NOTE1: Greetings, and welcome to the 22nd chapter of this story! Already, we've built the political context long enough. It is time for stuff to start happening. You people have no idea how much I am yearning to write some gore and brutal fight scenes! I can't wait to get to the upcoming important battles and campaigns. I would also like to ask you to read NOTE4 at the end for info on next update. Alas, enjoy this chapter!


Chapter 22: Dark Beyond the Blue I


There is peace in the green forest and in our town,

But I'm waiting for father, he is long gone.

Father marched off to war at breaking dawn,

Never to return, a'waitin' dragging on.

.

And mother went to search for him, dear mother,

Over hills, over mountains, to planets afar,

Brought to Shanxi by a feeling oh too grim, dear mother,

And found father's helmet with the marital star.

.

Mother is grieving ever since then,

And with her pain I grew, to leave as well,

To fight battles, time and again,

For the Hierarchy, the enemy befell.

.

Come and see, father, how many have been done

Since the day the soldiers put down the guns,

Whole Palaven is an orchard, as it did not know,

Listen to the sweet play of children, to gentle water flow.

.

Father, where are you lost?

On the road of bullets,

At the last stop?

(A Torin's Lament by Galeus Tanetil, one of the most iconic contemporary poems of the Turian people pertaining to the Human – Council War and the Reaper War)


The Montgomery administration is directly responsible for every life lost during the Shanxi hostage crisis! Terra Firma has repeatedly warned the president against welcoming the aliens with open arms. I cannot contest the economic growth Shanxi and the Alliance is experiencing since trade lanes were opened, since Shanxi became the trade hub that it is, but how many lives were lost because the border police and the military were too relaxed at their duties!?

Because our dear president wanted us to overcome the justified xenophobia!? The aliens attacked us, and they want to welcome them with open arms! They still want to play nice with the Batarians, the barbarians of this galaxy, after their recent violent outbursts! I call upon the people to take it to the streets, to let Montgomery and Goyle know what we think of them! To protest against the criminal friendliness for the alien!

(Donnel Udina, chairman of the Terra Firma political party, public reaction after the Shanxi Hostage Crisis)


Citadel, Zakera Ward

Maintenance tunnels

"I am ready," Garrus spoke into his radio as he took his first steps into the maintenance tunnel. Casius stayed outside with the skycar.

"I'm sending you what maps we have of Zakera's tunnels. Proceed with caution," Casius advised him. "You bail out at first sign of trouble."

Metiana and Garrus spent the last week placing surveillance gear around entry points of maintenance tunnels. They had already picked up on activity. They were picking up echoes of voices and metallic gear being used. The odd Salarian going in and out was also detected by the micro cameras. They tried to match the faces to what Hierarchy Intelligence had, but they returned no positive match. Whoever these people were, they stayed off the grid really good. In fact, they were not coming up on police records or population censuses.

"Copy, proceeding through the tunnel. I'm keeping chatter at minimum," he said.

He had his pistol ready. The pistol was not a standard issue firearm. The M-11 Suppressor was developed by Hierarchy Intelligence for their agents. There was need for a high power weapon that could effectively punch through Krogan armor and hide, through biotic barriers, or other technological devices that were employed by those the Hierarchy's agents were engaging in the shadows. The M-11 is a powerful hand cannon, relatively easy to conceal, small and silent. The Alliance equivalent for it would be the not so subtle Desert Eagle Mark XI MA series pistol, chambered for the .50 Action Express Magnetic cartridge. [1]

The rest of the gear was made of light, sturdy body armor with limited active camouflage capabilities. He preferred mobility over any advanced protection. He was proceeding, constantly keeping an eye on the map. They chose this particular entry because it was here that Chellick made the most arrests. It only made sense that this is the sector with the biggest activity.

Garrus' helmet mounted camera was recording every second of it. They needed it for debriefing at the end. He did not want to stream live feed and risk being discovered via intercepted communications. Heavily encrypted radio was enough.

He came across some contraband at first. Upon closer examination of the contraband, he confirmed it as ingredients for the K14 drug the Salarians were smuggling on the station. He squeezed forward through the ever smaller tunnels. He could just fit his own body at this point. Every now and then he would see exposed circuitry from the walls, jury rigged electronic circuits attached to the exposed circuitry of the Citadel. He wondered what was their purpose.

"-found something!" he heard the voice of a Salarian from the adjacent corridor. Garrus stopped, grip tightening on the pistol. He poked his head around the corner and saw two Salarians bent over a circuit board. One, pale brown color of his face, was fine tuning something while another one, whose skin had a green tint to it, was monitoring something on his omnitool.

"Is this the signal?" the brown one asked.

"Must be. First unusual signal detected. Not the same with what the catalog of signals indicates."

'Catalog? Of signals?' Garrus asked himself. 'What in the Spirits' name are they doing?'

"Kid, any idea what they are talking about? Stay silent if you do not," Casius asked over radio. Garrus didn't broadcast back a response and stayed silent. "Metiana?"

"If I am right," Metiana chimed in, "they are talking about the various signals broadcast throughout the Citadel and from the Citadel. We've picked up five different signals being broadcast between the Citadel's Wards and one that is sent to the Mass Relay in system," she explained. "We do not know their purpose, just that they're transmitting to each other these continuous signals. Best theories Hierarchy Intelligence has revolve around synchronization between the Citadel's internal systems. The one with the Relay is unknown. The Asari and Salarians have detected them too, but they know just as much as we do. They were not the easiest to detect either. For as long as we know the Citadel, we barely know half of its secrets."

Garrus listened to the explanation. He was not aware that this was a thing – the station's wards broadcasting to each other, and the station with the Mass Relay. "In fact, these are hard to intercept signals. There could be more that we are completely unaware of. Our technology is limited right now, for we did not detect them if there are more."

"Found first. Many more left. Recalibrate for signal 11," the green Salarian instructed his partner.

"Eleven!? That many? How the hell did they do it?" Metiana asked incredulously. "We must get our hands on that circuit board! How did they build a sensor so small and complex, capable of picking up so many signals?"

"I agree. Grab the one who seems to know more. I'm moving in to the tunnel entrance to pick you up. Collect whatever devices you find interesting for investigation," Casius instructed Garrus.

He poked his head again around the corner. There was not much space to move around. The brown Salarian was with its back to Garrus, busy recalibrating the circuitry. The green one still scanned through the datapad, probably trying to compare what they were getting with what they had in that catalog of signals. They were still unaware to his presence. He reasoned he should capture the circuit board that was used to detect and measure the signals, and incapacitate and take prisoner the green Salarian.

He tapped his radio transmitter to broadcast, "I'm moving in. Be there for evacuation." Archangel activated his active camouflage and temporarily went invisible. He slowly approached the Salarians, careful to not break the silence. He was a meter from the green Salarian. Garrus raised his right hand and struck the Salarian in the head with the pistol's grip, incapacitating him. The sudden, short lived cry of sudden pain attracted the brown Salarian's attention. He turned around just in time to see Garrus' tactical cloak fade, revealing his fake Turian face.

"Hey!" the brown Salarian shouted and reached for an omniblade type of knife. He was ready to jump and stab Garrus. Unfortunately for him, Garrus had the upper hand. He leveled his pistol and fired two shots at the Salarian. The first mass accelerated round hit him in the left shoulder. He fell from the force of the impact. A good part of the flesh around the entry point was blown out like a mini explosion went off in his shoulder. The round went out the back side. The second round entered his head through the chin, going out the other side with brain fragments in tow.

"What was that?"

"It came from Arlan and Forron's station."

The two voices came from the other side of the tunnel. Fearing he would be discovered, Garrus threw the incapacitated Salarian over his left shoulder, grabbed the circuit board with the left hand and rushed to vacate the premises. He had to fit both his body and the Salarian through the narrow tunnel. He was advancing slowly.

"Arlon? Forron?" a fuzzy voice questioned.

"Forron's been shot and his sensor is missing! Start looking! Whoever did this cannot be far!"

Garrus increased the speed. They will spot him in seconds, as soon as they turn the corner to the corridor he was in. He tapped his radio again, turning it on. "Fuck! I need help! I'm being hunted down. Unknown armament on pursuers!"

"I'm there in 30 seconds, kid! Hold on!" Casius informed him.

"Attention, we have been compromised! Cut off entrances to the maintenance tunnel!"

'Fuck, there's more of them around,' Garrus thought. He looked behind and a Salarian was already on him. "Intruder found! Heading to main exit towards Rukhoi Avenue!" he shouted into his omnitool, running at the same time in an attempt to catch Garrus. The Turian finally cleared the narrowest point of the tunnel and had enough room to move just a bit. He turned and aimed at the Salarian. The latter came to an abrupt halt, realization dawning on his face. Two rounds fired from the M-11 put him down with two critical wounds.

He didn't stay to review the result of his shots. He dropped a smoke grenade from his belt and a very small kinetic barrier projector on his side of the smoke. It would stop a few bullets shot his way. Bullets which did come through the smoke. The barrier stopped them at the expense of all its possible power output. Another round came flying, never finding its mark on Garrus who was running full speed now. He fired again two rounds behind him in an attempt to delay whoever it was that was chasing him. He nearly made it to the exit when three pursuers came through the smoke, the leading one with a pistol, blazing away at Garrus. His kinetic barriers sucked up three shots, but they couldn't hold more.

He spotted the car Casius was in just as he came out of the tunnel. The older Turian shouted at him, "Get down!" and Garrus threw himself at the ground, holding the board in such manner that it wouldn't hit the ground and break. Several bullets hit Casius' skycar, two stopped by his personal kinetic barriers. He opened the passenger's window and aimed an M-9 Tempest submachine gun at Garrus' pursuers. He let loose with the SMG, dozens of mass accelerated bullets flying into the pursuers and reaping their lives. Three bloody bodies littered the tunnel entrance.

"Get in!" Casius instructed Garrus.

"Help me with this Salarian!"

Casius jumped down to help Garrus. He lifted the still unconscious Salarian from his back. Garrus, now relieved of the extra weight, stood up. With his comrade's assistance, he stuffed the now tied up Salarian in the back of the skycar. "Let's get the hell out of here," Garrus said and jumped in front of the car.

"C-SEC has been notified about gunshots in your area. One patrol is en route. You have three minutes at best before they arrive," Metiana informed them.

"Plenty of time," Garrus said. He relaxed while Casius lifted the car off the ground and sped away.

"Any surveillance camera seen us?" the driver asked Metiana.

"Negative. I'm in the public surveillance grid. Nothing had eyes on the tunnel entrance. Follow the waypoints I'm sending you to avoid any surveillance in the area."

"Understood," Casius brought up an omnitool projection with the waypoints overlaid on a map of the area. "Good work there, kid," he told Garrus. "It was stupid, but at least we have something. It's up to us to see how we can use what we learn about this, and if it has any connection to Sparatus and Pallin." He spared Garrus a glance. "Bastards nearly got you."

Garrus felt like his lower left abdomen was growing numb. He shifted in his seat, looking for a more comfortable position. But something felt off with his clothes. They felt wet and sticky against his body. He leaned forward and pain radiated from the numb spot. He grunted, attracting Casius' attention.

"What's wrong?" he inquired.

Garrus reached his left hand behind, where he felt the wet clothes. He knew what the cause was, but had to check just to be sure. He brushed over the spot and more pain was what he felt. He examined his hand and saw only royal blue blood. "I think I've been shot," he nonchalantly told Casius who immediately increased the speed.


Citadel, Zakera Ward

Archangel Hideout

"Hold still, kid!" Casius now ordered Garrus while he tended to his wound hours after the raid in the tunnels. Garrus was lying on the bed, no lingerie on it to avoid staining them of blood.

"It hurts!" the younger Turian complained. "I twitch on reflex from the pain."

Casius extracted the previous sterile bandage and disinfectant soaked tampon from the wound and replaced them with fresh ones. "You're lucky the armor plate and your exoskeleton sucked most of the kinetic energy of the round. It was stuck a centimeter at most in your flesh. Not too hard to extract. You will experience some pain in that part of your body for a month or two. None of that fancy MediGel the Humans have for quick regeneration of damaged tissue. You'll have to put up with it."

As Casius closed the lantern he used to light the wound and collect the medical instruments, Garrus slowly stood up. "That's the second time I got shot. Hope I don't make a habit of it."

"Metiana, how's our guest?" Casius questioned after he washed his hands.

"The Salarian woke up an hour or so ago. He's in the next room, waiting," the woman answered.

"What about that circuit board I fetched? Could you ascertain anything interesting from it?" Garrus asked.

Metiana sat down in her chair, spinning a combat knife on the table as she answered. "That thing is an extremely interesting piece of technology I did not think is possible. I can't even understand half of the science behind it. But, with materials and parts available on the market, and some smart… 'calibrations' as our man put it… these guys came up with a method of detecting signals in bandwidths and ranges we thought were out of reach…"

"So he didn't say much?" Garrus asked, to which she shook her head.

"No. I will have this sent to Palaven with the next Hierarchy ship that leaves for the homeworld, let the people home see what makes it tick. This could give us a massive edge in informational warfare and communications. Especially against the Humans," she said. "Salarian was quiet with me. Maybe you can make him talk."

"Then let us pay him a visit."

"Go ahead."

Garrus and Casius entered the room. Metiana stayed behind to monitor C-SEC activity. The Salarian stared at them from the very uncomfortable chair he was sitting on. It was designed for Turians, not Salarians. Garrus was wearing the usual clothes he likes to wear when inside while Casius sported a more grim look.

"So," Casius began, "you must be Arlan," but no response came from the Salarian. "Nothing to say? Yay or nay?" he asked as he started to slowly walk in circles around him.

"I wonder what he's thinking about," Garrus chimed in from his spot, leaning against the wall.

"Probably thinking of some way to escape. Look at him, eyes darting everywhere around the room and at us," Casius examined him. "You lizard, you think you're so smart, don't you?" he questioned the Salarian in a low, hushed voice. He was right in his face now. "Let me tell you something, you puke skin," he began his intimidation tactic, "there is no escape from here. We've taken everything you have, save for the clothes. We even electrocuted you with small voltage to burn any transmitter you might have implanted under your skin. You can get out of here either dead, or after you tell us what we want to know," Casius informed him and started circling him like a bird of prey once more.

"Who are y-" the Salarian wanted to ask, but Casius smashed his fist sideways into his jaw from behind.

"I ask the questions here. You answer. Not the other way around. Now, where are you from, Arlan?" he demanded. "Some backwater Terminus colony? Or a vagabond from Sur'Kesh?" The silence was his answer. Casius grabbed him by the head and smashed his face against his ankle. "The rules are as follows: you answer, you will earn good boy points with us. You can buy food and water with those good points. And your life. Don't answer my questions, or play stupid, and I beat you."

The Salarian's nose was letting loose the greenish blood of its species. Salarians don't have a nose like most other races do. Theirs is a flat space between the mouth and the eyes, with nasal openings below the eyes. The cartilage had broken from the blow.

"I'll give you some time to consider my offer, Arlan," Casius said and left the room with Garrus in tow. The door closed behind them.

"What was that?" Garrus asked.

"That bleeding will take a while to stop by itself. And it will constantly give him the sensation that he can't breathe. It will soften him up for interrogation," Casius told Garrus. "I'm going to fetch my tools for the upcoming session. I'll be back tomorrow."

Casius left the apartment like he was simply going at the office – fairly formal Turian clothes and totally unremarkable overall. Not like he assisted in a small raid on the Salarian drug trafficking ring and shot three of them the past night.

"He'll make him talk, worry not," Metiana told Garrus.

"He meant torture tools?"

"Yes."


Arcturus Eletana System, Orbit over New Rannoch

QRSV Alarei, Daro'Xen's laboratory

Many ships of the now defunct Migrant Fleet had been cannibalized for resources during the colonization of New Rannoch, Fortunately, the Quarian Republic science vessel Alarei did not share that fate. It became Admiral Daro'Xen's command after Rael'Zorah gave up his position of leader in the Special Projects branch. And she used it to conduct research aboard.

A most important meeting was taking place in the main laboratory of the Alarei. Via holographic and radio call were Zaal'Koris and Han'Gerrel. Present, in the flesh and bone, were Tali'Zorah, Daro'Xen, a Human AI, surprisingly, in an AIC uniform, and other Quarians who were going about their jobs.

"Are you sure this will work?" Koris asked. "It will be our best chance to rescue our people if Illium refuses diplomacy."

"Absolutely," Xen assured them. "We have extensively tested the virus. Even on high end power grids of Asari manufacture."

"Courtesy of Alliance Intelligence," the AI added with a small robotic smile on its face.

"According to Tali'Zorah's report, it can also be used against the Geth. Is this confirmed?" Gerrel asked.

"We cannot say without proper testing," Tali started her answer. "We did not have Geth units to test it. But the principle is the same. And our simulations with known Geth platforms yielded a 60% success rate. Of course, this number could go down if more advanced platforms have been introduced by the Geth. It will also depend on how many Geth are present, on their initial reaction," her nervous voice explained.

"What Tali is trying to say is that chances to incapacitate Geth servers are high if we have the element of surprise. The virus is extremely potent and self adapting," Xen came to her aid. "I doubt the platforms will fall to it, but once their servers are down, a good percentage of Geth programs will be inactive. They will be deprived of their nervous centre."

"If it works," Gerrel said.

"It will. I will personally oversee the operations," the AI said. "After all, I helped develop the virus. It's my brainchild."

"No poking the Geth! Not now! Not anytime soon!" Koris ordered. "We will not risk stirring them into invading the galaxy if this goes sideways. If we can talk to the G-"

"Talk to them!?" Gerrel interrupted him. "You are too much of a pacifist, Koris. There is no talking with them. Never was, not in three centuries. Never will be. They hate organics!"

"It will not be an organic to open dialogue, Han'Gerrel! It will be Alan, the first Human AI. He's a diplomat as much as you are a warmonger," Koris stated.

"Alliance Intelligence agrees that the Geth are a matter of concern," the AI interrupted their argument. "We have developed contingencies to handle them. We have plans if contact is made with them. First, let us see the liberation of your people through. But no move can be made against the Geth in the near future. Don't get your hopes up, Admiral Gerrel, for the Alliance will not support any violence against them. Everything we have is purely defensive in nature."

"Good to hear," Koris said while Gerrel seemed to curse. "Back to the topic, I have approached President Montgomery on the matter of Illium. After the Human New Year celebration, after the Shanxi ceremony, he will offer us full support for the operation."

"What does this support entail?" Tali asked.

"Besides the diplomacy part?"

"A carrier battlegroup standing by outside the system, and a stealth ship in system with the present Quarian forces," the AI completed. "The stealth vessel will be the one to launch the cybernetic attack if money and diplomacy will not buy their freedom."

"What ship are we looking at?" Tali asked. For some reason, she had a feeling.

"I believe you are already familiar with it, miss Tali'Zorah. It's the SSV Normandy."


Shanxi, Tianxia

Shanxi Military Cemetery

Snow was falling over Tianxia. Winter is long on the planet. The cooler climate makes summer short, and spring and autumn are much colder than Earth's. Winter comes early and leaves late. A thick layer of snow covered the graves of Turian, Human, Quarian and Asari fallen in the late June battle.

Snow began to gather on Fedorian's shoulders. Turians avoid two things at any cost if they can help it: water and the cold. His thick military ceremonial coat kept him warm. The metallic pauldrons were reminiscent of times old when Turians used to wear knightly like armor, in their equivalent times of the Middle Ages. They were more like a cross between a pauldron and epaulettes. His eyes were taking the sight of the numerous graves, both individual for Humans and Quarians, and mass graves for Turian soldiers and Asari mercenaries. Stone of various shapes peaked through the snow. Some were cross shaped, others were broad and curved at the top. Then there were the vertical ones. 'So much diversity even in death'. It was a hint at the number of religions followed by the natives of Earth. This was what he would expect from a species that didn't mix very much. The Turians had mixed so much their separate cultures that it came to something more akin to a common culture, with the old traditions still kept alive by traditionalists.

"FIRE!" he heard a soldier shout and one of the seven 155mm howitzers' thunder fills the cemetery and the surrounding area. Fedorian and the other alien officials were witnessing the 21 gun salute for the first time. It was a Human tradition that arose when sailing ships fired their cannons when approaching a harbor to signal that they bear no ill intent. It was a sign of friendship.

"FIRE!" and another thunderous discharge signaled the 20th shot fired. He looked at Irissa at this moment and noticed her jump just a bit at the sound of cannon fire this close to the people. He inwardly sighed. Put an Asari and a cannon in the same room and she will freak out like the world is ending. He guessed she was throwing insults at the Alliance for putting her in this situation. Her winter clothing covered her whole body, only her head exposed to the cold.

Valern caught his eye next. He volunteered to be the Salarian Union's delegate for the ceremony. The Salarians understood the importance of fostering good relations with the Humans as soon as possible. Having the councilor, while not a top ranking person but important nonetheless, attend the ceremony was meant to show the Alliance that the Salarian Union strived to push forward, past he war.

He then looked at Zaal'Koris, the de facto leader of the Quarians. The man chose to wear his insulating suit, even if his and his people's immune system had greatly improved from applications of advanced genetic and medical research. He seemed to notice Fedorian's authoritative gaze fall on him as he slightly adjusted his head to look at Fedorian. Next to Koris was Zorah.

What surprised Fedorian was the Human leader's proximity to him. President Montgomery was shoulder to shoulder with Fedorian. When he first arrived on the colony, the president was there to greet him. He and the other delegates were received by a military honor guard. He was very surprised how far the Humans went to greet them, or him specifically, with military honors. He'd never seen so much martial culture blend with an overabundance of other values and ideas like it happened with the Humans.

The Asari martial culture is next to absent. The Salarians use it only for subterfuge or brute force when in deep shit. The only time a dalatrass brings military to formally welcome a foreign dignitary is to have them as snipers for their own security. The Batarians bring a dozen troops only to try to scare the 'guests' for the upcoming negotiations, or just as a show of force. The Humans… they seem to genuinely welcome him, show respect with this common tradition. And Montgomery standing right beside him showed solidarity and willingness to open up in face of animosity between the two nations.

"FIRE!" and the 21st discharge sounded the end of the salute.

Wrex was by the other side of Montgomery. The Krogan looked unfazed. In fact, he was very interested by the ongoing ceremony. With the cannons now silent, Montgomery detached from the group of officials. He walked down the steps from the small podium set up for the VIPs. He was clad in the regular black formal clothing Humans wear when at work or at special events. A similarly thick coat covered him from neck to just above his knees. He stopped by the line of Alliance Marines. They were arranged in what Fedorian thought resembles a cohort – ten columns, eight man deep. The ones in the first line carried flowers arranged in a very ornate fashion.

Montgomery looked at the Marines who stood straight at attention. A group of twelve Marines detached from the block. Two large, extravagant flower wreaths were held by two Marines each. The rest held M7 Lancer assault rifles close to their chests. They were also in ceremonial attire, cold weather issue. The presidents was at the front, leading the Marines. His every step was recorded by the cameras of the reporters.

He ascended the steps to the small memorial erected in the middle of the cemetery, where the ceremony was taking place. The memorial looked like nothing extraordinary to Fedorian. Turians had these kind of memorials erected to remember the fallen in war. Looks like the Humans have them as well. It was a big, square wall with names of the fallen written on all four sides. More than 100,000 names were crammed on the memorial's outer faces, names written in English, Keelish, Turian and Asari dialects. Each name in its native planet's dominant dialect. The Marines slowly put down the flower wreaths at the base of the monument.

The Humans then turned around and slowly descended down the stairs. While the Marines fell back into their block, the president took his place by the other officials. He went to the microphone. He cleared his throat as he prepared to deliver a speech.

"On this very place, just six months ago, Turian soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 27th Legion, fought the 6th and 7th Shanxi Militia," he began. "The militiamen had put up a final defense after their lines had been broken in the forest just ahead of the cemetery. Today, we came together not as enemies, but as friends, to remember the men and women who died fighting a battle that should have never taken place," he paused for dramatic effect. "The soil here is stained by the blood of martyrs of both sides. Let this be the last bloodshed our two peoples will experience. From the purple that stained this colony, may flowers of peace and prosperity grow between Humanity and the wider galaxy," he said and retreated to his spot, giving Koris a look.

Koris stepped down from the VIP podium and approached his squad of former Migrant Fleet, now Republic, Marines. His procession was just as simple. The Quarian Marines raised the Republic's flag on the middle flagpole, near the Systems Alliance flag. The pole was at least 15 meters tall, and the flag was big as well.

"You all know our story," he addressed the audience, both Human, Quarian, and other races, from the stairs leading up to the monument. "We've been wandering the interstellar void ever since the Geth drove us from our homeworld. But good fortune came to us and we were happy to meet the Systems Alliance. They've given us renewed hope. A hope denied to us by the Citadel Council," he looked to Irissa, Valern and Fedorian. "The 144 Marines who are buried in this cemetery have fought to keep the dream alive, a dream the Council wanted to deny us by force. I do not want to squander in the past, but neither do I want to forget how many times we've been wronged. I hope we won't forget the mistakes of the past as we step into the future together. That we all learn from them, make amends and forge new ties."

Next was Fedorian to approach his small contingent of Hierarchy soldiers. The Turian honor guard that was with him was not geared up in the standard battle armor the Hierarchy issued to all its arms. They were all in traditional military cloths. Silver coats adorned with many decorations, both of aesthetic and military nature, covered their upper bodies. Thick pants covered their legs and winter boots their feet. They wore traditional steel combat helmet. Their shape was very similar to their contemporary iterations – a round shape on the front side, with an elongated coverage behind their heads. Each trooper had a scarf covering their necks.

They walked up the steps to the monument. One trooper was also a flag bearer, holding in his hands a battle flag by the looks of it. Fedorian pivoted on the spot like a true career officer, forgetting for a few minutes that he was also a politician, and extended his open arms to the flag bearer. The trooper handed it to the Primarch who grabbed it firmly in his arms. Fedorian pivoted again 180 degrees on the same spot and took a few steps forward.

"This is the banner of the 27th Legion, whose soldiers are resting here. I shall leave this parting gift, in the name of the Hierarchy, for the soldiers who died honoring their station and… following criminal orders," he said with great regret. Fedorian truly wished this charade would not have happened. But this what he gets when he listens to the Council.

Fedorian approached his troopers again. Another soldier handed him a folded piece of cloth. The Primarch took it in his hands and walked to the empty flag pole. He, by himself, unfurled a rather simple flag and raised it on the flag pole, to the same height as the Alliance and Quarian flags. The flag was divided horizontally by two colors. On the upper half was the silver color. On the bottom half was a dark blue stripe. And, in the middle of the left half of the flag, was a Turian face insignia. The flag began to flutter in the wind with the other two.

"Blue is for the blood we've shed. It is a reminder of our countless wars," Fedorian started to explain. "And a reminder that all Turians are brothers and sisters, tied by our common blood, no matter where in the sky we are. Silver is for us, who, as Matriarch Dardana Isona put it during the Rebellions, 'are a people of steel', and for the silver of Palaven. The Turian insignia is again a reminder of our people. Let this flag fly over Shanxi's soil, not as an occupier's mark, but as a mark of equality and friendship between us.

We've proven already that we can work together. On Tuchanka, Human and Turian efforts to reclaim the Krogan wastelands are in full swing, with Alliance and Hierarchy warships defending the system from possible aggression. I believe this is a change that happened too late, it took a new galactic power and too many lives to come into effect. For too long have we lingered on ancient grudges, impractical policies, and false claims. I am willing to take that one step forward. And I'm confident that the rest of the galaxy will do it with us."

His sympathies shined through his speech. Montgomery was able to read between the lines, as did Irissa and many other people following the ceremony, present or in front of a TV, or even via their omnitools. This was one more sign that the Hierarchy under Fedorian's administration was planning to distance itself from the Council. Fedorian's choice of words would bring him much trouble in the near future.

With Fedorian retreating to the podium and his soldiers to the block of soldiers, it was time for Irissa to speak about peace and the kind on behalf of the Republics. Fedorian did not register much of what she had to say. Instead, he focused on the Human leader, President Montgomery. The latter smiled at him and nodded once.

Then, he looked at the gathered people on the sidelines. Individuals of various races were present – Humans and AIs, Quarians, and a few dozen of each Citadel races – Turians, Asari, Salarians, Batarians, and a few Elcor and Volus. But one Asari caught his attention out of the crowd. She looked very familiar. 'Atelas Razea,' he thought to himself. Recognition dawned on his face, his mouth opening just a little to take in the cold air. 'Intelligence was absolutely right.'

After the formalities were over and done with, Fedorian excused himself for the short break until they answer a few questions to the press and have a formal dinner and approached Razea in the crowd. Seeing that, two of his security men followed behind him. He didn't have to plough through the people present, many going to visit a grave or see the memorial up close.

"Greetings, Admiral," he saluted her.

"Primarch Fedorian," she slightly bowed her head in respect. "Quite the surprise to approach me, the former admiral," she emphasized the word.

"You are still an admiral to me."

"Not according to any legitimate military organization."

"I am aware of what transpired after you returned to Thessia. Know that you have a supporter in me. What you did wasn't pleasant, but it was the right thing – to save your subordinates' lives, unlike General Arterius," Fedorian said.

"I know I did the right thing, Primarch," she said somewhat annoyed, as if people thought she didn't believe she truly did the right thing in the given context, as if she was doubting herself.

"I do wonder, though, why choose to flee to the Alliance instead of something more… familiar?" he asked.

Atelas looked at the Primach with a small smile curling up the corners of her mouth. "Besides the obvious safety reasons? To piss off everyone who forced me into this."

Fedorian didn't actually know how to react at that information. In his mind, doing something just to piss off a person, no matter who it was, was a childish act unbefitting of an adult, even more so when given adult used to be a flag officer of the most advanced Citadel naval force. "I believe it is something only an Asari – maybe a Human – would base their actions on. Quite telling, unfortunately."

"Are you here to insult me and my species, Primarch Fedorian?"

"No. I was merely making an observation. I did want to ask you, though, what will you do now? Professionally, I mean," Fedorian asked.

"The Alliance went over my qualifications and decided I would make a good biotic teacher for Human children and counselor to the Alliance Parliament and Presidential Office when it comes to interspecies relations and on the Asari," she answered. "I'll leave for Arcturus in a week to occupy my new posts."

"I assume you will follow courses for easier integration into Human society?"

She shook her head. "Not the case. Similarities are big enough to mitigate that aspect very much. I will, though, read on that topic."

He nodded. "Counselor?" Fedorian asked as he remembered one of her two new jobs.

"Far fetched word. They ask me for general input, but they will still do as they please."

"The Humans seem willing to trust you enough to offer you this post," the Turian remarked.

She scoffed at the notion. "Trust is very hard to earn, especially with the Alliance. Especially after what my last mission was. Let me tell you this, Primarch – they preach tolerance and friendship, but my every move is under the watchful eyes of the state intelligence agency."

"I wouldn't have it any other way if I was to be in their place," he stated, totally understanding where the Alliance attitude was coming from.

"Primarch, sir, the press conference will start in three minutes," the guard behind him notified Fedorian who nodded his head in acknowledgment.

"I have to go," he said as he turned to face Atelas again. "It is good to know that you are faring well, Admiral."

"Likewise, Primarch Fedorian."

As Fedorian walked away, a prying Human slowly backed away into the crowd. They have found the Asari they were looking for.


Unknown location, Tartarus Installation

Cerberus HQ, Agent Lawson's Office

Miranda Lawson distinguished herself as a top agent of Alliance Intelligence Command, the all encompassing state intelligence agency of the Systems Alliance, and a very good manager. For it was these two selling points of hers that made her Harper's favorite pick when he was looking for someone to lead the Cerberus Division. The hounds at the gates of hell.

"-event was very interesting. President Montgomery's attitude and intentions were clear – he intends to open up to the wider galactic community in a very short time. Do you believe this proactive attitude will yield beneficial results for the Human race, mister Udina?" the reporter asked.

Miranda used the knife on her desk to cut an apple in half and slice it in smaller pieces. She neatly arranged the apple slices on a plate before putting the knife aside.

"I am afraid Montgomery's open and very friendly attitude towards the aliens is very concerning. I can totally understand and support the Krogan cause. But the Turians? Batarians? I cannot approve that attitude with them," Udina said. Miranda was watching the interview while discussing business with Jack. She took a bite from a slice, offering Jack too.

"This sorry ass again?" Jack asked. "Why are you watching this, cheerleader?"

"He and Montgomery are the top dogs when it comes to influencing politics in the Alliance. I really want to hear this interview live," Miranda answered.

"The Turian-, nay, the Council, attacked us mere half year ago. Shanxi was devastated by that attack. It was a Turian legion and a joint naval force that sought to put the Quarians under the boot, and us with them. And I don't buy the story that the commanding officer went rogue, in blatant ignorance of regulations."

"He's still pissed he lost the elections," Jack commented.

"Yeah," Miranda agreed, chewing on the apple slice in her mouth. "Let's go over what you had to report."

"The birds don't chirp," Jack said with a sigh. She was referring to Desolas and the few Turian indoctrinated officers they had in custody at Tartarus Installation, transferred from the penal colony of Alcatraz. "I've put them through the worst I could think of. Nothing other than gibberish. No word about this brainwash Harper suspects them of. One even had a meltdown."

"I think the Turian prisoners are a lost cause. I'll pass them to the science team as lab rats. What about the Asari mercenaries? Did you squeeze anything useful out of them?"

"So you think we should be much more isolationist?" the reporter asked Udina.

"All I say is that we proceed with caution. Right now, we are opening Shanxi to the whole galaxy. I will not argue the economic benefits it will bring us, but what of our security? The Navy has stationed a sizable force in system, with the orbital defense network accounted for, Shanxi – the gateway to the greater galaxy – may seem well defended. But what about infiltrators and saboteurs posing as merchants or migrants? About the promise of allowing access to Prothean and other archeological sites?"

Jack shook her head as she listened to Udina. He, obviously, severely underestimated the AIC. Every alien, coming in or going out, was thoroughly screened. "One of Eclipse's main bases of operations in the Attican Traverse."

"Oh?" this got Miranda's attention.

"What I got is that these wankers have multiple bases of operations across the galaxy, mostly in the Traverse and the Terminus. That's a pretty way off from us. Thing is, we have the location of a major base relatively close to us. It basically keeps Eclipse operations running in the Traverse," Jack explained. "Thought this might interest you and Harper. Teach those maggots a lesson or two."

It would be an idea to give Eclipse a bloody nose. After all, it was they who committed the overwhelming crimes at Shanxi – killing prisoners, lining up and shooting civilians, using civilians as shields. If not for the intervention of Turian officers and soldiers, this would have escalated into widespread massacre. Harper was furious when he first found out about it. He did promise the day of retribution would come. But how would that reflect on the Alliance? The Navy could not drop in, blast the mercenaries and retreat. The galaxy would find out. And it would taint the image Montgomery wants to build for Humanity. Coming off as warmongering and vengeful brutes would have major negative impact on relations with the other races, including the Quarians.

"Are you referring to …the former flag officer of the Asari military, Atelas Razea? Like her being given asylum in Alliance space?"

"Indeed, I am. She was the one leading the reserve fleet. I could not, with good conscience, accept her under my roof, offer her a place at my table."

"I believe the Corsairs will be up for this task," Miranda said. "Both I and Harper don't want to let Eclipse get away scot-free. According to Brooks' data, Jona Sederis is a wanted person in Turian space. She's also wanted in a few Asari Republics."

"What did she do?" Jack asked.

"In the Republics? Organized crime, smuggling, arms trafficking, and kidnapping. In the Hierarchy? An incident some 11 years ago, Eclipse hijacked and looted several transport ships operated by Elanus Risk Control Services. Crewmen had been killed. Hierarchy Intelligence tracked the operation all the way to Sederis and the participants to the raid. Turian authorities issued a reward for her capture," Miranda answered.

"-played around the laws. Or around inexistent laws, to be more precise," Udina's voice attracted the two women's attention again. "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even in its Revision of 2110, is not 100% clear on such matters, leaving room for interpretation. Ambassador Goyle should not have granted miss Razea the fill forms for political asylum. Legally, her request should not even be taken into consideration. Terra Firma will contest miss Razea's acceptance for asylum at the Supreme Court of the Systems Alliance.

"How do you feel the Batarian situation?"

"Again, I am most concerned, especially after what happened to our men on the Citadel af-" Udina went on to say, but Jack turned off the display as she finished the last apple slice.

"Hey!" Miranda protested.

"This guy's eating shit. I don't want to listen to his sewer," Jack said and lifted the remote in the air with her biotics, placing it in her hand. "How are we going to get us the excuse to hit those blue bitches?" she asked the obvious. Jack knew that Harper would not beat around the bush. Neither would Miranda. The Director was the vengeful fella. If they wanted to make Eclipse pay for Shanxi, they would find the excuse to do so.

Miranda sighed. "The Navy was able to score a crippling hit on the Eclipse transport ship that was at Shanxi. It was a lucky shot, really. A Chimera missile destroyed the bridge and killed the crew. We've salvaged it and reconstructed it according to ship profiles provided by the Quarians."

"Classy," Jack dryly noted. "False flag ops. You will have my report with the few details tonight. But I want in on this op."

Miranda smiled. "I didn't even imagine leaving you out of this."


Shanxi, Tianxia

Office of Colonial Affairs

The van was full of Batarians armed to the teeth. They carried rifles and shotguns. To be more precise, they fielded Mattock assault rifles and Raider shotguns, both of Batarian design and production. Their bodies were covered by light armor plates. The driver of the van was a Human, surprisingly. He looked pretty unremarkable. Their target: the Shanxi branch of the Office of Colonial Affairs, the Tianxia office.

"Listen!" their leader began. "We will go in, kill every single guard and take hostages. We'll stay in there until our demands are met. No budging!"

"YES, SIR!" the other five acknowledged.

The van came to a halt and settled on the asphalt on an adjacent street to the building that serves as the local office for the Office of Colonial Affairs. The Batarians walked out, weapons at the ready. The civilians around immediately began to flee in panic at the sight of armed aliens. They rounded the corner of the building, walking up the steps to the entrance. The first obstacle they had to face was a gendarme that noticed the fleeing civilians and approached to investigate. Most governmental offices were guarded by gendarmes.

"Stop!" he shouted and reached for the sidearm, but was gunned down by the leading Batarian. The light patrol gear he was equipped with was not designed to stop objects at such speed, only knives and blunt weapons.

"Get moving!" the leader ordered and his men stormed the building.

One more gendarme was stationed outside and was aware of what just happened. He immediately jumped behind a stair solid wall handle. The lawman reached for his radio, "We have armed assailants at the Office of Colonial Affairs! Six armed aliens, Batarians, I think!"

He unslung his sidearm and peaked over the railing. A Batarian with a Mattock rifle spotted him and fired his way. A civilian man that was rushing down the stairs was hit and killed. The lawman responded in kind with his firearm. The infamous Shanxi Hostage Crisis had begun.


[1] Now, I know the M-11 is a weapon of Human design in canon, but I changed its origins in this story. And, as you can see, most popular and long lived firearms of Humanity made it to be redesigned with magnetic accelerating barrels. The Desert Eagle, an icon, I'm sure you all agree.


NOTE2: Thank you all for reading the latest chapter, folks! So, as you can see, as evevee put it in his On the Illusion of Might, chapter 14, "fecal matter begins to make contact with the rotating cooling device". The title is pretty ominous too. And transparent. A metaphor while not a metaphor at the same time. Could not come up with a better chapter name than this one for these chapters. Another reference to Hammock. I take many chapter titles from there. Too… fitting! I also hope you found the short poem interesting.

NOTE3: What can you expect in next chapters? Let me tell you: Garrus and Hierarchy Intelligence will start to make heads and tails of what is happening inside the Citadel's tunnels, Atelas Razea will be again under the matriarchy's spotlight for all the wrong reasons, the Alliance reacts to the events unfolding at Shanxi, the Alliance is preparing to strike against its enemies, the Turians unveil some of their new plans and old toys, Fireteams Viper & Immortal, and shit is hitting the fan overall!

NOTE4: I do not know when the nest update will come. Rewrite for the first chapter is slow, and my Halo story is stagnating because I'm in a writer's block. Basically, I'm undecided which option to choose. I think I'll write them in parallel and see which is the best. I'll also have to work on two homeworks, bachelor degree project, and the final semester exams will start in January. Probably will update in February for both stories. I apologize for the delay. Maybe I will squeeze a short chapter until then. I have some ideas.

NOTE5: Happy New Year, everyone! Stay cheeki breeki! And keep offering feedback via PMs or reviews! It's what makes me improve and keeps every writer write more.

Minor edit by moving the Quarian scene up, it was messing the timeline of the chapter because I forgot to move it up prior to upload.


A STORY BROUGHT TO YOU BY Apollonir