The world was an oily black. Sound was muted and alien. Touch was slimy and grotesque.
Darkness gave way to light, endless muted streams of light.
A scratching, no, clawing, in his mind caused his head to throb.
Evil hands reached inside, images of happier times, of space's innate horror and beauty flashing forward.
A laugh, hollow and uncaring echoed from the man before him.
Yellow eyes of fierce intensity looked deep into him, like scalpels cutting through soft flesh.
"I,I forgot something," He murmured as the man continued watching with sickening stillness. "What did I. . . my name. . . I forgot."
Images of grey and green armour, men and women spewing red flame, flares of blue and purple.
The man trailed around him, sucking out his memories, his sense of self.
"Commander Shepard, Service number 5923-EDC-2826." The man smiled a toothy grin.
The room became awash with static, cutting through his mind and causing him to cry out in pain.
Akuze. Secret Facility. Rogue Psionic. Response Squad.
"No More. What you were. Forget and surrender it all to me" The man stroked his head, squeezing his skull. Voice off balance and jarring, eyes still inhumanely yellow.
Heat and pressure, noise and pain. Doors exploding a campfire yellow.
The man shrieked in anger, purple waves emanating from his feet.
Hovering machines. Ripples of lasers. Splatters of blood and brain.
Colour and vibrancy returning to the world.
"-I think he's waking up!" Pain lanced through his head. A voice that sounded alien called out in the still mute air next to him, his eyes steadily opening after reliving the nightmare.
Cain, the monster responsible for stripping Shepard of his happiest memories. So long ago and still he couldn't even remember anything about his early childhood. Every memory before he had turned nine had been wiped, instinctual memory like reading and writing and a decent educations worth of content remained in his brain after the incident. Thankfully, anything after he had turned nine had been left alone, and he'd been allowed to stay in the Marines, though not without some heavy psychological testing and retraining.
The blue-white light of the medbay caused him to strain his eyes as he started to rise from the bed. His legs flopped over the side of the table and he clutched his head, symbols of something alien darting to the corners of his vision.
"Take it easy, Shepard, you've been asleep for nearly a full day." The calming and rich english accent of a woman somewhere in her mid fifties filled the medbay as her hand came to rest on his shoulder.
Her face came into view as she gently brought his head back, checking both of his eyes for a response from his pupils, letting go once she was satisfied no lasting damage was present. Doctors were meticulous and methodical individuals, Shepard had learned as much during the extensive rehabilitation period he'd gone through and again after Elysium. That was a time he'd much rather forget.
Shepard recognised the doctor in question, Dr Karin Chakwas, the head of Normandy's medical branch and one of the best doctors in the Navy. The whole crew had been handpicked for this mission, after all. He'd met her during their stop over on one of the thousands of orbital stations surrounding Mars, her dossier having mentioned that she had a fondness for scalpels.
"No sign of any abnormalities with your optical implants though I must ask, how do you feel?" She quizzed, setting the examination tool back on the nearby bench.
"Like someone sliced my head open with a service knife." He murmured. The light strain of the overhead illumination began to lessen and he lifted his eyes from his boots, moving to face the refocusing image of Doctor Chakwas. Her first sentence came to his mind and the world became clearer thanks to the small tinge of a minor adrenaline rush.
"Wait, you said I'd been out for almost a day, what happened?" He asked slightly less coherently than he would have liked. HE looked about the room, noticing the meditative form of Thane Krios sitting somewhat precariously on a nearby medical bed.
"The Beacon interacted with you and Nihlus somehow, rendering you both unconscious before you were brought aboard for medical observation." Anderson said, entering the room proper. Shepard hadn't noticed him leaning in the doorway. He looked a lot more hagged than the last time he'd seen him.
"The Normandy came down for an emergency extraction once we realised that all of the Chryssalids in New Eden were making a bee line for your position." Anderson stated.
"What about the rest of Eden Prime?" Shepard asked groggily.
"The First Fleet got there too late to stop Saren and his forces from making their exit," Thane said, standing up and moving towards Shepard. "By the time they arrived New Eden was a total loss. The Marines they had with them established a quarantine zone before the First glassed the city."
Glassing was a containment procedure that went back to First Contact, just as the Aliens launched their first major offensive against military targets and population centers. Though it had evolved to utilise orbital bombardement instead, the procedure was first used with chemical weapons after the ethereals dropped chryssalid spores all over southern africa. The vastly underequipped countries smattered across the continent had failed to stem the tide as city after city fell to the replicating bio weapons.
They were only stopped after NATO, China and Russia used their navies to quarantine the continent while thousands of troops were deployed at the Suez Canal and Gibraltar, the blockade only ending after the last Chryssalid had died of starvation. Thankfully, XCOM had stopped the alien threat before they could repeat the process in an area not so easily contained.
"God. How many died?" Shepard asked.
"Too many, Shepard. Though you can thank Sergeant Krios and Lieutenant Alenko for making sure you and Nihlus got out." Anderson said, gesturing towards the Drell.
"Thankfully Chryssalids don't have inbuilt Jump Packs, our extraction to the Normandy might have been slightly more complicated if they did." Thane replied, though Shepard couldn't tell if he was being serious or sarcastic.
"Thanks, really." He said with a smile, receiving a nod from Thane.
"There is still the matter of your abnormal brain activity," Chakwas said. "While you were comatose, you displayed signs of unusually high beta waves, as well as a large increase in your rapid eye movement, all things typically associated with intense dreaming."
"It wasn't dreaming, not exactly." Shepard grabbed his head again. "It was like an archive or something, like a vid or vision of things, horrible things. Nothing's really clear."
"Interesting , I better add this to my report." She brought up her omnitool and the interface glowed orange.
"What about the Beacon? Is it onboard?" Shepard turned back to Anderson.
"That's a matter I'd like to discuss with you in private, Commander." He stated.
Chakwas and Thane took the hint, saluting as they walked out into the Mess where Kaidan was watching, a plate of MRE's and what looked like a glass of milk placed where he was sitting. The door chimed shut a moment later and the windows polarised to prevent anyone from looking in.
"You were saying, Captain?" Shepard said.
"I'll put this bluntly, Shepard. Things have gone to shit in the past twenty four hours. The Beacon was destroyed after it did whatever it did to you and Nihlus and we have no idea why. Right now that's the least of our concerns, however." He sighed.
"What do you mean?"
"The Executive Council has pretty much started mobilising for war. They began calling up reserves the moment it was confirmed that we had geth and ethereal forces on Eden Prime." Anderson stated, the implications of such a move not lost on him.
Such an act over just one colony, no matter how important, would be seen as an aggressive move by the rest of the galaxy. The EDC already had a large military but now it was about to double in size and commit to the first fully fledged galactic war in human history.
"Already? I thought they would at least wait until we actually know what we're up against." Shepard said, hopping off the side of the bed and to his feet.
"Never underestimate the power of fear, Shepard. We've been waiting a hundred and seventy years for them to return, and now political factions like Terra Firma are pushing hard for retaliation." Anderson admitted.
"What about that Spectre, Saren?" Shepard asked. The memory of watching Ashley drop to the ground caused a small tide of anger to wash over him.
"We consulted with Nihlus when he came to, he confirmed it was Saren and we've got plenty of evidence thanks to your helmet cam." The Captain brought up his omnitool, the dossier of the barefaced Turian sprawling across its holographic screen.
"He's a traitor to the Council then, we've got to show them this." Shepard said with venom in his voice.
"We're already on that. Joker is taking us to the Citadel where our ambassador and Nihlus will make sure Saren is stripped of his Spectre status." Anderson replied.
"What about Sergeant Krios? Isn't he supposed to return to Arcturus for reassignment?" Shepard asked, rubbing his jaw at a sudden spike in pain.
"I pulled some strings with the brass, he's been assigned to the Normandy as an attaché, figured we could use someone like him." Anderson said, pacing the length of the medbay.
Shepard paused, hesitating as he opened his mouth to say something. Anderson caught it almost immediately.
"What is it, Shepard?" He asked, stopping in place.
"Permission to speak freely, Sir?" Shepard asked.
"Granted. You know you can always speak your mind with me." Anderson replied honestly.
"Sir, is it wise to have aliens on board? This is the EDC's most advanced ship, should we be letting non humans just walk around freely?"
To his surprise, Anderson didn't reply, at least not immediately. A frown creased his features and he looked somewhat irritated.
"Shepard, I know you're still recovering from whatever the Beacon did to you, but frankly, that kind of question is something I'd expect from a grunt fresh out of boot camp," He walked up to Shepard, slowly and deliberately, a disappointed look on his face. "Sergeant Krios is one of the most highly trained operatives the hanar have ever had and the fact that they were generous enough to allow him to join the Marines is nothing short of a win for us. The Shepard I trained would recognise him as a valuable asset for the Normandy's ground team, and not something as base as what race he is." Anderson stopped just in front of Shepard, eyes hard and withering.
"Or was I mistaken?"
"Sir," Shepard snapped to attention, saluting the Captain in a singular, fluid motion. "No Sir!"
"I thought not." Anderson's eyes lost their coldness and he relaxed. "Get yourself ready, we'll be arriving at the Citadel in a little over three hours."
After allowing the anesthetic and whatever sedatives still in his system to wear off, Shepard had made his way into the mess. There were only a handful of personnel present, mainly due to the fact that the time was just shy of four in the morning. Still Shepard could see the faces of some of Adam's engineers and one of the crewmen from the CIC. The one who caught his attention, however, was the green and scaly form of Thane Krios. His plate was devoid of any edible material and his large bulbous eyes seemed to be out of focus, staring off into nothingness.
The Normandy, being a frigate, didn't have the luxury of space that a cruiser or a dreadnought enjoyed, ensuring that the drell occupied the central seat at the main eating table, meaning that the two would inevitably come into contact with one another. Shepard helped himself to the overcooked rations served just a few hours earlier and took a seat on the outer edge of the table , chowing down after having his hunger return with force.
He needed time to clear his head and he briefly wondered if he shouldn't have taken his breakfast in his quarters. He dismissed the idea as the tasteless meal entered his mouth.
"Good morning, Commander." Thane said as he came out of whatever trance had occupied his thoughts. "Feeling better?"
"A little. Still a bit groggy after having the Doc's drugs go through my system." Well, that and having his brain scrambled like an egg.
"Interesting." The drell replied cryptically.
"What is?" Shepard replied in between bites.
"I would have thought that interfacing with the most advanced relic of prothean technology ever discovered would have left you slightly less," He searched his brain for the proper word. "Coherent."
"Oh that? I've had worse." Shepard replied.
"Yes, I hear you have." Thane remarked, turning his gaze forward once more.
"From what I hear," Shepard said, hoping to steer the topic of conversation away from the path it would lead down. "You were a pretty good hanar operative before you joined the Marines."
"Yes I was. Although not the most secure job in the galaxy, I excelled at it." Not a hint of arrogance entered his voice, it was simply said like any other fact.
"So why'd you join the Marines then?" Shepard asked, moving onto the yogurt portion of his meal.
"The EDC is one of the largest militaries in the galaxy. You're technology and numbers are the biggest deterrent to aggression and the reasons why, up until yesterday, you were at peace." He stated.
"You didn't answer my question." Shepard said, trying to make nice with the alien was frustrating when everything he said seemed to be in the form of cryptic messages.
"My apologies. What I was getting at was that it's a relatively stable profession for someone of my skills. I have-" He stopped himself. "Had a wife. Before she died, we had a son. Joining the Marines lets me to see him far more regularly than my previous employment would have allowed."
Shepard relaxed a little, he hadn't worked with aliens extensively before, but Thane was becoming less of an unknown with every minute that passed by. Shepard was surprised by the revelation, however, the former assassin didn't strike him as a family man.
"How is your son, if you don't mind me asking?" Shepard said in between bites.
"He works as a C-Sec officer on the Citadel, he was just accepted a few weeks ago." The drell replied.
"Congratulations." Shepard said before finishing the last of his imitation oatmeal.
"Thank you. I-" A chirp from his omnitool interrupted him and he let out a small smile. "Excuse me, but I need to take this in my quarters. Good day, Commander."
"Nice talking with you Thane."
Context and bias was lost as purely truth filtered through to him, all the result of a process that ran along a network stretching across the vast organism of galactic society.
The slow burn of the brandy rippled down his throat and chased after the previously inhaled toxins from the expensive cigar. Constant scans of text and video turning the process from a voluntary action, to an automated routine.
Efficiency, if nothing else.
The shape of a human, unremarkable except for his service record and the singular paragraph dedicated to the five letter planet that had shaped him into what he was replaced all else. Hidden surveillance methods provided the data needed for his other to categorise, assimilate and assess.
Yes, he would do rather nicely.
Another sip of brandy, methodical and precise slipped down his throat, his face illuminated by the pale sunset red reflecting off the perfectly clear tiles as his eyes hunted for more text.
The display closest to him changed from orange to green, authorisation codes and a security watermark confirming that his appointment was going ahead as scheduled.
"They'll be here in little over an hour." A woman, almost as dedicated as he yet only half as intricate and precise. Her voice echoed across the room, the Hyperwave communicator doing little to mask her accent.
"Good. Are you prepared for our friends to make their entrance?" Another drag of pure tobacco.
"I am. What happens if they fail?" She was asking all the right questions. Good.
"Then they'll move onto their contingency. You've already seen the data." Solar flare number two hundred and six caused him to squint ever so slightly.
"That cruise liner will arrive for the quarian in just over fifteen hours. What's to stop them from decimating the station?" Expressing doubt. Previous statement retracted.
"He will. Failing that the EDC will take matters into their own hands, whether or not C-Sec and the Council give them permission." Bottle empty.
"Our plans will be set back if it comes that." Irritation. Termination of conversation advised.
"Never underestimate our ability to thrive. We survived XCOM. Now we are everything they dreamed of being and more." His legs uncrossed, the implants aching just enough to annoy. "Prepare for their arrival and contact mister Wilson, his services will soon be required."
He arrived on the bridge just as the now familiar surge of power associated with a mass relay sheathed the frigate, propelling it over the vast, unquantifiable blackness of space.
The feeling of weight shifting values and then returning to normal accompanied the feeling of acceleration before both ended suddenly. The viewing cameras located on the bow instantly snapped back into operation as normal ship functions resumed. Shepard peered out and took in the view of the vast sea of space they were displaying. They were surrounded by thick violet fog, the signature feature of the Serpent Nebula. The gas cloud obscured their sensor systems as they waded through its vast expanse, another reason why the Citadel had been given its name.
Far from impenetrable to modern equipment, the haptic display in front of the helmsman lit up with the passive emissions and ID tags of thousands of ships, big and small, from all corners of Citadel space. An incoming transmission displayed that the gas cloud didn't do much to obscure their heat wake and ship signature either.
"EDS Normandy, state the reason for your arrival." A voice, an asari from the sounds of it and not of the pleasant kind so often displayed in the vids.
"Spectre business. We're transporting Nihlus kryik and EDC officials for a hearing with the Council." Joker replied.
"Acknowledged. Presidium dock four two two has been assigned to you. Be advised, deviating from the assigned flight path is considered an endangerment to the Citadel and will be treated as a hostile act."
"Roger that Citadel Control." Joker ended the transmission and let a scowl cross his face. "Man, sounds like they forgot to let everyone know it was menopause appreciation month."
"Just do as the nice lady asked, Joker, unless you want the damages to come out of your paycheck." Shepard said, taking in the full splendour of the truly massive station as it grew in scope.
"Huh, try that one and it'd take so long we'd have zombies on top of everything else. Oh wait, we already do." Joker replied.
Shepard stopped paying attention and let the spectacle of the station and the defense fleet capture his attention. Hundreds of ships, mainly turian in design stood guard along the approach vectors that the vast swarm of civilian ships utilised to deliver goods and bedazzled tourists onto the station proper. The screen was dominated by the huge cross shaped dreadnought, Destiny Ascension, standing guard in the center of the outstretched arms. The truly massive vessel could give even a Constellation Class dreadnought pause with its huge main gun. If the the cruisers surrounding her were the Citadels shield, she was most definitely its sword.
She was not the only big gun available to the CDF. Two dagger shaped turian dreadnoughts flanked by several streamlined and oval shaped asari cruisers slowly moved along the length of the wards, main guns armed and scanning. Thousands of ships from the council races made up the truly massive CDF, enough to occupy the entire Terminus Systems and still leave enough vessels to fend off even the largest of attacks. Add in the fact that the Serpent Nebula was a defensive layer in itself, and the name of the station wasn't all that surprising.
'Pretty impressive, isn't it?" A voice thick with a Scandinavian accent caused Shepard to turn around, bringing his eyes towards the muscular form of lieutenant Kasper Stahl.
"It's my first time visiting." Shepard admitted.
"Well, word of advice, Commander, humans aren't welcome here." The six foot three MEC pilot brought himself up towards the point where Shepard was standing, the view growing increasingly impressive. "I used to be stationed at the second embassy on Shalta Ward, a lot of nasty shit happened while I was there."
"Such as?" Shepard asked.
"Too much to tell in five minutes. All I can say is never underestimate a hanar. Doing that," He tapped on the mechanical prosthetic that functioned as his left arm. "Cost me this."
The prosthetic matched the huge bulk of the man, clearly larger than a standard augmentation. MEC pilots were required to interface with their suits as if they were a second skin, meaning that their augs required extra fine tuning and calibrations, along with a healthy amount of armour and strength enhancers. Shepard didn't doubt that the man had put in several upgrades to it as well, judging by the omnisheath meant for a flash fabricated blade.
"A big stupid jellyfish ended up costing our resident space viking his arm?" Joker butted in, only half paying attention to the controls.
"And untied boot laces ended up fracturing most of the bones in your legs last week." Stahl jested back.
"Touche." The helmsman replied, choosing to cut his losses.
Shepard ignored the conversation, trying to make out all the different makes and models of the various ships that sped by. His sight was captured by one vessel in particular, mainly because apart from the Normandy, it was the only other ship transmitting an EDC tag.
"That looks like one of our heavies, the Odin." Shepard pointed out.
"Yep, she's on her way to Bekenstein, set to transport Admiral Sawyer tomorrow to take command of the Rapid Reaction Fleet there." Joker replied.
"Oh the garrison there is going to love having him." Stahl chuckled.
The battleship took up three whole standard berths with her massive bulk. The ship looked comically large compared to all the freighters docked next to it as well as the C-Sec patrol vessels securing the surrounding space. Her main laser turrets were capable of scything through frigates and cruisers with ease and the other countless armaments meant that even a dreadnought would be in trouble if it got in close.
The Normandy continued on its approach, weaving through several holographic checkpoints as it advanced further and further towards the Presidium. The various arms that were home to the seventeen million people occupying the station grew larger and seemed to grab the frigate, drawing her closer and closer to the center of the station. The shine of yellow and orange neon intermingled with the blue running lights of the various freighters and warships and gave the whole sprawling metropoli of the wards a hypnotising opulence.
The shimmering city lights soon dimmed as the frigate maneuvered towards the docking bay, warning lights, advertisements and maintenance tugs pockmarking their route as the hangar soon encompassed the full resolution of the hull cameras. It was coloured the traditional C-Sec blue, large clamps for ships of all sizes stood idle and Shepard could see several aircars sweeping the hangar exterior for anything or anyone that didn't belong.
The frigate cruised into the dock, scanners sweeping her exterior for security purposes while the dock defense guns adjusted to face the human vessel. A moment passed and docking clamps latched onto the hull and quartet of engines, holding the ship in place with an unwavering grip.
"Alright people, lets go make nice with the politicians." Shepard said.
The members of the ground team present on Eden Prime followed Shepard and Anderson into the airlock, all clad in the light armoured hardsuits that counted as appropriate attire. The EDC mindset of total protection bleeding through all the way to regulation clothing, ensuring that even casual fatigues were equipped with armour plating and a shield generator. Nihlus joined them, still wearing the blood stained red and black armour he'd worn on Eden Prime. Shepard hadn't seen him since the incident with the beacon, but the turian seemed a lot less focused than when that mission had started. None of them were unarmed, all, save for Nihlus, carrying a service laser pistol just in case of any surprises that the residents of the Citadel had to offer.
The airlock hissed open as the decontamination process ended and the assortment of Marines plus one Spectre strode out onto the platform overlooking the diplomatic docks assigned to the various Citadel governments and associate members. It was organised chaos, tug ships hauling out some of the larger vessels with their mass effect arrays while dock security ships herded others safely into port. The self contained atmosphere made the usually mute sound of engines loud and the smell of discharging drive cores pungent, hurrying guests into the climate controlled areas inside the facility proper.
As they made their way into the narrow corridor, they were greeted by two assault rifle wielding C-Sec officers, a salarian and, surprisingly, a human. Behind them stood a turian in full armour, but not C-Sec regulation gear, it more heavily resembled hierarchy issued hardsuits but modified with several third party upgrades. Shepard mentally assessed the threat, calculating that the C-Sec officers were less of a priority given that the turian with blue tattoos and optical visor was equipped with enough guns to threaten a fully equipped platoon.
The C-Sec guards moved to initiate their standard sweep and scan of the new arrivals but stopped as Nihlus used his Spectre status to override their procedure. Confused looks and small shrugs were exchanged between the pair before both returned to their previous positions at the guard post. The turian behind them had followed just behind, the fact that Nihlus' show of authority hadn't waved him off meant that he either wasn't a part of C-Sec and instead present for some other reason, or that he was part of C-Sec and was coming to greet them.
His vast amount of weaponry made the practical side of Shepard think the former. The Lieutenant Commander began to reflexively reach for his pistol in preparation but stopped as Nihlus moved ahead of everyone else. There was a pause as the rest of the humans also stopped, Anderson's expression mimicking the concern Shepard had.
The two turians approached each other, looking the other over as if they were judging whether to engage in close combat. Another second passed before their body language relaxed and both greeted each other with a quick hug, mandibles flickering as though they were long lost friends. The shore party stopped, confused at the sudden display of emotion from the usually stoic Spectre who moved to introduce the new arrival.
"Captain Anderson, Commander Shepard, this is my protege, Garrus Vakarian, he's soon to be inducted into the Spectre's later on this week." Nihlus said, only a small hint of pride slipping loose. Shepard and Anderson both exchanged handshakes with the soon to be Spectre, the three of them expressing only a small amount of awkwardness at the informal behaviour.
"I heard what happened on Eden Prime, figured I better rush down here to meet you once I heard you got a ride back with the Normandy." The shade of orange covering his armour stood in contrast to the crimson of Nihlus and the metallic grey of the human contingent.
"That information isn't exactly public knowledge." Stahl said from behind and Shepard could hear the frown he was making.
"Soon to be Spectre's are no less informed than their active counterparts, and besides, Nihlus already let us know how he was getting back." The tune of Garrus' voice was very matter of fact, but Shepard could hear the trace of annoyance in it.
"That reminds me," He continued. "The Council want to speak with you personally before the hearing." He jabbed a finger at Nihlus.
"I was expecting that. Garrus, show Captain Anderson and his crew to the embassy, I have a feeling that the Council will want to talk sooner, rather than later." Nihlus said.
The turian cocked his head at the the request, mandibles flickering slightly. His eyes looked over the Marines and Shepard saw what he equated to a look of confusion on his face.
"Uh, isn't that something that C-Sec would be better suited for?" Garrus said, turning his attention back to Nihlus.
"I'm sorry, Garrus, I wasn't aware that escorting VIP's with crucial information for the Council was suddenly outside your duties." Nihlus' eyes lost all signs of pride, becoming cold and calculating. He moved closer to tower over his protege, eyes matching his all the while.
"Of course not, Sir, I'll get it done." Garrus straightened as his tone lost its edge.
"Good. I'll meet up with you in the hearing."
Oh boy, hotshot tourist guide, Shepard thought in annoyance.
Garrus simply nodded as Nihlus swung towards another hallway and summoned a C-Sec aircar to ferry him to the Presidium. Garrus motioned for them to follow as they all piled into a nearby elevator that would take them to Citadel Security HQ. The shore party crawled through the few remaining security checkpoints before they actually reached the elevator, the C-Sec guards seeming to take as much time as possible in scanning and searching the Marines.
A few agonising minutes of the excruciatingly slow descent accompanied by Kaidan offering to cut the cables and let gravity accelerate their descent past by before they reached the interior proper of the C-Sec facility dedicated to the Presidium. Dozens of officers, predominantly made up of the Council races but with a handful human and even an elcor passed them by, all heavily armed and outfitted with the distinctive blue and black armour that was synonymous with C-Sec.
"A little heavily armed for a location housing politicians and bureaucrats, don't you think?" Kaidan mused.
"C-Sec's just as much a police force as it is an army. The Citadel isn't a city, it's effectively a city state." Garrus responded, his formerly cocky tone now one of slight annoyance. "They're hear to protect the station from external threats just as much as they police the wards."
"I guess that's explains the gunships and hovertanks that we saw on the way here." Shepard said.
The C-Sec building looked more like a self contained military base than a police station, housing everything from a Special Response detachment complete with armour and air assets to holding cells and a vast armoury. Shepard's eyes had also caught glimpses of possible housings for auto turrets and blast doors meant to ward off intruders as well as the fact that its layout of of stairs, walls and points of entry made it an ideal area to stand and hold ground.
Trudging through the rest of security was a chore, not helped by the fact that Stahl almost broke the arm of a salarian trying to scan his prosthetic augment. Anderson had reprimanded him afterwards and thankfully the choking authority of Citadel Security slackened as they reached the aircar station. The EDC embassy had already been warned of their arrival and sent transport, though Shepard wondered how inconspicuous a Kodiak shuttle flying with an armed aircar escort would be on the Citadel, especially since they weren't unmarked.
The situation of the EDC presence on the station was unique, the humans having been granted an embassy on the Presidium as well as having bought a medium sized skyscraper complex on Shalta Ward in an area where buildings of similar size were few and far between. Galactic politics and the way humans had made their debut onto the galactic stage at the business end of dreadnought weapons meant that aliens were wary of humans at best, openly hostile at worst. The EDC had wanted a less accessible and more secluded embassy located on the Presidium but C-Sec had refused, and thus it was only occupied by event organisers and low value staff, a convenient distraction that lured away anti human protesters.
"There's something that's bugging me," Kaidan said from the back of the shuttle. "Last I heard, Admiral Sawyer had been discharged a few years ago, why's he in command of the Odin?"
"The Brass started mobilising everything and everyone they could after what happened on Eden Prime was confirmed," Anderson replied. "Former officers come first, while the grunts get put back into service later. Sawyer was career military before being discharged, he was back in uniform with a reinstatement letter before we'd even left the Exodus Cluster."
"Is the Executive Council really that spooked sir?" Shepard chimed in.
"They just approved the construction of three entire fleets, Shepard, if that's not a sign that they're collectively shitting their pants, I don't know what is." The calm shuttle ride and the buzz of engine noise did nothing to hide the dread at what was to come in Anderson's voice.
Human naval forces that were bolstered by laser weapons and non element zero tech had already spooked the Citadel into developing their own versions and countermeasures. Efforts for both were bolstered by the tech exchange requirements levelled on the EDC when they had joined, leading to widespread employment of ablative armour on Citadel warships and ground forces, though its effectiveness was still poor in terms of protection. Laser tech was still frustratingly far away for Citadel forces, however, though that hadn't stopped rumours of them being employed in organisations like the STG.
"The Citadel isn't going to be happy about that," Garrus joined in. "An associate member running roughshod on the Terminus Systems on your way to the Veil is going to make a lot of people uneasy."
The fact that EDC warships could still reliably defeat enemy forces with their weapons and that their already impressive numbers were being bolstered would strain already stressed relations between the EDC and the Council, not to mention the potential for war by moving through the Terminus.
"You'd think they'd stop being surprised when we act like this, hell, the turians would have already launched an offensive into the Veil by now. If they actually treated us fairly and helped us defend our colonies, we wouldn't be in this situation " Stahl said adamantly.
"That's not fair, no one could have seen this coming." Garrus shot back.
"Of course not, just like the Salarians didn't even bother telling us about the pirates preparing for the Blitz." Stahl countered.
"Enough. We're almost at the embassy, so shut up and at least look friendly." Anderson said.
The airborne convoy made good time, arriving at the designated transport nexus in little under seven minutes. Unlike the Wards, the Presidium wasn't crowded, with access being granted only to VIP's and their staff. Consequently, anyone present was more concerned with schedule reports and the sudden shift in galactic politics than with causing trouble for the four armoured humans and their heavily armed turian escort.
A brisk walk led them to the small office space allocated to the EDC, overlooking the large spiraling park and waterways than ran the length of the Presidium, along with the scores of walkways and sanitary white colour theme. Artificial lighting and weather controls simulated traditional day and night cycles, though the automated settings had the weather tuned to a fine summers day, in contrast with the clouded atmosphere that greeted them upon entering the embassy.
Garrus stayed behind, heading back to the shuttle area once they had arrived, allowing the humans to face the political music.
"Ambassador I don't give a damn about the political consequences, this is the situation and you will work with it. Adapt and survive or we'll find someone else who can." The doors to the main offices opened, and the two arguing figures turned to face the new arrivals. The closest was darker skinned than the other, a hunched back and greying hair going hand in hand with his weathered complexion and tired body language.
The man opposite him sported military fatigues, greying hair just like his counterpart with a thick running scar that marked the right side of his head. His face was a scowl and the shimmers of distortion running along his body indicated that his presence in the room was holographic in nature.
Shepard was taken aback, the hologram was that of General Williams, defender of Shanxi and head of the EDC's defense committee. What was he doing dealing with the political side of things?
"Get it done, Udina." The General flickered out of existence, leaving the ambassador to greet the new guests.
"Captain Anderson, I see you've brought half your crew with you." Udina scowled as he turned towards them.
"Just those who were in command on the extraction run on Eden Prime." Anderson scowled back. "In case you had any questions."
The shore party shuffled into the room, the lack of security methods beyond the genetic scanner in the hallway being a welcome surprise. The office was, save for Udina's desk, spartan in appearance. Hardly any documents or personal decorations were present, save for the waiting area's leather chairs and opulent coffee table.
"I have their mission reports. Right now I'm trying to stop this political shitstorm from snowballing out of control." Udina said, running his fingers through his closely cropped hair as he started to pace around the room. "Your actions on Eden Prime haven't exactly helped smooth things along."
"Our actions? We weren't the ones that attacked the planet." Kaidan replied.
"No but you let the Chief of the Colonial Defense Committee's granddaughter get killed, to say he's upset can't even begin to describe the situation." Udina shot back.
"That was Saren's fault, not theirs, and they did the best they could considering the circumstances." Anderson growled at Udina, the politician losing some of his venom at the retort.
"Relax Captain, you'll need that anger if we're to make any headway in the hearing. Especially with Admiral Sawyer present." Udina became more deflated as he delivered the end of the sentence.
Admiral Sawyer had earned a reputation leading the anti piracy efforts in the Attican Traverse, becoming known for being tactically adept as well as being a political nightmare. His efforts had meant that the Skyllian Blitz had lost a lot of its support structure before it had even begun, and why Shepard and other EDC soldiers like Admiral Hackett had been able to repel the pirates with minimal loss of life.
Unfortunately he had stepped on a lot of toes getting results, the final straw having been when an EDC patrol under his command had accidentally boarded a Hierarchy transport on the border of the Traverse, leading to a diplomatic incident that had further frozen relations between the two powers. Being a good soldier wasn't enough to prevent him from being retired to a mountain home on Bekenstein.
"I thought we were the only military personnel required at the hearing?" Shepard asked, puzzled that C-Sec would even let someone like Sawyer onto the station, let alone into the Council chambers.
"Special request from General Williams. He wants someone on his end to make sure we convince the aliens to let us go after Saren, or at least, get them to." Udina said, grabbing a datapad from his desk while the whine of passing aircars passed through the room.
"That shouldn't be too difficult, especially with that dreadnought, the ethereals and the geth all supporting him." Anderson replied.
"Your optimism is admirable, Captain, but I fear we'll have to resort to gunboat diplomacy to sift through the aliens mountain of bureaucratic bull."
They departed half an hour later, the Council apparently having brought the meeting forward at the urging of Nihlus, heading towards the enormous Presidium tower that jutted out into the gas clouds surrounding the station. Garrus had moved onto another assignment regarding a ship in the Wards, leaving the humans without his company. They were joined by a four car C-Sec escort, apparently the urgency of the matter warranted extra precautions, and the fact that humans were unpopular on the Citadel didn't help. The usual checkpoints and security methods were wavered, and their escort peeled off once they were at the tower proper, the shuttle docking at the VIP receiving station which was reserved for diplomats and other equally important individuals.
From there they took an elevator ride to the Council Chambers. Shepard mused that the elevator was a psychological weapon as much as a method of transport, designed to prevent diplomats with anger problems from exploding in hearings, instead forcing them to cool down as the elevators took a good five minutes to actually reach their destination.
Or maybe the Council are just petty.
The striking feature of the upper tower levels was just how clean they were. There was absolutely no waste material at all to be found, the tower apparently kept sanitized by the small army of Keepers and custodians employed by the Citadel. The other striking feature was how everything was real. The Presidium ring that housed the embassy's employed artificial lighting, synthetic flora and recycled water to contrast the bone white decor.
The Council chambers had the genuine environment, real trees and fresh water pulled from ice comets elsewhere in system, while the only thing artificial about the surroundings was the lighting and chambers themselves. Shepard even thought he smelt the faint hint of strawberries in the air as they marched through the cavernous area.
"Captain, please remind your crew to refrain from making any outbursts during the course of the hearing, this is going to be hard enough without them saying something stupid." Udina grumbled, not waiting for a reply as he moved ahead to meet the Council and brief them on the situation.
"Riveting company he makes." Kaidan chuckled as Udina moved out of earshot. The lieutenant moved to a nearby table, grabbing a seat and getting comfortable at the thought of the wait to be summoned.
"Doesn't exactly give you hope that he'll do much, does it, Commander?" Stahl said, moving to feel the now blooming cherry blossom tree in the center of the waiting area.
Shepard was about to say something when two turian C-Sec officers made their way over from the nearby security kiosk, making a bee line towards rifles shouldered and heads obscured by their helmets, they moved directly towards the Psy, grabbing him by his shoulders from behind and began to wrestle with him as he struggled to get out of their grip. Shepard reacted reflexively, unholstering his pistol as the rest of the party did the same, levelling them at the C-Sec officers.
"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?" Shepard shouted, the barrel of his pistol only a few inches away from one of the turian's helmet's. The rest of the team moved to surround them, power cells glowing on the blocky weapons.
"I could ask you the same thing, don't you know the rules?" The turian replied, letting go of Kaidan and pointing his rifle back at Shepard. They were so close that the rifle was inside his shield's protective envelope, meaning that any round fired would go through the armour plating on his fatigues and likely kill him. Everyone was rigid, not willing to make any sudden developments while onlookers scurried away at the sudden standoff.
"What rules?" Kaidan shouted, purple energy coursing over his body as his psionics were let loose and allowed to flow freely.
"No psy's allowed in the Council Chambers, who the hell let you in?" The Turian spat, weapon never wavering.
A figure in dark green armour suddenly appeared behind the turian, accompanied by others adorned with the same protective gear, levelling multiple side arms at the backs of the C-Sec officers. Shepard's HUD had engaged at the sign of hostilities and marked the new arrivals as friendlies, though they were still in the process of being ID'd by his onboard computer.
"Son, I really wouldn't try that, not unless you've suddenly developed the ability to breathe through a new hole in your head." The voice was gruff, hard, and came from a man who had had to deal with far more bullshit than any sane person should have to. A heartbeat later and the suit identified Rear Admiral Sawyer as a the new arrival, flanked by several heavily armoured Marines.
From out the corner of his eye, Shepard spotted more C-Sec officers moving to surround the group, at least a dozen clad in heavy combat armour that was undoubtedly meant to resist laser fire. Not for prolonged periods, but enough to gun down the humans long before their armour failed from repeated fire.
"Everybody stand down." Nihlus' voice came out of the background as he jogged down the stairs leading to the audience platform, omnitool transmitting identification and procedure overrides via Spectre authority to the the present C-Sec officers. They stayed tense for a moment longer, assault rifles slowly being faced upwards and then holstered as the confrontation came to an end. The humans followed suit, reluctantly holstering laser pistols as the threat disappeared.
"Captain, I'm afraid the officer is correct in his statement. I can have Lieutenant Alenko stay here but he won't be allowed to see the Council, not even I can overrule that regulation." Shepard turned to Kaidan who was busy hauling himself to his feet, the violet aura surrounding him dissipating as he calmed himself. He bit down a slight tinge of primal anger, the sight of psionics in person whilst not under the full effects of combat adrenaline made him uncomfortable at the show of mental power.
Shepard grabbed his head, the sight of Cain coming into his mind and pulling out his memories, his cherished moments, his nights spent on ships as they cruised across the cosmos. He bit down, the hyperventilation kicking in, sparking a warning on his suit sensors. Everyone in the squad suddenly turned to him as their HUD's flashed a warning of the sudden panic attack.
No! Not here!
He forced himself to slow down, his heart lowering from a sprint to a slow jog as his lungs sucked in a mouthful of air. His shaking hands calming and returning to normal as he felt someone put their hand on his shoulder. It was Anderson, his eyes looking to see what was wrong. They flashed with recognition and he ordered the squad to make their way to the steps of the council platform while he stayed with Shepard. The Captain spoke with his eyes, willing the panicked Commando to calm down as the newly arrived humans approached. There were four of them, and unlike the rest of the Normandy's shore party, they wore not casual fatigues but full combat armour. How they got onto the Presidium in that was anyones guess.
"Commander Shepard, report." Came the gruff voice again. Shepard brought his head up, the heavy breathing and panic attack symptoms subsiding as he faced the source of the voice.
He was an older man, in his late sixties at least, a receding hairline and permanent frown marking his wrinkled face. He wore his soil brown hair short, full Marine cut while his armour hid his athletic body and muscles behind plates of duranium armour.
"Sir." Shepard saluted, his body ramrod straight as he expertly hid his still subsiding reaction. Anderson saluted as well, the two men equal in height to the third.
"At ease." Sawyer said, bringing his eyes away from the duo as he ordered his men past towards the Normandy's away team, the pair moving without question. "Commander Shepard, good to see you alive. Captain Anderson, same goes to you."
"Good to see you as well Admiral." Anderson replied.
"Yeah, well, Williams had to get someone to yell at from his ivory tower on the Defense Committee. Chitchat later, gentleman, I have a feeling Udina's about to burst a blood vessel just waiting for us." Sawyer stated, leading the two men towards the audience platform steps.
The three soldiers made their way up to the platform, a crowd having gathered at the start of the hearing and forcing them them to wade through as politely as three Commandos could. Shepard could make out the voice of a woman, distinctly Asari as they reached the top of the steps, meaning that it had to be Councilor Tevos addressing the human delegation.
"As per the report forwarded to us by Spectre Nihlus Kryik, the Council has stripped Saren Arterius of his Spectre status and confirmed his complicity in the attack on Eden Prime." Tevos said, the vast open auditorium amplifying her voice as she stood in front of the huge open windows giving a view of the Serpent Nebula. "We are tasking C-Sec and the Spectre office with bringing him to justice for his crimes."
"That's not good enough!" Udina's nasally voice was unpleasantly amplified across the room as he launched into his tirade. "This Spectre attacked our world in co-operation with the ethereals and the geth, we demand the council support us in responding to this threat!"
"You do not get to make demands of the Council, Ambassador." Councillor Sparatus, the turian representative and head of the anti EDC bloc on the Citadel spat back, the red markings on his face illuminating his smoldering resentment.
"The Council has found no reason to believe that the geth and the so called "ethereals" pose any threat to Citadel space. All reports indicate that they were after the beacon on Eden Prime, and with that destroyed, they retreated back beyond the Veil." The Salarian Councillor, Valern intervened, heading the potential verbal sparring match off course before it could begin.
"All reports indicate that Saren and his fleet are still roaming the Terminus, they haven't retreated behind the Veil like you claim." Udina replied.
"All your reports. The STG hasn't found any evidence to support that statement." Valern said.
Udina scowled at the salarian and his casual dismissal of the intelligence reports. While human media was filled with conjecture and bias, their portrayal of the Council as stubborn and unwilling to listen seemed at least somewhat accurate.
"You would be far more serious about this matter if the geth attacked a turian colony!" Udian shouted. "But since it was a human world, you're willing to just sweep it under the rug, how typical."
"This matter will be resolved, Ambassador. Saren will be brought to justice for his crimes." Tevos answered.
"I won't hold my breath, given your spectacular foresight in dealing with issues like the Krogan." Udina snarled.
"You dare?" Sparatus snapped. "You humans are so arrogant as to think that the law is beneath you and that the whole galaxy should just accommodate your every whim."
"I'm sure the colonists on Antirum share your sentiment, Councillor," Udina smirked "After all, the Turian Hierarchy has shown just how much they care about adhering to the Citadel regulations regarding first contact protocol."
"Antirum?" Sparatus shouted, rising to Udina's challenge. "You butchered innocent fam-
"Enough!" Tevos snapped, cutting in and cutting the microphones of both speakers, her usually calm voice full of irritation. "We are here to discuss the matter of Eden Prime, not events that are long past." She finished, scowling at both Udina and Sparatus.
Murmurs from the crowd echoed across the chamber, the onlookers rarely afforded a look at a debate as intense as the one taking place. Tevos especially was regarded as being the calmest of the three, her voice rarely rising to a shout. That she had just silenced Sparatus made meant that this was no ordinary hearing.
"The EDC is a Citadel member," Udina said, starting anew. "We will respond to attacks on our worlds to the fullest extent of our abilities, as well as those who would deny us that right."
"Are you threatening us?" Valern responded, his eyes now visible from the interior of his intricately crafted robe.
"No, Councillor, I am simply making a statement." Udina said. "The EDC will be launching combat operations into the Perseus Veil shortly, whether we have your permission or not."
"The Terminus Systems will not take kindly to a Citadel member stampeding across their space." Tevos remarked, clearing her throat. "Especially given that we have no credible evidence that the geth and ethereals mean to pursue a campaign against any more human systems."
Shepard's head began to throb at the pointless sniping between the four politicians. The importance of the hearing was apparently outweighed by old prejudices and rivalries that clouded reason and logic, both Udina and the Councilors engaging in the verbal standoff. They hadn't been on Eden Prime during the fighting, they hadn't seen the destruction that Saren and the geth were capable of and the fact that they were placing a higher priority on pointless verbal sparring than on peoples lives annoyed him greatly.
"That is complete bullshit!" Shepard and everyone else turned back to see Sawyer pointing a finger menacingly at the three alien politicians.
Anderson, Shepard and Udina each held an expression of equal parts horror, confusion and surprise at the Admirals outburst, watching as he made his way to the podium Udina was standing behind and shoved the Ambassador out of the way, reactivating the microphone and clearing his throat.
"None of you, Udina included, know just how serious this situation is." Sawyer shouted. "Commander Shepard, however, led the extraction team on Eden Prime and can personally testify to the damage done by the enemy. Give him a chance to speak."
Everybody turned towards Shepard, mixed emotions on every face. Sparatus was the first to recover from the outburst, keying his microphone to project his voice across the chamber.
"This human has no place to speak here, he is not humanity's representative and this is a highly important matter." He stated, annoyed at the Admiral's segway into the deliberation.
Tevos killed both Sawyer and Sparatus' microphones, saying something inaudible to both the turian representative and Valern. The short conversation continued for only a few seconds, before both nodded towards the older asari.
"I withdraw my objection." Sparatus said somewhat bitterly.
"Commander Shepard, please step forward." Tevos asked.
The human did as requested, stepping by Anderson and a visibly furious Udina towards the guest podium. Sawyer stepped back and allowed him to pass, the microphone reactivating and reidentifying the new user for the audience present in the upper viewing platforms.
"Thank you for giving me the chance to speak, Councillors" He stated.
"Commander Shepard, you were present on Eden Prime during the attack and led the effort to recover the beacon with Nihlus, that gives you insight that we lack in this situation," Tevos said, ignoring the scowl from Sparatus with little effort. "What is your personal opinion of the threat posed by Saren and the geth?"
Shepard paused, thinking back to the slaughter he'd witnessed on the garden world and how little the garrison on the ground had been able to do once orbital support had been lost.
"My opinion?" Shepard started."My opinion is that one of the best Council Spectres has found a reason that is enticing enough to betray everything he stands for. That he has somehow found humanity's oldest enemy and allied himself with them." He paused briefly to let the statement sink in. "That he has a dreadnought that surpasses even the most powerful vessels available to the Council and EDC and is supported by an enemy that has been in isolation for over three hundred years."
"Frankly Councillors," He continued. "I'm scared. I also highly doubt that someone like Saren, who is reportedly famous for his long term thinking, would let his life be destroyed by a short term gain like the Prothean beacon. My opinion, is that this is not an isolated attack and that he will strike again, and not just against a human world. This is a threat that we all have to be ready for."
The chamber went silent, save for the murmurs of the crowd that had grown considerably since the start of the hearing. Shepard could see the emotions on all three of the Council members faces, all trying to decide whether he was correct or whether to let prejudice win out. Tevos was the first to speak.
"There is wisdom in what you say." She stated. "Perhaps we have been letting certain. . . preconceptions colour the reality of the situation."
Yeah, no shit, Shepard thought.
"Yes, yes you're right Commander, this is a matter that impacts all of us." Udina said as he approached from behind, the wind taken out of his sails at Shepard's words.
Sparatus didn't bother speaking. His face was flush with conflicting thought processes telling him to go either way with the discussion. His mind finally conceded the point as Valern voiced his agreement with Tevos and Udina, causing him to throw in with them.
"We could perhaps lend our intelligence services and material support for your efforts, Ambassador, but military aid will have to be discussed at a later date after further consideration of the political repercussions." Valern said, Tevos continuing his olive branch statement.
"We could also consider granting military access to a small joint task force in order to pursue Saren," She said, scratching her scalp in relief. "Though they will have to be accompanied by a Spectre in order to ensure that reasonable applications of force are followed."
"I accept your offer Councilors," Udina replied, taking over as SHepard stepped back from the podium. "We can arrange for the details to be discussed at a later date." The ambassador finished, his tone evident that despite being interrupted, he was more than happy with the result of the disruption.
"Yes, we will convene in two hours time to discuss the matter further. This hearing is adjourned." Tevos finished, the microphones of all speakers deactivating as her sentence ended.
Shepard looked back at Anderson and Sawyer, the two of them accompanied by Stahl. All looked like they had witnessed a nuke go off in their face and lived through the shockwave. Sawyer just laughed.
They left the Presidium just as quickly as they had come, departing this time via unmarked Kodiak shuttle towards the Shalta Ward embassy, the C-Sec guards all too eager to get the humans and their Psy lieutenant out of sight and off their hands. This gave them ample time to observe the Wards below as they made the fifteen minute commute towards the main embassy.
Towering structures of glass and steel set ablaze by ivy vine holographic advertising adorned their view. They displayed commercials for every extravagant product that was the latest craze throughout the galaxy as well as other things such as mercenary outfits looking to recruit new members and colony worlds out in the Terminus seeking new sources of funding. Shepard even saw an ad for a new album by a duo dressed in retro synthetic helmets.
The Wards were more than what they appeared, however. They were all vastly interconnected urban sprawls, each having their own atmosphere that allowed anything under seven meters in height to breathe the filtered air pumped throughout the station by the vast machines serviced by the Keepers. Traffic above the Wards was heavily enforced and aircars were separated into distinct lines of transit. This was necessary, else untold numbers of accidents would occur and countless lives would be lost.
The situation was unusual though, the hearing had been adjourned and not half an hour after it had ended, a high priority message had been sent via Sawyer to him. His presence had been requested at the embassy before he returned to the Normandy with Anderson. Confusing thoughts clouded his feeling of relief of the political situation all the way to the embassy landing pad.
The complex itself was impressive. The skyscraper, and a small section of the surrounding buildings, had been bought by the EDC for a small fortune. Heavy security methods and repeated protests had forced them to keep several sub buildings available to the four companies of Marines assigned to its protection, as well as have a buffer against people with less than savoury intentions.
Shepard stepped out of the shuttle, his arrival greeted by six heavily armed Marines, no doubt part of a response platoon waiting to burst into action at even the slightest whiff of trouble. He was scanned by one of them, his armours ID tag confirming who he was. He was lead further into the building, through biometric scanners, retinal identifiers and past several of the priciest pieces of security technology in the galaxy while the rest of his squad was diverted to a holding area. The EDC had suffered one bombing from an impersonator of an embassy worker, they weren't about to give him a break.
Thirty minutes later, he emerged from the security area and into the main lobby of the embassy, led by a clerk who seemed far too quiet for the bustle present in the building. He marched through various further checkpoints for the next five minutes, finally reaching a room that was located in the buildings strengthened core. It was more akin to a bunker than an assigned office area, probably due to military renovations and equal parts paranoia. The clerk ushered him through and then left, the door closing behind him in such a way that Shepard guessed that it was reinforced with armour plating and intelligence countermeasures.
"Hello?" he asked to no one, the room almost a pitch black even to his augmented eyes. Another security measure.
A hologram popped up in the middle of the room, its display requesting he interface with it. He walked over, placing his palm on on its pad and it began to glow green, swiping over his hand and displaying his entire service record.
"Stand by for transmission. Origin: Executive Council." The androgynous voice of a VI echoed through the room and Shepard straightened. The Executive Council was wanting to talk to him? For what?
The hologram disappeared, replaced by a large screen that flickered into being. A moment past before it morphed to show the image of a man, darkness obscuring his features as a high intensity light shone behind him. The glare of the light served to hinder any identification, but Shepard could still make out small details such as his balding head, the cherry red tie he wore and the navy blue suit that hugged his skin.
"Hello, Commander." The man spoke, his voice gravelly and no doubt modified. "In response to the alien incursion on Eden Prime by geth and ethereal forces, this Executive Council has chosen to reactivate the XCOM Project.
Universal Codex - Earth Defense Coalition - Celestial bodies of high importance in the Sol System
Commonly referred to as the most heavily defended solar system in the galaxy, the Sol System is the most important location in EDC space.
Earth: Earth is the most heavily populated planet in Sol, home to eight billion humans and the largest industrial base in human space. Earth is currently experiencing a golden age as the resource wealth from the colonies helps fuel the environmental cleanup of its atmosphere and improves the lives of its inhabitants, the effects of the Ethereal War having caused a decade long famine in the 2020's that saw a massive decline in the human population. Earth is still divided among nation states, though all are represented by the EDC. Advanced nations have contributed to the eradication of most genetic diseases, the prosperity of their citizens and the recolonisation of Africa, meaning that Earth is able to export and import large amounts of commercial goods and play an important role in the galactic economy.
Luna: Error-Classified information.
Mars: The Martian world is developing exponentially and enjoys its status as the second most populated planet in Sol, with two billion people calling it home. Mars is humanity's military and science capital, serving as the primary headquarters for the EDC High Command and corporations like MarSec, Interstellar Security and ArmaCom manufacturing. Mars is also the host of the Prothean Archives in the Cydonia region, a heavily guarded facility off limits to civilians and unauthorised military personnel. Mars is rapidly greening, the terraforming efforts that began in the late 2020's giving it a breathable atmosphere, regular weather patterns, large oceans and a thriving ecosystem that is helping to increase the colonial prospects of the formerly red planet.
Pluto: Pluto is the host of the Charon relay, meaning that it is the one of the three most heavily defended planets in Sol, following Earth and Mars respectively. Pluto has changed little in the time since humans achieved interstellar flight, the only additions made to it are the Charon Special Forces Training Center and the scores of anti ship satellites that orbit around it, ranging from cruiser grade firepower to dreadnought grade installations.
Authors notes: Looks like things are about to get very interesting, with events being thrown right off the canon storyline of ME1. And by the way, who said anything about capping human tech? What gave you the idea that it's going to be capped? :D
I also forgot to include a description of what EDC forces look like. For visualisation purposes, EDC Marines look a lot like those found in Starship Troopers Invasion. Their ships are a mix between the aesthetic found in Terran battlecruisers in Starcraft and the Alliance vessels in Mass Effect. EDC battleships are a new class of vessel and look similar to Keldabe Battleships, though a lot smaller, less lighting and exposed sections and a more uniform hull.