through more oncoming fire, her eyes firmly locked on the Conduit ahead.

A Conduit that was on the verge of shutting down.

The Geth opened fire first, directing their first volley of shots at the Council ships that had yet to adjust formation and alert status. As Julia feared would happen, those captains and their crews paid the price for their refusal to believe Meridina's warning. She watched as Geth missiles and plasma fire broke apart a Turian cruiser with several direct hits. A second cruiser of the same class died a moment later from more. An Asari ship was left a burning wreck.

While the Turians took the brunt of the incoming fire, the Geth sent several volleys toward the Destiny Ascension. The massive Asari dreadnought could tank some fire, but the Geth weapons were more powerful than those the Aurora had encountered over Adrana and Therum. After the first wave of the volley finished striking the Asari ship's deflectors, the ship reported shield degradation.

"The Council has been beamed aboard the Destiny Ascension," King informed them over the comm. "All vessels, defense of the Ascension is our top priority after the Citadel." WIth that order King was already implementing her instruction with her own ship. The Excalibur moved to cover the Destiny Ascension. King's tactical officer opened fire. Bolts and beams of sapphire energy lashed out at the incoming Geth. The Geth ships' shields held, mostly. Follow-up torpedoes from the Excalibur and the Barroso, one of the Predator-class starships, finished off one of the Geth cruisers.

More might have gone down, but Angel's opposite on the Excalibur was joining her in focusing fire on the main threat. Sapphire bolts from pulse plasma cannons zipped between the gaps of the Geth ships to crash into Sovereign. A barrier field of some kind met those shots, with no resulting damage to the massive machine.

"Status on Sovereign's shields?" Julia asked.

"I've never seen a deflector pattern like this before," Cat said. "It's absorbing our fire with some effort, but it shrugs off most of the incoming fire from mass effect field weaponry. It's like Sovereign's defenses were made to nullify mass effect weapons."

"Given what Robert and Shepard heard on Virmire, I'm not surprised," Jarod noted. "I'm still examining the shields for weak points…" The bridge rocked slightly as the first Geth missiles struck their shields. "Shields holding at ninety-five percent…" They rocked again. "...ninety-three percent now."

"I've already got secondary shield generators to take up the slack," Barnes said. "Tertiaries will come online as needed."

Julia nodded. As their ship rocked again, and even more hits struck the Excalibur, she figured they'd need those tertiaries sooner or later.

"What's the status of the Citadel?" she asked. "Is C-Sec ready for intruders?"

With Jarod busy running his share of their battle operations, Meridina was the one to open the commlink. Julia noticed her expression shift ever so slightly to show concern. "I am seeing reports of weapons fire on the Presidium. Geth have been identified. But there is no consistent response to my inquiries. It appears the Citadel's communications are down."

"Not just the Citadel," Jarod said. "I can't access the galactic communication network. We're being blocked."

Julia nodded. Even the Alliance's IU network had to utilize the galaxy's network this far from the core of Alliance space in this galaxy and others. "Then the fleet at Arcturus won't be joining us. We have to do this ourselves."

When the Geth came through the Conduit, they arrived in a Presidium that was still filled with civilians. They wasted no time in opening fire. As beings of all the species present started to fall, wounded or dead, the Geth fanned out. Some of them set up impaling spikes with their victims, the devices that would turn them into husks, while others secured the lifts to the Citadel Tower. Reinforcements from behind them moved in through the Conduit and spread down and across the Presidium. By the time Saren came through, there was nothing stopping him from entering the Tower. He stopped by the nearest Avina kiosk. Before the colorful Asari-modeled VI could speak to him, Saren used an omnitool to load code into the VI, and through it into the Citadel's systems. Lights across the Presidium started to go out.

"I need time," he said to the nearest Geth, knowing all could hear him. "Distract C-Sec with attacks on the Presidium." The Geth gave a warble of obedience as they spread out to do just that.

The unexpected arrival of Geth on the Presidium caught everyone in C-Sec by surprise. Communications started to go down a moment later.

The Aurora's Marine and security forces were on their way to meet with one of Executor Pallis' lieutenants when the alert came over internal communications. C-Sec comms swiftly broke down. Major Anders was surprised to see the security force reduced to near-chaos by the result. He'd fought alongside Turian troops against the Reich and knew them to be quite capable of rolling with a situation.

"This isn't the Turian military," Lucy said to him, sensing the thought. "C-Sec's different. I don't think they ever imagined something on this level happening."

"Maybe not." Anders hailed down a passing Turian C-Sec officer. "I'm Major Anders, Alliance Marines. Where's the fire?"

"Everywhere," said the C-Sec officer. "We're getting reports of explosions and Geth attacks in every Ward and the Presidium itself. And the extranet is down. Communications across the Citadel are also untrustworthy. Someone may have sabotaged our network."

"So what are your plans for this?" asked Lucy. "Contingencies?"

"That's the problem." Irritation showed in the Turian's eyes. "Executor Pallis is cut off, and we've lost contact with seventy percent of our precincts. At this point C-Sec can't launch a coordinated response."

"Which is probably what Saren wants," Anders said. "So we need to figure out where he doesn't want C-Sec."

Lucy considered the question. She felt a pull toward the direction of the Presidium. "Something on the Presidium, I'm sure of it." She prepared to run in that direction and just barely stopped herself. She glanced toward Anders. "I'm positive, but the call is yours."

Anders nodded and she sensed a small bit of appreciation from him. "Lead on, Lieutenant."

She did.

The fire converging on the Mako was far more than its particle barrier systems could handle. Bolt after bolt of plasma struck the surface of the vehicle, blackening its white exterior as armor melted off and away under the onslaught. "We're taking too much fire!" Tali cried. "The barrier isn't regenerating. We've taken damage to the shocks on the rear right! The Mako won't take much more of this!"

"It won't need to. Here we go!"

Shepard pushed the Mako throttle as much as she could. The vehicle rocked from the impacts that were wrecking it as it approached the fading Conduit.

"Estimate Conduit closure in ten seconds!" Tali cried. "Nine… eight… seven…"

A shot from one of the Geth struck the turret. It was not destroyed, but melted material stuck it into place, keeping Ashley from returning fire further.

"...five… four… three..!"

Robert held his breath as the Conduit loomed ever nearer. He tried to project his power into the Mako, willing it to move faster, to make it before the Conduit closed.

"...two… one! The Conduit's energy field, it's…"

As the Conduit began its shutdown sequence, the Mako made it to the energy field surrounding it. In a burst of blue light it shot up through the sky. Everyone aboard felt the familiar effect of a mass relay transit.

After a few seconds it ended. Through the viewscreen at the front of the Mako the Presidium was barely visible, the main lights now inactive.

But none of them had time to notice this fact, nor the presence of the Geth ahead. The Mako shot from the Conduit's relay to the Citadel at the same velocity it had when it entered. Shepard had a mere second to react and try to slow the vehicle down. It crashed through two Geth platforms, destroying both, as she slammed the brakes.

The damage to the Mako and it systems made it impossible for the brakes to slow them as normal. The Mako flipped and turned until it came to a rest nearly upside down. The flip and the impact were the most intense yet and Robert was certain everyone would have bruises over it. He ignored the lingering pain and discomfort and released his seat harness. As he was on the side that was pointing upward he fell a little, but mostly slid until he was crouching on the ceiling of the cargo area.

Nearby Shepard was already crawling out of the driver's side hatch. Garrus was the first to scramble up to the hatch on the other side. He opened it and jumped out. Tali and Robert joined him a moment later.

Robert felt the danger an instant before the Geth fired. The rocket erupted from its launcher bound for Garrus. He acted instinctively, throwing the rocket off-course enough to hit the wrecked Mako instead. The blast from the rocket proved sufficient to throw all three to the ground. In a daze Robert lifted his head. His ears rang from the blast. Ahead a Geth was raising its weapon and pointing it toward him. His arm flopped as he struggled to get to his weapon, but the blast of the rocket was severe enough to leave him seriously rattled and, worse, very disoriented. He blinked to try and get the blur out of his vision.

There was the sound of pulse fire and an electronic whine, followed by the clatter of a Geth hitting the ground. When Robert looked again, his imminent killer was sprawled out on the Presidium floor, and a figure dashed up to him. He looked up and blinked in surprise. "What?"

"Hey Rob," said Zack, smiling as he extended his hand to his friend. "It's been a while."

Despite the remnant pain in his head, Robert smiled back.

The Aurora maneuvered around a damaged Turian cruiser, absorbing missiles from a Geth ship meant for the Turians. Blue beams of plasma lashed out in reply from the ship's starboard emitters. The deflectors of the Geth cruiser held under the initial strikes. But the four starboard-facing beam cannons came to bear under Angel's direction. One by one four thicker beams of sapphire energy lashed out at the cruiser. Its deflectors failed on the second shot, allowing the two that followed to slice the Geth ship open. With its hull opened up and its deflectors down, it had no protection from the follow up shots. In the seconds before its motion would have brought it out of the Aurora's starboard arc, more sapphire beams cut the ship's internals apart. A hit on the helium-3 fuel tanks left a trail from the wounded ship. Beside the Aurora, the wounded Turians put a spread of disruptor torpedoes into the dying Geth cruiser to finish it off.

Julia didn't notice the success. She was busy observing the battle as a whole. The Geth were pressing hard on the Destiny Ascension and thus on the Excalibur. The numbers and most of the ships being outfitted with deflector shields gave them the apparent edge.

"Why isn't Sovereign joining the fight?" Julia asked aloud. The ship shuddered as it took fire from two more of the Geth cruisers. Angel immediately retaliated with a barrage of pulse plasma fire from the bow cannons that battered down the Geth ship's deflectors, allowing the bow-mounted beam weapons to carve the Geth ship up. The second cruiser took fire from the Excalibur while turning its guns on the Destiny Ascension again.

"It apparently sees the Geth as nothing but cannon fodder," Meridina remarked. "Perhaps it is using them to weaken us."

"Given how it was talking on Virmire, that doesn't make sense. It thinks it's superior…" Julia felt a small smile come on as she let her thoughts come to a conclusion. "...unless it's afraid of something."

Meridina sensed the thought and nodded. "You believe Sovereign is afraid of us."

"I do."

A Geth missile slammed into the shields. "Shields down to seventy percent," Jarod said.

"Mister Jarod, Commander Delgado, have you found anything about those shields the Reaper is using?"

"They've got a lot of raw power behind them," Cat confirmed. "And they're really good at deflecting matter. This technology was clearly made to counter mass effect weaponry and any other form of weapons that use mass."

"But what about our weapons?"

Cat thought that through. "It'll block torpedoes, yeah, and the nadion particles in phasers would have trouble with it, but the plasma from our main batteries shouldn't be affected. Our plasma fire and the Excalibur's were showing an effect earlier."

Julia tapped a key on her chair to open the tac-comm link to the Excalibur. "Captain King, my science officer believes Sovereign may be vulnerable to our plasma weaponry."

After a few moments King's voice responded, "And mine concurs, Captain. Very well. I'll have our light ships continue to assist the Destiny Ascension and the rest of the Citadel fleet. We will engage Sovereign directly. I'm relaying combat formation data to your helm now."

"Formation data received," Locarno confirmed. "I'm taking us in."

"I'm relaying targeting data to the Excalibur," Cat said. "If we concentrate our fire enough, I think we might be able to breach Sovereign's shields."

After another hit Jarod reported, "Shields at sixty-six percent."

"Engage the Geth as we go, but I want every weapon hitting Sovereign if it can."

"Targeting information loaded," Angel said, nodding to her younger sister. "I'm linking with the Excalibur for synchronized firing."

"Then fire when ready."

The two Alliance starships moved in tandem together, bringing their best weapons to bear as they flew in defiance of the gathering Geth ships toward their target.

Shepard's team managed to extricate themselves from the stricken Mako under the cover of Zack and a number of C-Sec officers of various species. Bailey was kneeling beside Zack behind some cover; Robert and Shepard were nearby behind one of the tree stands. "It was the damndest thing," Bailey was saying, glancing toward the Conduit's exit: the supposed mass relay monument left by the Protheans. "I always thought it was just a model, not a portable relay!"

"What's going on?" Shepard asked them.

"Saren's hacked into station communications, C-Sec is offline, divided, and distracted," Zack replied. "Julia warned me something was up. Meridina and Lucy sensed trouble. So I was on my way to meet with Bailey when everything went nuts."

"There's no way the Geth are already everywhere on the station," Ashley said. "Not this quickly."

Garrus shook his head. "Not at all, but they don't have to be. Saren was a Spectre. He probably knew our command protocols. He's triggering false alarms."

"Spectres aren't supposed to be briefed on those," Bailey said. "It's too vital for field operatives to know."

"There's no telling how long Saren's been planning this," Shepard said. "He could have met Sovereign decades ago."

"I wouldn't put it past him," Garrus grumbled.

"We'll figure it out later," Shepard insisted. "Where is Saren now? Did he enter the Tower?"

"Seems likely," Bailey said. Over his head gunfire from the Geth whizzed by.

"The master control unit must be up there." Shepard readied her weapon. "We need to get there before Sovereign can open the relay to dark space."

"Can open the what?"

"The Citadel's a big mass relay," Robert explained quickly. "And on the other side is the dark space beyond the galaxy where a bunch of genocidal machines are waiting to slaughter us all." Robert pulled his weapon out. "So let's get going." He nodded to Shepard.

Shepard nodded back once and jumped from cover. Biotic energy gathered around her and she shot forward. Her charge sent a pair of Geth platforms flying. Robert's power caught another and he threw it into the lake in the middle of the Presidium. The lightsaber in his hand came up and deflected an incoming shot, then another. Behind him Zack and Bailey were rising to open fire, shooting at some of the other Geth.

Behind them, the rest of Shepard's team began advancing. Liara tossed a singularity and, after it snagged two Geth, Kaidan threw his own biotic bolt into the singularity to cause it to explode, smashing the two Geth into the wall. Wrex charged forward, wreathed in a biotic field, and slammed his head into a Geth's neck with enough force to slice through most of the wires holding the flashlight head to the torso. He fired a point blank shot into it and blew the torso apart. Ashley backed him up by riddling a larger Geth platform approaching him with rounds from her assault rifle. When it tried to fire, Tali used her omnitool to hack into the neural net and temporarily paralyze the big Geth. Wrex and Ashley shot it to pieces with their weapons. A Geth sniper targeting Shepard as she shot up another Geth platform had its head blown to pieces by Garrus' sniper rifle. Robert caught another one with his lightsaber, slicing it in half before bringing the weapon back up to deflect more incoming fire.

They nearly made it to the tower when they came under fire from the direction of the Embassies. Multiple Geth platforms were approaching from that direction, including one of the smaller four-legged ones. It shot a bolt of plasma that impacted just short of the team, sending Garrus and Tali flying backward from the energies of the impact. Wrex and Liara moved to cover them while Ashley, Kaidan, and Shepard sought cover. Robert held his place and tried to draw fire, ensuring that Zack and Bailey could get their people back into cover as well.

This, of course, made him a target, and the Geth were focusing fire on him. His arms were starting to feel rubbery as they moved with speed that was beyond normal, catching the incoming fire with the help of his life force powers. But he didn't know how long he could keep this up…

...and then realized he wouldn't have to.

A sudden explosion ripped through the ranks of the Geth. The steady sound of pulse fire came from beyond their position. In the moments afterward, as the four-legged Geth charged up for another shot, a figure leapt out from the path further down the Presidium and descended on the back of the Geth. Robert watched a flash of blue light fill the air and swipe through the neck of the Geth. The plasma discharged wildly around it, wrecking the Geth, while its destroyer leapt free to land near Robert.

Lucy looked at him and smiled. "I thought I felt you were here," she said. "How?"

"The Conduit is a portable mass relay linking Ilos to the Citadel," he replied. Behind Lucy he noticed the armored figures of Marines joined with more C-Sec officers coming up. Zack and Bailey led the other C-Sec officers in joining the fight, and with Shepard's team helping the Geth were being taken under fire from three sides.

Lucy nodded. The smile faded. "Allowing Saren to slip into the Presidium with a bunch of Geth."


"Sovereign's here," Lucy added. "You can feel it?"

"I can." Robert stopped himself from shuddering at the malevolent energy of the Reaper. "It's like the Flow of Life is shivering in terror."

"We felt it coming," Lucy said. "All of us." As she spoke Talara came up, in a field uniform carrying a pulse pistol. Robert sensed the queasiness in the Falaen woman and noticed her brown skin was now pale. "We have to stop this."

"That's the plan." Shepard stepped up to join them. "We've got to get up the Tower."

"There are more Geth in the Presidium, but I'm betting they'll come this way quickly if Saren calls." Anders was walking up to join them now. "We'll stay and hold the line."

"And we'll join you, Commander," said Zack. "You're probably going to need the firepower. There's no telling how many Geth are up there with Saren."

"I'm coming too," Lucy said. Talara nodded in agreement with her teacher.

"We'll take one lift, you take the other," Shepard said. "Let's move!"

With Shepard's team in the lead, they moved on to the lifts.

The cloudy space around the Citadel lit up with weapons fire, like a distant thunderstorm veiled behind clouds. In the cockpit of his Mongoose tactical fighter, Lieutenant Commander Patrice Laurent tracked a Geth cruiser moving in to strike at a beleaguered Asari cruiser. His targeting systems locked onto the enemy ship. "Squadron reports target lock," said his sensor officer, Ensign Derek Patel.

"Commence fire," Laurent ordered.

Around him, the Aurora's Alpha Squadron opened fire. Their phaser cannons, even collectively, did little against the Geth deflector shields..

Their solar torpedoes, however, were far more effective. The barrier of the Geth ship collapsed on the fourth impact, leaving several more torpedoes to blow the ship to pieces.

"Bravo Squadron here, we're under heavy fire at grid epsilon-29, Geth fighters are in number. Turian wing already eliminated."

Recognizing the Sirian accent of Lieutenant Gwen Skydancer, Bravo's commander these past few months after her time in Laurent's Command Flight, Laurent responded immediately. "Echo Squadron, reinforce Bravo. Delta, fall back to cover the Aurora."

"Roger that."


"Alpha Squadron, stay on my flight," Laurent continued. "The Asari are still pressed hard and need the support."

"Roger," replied Lieutenant Huang, the commander of the squadron.

Geth fire filled the space around the Aurora and Excalibur as the two ships continued to go for the colossal Reaper directing the fleet of synthetics. Sapphire bolts repeatedly struck at Sovereign as the range closed and the Reaper could not evade the ships sufficiently.

On the Aurora bridge Cat looked up from her station. "I think it's working," she said. "I'm reading disruptions in Sovereign's deflectors. They're starting to… wait, I'm getting a power surge…"

"We're being targeted," Jarod warned.

"Evasives!" Julia ordered.

At Locarno's control, the Aurora twisted and pulled away from the Reaper. As the maneuver completed, red light came from one of the machine's many arms. It briefly played over the Aurora before a surge of energy lashed out. The Aurora's shields flickered violently in reaction.

On the bridge the ship shook violently, almost as if they'd taken a direct hit.

"I managed to avoid the worst of it," said Locarno.

"Still, that hit took our shields down to thirty-eight percent," Jarod replied.

"And strained the generators," Barnes said. "I'm diverting auxiliary power to shore them up."

"Sensors confirm we were hit by a magnetohydrodynamic bolt, some kind of alloy," Cat said as the ship shuddered again. Some of the Geth were still engaged with them, trying to protect Sovereign. "Our deflectors absorbed it better than others would have. That shot would have broken through a particle barrier like it wasn't… we're being targeted again!"

Julia didn't have to repeat the prior order. This shot from Sovereign was a near-miss, the very outer edge of the bolt of cee-fractional-accelerated matter skimming the Aurora's shields. "Shields are back to forty-eight percent and rising," Jarod said. As he spoke more weapons fire struck Sovereign and its powerful deflectors.

"Do what you can, and maintain fire on that monster," Julia insisted. And here's hoping we keep that thing from landing a direct hit.

With the Geth off to cover all potential entrance ways, Saren walked by himself toward the Council's meeting place. With his omnitool ready he sent the codes Sovereign had left him. An automated system extended the walkway to the Petitioners' Stage. Hardlight controls flashed into existence.

You are almost done, Sovereign's voice said to him. When the others arrive, you will be recognized for your role in this harvest.

Saren heard the words and felt nothing but conviction for them. At least, mostly nothing. Even here, at the cusp of victory, he felt a small bit of doubt on the matter. Doubt that this was the right approach, that this would safeguard his survival and that of others. This small part screamed, "You are being betrayed! He is controlling you!"

To his surprise, this was being said in the voice of Shepard.

The doubt seeped away. Sovereign's conviction filled him. This was the way it had to be. The only way to survive.

Saren bought his hands up and began seizing control of the Citadel.

The first hint that something was going wrong was when the lifts stopped, almost side-by side. Robert glanced toward the other elevator, slightly lower than the one Shepard's team was on. Shepard was busy with the controls. "It's not accepting my codes. I'm being locked out. It must be Saren."

"Then we're almost out of time. Let me…"

"No, let me," said Tali. She went up to the controls. "I think I can use a manual override. Give me a minute."

As she started working, Robert glanced over to see Lucy doing almost the same thing. Trying to override it?

was the answer. Hold tight.

It's just the fate of the galaxy and maybe the Multiverse, no pressure
, he thought back.

The response was a surge of irritation and a feel of I'm not talking anymore.

Geth fire that might have finished off one of the lighter Salarian ships splashed with little effect against the shields of the Koenig. On her bridge Will Atreiad kept his eyes on the tactical holo. Apley maneuvered the Koenig to direct its firepower at one of the lighter Geth attackers. Sherlily's barrage with the main phaser cannons blasted away its deflectors and the rear half of the ship.

The ship shook with a solid impact. "Geth cruiser, bearing 102 mark 088," Magda reported. "They've got a lock." Again they were rattled in their seats. "Shields holding at seventy percent."

"Ap, Attack Plan Epsilon," Will ordered.

The Koenig made a wide, twisting turn, taking another shot as they did. This put them directly on course for the Geth cruiser. It was already taking fire from the Salarian ships nearby. The enhanced shields of the Geth ships absorbed the shots with little difficulty. Sherlily added the Koenig's phaser cannons to the attack. "Enemy shields holding but degrading," she reported. "I have torpedo lock."

"Full spread, April."

Blue-white sparks - the sparks being the propulsion fields around the flat cylindrical torpedoes themselves - erupted in pairs from the Koenig's forward launchers. They exploded against the Geth cruiser's shields. "I'm detecting shield loss now."

"Bring us in for another attack run," Will insisted, knowing the Koenig had to keep the heat off the Salarians until they could rally.

"Doing so now, sir," Apley confirmed.

The Koenig began a tight maneuver, flipping and twisting as it turned relative to its prior position, all to throw off the aim of the Geth targeting systems. Some fire still struck the Koenig enough to shake the bridge. "Shields down to sixty-six percent," Magda reported.

"Firing," Sherlily added.

The barrage of phaser fire and torpedo didn't destroy the Geth ship, but it did leave the shields degraded enough for the main guns on the two biggest Salarian cruisers to strike bare hull. Gouts of debris erupted from the impact points. "Enemy ship is badly damaged." Magda checked over her sensors. "The Salarians are moving to finish her off."

"Then find us another target, Ap," said Will.

"Yes sir," was the reply.

Another shot from Sovereign slammed into the shields of the Aurora. "Shields down to twenty percent," Jarod warned. "Hull damage on several decks."

"We've got two primary generators offline, tertiaries are now fully engaged," Barnes added. "That thing packs a wallop."

Even as they spoke Julia watched Sovereign fire again, this time at the Excalibur. King's ship had a skilled pilot as well, but given its size it had the same issue as the Aurora; not being nearly nimble enough to completely evade fire. The shot caught the Excalibur amidships. Its shields flared brilliantly. "The Excalibur is reporting hull damage and near shield loss," Meridina noted.

"What's the status on that monster?"

"Sovereign's deflectors, whatever they are, it looks like they're degrading. I can't be sure how badly, I've never seen… power spike! Sovereign's engines are…!"

The monster seemed to shoot forward, as if all of its maneuvers up to now had been half-hearted. "It's putting all of its energy into engines and deflectors," Cat said. "And it's on course for the Citadel."

Meridina was already pale. "We must stop it. We must stop it now."

"Intercept course! Everything to engines, get us between Sovereign and the Citadel!"

At that command, Locarno sent the Aurora racing off after the monster. The Excalibur joined the pursuit, both ships continuing to fire on Sovereign as they strained to catch up.

On the Citadel Tower, Tali continued to fuss with her omnitool. "I think I almost have it… there!"

With a final key press, the lift carrying Shepard's team went into motion. Several moments later Robert felt the surge of triumph from Lucy. The lift she was taking with Zack, Talara, and C-Sec resumed moving as well.

Even with the tension of the moment, Robert found he was looking at the sight of the Citadel. From this position he could see one of the wards. It was an amazing view. As he contemplated it he felt the life around him. The Flow of Life pulsed with the Citadel's many millions of beings. He could feel their fear, their worry, and most importantly, their hope. The hope that everything would be fine…

And then it was gone. Robert felt like he was falling, falling into the cold, into darkness. His mind filled with visions of death and destruction. Cities, planets, burned. Familiar worlds. The Earths of the Alliance, the crystal spires of Minbar, Bajor's temples, the elegant skyscrapers of the Davion capital of Avalon City… he watched Reapers wipe it all out. He watched the annihilation of beautiful Gy'toran wind-sailers and Gl'mulli sphere craft. Despairing people were being herded by their own kind like livestock to a slaughter.

A wail filled his being. The sense that it was happening… happening again. Death and despair and loss and…

...and he screamed. He cried. Tears and blubbering sobs as the sheer weight came down on his soul. The weight of the Flow of Life, traumatized and brutalized by the Reapers, fearing the dread cycle of slaughter that it had endured for untold eons coming around again. As if all of the beings killed by the Reapers were here with him, the emotions of their final moments overwhelming…


The harsh tone had a warmth behind it that cut through the cold despair overwhelming him. Like a drowning man reaching for a lifeline, Robert seized on the warmth. The confidence and strength behind it invigorated him and helped pull him out of the loop of terror and despair that permeated the Flow of Life. He became aware of his surroundings again. The lift, the others of the team… Shepard.

She has his shoulders gripped with her hands. He could see himself through her. His skin was drawn and pale, his eyes wide, as if he'd seen a ghost (to borrow the age-old description). Tear-lines streaked his cheeks. "Don't fall apart on me," she urged. "We're in this together."

"I… I know." He took a ragged breath. "I just felt… I could feel what happened before. All of the past times the Reapers came through the relay, all of the death…" He swallowed. "We're running out of time."

He felt sympathy from her. Shepard seemed to understand something of what he'd gone through just now, but he felt no change in her confidence or determination. Whatever the odds, Shepard was certain they were going to prevail. A certainty that defied the galaxy, that defied the Reapers, the kind that Robert was supposed to feel but found difficult with the way the Flow of Life trembled in anticipation of the Reaper cycle.

"Whatever's going on with this metaphysical stuff, focus," Shepard instructed him. "We're almost there, and we'll need you."

"Right." Robert felt the despair in the Flow of Life pull at him again. He focused on Shepard, on the others, and pushed it away.

"We're here," said Tali.

The lift doors opened, leading to the reception area and the security checkpoints for the Council Chambers. Several dead bodies of associated species were gathered around and a number of armed Geth were waiting at the checkpoint. Robert moved ahead of the others and ignited his lightsaber, ready to use it in defense. He reached out with his power and tossed one of the Geth platforms violently into the wall.

Shepard, as always, went for the shock tactics. She shot forward wreathed in biotic energy. The impact sent a Geth flying backward to slam into another. Her shotgun barked. The solid shot smashed another Geth's torso in.

The rest of the team came out, firing and attacking as well. Liara and Kaidan employed a biotic combo again, Liara's singularity grabbing two of the Geth and Kaidan's follow-up pulse violently tossing them. From the other lift Lucy raced out, lightsaber at the ready, and immediately sliced a Geth in half before it could open fire on Ashley. Behind her Zack and Bailey led Bailey's friends in C-Sec out, guns blazing. Talara brought up her hand and two Geth platforms slammed into each other.

The Geth platforms reacted by falling back. "There are more beyond," Robert noted.

"Not just that." Tali checked her omnitool. "I'm picking up Geth dropships approaching the Presidium and the Tower."

"Saren's called for reinforcements, then," Garrus said.

"How could they get into the tower from outside?" Ashley asked.

"There's a maintenance hatch nearby," Garrus replied. "Saren probably unlocked it for them. He won't be able to disable the shielding to stop remote transporting, so they have to come in that way."

Robert and Lucy exchanged glances. Each had a feeling on the future of this situation. Lucy said, "Then I'll block it off, with some help."

Zack nodded. "We can do it."

"And we'll deal with Saren." Shepard hefted her shotgun. "Let's go!"

The Aurora and Excalibur chased Sovereign through the Geth and Citadel fleets. The Geth had the numbers, but the Citadel ships were fighting with desperate courage with the aid of the Darglan tech-equipped Alliance starships in Excalibur's squadron. One of the Salarian ships intercepted a Geth cruiser bearing down on the Excalibur. With their weapons crippled, the Salarians' only option was to slam into the Geth ship. Their vessel survived the impact, and more importantly they drove the Geth vessel away, allowing an Asari ship to finish it off. The resulting explosion crippled the Salarians.

Again and again plasma fire raked over Sovereign's powerful shields. Torpedoes detonated with no damage to the monstrous machine's reddish skin. While there was no visible demonstration of success, the sensors on both ships showed the field was weakening.

The problem was that it wouldn't finish weakening before Sovereign entered the Citadel. With Meridina's pale look being all the reason Julia needed to want that prevented, she kept the Aurora on a course to cut the giant cephalopod off.

"Approximately one minute until Sovereign is within the arms," Jarod warned.

"Status on its shields?"

Cat answered Julia immediately. "Sovereign's deflectors are starting to fail, but I'm not sure we'll get them down in time. We need to hold it back!"

"Mister Jarod, tractor beam?"

"A good idea. We'll try that. Mister Barnes, I need every joule you can give me to the tractor emitters."

"Giving you what I can spare," Barnes replied.

On the holo-viewer the Citadel loomed ahead. A Turian heavy cruiser and a dreadnought were already moving to cut off Sovereign. Their weapons were virtually useless against the machine, but if the Reaper's shields could be taken down they could help finish it off.

"Thirty seconds!" Jarod called out. A moment later he added, "Activating tractor beam… now!"

As the Aurora pulled alongside the giant Reaper, two ribbons of strong blue light reached out and gripped the machine. Another pair of tractor beams snatched the Reaper ship, these from the Excalibur.

"Engineerin' t' Bridge." Scotty's voice came over the Aurora's internal comms. "Tractor systems are already in th' yellow. I cannae give ye but a few more minutes o' this."

"Understood, Mister Scott. Hopefully we won't need more time."

"The Teyama and the Tagbanua are moving into position to assist," Meridina said. Julia felt she still looked incredibly pale. On the screen two of the Predator-class starships moved in and triggered their own tractor beams."

"We've slowed Sovereign down by eighty percent," Cat noted. "Its trying to put more power into engines."

While the report was made, one of the big Turian ships activated a tractor beam as well - the technology had been widely shared with the Citadel Council species - followed by an Asari ship. The focused fire on Sovereign was converging. "Sovereign's shields are failing!" Cat called out. "We've almost done it!"

"Maintain fire!" she ordered. "Locarno, put us between that thing and the Citadel!"

"Maneuvering now."

It looked like they had the upper hand, but Julia didn't dare let herself feel relief. This thing was so powerful, so ancient… what else might it be capable of doing that they had no idea about?

Flickering flame was already devouring the trees in the approach to the Council Chambers' foyer. Shepard and her team entered the foyer at a run, Shepard, Liara, and Robert in the lead. The bodies of Citadel personnel unable to flee were scattered. Their deaths were sudden and violent and Robert could sense the remnant terror they'd felt at the end. He forced it away so it wouldn't distract him again.

The Geth were behind prepared positions when they opened fire. The reason for the team's formation on approach became clear as Liara and Shepard generated a biotic field to either side of Robert. His lightsaber flashed to life and deflected the shots from the Geth coming at him. The response was instinctive, automatic, for Robert; his arms seemed to know where the blade needed to be at any specific moment. One deflected shot, done with a bit of a flair with his weapon, sent a plasma bolt straight into the flashlight head of a Geth platform.

Behind them the other members of the team opened up with rifles. Garrus' accuracy led him to a shot that repeated Robert's feat, after which he tracked his sniper rifle over to find another foe. Ashley and Kaidan were quite effective with their weapons, Wrex moreso. Tali, always one to prefer a shotgun, was not so accurate, but she was busy using her omnitool's advanced functions to interfere with the Geths' systems remotely.

Once the volume of fire declined a little, Robert mentally signaled the others. Shepard went into action with a biotic charge that carried her up to the Geths' chosen point of cover, a plant display. Her shotgun roared and the solid slug crushed the chest of a Geth platform. A bigger one brought its weapon over and took a biotic blast for its trouble, first from Liara and then from Shepard. The twin biotic attacks sent it flying into the far wall with another force to damage it.

Robert remained on defense for the moment, until his instincts told him the moment had come to strike. If he was Lucy he might have plunged ahead to start dismembering Geth with his weapon, but he wasn't anywhere near the duelist and fighter she was with a lightsaber. When he attacked it was with his life force. With a thought and will behind it the universe responded to his need. One of the big Geth suddenly fell over, as if slammed by a great force. Wrex and Ashley shot it to pieces as it tried to stand.

Shepard's shotgun boomed again. The big Geth against the wall sparked from the wound to its abdomen from the powerful, vicious slug fired by Shepard's firearm. It tried to bring its weapon to bear again, but Shepard shot it in the neck before it could. The flashlight head went out and the Geth platform, now blinded, fired blindly. Shepard easily evaded the shot. Biotic energy wreathed her right hand as it formed into a fist and slammed into the abdomen wound of the giant Geth. It sparked again and fell, defeated.

Wrex plowed into a Geth beside her, destroying it with a follow-up head butt that smashed the Geth's flashlight head. Tali's shotgun roared and the blast took out another of the attackers, freeing Robert from deflection duties again so he could take two more Geth and forcefully slam them together. He held the stunned platforms in place for the others to shoot.

Once they were disposed of, everyone moved on. Looking about, Robert felt tremendous deja vu. He'd seen this before. This place, marred by destruction. One of his dreams, his insights into the future from his powers, was coming true.

This perturbed him. The present problem aside, he'd had other visions, some not yet true… and which he never wanted to see happen.

"We don't stop!" Shepard shouted. "Saren's just ahead!"

To a person, Shepard's team reacted and charged forward. More Geth tried to intervene and were met by the skills of the Normandy team. Shepard was relentless at this stage, plunging forward into the fighting, throwing biotic attacks. Robert felt she was tiring, but despite the very real physical fatigue she was suffering from Shepard would not stop.

This relentless charge carried them to the Petitioner's Stage itself. Robert could see it was further extended than usual, with a large hard-light control interface. Saren was operating it as they approached.

Just before Shepard or any of the others could fire, Saren turned and threw something. Robert sensed the danger, crying out "Grenade!" and lashed out with his power. It was an ill-controlled use, and he felt the energy within him threaten to surge out of control as it had on Virmire and other occasions. But with focus he kept it from doing so, throwing the explosive right back at Saren. Saren, in turn, formed a biotic barrier around himself that absorbed the blast when it came. He jumped down toward the glass floor beneath the stage. When he came back up, standing on his mobile platform, he was carrying what looked to be a portable Geth mini-gun. The team all jumped for cover as he opened fire. The ammunition created electrical arcs as it slammed into the matter around them, flash-converting the air into brief bursts of plasma.

"Shepard. I was afraid you wouldn't make it in time," Saren said.

"Yeah, well, there were a few hundred Geth in my way," Shepard responded.

"And all for nothing," said Saren. "In a few minutes Sovereign will have control of the Citadel. The relay will open and the Reapers will return. And there's not a single thing any of us can do to stop it."

Everyone on the Aurora bridge braced themselves for the next shot from Sovereign. A bolt of molten metal slammed into the Darglan deflectors protecting the ship. "Shields down to fifteen percent!" Jarod shouted. "We won't take another hit like that!"

"Tractors are heading to the red-line!" Barnes added.

"Anything?!?" Julia demanded from Caterina.

"Sovereign's shields are destabilizing, we've almost got him!" Cat shouted back.

"Maintaining fire!" Angel declared with evident pleasure.

As the ship was keeping the Reaper to starboard, all the better to keep the maximum tractor power on the Reaper, Angel couldn't target with the pulse plasma cannons, her heaviest weapons. Nevertheless the less-powerful plasma cannons and the other beam-firing Darglan plasma weapons continued to lash out at the creature. Sapphire beams played over the dark hull of the Reaper, each strike weakening its defenses. Mass effect-fired slugs and weapons fire from the other ships joined their shots, including thick bolts of pulse plasma cannon fire from the Excalibur. Unlike the Aurora, the battlecruiser did have the heavier mounts on the side arcs and was giving Sovereign even more punishment than the Aurora was managing.

Sovereign's fire was infrequent - presumably most of its power was going to engines in trying to break free - but when it did fire, it fired for effect. After a glancing blow that degraded its weakening shields, the destroyer Teyama now took a direct hit. The bolt smashed the light ship's remaining shields enough that it inflicted a heavy hit on the primary hull of the ship. The shot struck the tractor emitter of the destroyer directly, ending one of the blue ribbons keeping Sovereign from moving into the Citadel. "Teyama reports heavy casualties and structural damage," Meridina informed Julia. "Their tractor systems are offline."

"Tractors are now at 110%!" Barnes shouted, reflecting the loss of the Teyama's assistance. "We've got maybe a minute before the emitters burn out!"

"Have the other emitters ready," Julia instructed.

Sovereign's next shot hit a Turian ship. This one didn't have Darglan-made deflector systems, only a more common system. Its shields couldn't take the direct hit and the Turian ship took the worst of the shot, blowing through armor and taking out the tractor system. Another of Sovereign's legs pointed toward the Excalibur and opened fire.

The Excalibur took the hit without losing shields. But its shields were still strained enough to leave it vulnerable to a quick follow-up attack. In this case, said follow-up was from a burning Geth cruiser. Defying the fire it was taking from the Excalibur's batteries and other Citadel ships, the insectoid form plunged straight for the Excalibur. Julia realized its intent right about the same time King and her helm officer did, as the Excalibur shifted in position to avoid the ram.

The Geth were not so easily thrown off, however. They tracked Excalibur and accelerated for the kamikaze run against the ship's drive hull. The Excalibur twisted, trying to avoid taking such a direct hit…

One of the lighter Turian cruisers threw itself into the flight path first. The Geth cruiser collided with the Turian… and kept going, sending both ships into a now-unavoidable collision with the Excalibur. The best the battlecruiser's helm officer could do was ensure the strike was only a glancing one to the hull and wouldn't critically damage any systems. The operations officer of the ship attempted to assist, firing another tractor beam to deflect the incoming ram. Together they succeeded; the Turian and Geth ships ripped along the drive hull of the Excalibur, but didn't strike the nacelles or take out any vital systems. The ship's armor held.

But the impact still inflicted great strain on the Excalibur's shields, strain that Sovereign quickly took advantage. It fired on the Excalibur again, this time with two legs. The twin bolts slammed into the battlecruiser's deflectors.

This time, they failed.

One bolt struck the lower port nacelle of the Excalibur and blasted right through it before impacting on the armored hull. The strike tore the nacelle in half. Ignited plasma from the nacelle created secondary explosions that engulfed both halves while the shot gouged through the ship's armored hull, creating a large section of damaged, even eliminated, structure. Atmospheric gas and debris - including bodies-- erupted from the wound.

The second shot hit further toward the bow, right around the halfway point of the ship's length. There was no nacelle to absorb the shot this time. The blast cored the Excalibur in a fashion that would have outright crippled a smaller ship. The Excalibur was not crippled, but the wound was severe, just as it would have been on the Aurora.

The two blue ribbons connecting the Excalibur to Sovereign died.

"Tractor emitters overloading!" Barnes reported. "We're losing them…!"

Even before the two ribbons from the Aurora ceased, mostly freeing the big Reaper from its restraints, Sovereign was already moving again, on a course directly for the Citadel…

...and right toward the Aurora.

"Sovereign's not evading!" Jarod shouted as the monster loomed ever larger on the viewscreen, red lightning crackling around its body. "It's on a collision course!"

Julia wasn't able to keep the desperation out of her voice when she cried, "Evasive maneuvers!" Her eyes widened at the sight of the metal monstrosity rushing toward them on the viewer. Her finger hit the key on her chair for a shipwide address, so she could get an order she only ever heard herself give in nightmares.

"All hands, brace for impact!"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by U.P. Cinnabar »

They could really use a couple of spinal meson guns right about now.
"Beware the Beast, Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone amongst God's primates, he kills for sport, for lust, for greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of Death.."
—29th Scroll, 6th Verse of Ape Law
"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
---Doctor Christine Blasey-Ford
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

As the battle with the Geth fleet raged around the Citadel, the massive form of Sovereign continued its unyielding course toward the Citadel. On the Aurora bridge Nicholas Locarno went into motion. Years of training went into his actions, including keeping a three-dimensional model of the nearby space in his head as he judged the velocity of the approaching Reaper and the relative positions of everything else. He had only seconds to react before Sovereign plowed into the Aurora.

His hands flew with speed over his controls, sending commands through the ship's control systems for the engines. The engines and maneuvering thrusters fired under those commands, pushing the ship into a wild turn and twist in space that strained the inertial dampeners to the point that the entire crew were hit by G-forces beyond their usual experience.

The maneuver kept Sovereign from plowing through them. The big Reaper moved across the Aurora's belly. On the lower decks the crew could hear the squeal of the ship's structure caused by the two scraping against each other. At points the hull was split open by the force involved with emergency forcefields popping into place to minimize exposure to the vacuum.

The impact was felt throughout the ship. As soon as she was no longer being shaken in her safety harness, Julia called out, "Report!"

"Partial impact damage on decks 34 and 35. Multiple minor hull breaches, forcefields in place," Jarod answered.

"Good thinking, Mister Locarno." Having given Locarno the compliment for saving the ship, Julia was quick to add, "Pursuit course, now. Tactical, all weapons on Sovereign! We can't let him into the Citadel!"

"Bringing us about!"

"Can we tractor Sovereign again?"

"Starboard tractors are out," Barnes said. "We completely burnt out the emitter systems. A team's getting the graviton generator repaired, give me thirty seconds and we can tractor Sovereign again."

"Do so as quickly as you can." Julia gave the order while, on the holo-viewer, the sapphire bolts from the Aurora's ten bow-mount pulse plasma cannons battered away at what was left of Sovereign's shields.

"Sovereign's shields are in collapse!" Cat cried out.

Julia nodded. "We've almost got it! Keep firing!"

The orange and red glow from multiple fires played over the scene in the Council Chamber. Saren stood tall on his hovering platform, his weapon raised and biotics swirling around him. Whenever he spied someone moving a burst of fire from the Geth weapon blasted chunks from whatever cover they were using.

"This is the end, Shepard," Saren said. "It's fitting that you're here. Sovereign has come to appreciate your skill. It understands you are a unique organic. If you agree to serve as I have, you will survive the coming cycle."

"None of us will, Saren. Sovereign's deceiving you! The Reapers don't care for you and never will! You're just a tool!"

"I made their victory possible!"

"So?" Shepard laughed bitterly. "Do you expect gratitude from something like Sovereign? Why would it give you any? Once the Reapers are here you're not necessary anymore. You're just another organic to be culled."

Saren sprayed Shepard's position with weapons fire. "No!" he shouted in rage.

Robert glanced Shepard's way. You're on to something sensitive here, he thought, using his powers to let Shepard sense what he was thinking. Saren knows. He just won't accept it.

She nodded in reply to that and continued. "Sovereign's always been using you, Saren. You're an indoctrinated tool, nothing more."

"Without me Sovereign would never have come this close! Without me…"

"I'm going to stop Sovereign, Saren, with or without you," Shepard swore.

To that Saren chuckled. "You will find I am a stronger opponent than I was on Virmire, Shepard. I have been enhanced to better serve."

Shepard's horror matched Robert's own. "Are you saying you let that thing implant you?!"

"As I explained before, Shepard, our only hope to survive is to serve. Through my service the Reapers will understand our use. Although some will die, our species will survive under their authority."

"This is insane, Saren!" Shepard shouted. "That thing is indoctrinating you! When it's over, you'll be nothing but a mindless husk withering away! That's all the Reapers think you're good for!"

"Shepard, cease this pointless resistance. Sovereign is almost here. When it arrives, the relay will open. The Reapers will come through. And nothing you do can stop it."

The Aurora shuddered under the fury of several Geth ships, the Geth's desperation to protect Sovereign just as evident as the desperation Julia felt that they stop the Reaper before it could enter the Citadel's arms. "Shields are at ten percent and losing cohesion," Jarod warned.

"The other vessels are trying to help, but the Geth are overwhelming them," Meridina said.

Julia nodded. Her eyes were intent on the holo-viewer, which displayed Angel's efforts to batter Sovereign to death with the Aurora's weapons. Where once the monster's shielding blocked even their heaviest shots, now the plasma beams and cannon bursts were blowing chunks out of the creature's hull. A thin phaser beam lashed out repeatedly, courtesy of the Barroso, one of the Predator-class starships still in the fight. The smaller ship darted ahead and peppered the colossal Sovereign with phaser and torpedo fire.

"Sovereign will be in the arms within thirty seconds!"

"I need tractor beams now Mister Barnes!" Julia yelled.

"They're bringing the graviton generators back up now! Try it!"

"Twenty-five seconds…" Even as Jarod gave the warning he initialized the tractor emitters facing toward the bow. Again two ribbons of blue light connected the Aurora to Sovereign. There was a shudder through the ship as the Aurora attempted to hold Sovereign in place.

"The system's already at 100% capacity and going up!" warned Barnes. "We won't be able to sustain this!"

Julia watched another tractor beam lash out and seize the Reaper: the Barroso was following their lead. The destroyer wouldn't accomplish much, of course, but every little bit of help counted. "Reverse engines, full power!"

The Aurora's impulsor drives changed operation. Their forward velocity stopped, as did Sovereign's.

"Tractor capacity at 110% again!" Barnes warned.

"Everything on Sovereign now!" Julia thumbed the tactical comm open. "All ships fire on Sovereign!"

The maintenance hatch for the Citadel tower opened and Geth platforms poured through.

"Open fire!" Bailey ordered, and Zack and Talara joined him in the first shot. The C-Sec officers with them opened up as well. Rifle and pistol fire struck the lead Geth, damaging it irrevocably. The Geth behind it returned fire on them, forcing them back into cover. A scream briefly drew Zack's attention to an Asari now clutching a wounded arm.

The Geth charged in, as if to overrun them with firepower and numbers, and soon found they had another worry. Lucy raced into melee range with the aid of her abilities. A flash of sapphire light bisected one of the Geth platforms, splitting it into two. As it fell Lucy moved on to the next Geth, slicing its legs and head off in successive strikes. A third was literally disarmed with an upward strike. She turned and directed a wave of force toward the maintenance hatch, a wave that toppled several Geth. The others took the chance to come out of cover and resume firing. Their shots finished off some of the Geth while Lucy busied herself with defensive deflections and counter-attacks with her powers. Talara aided as best as her training allowed her, combining shots from her pulse pistol with brief attacks with her abilities that threw the Geth off-balance.

"I bet there's more trying to get in," Zack observed.

Bailey nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure of it. Question is, can we hold out long enough to stop 'em? These things have heavier weapons than we do."

"We hold out as long as we can," Zack insisted. "We buy Shepard and her team time to stop Saren."

"Yeah, somehow I thought you'd say that," Bailey muttered before resuming fire.

Another burst of fire from Saren's weapon forced Liara back into cover. Her attempt to throw a singularity at the cyberized Turian flew wildly off-course and accomplished nothing.

"Sovereign's controlling you through your implants!" Shepard shouted at him. "Can't you see that?"

"I am a vision of the future, Shepard. The evolution of all organic life, flesh and steel combined, the strengths of both and the weaknesses of neither," Saren asserted calmly. "This is our destiny. Join with us, Shepard. Experience the rebirth I have. Together we will serve the Reapers and bring about a new galaxy! It is inevitable!"

"No it isn't!" Shepard insisted. "I have a way to keep Sovereign from controlling the Citadel! Move out of the way and I can stop this invasion from happening!"

Saren shook his head wildly at that. He fired off a burst from the Geth weapon, keeping Kaidan and Ashley from getting a shot. Another burst forced Garrus back into cover. "We can't stop it! Not forever! You saw the visions You saw what happened to the Protheans! The Reapers are too powerful! Their victory is inevitable!"

Robert nearly missed the small spark of hope that filled Saren. It was buried deep in Saren's being, and his thinning connection to the Flow of Life made it unlikely most would have noticed. But Robert did. Despite everything he was saying, a piece of Saren felt hope that Shepard could stop the Reapers. He passed this realization on to Shepard.

She nodded at him before continuing to speak. "There has to be a part of you that knows this is wrong! We can win this, Saren, and stop the invasion! You have to listen to me!"

"No!" Saren cried. He fired the weapon at Shepard, forcing her further back into cover. "I… I cannot listen to this.. It's all lies! The Reapers will prevail, they must!"

It was unlikely the Aurora bridge had ever felt the tension it had as Barnes informed them the tractor systems were at 120% capacity and failure was imminent. Julia mentally urged the weapons fire that was even now starting to cut up Sovereign to finish.

Such urging wasn't necessary for Angel. Julia knew she took pride in her handling of the ship's tactical systems in a crisis, but it was rare to see her so fixated. The intensity in her hazel eyes as she examined the data coming into her board, the sensor imaging and the analysis on Sovereign's damage and possible weak points, was intimidating and inspiring at the same time.

Every ship that could manage it was now focusing fire on the Reaper. Mass effect fire was finally having an effect, without Sovereign's shields to protect it, and the torpedoes and fire from the Alliance ships were mauling the Reaper. The lightning-like energies coursing around it crackled angrily. The monster continued in its struggle to break free.

"Just a little more…" Julia urged.

And then one of the blue ribbons connecting the Aurora to Sovereign disappeared. "Burnout in emitter!" Jarod called out. "The other emitter is…"

"It's the whole system…!"

As Barnes gave his warning, the other tractor beam holding the Reaper back failed. There were a few smaller ships still trying to grapple the beast, but they didn't have nearly enough energy. Sovereign was already moving forward when the beams failed, one by one, and the Reaper was free to resume its flight to the Citadel.

Robert glanced long enough to see Saren reach a hand back to the Citadel master control. Before he could act Saren glanced his way and opened fire. Instinct caused Robert to slip away instead of attempting to defy the rapid fire weapon. "Sovereign's almost here. This is almost over. Accept it, Shepard, you've lost."

Robert felt the others preparing to surge forward. Any moment and they would try, and some would clearly die from the effort. He glanced toward Shepard to see if she was going to go along with it. If he had a moment of distraction…

"It will be over if you just let me do this," Shepard insisted. "Sovereign will be locked out of the Citadel. Our allied fleet will have time to kill it! And you can do what you swore to do: protect the galaxy! Dammit, Saren, you're a Spectre, one of the best! Fight Sovereign's control! A stubborn bastard like you has the ability to do it!"

Hope, despair, resignation, resolution… Saren had it all roiling within him. Shepard's words were getting to him. Robert felt a sense of pride begin to build within him.

But it didn't stop him from finishing his work on the console.

With Sovereign only seconds away from the Citadel, Julia didn't things could get worse.

Then they did.

"Someone's activated the Citadel arms," Jarod said. "They're closing!"

Julia's heart sank with the fear that it had all been for nothing. The arms would keep them from finishing off Sovereign if they finished closing. "Follow it in!" she insisted.

"I don't think we'll make it through, but I'll try!" was Locarno's response.

"It might not be too late," Meridina said, desperate hope in her lilting voice. "Look."

The tactical display told Julia everything. The Turian flag cruiser was maneuvering between the Citadel and Sovereign. "Fire everything we've got," the Executor in command ordered over the comm line. "We're not moving!"

As weapons fire continued to desperately assail Sovereign, the Turian cruiser lived up to the promise of its commander. It, indeed, did not move.

Sovereign did not stop either. The creature had mass and acceleration on its side. When it made impact, it smashed the Turian ship to pieces.

But in doing so, by nature it lost some of its velocity, for the moment, losing crucial seconds in its final approach.

"It's now or never!" Julia shouted into the fleet's tactical channel. "Fire everything you've got!"

In the Citadel Council Chamber, Shepard shook her head at the others. "Saren, you said Nihlus was your friend."

"He was," Saren said. "Nihlus Kryik was my student. He was a great soldier and one of the best Spectres of this generation. He would go to great lengths to accomplish the mission."

"What would he say if he were here?"

"He would… he would understand…"

"Would he? I met Nihlus, and yeah, he'd do what was necessary for the mission. But he'd be damned to turn himself into the slave of Sovereign!" Shepard's voice boomed through the audience chamber. "If he were here he'd be fighting at my side, and you know it!"

Robert felt Saren desire to disagree, but he couldn't.

No, not just that. He didn't want to. Saren didn't want to deceive himself about how his friend would be reacting to this situation.

"Deep down, you know I'm right, Saren. Sovereign's driven you to this. But it's not too late! We can fight him! You can fight him!"

Saren gripped at his head. "Yes… yes, I… unh. Maybe we can stop… argh!" Saren's cry of pain filled the air. "I can't… Sovereign's too strong! The implants…!"

Robert was preparing to jump from cover and take his chance, but Shepard acted first. She moved from cover and faced Saren directly, her weapon raised but not pointing at him. "It's not too late, Saren! You can still redeem yourself!"

"I…. I can still… it's…" After another cry of pain Saren doubled over, dropping the Geth weapon as he did. Robert left cover, as did the others, in time to see Saren yank a backup weapon, a Predator-model mass effect pistol, from a back holster. "I can stop it… I…" His voice softened. "Thank you, Shepard. I…"

Robert felt his intent. More than that, the immense pain, little different from that he'd felt in Fai Dan and the colonists on Feros enslaved by the Thorian. Sovereign was trying to enforce control through the implants and the mental programming and it was taking every bit of willpower Saren had to fight it off. To perform one final act in defiance of the being that had enslaved him and turned him against the galaxy he'd fought to defend.

Saren lifted his firearm and pressed it to his temple. With one last surge of effort, he pulled the trigger.

As Sovereign drew nearer to the Citadel, the barrage against it was finally showing itself on the machine. Blow after blow showed on the dull reddish exterior. A plasma beam from one of the Aurora's forward weapons sliced off one of the arms, causing it to spin away.

And yet Sovereign wasn't stopping. The Citadel arms were closing and it was racing to get into them before they shut. Success would give the Reaper protection against the fleet outside, allowing it to do who knew what.

The fire against Sovereign slackened slightly. The Barroso fell away, a hole gouged in the ship's drive hull by a Geth mass driver weapon. A Salarian ship broke up from weapon impacts. The Geth were burning in hard, desperate to protect Sovereign.

The Aurora was among their targets. A round from a Geth cruiser struck the Aurora's unshielded hull. A second blew a partial hole through the lower port nacelle. "Armor self-repair systems are engaged to capacity," Barnes said.

Julia heard him, but she said nothing. She was focused on the holo-viewer. Sovereign's flaming, damaged body continued its path to the closing Citadel. They had only seconds left.

Blow by blow, more and more of Sovereign's body started to come off. Another arm was removed by a torpedo. Chunks of the creature's long body blew away from the Aurora's pulse plasma cannons' withering fire. Another series of sapphire bolts smashed into the creature's body; the Excalibur, critically damaged as she was, was still in the fight. The Koenig's pulse phasers blazed with amber fury, gouging more wounds.

And yet… Sovereign still made it into the arms.

"Torpedoes!" Julia shouted. "Full spreads!"

The Aurora's bow launchers erupted at once, all six of them. The Excalibur and Koenig also opened up with torpedoes, as did the Tagbanua and several of the Aurora's remaining fighters that still had torpedoes to spare. Over two-dozen projectiles, wreathed in white-blue drive fields, flew toward Sovereign.

The Citadel's arms were closing around Sovereign even now. Closer and closer they came to each other, forming a protective cone that would theoretically protect the millions of beings on the station… and now also the monster that wanted to exterminate them all. It was a race that had everyone on edge; would any of the torpedoes make it through before the arms closed?

The arms locked together, the tips folded inward to close the station…

...and the torpedoes slipped right through, one by one, spread by spread, until the tips closed and the last handful exploded against it.

Inside of the protective cone the rest of the torpedoes continued their flight. All of them found their mark. One by one they battered their way through Sovereign's wounds, blasting chunks of the machine away from its body. The final torpedoes penetrated deep into Sovereign's body before exploding. Deep within the ancient machine their naqia-enhanced warheads initiated. The resulting energy melted and blasted delicate machinery never meant to be subjected to such force.

Something within Sovereign went wrong. The energy core of the creature was wrecked. A regulating mechanism within was destroyed. Energy surged uncontrolled through the Reaper. The crackling red light around it died; bright white light suddenly showed through its many wounds and split hull.

And then the light expanded violently, and in a last surge of energy and an electronic wail heard across the Citadel, Sovereign blew apart.

Although the Citadel closing blocked some of this from the sensors of the ships outside, the energy release of Sovereign's destruction was detected. "I think we did it!" Cat shouted. "Sovereign's power core just failed! There's been a massive energy release!"

Julia didn't stop the whooping and cheering from the others. She let it go for a couple of seconds before asking for a report.

"I can confirm Sovereign's destruction," Jarod said, still grinning. "I'm trying to tap into the Citadel's internal systems to confirm."

Julia wanted to know for sure, but she also knew the fight wasn't over. Outside of the Citadel the Geth fleet was still large and might still overwhelm them, especially given how little attention it'd received from their weapons while everyone was firing on Sovereign. "Bring us back around," she ordered. "Engineering, I need shields back."

"We're trying," Barnes said. "But the generators took a pounding. If we can get away from enemy fire…"

"It's not going to happen any time soon," Julia pointed out. "Do what you can. Tactical, lock onto the nearest Geth ship and fire."

The Aurora and the other ships came about to re-engage the enemy.

The gunshot from Saren prompted everyone to start emerging from cover. His body toppled and fell, dropping off the tactical platform and landing on the Petitioners' Stage in front of the control display for the Citadel. The body didn't so much as twist. Robert felt no semblance of life in the remains.

"So that's that, huh?" asked Wrex.


Shepard stepped ahead, heading for the controls. Liara and Robert followed closely. Liara had a deep frown on her face. Robert sensed her frustration. "Are you okay?"

"I wanted justice," she said. "He led my mother astray.""

"He was led astray himself," Robert said quietly. He set a hand on Liara's shoulder. "I know your pain. I understand you wanted more closure. But sometimes…"

A wave of sheer, malevolent rage rippled through Robert's being. He gasped in shock at it, drawing the attention of Liara and some of the the others. Shepard was busy activating the master control display.

After sensing what the immediate future held, Robert jumped forward. "Shepard!" he cried. A moment later he tackled her and the two fell off the platform. They landed on the glass below, cracking it.

Red lightning crackled across the stage, forcing the others back. The bullet that would have hit Shepard in the back of the head hit the window behind the Council's podiums instead.

"What in the name of God?!" Williams cried out, stunned by the sight of Saren's body melting away in red light. "What's happening?!"

"Nothing good," Garrus called out. He lifted his rifle and fired at the body. The shots ripped flesh from Saren's body, but it was being burnt off anyway.

From below Robert knew immediately what was happening. He could feel it in the very marrow of his bones and the depth of his soul.

Saren's body stood. Except it wasn't anything recognizable as living. The flesh of Saren's body was gone, burnt away, leaving only cybernetic machinery and a metal skeleton. Red light crackled around the remains and the cybernetic eyes glowed the same color instead of Saren's blue.

"Keelah," Tali gasped. "Is that…?"

"It's Sovereign," Robert said.

The remains of Saren scooped up the Geth weapon Saren dropped. Wrex charged forward and fired his shotgun. The shot met a barrier field that stopped it. Sovereign lifted the weapon. But instead of firing the creature moved too fast for Wrex to react. As Wrex passed by Sovereign tripped him and sent him falling to the ground below.

This time, the glass shattered. Shepard, Robert, and Wrex plunged into the garden below.

The others opened fire on Sovereign and met the same barrier field. Sovereign ignored them for the moment. It brought the remains of Saren's hand up, now nothing but another piece of metal shaped like a Turian hand, and ran it along the controls. "I am assuming direct control," Sovereign said, in the same voice the others heard him use on Virmire.

Below Shepard and Robert picked themselves up. Wrex started to as well. "We've got to get back up there."

"I'm not sure how," Robert replied. "But I've got another option." He reached out with his life force. His will shaped it, unseen, and he pulled with it.

The violent yank of his energy pulled Sovereign off of the stage. The being fell down into the garden with them. "You are too late, Shepard," it said. "The process has begun."

Another shudder filled the Aurora bridge. "Direct hit, Deck 28 Section L," Jarod said.

On the screen the offending Geth cruiser was being pounded by the Aurora's main battery in the bow. Repeated sapphire pulses tore through the wingless dragonfly hull. The Geth cruiser began breaking apart.

"Another one down," Angel crowed.

"Bring us in toward the Excalibur," Julia ordered. "I want to…"

"I'm picking up something from the Citadel," Cat suddenly said.

"What is it?" Julia asked.

"It's a new energy signature. It's… it's like the Citadel has hidden power cores that are just now coming online. They're charging up something…" Cat stared at her readings. She knew what they indicated, but the idea of it… "I… I don't believe it."

"What is it, Lieutenant?" Julia allowed a little impatience into her tone at repeating her inquiry.

"This energy signature, the subspace ripples… it's… it's like the Citadel is turning into a mass relay."

"Cat, are you sure?" Jarrod asked.

"Positive! Here, what do you think?"

With a few keystrokes Cat relayed the data to Jarod's board. Jarod examined it and felt his mouth go dry. "I'll be damned," he muttered. "It's exactly that. Something's turning the Citadel into a giant mass relay."

A sinking feeling came to Julia's stomach, threatening to make her sick. "How long until it's active?"

"At this rate of charge… within a few minutes,I suppose," Jarod said.

"Is there any way to prevent it?" asked Meridina.

"Not from here," Jarod said.

The ship shook again. Another Geth ship was challenging the Aurora. "Then it's all up to the others," Julia said grimly. "There's nothing more we can do."

For a terrible moment Robert thought he was going to be overwhelmed again. The Flow of Life chilled around him.

"You have been the most difficult cycle to begin," conceded Sovereign. "But for all of your exertions, you gain nothing. The relay will open. The cycle will commence. Everything you know will be…"

Shepard raised her shotgun and contemptuously fired. The blast drowned out Sovereign's boasting and knocked the body back. "I've heard enough from you," she said.

Sovereign's arm lashed out. A bolt of dark matter shot through the air and struck Shepard's personal barrier directly, disrupting it. Shepard responded with several more shots from her gun. This time the creature went into motion, evading the incoming shots with incredible agility.

Above them the others approached the console. "It's locked down!" Tali shouted. "I can't override."

"None can." Sovereign's voice was chilling, the electronic tone making evident his distaste and disgust. It launched a dark matter bolt at Shepard. Robert generated force ahead of him that caught the dark matter, which snapped hungrily at them. He reached out and gripped at Sovereign. The Flow of Life resisted his command, as if it felt tainted by the contact with the creature. The time it took for him to assert his will gave Sovereign time to jump away, causing his focus to diminish.

Shepard's shotgun roared again, a near-miss on the creature as it scurried across the wall. "Your resistance is hopeless," Sovereign insisted. "Nothing can stop the cycle. We will harvest everything."

"You can't expect to fight the entire Multiverse," Robert insisted.

"You understand so little about what we are. We will swarm the skies of your worlds, all of your worlds. Your stolen technology will be removed."

Sovereign followed up his speaking by leaping from the wall and slamming into Wrex. The Krogan growled and fired up, trying to hit Sovereign, but missed. Sovereign might have retaliated with its own attack, but the converging of fire from above - courtesy of Garrus and Ashley - compelled it to jump off.

"That Prothean program, did you finish loading it?" asked Robert.

"I was starting to when you tackled me," Shepard answered.

"Then that's the key. Can you transmit it to Tali's omnitool?"

Sovereign jumped from his place on the wall to another, taking him out of line of sight for those still above. Wrex tracked him and fired, just for Sovereign to jump at the last moment. It threw out a dark matter bolt at Shepard and Robert. Robert stopped the bolt at the last moment. "Give me cover," Shepard instructed.

"Can do, Shepard." Robert nodded and turned his attention to Sovereign.

"You." The creature jumped to another wall, throwing a dark matter bolt in the process. It struck Wrex and sent the Krogan flying. Sovereign landed on the ground and generated more dark matter, which Robert stopped. "So you are the inheritor of the Darglan."

"One of many," Robert replied. "What do you know about them?"

"They came to this galaxy, long ago. They examined the mass relays and utilized them for a time. Until the war."

"The war?" Robert frowned.

"The war of their folly. The war of the dark things from beyond, the Starbreakers."

"The Darkness." Another dark matter bolt, and Robert stopped it. Sovereign quickly leapt to another side of the room, trying to get behind him, to hit Shepard as she concentrated on relaying the program Vigil gave her to Tali. Robert spun around and caught the bolt with his power. Sweat gathered in his eyes and he struggled, not so much with Sovereign's attacks but with his own power threatening to overwhelm him. "You know of them."

"They are as ancient as our kind." Sovereign jumped again and Robert caught it. "You should welcome the cycle. We will leave the stars intact. Life will flourish again for a time, and another civilization will come. The Starbreakers will destroy everything. There will be no new life, no new civilizations. There will be only darkness."

"We'll stop them just as we're going to stop you." Robert spun around again, catching Sovereign's next attack. He fought down the dizziness the Reaper was causing with its maneuvers around him.

"Your boast is an empty one. You understand nothing." Sovereign leapt again, jumping above Robert. He threw a bolt that Robert caught.

Even as Wrex tracked his weapon to fire, Sovereign suddenly dropped. The drop became a dive, straight for Robert and Shepard. In the second he had to react Robert concentrated force to catch his foe. But Sovereign was ready for that, generating a powerful dark matter field as it descended. Robert couldn't quite grip it in time.

The resulting impact of Sovereign to the ground threw both Robert and Shepard away from the impact point with force more like that of a bomb than a landing shockwave. Shepard grunted as she slammed against the base of the Petitioner's Stage above. Robert made a similar noise when he hit the further wall. For a key moment, he was distracted, and could do nothing as Sovereign turned its attention on Shepard. She was still recovering when a second bolt hit her, this one a warp bolt that generated a field of the same name, as biotics knew it. The dark matter of the field started tearing at Shepard at a molecular level. Sovereign moved in for the kill…

A biotic bolt slammed into Sovereign's side, throwing it away and threatening to grapple and hold the thing.

Having taken the pathway down to the garden, Liara rushed in with her pistol raised. She fired at Sovereign, managing a hit as it recovered from her attack. Sparks flared from damaged cybernetics.

Then Sovereign's counter-attack came, not with a dark matter strike, but by jumping right at Liara. It moved too fast and too unexpectedly for Liara to catch Sovereign with her biotics. Sovereign slammed into her and grabbed Liara. She screamed in pain as its iron grip broke her wrist.

A moment later, she was freed, as Wrex slammed into the cybernetic corpse at full speed. He grabbed the machine and forced it into the wall. "Shepard!" he yelled, ignoring Sovereign's bow to his back.

"Shepard, the program is incomplete!" Tali cried from above. "We don't have much time!"

In clear pain, Shepard got up on hands and knees. Without fully standing up she brought her omnitool display back up and resumed her work.

Sovereign noticed. Channeling every bit of dark matter it could through Saren's remains, Sovereign fired a pulse of the material that freed it from Wrex's grasp. The red energy crackling around it intensified. A single blow was used to knock Wrex over, at which point Sovereign turned its attention back to Shepard.

And then a sizable portion of its head disintegrated. Sovereign let out an electronic roar and turned to trace the source: Garrus, with his sniper rifle up. Garrus fired again, overheating his weapon. Although he didn't get another headshot, he pulverized part of the monster's right shoulder with the shot, despite Sovereign's evasive motion.

That same evasive motion carried Sovereign toward Garrus. Garrus was forced to lower his rifle and roll away to avoid being grabbed by Sovereign.

The same motion also cleared him from Ashley's line of fire.

Ashley's M7 Lancer opened up. Sparks flew as the rounds from the weapon starting chewing chunks from Sovereign's body. Sovereign fell back for a moment from Ashley's accurate rifle fire. Dark matter coalesced into a protective field to absorb the fire. This bought Sovereign a chance to escape, evading fire from Wrex as well.

"Shepard, we're almost out of time! The relay is about to open!"

"There!" Shepard hit a final key on her omnitool. "You've got the program!"

"Uploading it now," Tali called out from above.

Shepard got back to her feet and found her shotgun. She raised it toward Sovereign as it jumped at Garrus, avoiding fire from Wrex and Ashley as it did so. Garrus rolled away and brought up his sidearm in the same motion, firing rounds that hit Sovereign in the leg. Sovereign evaded the next shot from Garrus, leaping to do so.

Leaping right into Shepard's crosshairs.

Her solid slug round blasted through Sovereign's weakened barrier and through its torso, forcing it to abandon its attack. It turned its attention to Shepard with a bolt of dark matter that Robert dashed in and absorbed. Ashley shot it a second later, and then Liara.

Sovereign took the damage without flinching, if it was even capable of such. It also clearly changed its plans. With one great leap it went to the wall, and then another leap to another section of the wall. Robert immediately sensed its intent. "It's after Tali!"

Even without his cry, the others were already shooting at Sovereign. Sovereign ignored them, though not Robert. It stopped just long enough to fire a dark matter bolt at Robert, who had to adjust to deflect the attack, giving Sovereign time to make the final jump up to the Council's platform. It directed its attention to Tali and tossed another dark matter bolt toward her.

Sovereign hadn't accounted for Kaidan. Kaidan generated his own dark matter field, absorbing the attack, and giving time for Tali to finish working. He lifted his pistol and started firing, his shots degrading the barrier Sovereign threw up to stop his attacks. Sovereign made another leap, this one over their heads. It landed on the Petitioner's Stage behind them. Kaidan continued firing at it, managing some hits that further damaged the creature.

In a flash Sovereign shot forward. It forced its way through Kaidan's protective field using its own and grabbed Kaidan by the collar. Had it time, it might have simply snapped his neck, but instead Sovereign simply tossed Kaidan to the side. It turned its attention to Tali.

Tali's shotgun barked, spraying Sovereign with a close-range shot. She fired again, this shot breaking Sovereign's protective field and wrecking its left shoulder. A third shot was slightly off as Sovereign adjusted, evading it as much as it could. It bore down on her, a moment away from securing its success.

That was the moment Shepard shot up from the garden below, wreathed in biotic power. With the impact she knocked Sovereign off the Stage, bringing him along into the air above the garden. She grabbed Sovereign and forced the Reaper to fall with her back into the garden.

As they made impact, Tali called out from above. "Program loaded! I am taking control of the Citadel! Shutting down the mass relay activation!"

"No!" There was something… almost human in the rage and frustration Robert felt ripple from Sovereign. But even that was insufficient warning for what came next. Sovereign threw out a biotic shockwave in all directions, throwing everyone to the ground before they could fire on it. The impact was accompanied with a warp effect, creating a field that brought pain to everyone as the dark matter began to pull them apart at a molecular level.

WIth one arm mostly useless, Sovereign grabbed Shepard with the other. As Saren had on Virmire, Sovereign took her by the throat and lifted her, keeping Shepard from going for the shotgun. "You are mistaken if you believe this is a victory for your kind," Sovereign said. "This cycle will be processed regardless. My kind will return from dark space in one way or another, and you will not be…"

"Shepard!" Robert called out. He was in motion as the sound of his cry reached her. His hand shot forward toward her and Sovereign.

Shepard heard him. She knew what he was doing, and she brought her right arm up and had her hand ready to receive the object that had just flown from his hand. The moment she caught it, her thumb stroked the button on the weapon. Robert's lightsaber ignited in Shepard's hand. With a defiant cry she swung the blade at Sovereign's stolen body.

The emerald light met the dark matter gathered around Sovereign… and kept going, the field too weak to stop the strike. The blade cut the body from side to side. An instinctive upward cut to follow sliced through Sovereign's functioning arm, severing it along the bicep and freeing Shepard. She hit the ground in front of Sovereign as it flailed from the damage she'd inflicted, its damage mortal.

"I've heard enough out of you," Shepard said to the dying machine. In a pair of motions she plunged Robert's lightsaber into the chest of Sovereign's body and cut upward, slicing in half everything from the torso to the tip of the head.

Red light crackled violently around the partially-bisected construct. Shepard stepped back, but the violence of the energy was too great for her to avoid it.

Robert ran up and projected energy between them and Sovereign's dying form. To augment his power, Liara projected a biotic field from her hand - ignoring her shattered wrist - and prompted Wrex and Kaidan to do likewise.

There was a final wail… and then Sovereign, or rather Saren's remains, let out a storm of crackling red light that played over this defense while the cybernetic remains crumbled into dust.

Above them, Tali called out, "Its done! The Citadel relay is shut down again! I'm opening the mass relay network!"

At those words everyone in the garden breathed a sigh of relief. "So we did it," Ashley said. "We stopped them."

"For now, Sergeant." Shepard looked over what was left. Robert could feel her certainty that it wasn't over. "For now."

The Citadel's defense fleet was hard-pressed by the Geth. Holding Sovereign back had cost time and firepower that might have further attrited the Geth to something manageable. Now the Aurora was struggling to protect both the Destiny Ascension and the Excalibur from the wounds inflicted on them, taking further damage to her systems in the process.

On the Aurora bridge Julia watched the ferocity of the Geth and couldn't help but see them as an enraged hive. Their attacks were becoming more vicious and they seemed to lose all concern for their own situation. One of the damaged Geth ships put itself into Angel's bow arc just for a chance to slam the Destiny Ascension with its powerful railgun armaments. It managed just one shot on the wounded Asari dreadnought before Angel blew the vessel away with the bow cannons.

Despite it all, Julia sighed with relief when Cat gave an urgent report. "The power buildup in the Citadel is dissipating. The mass relay element is shutting down!"

"They did it," Julia breathed. She glanced toward Meridina. Despite their situation, she could see color returning to the Gersallian woman's face.

Another hit sent a tremor through the deck. "Hull breach, Deck 15, Sections D and E," Jarod said.

"Mister Barnes, where are our shields?"

"We're not getting them back soon," Barnes protested. "Every time the generators start to reform a cohesive field the Geth blow right through it. We need to stop taking fire for a minute or so."

"We cannot," Meridina said. "If we abandon this position, the Geth will overwhelm the Excalibur and Destiny Ascension."

"This way they have to overwhelm us first…" The ship shook again.

"I just lost two starboard plasma cannons," Angel said. "My tactical systems are taking a pounding. If we don't get out of this soon…"

"I'm getting a power spike from the mass relay!" cried Cat. "Something's coming through!"

Julia checked the tactical display. Multiple contacts began started popping up at the relay. The Aurora's computers identified them immediately: Systems Alliance ships.

With the Normandy in the lead.

"Hackett to Fleet. Assume combat formation and engage."

At the command of the Systems Alliance's Admiral Hackett, the fleet of human warships accelerated into the fight. Mass effect weapons, missiles, and some refitted energy weapons from the technological exchange started striking the Geth ships. The Geth turned to face their new, fresh adversaries, giving the battered defense fleet a moment's rest.

"Looks like the cavalry's arrived," Locarno noted.

"Maintain fire," Julia said. "It's not over yet."

The Aurora targeted another Geth ship. When it was down she targeted another, and another, while Hackett's fleet did the work of finishing the Geth off. Only after the last Geth warship died did Julia breathe a much-needed sigh of relief.

The Geth push through the airlock wasn't letting up. Zack and Bailey put more fire into one of the big platforms as it swept its weapon over the counter where another group of Bailey's officers were in cover. Nearby an Asari C-Sec officer was clutching a wound on her belly, her lavender-complexioned face wrenched into an expression of pain. Talara was trying to treat her.

"My ammo block's running low," Bailey said.

Zack checked his weapon. "Two percent charge," he said. "Just a few shots left."

"How many of these things are there?!"

"A lot." That reply came from Lucy nearby. She wasn't in cover but rather busy drawing fire, deflecting it with her lightsaber. Zack didn't need powers to how determined she was. "If we can hold out a little longer…" She stopped and smiled. "They did it."


"I can feel it," Lucy said. "They won. Sovereign's dead." She deflected a shot into one of the big Geth's flashlight heads, shattering the light. "Sovereign's dead, Geth! You might as well stop and leave!"

Indeed, the Geth did seem to suddenly lose momentum. As if they weren't sure what they were doing. With the fire slackening Lucy dashed forward, her lightsaber flashing through the air as she drove it through the leg of one of the Geth Prime models. Zack and Bailey fired at another until Zack's weapon ceased to work. He almost asked for another just to realize there was no point in it. With the Geth in such confusion, Bailey and his people were quickly gaining the upper hand.

"Anders to Carrey."

Zack tapped the glowing blue light over the back of his left hand. "Carrey here."

"The Geth are falling apart. This is going into cleanup mode. Want me to send you some help?"

As another Geth died to Lucy's attacks, Zack gave his answer. "We've got the same thing here,, Major. Everything's handed for the moment, we'll keep in touch."

"Alright. Anders out."

Another Geth platform, the last, fell over, multiple weapon impacts and a severed leg from Lucy's attack. Seconds passed and no more Geth arrived. Zack managed a scan for the Geth dropship that had been the source of their woes, but it was gone. "We did it," he breathed. "We stopped them."

"Damn right we did," said Bailey. He grinned at Zack. "You're not half-bad for a navy puke."

Zack returned the grin, happy he was, to put it bluntly, still alive. "Thanks for the compliment, I think."

The reaction to that was a roar of laughter.


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 12 July 2643 AST. Captain Julia Andreys commanding. We've received the final all-clear from the Citadel. The last of the Geth forces that attacked the station have been eliminated. With the damage to the systems from Saren's electronic attack on them it will be some time before an accurate count of casualties can be determined, but estimates are already going over ten thousand dead, not counting the thousands of dead from the Citadel fleet, including our own losses.

Still, it could have been worse. The
Excalibur is intact but severely damaged and in need of weeks of repair time. The Destiny Ascension made it through, so the Council survived as well and have already returned to the Citadel.

Commander Scott estimates the
Aurora could use a week of repair time in the yard. I'm thankful we came through that fight as well as we did.

Cleanup on the Citadel is already commencing. The crew is pitching in as best as they can.

With control restored over the Citadel systems, one of the first things ordered was a temporary end to the day/night cycle of the Presidium. The work crews clearing battle debris would do so under full light conditions.

Liara watched repair crews from one of the upper levels of the Presidium at an open-air bar in the Commons. Her mind felt like it was going to revolt at the sight of the damage the Geth had inflicted.

She noticed someone standing beside her and turned her head to see that it was Lucy, still in her Gersallian-made purple combat armor and blue robes. "It's wrong," Lucy said.

Even if she lacked Lucy's metaphysical talents, and her own telepathic ones required touch, Liara knew right away what she meant. "I know," she said. "Seeing the Presidium, the Citadel itself, turned into a war zone, I never imagined something like this could ever happen. The Citadel, the Council, they are part of my people's vision for the galaxy. A galaxy of mutual respect, of negotiation and compromise instead of armed force…"

Lucy nodded. "It must seem blasphemous, almost, to see it reduced to this."


"But that's not all that's bothering you, is it?"

Liara couldn't hide her thoughts from Lucy. "Saren's dead," she said. "Shepard convinced him to resist Sovereign. The only way he could was to kill himself."

"So I heard." Lucy chuckled lightly and shook her head. "Shepard's a unique woman. Brave, smart, and makes you want to follow her into Hell itself." Lucy looked at Liara's eyes, no longer looking at anything in particular, just the thoughts in her head. "You got justice for your mother."

"I suppose." Liara shook her head. 'But it doesn't feel like I've accomplished anything. I mean, we stopped Sovereign, but my mother's still gone. She can't come back and restore her good name. She's going to be remembered as a traitor to our people, a madwoman who worked with a monster…"

"Possibly," Lucy conceded. "But the important part is that she loved you and she was proud of you."

"I know. But it still hurts."

"Yeah, it will. I know the feeling. I've dealt with the same. A lot of us on the Aurora have." Lucy sighed at that. "Most of us, I mean the original Facility crew… we're all orphans. Sickness, accidents, we all lost parents we loved and cared for." An old hurt came to Lucy. "Sometimes I wonder how my mother would react to what I've become."

"You helped save the galaxy, you've saved entire worlds," Liara remarked gently. "What do you wonder?"

"I wonder if my mother would be afraid for me," Lucy admitted. "If she would have trouble understanding what I go through. That I have to fight, even kill sometimes. I know she'd be proud of the people I've helped…" Lucy stopped at that point and shook her head. "Either way, you're not alone, Doctor. And you've made friends on the Aurora. Given more time I could see everyone considering you a member of the crew."

Liara laughed softly at that. "It would be interesting, I suppose. Thank you, Lieutenant…"

"Lucy. I prefer Lucy," was the reply.

"Then I prefer Liara."

"Any time. It's sort of my job description now, when I'm not waving a lightsaber around." Lucy smiled and turned to step away.


She turned to face Liara. "Yes?"

The Asari's blue eyes met hers. "Just to ask… do you think the Aurora could use a xenoarchaeologist?"

Zack found the bar he often saw from his office in C-Sec. It was now a mess. Geth had waged a battle throughout this section of the Presidium with the Systems Alliance Marines sent by Hackett to clear them out. Most of the furniture was wrecked by weapons fire, as was the bar itself. Much to his surprise, a Turian bartender was still on duty. He looked to Zack hopefully. With a small, exhausted smile, Zack answered, "Club soda."

The Turian gave him a curious look. "I've never heard of that. Some human mixed drink?"

"It could be. But in my case, I don't want alcohol." That got him a look and a long sigh. Strapped for customers and with most of his inventory wrecked anyway, the Turian pulled out a container of what looked like orange juice. "Is that…?"

"Orange juice, straight from Earth. I use it for… what do you Humans call it? A boltdriver?"

"Screwdriver." With only three seats intact at the bar, Zack took one. He triggered his omnitool to pay for the drink and watched the Turian open the gray cylinder and let the orange fluid within pour into a tall glass.

"I'm surprised to find you here." Zack turned at the voice. Robert approached. Like Zack he hadn't changed after the battle. He was holding something in his hand. "OJ?"

"Good old OJ," Zack confirmed. "Want one?"

"What the hell, sure." Robert took the seat nearest Zack. The Turian got him a glass as well and sighed with irritation as Robert set something on the bar. "I could use a drink of any kind."

Zack looked at what Robert had set down. "Isn't that one of those…?"

"Lightsabers," Robert finished for him. "It's what's left of the one Lucy made for me." He held up the charred, broken weapon. "Shepard killed Sovereign with it. The feedback from the cybernetics Sovereign implanted in Saren's body wrecked the body and some of the mechanisms, though. I'll need to repair it." He let out a sigh.

"How close are you to making one of those things yourself?"

"Getting there." Robert tapped the hilt with his left hand while his right gripped the glass and brought it to his mouth. He took a gulp and gave a more contented sigh. "Tastes good. I bet it costs quite a bit to get real oranges out this far."

"It could be replicated," Zack pointed out.

"If so, it's a damn good replicator." Robert took another drink. Zack could tell he was exhausted. "So, welcome back to the fun, Zack."

"Heh. I'm going to regret it later," he sighed. "I hurt all over and I'm sure I'll be doing a lot more paperwork while working with C-Sec to investigate everything."

"I know the feeling. I still owe Maran and Morgan a report." Robert considered the remaining juice in his glass. Zack downed most of his. He held the glass up afterward. "But better to be exhausted than dead, right?"

"I'll drink to that," Zack chuckled. After they both took drinks and finished their glasses, Zack added, "And now I'm ready to drink to not getting shot at for a while." He held the glass to the Turian bartender.

"Here's hoping," Robert sighed, already certain it wouldn't quite turn out that way.

Julia looked out the window of her ready office at the sad sight. The Excalibur was beside the Aurora and looked pretty battered. The missing nacelle gave the ship an uneven look. The self-repair systems left entire sections of the hull looking as patched over as she knew them to be. It broke up some of the Excalibur's lethal grace.

When her door chime went off, Julia turned and said, "Come in." Meridina entered with a digital pad. "Another report?"

"The total casualty report as of this hour," Meridina said. "We suffered sixteen dead and eighty-seven wounded."

"I suppose it could have been much higher." Julia's comment didn't detract from her feeling: that was sixteen and eighty-seven too damn many. "The damage estimates?"

"Commander Scott gave preliminary estimates. Going by experience, I expect the actual time for repair to be about half the stated requirement."

Julia smiled softly at that. "That's why he's the miracle worker." She looked over the offered report and signed off on it. "Do you think we might have prevented this?" she asked.

Meridina gave her a curious look. "How?"

"By defying Atama and Udina. If we'd brought the Aurora to Ilos, and kept Saren from using the Conduit…"

"Perhaps. But I am content that we were where we needed to be when the moment of decision came."

Julia nodded once in acceptance of Meridina's point. "You look… better."

"I feel better," Meridina said. A tired look came across the Gersallian woman's face, weakness she normally didn't show. "The Flow of Life no longer quails. Not as it did. Whatever errors we made along the way, we won a great victory for Light today, Julia. That is what matters."

"I can't argue with that." Julia failed to keep the pensive look off her face, matching the thought that came to her. "But I don't know if we won for good. Whatever Sovereign was… there are supposed to be more Reapers out there. Maybe a lot more."

"So it claimed to Shepard and Robert. But for now, they are not here, and given time we can be ready for them," Meridina said. "I would not worry about…"

A chime filled the room. Julia went over and tapped a key on her desk. "Andreys here."

The voice on the other end was that of Lieutenant Tra'dur, working an ops watch. "Captain, we're receiving a hail from Admiral Maran. It's coded as urgent."

Julia wondered what could be this urgent. Undoubtedly he already had her initial report, but any information he needed was already there. To answer this curiosity she swiftly hit the key on her board to accept the communication. As she sat in her chair, Maran appeared on the screen, sitting in one Julia recognized to be his flag office on the Kentan. While always stoic, Julia thought there was a bit of impatience in him. Impatience… and worry? "Admiral," Julia said. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm aware you've suffered some damage, Captain," he said. "Do you have warp capability yet?"

"Not at the moment, but we should soon," Julia answered.

"Commander Scott has affirmed warp capability will be regained within the next several hours," Meridina confirmed for her.

"Good. Prepare for immediate departure and full combat deployment."

Julia exchanged a puzzled look with Meridina before looking at Maran again. "Sir? The crew was on alert for an extended period and many of them have been helping with the clean-up effort. And Commander Scott estimates up to a week in drydock to repair all of our systems…"

Maran nodded and sighed. "I'm aware you have been through a difficult fight, Captain. If I had a choice, if the timing wasn't what it is, I would give you that repair time. But I'm afraid you're needed elsewhere."

"Where?" Julia asked.

"I need the Aurora to join the invasion fleet," Maran said. "We've already commenced the invasion of Earth in S4W8. This is our last chance to end the war with the Reich. If we don't win now, we might never beat them."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

Due to the size of Act 1 and the Teaser, I am going to post them separately, as was done with 3-05.


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 12 July 2643. Captain Julia Andreys recording. I'm reminded of an old saying. "The reward for work done well is more work."

Conference Room 1 was full of department heads, officers and senior NCOs, although most of the command staff wasn't present due to other tasks. Julia and Meridina were seated at the main table. "What about the tactical systems?" Julia asked. "Lieutenant Delgado reported a number of our plasma banks were disabled."

"I've got teams working on them already, sir," replied Senior Chief Petty Officer Isabela Talaverda, the NCO responsible for the damage control teams. She was a lean, muscled woman of dark bronze complexion and one of the remaining crew from the Facility days. "You can expect full weapon capability in the next twelve hours. But it is going to detract from surveying the damaged hull sections."

"Operations is shifting personnel to assist, Chief." That was from Lieutenant Tra'dur.

"It doesn't change the fact that some of our battle damage is best dealt with by yard work, ma'am," Talaverda insisted.

"Admiral Maran's aware of that, as am I, but our orders remain, so we have to make due," Julia replied. "I'd like a timetable on…"

We just saved the Citadel. Given what Robert and Commander Shepard found out on Ilos, we saved the whole galaxy. Maybe even the Multiverse itself. We should be getting a break.

While other engineering crew were already on tasks, Scotty and Barnes were assembled with Jarod and Lucy and Tra'dur, among other engineer and ops officers, over the master control table in Main Engineering. From this location every system on the Starship Aurora could be remotely checked for trouble, and quite a few of them were showing such from battle damage.

"I dinnae like th' look o' th' secondary generators," Scotty was saying. "We need 'em t' be completely resynched if we're t' have th' shields ready on time."

"Normally that's a job of two or three days," Barnes said. "Getting them done on time… it's impossible."

"Nae, lad, it isnae impossible at all, just a matter o' manpower."

"I'll take a team and handle it," Lucy promised.

"Good lass." Scotty turned his attention to Tra'dur. "As for ye, we've got some power conduits needin' patchin'."

"Of course, Commander Scott," the Dilgar officer answered.

"That leaves th' damage tae th' warp drive." Scotty looked to another of the engineer officers. "Yrap, ye get a team an' go EVA tae inspect th' nacelle. Th' auto-repair patch looks t' be good so I dinnae think th' damage needs a yard, but I need tae be sure…"

But we're not getting that break. Admiral Maran's calling us to the fleet. We're going back into the war with the Reich. No matter how tired or battered we feel.

There was controlled chaos in the Aurora medbay. Leo moved from one bed or stretcher to the next. He found Doctor Roliri Opani, a Dorei woman of dark teal complexion, looking over another Dorei. The light blue-skinned male, with prominent dark teal spots the same hue as Doctor Opani's skin, was unconscious and, more to the point, missing half of his right arm and most of his right leg. "I have completed stabilization," Opani informed Leo.

"Good. We'll ship him out on the St. Johns." Leo moved on. The next bed had an injured Alakin. He quickly found the injury wasn't severe and tagged the Alakin as fit for duty.

Doctor Lani Walker had beaten him to the next bed. The Tohono O'odham woman was finishing her examination of a Human female, a Petty Officer who, like Leo, was of African descent. The woman was conscious but somewhat out of it, unsurprising given the amount of bandaging visible on her. "I've almost finished processing her," Walker said. "Stable, non-severe injuries, but extensive. Probably two weeks before she can even consider light duty."

"Then she's off to the transporter."

Walker tagged the crew-woman appropriately while Leo moved on, continuing his job of sorting through wounded to determine who would stay and be back on duty and who would be evacuated to the Citadel. He felt irritated at this necessity. The Citadel's medical services were already strained dealing with the dead and wounded from the Geth attack. His patients couldn't be prioritized given the situation. He could only hope someone got hospital ships out to help. There was nothing more he could do.

Admiral Maran says this will decide the war. So I can understand why. And we'll do what we have to regardless. That's what we're out here for. And if it can end the war… then it's well worth it.

It was approaching Gamma Shift's watch period on the Aurora, several hours after they received the call from Maran. Julia returned to the bridge from her ready office. Locarno was at the helm while Ops was being manned by Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi. Lieutenant Crane and Ensign Tagas manned the Tactical and Science stations. A warrant officer, a male Alakin named Thepk with blue skin and yellow and white feathering, manned the Engineering station.

Meridina moved from the command chair. "Did you sleep well?" she asked.

Julia gave her a sardonic look. "Try as I might, no. I ended up leaving a personal log entry just to get some things off my chest."

"I understand. Admiral Maran sent an update, he is awaiting us at New Prussia in S4W8. Lieutenant Neyzi is already preparing for the jump as soon as we take the relay through to Arcturus."

"Good. Is everything ready then?"

Meridina checked her screens for several moments. "Yes, the St. Johns just returned from taking the last of the critically wounded to the Citadel."

"Where are we on personnel?"

"Quite well," said Meridina. "In keeping with instructions from Admiral Maran, we have taken aboard crew from the crippled vessels to replace the wounded and slain. Commander Jarod and Chief Perez are seeing to their assignments."

Before Julia could respond to that, the lift doors opened. She looked toward it, expecting Jarod or another officer to be coming aboard.

Instead, she watched Captain Elizabeth King of the Excalibur approach. The Englishwoman was in normal duty uniform just as Julia was, dark brown hair pulled back into a bun at the back of her head and looking as reserved and controlled as she always did. "Captain, I apologize for the sudden arrival," she said. "Admiral Maran ordered me to report to the Aurora before she departed for New Prussia."

"It's fine, Captain, things here are pretty hectic around here given the situation," Julia replied. "How are matters on your ship?"

"Not to my liking." King's voice betrayed a hint of aggravation. "We suffered significant losses from the battle damage, and Commander Stirling is adamant that a yardship be dispatched to bring the Excalibur back to a fleet base. The structural damage can't be repaired without a dock."

Julia nodded, not surprised by the admission. The Excalibur had taken two direct hits with failed shields from the ancient Reaper machine, Sovereign, during the battle, blowing one of her warp nacelles in half and damaging several sections and decks of the battlecruiser. She suspected the Excalibur would be in drydock for months for repairs.

"Commander Granville will keep things in order until my return." King shook her head. "Honestly I would prefer to see to my vessel's repairs myself, but the Admiral is adamant that I attend. My presence is needed, apparently."

"Well, we're preparing to depart now," she said.

"Impulse power at your command, Captain," Locarno said. "The Normandy is already moving to the relay."

"The Normandy?" asked King.

"Admiral Hackett and the Council are sending Shepard to help," Julia said. "It looks like the Commander won't get the benefit of any rest either."

"I see."

Julia offered the observation seat to her left to King, who took it. It was clear she was still irritated with being ordered off her ship, but she said nothing more. "Take us to the relay, Mister Locarno," Julia said. "Set the destination for Arcturus."

"Aye ma'am," was the reply.

The Aurora turned away from the Citadel and the gathered ships of Admiral Hackett's 5th Fleet, plus the remnants of the Citadel's defense fleet. The grand space station, still recovering from the Geth attack upon it, started to fade from sight on the holo-viewer, obscured by the clouds of gas and particles of the Serpent Nebula.

Neyzi altered the viewer to show the sight to their bow. Ahead the long, slim form of the SSV Normandy was already making her final approach. Energy crackled from the mass relay and touched the Normandy. Moments later the Human/Turian hybrid frigate zipped away, propelled across a quarter of the galaxy in the blink of an eye.

Under Locarno's control, the Aurora made her own approach, and the process repeated. Soon the Normandy was on the holo-viewer again. In the distance, a fleet of the Systems Alliance was maintaining a secure watch on the toroid-shaped Arcturus Station, the capital of the Systems Alliance.

But that was not their destination. Locarno relayed positional data to the Normandy. The smaller ship responded and moved to conform to it. As soon as they were ready, Locarno nodded at Neyzi, who activated the Aurora's interuniversal jump drive. Fixed to an anchor at the fleet base at occupied New Prussia, the drive activated, forming a vortex of swirling emerald energy that represented a breach between universes. Both vessels flew into the jump point.

On the other end was a garden planet, a copy of the planet that in Julia's home universe was the location of the New Liberty Colony. But here it wasn't just one settlement of three hundred thousand like it was for New Liberty: rather the planet was covered in cities. Julia recalled the data, that the planet was populated by seven billion people, almost all of them from Germany of the S4W8 universe.

Which meant that many, if not most, were likely ardent Nazis.

Coming out into the Multiverse had been a spectacular experience. For Julia and those she considered her friends, it was a path they'd never have expected, and it repeatedly provided them a chance to see the wonders of possibility among the Multiverse.

One thing that wasn't a wonder was the S4W8 universe.

While the various universes tended to have diversions in history at some point, usually by the 21st or 22nd Century, S4W8 diverted far earlier. Specifically, it diverted in the 20th Century, and in a way that could always be certain to horrify those who learned of it: this was the universe where the genocidal madman Adolf Hitler was not defeated but emerged triumphant. The "Third Reich" had not only prevailed in what other universes considered "World War II", it had survived the following decades as well, conquering more and more territory, expanding its power and influence until by the mid-21st Century it had completely conquered Earth.

And then it had gone to the stars, and Hitler's Thousand Year Reich had spread its evil from world to world, building a large interstellar empire on the sweat and blood of the oppressed nations of the Earth the Reich had not slaughtered in its victory while bringing death to every sapient species it encountered.

The idea of fighting Nazis was once something Julia thought would come off as a joke. Some pulp fiction thing. At most, a result of finding a 20th Century Earth and intervening in it back in the days of the Facility. But now it was no joke; it was a frightening reality. Julia and the others had experienced that reality first hand repeatedly, from the desperate fighting at the start of the war to New Austria, Gamma Piratus, the Durani Cluster, Clirison, New Brittany, the Epsilon Offensive…

Her thoughts were broken by Neyzi speaking again. "The Kentan is signaling for us to join the fleet. Admiral Maran wishes to see you and Captain King immediately."

"Coordinates set," Locarno added. "I'm moving us toward the fleet."

Said fleet soon filled the holo-viewer. It wasn't the first fleet Julia had seen in this war, but it was still the kind of sight she'd never forget. Thousands of starships from across the Multiverse in formations by type. Winged Alakin warbirds, graceful Dorei starbirds, the arrow-like sharp shapes of FedStar cruisers and the blocky, utilitarian warships of the Colonial Confederation…

And there were more now. Julia recognized designs as varied as the Aururian warships, looking more like wet navy ships of the 20th Century modified for space flight, the elegant star-sailing vessels of the Gy'torans, and the spherical orbs of the Gl'mulli. There were a handful of White Star ships of Universe E5B1, several warships from the Inner Sphere and the Clans of Universe F1S1, and…

Julia stared in utter surprise at another group of familiar starships. "...Starfleet is here?"

"I can confirm," Ensign Tagas remarked. "I'm reading several Federation starships. Nebula, Excelsior, Miranda, New Orleans, and Galaxy-classes all present, and a couple of newer ones on the recognition charts. Akira-class and…"

Julia was already noticing a Starfleet design she'd never seen before. The large cruiser-sized vessel lacked the curved lines of the Galaxy in favor of a rapier-sharp design, with the primary hull flowing into the drive hull and a great, golden deflector dish. From the underside of the hull, the ship's registry number was visible.


"...Sovereign-class," Tagas finished. "USS Enterprise."

"Indeed. I wonder who is in command?" Meridina pondered.

"I think we're about to find out," Julia remarked.

Robert noted the wan look on Shepard's face as she joined him at the airlock. Fourteen hours after the end of the fighting on the Citadel and here they were, preparing for another fight. He suspected he didn't look any better.

"Are you ready?" Shepard asked. Her green eyes met his. Despite her clear fatigue, Shepard's uniform looked completely fresh. Robert's own uniform, while presentable, still seemed to lack the crisp look of Shepard's. While she was in the blue of a Systems Alliance officer, Robert's predominately-black Stellar Navy uniform was marked with the silver branch trim of Intelligence branch and a staff officer's aiguillette. He'd returned the four golden slanted stripes of a Captain to the collar of the uniform for the purpose of the briefing, even if his true purpose there had more to do with being one of the dozen Paladin operatives serving the Alliance. Likewise Shepard's attendance was hardly due to her rank of Commander, but rather her status as a Spectre of the Citadel Council in Universe M4P2.

"As ready as you are," Robert sighed, and both knew full well how tired they were.

Shepard nodded and tapped her omnitool. "This is Commander Shepard to Kentan Transporters. We're clear to transport over."

A moment later a verbal acknowledgement came, and the two were whisked by a subspace tunnel across a span of space into the heart of the Gersallian dreadnought-carrier starship Kentan, one of the most powerful starships in any fleet in the Multiverse.

The two stepped off the pad quickly. A moment later the transporter engaged again. When the bursts of light faded, Julia and Captain King were on the pad. Robert smiled and nodded at Julia, who repeated the gesture.

"Commander Shepard." King stepped up and offered her hand to Shepard. "I owe you congratulations. And given what happened on the Citadel, gratitude. Thank you."

"It's fine, Captain. Congratulations on your new command."

"Did you get in any trouble for stealing off with the Normandy?" Julia asked Shepard.

"Given everything that happened, no." Shepard's expression turned bemused. "Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to find out the Council expected me to run off. My doing so against orders gets them off the hook with the Terminus governments."

"That's quite a possibility," King agreed.

"Alright everyone, Admiral Maran's waiting for us," Julia remarked.

The four left the transporter station and headed toward the Fleet Command Chamber at the heart off the ship. Inside of it junior officers were manning various stations, providing up-to-date intelligence and sensor scan data for the benefit of the Admiral. Other stations acted as fleet communications and performed duties to help sustain coordination of the force.

They approached the large central table, currently displaying a holographic projection of nearby space. Sol was marked with a red light and a ship icon. Other ship icons overlaid with swastikas were present beside it and in nearby space.

The table was round. Opposite of the side they approached, a large screen allowed further data display to complement the table's display. Standing between the table and the large screen was Admiral Maran, wearing a Stellar Navy uniform with his singular five gold star rank insignia. To one side of him stood the familiar figure of Delenn, the Vice President of the InterStellar Alliance and the leader of the Anla'shok - the Rangers - that flew the White Star ships. As always she was dressed in colorful, flowing Minbari robes of blue and violet, with her black Human hair flowing down and around the crest of bone that partially circled her head. On the other side was a small woman in an ostentatious uniform of black and blueish gray, with dirty-blond hair and dun fur: Warmaster Shai'jhur of the Dilgar, accompanied by several more Dilgar and one Human woman of Indian ancestry wearing the Dilgar uniform. Another crisp dress white uniform belonged to a Human woman of dark complexion. Robert sensed Julia's immediate recognition: this was an officer of the Aururian Imperial Federation of Universe A2M6. Around the circle, General Hatcher of Military Intelligence was present, as was Admiral Relini, the Dorei commander of the 9th Fleet, and Admiral William Adama of the Colonies. A Human woman, Hispanic Robert thought, stood in the same uniform as Shepard's.

The last two figures at the table were in Starfleet uniforms, a new model that used gray on the shoulders with the collars showing branch color, both burgundy red in this case. One was a Vice Admiral, a Human male, and beside him stood Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Robert and Julia noted that the Starfleet commander, the first one they'd ever encountered, looked quite well. And it wasn't hard to guess what his new posting was.

"Captains, Commander, thank you for attending," Maran said. "It's good to see you're all well after the attack on the Citadel. While I'm sure you would like to report on that situation, I'm afraid we have more pressing matters at the moment."

The new arrivals took up places at the table. "I imagined there'd be more admirals," Robert said.

"There were," was Maran's reply. "But most of our allied contingents have returned to their ships to finish battle preparations. You're here to discuss the most critical element of this situation, the reason why we had to move quickly. For your benefit, allow me to introduce Admiral Waratah Eora of the Aururian Imperial Navy, Admiral William Ross of Starfleet, Warmaster Shai'jhur of the Union of Tira and Rohric, and several of the Warmaster's officers and advisors."

Julia recognized Fei'nur immediately, as well as Kaveri Varma. And she was pretty sure the other two were sisters of Tra'dur, but she didn't know which ones.

"So this is about hitting the Nazis' capital Earth," Robert said. "I thought the timetable for that attack was still at least a month away? The earliest D-Day I saw listed was August 18th."

"Yes. It was our intention to continue with clearing operations around Earth. But circumstances have changed. General Hatcher?"

Hatcher nodded. He was a Human man, roughly six feet tall, in a green uniform jacket marked with three stars. His skin was a very light mocha in coloration, with a thin face and equally thin figure. At Maran's instigation he tapped a key on the screen. "About two months ago, forces from the Free Worlds League and the Capellan Confederation attacked the Reich colony world of Rosenburg." Said world now showed on the holo, along with related data. Robert noted that it looked like quite a decent garden planet; its counterpart in his home universe had been one of the alternative sites for the New Liberty Colony had its current location proved hostile. "Rosenburg is an agricultural planet primarily, a breadbasket world that exports foodstuffs. The Reich's laws forbade any town greater in size than 50,000 residents to maintain the planet's nature." Hatcher tapped a key that brought up a flat map of the planet. For Robert and Julia it was like someone took the area of Kansas they grew up in and duplicated it across an entire planet.

After another key press Hatcher brought up combat footage. Reich troops, including power armored-Panzergrenadiers, were in a desperate firefight with invasion forces from the two F1S1 states listed. The iconic weapon system of F1S1 - large armored walkers called BattleMechs - was prevalent on the screen. Several different models of 'Mechs, ranging from human-shaped machines to more blocky, bulky ones covered in weapons or with reverse-jointed "chicken legs", were giving and taking fire from the Reich forces.

"They're fighting awfully hard," Shepard noted. "Was this breadbasket world that important to their food supply?"

"Not this important," Hatcher noted. "The defense forces assigned to Rosenburg were far more than seemed reasonable."

"Assuming the planet was named for Alfred Rosenburg, could this have been an issue of prestige for the regime?" King asked. Robert could tell she knew the answer was going to be "no", but it was a good question regardless.

"We considered that possibility, and there have been cases of the Reich defending targets beyond their military value for reasons of prestige. But this seemed excessive even for that purpose." Hatcher shook his head. "The Marik and Liao forces suffered extremely high casualties in the initial attack. They were forced to request Alliance reserves to complete the pacification of the planet. As a result, our troops were able to locate and secure this site."

With another press of a key, the 2D map zoomed in on a mountain range on the northern continent of thee planet. The layout of an extensive facility built into the mountains was presented. "The facility was protected by SS forces and the Reich's regular military, and they fought for every centimeter," Hatcher said. "Half of the invading unit were casualties by the end. The enemy even collapsed half of the facility with charges, destroying much of the storage and machinery sections. Fortunately, our people were able to access the computers and forestall efforts to destroy the data within."

"It's taken us weeks to crack their encryption and examine the data," Maran said. His expression was clearly grim. "As of a week ago, we found this."

Now it was Maran pressing a key for the table. The prior displays went away in the place of a detailed technical schematic. German writing covered the schematics. Even without reading said writing, Robert and the others stared in realization and dawning horror.

At the top of the display read Interuniversumtriebwerk.

"Our worst fears have been realized," Maran said. "The Nazi Reich has developed the interuniversal jump drive."

Undiscovered Frontier
"All In"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

The technical display left no doubt as to the contents. And the German name for the project left no illusions to what it meant. "We ran out of time," Robert said. Every moment built up both horror and guilt at what that word meant. The war he'd started through fear and misjudgement had already slain so many people… and now this.

"Indeed." King's face remained stolid. She knew what the data meant and the ramifications. "Every day the Reich goes on, the risk to the rest of the Multiverse increases. If they build enough drives and equip them to enough ships…"

"...it will change the war," Julia said. "They can attack our worlds directly. Hit shipyards, mining stations, population centers…"

"It could cripple our offensive capability," Maran confirmed. "We would have to deploy large segments of the fleet to stand watch over our most populated worlds, or leave them vulnerable to Nazi attack. And while the Reich's military resources have been strained to the breaking point, their fanaticism suggests they are quite capable of suicidal tactics. Even if they lose an entire attack force in the process of hitting one of our worlds, they may judge it worth the cost to terrorize our populations."

"Although you are partially incorrect, Captain," said Hatcher. "We're not quite out of time yet." Hatcher indicated the schematic. "Examination of these plans indicate that while the Reich has mostly completed the research phase of their project, they haven't yet made it work. There are technical flaws in these plans that will take time for them to fix before they can achieve an interuniversal jump point. They were still working on that when Coalition forces hit Rosenburg."

"That was almost two months ago," Robert said. "They've had a lot of time to work out the remaining bugs."

"Don't forget that they had to take time to get their project relocated," Hatcher said.

"Indeed. The General's correct in that the fall of Rosenburg did buy us a little more time. We've intercepted some communications indicating the project is still being completed," said Maran. "We still have a window of opportunity to defeat the Reich before they finish employment of the drive. That's why we're attacking S4W8 Earth now."

"The project's based on Earth?" asked Shepard.

"A great deal of it, yes. Going by captured files…" Hatcher brought up a map of what, in other universes, would be Berlin. But the Berlin of S4W8 had little in common with its counterparts in other universes--it was wrought on a massive scale, from the Seelowe Heights in the East to Gransee on the edge of the Uckermark, to the bank of the Elbe in the west and Delitzsch in the south, a vast city of incredible density stretched. "It's somewhere in this area." He highlighted a section of the city. "In the heart of what they call Welthauptstadt Germania."

"The World Capital." The words came out in a snarl for Robert as he translated the title. It was another harsh reminder of just how twisted this universe was. "They're performing the research right in the heart of their own capital."

"It makes some sense, I suppose," said Shepard. "It's already going to be a secure area, heavily protected. And with something like this, their leaders are going to take a direct interest."

"That's why you're here?" Julia asked Ross and Picard.

"It is." Ross nodded. "The Federation Council spent two days deliberating the matter, but in the end President Zife and his advisors convinced them. Starfleet is joining the war openly and aiding the invasion. We cannot let a regime like this acquire the drive."

"It will not be an easy battle," Picard observed. His accent was a refined English, very much in contrast to his French name and background. "They have to know they have time on their side and will fight ferociously as a result."

"Then we will fight with the courage of the desperate," Shai'jhur said. "The results of the Reich having an interuniversal capability demand it." She nodded to Maran.

"We've already landed troops on Earth," Maran said. "Contingents from virtually every power in the Coalition are fighting to secure key points. Unfortunately, the Reich is quite resilient in bouncing back from defeat. The fleet units we shattered in the Epsilon Offensive have been reconstituted."

"Kampfgruppe," Robert said. Upon noticing the looks on some of the others, he said, "My grandfather told me about how German units recovered after the offensives of 1944. Scattered companies and battalions would form ad hoc formations, kampfgruppe, to fight on."

"Tactically speaking, the Reich has always shown a penchant for such," Hatcher observed.

"Indeed. Their counterattack inflicted severe losses and heavy damage to the fleet that landed our troops. We were forced to pull them back." Maran's expression was severe. "Although their theater shields will protect the ground forces for the moment, we have a large number of our best troops trapped on the Reich's capital Earth. If we lose them, it could be weeks, even months, before we could gather enough forces to hit Earth again. And given that the invasion forces are being led in part by Prince Victor of the Federated Commonwealth, among other key military leaders from some of our allies, such an outcome would have serious political consequences for the Coalition."

"There are alternatives to planetary invasion, Admiral," King pointed out delicately. When her remark was rewarded with a number of bewildered and horrified expressions, King added, "Undesirable methods of last resort, certainly, but still the superior outcome to defeat."

"Such methods have been proposed already," Maran said. "And if absolutely necessary, we may have to employ them. But our objective is to break the Reich, not destroy its capital. Their political system is fixed to central authority. If we destroy that authority physically and morally, the individual Gauleiters and Admirals and Generals will be left to decide things on their own. Organized resistance against our forces will collapse."

"They must suffer humiliation as well as defeat," Delenn said. "They must lose a great battle in the heart of their empire to those they consider unworthy."

"So we're going in to restore communications with the invasion army and provide reinforcements," Julia said.

Maran nodded. "There will be two elements. I am assuming personal command of the main assault fleet, consisting of the bulk of our available ships. After we make orbit, our fleet will stand off and move to intercept any incoming enemy attack. A second, smaller force will remain in orbit to support the invasion forces, led by Warmaster Shai'jhur." He nodded at the Dilgar leader, who nodded back. "Admiral Relini, Admiral Eora, and Admiral Ross will be her subordinate commanders. Captain Andreys, the Aurora and Koenig will be part of this fleet. But I have an additional task for you during the operation."

"Yes, Admiral?"

"Your crew is the most experienced with Darglan technology, including the interuniversal drive," said Maran. "The Aurora's science officers will be responsible for determining the exact location of the research facility in the heart of the city, enabling the ground forces to take it."

"Which I'll be responsible for?" Robert asked.

"With Commander Shepard, yes, and a team of your choice," Maran said. He looked to King. "Captain King, my apologies for taking you from your ship. But we have need of your services in another field. I'm afraid that the Nazi counterattack came as we were deploying a field intelligence team. The team was lost, and we need an intelligence officer to be part of this operation. There will be critical information in that facility that will need to be secured."

"I see." King nodded. "I anticipated it was something like this. I will serve in whatever capacity is required."

"Excellent. There are already allied troops in the vicinity." Maran brought up tactical data. A near ring of forces were in place around the enemy capital. "Each sector is being fought for tenaciously and the situation is changing hourly, so I can't give you any advice on your best starting point. That is a decision you will have to make when we arrive in orbit."

"Understood," said Robert. "Is there any other data we need to know?"

"Only this. Every minute we delay gives the Reich more time to recover. We're waiting on a few final reinforcements but when the time comes, all ships are making for Earth S4W8. I expect you to be ready by then. I'll have whatever engineers we can spare from the New Prussia base come aboard and take up the repair jobs so your people get some rest."

"Understood, sir," Julia said. "The Aurora will be ready."

"With nothing further to discuss, you are all dismissed."

Julia returned to the Aurora and immediately set about the preparations for the arriving engineering teams. Maran proved true to his word, as over three dozen engineering officers led by an Alakin female, Commander Hrathep, arrived within the space of half an hour. Julia was quick to send Scotty, Barnes, and the other Operations and Engineering officers of the ship to their quarters for some much-needed rest.

The truth was she needed some as well, but for the moment she knew there would be no sleep. Not with the terrible stakes hovering over her head. They'd come so close to finishing the Reich off. Now they were out of time and forced into a desperate gamble.

After making some headway on department reports, Julia stepped over to the window of her ready office. The Aurora was in formation with several other Alliance ships, adjacent to the Starfleet detachment led by Picard and Ross. Given the distances and angles none of their names were immediately visible, but she already recognized several ships with the same profile as the Aurora. Maran's fleet included all five of the Enterprise-class ships in active service. The newest of them, the Thunder Child, was directly to port of the Aurora. Many of the Discovery-class ships were present as well, including Discovery herself and the Challenger.

After taking in the sight and considering the stakes for a few minutes, Julia returned to her desk. Low priority messages from other captains were showing. So was a request from Commander Patrice Laurent, the Aurora's CAG. The pilot wanted to visit his sister, Captain Madeleine Laurent, on the Challenger. Julia immediately authorized the request. Another message was from Captain Arik Shaham on the Enterprise, expressing his sentiments about the occasion. Captain Phillip Wallace of the Thunder Child was inviting her to a victory celebration once they'd taken the Nazi capital. She was gratified to see a message from another of the old Facility hands now serving as First Officer of the Nehru-class star cruiser Sun Yat-sen

Julia finally set everything aside. If she wasn't going to get some sleep, she at least needed food. She stepped out of her ready office and looked to Lieutenant Takawira in the command chair. "Lieutenant, I'm getting a bite to eat. You have the bridge."

"Aye Captain," Takawira answered, his English accented from his home colony of Nkomo, settled by Zimbabweans in Universe L2R1 centuries before.

The lift ride down was quiet. With what was to come, most of the crew not absolutely essential were off getting sleep or resting. There was a general fatigue in the ship, the kind you'd expect after a desperate battle. That they were off to another one…

In the Lookout, a number of crew not getting sleep were enjoying a meal. Hargert's kitchen staff were due to beam over to the fleet base minutes before they departed, but she knew from experience Hargert would not be joining them. He would stay on the Aurora working himself to exhaustion to keep the crew well-fed. That their foes were the Nazis would only redouble the elderly German cook's resolve to serve the Aurora crew in the crisis. At the moment she spotted him emerging from the kitchen carrying a great pot to the side bar. A number of officers and crew were waiting with bowls, all soon filled with steaming servings of his legendary sausage stew. Julia felt a rumble in her stomach and a familiar watering in her mouth. She took her place in line. A Petty Officer ahead of her tried to move away, to give her his place, but she shook her head and refused it.

Within a minute, she had a bowl in her hand and Hargert had a ladle full of stew coming up from the pot. "Good evening, Captain," he said. "You look famished."

"I am famished," Julia admitted wearily. "And I can't sleep."

"Certainly not if you're hungry! Eat your fill and let your satisfied stomach ease you to rest." He made sure the bowl was full before ceasing to fill it. Julia stepped away and found a table not yet claimed, a window seat. She slid into the open chair. Albert, a young German man serving under Hargert, provided her a fruit drink and a glass of milk on the side. She enjoyed a bit of both before plunging into her meal.

She'd made it through not quite half of the bowl when someone asked, "Is this table reserved?" The accent gave away the speaker before Julia could look up and confirm the speaker. Captain Picard stood with a small grin and a bowl of stew in one hand, a cup of steaming tea in the other. He took a seat once Julia shook her head and gestured toward the table. "I was surprised to learn from Mister Data that your Mister Hargert does not rely on replicators for his food preparation."

"Not unless absolutely necessary," Julia confirmed.

Picard nodded and took his first bite. It was clear he found the experience enjoyable. Once he finished swallowing he nodded, smiling. "Well, having experienced his efforts first hand, I'm hardly in a position to question his methods, am I?"

Julia chuckled lightly in response. After finishing another bite she asked, "So, I see you have a new Enterprise. She looks impressive."

"That she is," Picard agreed after swallowing. He gave Julia a knowing look. "I'd imagined you and I would share that singular distinction."

This time the chuckle from Julia was lacked the same amusement. "I suppose."

"Do you regret it?" Picard asked.

"In the end? No." Julia shook her head. "I mean, I suppose I will one day. Everyone wants to be the Captain of the Enterprise. But the Aurora… she's my ship. She's been mine since we started assembling her. It's fitting that I command her now."

"Understandable." Picard sipped at his tea. "And you've certainly had an eventful career as captain so far. New Caprica, Phi Perseus, Tira, now the Citadel…"

"It's been busy," Julia answered. "But I don't think anything can compare to what tomorrow's going to bring."

"Likely not," Picard agreed. "I admit I was particularly impressed by the Phi Perseus situation. Your command decisions in that crisis should provide quite a case study for Starfleet cadets."

"Flattery, Captain?"

"Jean-Luc, please," he said.

"Julia, then."

"Julia. As I was saying, I was very impressed with the Oakland Colony situation. Your proposal over the dispute concerning Phi Perseus was inspired, and your handling of the matter justifies your growing reputation in diplomacy."

"Diplomacy is a headache. But there are worse things."

"Indeed." Picard sighed. "An awful lot of blood will have to be spilled in the next few days to prevent a greater calamity."

"Is there any resentment for us?" asked Julia. "If the Alliance had never come to this universe, the Nazis would never have even considered an interuniversal drive."

"Perhaps not. Or perhaps they would have stumbled upon the Darglan database and Facility in due time." Picard turned thoughtful. "I'm sure there are some who believe the war could have been forestalled, measures taken to eliminate the risk… but the truth is, what we do out here will always have an element of risk. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and try to make the best choices available at any given moment."

"I won't argue with that." Julia sighed wistfully. "If we live through this, I'm looking forward to peace. I've had enough fighting to fulfill any fantasies of being a hero." Her eyes wandered over to the Memorial Wall at the end of the Lookout, and the ever lengthening list of names upon it. "And I've had enough people die under my command."

"I know the feeling," Picard admitted.

Julia might have spoken more, but her eyes were pulled toward the starboard-side door to the Lookout. She was quite surprised to see the two new arrivals. Shai'jhur and Kaveri Varma approached Hargert, who spoke with them briefly before departing for the kitchen. Afterward they looked about and, upon seeing Julia and Picard, walked over to them. "Captains," the Dilgar woman said.

"Warmaster." Julia motioned to the two remaining seats. "Are you here for the stew?"

"Sort of,” Kaveri answered for them. “Your man Hargert offered us a special preparation of Wildschweingulasch he’s been making for Tra’dur and some of the other officers on the Aurora who follow Hindu traditions.”

“She says it’s very good,” the Warmaster added after she sat. “And we’re not fighting on the same ship.”

“Shai’jhur gave me Wrath when the reconstruction--calling it a repair would be absurd--was finished,” Kaveri explained.

"The Wrath." Julia thought she remembered the name. "Is that the new Sekhmet in the fleet?"

“New is an …” Kaveri hesitated, looking to Shai’jhur.

“She is reconstructed from the wreckage of the Vendetta, which I salved from Third Balos,” Shai’jhur explained after a moment. “I didn’t tell that story over Tira, we hadn’t the time, but during the retreat from Balos I did come across the Warmaster’s flagship.”

"But she wasn't aboard?"

“We found her flag captain, Battlemaster An’jash, dead on the bridge with a broken back. The crew slaughtered. The ship was a ruin--only some undamaged armour held her together in two places, her back had been shattered by neutron beams in two places, one entire beam wrecked by Novas as well. There was one survivor, the Emperor’s Chef, who Jha’dur had dragooned into making her meals for her after the Emperor was killed. He’d locked himself in a galley cooler which hadn’t lost atmosphere. I towed the wreck back to salvage the equipment, but in the end, she spent thirty years sitting, a derelict, over Rohric.”

“For some reason,” Kaveri added, a bit wryly, “when we began the emergency work to repair her with Alliance funding, Shai’jhur thought it would be a perfect idea to have me as her Captain. She flies straight only with five percent overdrive on the port engine block, but she’s still one of the most powerful ships in known space.”

Julia showed a small grin at that. "Do you enjoy being back in command?"

“It is a service to a righteous cause,” Kaveri replied. “I can say I am thankful to be leading such an eager crew who hunger to prove themselves, but I am an old woman. The Union Navy will inevitably contract when this war is over, and, at this point, my desire is to lead her back safe and sound to the reserve depot she was revived from. If I do that, it is a good final command.”

"Well-spoken, Captain Varma." Picard nodded to her. He turned his head to Shai'jhur. "If you don't mind me asking, Warmaster, I recall reading that Warmaster Jha'dur was verified as having survived as late as six years ago?"

“Yes,” Shai’jhur answered rather tightly, a constriction of the muscles around her throat visible. “On Babylon 5.”

"How did she survive the loss of her ship?" Julia asked.

“It wasn’t Earthforce that finished her off,” Kaveri interjected. “The Minbari attacked the Wrath, and took Jha’dur -- as a prize, a prisoner. It was Minbari neutron cannon that broke her back. The reason remains unclear. Jha’dur didn’t talk to my daughter, or anyone else, about that when she was on Babylon 5. Perhaps Delenn knows.”

"Somehow I suspect she might be reluctant to bring up the matter," Picard observed wryly. "I wouldn't care to speculate why any of the Minbari would have thought of capturing such a woman as Jha'dur."

"She's said to have been brilliant." Julia considered her drink for a moment. "She was one of the key reasons why the Dilgar were able to take on so many of the other species at once and come to the verge of victory."

“An intellect like Jha’dur comes along once in ten thousand years,” Shai’jhur answered levelly. “She was a brilliant biologist, surgeon, starship tactician, duellist, cybernetics engineer -- all at once, simultaneously, the best in every single one of those fields, and a decent strategist as well, though not the best. I am being cautious about opening our archives precisely for this reason. There is much work she did which the multiverse should know about only cautiously.”

"Your people might have had a happier fate if Jha'dur's brilliance had been matched with ethics," said Picard. "It is always a regretful thing to see such talent directed toward such horrible ends."

“She was never given a chance to develop a sense of ethics,” Kaveri replied. “I hope someday it is appreciated as one of the great tragedies of history, because it is. She should be with us now, saving billions with the likes of her universal vaccine. Instead, we make our best efforts in the ashes of her story.”

"It makes me wonder how many of the Reich's minds might have done something better for their lives if they hadn't been brought up in a Nazi society," pondered Julia.

"We may never know," Picard mused. He took a final drink from his cup, his bowl already finished. "It has been a pleasure to see you again, Captain. Warmaster, Battlemaster, a pleasure as well." He stood. "Should everything turn out well, we will see each other again when this battle is over."

"It was good to have you," Julia noted. "Please say hello to Commander Data for me."

"I will do so," Picard assured her.

After getting a few hours of much-needed sleep, Cat went straight to Science Lab 2. She found Meridina waiting for her at the entrance. "Commander."

"Commander." Meridina followed her in.

"Did you get any rest?" Cat took in the sight of the large science lab, with its multiple holographic and holo-viewer displays tied to control stations. The lab specialized in physics simulations and experiments. From here Cat could network sensors from the entire fleet to hunt for the particle traces related to active interuniversal drive signatures. If the Nazis were testing such technology, she would find it sooner or later… hopefully sooner.

Behind her, Meridina answered, "I have rested for a time, yes. The personnel Admiral Maran sent us have been able to assume responsibilities for our repairs. You have rested well?"

Cat nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I slept. Didn't even have a nightmare."

"You are afflicted with bad dreams?"

"Aren't we all?" Cat shrugged at that and approached a station. "Okay, the fun part of this is going to be networking with the Aururian and Federation ships. Well, maybe not the Federation ones, we've got their comm protocols to allow networking."

"WIll Commander Data be coming to assist?"

Cat shook her head. "As much as I'd love having him aboard again, Picard's going to need him on the Enterprise. But I'm sure he'll be helping me whenever he can. Now…"

The door to the science lab slid open. Two Dilgar entered. Tra'dur was in Stellar Navy uniform, the trim color of beige standing out in all of the dark blue of science, the other in Dilgar uniform. Cat and Meridina easily noted the family resemblance between them. "I hope I am not late?" Tra'dur asked.

"Just on time, actually," Cat said, already taking a chair. "Let me bring up the example traces."

"You will be assisting Commander Delgado's scans?" Meridina asked Tra'dur.

"Yes, from the ground," Tra'dur answered. Her English was accented with what Meridina was told was an Anglo-Indian accent, presumably a result of her mother Shai'jhur learning the language from Kaveri Varma. "I will be with the team, providing immediate scans and a connection to Commander Delgado."

"I see. Then I shall work to aid you as best as I can."

"Wait." Cat glanced back toward her. "You're going down?"

"Robert insisted it was necessary," Meridina replied. "And the Captain has reluctantly concurred."

"Then who's going to do your job?"

"Commander Locarno. Lieutenant Arterria will man the helm."

Cat nodded. Violeta was a great ship pilot herself, even if the exchange reminded her that her girlfriend would soon be leaving the ship. As she wanted to change the subject, Cat looked to Tra'dur's compatriot and said, "Oh, welcome to the Aurora. I'm Lieutenant Commander Caterina Delgado, Science Officer. This is one of our three science labs."

"Cat'Delgado." The other Dilgar nodded and smiled amiably. "My younger sister has told me about you, among others.” She shot an askance look at Tra’dur. “Though she’s terrible at introductions. I am Battlemaster Tia'jhur." Like her sister she spoke the tones of the subcontinent.

"The eldest, right. Nice to meet you. Is the other sister here?"

"Other sister?" asked Tra'dur.

"Jul-... Captain Andreys mentioned something about seeing two of your sisters here," Cat said. "At the briefing."

Realization showed on Tia'jhur. "I believe I understand. That was our adopted sister, Zhen'var."

"Oh!" Cat nodded. "Captain Varma. Vee mentioned she'd been surgically altered into a Dilgar."

Tia’jhur’s face twisted into an odd expression for a moment. “You are one of the most accepting humans I have met, thank you. Zhen’var did not have peace. Especially not after the mutiny of her crew and betrayal of her government at Tira. She traveled with my little sister Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur to Solaris for the procedure.”

"I hope they enjoyed it." Cat smiled at the memory of Solaris, even if that memory shared the same bittersweet taste as all of her other memories involving Violeta. "It's a really weird place, but pretty fun."

“Well, Nah’dur got to operate on her sister with equipment she’d never dreamed of before. I expect she had an awesome time from start to finish,” Tia’jhur laughed. “Though apparently Fei’nur had to pull her by the scruff of her neck into an elevator to keep her from getting herself into trouble in the lower levels.”

"Why would Nah'dur go to the lower levels?" Meridina asked. "They are not meant for tourism."

Tra’dur groaned and finally spoke again. “My sister wanted a ratburger.”

At that Caterina started giggling. "Really? I thought it was so gross when Julia told us about Zack getting one. He thought it was a hamburger!"

“Nah’dur is going through this phase where she wants to experience authenticity from the universe. Or rather she always has,” Tia’jhur sighed. “She also has a massive crush on Battlemaster Fei’nur, by the way, so you can’t rule out her intentionally putting herself in a position where Fei’nur has to rescue her. My little sister is best described as incorrigible. She has been since she was a little kit. When Zhen’var… Asked to become Dilgar, Nah’dur came up with the plan, and forced everyone to accept it. She has an intense spirit, and when she’s sure something is right, she can’t be stopped. Though, I admit all of us girls supported her there. Sister-Zhen just wasn’t happy unless she could finally fit in.”

"I have never met an individual who wished to alter their species before," Meridina remarked.

"Well, it's not too different from some of the cosmetic stuff the Sirians do, or the Solarians," Cat noted. "I mean, when we were on Solaris I met people with animal body parts, it was kinda weird. But interesting!" She made a face. "Although some of them were kinda jerks…"

“Apparently there were many humans who tried to surgically alter themselves into Minbari after the Earth-Minbari War. Zhen’var… Is much smarter than that, and my sister’s work, much more complete. She is not just a staff officer. Mother ended up giving her one of the war emergency cruisers, and she has already fought in command of her.” Tia’jhur glanced to her sister, but had already elected to speak openly.

“I would remind you that the commander of the White Star flank on our fleet is also no longer of the same genes with which she was born, Commander,” Tra’dur added gently. “I think it wrong to preference one experience over the other.”

"So I have heard." Meridina nodded simply, acknowledging the point. "Ultimately that which improves life matters. And life is change, sometimes painful, even unexpected. I still find it difficult to understand the Humans of your universe and the way they were ready to strike at her for protecting the innocent." As she said those words Meridina contemplated just how deeply her crew's treachery had wounded the woman. She thought it necessary to change her species. Such a thing usually indicates a malady in the mind. And yet she is functional enough to command. "It is not our place to judge her either way. If her alteration has made her feel better about her life then that is what is important. If anything, the Multiverse has taught me that the impossible is not always so."

Cat laughed at that. "Sorry, it's just… if you'd gone to me about six years ago and told me I'd be flying in a spaceship that can hop universes, I'd have thought the idea insane."

"I never imagined we would get such a chance as your Alliance has given us," Tra'dur remarked. Her eyes shined bright with the prospects of the future. "The Alliance, the Multiverse, it's giving us so many opportunities I didn't dare dream of."

Cat smiled softly at Tra'dur, remembering easily how eager the young Dilgar was to make her mark in the sciences. Not to mention Tra'dur's astonished joy at seeing the Citadel.

"It is to secure those opportunities that we fight the coming battle," said Meridina. "The Reich is a source of darkness that will stifle us all if it is not expunged."

A steely look formed in Tia'jhur's eyes. "Rest assured, Commander, it will be."

After moving most of his things back to the Aurora, Robert settled into his quarters on the ship and nodded off. The rest was peaceful, more so than he expected. When the tone woke him up, he put on a cream-white vest and leggings and the nondescript brown traveling robes of Gersallian make. He had a stop to make.

When he arrived at Holodeck 1, it was already up and running. He stepped in to the simulation of a contemplative garden in the Great Temple of the Order of Swenya. The holodeck systems generated what felt like a refreshing breeze moving through the garden, nestled between the great circular buildings of the Temple. He'd never been to this exact locale in the actual complex during his one visit, but he could see why Meridina made a holographic recreation of it.

Lucy was waiting there, wearing the same kind of vest he was, but with no robe. The vest was sleeveless, baring her solid arms and their light brown tone. A table with pieces for a lightsaber was laid out beside her. "There you are," she said softly, with a hint of amusement. "I should probably be upset with you for being so hard on my handiwork."

Robert let out a quick chuckle followed by a small sigh. "I apologized for the training device," he said. "As for the lightsaber, blame Shepard."

"It's so much easier to blame you though," Lucy teased. "I'd make a 'Sir Robert' joke, but the fact is the Gersallians see me as a Knight too, so I should probably be careful about that kind of humor." She sat beside the table cross-legged.

Robert walked over to the other end of the table and did the same. He noticed that the lightsaber she'd built for him was laid out on the table, with new parts to replace the ones wrecked by Sovereign's death. "Did you get any rest?"

"I did. Don't worry that I spent my entire rest period manufacturing your parts. I keep a store of them for this reason." Lucy set her hands on her knees. "I'm okay with building it myself, Robert."

"I know. But… I think I need to do it," he replied. "I need to keep improving my focus. So I don't have any more problems."

"Suit yourself. I'll be here if you need me."

At that point they stopped speaking. Lucy closed her eyes. Robert felt her presence in the Flow of Life, the burning glow of her powerful life force. Everything about her, everything that was Lucy Lucero, was embodied in that glow. Her courage, her passion, her kindness, that kernel of immature playfulness at the center of her sense of humor… every part of it.

Robert turned his attention to the pieces of the weapon. He reached within for the golden warmth of his own power, blazing brightly with the energy of his life and its connection to the Flow of Life. Robert directed that power toward the table. He willed the pieces of his weapon, new and old pieces, to lift into the air and come together.

As he watched, both with his eyes and with his power, they did just that. Piece after piece gathered around the emerald green crystal that survived the destruction of his weapon. The pieces locked into a cradle around it, one by one. He felt elation at how well it was going.

Naturally this didn't last. He felt a strain in himself. The energy of the Flow of Life was filling him beyond his need for it. His focus was getting weaker. The piece he was moving to fit into the framework around the crystal rattled in his faltering grip.

The frustration welled up within him. Again with the control failure! Why couldn't he hold this power back?! Why couldn't it just damn cooperate with him?

. Lucy's voice cut through the frustration. Don't let it get to you. You're doing fine. Better than before.

It won't be enough
, he thought back. I can feel it slipping… Every piece in the air, as well as the partially-completed weapon, seemed to shake a little.

You can do this, Lucy insisted. You've come far enough.

My control…!
The piece jostled against the others, out of place. Another piece dropped a centimeter before Robert regained control of it. For a brief moment it felt like it might shoot off, but he managed to hold it in place.

Stop being afraid of the power, Robert, Lucy admonished him. I can feel that fear. It's holding you back. You're afraid of losing control. But it's not about control, it's about focus, about letting your swevyra/life force guide you.

Robert nearly protested that he had good reason for such fear, that he'd nearly killed Shepard because of the increased power, but he stopped himself. He could feel the conviction in Lucy's words. The fear in himself. The little voice that insisted the power was too much, it wouldn't be controlled, he could hurt someone with it…

He could hurt the people he loved.

Robert drew in a deep breath. The fear clawed at him and he strove to ignore it. He centered himself on the serenity around him, holographic as it was. He was not going to fear himself. Not again. Fear led him astray too often. Focus, not control.

The piece pulled away. Robert felt the instinct on where it needed to go, the fine attachment to make it work, and he followed it. He felt the piece lock into place. Other pieces moved in, one by one. He felt each lock into place as they were meant to, as the feeling inside of him insisted they should. With each piece the picture in his head of how it was supposed to fit together came more clearly.

As the frame came together Robert felt a surge of elation, one that nearly overcame his focus as well. He held it in check to ensure it didn't stop the final frame pieces from locking together. He felt the metal snap together until the weapon was whole. A smile crept across his face as he held a hand up to the weapon. He shifted his legs and used a free hand to get himself to one knee. By the time he was ready to stand completely, the weapon returned to his waiting hand.

After a moment of quiet breathing, Robert's thumb found the switch.

The lightsaber came on, snap-hiss, and the green blade generated by the weapon filled his vision.

"There you go," Lucy said aloud.

Robert nodded and went over to the practice plates Lucy had assembled. He brought the energy blade down on the metal. It sliced through without effort, leaving bright orange tracks to mark the ends of the sundered plates. After twirling his weapon for a moment Robert disengaged the blade and returned it to his belt. "Thank you for your help," he said to Lucy.

She nodded once in reply, her face still bright with a proud smile. "I just gave some guidance. You assembled the weapon this time. It's your achievement." She stood up. "How is your technique coming?"

"It's… improving?"

With a wry look, Lucy went over to the table and picked up another training orb, the same kind Robert had recently broken. "Show me."

Robert breathed a small sigh and nodded. He pulled the weapon from his belt again, ignited the blade, and assumed a defensive stance. "Alright, I'm ready. Hit me with your best shot."

Lucy did just that.

A persistent electronic tone broke through the gentle bliss of sleep, rousing Commander Montgomery Scott from a too-short rest. His body, tried by decades of Starfleet service, temporarily resisted the impulse to get out of bed. As awareness cut through sleep, the will to overcome the slight aches in his joints came through and brought him to a sitting position on the bed. "Computer, raise lights," he ordered. The computer obeyed, bringing the lighting of his quarters to full. The bright light helped to keep his eyelids open despite the weights that seemed to be pulling the lids down.

It was more than just sleepiness that afflicted the veteran engineer. The tyranny of his age had its part to play. Long gone were the days when he could sleep four hours and be up, bright as rain, to stand a watch in Main Engineering or another duty station on a starship. Now such scant sleep weighed heavily on him. A small part of him wondered if it was time for that dreaded "R" word to be contemplated. As always, that small part was swamped by the feeling in his heart and soul, the feeling that rejected the tyrant Age. He had a place here, on this ship that could pierce universes as easily as it pierced the light-speed barrier. He was still an engineer, and his ship needed him. Especially now, as his young lass of a ship had wounds that needed tending if she was to return to the fighting.

To help wake up Scotty replicated a good pot of hot coffee and drank his fill from it. Reports from the engineering teams temporarily assigned to the Aurora filled his queue. Systems repaired to effectiveness, albeit not to perfection in some cases, and those still being worked on came down in a list. Scotty immediately began considering how he would assign them to the others. While nobody knew when Maran would order the fleet out, it was going to be soon, and they would be off for what might be the fight of their lives.

And fatigue be damned, Montgomery Scott would have his ship ready for it.

Jarod was finishing up a quick breakfast when the comm call came in. He took a last bite of replicated scrambled egg before reaching over to the controls for the computer systems built into the desk in his quarters. A holo-viewer popped on. After a brief waiting screen to show the Aurora's systems were establishing the link, the viewer changed to show his caller: his sister Emily. "Hey Sis," he said.

There was visible worry on Emily's face, framed by her dark hair. "Jarod. I heard about the Citadel. Are you okay?"

"Tired. Busy," he replied. "How are you?"

"Busy as well. I'm doing a piece on New Liberty's strained relations with the Earth of this universe." Emily shook her head at it. "Given some of the things being said back on Earth, you'd think the Colony was full of violent revolutionaries out to topple every government on the planet."

"They've never been happy with us," Jarod noted. "But they know they can't do anything about it."

"It'll make for some interesting copy, at least. And then we have that big summit coming up in a few months…"

Emily was interrupted by another tone, one she could hear through the line. Jarod sighed and tapped a key on the table. "Jarod here."

"Time t' rise an' shine, Commander Jarod," Scotty replied. "I'll be needin' some help from ye tae get th' ship back up an' runnin' in time."

"I'll be down in Engineering in a few minutes. Jarod out."

Emily heard that too. She frowned. "Jarod, what's going on?"

He shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't say. You'll find out soon enough."

"You're going back into action? In the war, I guess? But you just got out of that battle at the Citadel!"

"I know. But this is… important. Really important." Jarod leaned in toward the viewer. "Maybe when it's over I can tell you more about it."

"It's not getting a story I'm worried about. It's you."

"I know," he said. "I'll call you when I can."

"You'd better," Emily said. Jarod didn't need advanced intelligence, or any of his experience with psychology, to know his sister was tremendously upset by the danger he was in. "Our family has lost enough."

"We have," Jarod agreed. "Goodbye, Em. I'll talk to you later."

"Good. Be careful, Jarod. I love you, brother."

There was nothing more to be said at that point beyond the obvious reply. "Love you too, Em." Jarod gave her a final, reassuring smile before ending the call. After taking a moment to collect himself, he stood up and went to his closet to get his uniform. It was time to get to work.

Built into various strategic points of the Aurora's kilometer-long frame were the generators that provided her first line of defense against enemy fire: the deflector shields. While there were multiple types of energy field-style shielding in the Multiverse - mass effect field-generated particle barriers being one alternative, another being the gravitic shielding employed by the Abbai of E5B1 and the Aururian Imperial Federation of A2M6 - deflector shields were by far the most common. They didn't quite match a particle barrier's ability to reflect matter, and they lacked the grativitic field's ability to resist fire completely until its capacity was exceeded, but they were the most efficient and versatile means of energy shielding in the known Multiverse. The Darglan employed what many considered to be the pinnacle of that technology, being the most energy efficient and flexible version of the technology known. Due to their Darglan shielding the Aurora had energy shielding that could resist dreadnought fire for a time, and had often done so.

But like any machine, subjecting the generators to repeated heavy stress caused them to break down and require fixing. And Sovereign and the Geth fleet certainly provided such stress.

Tom Barnes carefully shifted his tool belt over his waist before sliding further into the access panel for the guts of Primary Generator 4. This was one of the six generators that provided the initial effort when the Aurora brought her deflector shields are online. Like all the other primary generators, it had been strained incredibly by the firepower the Aurora faced at the Citadel, straining the structural moorings and, most importantly, the internal electronics that controlled the immense energies the generators channeled from the ship's reactors. Barnes started working on the internal power lines and quickly identified the source of the generator's woes; part of the power cabling had partly burnt out from the strain of the repeated hits from Sovereign's powerful weapons. "Cable line," he called out.

He'd expected Junior Petty Officer Freept to provide the item he needed. He was surprised to look down at the end of the accessway and see Lucy crawl in with a length of power cabling. "Aren't you working on the secondaries?"

"Secondary 2's resynching is complete," she answered. "Ana Poniatowska is working on 4."

"What's Ana doing working on our ship?"

"The Koenig didn't require much in the way of repairs." Lucy held the cable just far enough for Barnes to reach it. He took the cable length and put it to the side so he could begin working the damaged cable out. "Derbely sent half of her people to help us get things finished."

"It still won't be enough," Barnes said. He grunted and removed the damaged cable from its port. The exposed electronics made him frown. "God-fraking-dammit, the port itself has damage. We're going to have to replace the whole thing."

"No time," Lucy reminded him. The job he was speaking off would require a disassembly of the generator, a task that would take an entire day to do. "How bad is the damage?"

Barnes checked the scan result. "Not too severe. The cabling took the worst of it. But this generator won't last under sustained fire."

"Put it in the log. It's not the only critical repair we don't have time for. The coolant lines to the primary heat exchanger are showing indications of micro-fractures."

Barnes kept his attention on the port, which his omni-tool was now up against. "What? Oh frak me."

"Language," Lucy giggled. "Scotty's already got a team working on it, but if those microfractures are signs of structural failure, the coolant lines need replacing."

"And we don't have time for that, yeah." He kept his eyes on his work.

Lucy blinked at that. "What are you doing?"

"Using the omnitool's fabricator to replace damaged material in the port," Barnes answered. "It's not the best repair, but it should keep the generator from failing the first time we take a heavy disruptor hit."

"Good thinking."

"Thanks." He kept his attention on the work for another minute before asking, "So I guess you're going down there?"

"Yeah," she answered. "Meridina and I are joining Robert and Commander Shepard."

"Huh. They're giving you more help than that, right? I mean, damn, it's their freaking capital, the Nazis are gonna fight like hell."

"We'll have support. Our mission's too important to leave us without it." She shrugged. "I'm not sure what support it'll be yet, aside from our Marines."

Satisfied with his repair work, Barnes picked up the new cable. "Well, either way, good luck."

"Thanks." She smiled at him. "And the same to you. I'm trusting you to keep our home safe."

"Don't you worry a damn bit," Barnes said, his hands working the replacement cable into place now. "I'll keep our baby flying proud and kicking ass no matter what it takes."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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