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Mass Effect: Synthesis
Chapter 16 Two Roads Diverged
August 4th 2190
Harbinger reopens the Relays. All System Alliance extrasolar colonies have moved to a higher alert and resumed patrols of their relay areas. It is to be expected of a race with a military presence and any sense. The humans have no intention of joining the Council and relying on the Turians for protection. On that point, the SIL, the Systems Alliance and Human civilian governments are in full agreement with one another.
Quarian ships, carrying those who have agreed to be the initial settlers on Rannoch, slipped through the Relays as soon as they were reopened. They headed into the Terminus Systems, intending to skirt around Council-controlled space, on their return to Rannoch. Several SIL, who require Quarians for synthesis, accompany them as well as quarian SOCLs. It's a slow process but the Quarians are used to such manoeuvres and understand the need for secrecy. There is no opposition and the transport of the ships proceeded smoothly. They prayed that first contact with the Council would go smoothly for the humans but they already know, with the mere presence of the SIL, that a war is most likely in the offing.
August 5th 2190 09:24 Citadel
Garrus didn't like being here.
After a couple of years on an archaeological dig, followed by a couple of months guarding egg-heads, the press of the crowd and the smells were rather disturbing. But it had to be him here. He was the only one who knew the Citadel well enough to move around without attracting attention. He wore his armor which was not unusual for a turian but he was surprised to find how much he missed his eyepiece. He could not remember a time when he didn't wear it. Still, it was better that it wasn't on display. That, more than anything, would have screamed Archangel to certain observers and Garrus didn't really feel like taking on whatever mercs were here. Sure, C-Sec would eventually intervene - but he didn't want to come into contact with them either.
That's why he was sitting in the corner of the bar, watching the world go by. Liara wanted him to observe. Yet the asari wouldn't tell him exactly what he was to observe, just that he should watch the people of the Citadel and see if anything was amiss. The only thing she had insisted upon is that he picked a place where both Citadel and non-Citadel residents interacted but so far he'd seen nothing.
Sure, the asari barmaid was cheating on her declared turian mate with another asari but that was hardly galactic news. The owner had some rather unsavory habits but that didn't matter as Garrus had no intention of eating here. He couldn't anyway, they only cooked levo food even if they mixed a really decent dextro drink. There was a Hanar talking with a Volus in the corner and occasionally their conversation included the word Prothean… Massive surprise there. A Keeper had scurried through earlier but hadn't come back and there was a lone Batarian in the other corner, downing shots with wild abandon.
Gradually though, as the bar filled a little, Garrus could see - something. That was the frustrating thing. There was something to see but it was almost - It was almost as if it wasn't there, like something that was just below his hearing. It was in little things. The way the asari barmaid gestured with her right hand was different, almost staged. Occasionally she'd pause in a task as if she had to think about them. Yet the tasks were so mundane that they shouldn't require thought. Around her, others did the same.
But those Garrus had pinned as non-Citadel did nothing of the sort. They went about their business smoothly, interacting with their companions as if nothing was wrong. He growled to himself as he shook his head. Nothing was wrong. So a barmaid had trouble remembering what she was meant to be doing, that hardly mattered.
His eyes were too used to picking up the tiny details, though, too used to seeing things through the scope of his rifle for him to dismiss such oddities. It meant something. He knew that. He could feel it but he had no idea what it was.
With a grunt, Garrus got up and wandered out the door, his eyes keeping a sharp watch on those surrounding him as he moved. This was not a great part of the Citadel. Outside, in what passed for the street, a krogan and a drell appeared to be bargaining for something. They didn't matter.
He made sure he appeared normal but even as he moved, he could spot the natives and the visitors. Garrus knew he was displaying the traits of a visitor. It wasn't as bad as being on a Turian backwater colony but it was bad enough. Eyes watched him, judged him and followed what he did, while others seemed oblivious. Though how did they know he was a visitor? He'd lived on the Citadel for years. He had no tells!
Still, Liara wanted him to observe, so he'd observe. He slipped in behind a tourist group, one that was heading towards that ship. He still got watched though the sense was more directed towards the group. Something was amiss but whatever was causing it was subtle and it did not work immediately. And it did not recognize previous residents of the Citadel. He'd picked a tourist group to follow when he'd seen a few other groups leaving the huge station. Those making up the group had seemed okay, except they weren't watched. Something had changed.
The group he was following happily traipsed into the ship but Garrus held back. Liara had been clear, and very passionate, that he was to stay out of that ship. He hadn't needed much persuading. He still remembered her reaction from earlier in the year.
It was boring to wait but challenging at the same time as he tried to adapt, tried to camouflage himself to be accepted by the Citadel residents but no matter what he did, they kept watching him. It wasn't overt but it was enough to prickle his senses.
At length, the tour group he'd followed emerged and Garrus resumed tailing them. Since they only went through public areas of the Citadel, he didn't need to worry about some overly officious C-Sec officer picking him up. He should appear as nothing more than some turian in generic armor following along. At worst, someone would assume he was a hired bodyguard, or a spy for someone in the tour group, but by the time they got around to questioning that, Garrus was confident of his ability to slip away.
It didn't happen all at once, so it was difficult to see but it did happen. The tour group moved slowly through the Citadel and as they moved, gradually the furtive watches, the small ticks in movement stopped around them until Garrus realized he was the one being stared at. Not by the tour group but by the Citadel residents. It was creepy and, carefully, Garrus allowed himself to fall back from the group, eventually losing sight of it as he ducked into another pub.
He ordered a drink without caring about the stares he was getting before he slumped into an open table to think. There was something wrong with the residents of the Citadel. Nothing that appeared too obvious but it was in the way that they moved, and the way they continually watched those who weren't residents. Only someone trained like him would pick up on it. But the tourists had been watched when they arrived. He was sure of that. Then they weren't. The Citadel residents had seemed to accept them but only after…
Only after they had come out of that ship.
Garrus gulped, swallowing his drink in one mouthful. He ordered another and downed it just as quickly before leaving some credits on the table and walking out. He had to report this to Liara. She had wanted to know if something was up… well something was definitely up!
But what? That he had no idea.
August 5th 2190 12:00 Citadel
"The Relays are open," Sparatus announced almost before Esheel had settled.
"Which relays?" There was an odd note in her voice, one the turian councillor didn't recognize, though she should know which Relays he was talking about. What other Relays were closed? What other Relays were such a bone of contention lately?
"The ones in Batarian space."
That got a reaction from both Tevos and Esheel but not the one he was expecting. They turned to look at each other and Sparatus couldn't read their silent conversation.
"Have you sent any ships through?" Tevos asked as she turned back to look at her turian counterpart.
"Valern indicated that the Salarians would send probes through first and I was hoping Esheel would continue with that plan," he replied. "Though I believe we need to be cautious."
"Why is that?" Esheel questioned and Sparatus was happy that she had not denied the Salarian probes. The STG would want the first information anyway so it probably wasn't that surprising. The Hierarchy would have the information after that.
"We suspect that the unknown vessel which came through the Citadel Relay on July 16th 2185 is a part of whatever force is behind the Relays," Sparatus began his explanation making sure that a picture of the unknown ship that had appeared to destroy the Batarian ship was on display. After his fellow Councillors nodded, he continued his explanation.
"Approximately one month ago, one of our patrols in the Terminus Systems encountered a fleet."
"That sounds like a routine situation." Tevos commented, ignoring the apparent non-sequitur.
"This was far from a routine situation. The patrol was destroyed but they managed to transmit one image. It had been classified but I'm authorized to show you now."
Sparatus tapped a few keys, sending the image to his fellow Councillors. Then he waited. There was no way they could miss the obvious similarity in the ships and the one that was attached to the Citadel. Their explanation would be interesting. The Hierarchy was waiting for it and Sparatus held his mandibles steady to avoid clicking in anticipation. The Primarchs had noted his long absences from the Citadel and he had been forced to provide an explanation. Once he pointed out the similarities in the ships and had given an abridged explanation, they had agreed that the anomaly was with the other Councillors, not with him. Now, all he had to do was wait.
"Geth! They are meeting with the Geth!" Tevos' reaction was painfully obvious.
"We cannot be certain but we believe so."
"Dangerous," Esheel replied this time. "Unknown relay ship and these are same. You prove their hostility! Batarian ship destroyed without warning or reason. Clandestine meeting with Geth and destruction of Turian fleet patrol proves their hostility. Probes must be sent in preparation for war!"
Sparatus was silent. What was Esheel going on about? Did she miss the obvious? Did she not see that the ships had the exact same configuration as the one holding on to the Citadel like a limpet or did she just not want to see? What game was she playing?
Yes, the meeting with the Geth was concerning, as was the destruction of the patrol group, but they didn't know for sure what had transpired and it was possible that the ships were there to fight the Geth. Sparatus didn't think that was likely but against the blatant refusal of Esheel and Tevos to even consider other alternatives, he was more willing to examine even absurd possibilities.
Tevos was nodding, her blue face serious. "We must strike before they are ready! There can be no hesitation or they will destroy us as they have destroyed the Batarians."
"Now, wait!" Sparatus growled. "Despite speculation, we have no proof that these ships are the ones that lie beyond the Batarian Relays." He had proof in the word of a human but they did not. "Yet you both wish the Council to assume they are going to attack? Our people aren't ready for a war. We have no stockpiles and they are strong. To provoke a war against a powerful race that has shown no hostile intentions towards us is not something I can agree to!"
"No hostile intentions?" Tevos gasped, her eyes wide with disbelief. "They have shown their hostility at every turn and you have proven that. They closed the Relays! What peaceful race would do that? Hence they prove they have something they wish to hide. They meet with the Geth. No race can be allowed to have peaceful relations with the Geth. It goes against everything this Council stands for. They destroyed your patrol and they destroyed them so quickly that you have only a picture as evidence they exist. And they devastated the Batarians, bringing that race to the verge of extinction. They are not peaceful and we should not risk them being worse than the Krogans. You have seen what they did to Khar'shan!"
Sparatus stared. "Prove it!" He snapped, allowing his mandibles to click loudly. "We have no proof for any of your accusations!"
He did not miss the almost sad look both Esheel and Tevos directed towards him but it was the salarian who spoke. "Sparatus, why are you trying to protect them?"
"Protect them? Who am I trying to protect?" he returned the challenge. "I've not seen a race here… I've only seen some ships; ships which are identical to the one currently visiting the Citadel." There, it was said. Let them refute that.
"Race is known," Esheel replied, touching her omni-tool to bring up the one image they had managed to retrieve from Khar'shan. The human… Sparatus could see that it was a human now, danced over the table, cutting through batarians with ease. Perhaps he should ask Vega if he recognized the human and what rank it was.
"So you've correlated one piece of information into that species supposedly having those ships?" Sparatus questioned the conclusion they wished him to draw. It was true, Vega had told him as much but how did Tevos and Esheel know this? What proof did they have? Tevos had other humans, he knew that from the Batarian slave master, but she had never provided that information to the rest of them. She needed to stop hiding. "Even if true, that does not explain how one of those ships is now attached to the Citadel."
Sparatus pressed home that point. He wanted that explanation. His two fellow councillors once again shared a long look. Beyond a destroyed Batarian ship, which was most likely an act between warring species, and a destroyed turian patrol, which might have happened for any number of reasons, they could not prove hostility and they knew it.
At least, they could not prove a level of hostility that would justify a preemptive strike. They could not even prove that it was humans who possessed those ships. Evidence suggested that they were but no one could be quite certain. A batarian might have been able to make some inferences, but unless Tevos was willing to show her hand, she could not make her case. Whatever explanation they came up with was bound to be interesting.
Even the closed Relays, while worrying were not inherently a bad thing and now this race was obviously inviting the Council into their territory to come to meet them. They had not burst forth from their territory with guns blazing thus their first true contact would invariably show their real intentions and the Council could proceed from there. Sparatus would prepare for war obviously but he refused to provoke it.
"Sparatus," Tevos said and the turian hid a shudder. He knew that voice. It was the one she used when she was determined to get what she wanted, when negotiations seemed to be at a standstill. Somehow, Tevos almost always broke deadlocks with that voice. "Why won't you see the truth?"
That was a dangerous question. "I see plenty of truth," he spat the answer, "though I have yet to hear an explanation as to why a ship you are associating with enemies is attached to the Citadel." He pressed the question.
"Ship communicated with the Citadel itself!" Esheel muttered, as if the irrelevant detail answered everything.
"Then perhaps all of them can, yet you wish to view them as enemies."
"Because they are," Tevos' voice hadn't changed. It held an almost soft note of regret, as if she was truly sorry that he did not see things her way. "They destroyed a batarian ship without warning. They have destroyed your patrol ships and you have seen the images from Khar'shan. They are not a peaceful race. No diplomatic race burns every settlement, everywhere. No merciful race leaves no survivors," she gestured vaguely to the hologram of the human warrior.
"You have now shown us the proof that they are consorting with the Geth! No reasonable race does that. And yet you do not view them as enemies. I wish I had your faith, Sparatus, but I see a race worse than the Krogan, worse than the Rachni and I see that they are ready to strike.
"We are the guardians of peace and justice in this galaxy, and we cannot allow our actions to be dictated by one race. They do not wish for peaceful integration into our culture. They have made their intentions very clear. They wish to destroy it. The opening of the Relays is a feint. It's designed to draw us in, to make us think they are peaceful, to give us hope. We must see through their deception. We must strike!"
Esheel gave one quick nod of agreement.
"Yet we are harboring the enemy," Sparatus countered. "We gain succor from it and have allowed them into our innermost councils. This enemy is quiet, it is silent, yet we have accepted its embrace. We let it see everything and now you propose a war against it? You want us Turians to strike, even while the enemy is held in our embrace, is held close to our hearts? Why are you proposing a war, while embracing the enemy?"
"You turians… you turians! The arrogance!" Tevos thundered. "Do you think war does not affect the Asari? The Salarians? Do you think you are alone? Do you think I propose this lightly?"
"Yes!" Sparatus shouted back with familiar rage. "I think you have an agenda. I think that ship has an agenda! You are in bed with the enemy and can provide no reason as to why! Unless you tell me now why there is an enemy ship attached to the Citadel then I have no reason to trust anything you say."
"That ship is not the issue."
"That ship is the issue!" Sparatus did not let Esheel distract him. It was beyond time they revealed themselves.
Tevos took a deep breath. "Sparatus," the way she said his name was calculating. "I have been speaking with the Batarians. They confirmed the ship that appeared in Citadel space was of the race they were at war with. They said that the race calls themselves Human. We do not know that race. No one knows that race, only the Batarians." Her words were gentle, almost compassionate and showed none of the anger that had clouded her tone previously. "The Batarians made it very clear that the race they fought is aggressive and we have seen the proof of that ourselves. To this day nothing lives on Khar'shan. They burned a garden world!
"We have inflicted pain. We have committed genocide, I will not deny that. The Rachni Wars are not a bright point of Council History and we uplifted the Krogan out of desperation. We would have lived peacefully with the Rachni, just as we would have lived peacefully with the Krogan but despite repeated attempts we could not reach harmony. This race… the Batarians have been clear, they are the same. They are territorial, they are aggressive and with the opening of the Relays, we are looking at a long period of war.
"The only way for us to avoid this is to strike first.
"You have shown us the evidence, Sparatus. Your patrol, may the Goddess preserve them, they have provided us with a warning in that image. This race, the humans, they are consorting with the Geth! That just proves they are not to be trusted. Yet they are powerful. I cannot deny that. By the Goddess, they can close the Relays. The only way for us to fight, for us to preserve the Citadel as the beacon of hope and justice that it is, is for us to strike first and to strike hard.
"We have to drive them back from the Relays so that they cannot close them and then we have to drive them back to their homeworld and raze it to the ground. That is our only hope. It saddens me beyond measure, Sparatus, that we are faced with these choices but I must choose for the good of the Council and for the good of the Asari, and for them both, I chose the path of least bloodshed that allows survival."
For a moment, Tevos looked so genuinely concerned that Sparatus was moved but despite how impassioned she sounded, he refused to be side-tracked.
"And what does that have to do with the ship that's on the Citadel?"
"The Citadel, the Citadel, the Citadel! Is that all you think of?" Esheel questioned quickly in her usual acerbic tone. "The destruction of our worlds, of everything! And you care about the Citadel? Batarians are almost extinct. We are next! This race does not care about Citadel Law! They do not care about civilization. Your patrol proved that. No civilized species meets with the geth! An unholy alliance might already exist! That fleet is dangerous! Estimate of size only available through comparison with Geth vessels but they clearly violate Council Law!
"They have hidden behind the Batarian relays for years so I do not know how many laws they have broken. We know galaxy better. They cannot know the dangers. That helps us. They can't know our network. Their aggression is well documented and barbaric. Burned garden worlds! Opening a relay means nothing not when destroying planets! That proves barbarism. It is not tolerated. You know that. They cannot be considered a young race. They are an old race. Hardened by atrocity. They are prepared to fire first. Salarians do not abide that! If they were stronger than the Batarians but civilized then surrender accepted. They did not. That says everything!"
"It tells us nothing!" Sparatus argued. "I will grant the destruction to Khar'shan is great but we have never been told the true story, not what their losses were, or why the Batarians were fighting! You are assuming and while assuming, you have embraced the enemy you now wish to fight! I will have no part of this. The turians will have no part of this! We will not fight a race because you say they are guilty!"
He rose and turned, the shadow of worry on his face. Tevos and Esheel weren't being rational and that concerned him more than he knew. The way they spoke, they had already decided what they would do and that would be war. For the sake of the Turians, he had to get to these humans first!
"Sparatus, if you walk out of here…"
"I'll return," the turian councillor snarled, "when you two are not hiding your agendas behind blatant lies. The Turians want no part of a war that could easily be prevented! We want no part in a Council that has lost its direction and that cannot see the truth because they are enamored of… I don't even know what you are enamored of!" Sparatus stormed from the Chamber, his dark expression causing several Spectres who were guarding the doors to shrink away from him.
Deliberately, he kept the angry pace up until he passed into a more public area of the Citadel where he relaxed but still moved with purpose. Tevos and Esheel wanted a war and they could easily provoke one. He had to get to Chatti Alpha Eight to collect Vega. And then, he could only pray that the human could get him through whatever security the humans had fast enough to actually make a difference.
August 5th 2190 13:00 Citadel
Sparatus strode down the corridor, heading back to his ship. There was a concealed urgency to his steps and he fought back a shiver, trying not to feel as if time was running out.
"Sir, we found him!" A triumphant sounding call came through his omni-tool.
"Found who?" The Turian Councillor asked. He hadn't asked to see anyone recently.
Now? Of all the times, it was now that they had found Vakarian. Just when it reached the point where evidence hardly mattered because actions would determine everything, it was now that Vakarian decided to surface. It was mildly impressive how well the ex-C-Sec officer had been able to hide but Sparatus wasn't sure he needed Vakarian anymore. Sure, confirmation would be nice but that was about all.
"Where is he?"
"On the Cidadel."
"Send him to my ship," Sparatus ordered. "I don't have time to talk to him here."
"Now that's a pity. I did so want to see Vakarian again."
"Saren!" Sparatus whirled at the voice. It was Saren behind him but at the same time it was not Saren.
"Hello, Councillor," the bare -faced turian greeted him, his voice still casual but Sparatus knew that the Spectre had picked up on his surprise.
"Saren, I did not expect to see you here," Sparatus said as he tried to calm down.
There was a bare twitch of the others mandibles as his reply before Sparatus mentally shook himself. He was the Councillor. Saren was only a Spectre. A good one, but still subject to his authority. "Did you wish something Saren?"
"Oh yes. Tevos didn't tell you why she considers the humans enemies did she?" Saren asked and Sparatus wasn't sure what to say. Had the Spectre been listening to the Council conversation? "I'm not surprised," the other turian continued before he could form a reply. "She's Asari after all, and the rest of us are just children to them. Esheel didn't tell you either, but she's Salarian and they like keeping secrets."
"So you are going to tell me?"
"I'm going to show you."
"You just need to come with me."
"No," Sparatus objected. "I don't need to 'just' anything. I've had enough games. You are a Spectre, if you have something to tell me then tell me!"
Saren seemed to sigh and as Sparatus watched, the other turian shifted, drawing his weapon and leveling it at the Councillor. Without any hesitation, Saren fired.
Pain brought Sparatus to his senses and he realized he'd fallen to lie in the corridor. The floor was absurdly cold against his skin.
"You really should have come to my quarters, Councillor," Saren said conversationally.
"You…" Sparatus managed to choke, his vocal muscles working but not making noise.
"Don't worry Councillor, I'll take care of your human pet but I cannot allow you to stand in the way of the glory of ascension further."
Sparatus' vision was fading but to his eyes, Saren seemed to glow almost as if he was biotic but it was deeper than that. There was something lurking beneath the other turian's skin, something dark. "I have seen the glory of ascension. I will lead the turians to perfection. Sovereign has shown me the way."
"The Sovereign of all… the ship of the Citadel," Saren recognized the question even though Sparatus' voice was soft and wet with his blood. "He was despairing of his task until I found him, lost in the darkness. I raised him up and he has shown me ascension! The humans will be destroyed as will all those who stand with them because ascension is the way of the cycle. Nothing changes the cycle. Mine will be the hand that ascends the galaxy."
Dying, Sparatus' thoughts moved faster than he would ever have thought possible. He understood now. Sovereign was the ship and that ship had corrupted them all. It was alive. Vega had told him as such. The SIL are alive. He'd been a fool! But as the glow coming from Saren intensified, even as his vision darkened, he understood it all. Inside, he screamed that no one was there to warn them. Saren, Tevos, Esheel… they were all going to start a war they had no hope to win. He didn't care how prepared they thought they were, the humans would… No. If the SIL were that protective of their pets to destroy the Batarians for them, then the humans would not have to do a thing. The SIL would raze the galaxy for them.
Vibrations came to him through the floor but Sparatus never saw the turian soldiers who rounded the corner.
"Vakarian has assassinated the Councillor!" The shout was shrill but he recognized Saren's voice. He couldn't even choke out a denial as the vibrations came closer.
"Sparatus!" Someone called his name desperately and even though they continued to call, Sparatus no longer heard.
This was Rannoch.
She breathed deep. This was worth it.
Axcel - I don't know if you will get this far but thank you for reviewing. For this fic, Shepard was definitely female and thank you for the additional information.
The Joining - There will be a bit of an alliance of races and for my purposes the Geth were happy to negotiate with their creators. They just didn't want to be destroyed. Nazara is just acting on his own desires, no maybe not evil, but not following Harbinger's orders.
A/N this chapter had the last of the "This is what happened" and from now on, the story is narrative! Yay! Review please?