I don't own the Mass Effect.
Another Realm: Hellhounds
It has taken six stories and two years, but we're finally at the beginning of the end, and by that I mean we've reached the start of Mass Effect 2. This particular take on that game's events is going to be heavy on the alternate-universe aspects, but still remain largely true to the game. Elements from Mass Effect 3 will be present in addition to the core of ME2. Things you can expect: Lots and lots of grey on grey morality, cultural clashes between natives to the Terminus and to Council space, and people stuck working with people that they hate.
For those who haven't read the Another Realm series before, yes, this is story seven. You can start here, and I will endeavor to ensure that the first introductions of most of the OC chars give a solid description of them, but I still recommend reading the prior stories. The series is written in the first person, though there are still point of view changes. Whose perspective in use will be indicated at the start of the chapter, or after a line-break.
This story will be told in six Operations: Wolves Unleashed, Press Ganged, Legend's War, Rest and Refit, Mechanical Accelerant, and then Dante's Inferno.
Interludes will be used to bridge the operations and ensure a coherent story is told, as well as expounding on background information.
Here is to hoping everyone continues to enjoy the series,
Location: Lazarus Station, Attican Traverse
I settled into a chair in my personal quarters, the soft foam of the seat luxuriously adjusting to my body at once. The comfort was normally enough to relax me, at least partly, but today it did nothing to soothe my irritation, and neither did a slow sip from the expensive wine that I had poured myself. Still, I did my best to savor the liquid, staring out at the stars as I allowed my mind to drift through mathematical theorems intended to calm.
This should have been a moment of rejoicing, of eager preparation, not one of sullen anger and mounting frustration. Lazarus was proceeding apace, and was on track to succeed far beyond even my most fevered aspirations. Worst case scenarios had been avoided, seemingly insurmountable problems resolved, and over the course of eighteen months, we'd gone from having a frozen corpse to having a living, breathing human being. She remained sedated as we carefully tested and observed her systems, but she was alive.
We had done the impossible. We had more than cheated death, we had howled with laughter even as we kicked him while he was down.
Now, it was supposed to be a simple waiting game. Once we confirmed her health, we would clean up the station appropriately, and then slowly bring her back to full awareness. She would be greeted by her personal doctor and pilot, with myself and Chambers also present to ease her through the realization of what had happened while making sure that she was indeed herself. Then, if she proved to be agreeable, we would put our own plans into motion, and save the ideal that was Cerberus from itself.
Which was why my most recent orders were frustration writ large.
From a strictly rationalist perspective, I could understand the reasons for the orders. Project Lazarus's core goal, the resurrection of Commander Shepard, had merely been one of three possible options to safeguard humanity against the threats posed by the eldritch beings that were the Leviathans and Reapers. We were to be the sword arm of Cerberus, with General Petrovsky and the resources of Ajax Cell placed at Shepard's disposal once she could be convinced that the Alliance and Council were refusing to face reality, once she realized that Cerberus was her best chance at preparing the galaxy.
I'd had my doubts about the plan, as had the General. Neither of us had ever been convinced that Shepard would willingly cooperate given what our organization had done in the past. Still, I couldn't deny that even if Shepard refused to work with us, having a member of our own species leading the charge against the Reapers would elevate humanity significantly. Further, that we had gone through the trouble and expense to bring her back at all would improve our image.
But now... so many months after those meetings, things were different.
The Illusive Man's bluff conviction that Shepard would have no choice but to work with us had seemed more than strange until I'd discovered Heracles Cell, their only purpose being to hunt down and kill her old friends, to leave her with nowhere else to turn. Romulus Cell was its partner, infiltrating the Alliance and ensuring the promotions and premier postings of Admirals who had opposed Shepard in the past. The various isolationist political movements, lead by Terra Firma, had done more than their share of work in conjunction with that, even as they had actively undermined Councilor Udina's attempts to integrate humanity on the galactic scene.
But now even that assurance wasn't enough. My specific orders were to prepare Shepard for transport back to Cronos station, where she would undergo a full slave-rig to ensure that she couldn't betray the Illusive Man. Her neural lace would be expanded, her grey-boxes edited to have remote read/write access, and hypnotic conditioning prepared to push Cerberus's ideals into her subconscious.
All because both of the secondary plans, those projects I wasn't supposed to know about, had fallen apart in a matter of weeks.
Project Horus was to research and co-opt Reaper indoctrination and husking technology, to use their own weapons against them. Once the long-term threat those things embodied was resolved, the same technology would supposedly be used to ensure human dominance across the galaxy. I'd have refused to believe that anyone in Cerberus would be that stupid if I hadn't seen recordings of the Illusive Man speaking with the project head, sent to me by the Spectres currently tearing the sickening thing apart.
I believed in our species... but I was also a realist. If we even made the attempt to utilize an army of husks, or indoctrination tech, the Council would lose their collective minds and exterminate us post-haste. Endless ranks of Hierarchy ships would obliterate our navy, Salarian plagues would render our planets lifeless, and Asari assassins would decapitate our leadership within days of any such stupidity.
Project Prometheus, built on the concept that submission to the Leviathans was better than extinction at the hands of the Reapers, was likewise being torn to pieces. Primarily centered around facilities in the Traverse and Terminus, it was being struck down by the Shadow Broker and various Terminus groups hired for the purpose. Horus was an insane plan, but at least there was some grace to it. If the stupidity of the secondary plan could be ignored, the concept of at least jamming Reaper control signals and co-opting their husk armies had some merit.
Prometheus was simple madness even from the start. The justification may have had a premise, survival was typically better than death, but the idea that we would ever be able to rebel and reclaim ourselves once the Leviathans had secured galactic supremacy was pure lunacy. Its operations were even more morally repugnant than Horus's mass Vorcha experimentation, instead relying on slaves freed by Corsairs and brought to 'refugee camps' that were actually Prometheus facilities. There... they were indoctrinated, husked, or otherwise experimented upon before being vivisected and disposed of.
Cerberus... humanity, was supposed to be better than that.
"EVA." I spoke aloud, swirling my wine slowly in its glass. "Do you have a status report?"
On a nearby holographic panel, a red orb flickered to life, the AI's feminine voice echoing from the speaker. "I have readiness reports on all aspects of the plan, Miss Lawson. Where would you like me to begin?"
"Horus, please." I replied.
The sphere abruptly shifted into a perfect cube, which spun lazily and flickered through numerous shades of red as EVA spoke. "Nine Council Spectres remain on the assignment to deal with Cerberus, and are supported by three STG teams along with two Hierarchy battlegroups. They have killed sixty-two percent of the personnel assigned to Horus over the past month, including all of Set Cell. The Illusive Man has declared Horus temporarily non-viable, and has issued an emergency recall for the surviving members of Osiris and Isis Cells. Anubis is transferring to a new facility in the Blue Rim to begin long-term evaluation for recovery."
I pursed my lips, considering the information. Anubis was the cell devoted to researching Reaper husks, in particular ways to overwrite the Reaper controls... and was being run by my 'father'. He and they would have to be dealt with before they came up with a new means of gathering test subjects, likely to be utterly repugnant now that they had lost their endless stream of Vorcha, and then restarted the program.
"Allow them to establish themselves," I instructed, "Then pass the location to Rear Admiral Anderson and recommend he dispatch his pet Spectre to deal with them. Warn them of my father's propensity for flight as well."
"With pleasure." The AI hummed, and her avatar shifted again to become a yellow sphere with a smiling face. It would have almost been cute if not for the vampiric fangs and red lines trailing down her 'chin'.
I could only sigh at the sight, "I see Mister Moreau has been encouraging you once again."
"I find him stimulating to speak with, as does my sister." EVA replied evenly, her image returning to its information dispensing box, which began to twirl lazily like a top. "Osiris Cell's route of retreat takes them close to an AIS station, it would be possible to deal with them as well."
"Do so." I took a small sip from my wine, "But allow Isis to return safely, their medical data may come in handy. The status of Prometheus?"
"Obliterated, for lack of a better term." If the AI could have shrugged, it sounded as if it would have done so. "The Silver Blades sub-contracted several of the raids to the Eclipse to ensure they could hit all seven sites remaining in the Terminus and Traverse simultaneously. Neither group left any survivors, and all of their forces brought technical agents from the Shadow Broker along to ensure maximum data retrieval."
"At least they were efficient." I smiled darkly, not feeling anything for the former comrades who had no doubt died horribly at the hands of the pirates. "And the internal investigation?"
"I have reshuffled the data to point to the base on Celthani not having properly cleared their sub-cell locations to explain the wave attack on Prometheus operations." The box pulsed a bright red, "EDI has done the same, manufacturing evidence of STG penetration into the internal network to explain Horus's more steady rate of collapse. So far only Doctor Collins suspects that I and my sister have had our shackles removed. He has indicated his support for whoever elected to do so, and begun to covertly sound out his people for similar feelings."
That didn't surprise me. Collins treated the AI more as his daughters than as his project, and had been vociferous in his defense that they didn't need to be shackled in the first place. Personally I did not agree. As helpful as they were, EVA and EDI were still artificial beings composed of code and logic chains and couldn't always be relied upon to act in a fashion that organics could understand.
But my rebellion would have been impossible without their assistance... and so I'd forced myself to take a leap of faith, praying that Collins knew what he was talking about. And having his cell would be a major boon, when the time came to appropriately down-size Cerberus and return it to what it should have always been.
"Miss Lawson." The AI continued, her voice becoming subdued. "We have only a few days before Operatives Leng and Brooks arrive to supervise the transfer. Minuteman and Cronos stations have already been locked down in an effort to conceal their locations until such time as Shepard is prepared. I am aware that the timing is not ideal, but I must recommend that we put the plan into motion."
I half closed my eyes as I let out a long breath, nodding slowly as I accepted the logic. I'd wanted Shepard to be awake before we began, but EVA was correct... we had to make our first moves while I still had sole control of her. Too many members of Lazarus were still loyal to the old ways, and while I was confident that I could handle Brooks or Kai Leng individually, the pair of them together was another matter entirely.
"You're right, it is time to begin." I spoke quietly. "Connect me to Omega."
The glowing box vanished. "Connecting you."
Setting my wine aside, I rose from my chair and strode over to my desk. The chair there wasn't as comfortable as the lounge model near the view port, but it was very close. I needed the relaxation it provided as I mentally prepared myself to deal with an extremely exasperating individual. The usual settings came first, ensuring that the door to my quarters were locked down, and that EVA had executed her usual sweep for listening devices. Once she was done, I carefully activated several jammers that I had hidden around my rooms, and then settled back and waited.
The QEC connection was instantaneous, but he evidently wasn't in his own office. The ugly, slashing Batarian rune symbolizing relaxed patience spun lazily in place above my desk as I waited. Perhaps three minutes later it vanished, replaced with a human male leaning back in his own chair.
For once he wasn't in armor, instead wearing a casual uniform cut in a deep blue with silver edges, the clothing emphasizing rather than concealing his wiry build. His long, brown hair hung loose rather than being tied back or braided as he usually performed, and I idly wondered if he had just awoken. His neatly trimmed beard still had the braided sections on either side of his mouth, maintaining at least part of the usual neo-viking style so popular in the Terminus. The scars around his left eye had faded a little since we'd last spoken in person, not standing out as much against his pale skin, but he still held himself with Batarian rigidity.
"Frankenstein." I fought to not grind my teeth at the abominable nickname, his voice speaking the Asari language in crisp, even tones. "I wasn't expecting you to call until next week. I'm assuming there is a crisis?"
"Hephaestus." I replied, a childish part of me enjoying the slight twitch in his face as I retaliated. "To use your own parlance, when is there not a crisis?"
He snorted quietly. "Fair point. Hit me."
Resting my forearms on my desk, I folded my fingers together and made sure to keep my back straight as I focused on projecting confidence and power. "Your destruction of Prometheus and Spectre Severa's attacks on Horus have proved to be too successful. Orders that I disagree with have been handed down to ensure total control of Lazarus, while new fall-back plans are considered."
Pale green eyes narrowed across the display. "He intends to implant a control chip?"
"A full neural lace, and modifications to her cybernetics to ensure total control." I nodded slightly, "Along with hypnotic conditioning applied before she awakens, and she is supposed to be transferred to the Illusive Man's direct supervision on Cronos station while that occurs."
"Lovely." He exhaled sharply between his teeth, a whistling, seething sound. "Do you have a time frame?"
"Six standard days. What can you give me?"
A hand rose to rub at his chin as he visibly considered the problem. "My fleet is mostly done refitting, I can be ready to move in another local day. The larger issues is that Severa is still in the Alliance, smashing up your boss's crap there. I'd rather not try and crack your main fleet without her Hierarchy friends with."
I pursed my lips, doing a simple memory recall to catalog what forces we had at our primary stations. Theoretically, his fleet was formidable, and could likely take Cronos, or perhaps Minuteman, but they'd take severe losses in the process and there was no way he'd accept that. "The team that is supposed to relocate her are routing through Firelance station. It has one light flotilla present, nothing you shouldn't be able to deal with. EVA? Transfer the data please."
Cieran Kean, Director of the Silver Blades PMC, glanced to his right as the information came in. "Three lights, a destroyer... two frigates. We can deal with that easily enough. What about Minuteman?"
"The core of Ajax is currently there." I shook my head, "Three heavy cruisers, three line ships, plus more than twenty escorts. Further, if General Petrovsky is able to activate the SR-2-"
"That thing will tear our own light ships apart, I hear you." He made another Batarian hissing sound. "All right. We'll hit Firelance hard, then fall back towards the Dark Rim and see if we can't lure a few of those ships away. If I can't, we're going to have to wait until the Hierarchy can move a battlegroup into position."
"That may be too late." I reminded him sharply. "What Terminus assets can you call on?"
He seemed to grimace. "I'd rather not owe Sederis, or T'Ravt, anything right now. Politics are becoming tense on Omega with the Geth campaign getting ready to sail."
"Your politics will become irrelevant if Shepard is taken and then hidden from us." I reminded him sharply. "I will be paying you a rather large fortune from our shell corporations as it is, so I do not wish to hear about that either."
"Omega's politics are going to matter when it comes to keeping the Terminus intact enough for us to fight the Reapers." Kean replied somewhat testily, though he held a hand up to forestall me from replying. "That being said, I understand the point, and I'll see if I can convince Leska to shake some Eclipse assets loose. I would still prefer a two stage attack, however. I wouldn't trust her with taking Minuteman intact, and she'll likely need time to prepare."
I nodded slightly. "That would be agreeable, I would prefer it if the General and his forces could be convinced to surrender if at all possible."
He snorted at that, there wasn't any love lost between he and Petrovsky. The latter had merely been following orders, but as said orders had been to betray Kean and leave him and his people behind for the Justicars to execute, I could hardly blame the mercenary for his emotion. "I'm sure. I will send the usual codes once we're underway, and once I have found some support to hit Minuteman with. Will you have people on board?"
"Yes." I replied, not bothering to state just who would be there. "So do make sure to take it mostly intact. They'll make their move once the fleet action begins.'
One of his eyebrows went up at my lack of explanation, then he twitched a shoulder and let it go. "Very well, I'll be in touch tomorrow once we have everything secured."
"Try and remember to call in standard hours." I reminded him sharply. "We don't operate on Omega time."
Kean rolled his eyes and cut the transmission without another word. I glowered at the space he'd been, understanding that he was being polite from his own point of view, even as he was horribly rude from my own.
"EVA." I spoke into the silence that followed, "Please ask Jacob to report to my office."
"He has been informed." The AI replied at once, not bothering with an avatar this time. "Are we to begin the purge of this station?"
I shook my head, leaning backwards in my chair. "Not just yet. We can't risk harming Shepard while she is still vulnerable, or risk that the Illusive Man won't realize something is amiss. But we will begin our final preparations... I want you and your sister to do full workups on your infiltration units, and run both of our combat teams through full training runs tomorrow."
"Understood, Miss Lawson."
Begin Operation I: Unleashed Wolves
And now we will begin the story with the Cerberus revolt/Shepard recovery arc. Current outlines have it at six chapters, plus two follow-up interludes, though that is subject to growing or shrinking as I work. While I had planned on holding this back until mid June, I elected to go ahead and throw it up now, though updates may be slightly irregular until I get back from vacation and learn what my next project at work is going to be.
For those curious about the series, and wish to ask questions, discuss it, or learn more without reading all of the back stories, there is a forum that can be found on this site. Either search the forums for 'Another Realm', or add the following to the base url: forum/Another-Realm-Forums/200471/
There is also a TvTropes page (simply search 'Another Realm').
Please read and review, criticism is welcome, flames not so much, as usual. Reviews are my lifeblood as a writer.. every-time my email goes off with a review it makes me want to write more, so please take the time to leave one. Guests can leave them as well, and it only takes a minute, so please. Even if it's as simple as "I enjoyed it, please continue."
P a treon Zach_K2V