"I'm so glad my gun has an infrared scope," Garrus muttered, as he pulled the trigger. Behind the billowing smoke, an orange-armored figure fell with a distorted cry and a clatter of metal on tile.

"SAM?" Ryder queried. A half-second later, hostile figures were outlined in red. Alec brought up his assault rifle, and unloaded.

Tali stared at the Atlas mech's cybernetic defenses with undisguised glee. Quickly tapping buttons on her omni-tool, she giggled. Her attack-drone lifted itself into the air with a whirr, as she loaded a subversion program into its system. Then she directed it towards the mech with an outstretched finger and another uncharacteristic laugh.

"Where are they, EDI?" Jane muttered. The smoke cleared from her view, as EDI layered a virtual copy of the room over her visor. Jane's attention drew itself to the double-file line of Cerberus forces filing through the door under the smoke's concealment. With a yell, she charged. Blue energy sloughed out of her path as she blasted towards her target. Carried by a cone of biotic power, she eviscerated the Cerberus infantryman she'd chosen -one of the more heavily-armored infantry units- with an outstretched omni-blade. A nova of blue expanded around her, knocking a pair of troopers off their feet. She finished them off with individual shots from her Carnifex pistol, tearing through their moderately-armored helmets like a hot knife through butter. Shepard turned, noticing that she'd drawn the attention of the Atlas Mech. It fired, barely missing her as she ducked behind a pillar. She unloaded her hand-cannon into another cerberus infantryman, and reloaded. Ducking out of cover, she aimed the pistol at the mech's joints, scanning for weak spots. An attack-drone appeared through the smoke, flying down behind the mech. There was a hissing flash of white, and the bipedal steel tank lurched. Red lights on the vehicle's weapons flickered green, indicating that the safeties were on. A sparking blast sprayed across the inside of the armor-suit's cockpit, as the control console overloaded. The pilot screamed, shuddering violently, and slumped over with a muted sizzling sound. Jane noticed where blackened holes indicated where bolts of electricity had entered his armor. It didn't look like the pilot would be getting back up.

"Run, Shepard!" a quarian voice -Tali's voice- played over Jane's radio. "That's going to explode!"

"Damn!" Shepard, cursed. Jumping out of cover, she focused her attention on a Cerberus trooper on the other side of the room. Enveloping herself in a biotic cone of energy, Shepard charged again, traversing the distance in a second.

A moment later, the Atlas mech exploded in a searing ball of fire. Garrus watched a few bodyguards duck into cover, in fear of the sparking shrapnel bouncing around the room. The turian centered his sights on another target. An orange-and-white helmet developed a terminal case of perforation. Garrus smiled, and repeated the process.

"Bring in backup!" a distorted voice called out in panic. "We're getting slaughtered!"

"Somebody forgot to turn off their external speakers." Tali laughed.

...

"Scanners are picking up a Cerberus gunship headed for Nos Astra spaceport, as well as a hostile shuttle leaving on an outbound trajectory." A voice explained across the Illium emergency channels. "The gunship is coming in from the south, so it looks like they won't be in sight of the GARDIAN array at the Kechlu building. The shuttle is heading out of the city at supersonic speeds. We're not sure why, although it's possible that the Cerberus stealth ship never left the atmosphere."

"They've got about fifteen senators stuffed in that shuttle." Aethya's voice brought a burst of static. "Idiots decided that the best time for a shopping trip was during a security lockdown. Cerberus troops were on them the moment they left the building. We can't let them escape."

"What do you propose, then?" Lidanya gave her input, tired and frustrated. "We're not going to shoot down a vehicle full of captured senators."

"No, but I've got a tracking beacon on it." Aethyta sounded supremely satisfied with herself. "I've got a guy with a plan."

"I hope whoever that is knows what they're doing." came the other matriarch's reply. "Cerberus leadership is already sending more demands. I'll try and delay as long as possible."

"Gunship!" Alec Ryder yelled.

Sunlight glinted off of the sleek black body of a mantis gunship, as it blasted into view. Heavy guns on the craft's wings opened fire, tearing through the 'bulletproof' glass of the decorational picture window in seconds. A yell went up among the bodyguards as they called, "Get in cover!" and other variations of the same idea to their friends and allies.

Missiles followed, targeting anything large or heavy enough to serve as cover. With a multitude of staccato popping noises and roaring gunshots, a mass of bodyguards opened fire on the more dangerous target. The gunship lurched precariously as bullets slammed into its armoured undercarriage. Its barriers quivered, but withstood the onslaught.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ryder spotted one of the quarian admirals as the alien dove out of cover. Alec blinked, surprised by the readings coming from the quarian's omni-tool. With a high-pitched buzz, the gunship brought its weapons to bear on a bodyguard not ten feet from Ryder's position. He ducked down into cover with a muffled curse, as a salarian he'd been talking to not ten minutes ago was vaporized. A few seconds later, when the ex-N7 soldier stood to unload another clip at the hostile craft, he noticed that same quarian admiral standing tall in front of the shattered picture window. The migrant fleet admiral's omni-tool was held outstretched. As he scanned it, SAM overlaid a plethora of warning insignias into Alec's visor.

Then the quarian pushed a button, and unleashed hell. A small projectile glittered, as it rapidly closed the distance between the admiral and the gunship. When it touched the craft's barriers, it exploded violently. A ball of flame engulfed the gunship, blasting both wings off to either side with a tremendous *Boom!* and a mushroom cloud reminiscent of the M920 Cain. What wreckage that remained of the craft fell swiftly towards the ground, hundreds of feet below.

"I told you it would work, Raan!" yelled the quarian admiral -partially singed, as he'd been the closest to the blast zone. "Now who wants to buy a Cobra Rocket-Propelled Grenade!" he capered, ecstatic. A few shots buzzed by him, and he laughed enthusiastically while an especially burly quarian marine dragged him into cover.

"SAM, tell me you caught that on video." Ryder couldn't help but grin, as he and the rest of the defending forces laid waste to whatever Cerberus troops remained.

"Yes, Alec. The last seventeen minutes and twenty-two seconds have been recorded for the purpose of after-action reporting and proof of guilt."

Five minutes later, everything even remotely hostile had been dealt with. A few proximity mines had been disarmed, along with a trio of anti-infantry turrets. Fifty-something orange and white armoured corpses lay strewn across the tiled floor, which by now was thoroughly charred, bloodstained, and shattered. Jagged chunks of glass had sprayed across the room under the gunship's onslaught, and some dignitaries had the small cuts and scrapes on exposed skin to prove it. A few areas of the floor were cracked, such as the epicenter of Jane's Nova. And the elephant in the room was the twisted, blackened pile of steel and alloys that comprised the remains of the Atlas mech. The scent of copper, ozone, burnt flesh, and smoke filled the air.

"Alec?" Jien Garson's quivering voice cut through the muttering hum of panicked conversation. A few aliens sobbed wildly, at various ends of the room. One of Shepard's crew tended to an injured asari at the far doorway, giving her medi-gel. The group of quarians had lost two of their marines, and the younger female quarian with the oh-so-effective attack drone had engaged the admirals in a muttered discussion. "Alec?" Garson repeated, this time getting through to him.

"What is it?" Ryder turned in her direction.

"Is this…" she made a vague gesture with both hands. "...this attack finally over?"

"We'll probably be safe for now, at least." Alec replied. "But there's no telling. Cerberus is a nasty organization, and I've got no idea why they're here. We should probably get off-planet as soon as possible."

"Oh no." Garson murmured, eyes distant. "Are those-" she pointed a shaking finger out the shattered floor-to-ceiling window. "-missiles?"

...

"By the goddess." An analyst murmured on the bridge of the Destiny Ascension. "Admiral!" the asari called out. "Cerberus ground forces are launching missiles! Based on the quantity, I'd say they're firing everything they've got."
Lidanya closed her eyes, and sent a quick prayer to Athame.

...

Ryder spun around. His eyes widened, as they settled on the multitude of rapidly-approaching dots. He could see their smoke-trails, where the missiles had left behind a byproduct of their chemical propellent. Some of them exploded, still kilometers away, as they were cut down by GARDIAN laser-fire. Far more stayed true to their course. "SAM," he murmured. "Amplify my next sentence."

"Acknowledged." the AI replied.

Ryder composed himself, and yelled, "WE'VE GOT MISSILES INCOMING! GET DOWN!" His voice, amplified tenfold through his helmet's speakers, echoed off of nearby buildings, and forced many delegates within the mostly-destroyed waiting-room to cover their ears and wince at his volume.

"Alec, it appears-" SAM announced, "-that Cerberus forces are firing all of their available munitions at this location. I recommend immediate evacuation."

Ryder cursed. "I'm not leaving all of these people to die, damn it! Give me another option, SAM." As he spoke, an asari commando stepped rapidly towards the shattered window, and raised her arms. A ball of purple-blue energy appeared in her hands, and rapidly increased in size. "What are you-" Alec managed, before he realized exactly what the asari was attempting. "SAM, help me out!" he cried urgently as he joined the asari. A sphere of energy appeared in his palms, and he held them out. Growing in size, his own biotic barrier enmeshed itself with the commando's. Around them, the sphere- now one massive biotic shield -grew in size.

"EDI," a voice murmured, somewhere off to his left, and Shepard herself added her strength to the Barrier, aided by her own asari crewmember. The sphere grew further, and glowed more brightly. Ryder felt as if it had somehow gained a feeling of implacable solidity.

The leading few missiles of the explosive barrage began impacting the shield with a thunderous roar, sending explosive shockwaves and shudders through the building. The roar soon became a constant bass crash, as more and more missiles began to impact the barrier. Sweat poured down the inside of Alec's armor, as he struggled to keep the barrier up. It was clear that the other three biotics were having similar issues. Shepard's asari companion -Liara, Ryder thought her name was- collapsed to a knee under the strain.

"I'm an archeologist." She spat through gritted teeth. "I dig up rocks. I don't-" she groaned with effort, and stopped talking in favor of concentrating. Half-delirious, Ryder glanced off to the side. A part of him was surprised to see how many people had their omni-tools out and capturing video. The other part was busy making sure that he didn't get annihilated. The thunderous wave of explosive power abated for a second, before continuing. It was slowing, at least. Ryder looked down in surprise at the ground. It was closer than he remembered. He'd been standing a moment ago. He pushed all his strength into the barrier, desperately keeping it steady. When had he fallen to a knee? In his peripheral vision, he noticed that Liara had collapsed. She was being tended to by a quarian and a salarian. Shepard kept odd company, Alec mused, in the portion of his brain not completely occupied with the biotic shield. The asari who had first brought up the shield -Barissa? Sarissa? Alec hadn't caught her name- swayed dangerously on her feet. More worryingly, the barrier flickered slightly.

"Alec!" SAM's voice called out in panic.

"What is it, SAM?" Alec acknowledged, replying sluggishly. His mouth wasn't moving as he wanted it to, and his hands had developed a quiver usually associated with the ancient and extremely infirm.

"You need to stop this!" The AI broadcast, displaying a combination of emotions. Anger, fear, frustration, and underneath all that, a core of worry. "Alec," SAM pleaded, "Your biotic implant is heating up too much. If this goes on much longer, you'll kill yourself!"

"I won't let these people-" He stumbled.

"No, Alec. This isn't what Ellen would want. The Initiative can always fix your body, and your headpiece is nigh-on impenetrable. But if you boil your brain..." The AI didn't need to explain how bad that would be.

"SAM-" frustrated and exhausted, Ryder tried to argue.

"Please, Alec." The AI begged.

Alec Ryder, in that moment, watched his life flash before his eyes. Weighing the options, he considered whether or not to hold the barrier, and risk near-certain death. But then his thoughts caught themselves on something.

Three specific somethings.

"Scott." Alec murmured. "Sara."

His children. And then, "Ellen." his wife.

Alec Ryder opened his hands, releasing his hold on the biotic barrier. He collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily. His vision swam before his eyes. Black spots danced across his sight. He stared back up at the biotic shield interposed between the window and the onslaught of explosive death. He hadn't felt this vulnerable in years. A pain in the back of his head -his biotic implant- slowly subsided, as it cooled.

Only now were the missile impacts really slowing by any significant margin, but even that didn't make the outlook any brighter, as Sarissa fell to her knees. Her arms seemed to refuse to behave the way she wanted them to, as she struggled to keep them raised against the explosive onslaught.

Shepard still stood. She was unmoving, like a safe port in a storm. The spherical barrier slowly began to reduce in size, though, as a look of deeper concentration flickered across her face. Jane stepped forwards like Atlas carrying the world, until she stood at the very edge of the building. A thick haze of smoke and other fumes filled the air, and shrapnel, shattered glass, and blood coated the floor. The incoming missiles weighed heavy on her barrier- because it was her barrier now. Sarissa -the asari who had started the barrier- had fully collapsed, twitching, not a few seconds ago. Jane struggled against the shield, trying to keep it in position. It flickered for a second, before the impacts of the missiles suddenly increased in speed, building once again to a crescendo of deafening light and sound. Jane gritted her teeth, pushing all her will out through her arms. Despite everything, the sphere began to collapse, pushing inwards. She redoubled her effort, but still the barrier shuddered, threatening to collapse. Two missiles impacted at once, and the shield shook like a bubble close to bursting-

-And then something was singing. A bird, of some kind. The melody and the tune it sang seemed to echo through reality, in one inexorable major-chord. The air filled with the scent of citrus, and a cool breeze cleared the filthy air. EDI was yelling something in Jane's ears about 'overheating your biotic amp,' but she couldn't hear the AI over the supernatural music.

It was Phoenix song, she realized. Harry had described it to her once, and only once. He had sounded wistful, and nostalgic, and lonely. But his words still rang true. "The most beautiful music you've ever heard," he'd said. "But it's not music. It's something else, something curved in a world of straight lines. It defies every explanation I've ever heard. There's nothing else like it." He'd been nearly fervent, but certain of one thing at the end of his lecture. "You'll know what it is it as soon as you hear it."
With a force of will that almost seemed easy, as she listened to the phoenix song, Jane spread her arms, and forced her biotic barrier outwards. She didn't notice, but the edges of her fingertips began to smoke. Her eyes lit up like beacons of green light, and her feet lifted a few inches off the ground. At the base of her skull, her biotic implant glowed white-hot, then ejected itself from its socket. Still the barrier remained up, as blue energy pooled in Jane's hands. The missile barrage slowed to a crawl, and stopped with a last impact. Noise like thunder echoed from the walls of skyscrapers both near and far, as the echoes of the explosives returned to their source. The breeze wafted away the last of the dust and smoke clogging the air, revealing cloudy blue skies.

Shepard let the barrier drop with a few deep breaths. She stumbled back, and took a sip of water from a canteen at her hip. Looking up at the sky, she spotted a ship descending rapidly through the clouds towards her position. She recognized the ship, and felt a flash of happiness travel through her veins.

"Hah!" she laughed. "We're safe now. That's the Nyx." A delighted mumble ran through the crowd at her outburst. She watched the ship's contours as it twisted midair, orienting itself horizontally. With the whine of thrusters, the ship descended into the forest of skyscrapers barely two hundred feet away. The ship's loading bay opened, and a small black shuttle shot towards Jane's position.

"That's Harry." she added unnecessarily, as the rest of her crew gathered their weapons. "I think he's worried." She picked up her own pistol, and checked her omni-tool.

'YOUR BIOTIC AMP IS OFFLINE,' a new message read. EDI must have transmitted that directly to her omni-tool, Jane mused. She reached up to touch the socket at the base of her skull- and found it empty. She turned around, and saw the molten remains of her biotic amp on the ground. She looked up, and watched as Harry's shuttle hovered inside through the broken picture window. It landed with the soft whine of vectoring thrusters and an eezo-core reversing polarity.

The side door of the craft opened, and Harry stepped out, gun in one hand, and wand in the other. He quickly sheathed both as soon as he noticed Jane and her team intact and ready to go. "Thank god you're all okay." he muttered, as he gazed around the room. Jane waved to get his attention.

"I don't think my amp was supposed to do that." she began, while pointing at the still-red-hot remains of her biotic amplifier. Harry's face lit up in understanding.

"That's a safety measure." he explained, then backtracked. "I mean, it ejects itself it it starts overheating to the point where it can do too much brain damage."

"It was white-hot when it launched itself out of your skull." a still-recovering Alec Ryder interjected. He'd pulled himself to a seated position, leaning against a gunshot-ridden bench. "But you certainly didn't look like you needed it."

"You must have been under incredible stress for it to do that." Harry nodded.

"That's right." Jane replied. "Although I've never felt better." She seemed confused. "Something started… Singing."

"Phoenix song?" the wizard guessed. "I've felt something similar."

"Yeah."

"Well, I brought a spare amp for you." Harry held up a package. "EDI probably wouldn't have let me leave without it." He pulled it from a sterile plastic sleeve, and spun his finger counterclockwise, indicating that Jane was to turn around. She turned on her heel, and he slipped the device into the plug at the base of her skull with a *click*.

Instantly, Jane winced, as EDI announced the full range of her displeasure through the biotic amp, speaking directly into her mind. "Probability suggests that you should have died!" The AI pronounced. "Shepard, you must be more careful in future."

"Will do, EDI." Shepard replied.

"Excuse me," Ryder interjected. "I'd like to thank you for saving these people. You're truly an incredible biotic soldier...Or just reckless." he joked. "Have you heard of the Andromeda Initiative?"

"No, I don't believe I have." Shepard replied, wary.

"It's a bunch of whackjobs-" Harry joked, "-trying to go explore Andromeda when we've barely mapped two percent of the Milky Way."

"I heard one percent." Ryder inquired.

"Eh. The figure changes all the time." Harry replied, blase about the whole conversation. He looked down at his omni-tool, and back up. "So Cerberus managed to capture a couple senators." he added in a conversational tone. "Along with Councilor Tevos."

There was a pained silence for a few moments. "That's a massive success, for them." Ryder finally replied. "This just got a lot more complicated."

"It'll probably wind up as a hostage situation." Jane muttered. "And they've got one of the VIPs. This could turn into one hell of a fuckup."

"You are, of course, assuming that this whole event wasn't already a clusterfuck." Harry deadpanned. "What with all the terrorist attacks and the hostile fleet drifting dead in orbit."

"What was that about a fleet?" Shepard spoke for everyone in the room, who had remained unaware of the battle that had taken place far above their heads.

"Cerberus brought in a fleet." the wizard explained. "According to my scanners, there were thirty-six frigates, twenty-five cruisers-" A swiftly indrawn breath was audible, as more than a few people let out an involuntary gasp. "-and a dreadnought." he added, voice grim. "Eleven-hundred meters. They didn't half-ass it in the slightest. The ship was a third again as long as the Alliance standard Everest-class dreadnoughts."

"Was?" a voice -Garrus, maybe?- piped up, hopeful.

"Was." Harry confirmed. "I've got video of most of Lidanya's cruisers blasting it to hell." He patted his omni-tool. "I won't show it now, though." he forestalled a few eager queries. "I'm currently keeping my eye on a tracking beacon I've got on Tevos herself."

"How do you know Cerberus won't detect it?" somebody asked.

"It's subcutaneous." Harry smiled.

"So you injected a Councilor with a locating device?" Jane tilted her head in confusion.

"A while back, yeah." the wizard responded, trying and failing to act nonchalant.

Shepard frowned. "Since I'll probably be reinstated as a Spectre within the hour, I never heard that." she announced, then changed the subject. "So Harry," she began, "Mind explaining how a Council-member got captured by Cerberus troops?"

"An aide of theirs was subverted." Harry explained. "Tevos and a few of her political allies were taken directly from their conference room. They're aboard a Cerberus shuttle, whose whereabouts I'm currently tracing. Hopefully, they'll soon rendezvous with the stealth ship on which most of the hostile infantry arrived on, a few months ago."

"So we're performing a boarding action on the Cerberus ship once they bring the VIPs aboard?" Jane guessed.

"Exactly." the wizard grinned. "And I've got a few tools that should make the 'boarding' part significantly easier. Thanks to EDI, this shuttle-" Harry gestured towards the vehicle he'd arrived in, "-is registered with Cerberus as one of their own ships. So we can just board freely, and wreak havoc." Then, to Jane's thoughtful gaze, he added, "That's the plan, at least."

…...

Alec Ryder walked back into the central area of the waiting room, surveying the crowd for his boss, Jien Garson. He walked past her twice, until she reached out and grabbed his shoulder. He turned to look in her direction, to find her talking animatedly to a turian, two krogan, and a pair of drell. "I've found a few possible inductees into the Initiative!" Garson said, with a bright smile on her face. "And we've just been discussing the possibility of creating a Drell Ark."

Ryder sighed.

Today was going to be a long day.

…...

"Permission to come aboard?"

"*Ksht*" The cerberus ship's comms spat static. "We aren't expecting any more incoming shuttles. Our mission parameters require complete stealth until we reach high orbit. That's a negative."

"Bollocks." Harry murmured. "Well, I suppose I added a boarding spike for a reason." The shuttle rocked, as Illium's famous turbulence seemed to jostle the craft with rising frequency. G-forces pushed all passengers back into their seats, and a blue glow enveloped the crew compartment. The scent of ozone and the sound of an inertial dampener filled the compartment, while the engine cowlings on the back of the craft emitted a high-pitched racing scream.

Then there was a thunderous crash, and an almost imperceptible impact. The sound of rending metal and rushing air was audible, as Jane yelled in disbelief, "Did you just ram the Cerberus ship?"

"Indubitably!" the wizard called with a smile, deliberately over-enunciating his own british accent. "Head to the front of the shuttle. There's a set of boarding tubes there. Let's go!"

...

The captain's ears couldn't stop ringing. There had been a noise- painfully loud, and then the alarms had started. His stumbling feet guided him towards the Combat Information Center. Small droplets of red fell from the man's ears, and from a gash above one eye- and that damnable ringing noise still blocked out everything else.

Somewhere on the lower levels of the ship, there was another crash. Though the captain didn't hear it, the cruiser rocked perilously. An attendant rushed by, disregarding the man. "THE SENATORS!" the captain yelled, with one hand on his injured forehead. "WHAT'S HAPPENING TO THE SENATORS!"

An aide attempted to speak to him. Seeing the captain's injuries, the aide pulled out a datapad, and began typing furiously. 'Enemies aboard!' the device read. 'They've reached the brig. The Senators are escaping!'

The captain cursed. He felt his lips move, but could hear nothing coming out. His headache only intensified. It had been… what? A minute since that suicidal shuttle-pilot had rammed into his cruiser? Two minutes? However long it had been, the captain was still processing the damage to his ears. Everything was happening at once, in a blur of sparks, rushing crewmembers, and distant deafened noise.

Then the man -the ship's doctor, perhaps?- ushered the captain into the CIC. He typed on the datapad, and looked at a few readings. 'The senators are gone,' the doctor typed. 'Escape pod launches have been detected on the lower decks. It's over.'

A loud popping noise reverberated through the CIC, and the doctor stood up. He turned his head from one side to the other in a confused manner. Something was off, he knew. The room was strangely empty- save for a tall figure in Alliance N7 standard armor. The man raised one plated arm. There was a flash of red, and everything went black.

…...

"Today on Illium," the newscaster announced, as the camera panned sideways, "A terrorist attack on a truly massive scale was perpetrated by the group known as Cerberus. Involved in the attack were a pair of high-level diplomats, as well as a trio of human technicians. According to Illium's ground-security chief, Matriarch Aethyta, a search is underway for the fugitives. Matriarch Aethyta is optimistic about the results of the search."

"The matriarch, in an emergency press briefing, stated, 'The perpetrators of these attacks won't be able to leave the atmosphere in anything larger than a shoebox. Rest assured, they will be found, and brought to justice.' In addition, the first human Spectre, presumed dead for six months, has resurfaced amid the chaos on Illium. I personally spoke to witnesses in Gate Alpha, the staging area from where the Matriarchal Senate and all petitioners were to depart for the Senate Building. Jane Shepard was seen fighting valiantly against Cerberus forces as they invaded the terminal, unleashing biotics on a scale usually seen in superhero movies and extranet fiction. She had this to say about her apparent death over the uninhabitable planet of Alchera."

"Rumors of my death are both premature, and highly exaggerated." Shepard stated. "I've been on an undercover mission for the last few months, and I felt that faking my death was the best way to draw out my targets. Needless to say, I will be resuming work with the Council in the near future."

"This has been Emily Wong, with Citadel NewsNet. Now I'll turn the program over to Diana Allers with BattleSpace, for an in-depth review of the combat that took place in high orbit. Diana, I've heard that Cerberus forces had a dreadnought in orbit. How accurate is that?"

"Very accurate, Emily. New readings show that the Cerberus flagship was well over one kilometer-"
The television shut off.

"Shepard!" Admiral David Anderson's voice burst from Jane's omni-tool. "We thought you were dead. What's this about an undercover operation?"

"Harry Potter felt that Cerberus would be planning something like this, and he invited me to join his investigation. Obviously," Jane fidgeted, keeping to the excuse she had agreed on with the wizard, "I no longer need to be undercover, since we took out these Cerberus cells."

"Alright." Anderson sounded convinced, but unhappy. "You could at least have told Alliance Intelligence. The propaganda department was particularly unhappy. They had to scrap a few million posters for distribution on some of the larger colonies. Bekenstein, Benning, you know the drill."

"Well," Shepard coughed, "I'm sorry to offend the boys back in the patriot factory. Put in good word for me?"

"Always, Shepard." the admiral laughed. "So how was the fighting on the ground?"

"It was a mess." she answered honestly. "And without Kechlu Industries' GARDIAN laser arrays, it would've been lost before it had begun."

"Sounds… explosive." Anderson muttered.

"Definitely. We wound up having to deflect anti-air missiles with biotic barriers. It was close." Shepard explained. "And the Illusive man's personal assassin didn't make things much easier."

"Kai Leng?" the old admiral was suddenly attentive. "Damn. He's a nasty piece of work. How'd he get away?"

"He didn't." Jane corrected. "I put an omni-blade through his ribcage."

"He's a tough bastard." Anderson worried. "I've seen him survive worse."

Shepard smiled. "Then I unloaded my Carnifex into his forehead."

"Ah." Anderson sounded mollified. "That would probably do it, then. I'm sure Alliance Intel will be happy to hear that somebody finally put that mad dog down."

"The only escapee," Jane continued, "Was a rather poorly-made clone of me. Just flesh grown around a computerized imprint, taken from an old MRI. She could still be dangerous, so I suggest you keep an eye out. I've already changed my passwords and such."

"I'll alert Intelligence. Thanks for the warning." The admiral stood to leave the holo-projection room. "And good luck, Jane."

"You too, sir." she replied, as the message went dark.

"Jane?" a voice murmured. "Shepard," the same voice stated. The commander's eyes flickered open. She let out a deep sigh, and stretched out under her blankets. For the umpteenth time, she thanked whatever deity was watching out for her that she had an actual bed, not a hard metal sleeping-pod. "Jane?" murmured the speakers on the other side of the room. "Doctor Chakwas requested that I was to inform you when the girl you found on Guevara regained consciousness. She has done so, and the good doctor is requesting your presence in the medical bay."

"Alright, I'll get up." Shepard muttered. Blearily, she rubbed her eyes, and pushed back the covers. Letting out a slight hiss at the room's temperature, she grabbed a towel and headed for the shower. "Tell Karin I'll be at the med-bay in ten minutes or so." Jane announced. "And thanks for the wake-up, EDI."

"You're welcome, Shepard."

...

"There you are." Chakwas stated, mildly disapproving, as the med-bay door hissed open. "You slept late, didn't you." She pointed at the chronometer on the wall. A slight tinge of red appeared in Jane's cheeks, as she noticed the time. By the shipboard clocks, it was around noon. "The only member of the day-shift still sleeping is mister Potter." As if on cue, the disheveled wizard stumbled through the door, followed by the four-man Auror team. He ran a hand through his hair, and straightened himself up. He poked a finger into his mouth, and the smell of mint filled the room.

"Refreshing charm." he explained, for the benefit of all the muggles in the room. "Brushes your teeth for you. Well, that's the idea, anyway." He looked around for a second, before he focused on Joker, who was just leaving the door. "Jeff!Wait a second!" the wizard called. "I keep forgetting to give you this…" he explained, passing the pilot a bottle full of murky liquid. "It's Skele-Grow. If this won't fix your bones, nothing short of blood-magic will." he shrugged. "Drink it all." he encouraged. "It'll probably hurt a bit for an hour or two, but the benefits outweigh the pain."

The pilot squinted cautiously at the bottle, before downing its contents with a gulp. He waved, and vanished out the door. Chakwas stared disbelieving between the wizard and the door.

Harry held out a hand, and a steaming teacup filled to the brim with a delicious black liquid materialized. A sugar cube and a small quantity of milk poured themselves from nothingness into the cup. A shining spoon began to swirl the liquid around, seemingly of it's own volition. "Can I offer refreshments?" Harry asked. "Coffee, tea, spiders?"

"Spiders?" Chakwas asked, head tilted sideways in curiousity. Harry grinned, and conjured a tall mason jar, capped with a screw-on air-tight top. And there, squirming wildly inside the jar, were hundreds if not thousands of spiders of all different types. A visible shudder passed through almost everyone in the room, before the jar - spiders and all - vanished as if it had never existed at all. Doctor Chakwas shuddered, and made a small noise of disgust.

"That's my favorite party trick, by far." Harry smirked. "A friend of mine hated spiders, so I used to send him bottles of them in the mail, with a timed vanishing charm on the bottle." He conjured another bottle, and vanished it just as quickly.

"That's complex non-linear conjuration, that is." one of the aurors murmured, vaguely impressed.

"Either that, or one of the best illusions I've seen in my entire career." another replied.

"Shh." Auror Diggory III interjected. "We're here to talk to the girl that was recovered on Guevara."

"She's just back here." the doctor turned, and walked back towards the end of the ward, where a large bundle of blankets rested on a bed."Lyra?" she spoke softly. "There are a few people here to see you."

"Huh?" the bundle of blankets sat up, revealing a young girl. She looked towards Harry and the aurors, and frowned. "Are you related to Harry Potter?" the girl -Lyra- asked. "Dad showed me pictures," she explained shamelessly. "And you look a lot like him."

"I am Harry Potter," the wizard said. "And I've got the scars to prove it." he pulled his hair aside, showing a faded lightning-bolt shaped scar, now almost faded. The girl's mouth dropped open, and her eyes opened wide. "We're looking for your dad." Harry added. "But we need to know who he is, first. And who you are." he held out a hand to shake. "I'm Harry Potter. Who are you?" he asked kindly.

"I'm Lyra Malfoy." the girl squeaked. "And my dad is Draco Malfoy." Harry froze for a split-second, but composed himself and shook the girl's hand.

"We'll do our best to find him as soon as we can." he stepped back. "Now I think these Aurors have a few questions. Is that alright?"

"Uhm.. I think so?" the girl replied, leaning back on her pillows. "I'm a little hungry." she looked downcast, until Harry reached into a bag at his hip, and pulled out a shrunken english breakfast on a tray. He enlarged it with a wave, and cancelled a stasis charm.

"Eat up, Lyra." he waved, as he levitated both the tray and a tall glass of orange juice in her direction. She fumbled with the glass, and caught it before it spilled. Harry looked down at his omni-tool, and back up. "I'll be right back." he seemed preoccupied. "I've got to take this call."

"Okay!" the girl replied, missing his worried tone. Harry smiled, and stepped out of the doorway. It slid shut behind him.

Jane watched as he pulled out a chair at the vacant crew common-area. Visible through a window in the med-bay, he opened his omni-tool. An incoming call, blinking urgently, obscured most of the screen. Shepard caught a glimpse of a quarian helmet before the wizard deactivated his omni-tool's screen, and held the device up to his ear.

Clearly, Harry was agitated by whatever he was hearing. His brows inched closer together and further downwards on his face with every passing minute, and while one hand held his omni-tool to his ear, the other continuously burst into flame before putting itself out over and over again.

Finally, Harry moved his omni-tool over his mouth, and spoke into it. Muted by the pane of glass between them, Jane could only just make out a few words. Finally, the wizard slumped. He closed his omni-tool, and looked up. He met Shepard's eyes, seeming older than she'd ever seen him. Finally, Harry lowered his gaze, and stood. He stepped slowly towards the med-bay door, and opened it with a wave of his hand.

"There's been a pair of attacks." he began, speaking to everyone in the med-bay. "It looks like Cerberus sabotaged the defenses on a moderately-populated colony called Fehl Prime, out in the Terminus Systems." he paused. "Ten blood-pack troop-ships landed half an hour later. The colony's getting hammered, and there have been sightings of a Collector ship only a couple relays away. They might try and take advantage of the fighting to kidnap civilians." There was a minute of stunned silence. "And that's not all. It looks like a Cerberus cell figured out how to disable FTL plotting devices. They gave their prototype to a turian separatist group before Cerberus command wiped the cell. The separatists just put it on a shuttle, and engaged faster-than-light travel while pointing at Vallum, the capital city of Taetrus. The result was a blast so powerful that the shockwaves were destroying buildings more than eleven kilometers away. Casualties still unknown."

"How long-" Chakwas' voice quivered. "How long ago?"

"I just got the news." Harry explained, pacing the room. "Chronologically, the attack on Fehl Prime started three hours ago. It's been half an hour since Vallum was bombed." Silence once again permeated the room. "Shepard, I'd like to take the Nyx to Vallum." he announced, as if asking permission. "I've got some data about the terrorists that Turian High Command probably doesn't. I can probably bring them to justice more easily than the authorities."

"Go ahead." Shepard allowed. "We'll go to Fehl Prime, and take out the mercenaries."

"Alright." Harry replied, giving Jane a silent nod of thanks, and a wink. "Good luck." he stepped forwards and extended a hand, but Jane turned the handshake into a hug. "Be careful." she whispered into his ear. Harry kissed her cheek, and vanished with a crack.

"You're free to stay aboard to care for Miss Malfoy," Shepard called to the four red-robed aurors laughing and joking with the young Malfoy girl. "We're traveling, but we'll happily grant you food and quarters." Diggory III nodded in thanks, and resumed conversation with the girl.

"Joker?" Shepard muttered.

"Plotting a course." the pilot replied. "Let's just hope this doesn't blow up in all our faces."

[Most of this next part isn't mine; I've just modified it a little. It's part of 'Cerberus Daily News,' which is fascinating. I recommend you all check it out. Just google Cerberus Daily News. The second link is an indexed list of all official entries.]

Just past eleven-hundred hours, Citadel NewsNet's primary channel opened a 'Breaking News!' screen, and switched its live coverage from one newsfeed to another. A debate over the Batarian Hegemony's self-proclaimed status as a 'Rogue State' was replaced by video taken of a stunning explosion. "Our top story tonight: terror on Taetrus. Vallum, the colony's capital, was hit with a blast that obliterated its downtown area and left a crater five kilometers wide. Shockwaves from the blast were powerful enough to destroy buildings 11 kilometers away. Casualties are unknown but are expected to be massive. The Radiatum, Taetrus' parliamentary building, was at the epicenter of the blast and is believed to be its primary target. No registered armed ships were in orbit or in the sky above Vallum, leading authorities to believe the blast was caused by a ship used as a weapon of tremendous force, aimed at the Radiatum and accelerated to near-FTL speed. Fourteen separatist groups are claiming responsibility at this time."

...

"A video surfaced today of the shocking capture of many high-ranking members of the separatist group Facinus." the newscaster announced around twelve-hundred hours the next day, as a high-definition video popped up onscreen behind her. "It appears the terrorists were live-streaming their celebration of the Vallum Blast. Recordings of the footage shows noted separatist Kihilix Tanus praising pilot Vamire Squaron for his successful aiming of a private vessel and ejecting from it before it accelerated to its hyperlethal speed. The conversation implies that Squaron bypassed the ship's safety protocols by installing an improvised FTL plotter, using an archaic design no longer in service throughout Citadel space. The vid also shows Tanus criticizing the Turian Hierarchy for failing to respond to the Kingu asteroid near-impact crisis on the planet Belan. It should be noted that said crisis was averted when an unknown ship unloaded dreadnought-level firepower on the dangerous asteroid. 'They are old xemna [herd animals], only responding when they themselves are jabbed,' Tanus was quoted on the issue. He then threatened a storm of lightspeed vessels, one for every week that Taetrus remains 'subject to the human-appeasing lackeys that run imperialist space,' referring to the Hierarchy and Citadel species. The celebration continued for a few minutes, before the entire area was seen to shake violently. The camera itself appears to have fallen from a piece of furniture, and rolled sideways at this point in the film." the newscaster announced. "But clearly visible is an armored human engaging in heavy combat with the terrorist gathering." the newscaster sounded extremely interested. "A few moments later, a turian is seen crawling into the video's frame of view." she pointed. "After closer analysis with facial-recognition software, the turian appears to be Vamire Squaron, the pilot responsible for the devastation of the Vallum Blast. The armored human then proceeds to casually shoot his stun-gun an unnecessary but highly satisfying sixteen times into Squaron's chest." the video played in slow-motion. "It should be noted that our liaison with Turian High Command has stated that she is forbidden from speaking about the human in question, and that any information leading to the man's whereabouts, or the whereabouts of Vamire Squaron and the rest of Facinus leadership will be highly rewarded."

...

"Breaking news!" the same newscaster announced just past eighteen-hundred hours. "The Systems Alliance hero, Harry Potter, delivered the top twelve members of the terrorist group Facinus into custody of the turian military at 1350 hours, Taetrus time." A picture of a sleek black shuttle popped up on the screen behind the newscaster. "On his own, Mister Potter captured and delivered the criminals to the Primarch's temporary military command-base on the outskirts of Vallum." the news anchor explained. "His actions have a lot of military analysts scratching their heads," the man added. "And some of the advisors we've spoken to were actually worried by the sheer level of competency shown by mister Potter. The question, according to Leev Paranciel, Council Spectre, is whether Potter is just the normal result of Alliance N7 training, or simply an incredibly skilled individual. Recently unearthed classified material shows that Harry Potter did set records during his time in special forces- but was barely surpassed by Jane Shepard, the first human Spectre. Next, more news from Taetrus, this time about the grim situation at the center of the blast in Vallum. Take it away, Felix." The scene changed to a different news anchor, in a similar desk.

"The search for survivors in the rubble on Taetrus continues." began the commentator, as pictures of the blast zone flickered past on a screen behind him. "Only sixteen trapped people have been recovered alive, and experts say the chances of finding more survivors are slim. Bulldozers and heavy cranes are removing debris from the city's four major highways, along with a few powerful biotics." A video of a building off in the distance levitating itself off a roadway accompanied the newscaster's remark. "Only a handful of aerial ambulances have made it to the interior of the rubble, but a massive quarian volunteer relief force arrived early this morning, and has begun searching the debris." the turian's surprise was nearly palpable. "Firefighter Extan Relius says that there is little hope for those in the central crater: "The impact didn't just knock buildings over; it picked them up and dropped them." New calculations indicate that even this massive blow was relatively mild compared to what it could have been - the ship involved was only starting its acceleration to FTL speeds, and achieved a velocity just under that of a mass accelerator bullet before contact. This is Citadel NewsNet, covering the relief effort on Taetrus. We'll keep Vallum in our hearts. Goodnight."

"I've got some good news, Shepard."

"What is it, EDI?"

"Mordin -crazy scientist though he is- managed to come up with a countermeasure to the seeker swarms Harry's data showed. When we next go up against the collectors, we'll be protected."

"Wonderful. Now let me go back to bed."

The Normandy SR-2 arrived in the Fehl system in a wash of blue-shifted energy and harmless radiation. Barely stopping for a second, the ship's engines flared blue, launching the cruiser sunwards, towards Fehl Prime.

"I'm detecting a modified blood-pack frigate landed on Fehl Prime's second moon." EDI spoke up. "It appears mostly unarmed, with enlarged berths for cargo, or larger transport or combat-craft like troopships and shuttles. The frigate's engines also differ from the norm. They seem to be much larger than the norm. They're also fusion torches, unlike most frigates belonging to long-standing established mercenary groups, which tend to use antiproton drives harvested or stolen from military surplus craft."

"So the Blood Pack frigate is more of a workhorse than a warship." Jane summarized. "I'll assume that ship carried all the troop transports that are now terrorizing the colony?"

"You are correct." EDI confirmed. "They used inferior firewalls. I've already sabotaged it." She seemed hesitant when she spoke up a second later, though. "The frigate also contains a large quantity of volus pesticide. Under normal conditions, it can be used as a fuel-air bomb. Cerberus did hire the mercenaries to destroy the colony, after all."

"That's not good. Can you tell me why isn't there an Alliance task-force here already?" Jane frowned.

"Unknown," the AI replied. "It is probable that a detachment of marines is already planetside, but the Alliance may have been unable to secure a cruiser or frigate detachment due to tensions with Terminus warlords."

"Explain."

"The main reason why the Terminus Systems are a legitimate political entity is access," EDI began. "There's always been a bottleneck, since there exist only six known relays allowing access to the Terminus systems as a whole. Four to five - the Phoenix Massing cluster as a whole changes hands from one petty warlord to another on a monthly basis - of those are guarded by warlords who tend to violently tax goods, and deny access to entities or organizations whose motives they disagree with. So it's entirely possible that the Systems Alliance was only able to purchase passage for a few shuttles worth of troops, rather than a few frigates or a cruiser. It's also likely that they've purchased tickets for a larger force into the Terminus Systems from Illium, all the way on the other side of the galaxy. But since the Normandy SR-2 is an extremely fast ship, it only took around a day for us to arrive. Anderson's fleet is probably twelve to sixteen hours behind us," EDI added. "After the fight in orbit, they may have stopped to rearm."

"Damn."

"A closer fleet is stationed around the Century system, but they'd have to pass through Omega." EDI noted. "And Aria, on behalf of the rest of the Terminus Systems, taxes the military vessels of Council Races above all other classes of craft by multiple orders of magnitude."

"And the turians haven't cleaned the whole area up because they don't want a diplomatic incident." Shepard drearily paraphrased the rhetoric used to justify non-involvement in the Terminus Systems for the last millennia.

"Exactly." the AI stated. "And while they delay, the Terminus systems merely become more violent and fall deeper into poverty." Jane stared at the speaker, surprised that EDI felt so vehemently about the issue. Her voice had seemed, for a moment, to be displaying genuine feeling. As if sensing Shepard's raised eyebrows, the AI spoke up again to curtail her surprise. "That's a fact, Shepard. Based off of empirical evidence, not just theory and speculation."

"It's okay to have opinions." Shepard grinned, "I've got more than enough of them. And I agree. The situation in the Terminus systems is just getting worse, but I feel like there's nothing I can personally do about it. Not right now, at least." The AI was quiet for a few long moments.

"Thank you, Shepard." EDI murmured a minute later. "Nobody but Joker has ever spoken to me with that level of honesty."

"You're welcome." the woman replied. "Feel free to talk to me whenever you want."

"We're approaching the colony's center, Shepard." EDI announced, regretfully ending their conversation. "I've detected wreckage of two Alliance troop-transports. We may be all the defense these civilians have."

"It's Elysium all over again." Jane muttered. "We're just missing the biotic wizard."

Overhearing her, Garrus let out a grim chuckle. "You've got a team this time." he added. "But I'd still prefer the biotic wizard." he joked.

"We'll be dropping at the colony center." Shepard said. "I'll be engaging in some diplomacy with the colonists, make sure they know we're not trying to kill them."

"Don't we have contact with the colony?" Miranda spoke up. "Or are we keeping radio silence so the Blood Pack troops don't know about us?"

"Neither," explained EDI. "We're being jammed, signal source unknown."

"That's a good sign." Kasumi muttered. "You want me to cloak and find it once we're groundside?"

"Yeah." Jane decided. "Take the shuttle with you. The jammer's probably a few miles out into the wilderness. Short-range radio should be operational, but we'll probably be out of contact with anything less than tight-beam laser-comms."

"Got it, Shepard." the tech-specialist replied with a nod.

"Landing in thirty seconds." Edi's voice crackled over the speakers, as the shuttle's floor lurched through deceleration. A simulated visual of the craft on the outside of the door moved closer and closer to the animated ground. The door opened with a hiss, showing the ground approaching rapidly past the rushing alien breeze. All around, prefabricated buildings made white squares in the otherwise green and rolling hilly landscape, as night fell. Off in the distance, occasional glowing lines blasted into the sky- the atmospheric effects of mass effect weapons. Soon the shuttle swooped lower. More gunshots were visible a mile or two from the outskirts of the colony, but there was nothing within the colony proper.

"It appears that some of the Alliance task force survived the crash-landing of their shuttles." EDI murmured. They've been protecting the colony since the beginning of the attack."

The craft touched down with a whirr and a hiss, as the exterior of the craft sizzled against the cool grass beneath it. A gathering of flashlight-waving civilians in a nearby field scattered wildly.

"We're human!" Shepard called out, amplifying her voice through her suit's speakers. "We're here to help!"

"It's darker out here than I thought it would be." Tali murmured. "This-"

"Overlaying thermal-vision on your visors. This should help." EDI's voice transmitted. "Good luck."
"Alright." Jane spoke. "Let's go. I'll head towards the colonists and try to chaperone them towards safety." She pointed to an especially large pre-fabricated building in the center of the colony. "Everyone else spread out and cover the area. I don't want anyone sneaking up on us." A murmured chorus of affirmatives returned from her squad, as she stepped towards the group of colonists. They shined their flashlights -mostly in the form of omni-tool attachments- at her. She put a hand over her helmet, blocking the worst of the glare. "Satisfied that I'm human yet?" she called out. Murmured hushing noises and worried voices replied, over the sound of some alien cricket-like creature.

"Who are you?" an urgent voice hissed. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to help." Shepard whispered back. "I've got a team securing the area."

"Thank god." a tearful woman's voice sobbed.

"No," Jane replied, "Thank the Systems Alliance." Then, louder, "I'd like everyone to head for the big building over there." she directed a laser-pointer attached to her pistol towards the building in question. "My team and I can protect you best if you're all in one place."

"Yes, ma'am." a few replied thankfully, beginning to make their way towards the building labeled 'Town Hall'." Soon the rest followed, helping the old or injured limp and stumble along.

"Here they come." Garrus's voice played through the ground crew's helmets. "Contacts north, north-west. We've got a few armored humans being chased by a significant krogan force. That looks like the Alliance team."

"Alright." Jane turned away from the colonists, focusing her attention on the mercenary issue. "Everyone move north, towards Garrus's position. I want covering fire for the humans, and I want everyone with a sniper rifle to start picking off those mercenaries."

"Uhh… Shepard?" Garrus spoke up, voice uncertain. "They've got a tank."

"...Of course they do."

Hope you enjoyed this chapter! Feel free to PM me or review.

Also, I've been seeing some confusion about the Andromeda Initiative. That scene was just some foreshadowing / chekov's gun type stuff. Since I plan to make a sequel in Mass Effect: Andromeda, I introduced the Andromeda Initiative a bit early. They won't really be showing up much more(if at all).