Chapter 11: Known Awakening
Author's Note: This week sucked. No further comment.
Liara awoke less than an hour later and debriefed with Saren before the doctors were even allowed to see her. She had also had nightmares, but seemed to think they were something more than mere random firings of shocked neurons.
As she appeared to have shared the same nightmares as Shepard, he had to admit it was possible. Though, if so, he didn't understand why the extremely psionic Tali hadn't noticed any psionic activity. Shepard wasn't able to extract much from the experience, except dread. Liara seemed to think she'd be able to understand more with some study and review of other resources.
Shepard was far less convinced, as all he could remember was the sight of a superdreadnought, machinery, planets and stars, corpses, some inelegant combat mechs and a four eyed, but not Batarian, alien. There didn't seem much to interpret, though it did suggest that the superdreadnought might be salvaged Prothean technology. That would explain a lot, as the Hegemony wasn't exactly a center of shipbuilding expertise, while the superdreadnought was a masterwork.
It also explained why the Hegemony hadn't constructed more of the massive vessels, they couldn't, because they didn't yet understand it. A beacon explaining how it worked and how to reproduce it would be a prize worth risking their superdreadnought for. Liara didn't agree with this theory, but frankly, Shepard thought that had more to do with her beliefs regarding the Protheans inherent nobility than any superior explanation.
The rest of the trip passed quickly and everyone, except Shepard (trapped in a whirlwind of military reports, psychological evaluations and speculation) and Liara (the same, only with academic notes substituting for military reports) was able to get some rest before they came into the Serpant Nebula and had to deal with the Citadel Council. A military vessel captained by a Spectre was passed through C-Sec defenses without any difficulties, despite the awkwardness of having an armed X-Com scout ship docked. Finally they were back on the Citadel communications network able to get updates on what was going on.
Shepard was the first one to notice the news report, as Saren was dealing with C-Sec, Miranda was looking at market effects of the Hegemony raid and Tali, having escaped from her unwanted role as psionic powerhouse, was down in the engine room, examining the Ghost's drive with the rest of the Sentinels either escorting her or not caring about the news.
In point of fact, Shepard wasn't even the first, both Geth and PT saw it first and filed it away, neither of them particularly caring about the news. The commander's cursing, however, was audible throughout the bridge.
Saren glanced away from his communication with the C-Sec officer, then correctly diagnosed Shepard's tone as irritated, not worried and went back to work. Miranda chose to join him at his console (the bridge being as understaffed as the rest of the ship, there was plenty of room for those who'd chosen to come up) and see what was bothering him. He'd flicked the news out to everyone's omni-tools before she reached him, but she continued on her way, choosing to rest her arms on his shoulders and look at the news he was reading over his head as he continued to curse, though at a lower volume.
"What's up?" she asked, as he was halfway through the Citadel News Agency piece and she could barely read the holo-display from her angle.
Shepard scrolled up. "Terminus Alliance Saves Purasi From Hegemony Raid," he read the headlines, managing to get the inflection of the capitalization right.
Codex: Terminus Alliance, Unlocked
"Apparently, while we were running, but before the Hegemony fleet managed to pull out, Urdnot Wrex and his flying compensating-for-something of a base showed up with a fleet."
Codex: New Day, Unlocked
"Not that you really need a fleet if you've stuck an engine and guns on a moon," Miranda muttered.
Shepard's glare could have burned through armor plate, but kept on topic. "It looks like this narrative has three parts. First, the Combine fails to prevent Hegemony raid—"
"How did that happen anyway?" Miranda interrupted him, more to distract him from his anger than anything else. She'd never known him to be concerned with who got credit for something, except insofar as making sure that no one else took the blame for his screw-ups. Maybe that had changed since he took command and needed to make sure his people were taken care of, but she doubted it.
"How'd I know? You see any navy on me?" Shepard asked, waving a hand at his undress blues. The Sentinel Corp's blue was very slightly darker than the Navy blue, and quite a bit darker than the Vanguard Corp's aqua, with other services' colors falling on a spectrum between the two elite Corps of the Combine military. It was often said that there wasn't actually that much inter-service rivalry and it was mostly friendly. That was true, but 'that much' and 'mostly' were doing a lot of work there.
Miranda considered all that for a moment and failed to come up with the dirty joke about having 'navy on him' before she needed to respond. "Not as far as I can tell. What were the other two points?"
"Ah, right, second is how the heroic Urdnot Wrex saves Purasi and the third is a bunch of speculation about the effects if Purasi should join the Alliance."
"With nothing at all in there about any Prothean Beacon?"
"Wouldn't want raiders to start wondering what else might be in the ground on Purasi," Miranda muttered.
"Indeed not," Shepard's voice remained tense, despite their banter.
"You want to tell me what's got you pissy about that?" she could feel the muscles of shoulders tied in knots. They tightened further, hunching forward defensively and she instantly tried to lower the pressure. "If it's a secret or something, just say so."
"Not secret…just private," Shepard said.
"Understood," Miranda started to pull away, but his hand caught hers on his shoulder.
"Probably no one but the Geth and maybe the Spectre know about this. But you know how when Wrex left X-Com he took about a hundred X-Com officers with him?"
"I didn't realize it was that many."
"Yeah, X-Com doesn't spread that around. Just like I don't spread around the fact that four of them were Shepards. The last ones to join the Combine military until me," Shepard put in a bit bitterly.
"Ah. Well, that was all, what, eighty years ago?" Miranda said.
"Sure, which you'd think would be the end of it."
"Not so much?"
"Not so much."
"I get to have annual psionic inspections, just to make sure I haven't been compromised."
Miranda's eyes narrowed. Every soldier of the Combine, just like every employee of Lawson Industries, went through a psionic screening upon being hired as a condition of joining. It was not a particularly pleasant process. It was, however, extremely thorough. To her knowledge no one did annual screenings, or even additional screenings without cause.
"Annually?" her fingers tightened against the fabric of his undress uniform. The material was slightly slick under her fingers, in a way which indicated resistance to fire and probably some shrapnel. It also meant that the boost her psionics received from skin to skin contact weren't in play. "What exactly would be the point of that?"
"Service Security is under the impression that since Wrex worked for X-Com for half a century, he obviously must have some tricks they're unaware of."
"That's a nicely paranoid fantasy."
"Not so nice in practice," Shepard said, more than a little bitterly.
"And with him showing up right after we were there…"
"Yes, when Service Security catches up, I'm going to have a pretty shitty day."
"How shitty?" she asked.
"Very shitty," he glanced up at her, seeing the expression on her face then shrugged, forcing himself to relax somewhat. "Just another inspection, nothing too bad. It happens every time the Alliance does anything big, or does anything at all near me."
Miranda twitched at that, resisting the temptation to lean forward, bringing her chin in contact with his head, through the few short hairs which dared to challenge his buzz cut. It wasn't just that it would be foolish, or that he was wearing a Mind Shield which stopped her from trying to reach into his mind (and the Mind Shield wouldn't stop her if she had skin-to-skin contact). Once she'd tried to take a peek inside his mind. The Sentinel Corps psionics had placed traps in his mind, which she hadn't known was possible until she was in one. Not an experience she wished to repeat. Either the being trapped, or the conversation which had followed. Which brought up an obvious question, but one she couldn't ask it without bringing up something she didn't really want to remember.
"Hang on, your mind is protected."
"The legally mandated second psionic is always a Sentinel Corps psionic and can take out the traps, just as easily as they put them in."
It therefore wasn't surprising to Miranda, or Shepard, when he was detained (certainly not arrested) by a squad of Service Security the moment he stepped off the Ghost. The same could not be said for Tali, or the rest of the Sentinels. There was almost a fight in the docking bay when the Security troopers pulled out the restraints. Only Shepard's claim that this was all just precautionary and he'd be back after having a conversation with whoever was in charge kept the lid on things.
Even that only did it because they were under the eyes of C-Sec and a Spectre. They weren't worried about the outsiders getting involved (especially since the C-Sec commander was one of the few Humans on the force, a Lieutenant Bradley); but they were worried about making the Combine appear disunited in front of outsiders. Well, Ash was worried about that, which was enough.
Miranda had ignored the entire byplay, including the posturing by both Sentinels and Service Security, instead she shook Shepard's hand sharply (ignoring as well his restraints), thanked him for his assistance, stated firmly that she would see him when he was released and went off to work.
That helped break the tension somewhat. Still, Ash let it happen and therefore the others didn't interfere. Shepard hadn't given orders, because he couldn't, not in front of Security and a Spectre. Not without suggesting that his team might disobey the orders of Service Security, within Security's own bailiwick. She was certain she'd read his comment right, but it still hurt to let it happen.
After a debriefing by the senior military attaché to the Combine embassy and passing over her reports, Ash and her team were given leave while Tali was sheltered under the protection of the embassy's Sentinel company. That was standard procedure when a smaller Sentinel unit took shelter with a larger one, in order to avoid any…confusion or internal trouble, as well as to give the smaller unit time to stand down. This was an outgrowth of standard practice on the station holding the Combine Parliament and guarded by the Combine's Own regiment of Sentinels, who were not going to have bunches of extra armed soldiers on their station, regardless of their loyalty or rank.
Tali wasn't terribly thrilled about being separated from her escort, but it wasn't unusual. The request that she remain behind was more unusual, but might have been due to any number of causes and she certainly didn't begrudge her guardians their downtime. Even if she was a little irritated to miss the Citadel as they'd requested she remain within the, large, Combine embassy. At least, she was grumpy until it was explained to her why she was needed. Then she was even less thrilled about it. But she went along, Zorahs always did their duty.
Shepard's cybernetic implants, except his biotic implant, were disabled and his hands were restrained, behind him, as they'd swapped them around from where they'd been bound together in front of him as soon as he was out of sight of his fellow Sentinels. The restraints weren't biotic resistant. If asked, his captors would say that it was a courtesy to a fellow officer, but he knew it for what it was, a trap. An invitation for him to break free in order to demonstrate their idiocy, which they would play as an attempt to escape, justifying harsher measures.
And so he went along quietly, despite the staring eyes of C-Sec officers and Citadel residents, staring at the prisoner in full Combine uniform, handcuffed, with four armed Service Security officers surrounding him and one sadistic psionic interrogator walking alongside him, drifting nearer to him, seeking physical contact, which would strengthen his psionic abilities, perhaps enough to slip into Shepard's mind despite the Mind Shield he still wore, before the second psionic who was legally required for the interrogation showed up (though since they'd made him wait around for almost an hour for this psionic to join them on the trip down to the Service Security interrogation room, the Sentinel Corps psionic was probably already waiting).
Shepard drifted away slowly enough not to trigger any reaction from the Security escort, less because he was concerned about the psionic succeeding then because he was concerned about the psionic going into convulsions when he ran into the traps the Sentinel Corps had left in his mind (the other reason they needed a second psionic was to disable those traps, which was why it had to be a Sentinel Corps psionic). And even that was less because he cared what happened to the sadistic little thug than because he didn't want to have to explain it the Service Security goons.
A psionic screening was never going to be fun, but it didn't have to be that unpleasant. It depended on what tactics the psionic used to ensure a complete and in depth review of the mind. This psionic had chosen to attempt to infuriate Shepard to the point where he could hold nothing back and had been needling him since they left the company of his squad. If he didn't react, they'd accuse him of failing to cooperate, if he did, then they'd accuse him of resisting. He could explain silence. Explaining head-butting a Service Security psionic would be harder, though if the man didn't shut up, it might be worth it.
All of this perhaps explains, though it does not excuse Shepard's distraction and failure to notice the ambushers waiting in the service corridor they'd just entered until laser blasts eliminated the guards in a single precise barrage. Instinct had Shepard bring barriers up around both of the surviving Humans (not that they would do anything against lasers), even as the psionic dove for cover and Shepard tried to snap back, out of the service corridor, only to run into the door which was sealed and locked shut. He dropped a warp on the metal of his cuffs and let himself fall forward, lowering his profile, though no fire was coming towards him.
Hands free, Shepard scrambled for a different piece of cover, cursing when the weapon he tried to snatch from the hands of one of the dead guards melted under a precise blast from one of the attackers. The corridor was long, but filled with cargo containers which provided both sides with cover. The cargo containers were large and relatively sturdy, but not sturdy enough to actually block weapons fire from modern weapons. However, they were large and full of cargo, which could absorb the thermal energy of the lasers, at least until they finally melted into slag. There was an overhead tram system which picked the cargo containers up and brought them where they needed to go, which meant that the cargo containers were distributed in accordance with the logic of a computer whose goals where efficiency and leaving a path through the corridors to each access point. Not an efficient path, just a path. This left the cargo containers as a maze, which wasn't a problem to anyone with an omni-tool that could guide you through.
The cargo containers shielded his assailants from Shepard's eyes, though he could see where they were hiding. A glance at the psionic convinced him the man was useless, despite the fact that he was clutching his head and muttering as he attempted to reach the minds of the attackers.
They obviously wanted him alive and relatively functional, otherwise the blast that melted the weapon would have melted him as well. For the first time he was grateful he wasn't wearing his armor, as they might have been willing to risk a leg or arm shot then, but on an unarmored Human, that was begging for him to go into shock and die.
Still, it wouldn't do to rely on their supposed need for him in good shape. Instead he flicked out for just a moment and tossed a throw at the cargo container that the enemy sheltered behind, sending it flying backwards into the wall behind it. The clang contained an element of splashing which suggested that he'd caught at least one of his attackers between a cargo pod and a metal wall. Three other figures were scampering away into other cover, though at this distance and this angle, he couldn't say more than they weren't Krogan, Elcor, Hanar, Volus, Vipers, or Silicoids. That wasn't nothing, but it wasn't much either.
A flicked hand pulled the corpse of the guard who'd stripped off Shepard's omni-tool, before shackling him, into cover along with him while he tracked the remaining assailants. More mundanely, he pulled the pistol from a holster on the dead woman's belt. A standard mass effect weapon, it lacked the armor penetrating modifications which would have made cover ineffective, but it was better than nothing. A spray of blind shots encouraged the enemy to keep back while Shepard pulled his omni-tool back on and attempted to call for aid from C-Sec.
To his complete lack of surprise, he failed. Jamming comms and sensors was necessary for this attack to succeed, at least without the active support of C-Sec. Despite his lack of surprise, it was still worrisome. After the revelation of the Geth presence within the Combine, all Council nations had radically updated their computer security. None were comfortable letting Geth into their systems to defend them, but they also weren't willing to be defenseless.
The official line, and the truth as far as Shepard knew, was that C-Sec's security Vis were good enough to keep out anything but millions of Geth programs, supported by the processing power of an entire fleet. Defeating those wasn't something anyone penny ante could manage. The door out was locked (as he'd known when he bounced off it), but it also wouldn't open, even to his milspec omni-tool. Usually there would have been a few dozen Geth programs on his omni-tool, but they'd left when he was detained.
There were only two people firing at him, which suggested the last survivor was moving to flank him, stupid to try to take out a Sentinel one-on-one, but that didn't mean it wasn't what was happening. He considered which way he'd seen them break and began to circle the other direction, an angled throw made it look like he was still in his previous position as he moved to flank the attackers. Unfortunately, instead of circling away from the flanker, he managed to run directly into it.
Either an incredibly advanced combat mech, or a standard Geth humanoid model was sliding out of the narrow gap between a cargo container and the wall that Shepard had been heading for.
If it was a dedicated close-combat model, he was screwed whether he charged or retreated, if it was a general purpose, or dedicated sniper model, he had a chance if he closed, but was screwed if he ran, so Shepard charged. He managed two shots on the run from the pistol, the first hitting the robot's shields, the second, because the barrel of his gun was inside them, ripping through the Geth's head. Usually that contained one set of processors and sensors and was your best bet for a one-hit kill.
But, of course, this was a military model, with dispersed and armored processors, redundant sensors and more strength and speed than any organic. One hand caught the gun and crushed its barrel as the other caught Shepard by the throat, seeking to incapacitate him. A warp placed directly against the shoulder joint of the arm holding him up prevented that and the biotic energy began to burn through the armor of its chest and it staggered back a step, gaining distance.
Shepard dropped to the ground, twisting away as the Geth's remaining arm came up, inbuilt laser trying to bear on his leg. It tracked the movement, waiting for his head and torso to clear the shot and so missed Shepard's powerful pull yanking the cargo container back against the wall hard enough to damage the Geth and buy himself a moment to get up and drop another pair of warps on it, making it collapse in on itself.
He was lucky it had been a sniper model, the close-combat versions had much more serious armor, but the ranged-optimized ones relied more on shields to handle biotics. "Two down, two to go," he muttered to himself. Not too concerned about giving away his position, as the shots and the crash of metal-on-metal had done that for him. So it was best to move away from there.
While he'd been running into the Geth (he still didn't know the correct suffix), the enemy had been advancing on the pinned psionic but as he was still ineffectually attempting to psionically attack them, they turned towards Shepard, while his only weapon was destroyed. Shepard took a quick glance at the Geth, but, as with most military models, it didn't carry any weapons independent of its chassis and he had no chance of improvising a weapon out of the remains, well, except maybe a club.
Ducking back the way he came kept him ahead of the advancing enemies, and he did get a chance to spot them. They were both female Batarians in civilian clothes, with heavy laser pistols. Their pursuit sped up as they caught sight of him in turn. Shepard spun around the corner leading him back to where the psionic was hiding and realized he couldn't retreat further without abandoning the Service Security asshole.
With a silent curse, he turned back to ambush the enemy as they rounded the corner, snatching a pistol from the first one to follow him around corner and followed up to a punch to the sensitive upper pair of eyes which should have knocked her backwards, with pain spasming the weapon free from her hand.
It did not. She didn't react beyond having her head rock back. The Batarian's response was to launch a punch at Shepard's stomach, he slid around the blow, releasing her weapon and bringing both hands to her throat, a warp melting its way through skin, muscle and bone. She didn't show any pain, but she did start to collapse as her head fell off and her bowels voided.
A kick knocked her corpse back into her fellow who'd followed her around the corner and Shepard managed to grab the pistol she'd dropped before the second Batarian could react and shot her through the head. He got up slowly, "I think that's all of them. Did you see any others?" he asked.
The psionic rushed at him, going for a tackle. Shepard instantly relaxed and controlled his instinct, assuming that someone else was aiming at him. It wasn't until the psionic was atop him and prying off his Mind Shield that Shepard realized that the man was under someone else's control (which wasn't likely to happen for a Service Security psionic). It wasn't until the Mind Shield lifted from his flesh and the psionic ripped his way into Shepard's mind that he realized that the man wasn't under anyone's control but his own and that this day was turning out to be even more unpleasant than he'd expected.
Codex: Terminus Alliance
The Terminus Alliance is a loose alliance of approximately thirty worlds, scattered throughout the Terminus. Founded by Urdnot Wrex, the Alliance is more of a mutual defense pact than a government. All planets agree to provide housing, fuel and power to Alliance ships when they come calling and, in turn, Overlord Wrex agrees to make sure that no one invades them, or raids them.
He does this, despite the relatively small number of ships at his command, through unmatched ground forces, undeniable ruthlessness with his enemies and impeccable intelligence gathering. It is rumored that Wrex's longstanding relationship with the Shadow Broker emerged intact from the Krogan's time with the Combine special operations group known as X-Com. It is equally rumored that Wrex created his own intelligence network based on X-Com's, or that the entire X-Com network defected to Wrex. Regardless, to raid an Alliance world is to invite death down upon you and everyone around you.
The Alliance is officially neutral in all matters related to the Council, however few doubt that if there is conflict between the Council and the Terminus, the Alliance will act as the core of resistance around which other worlds rally.
Despite this neutrality, most parties expected news of Wrex's death to follow immediately after announcing the formation of the Alliance, as Wrex could hardly hide and lead a government at the same time. However Wrex's combination of mostly curing the genophage, but still limiting the Krogan reproductive ability to exactly match that of the Vipers (the next most fruitful known species) and positioning himself as peacemaker meant that any further assassination attempts would be both futile (as the damage was done) and counterproductive (as they would undoubtedly infuriate the newly re-energized Krogan). An uneasy truce is the order of the day, though doomsayers on both sides say it is fated to end in blood and tears.
Codex: New Day
Formally known as the New Day, the flagship of the Terminus Alliance Fleet is informally known as the Krogan Rock, Wrex's Quad, the Worldbreaker, and the End of Days.
A massive vessel, it was formerly Asteroid 7231 of the Lictor System. A 5.3 kilometer asteroid, full of iron, nickel, copper and a few other elements worth mining. After it was hollowed out by Hegemony miners in 1921, it was used as a base of supply for further mining operations in the system until 2036. Thereafter it, and the Lictor System were abandoned until the arrival of Urdnot Wrex, the Stiletto, and a lot of element zero.
Originally intended to permit the cured Krogan a secure home where they could never again be poisoned, following the creation of the Terminus Alliance the vessel was converted into the single largest warship in existence. It is also the single least maneuverable craft in existence, but as it has enough weapons to completely destroy anything which comes into range, this is not, usually, a problem.
Besides acting as the flagship of the Terminus Alliance Navy, it also acts as the home and home base of Urdnot Wrex himself, Overlord of the Terminus Alliance.
As he's surrounded by hundreds of thousands of loyal soldiers and a weapons system that could depopulate a planet, assassination attempts have been…notably unsuccessful as a tactic for dealing with Overlord Wrex.
Author's Note: Reviews are always welcome.