I'm still alive and kicking.
I'm certain some people would like to chase me with a chainsaw for such long hiatus. I'm most sincerely and terribly sorry. My final year at university was a lot tougher than I had anticipated, and my creativeness went below zero. I kid you not! Writing a thesis does that to you.
Anyway, this chapter is the last somewhat peaceful moment of lives of Shepard and Tevos.
Also, I discovered I messed up with Chapter 3 and did not put horizontal lines where needed. And no one told me that. Should I mess up like this again, drop me a PM or state so in a review, please.
WARNING: this story is rated M for violence, swearing, and inevitable character death. Also, keep in mind that I did not pick the "Tragedy" genre for nothing.
COMPULSORY DISCLAIMER: Mass Effect belongs to BioWare and Electronic Arts. This piece of fan fiction is written for non-commercial purposes only.
"Well, isn't that a mess-up."
Liara T'Soni could tell that her commanding officer (i. e. Shepard) wanted to use more colourful language, but tried her best to reign in the temper.
Which was running pretty high, and not without reason.
The M-11 Suppressor pistol which Shepard had liberated from a CAT6 mercenary led them to Elijah Khan, who was (surprise, surprise) a weapons dealer and had a relatively respectable casino as a front and a way of money-laundering (assumedly, mind you, but no one would have been surprised if it were so). And (surprise, surprise once again) he was the one who supplied CAT6 with a good number of guns, and even some pretty expensive equipment.
After all, getting several M-76 Revenants and a Geth Spitfire would cost a small fortune. And the ability to pass off as C-Sec Kodiak shuttle? That alone costs a small fortune. Whoever wanted that attack on Shepard, they surely have quite a sum.
He also valued his look in the eyes of law, apparently, because when CAT6 goons made a very big mess of things, he had the gall to tell the mastermind behind them to "piss the hell off", as Shepard would have put it.
Alas, whoever was the mastermind behind that sushi place disaster, he apparently had more up their sleeve than dumb cat-six washouts, criminals, steroid abusers and other type of unrespectable and expendable trash. He also had at least one well-trained assassin.
And that assassin managed to get to Khan before Shepard, Liara and Brooks could.
Fortunately, the assassin was not of exactly best quality, because he totally forgot (or didn't think it necessary to) wipe the comm device, which allowed them to get a call to said mastermind.
Liara was spooked a bit by the phrase "I'll take everything you have, everything you are" uttered by their not-yet-visible nemesis.
The emphasis on the word "are" is particularly disturbing. What would that even mean?
"And now it appears that we're dealing with some serious guy with a big grudge against me who had the money to buy off that many mercs and even get the equipment as sophisticated as M-11 pistol. He even bought an Atlas mech!" Shepard continued.
"Poor guy. What a waste of money," Garrus quipped. "I'll be surprised if that mech holds for more than two minutes."
Shepard cracked with laughter. Liara shot Garrus a dark look for making fun of this very serious situation, but smiled a moment later. The sentiment was true, after all.
"How long 'till the Archives?"
"Not long," replied Cortez. "5 minutes ETA."
"Fine. Let me know if something happens," Shepard leaned back into her seat.
Liara shook her head slightly. Her crush sometimes behaved in a very aggravating way…
"Councilor! Commander Shepard's access codes were just used at the Citadel Archives!"
"What in Goddess' name are you talking about?" Councilor Tevos T'Semni rounded on the asari officer who just gave the report. "Shepard is not in the archives at the moment!"
"I know, but the system couldn't have made a mistake. Apparently, the codes leaked somehow, but I don't quite get how. No hacker attacks on SPECTRE network have occurred recently!"
"Define "recently", please," said Tevos with a tone that clearly promised a termination slip if the answer was not to her satisfaction.
"Latest three weeks. And none of previous hacking attempts were successful. We are absolutely certain of that."
"Councilor," an implanted radio just went off in Tevos' hearing folds, "this is agent Rewill. Shepard and her team left the apartment in three aircars. I am following them discreetly."
"Whole team?" the asari Councilor inquired.
"The whole team, including that Staff Analyst "Brooks", who barely looks like she can hold a lady's gun," came the contemptuous voice of a salarian.
"Not known yet. They appear to have found out that Shepard's Spectre codes were just used at the Archives, though. I'd bet my family's egg clutch that they are headed there."
"Acknowledged. Tevos out," the asari cut the connection and turned to a technician nearby, another salarian. "Can we activate the defenses at the Archives?"
"Negative, Councilor, the whole defensive network just shut down. Security system also appears to be compromised, as the cameras show nothing. Suspect that Spectre codes deactivated the defenses, and cameras have been hacked."
This day just isn't getting easier! Fersuthrass! "Hacked how?"
"Very professionally. Spectre codes helped to take down the majority of firewalls, and I believe that they got access to the mainframe, as there are no errors in timestamps. They also cut out external access."
"What?!" Normally Tevos was not the one to raise her voice, but the situation was wearing out her patience quite effectively.
"Overrides from SPECTRE Command Center are rerouted and sent elsewhere. I cannot reboot the security system or defense network from here. We would need to send a whole team of operatives down there and purge the mainframe."
"We don't have that much Spectres here, damn it!" Tevos raged. This situation got out of control too fast! "How did they even get Shepard's codes, in name of daemonesses?"
"My only theory is that Shepard must have activated them from her omni-tool for some purpose, and the receiving terminal had a trojan within that managed to intercept it," replied the salarian tech.
"Try and scramble whatever Spectres we have, and…"
"Integrity of Archives compromised!"
"Councilor," Rewill's voice sounded in implanted radio again, "Shepard's squadmate, Vega, I believe, just blew up a hole near the Archives' upper part with a hi-ex device," the salarian agent's voice had notes of contempt within it. As one of the best STG infiltrators, he found loud and explosive ways of entrance as amateurish. "She and the whole team are entering the Archives."
"Wait for 10 minutes, agent, and then proceed to Archives' mainframe. Do not interfere with Shepard and her team, they are hunting down her identity's thief," Tevos replied.
"Understood. Rewill out."
After disconnecting, the asari Councilor breathed in and out. Goddess help you, Shepard, because I, apparently, am unable to.
"Councilor," the salarian tech spoke up again, "it appears that the unknown hostiles have installed a military grade jamming device that blocks all communications. I cannot contact Shepard, her team, the Archives' security… and agent Rewill too, now."
Everyone who was present was very surprised as Councilor Tevos T'Semni finally lost it and exploded (figuratively speaking, of course!), uttering a string of profanities that she picked up during her commando times and that she had learned from Matriarch Aethyta. The choice of words would have made said foul-mouthed Matriarch proud. But it would not give Aethyta a run for her money, though.
Of everything that this blasted galaxy keeps sending at me, I would have thought that I have seen everything and fought every kind of enemy possible and impossible. But noooo, the fate or whatever else just keeps trolling me, Commander Shepard fumed, taking care not to expose herself to a CAT6 sniper.
The operation went haywire from the start. First they stumbled upon a gang of mercenaries, but once they disposed of them, Brooks just had to get herself taken hostage (what a bumbling, barely competent idiot, how did she get wrapped up in Alliance Intelligence in the first place?!) by an enemy soldier – or whom she assumed to be just one of enemy soldiers.
Turned out that said soldier was…
"I'm Commander Shepard. I never hide."
Shepard shivered, once she remembered the words. She still couldn't fully comprehend it.
Her own clone!
The menacing words about taking everything from her that she was now made a lot more sense.
For, you see, Cerberus could create a clone, but they could not implant all Shepard's memories in there. You try it, with millions upon millions of nerve cells and exact mechanism of keeping memories inside the brain still not figured out as of 2186.
Not that they bothered. The clone was needed only for spare organic parts: arm, leg, lung, heart, you name it, she got it, just harvest her and don't think twice.
All the more proof that the Illusive Man tends to think of everyone as a resource. If something's not useful anymore, discard it and get another one.
Naturally, the clone was pissed, but for some reason it (or she? The clone was a person, after all) directed its anger at the wrong person (at least, Shepard believed so).
Alas, the clone thought otherwise. Moreover, the clone Shepard was human-centric to the point of supremacism and xenophobia.
Shepard was many things, but she was most definitely not xenophobic.
Sure, she did not like batarians; who did, after Mindoir, Elysium and Torfan? But Shepard did not automatically assign the label of "slaving scum" to any batarian. She did meet a couple of them that were somewhat decent. One of them, Bray, was actually likeable somewhat (of course, mostly because he did not display the stereotypical pride many of batarians had), and he worked under Aria T'Loak, of all the people. Point is, she tried her best to judge individuals while basing on their own merits and imperfections, not on racial stereotypes.
Long story short, one can't clone everything.
When Liara flat out told the clone that she was just a pale imitation of the real thing, Shepard couldn't help but feel pride for the formerly shy archaeologist and now Shadow Broker and even some sort of comrade-like affection. The clone was not amused (her leadership skills were definitely lacking; she based her authority on threats most of the time) and ordered to execute Shepard and everyone else.
She grossly underestimated them, and now CAT6 mercenaries (like the aforementioned sniper) were paying the price.
Alas, the clone had a very big head start. And she/it/whatever-pronoun-you-prefer had enough expendable meat so that it would be difficult to catch up to her.
Not for the lack of trying.
But the fates decided to troll her once again. When charging ahead with Liara and Javik (the Prothean was annoying and cynical as hell, but goddamn was he a great soldier on the battlefield), she tried to cross the opened vault…
As kinetic barriers sprung up and locked the merry trio firmly in place.
She couldn't help but recall the memetic line uttered by one of her favourite characters, Admiral Ackbar:
"It's a trap!"
Councilor Tevos T'Semni was nervous. Not a position she usually found herself in.
Security teams of Citadel Archives were not responding, Spectre agents present on the Citadel were still too far, and C-Sec communications near said Archives were actively blocked. The reinforcements were still too far away.
Agent Rewill was not responding, either.
Shepard and her team could be lost in there, or badly wounded, and they cannot go any faster! Damn it!
Goddess Athame merciful and compassionate, please watch over them!
She was relieved to hear the technician's voice telling her that he got positive image of Shepard, Brooks and… and that was all.
Tevos' heart sank. Shepard's team did not have a special place in asari Councilor's heart, but she knew very well that without them Shepard would have been devastated.
This Shepard, however, was not.
"Where are they headed?" Tevos asked.
"They are heading to the docks, presumably to board the Normandy."
"Normandy is undergoing retrofits at this moment, why would they go there?"
"According to our information," a turian data analyst spoke up, "the retrofits are 77% complete. Propulsion systems, element zero core and internal emission sinks are all operational, weapon systems are all ready, except for Thanix main cannon. Normandy can be flown away if necessary, although the ship would not be at top operational capacity."
"Still, they would need some preparations," Tevos argued.
"Er, preparations are underway already…"
"WHAT?!" Tevos rounded on the poor turian, towering over him. Her eyes were promising everlasting pain if the answer was not delivered immediately, and the analyst did not disappoint:
"Normandy received a set of Shepard's command codes previously, and the audio message to prepare the Normandy for take-off."
"Play it," Tevos was very closed to growling.
However, hearing Shepard's voice and Specialist Traynor's response helped to soothe her somewhat.
Wait. Something's still not right here.
One did not get far in politics without developing a certain gut instinct that warned about traps, malevolent planning or other generally unpleasant things for a politician. Tevos has been listening to said gut instinct for several centuries, and it helped her to survive her commando days, and political minefields.
She frowned. (At least, it would appear so to a human. Tevos did not have eyebrows, after all. Many humans were saying, however, that asari facial tattoos were perceived similarly to human eyebrows in terms of mimetic expressions.) She couldn't say what exactly was wrong. Squadmates were missing, yes, but what if Shepard and everyone else decided it would be best for her and Brooks to fly away immediately? There was an unknown nemesis after the human Spectre. And said nemesis could not be on Citadel at all.
And time could be of the essence.
Tevos glanced at the image of Shepard and Brooks, and…
The gut instinct acted again. She's suspicious.
The asari frowned once again. Brooks was from Alliance Intelligence, right? She was the one who informed Shepard of the imminent attack upon her, she was wounded in that restaurant, she assisted Shepard's team during Silver Coast Casino infiltration…
The gut instinct did not desist, though.
Something is not right with her.
But Tevos could not figure out what exactly was wrong.
While the asari Councilor was musing, Shepard and Brooks made it to the Normandy.
However, what followed next was very strange.
CAT6 mercenary squads arrived moments after them. And Normandy's technicians were ushered out of the ship. Some of the mercs remained in the dock, while others entered the frigate.
Tevos frowned, once again.
This facial expression is quickly becoming too familiar for my liking.
"Are you seeing what I am seeing?" she addressed the salarian technician.
"Yes, and I am… confused."
"So am I. Are there any signs of her squadmates? Maybe some of them are out of Archives by now?"
"I cannot use the cameras. Someone uploaded a sophisticated polymorphic virus into C-Sec network, all cameras at that area are down… wait, I'm receiving incoming transmission from Rewill!"
"Patch him through."
"Councilor, this is agent Rewill," another salarian's image appeared on screen. "I have found and deactivated the jamming device within the Archives. The place is a mess, corpses of those CAT6 mercenaries everywhere."
"Any sign of Shepard's squadmates?"
"I saw none of them on my way, but I have rebooted the mainframe and got access to internal security network. Most of data is corrupted, but I definitely saw them on what my programs could restore. I even caught a glimpse of Shepard herself. There's one more thing. Has Shepard changed her biometrics lately?"
"Haven't heard of that, why?"
"Records indicate a recent change of Shepard's biometric data. Handprints, to be exact."
"How recent is that change?"
"No more than 15 standard minutes ago."
Tevos felt as if an iceberg just rammed into her abdominal region.
"Only handprints were changed?"
"Only them. Also, this Brooks is a traitor. I managed to piece together audio data where she says she was a Cerberus agent who compiled the dossiers for Shepard's suicide mission against Collectors. She still sounded xenophobic."
Naturally. I imagine it grated on her, Tevos thought hatefully.
Wait a moment…
"What armour did Shepard wear when she entered the Normandy?!" she rounded on the salarian tech. I have a bad feeling about this!
"Let me see… CAT6 armour!"
Tevos cussed loudly.
"A clone! The Shepard who entered the ship is a Goddess-accursed clone! Impound the Normandy, now!"
"Er… too late, the Normandy took off," said the turian data analyst.
"Fersuthrass! Get C-Sec, call the Alliance, and tell them to intercept Normandy, NOW!"
Fortunately, Tevos did not have to wring her hands in anxiety for long.
Turned out, Shepard managed to infiltrate her own ship before it took off and take down Brooks and her own doppelganger.
Tevos ordered Spectres to quietly get the body of Shepard's clone before rumours of her death made it to the news. They did so, but some people still saw the body, and it took an official statement that it was not Shepard who died.
At the end of the day, Tevos only had the strength to drop onto her bed and doze off immediately.
Several days later, Tevos received a letter. It said:
Dear Councilor Tevos T'Semni,
I am holding a memorial service in memory of Thane Krios, the drell who saved Councilor Valern and ultimately helped me to prove to you that I am not, and never have been, a Cerberus double agent.
I would be honored if you could attend this service, along with Councilors Valern and Sparatus. I have already sent their respective invitations.
The service is being held in my apartment at Tiberius Towers tomorrow at 17:00 standard Citadel time. There will be no press; it is a private affair. Aside from the Council and Thane's son, only my squadmates will be there. I've also requested additional security
Commander Jane Shepard,
Agent of Special Tactics and Reconnaissance Office
P. S. I'm sorry about this clone mess.
Tevos did not hesitate to send a reply.
Dear Commander Shepard,
I would be honored to attend the memorial service in memory of Thane Krios. He deserves it, for helping you to save us all.
If you would not mind, I would like to have a private word with you after the service.
Citadel Councilor of Asari Republics
P. S. There is no need for apologies.
The asari could not help but feel elated. Finally, here was her chance for a private face-to-face chat with Shepard.
Who knew an assassin could have his own code of honour, Tevos mused quietly, while listening to eulogies of Shepard and the others about the late drell. Shepard surely has a talent for finding extraordinary people. The galaxy is a lot lesser for this loss.
Once the memorial service ended, the human Spectre approached the Councilor. Tevos' heart jumped a little bit.
"You wanted a private word with me, Councilor?"
"Yes, Commander. Where would be the best place?"
"The bedroom upstairs," Shepard said absent-mindedly, before catching herself. "Oh damn it, I'm so sorry..."
Tevos chuckled. "No need, Shepard. Among asari, private chats in bedrooms are not uncommon."
"True, but it could be interpreted as invitation to... er... intimate activities," Shepard blushed.
Isn't she adorable when blushing... oh hold it together, Tevos! Like it's your first crush, curses, the asari Councilor thought. "Ah, well, I'm not here for that," not now, at least. "Lead the way."
"Yeah, of course," Shepard turned around very quickly and went upstairs. Tevos followed her.
Once they arrived at their destination, the asari inhaled and said:
"Commander... Shepard... we've spoken about it before, but I would like to apologize to you. You have seen too little help from this Council, from me, even when we were faced with extinction. I am regretful that I did not participate in the turian-krogan-salarian summit, and I am particularly ashamed that I did not tell you sooner about that Prothean beacon. I might have died for that, but maybe you would have been able to get the inforrmation about the Catalyst. I'm afraid that I cannot properly apologize for that."
Shepard was dumbfounded.
"Er... well, at least you have tried to help... oh no, that comes out wrong... OK, if you need to hear that, I accept your apology. I am sorry that I was not able to do much when you did tell me."
"By then, I am afraid, it was still a bit too late," Tevos sighed.
"Nonsense. If not for Cerberus, we would have deployed the Crucible right now. Once Normandy is ready, we'll blow them to kingdom come," Shepard inhaled, and continued, "and then we'll blow Reapers to hell."
"And then?" Tevos inquired.
"Then? I don't know. I don't really think I will survive," Shepard muttered.
The asari Councilor felt as if a black hole appeared within her body.
No! She cannot think that!
"Why do you feel so, Commander?" she asked.
"Honestly? I have survived this long, but there comes a day when one finally bites the bullet," Shepard replied. "And chances of survival are always slim when the Reapers are involved. Since I'll be where the fight is thickest, they are very close to zero. Besides, what would I do after the war?"
"Settle down with someone, maybe?" Damn it, Tevos, hold your tongue!
"Settle down?" the human chuckled bitterly. "Councilor, don't you know? My romance story always ended badly, with those who loved me dying. I cannot risk that again."
Of course I know. Doesn't stop my affections, though. "And if you quit the military?"
"I was in the gangs when the first tragedy struck," Shepard reminded the Councilor. "Besides, I don't think the Council lets Spectres quit that easily."
"Well, I am certain that saving the galaxy is enough for allowing your retirement, Shepard," Tevos smiled, "besides, Spectre retirement packages are quite generous."
"I'd imagine," the human laughed.
Oh, how I love that... "But seriously, Shepard, I think that everyone - your team, your friends, your mentors, Alliance command - would be very saddened if you died. I would be saddened, too."
"You? Wouldn't have thought of that. I'm troublesome, remember?"
"For all the trouble you brought, your other qualities and actions outweighed that," Tevos said, meaning every word. "You are a very interesting person, Commander Shepard. Everyone could learn something from you, myself included."
"I don't know what I could teach you, though..."
The finer points of relationship with humans, perhaps? Tevos barely held herself from saying that.
Damn it, a part of her said, just tell her!
I can't. Too soon.
There may not be a tomorrow!
I'll lose everything if I lay my cards now. It's a heavy risk, but I'll have to take that. Too fast a pace is not acceptable, either.
"Many things great and small," she said instead.
"Wow. You flatter me."
"I am serious, Commander. Do your best to survive, please. There's already too much loss in the galaxy."
"No promises, but I don't plan on just dying, either. I just think that my death is very likely to happen, though."
"When I trained with commandoes, we tried not to think about death too much. It was believed that death would notice us otherwise."
"Won't hurt to try," Shepard said, and both occupants smiled...
Not noticed by either of them, Liara T'Soni listened to every word of theirs.
Shepard may not have been well-versed with asari body language, and Tevos looked very calm, but one fact did not escape teh maiden's notice.
I have a competitor for Shepard's feelings.
Apologies for making this chapter rushed. I don't have much time on my hands.
I will try to finish this until the end of this week, since otherwise I'll be missing until August.
Acknowledgements and thanks to the following people who reacted since my last update:
Zizania and N.J Jordbrukaren - for reviewing Chapter 3;
B0o0o, N.J Jordbrukaren, Stairman, xFenrisTempestx - for favouriting this story;
Dotton, Kakaski, Lord Wark, N.J Jordbrukaren, Stairman, Sword 0f Damocles, mrosera, thuff, xFenrisTempestx - for following.
I also would like to thank those who reviewed, followed, and favourited my other story, "Shepard's Cunning Plan", after November 2014.
(Acknowledgements given as of July 6, 2015, 23:55 Moscow time UTC+03:00.)
Thanks for reading and (im)patiently waiting!
Galactic Alien out (for now).