Disclaimer: The material here is owned by Bioware and EA, not me

Outsider Effect

Chapter 11


"It's one hell of a mess, but it could have been a lot worse." Captain Elcott sums up the situation quite nicely with that sentence. He, along with captains Felix and Anderson are looking over rudimentary reports of the damage that have come in so far. The BDOC has been cleared out for the impromptu officer's meeting, leaving the three captains, Taylor and I to discuss the situation now that the geth have seemed to fully retreat from Eden Prime.

"Nearly full casualties among our armor and artillery forces." Felix mutters as he sets datapad down with a weary sigh. "Our casualties are bad but…"

No one is ready to call this a victory, me least of all. Saren still got access to the beacon, the 212 (while still alive) took a beating that it won't soon recover from, and now not only is there Saren to deal with, but potentially other unknowns if the jarring betrayal of Nihlus was any indication.

The past eight hours haven't been fun.

Nearly as soon as Sovereign left, the geth lost interest in the colony and made a bee-line for the relay. The Normandy was on hand quickly and got us and Shepard over to the 212's base. I was pretty heartened to see that it hadn't been utterly overrun. The colonial marines are a fraction of what they were, but many of them are still alive to tell about it. That's something.

"Civilian casualties are negligible," Jacob speaks up. "The evacuation got most of the scientists out, and the Tokyo kept Constant safe for the most part." He sounds happy about that, and Captain Elcott looks a bit proud as well. He deserves it. It's fortunate that the geth paid little mind to the city and Elcott was able to aid in the evacuation efforts. Thank God Sovereign seemed to just ignore the cruiser.

"We need to inform the Council about this." Anderson speaks up. "They need to know what happened."

"It won't be good. The beacon destroyed, their Spectre dead. The Alliance isn't going to look good for this." Elcott shakes his head. I specifically don't make eye contact with him or Anderson. The Normandy's captain had been briefed on the details and it had been decided that Nihlus' betrayal wasn't something that needed to be spread around just yet.

"We need their help. For whatever reason, the geth are out there and poised to attack our holdings in the Traverse." Anderson replies. "We can't be caught unaware like this again."

"I'll return to Arcturus Station and inform Command." Elcott says. "We were supposed to be back there days ago anyway."

"It's a good thing you delayed. A lot of civilians could have been killed without the Tokyo's help." Felix adds. Elcott's eyes drift over to me for a moment and the man nods.

"Indeed." He says and then takes a step towards the door. "I'll have my ship ready to go immediately. Good luck, captains." He pauses and nods at me. "Lieutenant."

"Captain." I return the nod.

As Elcott leaves there is a brief silence. Finally Anderson breaks it. "I'd better get back to the Normandy. We're heading for the Citadel within the hour."

"Captain Anderson." I take the opportunity to cut in. "I'd like to go with you, sir." There's no damn way I would just let the chance go to jump aboard the plot train. Er, ship.

"You know, you're the second person to request that today. Gunnery Chief Williams requested a transfer as well." Ah, so Williams will be joining us after all. I had wondered what would happen since she hadn't lost the 212. "Well, I was going to inform you that you've been transferred to the Normandy anyway, Lieutenant." A small smile almost seems to tug at the corner of his mouth. "It's your evidence against Saren after all. The Council might wish to speak with you to verify the evidence."

Ah, that's true.

"We'll be heading out soon Lieutenant. Grab our things and report to the Normandy."

"Yes sir." I salute. Anderson nods and steps outside.

"Lieutenant…" Felix speaks up. "Before you leave there's something I wanted to say." I turn to the 212's captain.

"Sir?"

"Like Elcott said, this was bad but it could have been much worse. And it would have been. When you first arrived here I didn't think much of you or your security plans, but without them we would all be dead. You saved a lot of lives today." He extends a hand out to me. "So thank you."

I blink at him for a moment before shaking his hand, a small smile forming on my lips. "You're welcome captain. I'm glad that I could help."

"You did more than that, son." Felix replies. "The 212 will need time to recover from this, but we aren't out of the fight yet."

"Good luck, captain." I say.

"And to you. I don't doubt that this will get a lot harder from here on out." Felix says. Jacob speaks up as well.

"Good luck out there, Walker."

"You too Taylor." I say, then turn and leave the BDOC behind. I'm still in my armor so I just need to grab the rest of my gear from the barracks (which hopefully is still standing) and I can get off of this planet.

I step out of the prefab trailer and see that Captain Anderson is waiting for me. "Captain."

"Walker." He says. "We didn't really have the chance to talk before." No, I suppose we didn't. After getting Shepard to the Normandy's med-bay it was a rush of relaying information and planning. "It's good to see you again."

"Likewise, sir."

Anderson starts walking and I follow. It is good to see the man again. "The years have been treating you well it seems. You look better."

I snort. "I look older."

He chuckles at that. "Oh, I think we all do. Experience has a way of doing that to you." He goes silent for a moment and I'm content to let the silence be. Until he speaks up again a moment later.

"You know, some of the marines here are talking. Some are calling you a hero." Wait, really? I must look surprised before the captain chuckles. "I saw Felix's report on the preparations you made here. You've certainly come a long way from that dead-eyed sergeant drinking his life away in a bar." I can feel myself blush a little bit.

"Due in no small part to you, sir." I say. "I should be thanking you. The N7 program was the best thing that ever happened to me."

"I just gave you the chance you needed, son. Everything else was all your own effort." Anderson says with a modest shrug.

"Still, thank you sir." I reply earnestly.

"You're quite welcome." For a moment a look passes on his face, like he wants to say something but bites back the words. It passes and Anderson claps me on the shoulder. "Come on, grab your things and we'll get back to the Normandy. We've got a lot of work to do."


With a gasp I sit up in my cot, panting. The familiar feeling of my heart racing and panic is quickly brought under control and I lay back down with a sigh.

Seven years and the nightmares haven't gone away. They don't happen every night anymore, but still so consistently that I can't remember the last time I had a full night's uninterrupted sleep. I shut my eyes again and let the familiarly haunting visions fade, clenching my hand until the shaking stops. My alarm hasn't gone off yet, but I doubt I'll be getting any more sleep tonight. Or whatever counts as 'night' on a space ship. The sudden urgent need for nicotine guarantees it. With a groan I sit up again and slip out of the cot.

It's pretty awesome and no less surreal to see the Normandy in real life. When I first came aboard the ship as we set off from Eden Prime, the inner geek still within me wanted to start bouncing. But I'm a professional Special Forces soldier so I didn't do that.

Publicly.

The ship looks pretty much just like in the game. Although I was surprised to find that one of the features on the ship were a quartet of officers' quarters that branch off at the junction between the two stairwells on the crew deck. Apparently a turian design addition. Anderson let me borrow Shepard's cabin while the commander is comatose in the med-bay. I'm glad for it; let's me have my fitful sleep without bothering anyone else, even if the rooms are basically the size of a small walk-in closet.

I run a hand over the short hair on my head (getting a bit long for my tastes, a note) and stand up, slipping on my omni-tool and leaving the small cabin.

The Normandy runs quietly and there's almost nobody on the crew deck, save for one marine in familiar white and pink armor hovering near the med-bay. Ashley glances over as I walk up. "No change yet?" I ask, already knowing the answer.

"No." She said says. "Lieutenant Alenko is in there with her right now. Has been since we left Eden Prime." Her voice thickens a little bit as she says the last bit. The memories of the battle are still fresh in her mind, no doubt. Hell, they're still fresh in my head too. "Jenkins was here a minute ago." She adds. "Looked kinda like a lost puppy waiting out here." A small smile plays at her lips as she says that. I choose not to comment on her own presence out here. If I hadn't been so dead tired when we hit the relay I probably would have been out here too. I'm surprised and a little impressed that Williams hasn't dropped dead from exhaustion yet. She looks beat.

"Where is he now?" I ask. Ashley jerks her head towards the row of sleeper pods at the far end of the deck. Ah.

I walk over to the small water cooler in the corner of the room and grab a drink, gulping it down as I walk back over to Ashley's spot. She watches me for a moment. I doubt I look any better than she does at the moment. The silence between us starts to get a bit awkward and since I doubt I'll be heading back to my borrowed cabin for more sleep I decide I might as well try talking. "So what made you transfer?" I ask the other marine. "The 212 is going to need all the help it can get to recover from this."

"Why are you here?" Ashley asks me in return. She keeps talking though, so I can't answer. "I'm a marine of the Systems Alliance and my job is to protect innocent lives from danger. What happened down there, with Saren and the geth. The beacon. It's not over yet and I can't just sit around on some colony while that madman and his army of robots are threatening innocent people." She looks at me challengingly. "Could you?"

"No." I answer. I pause then say, "I guess that means we'll be working together for a while then."

"I guess so." She replies. "Look, Lieutenant…" she starts, the tough exterior vanishing for a second as the gunnery chief fumbles for words. "When you arrived we didn't…I wasn't exactly showing my best." Oh my, was she apologizing? "There's some personal stuff that I should have kept locked down and I didn't." she continues. "And if we're going to be working together I'd like to at least keep things civil between us." That's probably a good idea. I'm a little embarrassed that I'm not the one who tried to patch things up first but then people have never really been my specialty.

"I agree." I respond. I offer a hand. "Water under the bridge." She grins and shakes my hand in return.

"Thanks. An honor to work with you sir."

"Likewise, Chief."

Well, that's something. I don't think that Williams has really gotten over her issue with me, and truth be told I don't think she's ever going to be my favorite person in the world. But we can work together professionally, and that I can be happy with.

The silence between us a great deal more comfortable now. I decide to stick around. We're only an hour out from the Widow relay, which means that Shepard has to be waking up soon. A thought occurs to me after a moment, and I almost dread to ask the question.

"Williams," I say, grabbing the marine's attention. "In all the confusion I didn't get to ask before…" I pause. "How exactly did you meet up with Shepard's team?"

Ashley's face falls, and so do my hopes. "My squad was dispatched to try and give the artillery teams some cover." She explains, voice suddenly subdued. "The geth had pushed into one of our weaker flanks and caught my squad out in the open."

"Bhatia? Taggard?" my own voice is hoarse as I ask, even though I can already tell what her answer will be. Ashley shakes her head.

Damn it.

Just….damn it.

"I ran." She says, sounding ashamed. "We all tried to but…I was the only one who got away. The metal bastards nearly had me when the commander showed up."

"I'm sorry." Is all I can say. I hadn't really known Bhatia or Taggard long, but I still feel the loss pretty strongly. The urge for a smoke comes back very suddenly and I force it back.

"It was always a risk." Ashley replies without looking at me. "We all knew it." She sounds like she's trying to convince herself of it more than anything else. "But to watch them all die like that…"

"It's hard. To be the only one to walk away from something like that." I say softly. Now she looks over at me, puzzlement morphing into understanding quickly.

"Does it get any easier?" she asks in a pained voice. I think about it for a moment. Ashley Williams is a career soldier, older than me at that, and I find it a bit odd that she's having trouble with this….no I shouldn't find it strange. No matter how experienced, losing squad members isn't so easily coped with. It shouldn't be.

"Not really." I say. "But you learn to deal with it, and move on." The answer is blunt and Williams doesn't seem satisfied with the answer.

"So that's it?" there's a bit of anger in her tone now too. "Just suck it up and keep going?"

"It's all you can do." I answer. "It shouldn't be an easy thing to deal with, but you can't let it stop you from doing your job. Like you said, Chief, Saren is still out there and a lot of innocent people are going to die unless he's stopped." I continue staring at the med-bay door, but glance over at Ashley from the corner of my eye. "If you want to honor them, then do that." The familiar words come back to me, the same ones said to me so long ago. "Make their deaths worth something."

Ashley is quiet for a minute. Then she inhales deeply and says, "I get it." I nod. "Thanks." She adds.

And then Captain Anderson comes striding out of his office on the opposite side of the deck. He crosses it quickly, heading right towards the med-bay.

"Captain." Ashley and I say in unison and salute.

"Chief, Lieutenant." Anderson doesn't even slow as he acknowledges us and rushes into the med-bay. Williams and I exchange a look.

I guess Shepard has finally woken up.

Kaidan walks out of the med-bay a minute later, looking no less tense and bone-tired than the rest of us, though honestly I think the man might look the worst. "She awake?" I ask. The other lieutenant nods and sighs, some of the stress leaving his face as he does so.

"Yeah. The captain is in there talking to her now."

"Is she alright?" Ashley asks. Kaidan nods.

"I think so. For a while there…I was thinking she might not wake up at all." The man's voice is fearful. I have to wonder what his and Shepard's relationship is here. Kaidan's concern is clearly beyond professional. Maybe I'll ask eventually….maybe. Not that it really matters (aside from that pesky thing called fraternization) but hey, this is Mass Effect so shipping abound!

About five minutes later Anderson exits the med-bay as well. He looks a great deal less tense, but perhaps even more worried than he had been before. Now that Shepard's fine he's probably focusing on how to explain this whole debacle to the Council. I don't envy the man.

"We should be hitting the Widow relay soon, right?" I ask Kaidan. He nods.

"Just about, yeah. I was going to head up and watch from the bridge. Care to join me?"

"In a moment. I'll wake Jenkins." I say, heading over to the sleeper pods. I doubt the rookie marine would appreciate sleeping through his first look at the Citadel. After passing a couple of pods I spot Jenkins' own pod. I pause, just short of waking him. In the wake of Nihlus' betrayal, Jenkins' survival had seemed kind of trivial. Now that I just look at the man, I can't help but think about what will come of it. There's no telling what could happen because of Jenkins being alive now. He had so little screen-time in the game that there's just literally no telling what his impact on future events could be. The same thing goes for Nihlus, now that I think about it. Although that second idea is a great deal more worrisome.

I'll just deal with it when the time comes, I guess. Hell, Nihlus is probably dead anyway. I damn near blew his whole arm off.

I rap on the glass of the sleeper pod and Jenkins blinks awake instantly. It takes him a second to get his bearings. I step back and let the sleeper pod open. "Lieutenant?" He asks sleepily.

"We're about to hit the relay. And Shepard's awake." I say to him. That perks Jenkins up quite a bit and the man scrambles to climb out of the sleeper pod. I turn and start walking back towards the stairs. I guess I'll join Kaidan on the bridge. Have yet to speak to Joker yet. That should prove the be…something.

I stop though, seeing Ashley standing in front of the med-bay, speaking with someone. I recognize Shepard straight away just from the red hair. She turns and sees me. "Lieutenant Walker."

"Commander." I reply, fighting the urge to salute automatically. The woman definitely has a presence about her. "Glad to see you're alright."

"Aside from a killer headache, the doc says I'm all good to go." Shepard grins slightly as she says that.

"Good to hear."

"Anderson filled me in on what happened after I blacked out." She continues. "Glad to see you and Williams are here."

"We both want to see this through." I answer with a shrug. "And Anderson thinks that my presence might be needed when you present your evidence to the Council."

Shepard nods thoughtfully. "A good point." She seems to think that over for a moment and I take that moment to really get a look at the fabled (or soon to be) Commander Shepard. I've seen pictures before, of course. For all of a year her face was plastered over every news channel and propaganda poster in the Alliance. Then Elysium started being old news, then Akuze happened and it was MY face on the news. Thankfully they kept Torfan pretty quiet. God only what kind of reputation the Alliance would get with Riley's face plastered up everywhere. But getting back on track, Shepard looks very much like the pictures I'd seen: Sharp green eyes, military-length fiery red hair, maybe a bit more gaunt than usual, but that's normal all things considered.

"It's been some time since I've worked with someone else who's been through the Villa." Shepard says suddenly. "Nice work down there."

"Same for me. I'm usually on solo or two-man jobs." I reply. She nods again.

"Infiltrator Corps, right?" she guesses.

"Yes ma'am." I grin slightly. "Luna class of 2078. Got my N commendation just after that."

"Yeah. Anderson spoke highly of you." Shepard returns the grin. Aw shucks, now I'm going to get embarrassed.

Luckily Jenkins has managed to extract himself from his sleeper pod by now and joins us, interrupting the conversation before I could start blushing or something else to ruin my stoic sniper persona. "Commander! You're awake!" he states the obvious, relief painted in his voice.

"Jenkins." Shepard's grin widens a bit as she lays eyes on the younger marine. "Hope I didn't interrupt your nap."

"No ma'am! I was, ah, just waking up anyway." Jenkins stumbles over the sentence. Shepard's grin doesn't slip. I get the feeling that the commander is aware and completely enjoys how nervous the man is around her. "We're arriving at the Citadel soon and I wanted to see it." He explained.

"Hmm, well I was just about to do the same thing." Shepard motions her head towards the stairs leading up to the CIC. "Let's go see."

The commander seems to be rather laidback outside of combat, I muse as the three of us ascend the stairs up to the CIC. And way too nice to be a Renegade so there's that. Way easier to deal with, then.

The galaxy map bathes the CIC in a soft light as we walk past, stepping around several crewmen as we go. "First time seeing the Citadel, commander?" I ask. Shepard hums an affirmative.

"Have you ever been before, Lieutenant?" Jenkins glances over.

"Once or twice." I answer, thinking back. "When the ship I was stationed on stopped by to resupply. Never seen the Presidium though." Though my memory can fill in the gaps.

The three of us step onto the small bridge of the Normandy, which is already occupied by Ashley and Kaidan, both of whom are staring out the side viewport. Flight Lieutenant Jeff "Joker" Moreau is seated at the controls right where I expected him to be.

"Good timing commander," he says over his shoulder. Well hi there Seth Green. Fancy meeting you here. "I was just about to bring us in to dock. See that taxpayer money at work." the pilot fiddles with the flight controls as he talks.

Ashley leans forward to try and get a better look out of the window and Jenkins joins her while Alenko, Shepard and I watch from behind. I hadn't lied; I have been to the Citadel before, briefly. But I never got to see it from the outside. So the sight of the Citadel hovering grandly in the fog of the Widow nebula is a sight that kind fo takes my breath away for a second. I glance over and see a similar look of awe in Shepard's eyes. Kaidan's as well.

"Look at the size of that ship." Ashely gasps as the Normandy draws closer. I pick out the Destiny Ascension easily among the Citadel's fleet; it's easily the largest.

"The Destiny Ascension." I comment, stealing Kaidan's line. "The pride of the Citadel fleet."

"Well size isn't everything." Joker comments dryly. Ashley grins at me.

"Why so touchy Joker?" she teases. I can practically hear the pilot's eyes roll.

"I'm just saying, you need fire power too."

"I don't think it has a problem with that." Kaidan chuckles. "The main gun on that thing could probably rip right through any ship in the Alliance fleet."

"Well then it's a good thing it's on our side." Shepard interjects. Joker has gone back to focusing on the controls, bringing us closer in to dock.

"Citadel Control, this is SSV Normandy requesting permission to land." He says into the ship's communication array. A voice speaks back a moment later.

"SSV Normandy standby for clearance…" a couple of heartbeats then the voice says "clearance granted you clear to approach. Transferring you to an Alliance operator."

A few seconds later a different voice speaks over the system, "Normandy this is Alliance tower, please proceed to dock 422."


The Presidium is really as beautiful as everyone says it is. The games don't truly do it justice; I think it's just one of those things you have to actually be there for to really appreciate. I find myself leaning over the balcony rail of Ambassador Udina's office, admiring the scenery. Jenkins is a couple of feet from me, doing the same thing. The others are-

"This is an outrage!" The furious voice of Ambassador Donnell Udina cuts off my train of thought. I glance over my shoulder where the man is standing before the holographic forms of the Citadel Council. "The Council would step in if the geth attacked a turian colony!"

"The turians don't found colonies on the borders of the Terminus Systems, Ambassador." The salarian councilor, Valern I think, replies reproachfully.

Councilor Tevos adds, "Humanity was well aware of the risks when you went into the Traverse." In that placidly calm tone of hers. I fight back a grimace. Strangely enough, while Councilor Sparatus is without doubt a complete asshole, I always found Tevos' diplomatic apathy to be more irritating.

Udina is openly scowling at the three. "Well what about Saren? Or Nihlus? You can't just ignore two rogue Spectres, not to mention the glaring security breach this opens" Udina levels a glare at the turian Councilor. "The Hierarchy can't afford to stand by and let two of its own pull this kind of stunt."

A bold move on Udina's part and I think if he could Sparatus would strangle the man through the holo-feed.

"The matter is being handled, Ambassador." Councilor Sparatus throws in his weight with a growl. "By our own intelligence agents." Basically, not by human investigators. Considering humanity's stake in this, I guess I can see why. Sparatus' anger no doubt stems from the fact that if nothing else this whole incident is an embarrassment for his people.

"Citadel Security is still reviewing the evidence you brought forth and investigating your charges. The matter will be handled at the hearing, not before then. Be sure that your testimonies and information are straightened out by then." Tevos answers.

Apparently that marks the end of the conversation, as the images of the councilors fade out.

Udina finally turns and addresses Anderson for the first time since we arrived.

"Captain Anderson." The man speaks in his clipped tone. "I see you brought your whole crew with you." The statement is scolding, as the man sweeps a glare across all of us. Yep, instant dislike. The guy sure does make it easy.

"Just the ground team from Eden Prime, Ambassador." Anderson answers calmly. Clearly he's had to deal with the man's…manners before. "In case you had any questions."

"I have the mission reports. I assume they're accurate?" Udina crosses his arms and asks.

"They are." Anderson confirms. "Sounds like you got us an audience with the Council."

Udina sighs and nods. "They weren't happy about it. Saren is their top agent, and Nihlus one of their best. But with the video evidence you produced, at the very least they have to launch an investigation into the matter."

"A recording of the two Spectres consorting with the geth and murdering a civilian isn't enough?" I speak up. Udina regards me disdainfully for the interruption.

"As I said, Saren is their best Spectre. They're going to do everything in their power to try and refute these charges. The fact that they're even launching a C-Sec investigation instead of hauling Saren back here in chains is evident of that."

"And Nihlus?" I press.

"Well by all accounts Nihlus Kryik is most likely dead. The investigation into his activities will probably move slower because of that.." Udina answers. He sends me a glare. "You'd better hope that Saren and Nihlus are found guilty, Lieutenant, or you could be facing charges for killing an agent of the Council."

Yeah, that outcome had occurred to me once or twice. Thanks for reminding me.

"You can't possibly think that Saren and Nihlus are innocent." Shepard speaks up incredulously. Udina shrugs.

"No, but the Council is going to give Saren a fair chance to defend himself. They can't afford to simply have him arrested without a trial and expect to appear the impartial mediators of the galaxy." Udina explains.

"Then we'd better hope that the C-Sec investigation supports our evidence." Anderson says evenly.

"Indeed." Udina sighs again. "The hearing isn't for another couple of hoursCaptain, come with me. There are a few things I want to go over before the hearing. Privately." He glances over at us. "Shepard, you and the others can meet us at the Citadel Tower. I'll make sure you have clearance to get in."

We watch the two of them leave the office wordlessly until the door closes behind them. Then Ashley shakes her head and says, "And that's why I hate politicians."

Shepard 'hmphs' amusedly and stars walking towards the door. "We've got a bit of time before our meeting with the Council." She says. "I think I'll explore the Presidium until then if anyone else cares to join me."

"I'm in! Never seen this place before either." Jenkins immediately jumps on the offer. Kaidan speaks up with a grin,

"I think we're all planning on sticking together until the hearing, Shepard." Ashley nods in affirmation and I just shrug.

"Lead on, Commander." I say.

And so begins our tour of the Presidium.


"Excuse me! Commander Shepard, could you spare a moment of your time?" A voice calls from across the lobby of the embassies. We explored the inside of the embassy building, which holds little of interest besides the bar (which I might just return to later).

We all look to see who is calling; a rather tall ark-skinned man waving urgently at Shepard. I hear Ashley suck in a breath at the sight of him and glance over at her in confusion. Shepard does too, but goes over to greet the man anyway. "Commander Shepard?"

"That's me." Shepard replies.

"My name is Samesh Bhatia. Forgive the intrusion but I have nowhere else to turn."

Oh. Right. This guy.

Nirali's husband.

"What can I help you with?" Shepard asks the man.

"My wife…she was a marine in the 212 on Eden Prime." At that Shepard glances back at Ashley and me. Yeah, this won't be fun. Ashley takes a deep breath and steps forward.

"Mr. Bhatia, I'm Gunn-"

"Chief Williams." Samesh cuts her off. "I recognize you from my wife's letters." He actually smiles a little bit, though there's sadness in it. "She spoke well of you."

"I'm…honored. Nirali was a good friend." Ashley says in reply, clearly not really sure what to say to the man. Shepard sees it and interjects,

"You had something you needed help with, Mr. Bhatia?" the smile disappears and Samesh Bhatia nods slowly.

"Yes. It's about my dear Nirali. I requested that her body be returned to me for cremation, but the military refused my request!" Shepard frowns.

"There has to be a reason that they refused your request."

Samesh shakes his head. "I don't know. All I know is that is thay have declared it impossible for my wife to be returned to me."

Of course, I know why, and I can see Shepard mulling over possibilities as well, before saying, "Just wait here sir. I'll figure out why your wife's body is being held."

"Thank you Commander. The man in charge of my case is Mr. Bosker. He was over in the embassy bar when I last saw him."

"We'll get this sorted out Mr. Bhatia." Ashley says firmly.

Thank you. I just want to give my wife the funeral she deserves." Samesh replies. Ashley's expression is unreadable.

"I guess exploring will have to wait." Kaidan muses as we head back up to the embassy bar. I just shrug. Mentally I'm trying to remember everything I can about this quest in the game. I know that there was a very good reason for Nirali's body not being released but…I can't remember what it is.

Bosker is easy to pick out in the small crowd of the bar; mostly due to his ridiculously purple suit. Seriously, is that even considered fashionable?

"Bosker?" Shepard approaches the man and asks. Bosker blinks and then recognition appears on his face.

"Wow! You're Commander Shepard aren't you?" ah, the perks of being a celebrity. Shepard just nods neutrally at the man. "Your activities made for quite the briefing in the Diplomatic Corps." Okay, not sure if that's a good thing or not. "What can I do for you?"

Shepard explains the situation to Bosker. The man is surprisingly understanding of the whole thing. Even so, the reason for Nirali's body not being given to her husband is made clear. "Mrs. Bhatia's wounds are inconsistent with any type of weapon damage we've ever seen. That's why her body is being held."

"For experiments?" Ashley asks in disgust.

"Mrs. Bhatia, and the other samples we've acquired from the battle are very valuable to the Alliance." Bosker explains. "These tests may lead to better defenses against geth weaponry."

Ashley looks ready to explode at the man, but I step in first. "The 212 actually allowed you to take some of their dead?" I ask. Bosker shifts uncomfortably.

"They aren't happy about it. But their captain was understanding when we explained the situation." Felix approved this? I don't see how…no, actually I guess I can see how the man would allow this. Maybe not before the attack, but now? Felix will want every edge he can get over the geth. The man's still reling over the hit his marines took. "Respectfully," Bosker adds, "Serviceman Bhatia may save more lives in death than she did in life."

Shepard thinks it over for a minute. A part of me can't help but agree with what Bosker is saying. Any edge against the geth would be worth it but…

It would be an easier decision for me if I hadn't known Nirali.

"Mr. Bosker." I say. "You mentioned that Serviceman Bhatia is only one of several bodies you obtained?" Ashley looks at me.

"That's correct." Bosker confirms.

"Would it really be so bad to just let Samesh have his wife back? If there are other subjects to run tests on…"

"We can't speak for the loved ones of the other test subjects," Shepard adds, picking up on where I'm going. "But right here and now, Mr. Bhatia is asking for his wife's body back, for the burial she deserves."

"I understand what you're saying." Bosker sighs, scratching his head thoughtfully. "Losing Bhatia would mean losing some of our data…but ultimately it's a small loss." He comes to his decision. "Alright Commnader. Tell Samesh that his wife's body will be shipped back to Earth."

Shepard smiles. "Thank you."

I decide to remain behind when Shepard goes to tell Samesh the good news. I doubt the man even knows who I am, but I still don't want to face him if I can avoid it. All the work that I put into trying to defend Eden Prime, but I couldn't keep Nirali from dying. Shepard doesn't seem to mind, though I think Ashley disapproves. Oh well. The hearing isn't for another hour and a half.

After a few minutes I spot Kaidan appear in the doorway and make his way over, sliding up next to me at the bar.

"Sampling the local drink, Lieutenant?" He asks, raising an eyebrow. I'd think he was scolding me expect he can obviously see that I don't have any drink in my hand. I'd considered it, technically we aren't on duty, but I doubt getting buzzed before a very important court hearing is a good idea.

"Nah. I know better. What about you Alenko?" I ask.

"After Bhatia left Jenkins started talking about some asari consort here on the Presidium." Kaidan shakes his head. "So Shepard decided to check it out."

"Not a fan of asari?"

He chuckles. "Oh I have an.…educational interest. I just didn't feel like watching Shepard drool over them." He pulls an exaggeratedly disgusted face as he says that. I snort, but now that question is back in my mind.

"You and the Commander seem close." I say after a moment. Kaidan smirks.

"Yeah I guess you could say that." He leans back in his seat a bit. "Shepard and I met in basic training together. Then the Alliance biotic division training. That was…oh, nearly eleven years ago?" He chuckles again. "Damn I feel old."

"And you just happened to end up serving on the Normandy together?" I ask, a bit incredulously.

"The Normandy is cutting edge, and the brass wanted the best serving on her. Shepard was obviously the perfect choice there, I was actually kind of surprised when I was assigned to the ship." Alenko explains. "I think it might have been Anderson's doing, personally. According to Shepard he's an old friend of the family." Huh, interesting.

"Well, the man does have an eye for talent." I say, grinning briefly. Kaidan looks at me for a moment in confusion before nodding.

"I suppose so."

We both don't' speak for several minutes. Kaidan is pretty reserved guy, and I generally keep to myself so it's not like the silence is awkward or anything. He does speak up though, asking

"Why did you want to know?"

"Hmm?" I cock my head.

"About me and Shepard."

"Oh well…" yeah, okay there's the awkward. " You two just looked like you were pretty close and I thought…"

It takes Kaidan a moment but when he realizes what I'm insinuating he starts coughing and I realize its to cover up the laughter he's trying to hide.

"hah, no. nothing like that." The Lieutenant says after taking a moment to calm himself, "I can see where you got the idea from but well…" he pauses, I guess to think about how best to put it. "Let's just say neither of us are her type."

"Oh?" I frown, then think back to Kaidan's earlier comment about the asari. Then it clicks. "Oooooh."

"Mhmm." Kaidan smirks. "Sorry if that dashes your hopes."

I sigh and lean back against the bar. "No." I pause for a beat, "But I think poor Jenkins is going to be crushed."

That gets Kaidan snickering.


The Council Tower stretches up, seemingly forever, overhead. I crane my neck looking up at it and whistle lowly. "Well it's impressive alright."

"The seat of galactic power." Kaidan adds. "It certainly sends a message."

"Yeah, that message is 'we look down on all of you'." Ashley throws in her two cents with a snort, finally pulling her attention away from miniature mass relay statue jutting out of the lake behind us.

"Come on." Shepard is already at the elevator that will take us up to the Council chambers.

Shepard and the others met up with Kaidan and I at the embassy bar after (I assume) speaking with Sha'ira the Consort. Never spoke to the asari myself. Never saw the point in it. Not for all the hassle it would be just to get an audience. Still, Shepard seems to have satisfied her curiosity, even if we have to go deal with Sha'ira's request whenever Shepard decides to head down to the Wards.

Wait, will that even happen?

We already have evidence against Saren. Oh shit, what about Tali? How is that going to work out? See, these are the kind of things that I really should be remembering a little earlier than I do. Maybe I should start writing down what I know. Hmm, an idea for later.

We all manage to fit into the elevator, though it's kind of a cramped ride with all five of us. The ride up is a long one, and I am again reminded of something I had long forgotten about Mass Effect 1.

The long elevator rides.

Ugh.

After several minutes Ashley says something that Kaidan responds to, but I'm too busy trying to shut out that damn annoying elevator music to pay attention to it. Jenkins looks nervous, and hell I'm a bit anxious myself. Shepard, however, looks completely calm.

Finally, we reach the top of the tower and the elevator opens. I glance around at the Council chambers as Shepard leads us forward. It certainly gives off the right message of power. I note that there are a couple of diplomats wandering around the lobby area here, but there seem to be fewer than would be expected from a place like this. The Council probably wants to keep this hearing as quiet as possible.

"I need a little bit more time to finish my investigation!" I hear a flanged voice and focus on what's in front of us. Two turians are standing in front of the stairs leading up to the Council audience area.

Well hello there Garrus Vakarian. I still have a bit of a hard time telling turians apart, but Garrus Vakarian cuts a definitive figure, easily recognizable from both his visor and the distinction of just being Garrus Vakarian, one of my favorite Mass Effect characters.

The other turian, Executor Pallin I'm assuming, shakes his head and says, "You're out of time, Vakarian. The Council is ready to begin the proceedings, what you have will just have to do." With that the Executor ends the conversation by walking away, casting a glance towards our party as he walks by.

Garrus sighs and the seems to notice Shepard approaching him. "Commander Shepard?" he obviously recognizes her. "Detective Garrus Vakarian, C-Sec." he introduces. "I was the one put in charge of the investigation into Saren."

Not a very long investigation. The trip from Eden Prime only took a couple of days at most and we haven't been on the Citadel that long yet.

"Was?" Shepard asks.

"The Council seems ready to proceed whether or not my investigation is done. The longer this goes on, the more chance of it leaking to the public there is." Garrus explains, disgust evident in his voice. "Pretty much all of Saren's records are sealed and I couldn't get access to them, and my superiors spent most of their time analyzing your video evidence for authenticity."

"A waste of time." I grunt, drawing both Garrus and Shepard's attention. "My testimony should prove that its authentic."

Garrus shrugs. "Maybe. There are…doubts. I believe what the Alliance is saying, but others…" he trails off, the implication hanging. I think I see what he's getting at. The other races of the galaxy are fearful of how fast humanity is expanding, and wouldn't put it past the Alliance to take advantage of the geth's sudden aggression to pin the blame on a turian Spectre, to make the Council seem out of control of the situation and maybe even press the Council into giving humanity more concessions. It's rather far-fetched…but then so is the idea of the Council's best Spectre going rogue and allying with a race of synthetics not seen for three-hundred years.

"I think they're ready for us now, Commander." Kaidain speaks up, looking past Garrus towards the Council podiums.

"We'd best get going then." Shepard says.

"Good luck, Commander." Garrus says. "I still have one more lead I want to follow. Maybe it will give you the edge you need."

"Appreciate it, detective." I say to Garrus as our group continues further into the chambers. Well that was interesting. I'm going to hazard a guess that Garrus' lead will take him to Dr. Michel's clinic. Which means that somewhere on this station is a certain quarian with more evidence against Saren. Hopefully. There's no telling how the trial will go even with our evidence and more definitely couldn't hurt.

Udina and Anderson are waiting for us at the base of the stairs leading to the audience platform. "Good, you're here." Udina says. "The hearing is scheduled to begin in several minutes." He gives Shepard a look. "It would be best not to mention your…vision unless absolutely necessary."

Shepard just sighs at that but nods her acceptance. Anderson seems to disagree but keeps silent about it. I actually take a moment to observe the councilors, standing on the raised dais above us. And the large hologram of Saren Arterius standing nearby, glaring down at us. I see he's at least keeping up the pretense of innocence. For a moment I can feel the turian's gaze find mine. A feeling similar to the one on Eden Prime washes over me, where the Spectre and I found ourselves in a similar position. Saren's eyes narrow at me but he doesn't speak, simply sneering and looking away.

"They're ready to begin." The captain says after a little while. I inhale deeply. Well I guess this is it. Anderson and Udina step out onto the platform first, Shepard following close behind. Kaidan, Ashley, Jenkins and I hang back. If we're needed then we'll be called.

"This hearing is now in session." Tevos announces formally. She dominates the middle platform with Sparatus standing to her right, Valern to her left. "The purpose of this trial is the allegations raised against Spectre Saren Arterius, and the evidence they have brought forth." She looks over at Saren. "The charges against you are severe, Spectre Arterius."

"They are false." Saren declares confidently. "This trial is a waste of your time, councilors, and mine."

"The evidence says a very different story, Saren." Anderson says, clearly putting effort into maintaining his calm.

"Ah, Captain Anderson." Saren almost seems to smirk at Anderson. "You always seem to be involved when it comes to charges being set against me."

"For good reason." Anderson all but growls. Luckily Shepard steps in.

"We have proof of your involvement, Saren. You and your accomplice."

Saren cocks his head and glares down at her. Measuring her. "This must be the great Commander Shepard. I have read your file commander. I am not impressed." Shepard just stares back at him coolly. "And by accomplice, you mean Spectre Nihlus Kryik?"

Shepard blinks, clearly not expecting him to just go right out and say it. "Correct."

"The video evidence, taken by one of the Alliance's Special Forces agents on Eden Prime, places both you and Spectre Kryik on-scene during the attack, coordinating with geth forces and gunning down human civilians." Councilor Valern speaks up, typing a few commands into his console.

Another holographic picture appears overhead and a familiar scene plays out. My camera's video of the events on Eden Prime. The camera zooming in on what is clearly Saren, my crosshairs aimed directly at his head.

I can feel Saren's gaze on me during that bit. Fight the urge to grin viciously. Yeah, I could have killed you, ya bastard.

Then Nihlus' appearance, their interaction and then Nihlus murdering Powell. Then the geth taking orders from Saren.

"What do you have to say in your defense, Saren?" Sparatus asks. The man sounds….displeased to say the least. "Our experts have gone over the video and so far they have found it to be genuine."

"Have they?" Saren growls. Watching the events happen again clearly angered the turian a bit. "And, Councilors, have you considered that this evidence was brought forth by biased sources, elements within the Alliance," he glances at Anderson, "that have made baseless accusations before?"

"As I said," Sparatus answers, "The evidence-"

"I do not doubt the integrity of the Council's intelligence analysts." Saren interrupts. "What I am suggesting is that they have made a mistake in what is clearly doctored video evidence."

"Do you deny that you were on Eden Prime?" Valern asks. Saren shakes his head.

"No. I was contacted by my former student Nihlus, who requested assistance in evaluating Spectre candidate Shepard. I was to provide obstacles for the commander to overcome in order to show her skills in combat situations. It was during this time that the geth attacked and I met Nihlus at the spaceport to coordinate our efforts. Then Nihlus, my friend, was killed right in front of my eyes. I barely had time to retreat to my ship before the geth or someone else tried to kill me." And then Saren is looking at me again, now openly directing anger my way. I glare back. "Humanity is more a menace than I first believed if they allow such trigger-happy apes into their Special Forces."

Well that's bullshit if I've ever heard it.

Even the councilors look skeptical at that. "That is rather unorthodox for Spectre evaluation, Saren." Tevos observes with a small frown. "If that did occur a report should have been made to the Council regarding your activities."

"And you should have reported this to us immediately after Eden Prime." Sparatus adds.

"Spectres are given operational leniency in most situations, Councilor." Saren replies smoothly. "Nihlus and I decided that my involvement be kept at our discretion."

"Your conduct will be discussed at a later time." Valern says. "If true."

"I still have the messages that Nihlus sent me in regard to our efforts." Saren states, hand moving as he starts typing something on his end.

Then an audio recording starts playing. I blink in shock. It's Nihlus, speaking to Saren about exactly what the rogue Spectre just stated. The recording goes on for several minutes, and at the end, there's silence in the chamber. Anderson is clenching the railing in front of him in anger and Shepard as glaring at the turian. I can feel my own anger starting to surface. So he's going to call us on bringing out fake evidence then do the exactly that?

It's Valern who speaks first, soundly oddly calm. "And what of Spectre Nihlus? We have received no word of him save for the accounts reported to us by Alliance forces."

"Nihlus is dead." Saren says flatly. "He died from his injuries aboard my ship."

Well, I suppose that's something.

The councilors exchange looks and seem to come to some sort of conclusion. Tevos speaks up. "Saren, in light of this…new evidence you are to report here to us immediately, so that it may be examined further and this trial be conducted in person."

And so that you can't get away should you be found guilty, was the underlying statement.

"Of course, Councilor." Saren bows his head. I wonder if I'm the only one who can hear the mockery in his tone.

"Good." Tevos continues. "Then this hearing will resume then. You are all dismissed."


AN: The time for Citadel adventures is upon us! Sorry about getting this chapter out a little later than usual. I'd like to blame it on work or something like that...but in truth the great beast of Skyrim awoke from its deep slumber and is harassing my free time.

So yes, things are moving along and next chapter will get the gang all together for Saren hunting adventures. There seem to be a couple of things that people expect are going to happen, and one of them is Shep/SI. Sadly, that's not where this ship is headed. Hope that doesn't ruin the story for ya.

As always, keep sending the love and I'll see you guys next time!