Disclaimer: I own no franchise mentioned in this work. Halo belongs to 343, Mass Effect to Bioware.

Here we are again. It was indeed another year between chapters, and while I do apologize for that I also presume it is not particularly surprising to most people at this point.

The only thing that's really happened since the last chapter that I can think of is the collapse of leadership at 343i. Hopefully that ends up being a good thing because the previous leadership team was clearly incompetent in my view, and that of much of the fanbase given the reactions to the direction of the franchise. Remains to be seen what changes are made, so far it just seems like the company is dead in the water as Infinite has drifted into a stagnant period of development. I don't really play multiplayer and the story has been completely abandoned it seems like, so I can't really say to have positive thoughts on that front.

I guess there's also the TV show. That's, uh...well, that's a thing. Moving on...

Mass Effect is...well, not much going on there that I've heard. I guess there is a confirmed Mass Effect 5 in development, but after Andromeda I'm not sure I hold out fantastic hope. Especially considering Bioware's last major release was Anthem, which was, was, was certainly something. An experience, I guess.

Sorry to be so negative here but I want to try and explain my thoughts as I am beginning to worry that Halo may fall away from my interest entirely. That statement is strange even now to write seeing as how much time I've put into writing this story, into playing the games, into reading other stories in this fandom. When I started writing Illusion I was fascinated with the worlds of Halo and Mass Effect, obviously given this story.

Now, well, other things draw my attention.

I'm not canceling this story, I still hope to complete it one day. But for now, these slow updates will continue. Hopefully I have some more positive vibes when the next update rolls around. Until then, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy.

August 23, 2589/16th Day of 9th Month, 2459/August 23, 2180

Serpent Nebula

Citadel Docks

For such a small crowd, the group of a dozen or so journalists standing near the entrance of the hangar were impressively capable of filling the cavernous space with noise. Much as he wanted to clear the deck of unnecessary visitors, the Chief recognized the unfortunate reality that their mission was as much a public spectacle as a diplomatic overture. Important as any negotiations with the Citadel Council may have been, most people were far more interested in catching a glimpse of soldiers standing around than the blathering of politicians. It was a song and dance that he had become far too familiar with in his position, a spectre that haunted him even a galaxy away from Earth and the rest of the UEG.

Even with the stringent security measures implemented by C-Sec to ensure against any threats to foreign diplomats, every Spartan in the hangar was tense and alert as they scanned the crowd. The two Sangheili Spec Ops warriors were similarly attentive, their heads constantly moving as they quietly rested near the pile of equipment they had brought with them. Of the last six members of the party, only two seemed to be paying even a modicum of attention to their surroundings.

The Mgalekgolo pair were hunkered down in their armor next to the Jiralhanae War Chief that had been sent by the Banished, the two hulking colonies seemingly unconcerned with the activity around them. That attitude was mirrored by the Huragok as it disassembled a variety of items that had been brought to it by a human woman, an ONI handler if her uniform was accurate. Much as Chief wanted to criticize the cavalier attitude, he could at least acknowledge that there probably wasn't much that would be able to realistically threaten the Mgalekgolo. In much the same vein he held no illusions that the Huragok would be useful in combat, and while the ONI handler was certainly curious he could also appreciate that she was more concerned with keeping her charge from wandering off.

Unlike so many of his kind, the Jiralhanae seemed to have a keen mind as he glared at the Citadel citizens with palpable disdain. His crossed arms and relaxed stance made it clear that he considered them little threat, though that didn't stop him from quietly grumbling to himself as he waited to depart. Fortunately it didn't seem that the brute was immediately intending to paint the walls of the hangar in a coat of pulverized civilians. This left just the last member of the group, a solidly built Unggoy that had arrived with the two Sangheili. Much to the surprise of the Chief the grunt's IFF had reported him as a Ranger, far higher than any Unggoy he had seen or fought before. To the credit of the grunt, he seemed as alert as his compatriots and showed no signs of the basic behavior so common to his species.

Interested as he was as to how an Unggoy had achieved a rank usually reserved for elite Sangheili warriors, Chief didn't let it distract him from other matters. With a few quick thoughts he brought up the status of the SSV Normandy on his HUD, his eyes flicking down to see that the ship had finally entered the Serpent Nebula and was on final approach to the Citadel. The Phantom that had brought them aboard the massive station had long since departed, returning to the Kerel-pattern CAS-class assault carrier that had ferried them to this meeting. The crowd of reporters had already been present when they arrived, and for the last hour or so had been lingering as they waited for a look at the newest Alliance vessel.

Their patience was finally rewarded as the somewhat uncomfortable atmosphere was broken by the hangar alarm, a shrill sound that echoed in the confined space as an indication that a ship was on approach. The attention of everyone turned to the vast expanse of stars outside the hangar, the faint shimmering barrier that protected them from the vacuum allowing a clear view of any incoming craft. After several minutes the sleek form of the Normandy finally became visible, much to the excitement of the assembled reporters. John was significantly less enthused as he examined the ship, the smooth curves reminding him far too much of Covenant architecture.

The Chief ignored his unease as he focused on the mission, his eyes darting between the various soldiers as they all prepared to depart. Seeing that they were all already in motion, he turned to watch the Normandy slide into the docking bay, the small ship settling gently in the cradle as a boarding ramp was extended. The familiar figure of Spectre Shepard appeared as the exterior door of the ship opened, allowing the woman to look at the group that would soon be part of her crew. With a slight tilt of her head she communicated to the Chief that he should approach, a gesture that was most welcome as he stepped into the covered gantry and away from the cameras.

"Ma'am," Chief greeted as he stopped at the edge of the ramp and gave her a brief salute.

Shepard returned the gesture as a matter of courtesy between friendly forces as she responded, "Master Chief. Is everyone ready?"

"Affirmative," he replied shortly, adopting the same casual tone as the Commander. "Permission to come aboard?"

"Permission granted. You can leave your gear on the dock, it'll be brought down to the cargo bay," Shepard informed him.

Chief stared at her for a moment before turning his eyes to the doorway, pointedly shifting his helmet to look at the edges of the frame. After a brief second of staring he took a single step back, turning to look at the hulking forms of the Mgalekgolo waiting on the dock.

To her credit the Spectre quickly caught on as she followed his gaze, only speaking when the Chief looked back at her, "Hunters, right?"

Chief gave a slight nod but stayed silent as Shepard examined the walking tanks.

She gave a short huff and noted, "They're not going to fit in a lot of the Normandy, will they be alright staying in the cargo bay?"

"That will be acceptable," John confirmed.

"Good. We'll discuss command structure and expectations when everyone is aboard. I have to leave for a meeting with the Council in-," Shepard paused to glance down at her omnitool, "-seventy-three minutes, give or take. That should give us enough time to talk a bit and let everyone get introduced."

"Understood," John responded. Using his neural link he disabled his external speakers and opened a channel to the other members of the joint team, "Gear will go to the cargo bay, the Hunters can board there as well and keep watch over it. The Spectre has asked for a meeting with the rest of us."

Three green lights flickered across the top of the Chief's HUD as Blue Team acknowledged his words, the three Spartans coming to attention but not immediately moving towards the ship as they gathered their weapons. The rest of the group followed as they moved with practiced efficiency, the soft rattle of shifting armor and weapons lost in the cavernous hangar. Confident that his directions would be followed by the professional soldiers, Chief turned to follow Shepard into the Normandy. Behind him he could hear heavy footsteps as the Jiralhanae began clomping up the ramp, the deep snorts of his breathing echoing within the enclosed gantry.

Before John could follow the Spectre a well-kempt but otherwise unremarkable man stepped out of the ship, his eyes swiftly glancing over the Spartans before moving to the rest of the Warden soldiers. With a small smile that did little to hide his nervousness from the astute gaze of a Spartan, the man gingerly stepped past Chief and the Brute Warlord before walking down the ramp and turning towards the crowd of journalists. Fortunately someone somewhere in the complex logistics chain of the Alliance had had the wisdom to send a public relations liaison with the ship as the man set about distracting the civilians from the departing alien contingent. Though the man still seemed nervous in the presence of so many aliens, the Chief had to give him credit for drawing the attention of the reporters so effectively. While at first they had been captivated by the gleaming hull of the SSV Normandy, the civilians had quickly returned their attention to the small group of soldiers that had been waiting to board.

As John turned and stepped into the ship his eyes darted around the space that greeted him, the soft curves and open passages garnering a critical stare as he contemplated the design. He instinctively began to pick out defensible locations and tactical approaches as he examined his posting for the next while, his gaze trailing up the walls to where they met the roof overhead. There were clear indications that the ship was primarily designed by human hands and minds, but at the same time he could pick out the subtle influence of the Citadel species already at work in its architecture. The ship lacked the hardened design of every UNSC ship, the sharp edges and armored junctions that made boarding a warship a daunting task nowhere to be seen.

Even more than 30 years after the end of the war, the action of stepping onto an alien ship without intending to kill everything aboard was a strange feeling. It didn't matter if it was Forerunner, Covenant, Banished, Turian, or any other of a dozen options, John always felt the same subtle tension run through him as he crossed the threshold into the hull. While the Normandy was ostensibly designed and built by humans, he could not ignore those subtle signs of influence from different minds. It was so far removed from the utilitarian philosophy of UNSC ships that it might as well have been alien, a warship built for peace in a galaxy that had long forgotten the hard lessons of the Krogan Rebellion.

Still, the strangely welcoming corridors of the Normandy were far preferable to the clean hangar that it sat within, the soft hum of the ship a more welcome companion than the clammer of journalists. Spartans had been trained in war and tactics and strategy, much like every other warrior that now joined the crew of the Alliance warship. The undulating crowd of reporters that had gathered to try and catch a shot of the first joint mission between Citadel and Warden forces could hardly be defeated by a hail of bullets.

Well, they could, but the Chief somewhat doubted that that would be helpful to his mission.

Putting aside his meandering thoughts, John turned his attention to where Shepard stood just inside the ship. She gave him a smile and stated, "Welcome aboard the SSV Normandy."

Chief stared back at her, unsure what he was supposed to say. He noted the Jiralhanae coming to a stop behind him, the heavily muscled warrior huffing impatiently as his way was blocked.

After a few seconds Shepard's smile grew slightly brittle and she awkwardly continued, "Alright, good talk. Do you need time to get settled in or-"

"No," Chief interjected. After a moment he added, "Ma'am."

"Alright," Shepard accepted smoothly, skipping over the interruption. "Well let's not waste any time then. You'll have plenty of opportunities to explore the ship on your own, but I can give you a basic rundown as we walk. Up front is the pilot's seat and CIC, comms room in the stern."

As the Spectre began to walk Chief quickly checked the helmet feeds of Blue team, the three different perspectives flashing across his HUD in quick succession. Upon seeing that they were already moving towards the Normandy with the rest of the group, he closed the feed and silently followed Shepard. He distantly noted her words as she walked down a set of stairs and pointed out the medical office and labs in the quarters, but most of his attention was focused on his running analysis of the ship. Even for a civilian craft it seemed needlessly spacious, that this was the design for a military stealth vessel almost baffled him. It was so far removed from his experiences with ONI Prowlers and other similar ships so as to be almost unrecognizable, though Chief readily acknowledged that the stealth capabilities of this vessel were focused around concealing heat and ignored almost every other potential method of identification.

Even with the spacious design for a stealth vessel the massive Spartan still had to be careful when following the Spectre as it was quickly clear that the ship was designed for humans and not tall, armored soldiers. It was a difficulty shared by the Jiralhanae and Sangheili as well, something that clearly displeased the Brute as he growled slightly while descending the narrow stairs to the second level. Still, regardless of the best efforts of the ship's designers to make their life mildly inconvenient the entire group was able to arrive at the crew quarters without denting the fresh, new interior of the Normandy.

Several other crew members were already looking over at their group, some of them clearly ship personnel while others carried the air of seasoned fighters. He recognized the Turian casually leaning against the wall nearby from the diplomatic party that had visited Earth, at least so he assumed given that the distinct facial marking matched. Across from him was a particularly surly human woman glaring at the entire party as if their existence insulted her, an attitude that was oddly nostalgic as Chief remembered many ODSTs holding that same expression. The last notable individual was far better at controlling her emotions, though John instantly recognized that the woman was an intelligence officer of some sort given her uniform and disposition. Chief suspected that Cortana would hate her on sight, making him somewhat glad that his AI partner was currently handling the deployment of the Dauntless rather than providing him snarky commentary.

Shepard confirmed Chief's assumption as she began, "Spectre Garrus Vakarian will be joining us for many of our deployments; he's been working on the Reaper investigation for some time now. I believe some of you have met him before, when he visited Earth a few months ago. He'll be able to get the Council to listen to what they don't want to hear."

"I promise nothing of the sort," the Turian denied.

"Maybe if I keep saying it it'll eventually be true," Shepard replied, gaining a scoff of amusement from the Turian. The woman gestured towards the intelligence officer as she continued, "This is Agent Lawson, Alliance Intelligence. She'll be our interface for getting information on targets and leads."

The black-haired officer said nothing, keeping her arms crossed as she stared at the group with sharp eyes.

"Lastly is Jack, one of the Alliance's few biotics strong enough for combat. She'll be joining us for any ground-pounding, though I think we'll all need a bit of time to adjust to fighting alongside each other. If the rest of you are anything like the Spartans then it'll be interesting trying to integrate tactics."

"We have fought beside the Devil before, it is an honor to do so once more," one of the Sangheili rumbled. He nodded towards Jack and continued, "I have seen reports of these biotics and have considered how they could be best used. They are powerful, but questions remain in my mind that must be answered before I would rely on them."

"The fuck you trying to say?" Jack asked.

"Jack," Shepard warned with a pointed look.

The Sangheili merely tilted his head, more confused than threatened as he answered, "How do your biotics handle energy shielding? Hardlight? Plasma?"

"How the fuck would I know?"

"Indeed, and so we may learn together," the Sangheili replied patiently.

His calm and even tone seemed to confuse the woman more than anything as she gave him a strange look before rolling her eyes and grumbling, "Sure, whatever."

As Jack turned to slip into one of the rooms Shepard stated, "Thank you for trying, Jack can be abrasive at the best of times."

"I have seen many with such anger in their eyes before, it would not be the first time it was directed to me or mine. My time with humans has taught me that they are well suited to hate, though some hold it so close to their heart that it consumes them. I should hope that she learns that few are worthy of her anger," the Sangheili responded.

"Did you fight in the War?" Shepard inquired.

"Both for, and against," he replied. "When I obeyed the pious lies of Hierarchs I was offered a place in their Honor Guard, but I sought a bloodier path. I served in the Covenant Special Warfare Group, Special Operations and joined the Ascetics. When the treachery of our belief was revealed I fought beside the Arbiter, and once the war was over I sought to learn from those who had fought against us for so long. I now serve the Swords with the Riftborn, a unit devoted to joint operations with the humans."

Shepard nodded appreciatively as she pressed, "And your name?"

"Usze 'Taham."

"Good to have you with us," the Spectre stated when it became clear that that was all 'Taham would volunteer. "If you have experience working with humans then hopefully you have some ideas how you can integrate into Alliance units."

"Perhaps," 'Taham granted with a small nod.

Shepard turned her attention to the other Sangheili as she asked, "And you?"

"N'Tho 'Sraom, Special Operations Commander for the Swords of Sanghelios," the other Sangheili replied.

"I assume you have a similar story?" Shepard inquired.

"There are few who can say otherwise," 'Sraom replied.

The Spectre gave a slow nod as she admitted, "So I would imagine."

"They were not the first to defy the Covenant," the Jiralhanae rumbled, glaring at the two Sangheili.

Before the situation could escalate Shepard interjected, "Is there going to be a problem?"

The Brute glanced down at her, snorting at her bold tone before turning his gaze back to the Elites.

N'tho was the one to finally speak as he stated, "I will not apologize for mistakes which were not my own, but neither will I excuse them. Your people suffered from the lies of the Hierarchs just as my own. Those wounds will require more than time to mend, just as with the humans."

"Is that good enough for you?" Shepard pressed when the Brute didn't respond.

After a second the Jiralhanae grunted and relaxed slightly as he responded, "It is."

"Fantastic," the Spectre replied with somewhat sarcastic cheer. "Now I don't believe you've introduced yourself?"

"I am Pavium the Unbreakable, Warlord of the Banished," the Brute declared proudly, pounding his fist against his chest.

Shepard narrowed her eyes slightly as she stated, "I was under the impression that the Banished were an independent group, more mercenaries than representatives of a foreign power."

"Mercenaries? Bah!" Pavium scoffed with a dismissive wave. "The Warmaster has greater ambitions than serving the whims of those who cannot help themselves. Jiralhanae may not know much diplomacy that does not come from the blunt end of a hammer, but that does not mean we do not understand the benefits of making friends with those in charge."

"Right," Shepard drawled with a hint of doubt in her tone. "Well unfortunately I'm only in charge of this ship, so if you're looking to make connections with the Council then it might be a bit difficult."

"The Council is hardly worth the air in their lungs, I would not waste time pandering to their meaningless drivel," Pavium growled.

That amused Shepard as she huffed and responded, "Well I can't argue with that, but then what are you doing here?"

"Atriox wished to make clear that the Jiralhanae will not be so easily forgotten," Pavium replied. "I am to report on the progress of our mission and any interesting discoveries we make."

"Are you familiar with the concept of spies?" Shepard inquired bluntly after a few seconds.

Pavium snorted and responded, "Even in a different galaxy you're the same humans. There are few who are able to twist their words in such a way, the Jiralhanae are not one of them. A spy would seek to conceal their actions, I declare them to you now. Even the Sangheili, for all the mistakes they made, never lied the way the Hierarchs did. The way humans do."

"A straight shooter then, I can deal with that," the Spectre accepted. "I still don't quite understand why your boss is so interested in having you here, though."

"You intend to find the truth regarding these Reapers that have been little more than rumors to now, no?" the Warlord asked.

"We will have other missions but that is our primary focus," Shepard confirmed.

Pavium nodded and continued, "And if they do exist, and they are the threat that so many seem to think they are, what will we do?"

"We'll fight," the Spectre confirmed solemnly.

"And so now you understand why the Warmaster is interested," Pavium concluded.

"If you're just looking for a fight then there's plenty of options already. Any krogan could tell you that," Shepard pointed out.

"Ah, but is it a fight worth taking?" Pavium asked. "Atriox sees great opportunity in this galaxy, but as with any venture there is a risk to be taken as well. If the Banished are to work here, then Atriox wants to be certain that we do not suffer the same fate as those who came before."

Shepard thought over that for several seconds before nodding and admitting, "That's a pretty smart approach. Fair enough."

"The humans called us Brutes during the war, savages with little thought or empathy," Pavium stated. "Some still do. Sometimes they are not wrong. Not all Jiralhanae are so primitive."

"Noted. There are many who would say the same about the krogan," Shepard replied.

Pavium smiled slightly and grunted as he responded, "No doubt."

Turning her head away from the hulking Jiralhanae, Jane looked down towards the Unggoy as she examined his armor. After a few seconds she stated, "Haven't met many of your kind."

"Most don't want to fight," the grunt replied in the usual high, squeaky voice of his kind. He held out his four fingered hand as he introduced himself, "My name is Stolt, I lead the Rangers of Fleetmaster 'Vadum."

"That's an impressive position, you have quite a bit of experience leading squad actions then?" Shepard questioned as she accepted the handshake.

"Yep," Stolt confirmed.

The Spectre glanced over the group and noted, "There's a lot of you with leadership experience."

"Any member of the team should be capable of assuming command if necessary," Stolt countered. "The missions could be dangerous. The Demons were good at targeting leadership, our enemies may do the same."

When Shepard looked to Chief he gave a minute shrug and explained, "The Covenant relied on a strict hierarchy. It was strategically viable to execute decapitation strikes on critical targets."

Pavium snorted and stated, "Killing everything that moved is hardly a targeted strike."

"Only when necessary for the mission," the Spartan countered.

The Jiralhanae scoffed but didn't bother to argue.

Shepard glanced between them before clearly deciding to let the matter settle as she looked over towards the Huragok, only to pause as she watched the human woman attempting to pry something from its strange tentacles. After a few seconds she seemed to realize that interrupting whatever was going on was not worth her time, so she turned towards Blue Team and noted, "You all have been pretty quiet."

The four Spartans stared back at her, faces hidden behind their visors as they remained stoically silent.

"My point," Shepard drawled with a dry look at the four armored humans. She glanced over to the Huragok for a brief moment as she continued, "I unfortunately didn't catch any of your names when I visited Earth. I've asked almost everyone else, so if you would care to share?"

"Sierra zero eight seven," Kelly finally said after a few awkward seconds.

"Sierra zero five eight," Linda followed.

Fred glanced at John for a moment before supplying, "Lieutenant works, or Sierra one zero four."

Shepard glanced between them before looking at Chief and deducing, "And I assume Sierra one one seven?"

"Ma'am," Chief replied with a short nod.

"Those are all service numbers," Agent Lawson said, speaking for the first time. Chief turned his head to look at her, silencing whatever argument she was about to make as she stared into his visor.

"It'd be nice to get to know each other if we'll be working together," Shepard added, relieving the Cerberus agent of Chief's unnerving gaze.

Suddenly a new voice chimed in, "You're not going to get much more than that."

The attention of everyone turned to the ONI handler, causing her to glance between people a bit nervously as she stepped towards the Huragok. Whatever she had been fighting with the alien about, she appeared to have lost as Chief noticed that the floating supercomputer was in the middle of dismantling what looked to be the datapad she had been carrying.

"Spartans tend to be pretty, uhm, pretty private about that sort of stuff," she explained.

"You've worked with Spartans before then," Shepard observed.

"Not a lot, and they were all S-IV's, but it seemed to be pretty common knowledge among them," the woman replied. After a moment she straightened slightly and added, "Uh, I'm Sadie and this here is Quick to Adjust, or Vergil. Either one works."

The Spectre looked over at Vergil, who was still engrossed with his disassembly of the datapad, before turning back and responded, "Good to meet you Agent Sadie. You're part of the UNSC Office of Naval Intelligence going by the uniform, is that right?"

"It's just Sadie, no agent or ma'am or any of that," the woman replied quickly. "If you really insist then I can accept Dr. Endesha. I'm part of the Office but I'm not a soldier, I know how to shoot a gun, sometimes even hitting my target, and that's about it. ONI decided to let me be the handler for Vergil here, he was one of the first Huragok to defect from the Covenant."

"So you're a civilian in charge of babysitting a Naval Intelligence asset?" Shepard inquired. When Sadie nodded she commented, "That must be an interesting story."

"It's...yeah, it was something else," Sadie replied, clearly lost in memories for a moment. Her voice was slightly more distant as she explained, "Vergil saved me when the Covenant attacked Earth."

Shepard hummed and responded, "Sorry for bringing it up."

Sadie waved her apology away.

The Spectre turned her attention to Vergil as she asked, "He's a Huragok, am I getting that right?"

"Yep, or Engineers as the UNSC called them during the war. They hate fighting but are amazing with technology, as you can see," Sadie explained, gesturing to Vergil as he slowly rebuilt her datapad. "A lot of them defected to the UEG after the way the Covenant treated them, but you probably won't see a lot of them as they're spread throughout the colonies."

"Yeah, I never saw any on Earth," Shepard confirmed. "So what is he-"

"Commander?" a voice suddenly called out from the ship speakers.

The Spectre paused and looked up slightly as she answered, "Yes, Joker?"

"So you know those massive things that you sent to the cargo bay?"

"You mean the Hunters?" Shepard inquired.

"Sure, I guess. Big metal shields and looked like they could flip a Mako," Joker summarized.

Shepard sighed and responded, "Okay, yes, those are called Hunters. Are they causing problems?"

"Uhm, well, uh, maybe? I don't know?" Joker replied.

"You don't...know," Shepard stated, extending her words to make clear her confusion.

"They seemed fine, but they look like they've melted."

"They melted? Joker, they use directed energy weapons and are built like tanks, I don't think they would just melt," Shepard commented with a bit of irritation.

Her attitude was returned as the man responded, "I don't know, the two of them just collapsed into a giant pile of...uh, worms? I think?"

Usze finally saw fit to interject as he explained, "They are Mgalekgolo, a bonded pair, one colony in two bodies. They shall not harm your ship so long as they are fed."

"Okay, well, that was not as comforting as I was hoping," Shepard muttered. She raised her voice as she stated, "I am being told that that is normal, Joker. Thank you for your concern."

"If you say, Commander," he replied, clearly doubtful.

"Joker's the pilot of the Normandy," the Commander explained, addressing the group once more. She eyed the armored figures as she continued, "His bones are very weak though, so I would ask that you all be very careful around him. Don't touch him sort of weak."

"Yet you allow him into your clan?" Pavium questioned.

Shepard stared at the Jiralhanae before dipping her head slightly as she replied, "The Alliance needed bodies, and he's a damn good pilot. He may not be running around a battlefield clubbing enemies to death with his fists, but that doesn't mean he's useless. If he's in the pilot seat it means another soldier can join us in the fight."

"Hmm," Pavium grunted. "Good."

"Good?" Shepard asked, clearly somewhat surprised.

"Yes. You seek to use what resources you have in the most efficient manner rather than discarding those who cannot fight. Their failure to understand that was the death of the Hierarchs, it is why I follow Warmaster Atriox," Pavium explained.

"Good to know," the Spectre responded with a nod. She turned back to Usze 'Taham as she noted, "You said that the, uh, Mgal-whatever you called them, the Hunters, would not harm the ship so long as they're fed."

Usze nodded and clarified, "The Lekgolo consume metals, their appetite led them to conflict with the Covenant."

Shepard raised her eyebrow as she pressed, "And that shouldn't concern me because...?"

"They may sate their appetite on the materials they brought with them, they pose no pressing threat to your ship," Usze replied.

When the Commander looked his way, the Chief gave a minute nod indicating that he agreed with the Sangheili's claim.

He was uncertain if his message had been received as she looked back to 'Taham and responded, "If you're sure then I suppose I can't argue. I'll be very annoyed if they eat the nice new deck plating though."

"They will not," Usze insisted, apparently missing Shepard's sarcasm. He nodded to Vergil and added, "That one is far more a concern for causing issues."

When Shepard looked over Sadie simply shrugged and stated, "There's a reason Huragok are assigned handlers. I'll do my best to keep him focused but, well..."

"I see," the Commander muttered, eyeing the pieces of the datapad as the Huragok deftly reassembled the piece of complex device. "So this is a regular thing?"

"Yeah, better to let him fiddle than get bored," Sadie replied.

"I was about to ask you before Joker so kindly interrupted, but what is he doing?" Shepard wondered.

Sadie took a second to formulate her answer before she explained, "Huragok are fascinated with improving technology, they're constantly looking to tear things apart and learn how they work. They can deconstruct and reconstruct anything, or damn near to it; I haven't seen any examples where they couldn't. As far as we can tell they remember everything they learn from doing this which allows them to apply that information to other devices. For example, Vergil has deconstructed my datapad multiple times in the past, but I was able to give him some of the technology available on the Citadel and now he's trying to use what he learned."

"That seems incredibly helpful," Shepard noted.

"Of course, it's why the Covenant kept them around even though they couldn't really fight," Sadie pointed out. "We were sent to help with any Prothean technology, see if Vergil could help find anything."

"So he can learn Prothean technology and share that information with ONI," Agent Lawson commented.

Sadie didn't back away from her glare as she shrugged and agreed, "Probably that too, yes. I didn't ask and I wasn't told, but that's ONI for you."

"There's something you're not saying," Lawson accused.

"I'm not an officer or anything, but as I said I've worked with Spartans before. There are some things I cannot tell you, just as I'm sure there are things you can't tell me. I know certain things due to the work I've done as a handler for Vergil, none of those things should affect you," Sadie responded.

"Miranda, leave it," Shepard ordered curtly.

A frustrated glare was sent at the Spectre as Lawson growled, "Commander..."

"It's classified, if she says she can't share then that's that. I'm curious, and if any of that information pertains to a threat to this ship I would hope that that would be shared, but I don't think any work she's done would have anything to do with us," Shepard noted.

"You're just going to trust her?" Miranda asked.

"She's Naval Intelligence Miranda, same as you. You don't need to trust her, but you should know better than to push for classified info," Shepard scolded.

Miranda took a deep breath and calmly stated, "I am just concerned for the ship, ma'am."

"I understand that, I appreciate your concerns. On the other hand, there's at least seven special operations soldiers right here with literally decades of experience, any one of which could decide to try and kill everyone on board. I have no doubt that the vast majority of that experience is highly classified, probably at much higher clearance than a lot of what Sadie has done," Shepard reasoned. After a moment she nodded to the handler and added, "No offense."

Sadie shrugged and glanced at the Chief as she agreed, "Almost certainly."

Lawson stepped close to Shepard and lowered her voice, but Chief's enhanced hearing easily caught her fierce whisper, "You're going to let something that can just rip apart technology and learn from it loose on board the Alliance's newest stealth ship? Really?"

"Yes, Alliance Command approved it, and if that goes wrong it's on my head, so drop it," Shepard ordered without even trying to be quiet.

"As you wish, ma'am. I'll be in my office if you need me," Miranda said, her calm exterior doing little to hide her anger from Chief's eyes as she stalked away.

"Sorry," Sadie muttered in the ensuing silence.

"Don't be, Miranda is just trying to do her job," Shepard reassured her. "If you're going to be working on our findings, you'll want to talk to Liara and Mordin in the lab, they're our primary research team right now. I'm sure they'll welcome any help they can get, just try to be patient with Dr. Solus. He'll be fascinated by Vergil, but he can be a bit much."

The handler nodded and replied, "I've dealt with his type before, so long as he doesn't start lighting things on fire I think I'll be fine."

"That sounds like another story I want to hear," Shepard commented.

Sadie shook her head and groaned slightly as she replied, "Later."

"Of course," Shepard agreed. "Before you go, however, I'd like to at least give you some idea of who all you might encounter. There's some Alliance naval personnel handling the more mundane aspects of maintaining the Normandy, but we also have representatives from other members of the Citadel. You've obviously met Garrus, Jack, and Miranda, for better or worse. Dr. Liara T'Soni is our resident expert on Protheans, she's an Asari and will be spending most of her time in the lab if you need to find her for some reason. Dr. Mordin Solus is a Salarian expert in, well, a lot of different things, but mainly genetics and diseases. He'll be working with any biological evidence we find as well as helping out in the medical lab if needed. Speaking of, the medical unit is run by Dr. Karin Chakwas, not much more to say than try not to visit her."

There was an awkward pause as Shepard hoped for her joke to land before she cleared her throat and pushed forward, "Joker is the pilot, I doubt any of you will need to talk to him but fair warning the name is well earned. Jacob Taylor down in the armory is our quartermaster, he might be able to acquire supplies for you, he will certainly be able to get you some Mass Effect weaponry if you want to try using it. He works with Lieutenant James Vega who is our Armory Chief, if you don't want to be carrying your weapon around all the time then he can store them. Samara is an Asari Justicar, she usually stays in the observation lounge to meditate. Please don't piss her off, Justicars have a strict moral code that can be a little easy to get on the wrong side of."

"You should get along well," Pavium stated, looking at the two Sangheili.

Usze clicked his mandibles and looked at the Jiralhanae as N'tho simply ignored his taunting.

"That's everyone that you will probably work with. It's a smaller team than your own but that should give us some good options if we need to deploy and engage from multiple angles," Shepard stated. She paused for a second before asking, "At least I assume that none of the rest of you are staying here on the ship with Sadie and Vergil?"

The blank looks she received in reply made it clear that she was correct.

"Fantastic," Shepard muttered. "Any questions then?"

"You seem to run a pretty loose ship," Sadie observed.

"There's an old joke that I used to hear when I was in the ranks, it started out with a Turian, a Human, and a Batarian walking into a bar," the Spectre stated. She scoffed and shook her head, "This ship is that joke taken to the extreme, Humans and Jiralhanae and Sangheili and Huragok and Asari and Hunters and so on. I'm sure that some of you are more used to strict military procedures. I'm sure some of you are not, for whatever reason. I won't insist on salutes and marching and following orders, you're all experienced veterans. I don't need to coddle you like some drooling private that doesn't know which end of the gun to point at the enemy. If you feel like my orders are wrong, if you know something I don't, if you can do something I might not know about, tell me. I respect that you all have experience, I ask that you respect that I am no rookie either. Know the mission, know your rules, and hopefully we won't all die to the galactic boogeyman."

When no one else spoke, Sadie commented, "I don't know about everyone else, but I like that plan."

"Thank you, it's a work in progress," Shepard responded. "If you want to head over to the lab and meet with Liara and Mordin, go ahead. Unless you have suddenly developed a keen interest in squad tactics."

"I'm good, thank you though," Sadie replied. "It was good meeting you Commander, I look forward to working with you. Vergil, come on."

The Huragok didn't move at her words, though he didn't resist as she grabbed one of his tentacles and began gently dragging him towards the lab as Garrus watched with what Chief assumed was an amused expression.

"Alright," Shepard began, bringing Chief's attention back to her. "I only have a little bit of time left before I need to head out, but before I go I want to make sure I understand all your capabilities at least on a basic level. Before we begin, however, should we move down to the cargo bay to let the, uh, the Mgalegolo, I think that was right, let them join the discussion?"

"That will be unnecessary," N'tho responded. "The Lekgolo rarely communicate except with each other. They are as you might imagine on the field of battle, a force to break through enemy lines and stand firm against any assault."

"So walking walls, that was what I had assumed but good to have confirmation," Shepard replied. "I don't know that we will have many fights where firepower of that magnitude is necessary, but it is a good option to have I suppose. If we're starting with the obvious then I guess the next in line is Pavium. With a title like 'the Unbreakable' I assume you are not exactly one for stealth."

Pavium huffed and confirmed, "No, I lead the Clan of the Long Shields for good reason."

"Alright, yeah, that's fair," the Spectre admitted. "Stolt?"

"I am best in a fight alongside Pavium," the Unggoy admitted easily.

Shepard looked to the Jiralhanae and asked, "That work for you?"

"An Unggoy does not earn the rank of Ranger easily. I am eager to see what skill earned him that respect," the Warlord stated.

"I was curious about that as well, I'll plan on running some spars in the cargo bay at some point," Shepard noted. She eyed the two Sangheili before stating, "Special Operations is a pretty broad term, I'm not sure where you fit into that spectrum."

"We fought beside the Devil himself in the waning days of the Schism," N'tho responded, nodding towards the Chief. "Alongside the Arbiter we were the tip of the sword that pierced Truth's heart and brought an end to his scheming insanity. I am familiar with the dance of battle, should you ask I stand ready to step into the chaotic fray of plasma and bullets. So too am I prepared to fall into a more familiar role, where the objective may not be the death of our enemies but the elimination of their capability for battle."

After a few seconds of silence as Shepard translated the stilted speech of the Sangheili, she bobbed her head and summarized, "So you're more comfortable as an element of a strike group, either as a distraction or to accomplish an objective outside the primary theater of combat, but if need be you can handle yourself on the frontlines of a firefight. I assume the same is true with you?"

"The Special Warfare Group trained its warriors to handle many different roles," Usze replied. "There are some differences in experience and approach, but none enough to merit discussion here."

"So the two of you worked together with the Chief at the end of the War?" Shepard inquired.

"Correct," Usze confirmed.

The Spectre considered that before saying, "Well I'll keep that in mind. I know that the Covenant used cloaked Elites for some missions, I assume that those units fell under this Special Warfare Group. Did any of your training cover those tactics?"

"Stealth operators reported to Fleet Security, the same as I myself did when I served under Fleetmaster 'Vadum. I never entered their ranks nor did I desire to do so, but I met many in my time in the Fleet of Retribution. Our armor can support a cloaking module should you wish for either of us to undertake such missions, but I would need to acquire the cloaking modules," Usze answered.

"It would be very nice to have the capability for covert infiltration," Shepard muttered. She bit her lip in thought before saying, "We'll see what our missions look like as we go, if you could try and acquire that equipment then I'd like to have the option."

"As you ask," Usze replied with a dip of his head.

Shepard glanced at her omnitool to check the time before she turned to John and simply said, "Chief."

"Ma'am," he replied calmly.

"This is your team?"

"Blue team," John confirmed.

"How long have you all worked together?" Shepard inquired.

Chief smiled behind his visor slightly as he answered, "Extensively, ma'am."

Several seconds passed as the woman examined Blue Team, her eyes flicking over their armor as she clearly tried to figure out her words. She sighed and stated, "I assume your team is capable of working in pretty much any role?"

"Affirmative," Chief replied.

"You're obviously capable of cooperating with Sangheili Special Operations, I would assume that flexibility extends beyond them?"

"Spartans must be able to adapt to working with any allied unit," John confirmed. He grimaced slightly as memories of the final hours of the War flashed through his mind, the experience of fighting alongside the Flood etched into his mind forever. There was no outward sign of his thoughts as he waited for the Spectre to continue.

Shepard wasn't surprised by his answer as she pressed, "Would you be opposed to working with anyone in particular?"

It wasn't hard for Chief to deduce that she was thinking of Jack, the erratic and abrasive behavior of the biotic clearly juxtaposed against the stoic professionalism of Blue Team. Much as he wanted to single out the possible headache, John kept his voice level as he replied, "Of course not, ma'am."

"Would adding additional people to your team increase your effectiveness?"

"Possibly," Chief responded.

"Possibly?" Shepard asked as she narrowed her eyes slightly. "Are you saying that having more guns might hurt?"

John kept his voice carefully level as he admitted, "In certain circumstances, ma'am."

"Care to elaborate?"

"Spartans are expected to undertake missions where survival is not guaranteed. Sending additional forces may not increase the chances of success," Chief answered.

"You're saying assigning additional members will not appreciably increase the capabilities of Blue Team and may, in certain circumstances as you say, put them in a position where their sacrifice is worthless," the Spectre summarized.

Chief's voice was firm as he stated, "Their sacrifice should mean more than my convenience."

"I'm not arguing with that, not at all," Shepard replied. "But this does leave us in a bit of a strange position. I see no obvious way to integrate your squad into the rest of the team. I suppose my first question should be if you expect Blue Team to operate jointly with everyone else or if you would accept splitting the team to work with other elements of the ground team?"

"Every Spartan is capable of operating independently or as an attachment to an existing squad," Chief replied. "We will be where we are needed."

"I am going to assume you mean you are fine with having Blue Team split up amongst the other elements of the ground team," Shepard said, clearly a little annoyed.

"If that is your decision, ma'am," John replied.

The Spectre huffed at his words, but before she could speak Usze interjected, "I do not foresee our missions requiring strict optimization of roles. The Demons may not reach the heights of their capabilities if separated, but neither should we need them to do so."

"That's a fair point," Shepard admitted. Looking back at the Chief she asked, "I assume each member of your team has a specific role?"

Kelly replied first, "Scouting and flanking maneuvers."

"Observation, overwatch, marksman," Linda followed.

"Close quarters and breaching," Fred stated.

"Battlefield command and control," Chief finished.

Shepard's brow furrowed at that, but she refrained from asking as she said, "I'll start with the easiest first then I suppose. Sierra-058, you'll be working with Garrus to start out. He's our resident sharpshooter on the team, the two of you can talk shop on your own time."

Linda glanced at the Turian and nodded, but did not otherwise react.

"Chief and Lieutenant, you two will join me with Pavium, Stolt, Jack, and the Hunters as the primary assault team. It's a lot of firepower to have on a squad, but we'll be the fist of any operations on the ground. If something gets in our way, we punch straight through, subtlety be damned," Shepard explained. She finally looked at Kelly as she finished, "That just leaves the Sangheili, Sierra-087, and Samara. You four will form the strike team, quick and flexible, perfect for flanking or accomplishing an objective while we draw attention away from you."

There was heavy silence as Kelly looked over at the Special Operations Sangheili, but none of the newly formed Strike team spoke up.

"Does anyone have an issue with their assignment?" Shepard inquired after a few seconds.

Another silence greeted her question.

"Fantastic," the Spectre eventually said. "I want to be clear that these teams are not strict and are not permanent. We may shift people around depending on the needs of the mission or if internal conflicts become an issue. Depending on how things go in the next few months, I may ask some of you to change teams and put you in roles you may be less comfortable in. This is both for the experience as well as to give you all a chance to work with the multitude of other people in this crew. I encourage all of you to take the time to talk to your squadmates and get at least a decent idea of how they fight, and of course feel free to talk to anyone else on the crew as well. For the moment we will continue the informal command structure, if we need to become more rigid for certain missions then we can deal with leadership assignments then. Is there anything else anyone would like to discuss?"

"Has it been determined where our missions shall come from?" N'tho asked.

"After a whole bunch of political bullshit and saber rattling on both sides, it was decided that missions will be negotiated between the Council and the Warden ambassador. It's not impossible that that arrangement may change at some point, but we'll deal with that as it comes. Our current directive is two-fold; investigate any evidence of the Reapers and assist the Wardens with their campaign in the Terminus. The second part of that is mostly just an excuse to give us free reign of the Terminus and pass any relevant intelligence to the Wardens, we'll be concentrating on the first part as much as possible. Our focus may be diverted from time to time as the Council throws new missions our way, but our primary mission will remain the investigation of the Reapers."

Chief waited a moment before asking, "Quarters assignments?"

"Crew quarters are here, pick an empty one, ask for the crew chief if there are any issues," Shepard responded, clearly expecting the unit full of veteran Special Operations soldiers to be able to figure out acceptable bunking arrangements on their own. "If that's all?"

No one else spoke up.

"Excellent. As I said, I have a meeting with the Council, that shouldn't take too long. We're waiting on a supplies delivery from the Alliance, hopefully that will be done by the time I get back and we can be underway shortly. I look forward to working with you all," Shepard finished, nodding to the group before turning to ascend the stairs and exit the ship.

Chief didn't bother to watch her leave as he turned towards the crew quarters that lined the deck, his eyes picking out an empty set as the rest of Blue Team followed behind him. Out of the corner of his visor he noted the other warriors doing the same, though he somewhat suspected that they would all be somewhat disappointed with the accommodations. As the door to the room he had approached opened to reveal the welcoming interior, he suppressed his sigh at the reminder that this posting would be unlike any UNSC ship he had served on.

August 23, 2589/16th Day of 9th Month, 2459/August 23, 2180

Serpent Nebula

Citadel Presidium

Jane resolutely ignored the subtle glances sent her way as she walked across the Presidium, though she could still feel eyes on her as she approached the Citadel Tower. She knew that word of her quick acceptance into the Spectres was already spreading, her expedited ascension into the vaunted group providing an unwelcome source of tension between the Alliance and other members of the Council. Already she had received several rather terse messages from the Alliance Ambassadors office requesting that she attend their training on foreign relations, all of which had been swiftly redirected into the trash. She imagined that ignoring the problem in such a way might come back to bite her, but at the same time she simply didn't have the time to entertain their bullshit.

The curious stares of various species were finally cut off as she reached the base of the Citadel Tower and stepped into the elevator, the doors closing behind her and giving her a few minutes of quiet to think as she slowly rose to the Council Chambers far above. Her mind inevitably turned to the cadre of stoic warriors which she had just welcomed aboard the Normandy. Even if she hadn't worked with the Spartans much on her visit to Earth, that brief experience gave her a high level of confidence that having four of them on board was an incredible allocation of resources from the UNSC. It was clear that the larger military was incredibly concerned about the threat of the Reapers, though Shepard struggled to figure out why that might be.

It wasn't like the UEG was particularly hostile to the Citadel Council. They weren't friendly, certainly, but neither were they overtly hostile. It was possible that she was simply missing the public opinion in favor of watching political undertones, but even after seeing the unrest on Earth there hadn't been a notable shift in the relations between the two powers. There was little love lost between the Batarians and every other species on the Citadel, something Jane knew well since she barely tolerated their existence following the events of Torfan. It was clear that her rapid ascension to Spectrehood was a thinly veiled cover to strengthen the ties between the Systems Alliance and the Council, probably a political move out of fear that the UEG would try to bring the Alliance back into the fold.

Regardless of whatever political shenanigans were inevitably taking place in the background, the end result was still the posting of nine extraordinarily capable Special Operations soldiers to the Normandy. Having grown up in the world of kinetic barriers and Mass Effect arms and armor, it had been very strange to see the plasma weaponry that had been used to slaughter billions in person. While she wasn't exactly pleased to be turning those same weapons onto yet more people, the thought of having them on her side rather than aimed at her team was definitely preferable.

The Council was still in session when the elevator doors opened, letting Jane relax a little as she stepped into the large room of trees and fountains. There were a multitude of different species occupying the edges of the lobby, all of them clearly diplomats or politicians waiting to petition the Council. Several members of the sparse crowd looked her way but none seemed inclined to try and talk, something she was grateful for as she marched past them. The climb up the stairs to the Audience Chambers was short, leaving Shepard to pause at the edge of the Petitioner's Stage. She glanced at her omnitool to confirm that she was on time before relaxing into parade rest as she waited for the Council to summon her.

She could hear some of the conversation happening on the Stage, though she didn't need all the words to understand the context as a Turian Admiral once again requested that the Council authorize intervention in the Terminus conflict. As had been the case for the past few months, the Council stood firm in denying the request. Regardless of which side the Turians wanted to support, there was no winning in the public court of opinion as far as the political leaders were concerned. Help the Batarians and they were supporting slavery, help the Wardens and they were assisting a foreign power against estranged allies. Much as Shepard wanted to advocate that the Turians get their hands bloody killing some Batarians, even she recognized that there wasn't much the Hierarchy could do to realistically affect the outcome of the conflict; at least not without devoting incredible resources to interfering.

It was clear the Council's patience was growing short as the Admiral tried to push his case, giving Shepard a nice bit of entertainment as he was finally dismissed. She glanced at the proud warrior as he marched down the platform, meeting his glare with a calm stare as he scowled at her and stalked off. Jane didn't bother worrying about his pissy attitude as she walked up towards the Petitioner's Stage with the hope that he had irritated the Councillors to the point that they would keep her briefing reasonably brief.

"Spectre," Councillor Tevos greeted as Shepard stepped onto the Stage.

"Councillors," Shepard replied evenly, her eyes flicking between the three politicians.

"Hopefully you were not waiting long," the Asari commented amicably.

Recognizing that that would be the closest she would get to an apology, Shepard decided to keep the conversation civil as she responded, "Not at all."

"Good," Tevos stated. "Unfortunately we shall have to keep this short, the conflict in the Terminus is proving to be more disruptive than we had anticipated. It seems to be a popular topic of discussion for a surprising number of people who have never shown much interest in the region."

"I can imagine," Shepard responded.

"No doubt," Tevos replied dismissively. "Your mission to investigate any leads on the existence of the Reapers remains your primary assignment, I am sure you'll be glad to know. I assume that you will be venturing into the heart of the conflict in pursuit of your goal?"

Shepard carefully considered her words as she answered, "Some of the locations of interest lie within the Attican Traverse, and others deeper into the Terminus. I have been assured by Alliance command that they are working with the Wardens to ensure that we do not run into an ongoing battle. At worst we do have several very capable soldiers on board, so we should be able to handle most issues without help."

"We were told the Warden contingent arrived just a short while ago," Sparatus noted. "You have already met with them?"

"I have. It will be interesting to fight alongside them," Shepard responded neutrally.

"What are your thoughts on them?" the Turian inquired with what seemed like genuine curiosity.

Jane considered the question before replying, "They're professional, focused on the mission, and capable. I think there will be some difficulties integrating tactics, but that isn't surprising."

"You're not worried about having them on the Alliance's newest stealth frigate?" Sparatus pressed.

"Alliance Command has approved their deployment on board," Shepard replied. "I can't say I don't have concerns, but I'll take what help I'm given."

"Unfortunately I believe you may need it," Tevos commented. As Shepard looked to her, the Asari explained, "We have detected activity near the Veil."

"The Geth?" Shepard questioned with a bit of surprise.

Councillor Valern gave a sharp nod and answered, "Indeed. STG elements have been monitoring activity in the Terminus, due to the ongoing conflict of course. We have observed increased traffic near the edge of the Terminus. We believe the Geth are watching the conflict, perhaps with the hope of capitalizing on the vulnerability of the region."

Shepard glanced between the three as she concluded, "So you want me to go poke around, see what I find?"

"The Normandy is a stealth craft. You can use this as a perfectly reasonable excuse for going into the Terminus. You are the obvious choice," the Salarian confirmed.

"Alright," Shepard said, unable to find a compelling argument against those points. "What do you want me to do if I find the Geth preparing for a war?"

"Well we would certainly appreciate it if you told us," Sparatus snarked. He backed off slightly as Tevos glanced at him, "Fortunately any sizable force would need to engage with the Wardens before they reached Council space or risk being cut off from retreat. That should give us enough time to mobilize the fleets necessary to eliminate them, though I would not be surprised if they deployed rapid strike groups to try and create a panic."

Much as he irritated her, Jane still gave the Turian a small nod as she responded, "If I find anything the Council will be the first to know. Is that all you had for me?"

"There is one other thing," Tevos stated. Shepard did her best to conceal her irritation as the Asari explained, "We are still awaiting details from other assets in the area, but what we do know is that one of the Spectres that was deployed to the Terminus has gone silent. Her name is Tela Vasir, an exceptionally skilled Asari. She was investigating potential crimes in the Hegemony relating to the theft of confidential economic data from the Ministry of Finance when the war broke out. We have not heard from her in some time, but she should still be in the Terminus somewhere. More information will be transmitted to you when we get it, but if you find nothing in regards to the Geth then we ask that you search for Spectre Vasir before turning to your primary mission."

"Understood, Councillor. I will keep it in mind, I hope your other assets find her before I even get a chance to begin any inquiries," Shepard replied. "Until I hear from you, then?"

"Indeed, we are unfortunately already on the verge of our next scheduled meeting. We will contact you soon, Spectre," Tevos said, effectively dismissing Shepard.

Jane didn't even bother to feel insulted as she turned and marched off the Petitioner's Stage, slipping past a wealthy-looking Volus as he waddled up to take her place. Fortunately she escaped the room before the mind-numbing talk of financial business graced her ears, leaving her free to begin making her way back to the Normandy without distraction.

Hope you enjoyed, I found this a surprisingly fun chapter to write. Not much happened, but finally starting to see some plot threads weaving together. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I actually had it done the day before rather than the eleventh hour on the day I planned on posting it! For reference, that's the first time in three years that that's been the case.

In other news, I am strongly considering crossposting OtIoM to Archive of Our Own. The recent issues with FanFiction have been concerning enough that I find an alternative posting location to merit consideration. I vaguely remember that some people requested that I do so years ago, when this fic was updating often and regularly. Given the far better tag refinement, stability and general features, I can see the appeal. Just wanted to let people know since I know some people prefer that site over FF's somewhat dated design and capabilities.

Thank you very much for reading, until next time.