"Admiral!" A voice intruded, interrupting Hackett's careful focus on the flow of combat. He glanced upwards, recognizing Jane Shepard. "I just got a message from Harry Potter." She held up an omni-tool, displaying a block of text. "Check the postscript." she said. Hackett's eyes widened, as he read it through.

Hey, Jane! I'm back. Sorry for the delay, I came as soon as I could. I'll call you up once we get an hour or so of quiet, alright? On another topic, an… Acquaintance of sorts told me that you recently 'changed the outcome of the war.' Pardon my curiosity, but have you done anything particularly paradigm-shifting recently?

More than normal, I mean. You've got my unique brand of luck.

See you soon, Jane.

-Harry

P.S. I've got a bunch of mass relays that weren't being used. Just tell me if you need a connection somewhere.

P.P.S. I've been distracting the main section of the Reaper attack-group heading for Earth a few light-years off the galactic plane. There are fleets heading for almost every single race's homeworld. I've got a fleet heading for Palaven. I think they'll make it there in time, since I dealt with the incursion relay on the edge of the Mactare system. Khar'shan is a loss, as you should know. Expect indoctrinated batarian spies among the refugees entering Alliance space. Batarians converted into husks will likely comprise a large part of the ground-invasion portion of the Reapers' armies.

I've got a portion of my fleet heading for Arcturus right now. You'll probably get this message right before or immediately after they arrive.

Constant vigilance, Shepard. Stay strong.

"That's good news, at least." Hackett said. "Has he sent anything else?"

"Not yet." Shepard shut down her omni-tool. "I'll notify you if he does." she stepped back, allowing the admiral to once more turn his attention towards the display in front of him, filled with casualty counts, attack plans, and charts and readouts of enemy movement.

Hackett allowed himself to descend back into the constant chaos of messages and fleet maneuvers with the ease of long practice.

Reaper ships began to arrive en masse, announced by hundreds upon hundreds of flashes of cherenkov radiation, only visible in the blue section of the visible range of light. This was far too many enemies to take down at once. Even counting the Discretionary Fleet, the Reapers now well outnumbered all human forces.

Plans and plots sprung into being as the Admiral's thoughts whirled. He settled a moment later on an idea so ingenious, so desperate, that the Reapers would have no way to predict it.

"This is Admiral Hackett." he spoke. "All fleets, begin a gradual withdrawal. Prioritize evacuation of civilians. Make for the Relay." Despite his grim words, Hackett's back straightened. "Shepard." He called out, glancing towards the front of the Normandy.

A few moments later, Shepard strode back towards the CIC from the cockpit. "Sir?" she said, still in armor blackened but otherwise unharmed by the smoke and heat of Arcturus Station.

"I've got a task for this ship." The edges of the aging Admiral's mouth turned upwards into a grim smile. "I want you and your crew to set charges on the Mass Relay."

Shepard's face morphed into an expression of cautious consideration. Her eyebrows drew together. "This is a Cruiser. We don't carry Weapons of Mass Destruction." Her expression lightened. "We do have an incredibly powerful main gun, though. Harry upgraded it. It's rated at six megatons per shot."

"Good. That should do. Now were upgrades made to the Normandy's engines as well? Specifically her FTL-drives?" Hackett's voice was low, urgent.

"Yes," Shepard confirmed. "The Normandy could stay behind while the fleets fell back, and destroy the relay. We'd need to get you to safety, though. Preferably to one of the fleet's Dreadnoughts. We do have a stealth shuttle in the cargo-bay."

Hackett leaned back, and let out a deep relieved sigh. "Thank god," he murmured. Then he stood, and spoke louder, "Once the fleets have made it through the relay, I want you to destroy it after us. But you need to know -your pilot needs to know- that the explosion from a mass relay travels at faster-than-light speeds until the eezo field it generates disperses enough. You need to be in FTL well before your shots impact the relay, or you'll be caught in the blast radius."

"That's one hell of a way to deal with the Reapers." Shepard said. "But what about the Discretionary Fleet?"

Hackett nodded. "I need you to brief Mister Potter on our plan. We can coordinate later to reconnect the Sol system to the Relay Network. I'd estimate that you've got half an hour for that at the very latest. If this goes well, we should have a few days of peace. Some time to repair and rearm, and spool up the Martian Shipyards." The Admiral stepped away from the chair, Prime Minister in tow. "Godspeed, and good luck Shepard."

…...

"Jane, I'm truly sorry-"

"It wasn't your fault-" Both Harry and Jane began, as soon as the comlink flickered open.

"Go ahead." said the wizard.

"No, you were saying something." Shepard protested.

"No, no. It's no trouble." Harry waved one hand. Then, almost reluctantly, he widened the topic of conversation. "What's the purpose of this call? Business or pleasure?"

"Business, unfortunately." Shepard sighed, though the edges of her mouth curved upwards, into a smile. "And while it's great to see you again, there are more pressing matters."

"Understood. Reapers take priority." Harry nodded. "Give me the rundown. What's the Alliance doing right now?" The wizard hesitated. "I've been distracting a hell of a lot of Reaper ships a quarter light-year away, but I can't do that forever."

"Wait," Jane said. "Is this channel absolutely secure?"

"Yeah." The wizard said. "On my end, at least. My sneakoscope isn't going crazy, so I think it's fine on your end as well."

"Alright." Jane marshalled her thoughts into something resembling coherency. "Hackett plans to lure the Reapers towards the Earth-bound Relay. He's going to get all the Alliance ships through, and then the Normandy is to detonate it."

"...That could work." Harry said. A grin spread across his face. "That could actually work!" He leaned back in his seat, as if to relax, though his lips turned downwards, and his grin disappeared. "The issue is that the Reaper Armada is larger than I'd feared." said the wizard. "I recommend that you wait as long as you possibly can before detonating the Relay. I'll try and lure in the ones I'm currently engaging. Every single one of them destroyed by this explosion is another one I don't have to hunt down. I can't hope to take them all out in a single massive battle, or even an awful lot of massive battles. They simply outnumber us by an... alarming... amount."

"What's your take on this? What's the best outcome here, and how can we work towards it?" Jane asked, thinking out loud more than truly asking the questions.

"If we pull this off properly, then we'll probably be able to take out a good chunk of the Reaper fleets heading for Earth." Harry said, utterly serious. "We have a chance to limit the damage, to keep hostile forces out of the Sol system for another few days. A week at best."

"What kind of numbers would we be facing once the Reapers regrouped?" Jane kept an eye on the holographic display showing the evacuation progress.

"They'd have a heavily-reduced force prodding the edges of the system's defenses in five, six days." Harry said, with a tone of eerie finality. "No more than that."

"Heavily reduced?" Jane queried, prodding. "Reduced as in fifty ships remaining? Or five hundred?"

"I'm not sure." the wizard backtracked. "If this stunt with the relay works, then we might be seeing less than one hundred ships on this front. Enough that the Reapers would pull back, and avoid Earth for the time being."

"Why? I thought Earth was their primary target. Otherwise they would've gone to Palaven first. Or maybe Kahje."

At this, Harry conceded. "I don't rightly know," he said, "But I think that Earth was just the closest planet to the incursion forces. They're trying to hit Palaven right now."

"Shit." Jane whispered. "So we're not going to get much help from the turians, then."

"We'll burn that bridge when we get to it." the wizard joked, halfway serious.

"That we will." Shepard confirmed, eyes distant, thoughts even further afield.

"So what happened while I was gone?" Harry asked, tone more formal. He continued, speaking hesitantly about more important topics. "I've been reading through logs from my… information network. You and Liara did one hell of a job. You made a few deals, set up a few ...meetings that I'd never have been able to pull off."

"It was mostly Liara." said Jane. "I'm sure she'll be thrilled to hear that." Shepard smiled. "I know I am. We were worried that we'd screw up something important."

"You did come a little close." Harry admitted, showing a flicker of candour. "But you didn't, and that's all that matters."

"Good." Shepard said. Relieved, she spoke up again. "Back to the topic at hand," she glanced at a holoterminal, displaying the progress of Hackett's retreat. "When are you going to get your fleets out of the system?"

"My ships will move closer to the Gaia as the retreat continues. I'll try and lure more and more of the hostile fleets into the system, as well. As soon as the Normandy opens fire on the Relay, I'm going to activate the recall function on the Gaia."

"You've developed a way to teleport ships." Shepard said, incredulous. "How?"

"The Gaia is thirty kilometers long." Harry said, explaining. "It isn't possible for it to be entirely guns. Sure, it's one of the strongest craft in my arsenal, but it's jam-packed with all sorts of internal systems as well."

"Still," Jane said, with a playful pout. "Teleportation."

"And a whole host of other things, as well." Harry said. "I've been here for almost forty years. Sure, I took over the Broker's network and assumed the mantle, but that could only keep me so busy. I spent a hell of a lot of time puzzling over rune calculators and arithmancy tables before Dobby happened." A wistful grin spread across his face. "Dobby can do all the rune calculations for me. Makes everything so much easier. Still, the mechanism takes up almost three square kilometers of the Gaia's internals. It's right up there with the Eezo core, reactor banks, antimatter generators, and antiproton propulsion drives when measuring size."

"Could the Alliance ever create anything like that?" Shepard could barely guess at the implications of that sort of device.

"Not unless you want to fiddle with complex magics on an unprecedented scale." Harry said. "And the system actually consumes eezo to power the teleportation."

"Why? Eezo isn't fuel."

"It's not conventional fuel, but it's an extremely magical substance. It's the easiest fuel to find, since it's all over the place."

"What are you talking about?" Shepard face formed a perfect mask of disbelief. "Eezo's the most expensive part of any ship."

"Right, right." Harry backtracked. "But it's only rare because it's been mined in this section of the galaxy for hundreds of millions of years. Just go a few hundred light years away from a mass relay, and you'll start finding it in quantities that would boggle belief. It's formed from the energies of stars going supernova, and there's plenty of those across the galaxy."

"I'll pass the recommendation on to Hackett and fleet command." Jane said. "That could be useful to know."

"I'm assuming Hackett told you about the Screw You Twice mandate?" Harry changed the topic, face an odd mix of contained humor and deadly seriousness.

"The what?" Shepard said, incredulous.

"That's the official name -translated from salarian- for the Council mandate classifying all information related to Relay detonations. It was put in place just after the end of the Rachni War. The idea was to wipe out anyone reckless enough to destroy a relay." Harry blinked. "Mostly it was to spite the krogan, actually. Sometime in the three hundred years between the end of the Rachni war and the Krogan Rebellions, the Krogan ambassador to the Citadel became obsessed with relays and the protheans. Looking back, it may have been Reaper indoctrination. Either way, the turian, salarian, and asari councilors decided unanimously to give the krogan nothing about the relays. The mandate made sure that the krogan had no idea that a relay's detonation does actually travel faster than C. Late in the Krogan Rebellions, a few centuries afterwards, almost a million krogan warriors got vaporized when trying to invade a planet after they decided to cut off intersystem transit by destroying the relay." Harry was silent for a moment. He glanced at something offscreen, then spoke up again. "This isn't the best time for a history lesson, I suppose."

"Don't worry about it." Jane replied. "And Hackett did make me aware of the Relay detonation's unique properties." She glanced again towards the holographic display of the evacuation. "Though I didn't know why the information was classified, or what the mandate was called." She smiled. "The history is interesting, and it's one of the handful of amusingly vulgar salarian laws that made it into the books. Besides, I think it's good to get a frame of reference for events that occurred well before humanity reached the galactic stage. It helps keep us crazy humans humble." She paused, laughed, and spoke again. "It's helped me make conversation, too. I've met more than a few members of the longer-lived races who spoke casually of the krogan rebellions, beings who personally remember thousands of years of history." Jane glanced sideways, at EDI's display.

"Two minutes, Shepard." the AI said, interjecting before Harry's next remark. "Firing resolutions are locked in, along with our planned escape route through the outbound Arcturus-2 Relay."

"Good." said Jane. "Harry," she looked back up at the screen. "We'll have to cut the history lesson short, it appears." she grinned fiercely. "Be ready to get your ships out of here."

"Yep." Said the wizard. "I'm pulling back towards the Relay. Maybe we can lure some Reapers even closer."

Two minutes flew by. Harry scrutinized his screens, watching for the finest details that could lead to destruction.

"No way is this going to go smoothly." Shepard said, talking to herself as much as Harry.

"Hm. This might go just fine." Harry replied. "But this particular trick won't work again. If the Reapers are true AI, then they'll learn that this is in our repertoire, and work around it."

Outlined on the screens, hundreds -even thousands- of black, squid-like ships sailed towards the relay leading into the Sol System. Moments passed, as the last of the evacuation shuttles vanished in flashes of blue, the only part of the cherenkov radiation released by FTL travel in the visible spectrum.

Jane couldn't help but think that the Reapers were holding back.

"Why would they allow that?" Harry evidently thought the same. "The Reapers have FTL travel, just like we do. I've been keeping ships in reserve, and scout frigates waiting for them to jump on the relay. But they didn't." He considered for a moment. "We can't do anything about it now, but this has to be important. If only we knew why-"

"If you're gonna get your ships out of here, you'd better do it now." Jane said, stepping away from the console. "Joker!" she commanded, accessing the cockpit's intercom through her glowing omni-tool. "Fire. Full power."

"Yes, ma'am!" the pilot's voice responded, only slightly less eager than ever. The Normandy rumbled, and the bulkhead shuddered imperceptibly. Some of the ship's interior lights dimmed. On the Normandy's screens, a massive beam of blue lanced towards the Sol relay.

"See you at the Citadel." Harry called out. "Don't be afraid to blackmail the Council! I might be out of contact again." Then the wizard reached for a lever by his side. "Oh! And tell Hackett that I'll have a new Relay connection set up in a day or two!" The wizard pressed a button, and wrenched the lever upwards. The video feed disappeared. On the Normandy, Shepard watched as hundreds upon hundreds of signatures simply vanished as Harry's ships disappeared.

Joker hit the Normandy's maneuvering thrusters hard, then sent the ship into a brief FTL jump. When the ship reappeared, the exit-relay from Arcturus out to the wider galaxy loomed large on the screens. Off in the background, a line of pale blue began stretch itself out across the stars.

Shepard secured herself in one of the Combat Info-Centre's inertia-dampening couches. The ship's systems would usually suffice, but the sheer acceleration Joker was applying wasn't stable enough for the ship to compensate completely. So crash-couches it was, until the Normandy was back in (relatively) safe space.

Shepard barely noticed as they passed through the relay, eyes still tracing the brilliant line of blue blazing towards its target.

…...

Admiral Steven Hackett stood tall on the bridge of the SSV Kilimanjaro. This was his domain, and in it, he was in command. The ship was his, the crew was his, and every single piece of equipment aboard was all his. And he would fail none of them.

"Sir!" a fresh-faced analyst spoke up, drawing his attention. Hackett looked up, staring at the man.

"What is it?" spoke the grizzled admiral.

"We've lost contact with all of our Communications Buoys. No responses, not even static." spoke the analyst, ponting out blinking data points on a glowing screen.

"Hm." Hackett said, stepping quickly towards the console. "Run their last recorded scans. Give me the visual footage. Last thirty seconds."

The analyst turned back to the console, and tapped twice on the keyboard. A screen appeared, displaying a field of stars. On the screen, one star grew brighter and brighter, until the probe registered it as a blast from a thanix cannon with a few alarmed beeping noises.

Hackett couldn't hide the excitement brewing in his chest. "Show me footage of the relay." He spoke just in time. The analyst pressed another key, and the screen flipped around, showing footage from the sensors on the other side of the probe. There the relay sat, dead-center of the screen. Then a massive beam of blue energy tore through it, visible coming out the other side of the relay. The whole structure shuddered. Then the visual feed from the communications beacon cut out.

"That's where we lost the signal." said the analyst, visibly worried. "All of them went black, and we haven't been able to raise the beacons-"

"Combat statistics officer," Hackett requested.

"Sir?" said a man on the other end of the room, spinning his chair around.

Hackett grinned. "Please credit the Normandy SR-2 with one Reaper killed. Make a note to amend the count at a later date to the exact number of wrecks in the entire Arcturus system minus however many the rest of the Alliance Navy and the Discretionary fleet destroyed."

There was silence on the bridge. Then Hackett's smile grew wider, and an almost-palpable wave of euphoria overtook the room.

…..

Admiral Steven Hackett had a meeting to prepare for.

The Sol System Defense Committee was one of the most important organizations in the Alliance. As the name suggested, they were responsible for the security of the entire home star system of the human race. Hackett knew how gruelling the job could be—he'd served a term on the committee fifteen or twenty years after the conclusion of the First Contact War. The sheer amount of paperwork required… The admiral shivered. He was glad he'd been promoted up to a patrol fleet position.

Now, though, the committee was poised to ruin everything he and the retired N7 Harry Potter had worked for. The committee had called an emergency meeting to discuss Hackett's strategy of 'blow up the relay.' Of course, they didn't know how destructive the detonation would be. They didn't have that information. Nor were they aware that Harry was setting up another Relay Connection even now.

The meeting they'd called was just ambiguous enough that it could wind up ending with Hackett stripped of his rank, or promoted. The committee members were covering their bases, making sure that they hadn't backed themselves into a corner. They had the legal authority to remove him from his command if they wanted to, or if he was 'unfit for duty,' but they still made sure that they'd be able to turn it around if he accounted himself well under their questions.

Hackett sighed.

And according to Harry, one of them was a Cerberus sympathizer.

Hackett wished desperately for a glass of something alcoholic.

….

"This emergency meeting of the Sol System Defense Committee is called to order." Spoke a portly man in a dress uniform. The clicking noise of hundreds of omni-tool and camera-drone apps filled the air, until the speaker adjusted a setting on his console. His hologram flickered briefly over the Kilimanjaro's bridge holotable. Hackett noted the flicker, and ignored it. He'd been called as a person of interest to the holo-conference, and was required to attend. Not much could actually demand a fleet admiral's time, Hackett ruminated. This, however, ranked as one of those few things that most definitely could.

There was a system of checks and balances put in place when the Systems Alliance first reached space, and found that its navy could be days out of contact depending on their patrol route. Committees and oversight boards were put in as a sort of stopgap measure to prevent a rogue fleet admiral with a cult of personality from simply setting up his own private kingdom somewhere off on the edges of the galaxy. It worked, too.

Despite the fact that Hackett outranked every single member of the committee, he was still beholden to their decisions. It irked him, but it was necessary. Now if only these sorts of of bureaucratic bodies could reach decisions more quickly…This was an emergency meeting, though, so Hackett still held out some hope that it could be concluded soon.

He had a sneaking suspicion that he knew what they wanted him here for, as well. Blowing up relays had consequences.

Four other holograms appeared shortly, fizzling into existence above the holotable next to the first. A harried-looking woman in a similar dress uniform spoke up, reading from the console in front of her. "Admiral Hackett, please explain your actions in the naval engagement that began at 0732 hours today according to your ship's clock. Specifically-"

"Why the hell did you blow up the other end of the Charon Relay?" spat the fourth and last of the new holograms. That last figure's uniform had substantially fewer ribbons and medals than the other committee members.

Gasps rose from the crowd of reporters watching the holoconference from the same room as the committee chair. Cameras clicked, and omni-tools buzzed.

"Mikhailovich, control yourself!" the first figure hissed. "You've already been demoted over this whole fiasco. You can make your opinions known later on. And in a sensible manner this time, or you'll wind up being demoted twice in a single day for the exact same thing."

"Besides, your presence here is only a formality." said another woman, almost gloating. She sent a scathing glare towards Mikhailovich's hologram. "You-"

"ORDER!" the portly hologram shouted, glaring at both Mikhailovich and the gloating committee member. His face began to turn a highly unflattering shade of red. "I'll repeat. I call this meeting of the Sol System Defense Committee to order." a tense silence filled the air. Hackett simply stood silent, watching the chaos with twinkling blue eyes. The first figure spoke up again, much more quietly. "This meeting has been called to examine the events of last night's skirmish with ...Reaper forces." The man's head bowed. "I call Fleet Admiral Steven Hackett forwards."

"Good afternoon." said Hackett, just affable enough to calm some of the tensions running rife. "I understand you have a list of questions for me?"

"That's correct." replied Mikhailovich, bitterly. "You're gonna answer for your crimes."

The committee-chair—the first hologram—spoke up, voice frozen and gritting his teeth. "Now that Mr. Mikhailovich has finished speaking, I'd like to make a motion to recuse him from the proceedings of this meeting. Do I have a second?"
"Now wait just a-" Mikhailovich began.

"Seconded." said the gloating woman, gleefully.

"I-" Mikhailovich tried to interrupt, but the committee-chair spoke over him.

"Thank you, that will be enough. All in favor of the motion say Aye?"

"Aye." said the remaining two holograms. The committee-chair made a note of something on his omni-tool, and pushed a button. Mikhailovich's mouth moved, but nothing audible came out. He gestured towards a record-keeper, and glanced red-faced over the crowd of reporters watching him.

Hackett watched the five holograms spread across his holotable.

"Former Rear Admiral Mikhailovich will be facing court-martial," announced the committee chair. "To determine his culpability in a severe count of obstruction of justice in an Naval Intelligence Bureau investigation."

This time, Mikhailovich's mouth moved even more, and his hologram got a lot more red than could be healthy, but still nothing audible came out. Moments later, Alliance Military Police took Mikhailovich by both forearms and dragged him out of the holographic projection-room.

"Why-" one of the committee members began, but the committee chair cut them off.

"I muted him. If there's nothing useful he can contribute to this investigation, then he won't contribute anything." The man glared at each one of the committee members participating in the holoconference. "Now, to the matter at hand," the committee chair said, as he turned towards Admiral Hackett, and sighed. "The first question this tribunal requests that you answer is the same one that the former rear admiral asked so… elegantly." The man looked drained. Some of the red left his face, but he wore all the stress of the oncoming invasion in the lines of his face. "Why," he asked, tired, "Did you decide to blow up a Mass Relay? And why that one?" he said, emotions a ball of confusion and frustration and desperation, all wrapped up around a little core of worry. "What were you thinking? What was running through your head?" Some of the color made its way back into his face, and his brows knit together. "What could possibly have—" he cut himself off, calming down. "...Off the record, It's been one hell of a tough twenty-four hours for all of us. Go ahead, Admiral."

"Thank you." Hackett said, both gracious and careful. As the committee as a whole could order him around, it was best to be polite. "Before I begin, I should explain a key facet of last night's events. Some of what I say is going to be classified, confidential information. I'm going to assume everyone who could possibly hear this has been read into the Official Secrets Act?"

The committee chair glanced down at his console. He looked up a few seconds later, and nodded. "Yes. All the press members have done so, and of course myself and the rest of the committee."

"Wonderful." Hackett sighed. "Let's begin with the Relay. Specifically, destroying a Relay." the admiral paused, taking in both the holograms and his bridge crew. An almost palpable silence pervaded the room. Hackett was sure that the members of the press watching with the committee-chair were all on the edges of their seats, just like half his crew. "This is knowledge that has been classified for the better part of three thousand years." his lips twisted into a thin smile. "Relays, when destroyed, can ravage entire systems. If you check your history books, you may find a footnote detailing the failed siege of Mynock-III, during the later stages of the Krogan Rebellions. A massive force of krogan decided to invade the planet, and destroyed the relay to cut off easy access to the system. Later scans found every single object in the system turned into a fine powder, and spread across an expanding radius two or three hundred astronomical units wide."

The committee chair's eyes bugged out. "So you…" he said, speaking faintly, before he trailed off.

"There's more." Hackett nodded. "The explosion created by a detonating relay travels faster than light due to the massive amount of reacting element zero involved. I judged that the sort of destructive power provided by a relay's detonation was necessary. It was the only thing able to let us catch hyper-intelligent AI in a trap." Hackett explained. "I estimate we've killed something like two, three hundred Reapers minimum. That's the uber-conservative estimate. There were twice that number within the central blast zone, and three times that in the surrounding regions."

"But we still only had the one relay connection. We're now almost stranded in the Sol System. How can you justify that to yourself?" the committee chair seemed genuinely confused, but he couldn't wrap his head around the situation.

"The man in charge of the Discretionary fleet is setting up another relay as we speak." Hackett explained.

The committee-chair stood still for a second, processing what the admiral had said. Then his eyes opened wide, and a hopeful smile graced his face. "Man! I mean, you said man. H-he's human?" he backtracked, trying for some clarity in his speech. "The Discretionary fleet is crewed by humans?"

Hackett shook his head. "I've already revealed more than he'd prefer. Suffice it to say that I've met him before, and I trust his judgement. I suggested the plan, and he approved it. I'd like to request that we discontinue this line of questioning, though. I don't want to reveal his identity."

"Of course!" said the committee chair, suddenly more amenable than before. "Is it possible that you could serve as both a military liaison to the Discretionary Fleet's commanding officer, and as the primary military strategist for the duration of the Reaper invasion?"

"That was the plan." Admitted Hackett. "I've been in almost constant contact with the Discretionary Fleet for years now, planning and making preparations for the oncoming Reaper Invasion."

"You were forewarned?" said one woman—the same one who'd been gloating at Mikhailovich. Her brows knit together, and her face twisted into an angry scowl. "Why didn't you bring this to Alliance Command? How long ago did you find out?"

"Would Alliance Command have believed me, ten or fifteen years ago," gasps and mutterings swept across the channel from the committee-chair's press-accessible meeting. "When I explained that an ancient machine-race was coming to wipe out every sentient species in the galaxy?" The admiral waited for the mutterings to subside, but they only grew. "And on the evidence of a man declared dead a century ago, some blurry video footage, odd coincidences, and token reassurances from the one branch of the Alliance that really doesn't exist?" Hackett lowered his voice, referring to the magicals. "I'd have been laughed out of the navy."

"F-Fifteen years?" the committee-chair stuttered. "For all that time, you knew?"

"Why do you think I've been so ardently in favor of increasing the size of the Navy? For the repeal of the treaty of Farixen?" Hackett responded rhetorically, not looking for an answer. "I've been trying to avert the end of the world, gentlemen. The end of all the worlds." The admiral barely hid his smile. He had them, he knew it. If they tried some sort of political maneuver now, they were screwed.

"We…" The committee chair leaned back in his seat. Exhaustion stole over his features. The gloating woman glared. "...I motion for a brief recess." The committee chair's voice dropped. "We'll reconvene in fifteen minutes. Is there a second?"

"Seconded." one of the committee members murmured.

"All in favor-" began the first hologram.

"Aye." All members of the security committee said as one, interrupting the chairman. He looked up, and nodded.

"Fifteen minutes." he said, looking directly at Hackett. Then all the holograms disappeared, replaced with the Sol System Defence Committee's formal logo. Admiral Hackett stepped back, slumping down into his command chair.

"Nothing to do now but wait." he said, answering a few questioning glances from around the bridge.

….

"Sir!" spoke one of Hackett's combat analysts, visibly alarmed. "The frigate screen on the edge of the solar system just got some strange readings." Then, turning to a man on his right, the analyst spoke again, more quietly. "Check this out. That's gotta be wrong…"

"What is it?" Hackett stood, and stepped forwards. Less than eight minutes had passed since the committee had called for a recess.

"I don't know." the combat-analyst said. "But it's massive. It's even larger than the Discretionary fleet flagship!"

"And fast." The admiral remarked. "Put out a priority alert. I want eyes on that thing as soon as it enters the system." he paused. "But do not fire. It's likely another Discretionary fleet vessel. Prepare to hail it as soon as it leaves FTL." Hackett moved to the nearest viewscreen, watching with bated breath.

There was a flash of blue, and a hundred kilometers of steel and alloy arrayed themselves across the screen. The word 'Hephaestus-II' stood out in white letters each more than a kilometer tall.

"Hailing." said an aging comms-technician. "If there's any response, the feed will go to that holoscreen." he pointed at another terminal

"That's the Discretionary fleet, alright." one of the analysts grumbled, with a mix of envy and awe. "Looks like a… mobile drydock of some sort? Twice as large as the citadel, at least."

"Looks like our new Relay has arrived." Hackett said, spotting a long black shape through the forest of manipulator arms, eezo-crucible alloy smelters, and mass effect generators. The nineteen-kilometer relay, longer by far than any Citadel craft, was dwarfed by the super-shipyard. Many other hulls were visible inside the vast framework of steel and alloy. Some hulls were still under construction, glowing amid twitching mechanical arms and eezo fields. Others were being repaired, including a ten-kilometer super-dreadnought with a pair of blackened furrows running three quarters of the entire length of the ship. Hackett estimated that a skilled pilot would be able to fly a frigate through one of those trenches, dug deep into the craft's armor.

Still more ships were clearly support craft for the shipyard, pulling blasted chunks of bulkhead from damaged craft. Others maneuvered minerals towards crucibles and vacuum-forges to be smelted into bulkheads and armor. A set of six hulls flanked the shipyard, each a kilometer long. Hackett glanced at them, and noticed that they too were shipyards, though on a much smaller scale. Cruiser hulls and a few frigates graced the visible sections of those ships.

A pinprick of light appeared over the other holotable, and a familiar—if distorted—voice rang out across the bridge.

"Admiral Hackett!" Harry spoke, jovial. "One relay, lightly used over the course of the last hundred million years. This one's going to Saturn, just a kilometer or three off the A ring. Then I'm slapping a few hundred defense platforms onto some of the denser asteroids in the ring. With the relay as a bottleneck, we shouldn't have to worry much about Reapers coming through this relay. It's not connected quite yet, though. I'm about to take the Charon relay out to Arcturus. It should be properly aligned in about ...an hour and a half, give or take. I'll send a frigate through when it's ready."

"Excellent." the admiral responded. "I'm currently in a holoconference with the Sol Defense Committee, so please keep quiet. They're currently taking a brief recess, and should return momentarily."

"Will do. Call me back when you're free. I've got news." Harry said, then ended the call.

Hackett turned back towards the holoconference table to see the remaining four holographic committee members staring in his direction.

"I motion to bestow upon Fleet Admiral Hackett complete strategic command of all human military efforts for the duration of this war." Spoke the committee chairman. Clearly, he'd overheard most or all of Harry's message, and decided for himself that Hackett, with his connections to the discretionary fleet, would be the best man for the job. "Do I have a second?" he spoke, glancing at his fellow committee members.

"Seconded." spoke two or three voices at once.

"All in favor say aye." spoke the chairman.

"Aye." rang out in stereo from three throats, while the gloating woman glowered, and replied 'Nay," a moment later. But the motion still passed.

"Forgive the lack of pomp and circumstance," said the first hologram, "But you must be busy, and constraints on your schedule could lose you necessary time to plan defenses and such. We'll send a shuttle with the official promotion paperwork, medals, and commendations as soon as they can be gathered together. In the meantime, we'll all have to prepare for the oncoming invasion." The chairman stood, and saluted. "Dismissed." he said, and closed the channel.

Polite applause rang out from all corners of the bridge. Hackett felt the beginning of a headache brewing an hour later, when the ship's night-shift came on duty. The Fleet admiral made his way towards his quarters, and dialed Harry's omni-tool. "Good evening, Harry." he said. "Can you give me the status of the invasion on the turian front?"

"It's going well right now, but it's going to fall apart in less than a week." Harry spoke up, tone grim. "The Reapers are almost at Irune, and I don't have enough ships in the Aethon Cluster to stop them. The good news is that the Reapers are being cautious. The bad news is that means they're massing a few astral units outside Aru, and jumping on any ship that takes the relay into the system. They're only being held off by a new weapon the volus navy just got retrofitted with. They love their missiles, and their newest versions go right through kinetic barriers. No idea how. I'm working on finding out, but I can't make guarantees. Anyway, the volus have this tiny fleet that keeps eviscerating lone Reapers, but they've got to run out of munitions soon."

"Alright." Hackett considered. "We can work with that. Any other news?"

"Heshtok is screwed." Harry began. "The vorcha homeworld has something like thirty Reapers planetside, harvesting the population."

"That's what we anticipated. What we hoped for." the admiral scowled. "Have you started the delaying action?"

"Not yet. Haven't needed to. But I've got something else."

"Resources, legitimacy, positive press, anything I can get you." Hackett replied. "What do you need?"

"It's not like that at all." the wizard grinned, despite himself. "You know the prothean superweapon you were talking about? I looked over the plans for it, and I spotted something." Harry's grin widened. "Runes, all over. It's a magic weapon."

"So your people..." Hackett phrased it as a question, voice inquiring.

"I'm going to see if I can get their help translating the rune alphabet into something legible. Hopefully we get some promising results. If not, we can try and learn the language the other way, instead of translating." Harry explained. "It might take longer, but should work just as well."

"Good, good." Hackett nodded. "That's plan B." He stood a little straighter, and spoke up. "So what's your next move?"

"I'm heading for Solace." said the wizard. "I've got an old friend from school who's probably the best bet to translate the weapon."

"Then godspeed, and good luck." Hackett said.

"You too." Harry saluted, and closed the channel.

Almost fourteen hours later, on the Kilimanjaro's bridge, Hackett glanced at his communications officer. "Wilbourne, I need an omni-tool number for Harry Potter."

"Sir?" the officer looked up, confused. "He called you last night, after shift change, you said? I'll look at the number the computer took and send it to you."

"No." said the admiral. The comms officer froze. "I need his personal number. I have another number that would reach him, but I have no explanation for how I could have gotten it." Hackett explained. "I want you to find the number he used before leaving the alliance and 'going mercenary,' as the officer in charge of his naval base called it."

"Yes sir," said the comms officer. "Um. Sir, If I may ask a question?"

"Go ahead."

"Why? I mean, if you've already got his number…"

"I need a way to contact him that isn't suspicious. Remember, he's technically a mercenary." Hackett said, softly. "But If I call him up, and ask a favor for old times' sake, then it becomes all official. Intel hires on his mercenary crew as paramilitary consultants, and he's got free reign on the battlefield." The admiral nodded, decisive. "That's how he works best."

"Mercenaries...Sir?" the officer grimaced. Reluctantly, he added, "Are they skilled, at least?"

"Relax." Hackett smiled, mischievously. "It's just Mr. Potter and his AI. And if you've been keeping up with security briefings, you'll recognize the name. It's Mortis Solutions we'd be hiring, so yes, they are skilled."

The officer's mouth dropped. "Holy shi-"

"Besides," Hackett interrupted, with a wry grin across his lips as the officer's face colored, "It's been too long since I've worked with an operative with his capabilities. I think it's past time we welcomed him back into the fold."

…..

David Anderson almost smiled, as he glanced over the latest reports from the Martian Shipyards. All bays were turned to retrofit duty six months ago, to equip the fleet with Thanix cannons. Now that was paying off. Almost every single ship in the Alliance had been rotated off duty, upgraded, and sent back into the fray. With the armaments the fleets had carried before the retrofit… Anderson shook his head. Humanity would have lost the war already. The Reapers would have steamrolled through Alliance space, able to eviscerate any ship brave or desperate enough to come between them and their prey.

…...

The following excerpt is from the annals of 'How We Won the Reaper War' the bestselling twenty-two-gigabyte textbook published in the last months of 2189 for use at the Turian Officer's college on Nanus. This edition has been released to the public at no cost, in order to better educate the general populace on the specifics of the Reaper Invasion. "So much has been shrouded in secrecy," spoke Septimus Oraka, a retired turian general, "and it is time to amend that. During the war, we called it operational security. At the time, most of it truly was top secret. But some information was hidden from the populace simply to keep morale high. Most of the galaxy didn't know we'd lost contact with Illium until we reestablished communications two weeks later. The Department of Wartime Intelligence suppressed that knowledge. Spirits, most turians didn't know that the Reapers glassed Irune until the war was almost over. It is time for the truth to be brought to light."

Chapter Two Hundred Sixty: The Thanix Cannon

The Thanix Cannon, as of this publication, has become well known as the standard spinal mounted weapon for all Council military craft. Engineers cite sheer destructive force as the impetus for the shift from simple mass-drivers to magnetohydrodynamic weapons, but the truth is less clear-cut than the official narrative describes.

Designs for the weapon were originally reverse-engineered from the shattered remnants of Sovereign, the Reaper Capitol-ship serving as the flagship for the Heretic Geth fleet amassed by the Turian ex-Spectre Saren the Clanless. The prototype was passed through a number of review boards, and was eventually approved enthusiastically for future use. A number of comparisons were drawn, at the time, to the famously powerful armaments mounted on the armada designated by the Alliance as the 'Discretionary Fleet.'

The weapon first saw widespread use in Alliance space, at the first Arcturus Skirmish on the Human front. Admiral Steven Hackett had (days prior) completed a lengthy retrofit to update the entire Alliance navy with Thanix cannons. "They have proven their worth a thousand times over." Hackett said in a press conference in early 2188, as they allowed individual wolfpacks (An Alliance term for a group of four frigates) to take out Reaper Destroyers with an average of thirty-two percent casualties over the last six hundred engagements. Findings from statisticians in the intelligence branch of the Turian Navy suggest that casualties would have been many times higher, if Alliance ships had been armed with solid-shot mass accelerators rather than magnetohydrodynamic cannons.

DECLARATION OF WAR FROM THE TURIAN PRIMARCH

By Chisilix Palanurus

CIPRITINE, PALAVEN – The Turian Hierarchy is at war with an unknown force of artificial intelligences, Palaven's Primarch Fedorian revealed today in a brief address carried throughout Citadel space. The speech came just hours after comm buoys went dark near Satu Arrd, the most distant system in the cluster home to the prosperous Vol Protectorate.

Certain rumors were confirmed by the Primarch, suggesting the attackers were the same squid-like ships that attacked the Citadel two years ago, and more recently, batarian space. "The attackers are called Reapers. They are a race of intelligent starships that can turn their prisoners into willing slaves," he said.

Fedorian did little to acknowledge fears that the enemy must have superior technology in order to coordinate two fronts thousands of light years apart. "There are many mysteries about this enemy, but we know enough," he said. "They have attacked our kin and so it is war with them. War until victory. War however long and hard the road may be. War until they can never threaten us again."

Turian response to the Primarch's statement was vociferous. Several inter-and-extranet outages were reported following the speech, as turians vented their anger at the enemy. Primarch Fedorian seemed to have predicted this emotional response in his address, though it remains to be seen if he can contain it. "Now is not the time to be enraged," he said. "Now is the time to harness our will and do what must be done. We must show that the Reapers picked the wrong foe."

Military analysts have revealed that Reaper forces are not yet moving to attack the Volus homeworld. They've been interested only in the system's single Mass Relay, looking to bypass turian fleets in holding positions around the structure.

Stay safe, and keep yourself informed. Now is not the time to give in to chaos. These are dark days, and there are more on the horizon, but Palaven will weather this storm.

…...

"Dobby?" Harry spoke. He looked up from his omni-tool, and collapsed the glowing screens. On a nearby console, a wireframe representation of a house-elf appeared.

"Yes?" A synthetic voice said, echoing from a small speaker in the ceiling. "Are you finally going, then?"

"Set a course for Solace." the wizard said. He stretched, eliciting a series of cracks and pops from his neck and spine.

"So that's a yes." the AI said, almost amused. "Should I prepare a message for Ron and Hermione?"

"...Uh." Harry paused. He blinked once, winced, and leaned back into the massive chair in the cockpit. "Why don't we make it a surprise?" he said, though his tone indicated that he didn't think that was possible.

"Um… No?" Dobby the AI said, incredulous. "You haven't seen them in decades and you want to just drop in?"

Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "...Maybe?"

"You'll get no sympathy from, me, Master Harry." said the AI, in a delightfully reproachful tone.

"For god's sake, I told you to stop calling me that!" Harry's head thunked against the back of the chair. "This is a partnership. I don't—"
"You programmed me to be like Dobby." Dobby said, cheerfully. "You showed me your memories of him. And if the great master Harry Potter—"

"Gah!" Harry scowled, and sat up.

"—Gets annoyed that I'm calling him by his proper title—" Dobby's voice coming over the speakers was almost criminally self-satisfied.

"Since it's annoying, could you please stop calling me that!"

"—You'll have to suck it up, because you are entirely too much fun to annoy."

"...Oh fuck you." Harry scowled again at the console, but the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. He leaned back, as the ship's maneuvering thrusters activated. "...I'm gonna have to write the letter, aren't I."

"I forgot my typewriter at home, so it looks like it's up to you." Dobby's voice took on a wry, sarcastic edge. "Let's see how the big bad Master of Death does, hm? Will he be defeated by a letter to his friends?"

"Wanker." murmured the wizard.

"That's not anatomically possible. I'm—" Dobby began, the response coming easily to mind. He and Harry always traded harsh words, but all in jest. They were good friends, by now.

"I know." Harry interrupted, with the ease of long practice. He pulled up an app on his omni-tool as he stared off into the starfield beyond the ship's viewscreens. "Take care of the fleets for me, would you?"

"Of course." The AI responded, the question a mere formality. "Find some solace on Solace, would you?"

"That was awful." said the wizard. He tilted his seat further back as he began to compose a message.

'Dear Hermione,' he wrote. Then he let his hands fall to his chest.

"Fuck." he muttered, and started to comb his thoughts for something he could use. Then, louder, "I'm gonna get hexed to Andromeda and back, won't I."

"I'm not sure." Dobby replied softly. "But it might just be a good idea to have a shield charm on the tip of your tongue."