Still alive. Unbroken, yet no longer whole. Anyways, here is the next chapter. I have absolutely no timetable as to when this will be updated again. Living on a complete whimsy now that I'm no longer working anywhere between 40 and 90 hour weeks. Edits may be made at a later time.
SSV Mount St. Helens
Systems Alliance Navy
Emrys Orbit, Cambrian Nebula, Attican Traverse
March 9th, 2170
When Britannia had seceded from the Systems Alliance, it wasn't like a set of lines were suddenly put down and that was it. Nor was it like one could simply snap their fingers and undo over two hundred years of integration and unity without any consequences.
No, the cost, outside of the economic implications was human. Lines were drawn in the sand, for both families and individuals, as what had been simply could be no longer. And while Britannia had always imposed a strong sense of patriotism in its people, there was a stark difference between pride in one's nation and seceding from the Systems Alliance.
It was because of this that families were split, and loyalties were tested. And while many did rejoin with their birth nation, there was a not-so-small minority who viewed their loyalty and oaths to the Systems Alliance as sacrosanct, choosing to remain with the Alliance.
One of those that had chosen to remain had been Hannah Shepard. As a member of the prestigious Hale family of Britannia, it had been expected that she would eschew her oaths to the Systems Alliance and once again serve the Britannian Empire as her forebears had done for over a thousand years.
However, the First Contact War, as the Alliance referred to it, was something that left a distinct impression upon her. She had been there in the last days of the war. The desperation in making the Turians bleed for every kilometer of space, even as hope dimmed that there would be any reprieve from total defeat.
She had been there to witness the destruction of the Grand Britannia over Earth, as it claimed the lives of over two thousand of the best and brightest Britannia had to offer along with the Emperor.
And her father.
It had only been the final insult of a war that should have never happened in the first place that cemented her decision. Not only had Admiral Octavian Hale been her father, he had been her idol. While the loss of her mother, brothers, and sister had been hammer blows, it had been the loss of her father that had left her truly devastated.
She still remembered the last conversation with him, how the man who she had looked up to her entire life had become so lost and bitter. How he had confided in her something that had horrified her.
Oh, there was nothing that he could show her that could prove what he believed without a shred of doubt, but he had been the Grand Admiral with access to information and data that a lowly Commander like herself had no equivocal right to. And what he had revealed to her in that last time she was able to see him alive had shook her own faith in the Imperial family.
Over the last decade, leading all the way up until the last weeks of the First Contact War, there had been a small, almost imperceptible drain from the Britannian military of young, promising officers and scientists. The only reason that he had even become aware of it had been when Shanxi had fallen, and he found that this drain had accelerated, suddenly including ships with orders pressed for deployment, only for them to never arrive, being written off as lost. When he had confronted the Emperor, sensing Office of Secret Intelligence involvement, he had been rebuffed.
In the months after Shanxi, as he pursued answers while trying to prosecute a war that they were steadily losing, he had been able to find a single name in regards to this drain mistakenly left on a series of orders.
Even with that name, the Emperor had rebuffed his demands for answers, merely telling him that it was not his concern. All the while the Britannian Navy, a military force that had comprised nearly seventy percent of the System Alliances' hull numbers, was being fed into the meat grinder that was the inexorable Turian military onslaught.
He believed, in those final days, that the Emperor had willfully chosen to withhold whatever it was that Safehold had been. That the ships, men, and material that had been consumed by Safehold may have been able to change the fortunes of the First Contact War, and yet the Emperor had chosen never to deploy them.
Initially, she had been unable to believe it, she didn't want to believe it. And in that very last time she had seen him alive, she had expressed that belief, her very zeal and belief in the Empire leading her to accuse her father of being a defeatist.
To this day, she could only feel guilty at being so stupid. Nor could she ever forget the broken expression she had been faced with when she had said it. That expression haunted her dreams, because she knew that she had failed not only her father in that moment, but her family.
And then he was gone, gone in the explosion that consumed the Great Britannia, robbing her of any opportunity to make amends with him. To admit that he had been right.
She released a breath she hadn't even realized she had been holding, running her fingers through crimson, quietly willing the owner of said locks would wake up. The thoughts of the past were just that, of the past. What mattered was the here and now, and the young woman who lay in the bed before her.
When Britannia had chosen to secede from the Systems Alliance, she had been at a crossroads. She had been a citizen of Britannia, born and raised, a patriot even, but the knowledge her father had shared and her subsequent reactions thereof had cast a long shadow upon her. In the years following the Erta Ale Accords, the doubt had festered too deeply into her mind, poisoning her on the idea of rejoining into the fold the nation that she had come to believe had withheld its full strength for a reason even she could not fathom.
Johnathan, bless him, had understood. He had been a godsend, an arranged marriage that had somehow worked out. While she had been a naval officer, he had provided a stable home for their children. And while he did not approve of her decision, he had understood nonetheless that she had to follow her conscience.
Her children, on the other hand—John hadn't really forgiven her for abandoning them. Any exchange through digital communications between the two of them had been terse to say the least. But Jane, had been too young to understand what had happened, and the relationship between the two, while distant, was enough for a rapport at least.
However, she hadn't known that they would be on Emrys, of all places.
"Dammit John," she murmured to herself, lamenting her late husband, "what were you thinking?"
The door to their bay opened, and she turned to the newcomer, before turning back to her daughter, knowing that the brunette woman who had joined her wouldn't mind.
Her friendship with Admiral Kastanie Drescher dated back to their academy days at the Royal Pendragon Naval Academy, when a socially awkward, but brilliant Kastanie had been made into her dorm mate. It was a friendship that had stayed strong in the twenty-three years that had passed between the two, even while Kastanie rapidly climbed the ranks thanks to her tactical and strategic brilliance, becoming Admiral of Second Fleet at the age of only twenty-eight, and earning the dubious (yet at the same time, telling) distinction of being the only frontline Systems Alliance Admiral to survive the First Contact War. So close was their friendship, that Kastanie was the godmother to her daughter.
"How is she," Kastanie asked, taking a seat on the other side of the medical bed. Even now, twenty-three years later, she still had some of that social awkwardness that made it difficult for her to be anything but forthright with anyone, having issues in wielding the full breadth of emotional expression. It was one of the core reasons why she would likely never rise above her current position, but was too valuable to replace. Yet for Hannah, she might as well be an open book to her, with the concern readily evident.
Eight broken bones, a fractured clavicle, Varren poisoning, sepsis…
"If David hadn't found her, we'd have been burying an empty casket," she finally spoke, her voice trembling slightly, and she forced her way through it through the one emotion she could marshall, anger, "dammit, Kass, why the fuck does it have to be Jane? She should be on Carhaix ogling boys and partying with Kallen. Not out here—"
She couldn't say anything more, the anger fading in the face of the myriad of feelings clashing, forcing her to take a deep calming breath as she looked back to her friend.
"Not fighting for her life."
There wasn't much that could be said. There were too many unanswered questions as to the what and why, but at this point, it didn't matter, as it was unlikely they would ever get an answer. Instead, the two women sat in the silence that was only broken by the sounds the machines monitoring the young teenager in the bed before them.
"Bridge, Admiral Drescher."
Both women perked up, as Kastanie accessed her omni-tool, "This is Drescher, I asked to not be interrupted."
"I know ma'am, but we've got telemetry uplink from the Logres Relay. Britannia's Third Fleet is coming through along with—something else, ma'am."
"Define something else, Nguyen."
"Ma'am, the telemetry suggests something larger than the St. Helens."
This caused both women to exchange a wary look. Just what the hell were the Britannia's bringing into Emrys? Especially when Logres would have to radically change the positioning of their Mass Relay in order to connect with Emrys directly.
"We're on our way," Drescher replied, and while Hannah wanted to stay with her daughter, her job required her to be on the bridge in this case.
"Admiral on deck."
Kastanie and Hannah gave a brief acknowledgment as they both headed for their stations. While Kastanie was the commander of the fleet, Hannah was her Flag Captain, serving as the captain of her flagship. And as such, Hannah was in charge of the operations of the ship.
"What do we have, Sal," she asked, coming to the station where Salah Nguyen was seated behind, the data showing the telemetry they were receiving from the mass relay.
"I still don't know, ma'am. The Brits are being rather mum in giving us anymore than the bare essentials. I got all the telemetry data for what looks like their Third Fleet along with several support vessels, there's no problem there," he then put his finger towards a tag that simply labeled as UNKNOWN on the board, "it's this guy that I'm having an issue with. There's nothing in our databases for it and the Brits aren't providing anything on whatever it is other than it will arrive in four minutes with the rest of Third Fleet, and the only reason I've got an estimate on its size is because of the data the Brits are giving the relay."
"An ODF," Hannah asked, turning her head away from the board and to Sal. While it would be strange for an Orbital Defense Fortress to be deployed this far out, she wouldn't put it past the Britannians to double down in the face of this event. Face and honor were still a very serious thing to them, and having the Batarians decimate one of their colonies would stick in their craw something fierce. Putting an ODF into the orbit of Emrys would be the ultimate 'we're here to stay' message, not to mention deter any further incursions.
"Under its own propulsion," Sal asked incredulously, before shaking his head, his fingers gracing the haptic console's display, "maybe, but how do you explain the three Bulwarks. They wouldn't be included unless they were towing ODF components."
He was right, Hannah agreed, walking back up to where Kastanie was sitting in her flag chair, looking at her own display and transmitting orders to the rest of the fleet. Bulwarks serves as both towing and construction ships for the massive orbital works designed to provide defense for Britannian (and now some Council) worlds, they seldom deployed unless they were working on an ODF or other corresponding construction works.
"Well," she asked, not looking up from what she was working on.
"It's big, whatever it is," she replied, "Sal's ruled out it being an ODF. They've got three Bulwarks in their telemetry—
"And they only use Bulwarks for their ODFs," Kastanie agreed, biting her lip, "I don't like this Hannah. Too many variables, and the Brits aren't one to take any slight against them sitting down."
"I know," she agreed quietly.
Hannah turned her head to the display of the relay, while Kastanie looked up, watching as the luminosity of the center of the ring increased to denote its usage. For a moment, nothing happened, and then suddenly it was all activity as numerous blue flashes denoted the exiting of the corridor of space-time that was the means of travel. At first, it was lighter ships, destroyers and frigates exiting and spreading themselves out. Then it was a quartet of cruisers, followed by another quartet thereafter, with a third trailing even that, all of them taking up a stations just outside of the 'exit zone' of the relay. And then came the heavies, a pair of dreadnoughts, followed by a carrier, the standard heavy ship complement of a Britannian fleet.
But it was what came after that that caused Hannah to freeze, even as a wave of quiet consternation rippled through the bridge.
While Invincible series of Dreadnoughts fielded by the Britannians shared a rough size parity with the Systems Alliance Everests, like the St. Helens herself, the ship that came out of the mass relay dwarfed the two flanking Dreadnoughts as if they were cruisers. With a much wider beam and taller draft where the two Invincibles could be stacked upon one another and still end up being shorter. Nor did it have any of the aerodynamic lines that were a staple of human ships, instead it was more akin to a brick than anything else.
"Ma'am, we're being contacted by the ship, squawk is identifying it as the Charles zi Britannia," the incredulity could not be hidden in the voice of Lt. Emil Ackerson. For good reason, any reference to the late Emperor of Britannia was considered tactless by just about everyone outside of Britannian space. Naming a ship, especially a ship like that, was liable to incense the Turians to dangerous levels.
"Put them through," Kastanie commanded, sharing a glance with her, an unspoken message passing between the two of them. Hannah nodded, and shifted outside of the holographic projector's view, while splitting her attention between the bridge and the hologram as it hummed to life.
After a few moments, the blue of the hologram coalesced into a man, and Hannah resisted the urge of furrowing her brow in reaction of who that man.
In staying true to the Arthurian Legend over the centuries, Britannia had adopted the title and status of Knights of the Round. These consisted of men and women who held station above almost everyone else, with only few exceptions. They were the supreme troubleshooters that were both the sword and shield that protected the Britannian Empire since its resurrection in the Americas after Napoleon's successful campaign to capture the British Isles.
The First Contact War had gutted this peerless group, with only Michele Manfredi, the Knight of Two, surviving by dint of the fact that he had lost an arm and waylaid in a hospital during the final days of the War. After the War, it was acknowledged that it would likely take years before enough suitable candidates could be found to fully restore them to their former prestige.
But what they had in the meantime were considered a cut above the normal.
In this case, the man who stood before them was Caedron Harrington, Knight of Nine, the Taskmaster of Britannia. A man who was considered as deadly in warfare as he was in teaching the next generation of prospective officers. Normally the man kept to the Royal Pendragon Academy, but if he was out here...
"Admiral Drescher," the man greeted curtly, a nod an additional acknowledgment to a woman who was his peer, even if she were of another nation.
"Lord Harrington. You're a bit far from Pendragon."
The small twitch of his lips was the only sign that he was amused by the statement, easily hidden as he responded to the cheeky query.
"I happened to be in Logres inspecting the Zi Britannia for her shakedown cruise when orders came down from Prime Minister Schneizel to take Third Fleet and relieve Emrys. Hopefully we have not caused you any undue distress with our presence after you have done so much to assist us."
"Of course not. Emrys is, after all, a Britannian colony, Lord Harrington."
"Indeed. Speaking on the matter of Emrys, I would like to request permission to board your ship and meet with you in order to discuss other matters of some importance, as well as convey a personal message from the Prime Minister to you and your crew."
Despite there being a tepid relationship between the Systems Alliance and the Britannian Empire at the political level, the military still retained a degree of respect between the two despite the schism. There were frankly too many friendships that existed between the two nations' personnel to magically wipe away. Though Alliance Intelligence did keep a close eye on all exchanges, it was generally viewed as a logical security measure than any sort of dedicated crackdown.
"We would be honored."
The personal message was to be expected, a thank you from Prime Minister Schneizel acting as the political leader of the Britannian people, Hannah would admit that there appeared to be at least some personal touch added to it, as it wasn't in the sort of dry, overly formal prose that you would expect from a leader of a sovereign nation to the military officers of another.
Once that was done, Harrington had then asked to speak with the two of them privately. While Hannah could understand why he would wish to speak with Kastanie, obviously to discuss progress on Emrys and the imminent handover of all operations in-system, she was unsure of exactly why he would request her presence as well.
"Admiral. Captain," he began, looking between the both of them, "while I am here to relieve you, as agreed upon between Prime Ministers Schneizel and Royse, I am also here to provide you with a briefing regarding the Charles zi Britannia and Operation Retrieve."
"Operation Retrieve," Kastanie spoke, her gaze narrowing, "are you suggesting that you know where your citizens are being taken?"
"We do," he then held up his arm, omnitool activating, before stopping and looking to them, "if I may?"
The responding nod from Kastanie caused the holographic projector to activate, and in its place was a star map.
"We've been aware of where the Batarians launder their slaves before shipping them back to their territory for some time," Harrington began, manipulating the map, "previously, we have chosen to merely maintain surveillance upon the system, monitoring ingoing and outgoing communications between the moon, Torfan, and the Batarian Hegemony. Part of this is due to the fact that the Batarians maintain a cruiser squadron in-system in order to dissuade any competitors from interfering with their operations."
He then looked back to the two of them, "With the events here at Emrys, it has been decided that a message must be sent to the Batarians. And the Charles zi Britannia, along with her sister ship, the Vincent zi Britannia and Home Fleet, are going to deliver it."
He let that hang in the air for a moment, letting both of the women absorb the information, and for Hannah, she was just barely able to hide her reaction.
Two...they have TWO of those ships, she thought, incredulously. One of the limiting factors in the construction of capital ships has always been the exorbitant cost in providing enough Element Zero in order for the ship to function in reducing its mass to sufficient levels for travel via FTL. Unfortunately, the amount of eezo necessary for a large ship increased exponentially as the dimensions increased, thereby creating an artificial design limit in ship design based upon both the cost, and how much of the critical material was available.
But for Britannia to have not one, but two of these ships…
"I'm sorry, Lord Harrington, but are you admitting that you have two of these dreadnoughts, a violation of both the Treaty of Farixen and the Erta Ale Accords."
The wintry smile in return could only leave her chilled.
"We classify them Assault Carriers, Admiral. The Zi's both have a fighter complement that is larger than our Glorious-class Fleet Carriers. They are designed around their fighter wings,while backing that up with the ability to duel dreadnoughts and other ships of the line without having to worry about the limitations of being a carrier…which leads us to the next reason I am here."
He then reached into his pocket, and retrieved a datapad.
"Foreign Minister Guinevere is currently on her way to the Citadel to give a full briefing on the Vanguard-class, of which both these ships are part of, to the Council. However, I have been authorized to provide you with the same briefing and technical details in order to allay any fears your superiors may have in regards to these ships. Everything regarding the ship short of proprietary secrets are here."
He then placed it down on the counter by the projector.
"To summarize, the Vanguard-class is the first in a series of new ship designs that incorporate a new material we refer to as Sakuradite. This material is a synthetic high-temperature superconductor with radioactive properties that can also serve as an energy source. While one or the other characteristic is not ground-breaking, it is what Sakuradite is capable in this unique composition that is: Sakuradite is revolutionary in its ability to enhance the output and performance of Element Zero to the point that it can serve as a supplemental material in not only the production of FTL drives, but also in other major ship components that require Element Zero.
It didn't take long for either women to quickly pick up on the ramifications of such a statement, with Hannah having to reign in her shock, as Kastanie's expression becoming an emotionless mask, a rather daunting tell at what her actual reaction was.
For millennia, Eezo, as it was colloquially known, had served as the very bedrock of the galaxy. Without Element Zero, no ship could wield faster-than-light travel without it being prohibitively expensive, as the reduction of mass of the ship generated through running a current of electricity through the material was the only efficient means of propulsion available. It wasn't just in ship design that eezo was prevalent, it was almost in every heavy-duty industry that required the reduction of mass of an option in order to operate.
Unfortunately, there were two major drawbacks to Element Zero. The first being in how that material was obtained. Element Zero was only found in concentration in regions, or systems, where they had been subjected to the event of a star going nova, while the mechanics of such an event were still elusive in concrete proof, the prevailing theory was that the radiation and detritus generated in the supernova event impregnated the star's surrounding satellites in what would eventually become element zero. As a result, the only places where Element Zero was in abundance for exploitation were in systems in the shadow of a neutron star, or pulsars, extremely inhospitable places for organics to operate in. Because of these hostile environments, only major corporations had the ability to provide the startup money to mine the material, which subsequently corresponds in the fact that Element Zero was expensive.
The second strike against Element Zero was the requirements of the elemental material in the construction of the FTL drive were exponentially proportional to the mass of the object they sought to propel through the void. The more massive the ship, the more Eezo required. As a result, Dreadnoughts were prohibitively expensive for smaller races, and were considered a massive investment even by the Council races, as a significant amount of the budget for the ships themselves were sunk into the element zero necessary for the drive system. It was through this lens, that the Treaty of Farixen was employed, both to prevent an arms race, but also keep the financial burdens that resulted from the construction and maintenance for these highly destructive ships from destroying economies.
And the Britannian's had not only just declared that they were no longer held by the limitations of Element Zero, they were flaunting it! And if they were so confident that they would face no repercussions, just what was it that they hadn't shown yet?
"There is—another thing I wished to discuss with you," Harrington spoke again, breaking both womens' trains of thought, his gaze shifting towards Hannah, "more specifically with you, Captain Shepard. It is in regards to your daughter."
Before she could open her mouth to angrily retort, coaxed by the mixture of protectiveness for her daughter, and that infamous Hale anger that always seemed to simmer underneath the surface in her family, Kastanie's hand touched her shoulder, causing her head to snap to the Admiral.
"Exactly what, in regards to Jane Shepard," Kastanie asked, causing Hannah's head to slowly turn back to the Knight of the Round.
"Peace, Admiral, Captain," he held up a hand, "I am merely conveying a message directly from the Prime Minister, who has taken a personal interest in Miss Shepard's case."
"Go on, Lord Harrington," Admiral Drescher spoke.
"Thank you. Let me first preface this by acknowledging the fact that Jane Shepard is still, by every instance of the definition, a Britannian citizen. Normally, we would be requesting that the young Miss Shepard be returned to our custody when I leave this ship," he then held up his hand, cutting Hannah off, "however," he raised his voice, "however, there are exigent circumstances that prevent what would be a routine handover from taking place."
"And what are these 'exigent' circumstances," Hannah growled, Kastanie unable to stop her from getting in that shot.
"The first relates to the legal custody for Miss Shepard," he began, "as she is currently still fifteen, and a member of nobility, she would normally be placed in the custody of a family member. However, in this case, the only other surviving family member is now-Viscount Johnathan Shepard III. As he is only seventeen and currently attending the Imperial Academy at Pendragon, he is unsuitable for custodial guardianship for his sister. Thankfully, the late Johnathan Shepard II left a will to be executed in the event of his death before Jane either reached adulthood, or herself attended the Imperial Academy."
He then took a small breath, letting that hang in the air, his gaze focusing solely upon Hannah, "In his will, he stipulated that, in the event of his death, that Jane Aurora Shepard would be placed into the custody of Captain Hannah Elizabrth Shepard."
"What," Hannah breathed, incredulous, "but Britannia has a strict policy-"
"Which is meaningless in this case," Harrington interrupted her, "while Britannia does have laws in place that—seek to dissuade the abuse of wills and testaments in order to shift money and-or resources to the Systems Alliance—your ex-husband found a loophole through the legal precedent that neither money or resources are being given to the Systems Alliance. Furthermore, as a member of the peerage, he is allowed a level of leeway in order to execute his title, a policy that has been affirmed for centuries by the Imperial family. And while it would best served for the Empire to ignore the stated will of the former Viscount, Prime Minister Schneizel, has instead chosen to not only honor the will, and after private discussions with Prime Minister Royse, reached an accord in regards to your daughter remaining not only a Britannian citizen, and be privy to the titles of her family in the unfortunate event of her brother's demise, but she can also apply to become an Alliance citizen if she so chooses, if you choose to take over guardianship for her."
Hannah couldn't help but blink, barely able to contain her incredulity. After Britannia had seceded from the Systems Alliance, both the Empire and the Systems Alliance had both implemented strict immigration and citizenship policies, in order to prevent any further deleterious effects between the two, with a large portion of the concern being the brain drain or loss of money. You were either an Alliance, or Imperial citizen, there were no exceptions. She had to renounce everything that made her a member of the Empire, but it had been worth it. She couldn't live with herself serving the Empire responsible for what happened to her family.
Now suddenly, they were making an exception? Why?
She must have said it aloud, as Harrington reached within his uniform, before withdrawing a leather case. Turning the leather case around, he proceeded to open it, revealing the face of a golden lion locked in a snarl, a blood-red ribbon interlinked with the medallion.
"Because, while her legal status may be up in the air, Britannia recognizes heroism, Captain Shepard. That is why, in recognition for her heroic actions upon Emrys, in which she saved seventeen people, and by placing herself at personal risk by leading the enemy away from those that she saved, Prime Minister Schneizel has sent me to bestow Dame Jane Aurora Shepard the Golden Lion of Britannia, our highest military and civilian honor, upon her."
Four Hours Later
The Citadel, Widow System, Serpent Nebula
"I don't like this," Foreign Minister-Princess Guinevere de Britannia muttered to the woman standing beside her, "this wasn't part of the plan."
"No plan survives first contact with the enemy," the bluenette woman replied bluntly, irrespective of the woman who she was talking to with her gaze not leaving the sight of the Presidium as the elevator they were on ascended the Citadel Tower, "The Batarians merely chose to accelerate our schedule. It was going to happen sooner or later when they increased their operational budget for slaving. We still remain within optimal parameters."
"Optimal parameters," Guinevere scoffed, "I care about not flipping the damn chessboard simply because it's convenient. There's too much at stake here to simply do things on a whim."
Indigo was turned to meet jade green, holding each other for a moment, before the indigo turned back away.
"Contingencies have always been prepared for this eventuality, Foreign Minister," the woman responded, bringing up her data slate and manipulating it, her eyes narrowed in concentration at what she was reading, "the Batarians have always been a consideration for The Boss, the events of Emrys have merely provided the opportunity for him to inflict upon the Batarians the age old principle of lex talionis."
As the elevator came to a stop, Guinevere couldn't help but ask the question that was burgeoning on her mind. She hadn't had the opportunity to speak with Lelouch since the events on Emrys, the only orders that she had received had been that she was to offer any and all support to the woman standing beside her and to treat it as if she were him.
"Are those his words?"
While she wasn't fully mollified by the exchange, the first real exchange she had with the woman before her that hadn't been clad in orders, there was the fact that she really had no recourse. While she had found new purpose in the nearly five years since she had been exposed to Safehold, Retribution, and the greatest secret in the history of Britannia, she couldn't help but feel that she was merely a piece upon a chessboard that even she couldn't fully see, being moved by her younger brother as he pleased for operational goals that she wasn't aware of. While it did miff her, the fact that she felt like a pawn, Lelouch vi Britannia was her rightful emperor, and he had pledged, to her personally, that he would right all the wrongs that had been inflicted upon them all.
And that was why she would follow him into the depths of hell, despite her own personal misgivings.
"Well then," she murmured, just loud enough for the other woman and her bodyguards to hear it, "showtime."
She then took the lead, leading her 'entourage' towards the Council chambers. While she did so, she took the time to glance around her surroundings, taking a silent pulse of the various aides, politicians, and officials scurrying about the deck. The fact that she read more confusion and anxiety in the faces of the various peoples only buoyed her hopes for this meeting. She still viewed the deployment of the Vanguards as a risky venture, but even she could understand Lelouch, with all of his passion, would be infuriated by the audacity of the Batarians to strike Emrys. Especially when it had been his decision to designate Emrys as the next in their planned fortress worlds, but wanting to slowly build it up instead of immediately doing so. To him, the blood and suffering of the nearly fifty thousand people were on his hands.
She just hoped that the blowback from what was going to happen would not be the thing that would bring Safehold down around their shoulders.
Soon enough, they came to the actual chamber itself. Across from them already, were the Council themselves. Guinevere's teeth clenched, as she tamped down on her anger in the face of the very entity that had been responsible for what had not only happened to her, but also her people. It was puerile, of course, only Seyelnia Tevos had been the one on the Council when it had passed the order to punish humanity, and she had voted against it, but that still didn't take away from the fact that these were the people who sat there and promoted themselves as doing what was best for the galaxy, while advancing their own races' agendas.
Counting backward from ten, she released some of that anger, focusing it into what needed to be done, instead of what she wanted to do.
"This council is now in session," Tevos spoke, "Foreign Minister Guinevere, while you were the one to request this session, I wish to begin with the unconfirmed, and unsettling reports that the Britannian Empire has fielded not one, but two new Dreadnoughts, a violation of not only the Treaty of Farixen, which limits the amount of Dreadnoughts Britannia can possess to six, but also a violation of the Erta Ale Accords, which stipulates that Britannia is to communicate the construction of any ship-of-the-line above cruiser tonnage as ordained by the Treaty of Farixen, but also share the technical specifications of those ships. What does the Empire have to say on this?"
Well, if they are one thing, they are following the script, Guinevere thought to herself a bit of dark amusement. When she had gotten the orders to come to the Citadel Council, Lelouch had been exhaustive in coaching her on what was likely to happen. She had to wonder just exactly what her little brother was doing in the background for him to be this prepared enough to override her own misgivings.
Then again, this was but the opening salvo, and what Lelouch had laid out for her to do, well, she wasn't exactly ecstatic in the least because to her years of political acumen, it was akin to throwing gasoline on an open fire, especially with an entity that while not overtly hostile, had enough reason to want to bring their foot down upon them.
"Councilors, let me first thank you for providing time for this session," she began doing her best from showing too much teeth, at least not yet. After all, politics was just another form of stage, and she wanted to get the crowd invested before she dropped the shocker, "the reason that I requested this session was to answer this very question in the spirit of transparency and a wish for peace."
She left this hanging in the air, hiding her amusement as Councilor Avitus, the Turian Councilor could only be described as vibrating in anger. He knew, just as she did, she was playing for the crowd, but if he showed his disdain this early, it would only weaken his position later. Grudgingly, she could admit that the Turian was capable at statecraft, even if still vastly inferior to hers.
"Let me assure you, Britannia still observes the Treaty of Farixen, which legally defines a Dreadnought as a capital ship measuring at a minimum eight hundred meters with a main armament of a mass acceleration cannon capable of launching an at-minimum ten kilogram projectile at a minimum velocity of one-tenth the speed of light. Furthermore, Britannia also continues to observe the conditions set forth by the Erta Ale Accords, as it was communicated to the Turian Hierarchy that Britannia had commenced work on a new class of carriers four years ago."
This was a blatant lie, of course, there had been no communication about the production of the Vanguards since they were built on Safehold. However, it was an ironclad lie. When the Turians would of course look into their communications, they would find a logged backdated report stating that Britannia had informed the Turians of their construction. There wouldn't be many questions about it however as the Turians retained a certain snobbery towards carriers and their effectiveness, which only added further to the deception.
"Interesting. Claims to be adhering to the Treaty of Farixen, and Erta Ale Accords, yet ships are most certainly not carriers violating both," Councilor Ceston, the Salarian Councilor spoke, accessing an omnitool, which brought up an image above the Council, an image of the Charles zi Britannia, with its main cannons readily apparent.
I wonder how the Turians and Systems Alliance will feel at the fact that the Salarians are tapping all of their communications, Guinevere thought with a hint of amusement all the while retaining her previous expression while glancing at Avitus, who by his expression, obviously had deduced that very same information.
"I return back to the definition of a Dreadnought, as specified by the treaty, Councilors. As the image shows, the ship in question does not meet this definition, as it has not one, but two, mass acceleration cannons. Furthermore, the Vanguard-class as we call it, are not Dreadnoughts, they are classified as Assault Carrier, with their main armament being the nearly two hundred fighters, bombers, and drones that serve as this ship's complement of combat spacecraft."
"You can call them whatever you want, Britannian. Those ships are Dreadnoughts! You will dismantle those ships immediately!"
This time, she couldn't help the smirk that appeared on her face. It was almost too easy, then again Tehren Avitus had always been a predictable individual. Bombastic and impatient, he performed admirably as the rhetorical counterpoint and political cudgel against any pro-Britannian motions in the Council. But these qualities were also a weakness that made him childishly easy for them to manipulate to their advantage.
"Again, I reiterate, according to the Treaty of Farixen, these ships are not Dreadnoughts by the legal definition codified by the treaty. They are extraordinarily armed carriers, because they are designed for a different role. Nonetheless, they are not Dreadnoughts. Unless the Turian Councillor is dictating an immediate, and may I say, improper change to the treaty stipulations in order for sanctions to be levelled solely against the Holy Britannian Empire?"
"That is not what Councilor Avitus is suggesting," Tevos hastily intervened casting a warning glance at Avitus, recognizing the bait that Guinevere had placed, "These ships do not seem," she stressed the word, "to violate the Treaty based upon the wording of it, however you have to admit, Foreign Minister, these ships do undermine the spirit of it."
What is it that Lelouch is so fond of saying? Ah yes. All conditions are met..
"While this may be your opinion, Councilor, that does not take away from the fact that legally, Britannia is within its right to produce these ships. If the Treaty of Farixen is amended in the future to reflect the Vanguards, then Britannia will be happy to decommission all six of our Dreadnoughts."
And here ...we...go!
Tevos was, unsurprisingly, the first to recover, even as the crowd murmuring grew, "I'm sorry, Foreign Minister, perhaps I misheard your statement. Are you implying that you have six of these ships?"
"That is correct, Councilor. The-"
"Preposterous," Creston exclaimed, "simultaneous construction of six dreadnoughts beyond Britannian capabilities. Element Zero requirements alone would outstrip Britannia's military spending on new ship construction for at least a decade."
"Under normal circumstances, Councilor, you would be correct," Guinevere agreed, now unable to hide the smirk that had turned wolfish, she honestly was enjoying this, finally being able to get back directly at these people, after years of shadows and vagaries, "however, Britannia has been blessed with a scientific breakthrough that is, quite honestly, revolutionary. That is why I will turn the floor over to my associate. May I introduce to the Council Dame Cécile Croomy, Vice President and Chairwoman of the Board of Avalon Technologies."
Her accompaniment strode forward, replacing her on the podium, even as the furor was rising. Guin took the time to watch the expressions of the Councilor's as she stepped back, revelling in them. Tevos looked disquieted, obviously well aware that the woman before them was the fiancée of the man they had wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Avitus, if it were possible, would be foaming at the mouth, then again, it was understandable, as he had been the loudest on punishing Nathan Stadtfeld to the fullest extent of the law. Creston, while harder to read, radiated discomfort based upon the slight pallor he had gained, but that could be related to the fact that the STG had dropped the ball on a breakthrough, as it was the Salarians' business to be in everyones' business, and if they had failed on that….
"Thank you, Foreign Minister," Cécile spoke, her voice as cold as the unforgiving depths of space, before casting a look over them, one that made itself readily apparent just what she thought of them, "Councilors. As Foreign Minister Guinevere stated, the Holy Britannian Empire, through the efforts of Avalon Technologies, have made a breakthrough in mass effect technology, one that, quite honestly, changes everything. Mister Campbell?"
With that, another man walked up beside her, proceeding to open a briefcase and allowing Cécile to reach inside and retrieve the contents, revealing a glowing pink rock held inside a containment vial.
"This, Councilors, is Sakuradite, an artificial ore developed as part of Project Hephaestus. I will not bore you with the technical details of this material, but to put it succinctly, Sakuradite has the unique capability to supplement Element Zero, reducing the requirements for Element Zero in the production of goods that require it by nearly eighty percent while being a tenth in the cost in production."
The statement hung in the air, like a guillotine, for what seemed like an eternity. The shock of such announcement was just so unbelievable, that the sentient mind could not immediately grasp the impact of what was just said. Then, like the release of a guillotine, it broke the quiet, as almost everything broke into chaos.
And there both Guinevere and Cécile stood in the eye of the storm, both watching as the gallery broke into an uncontainable raucous, so many voices wanting to be heard. All the while the members of the Council stood there in shock. It was like the finest wine for both of them, to watch as they upset the natural order of things. Oh, there were other considerations on why this was being done, but these were secondary to their own personal desires.
With this singular announcement, they had upset the balance of power within the Citadel. Oh, it wasn't much more than a setback for those that held the reins, but it would set off waves that would reverberate for years. One of the critical means for effectiveness of the Treaty of Farixen had been the fact that Element Zero had been so prohibitively expensive in the production of capital ships that it created an impetus to limit ship construction in order to prevent an arms race that would be ruinous on the economies of everyone involved.
But Sakuradite changed all of that.
And in one of the few instances in which anyone had publicly seen Tevos lose her composure, she keyed the address system, immediately calling for order, and when that failed, summoning C-Sec in order to rein in the crowd so they could speak. All the while this was happening, Creston was on his omni-tool, obviously conferring with his superiors while Avitus was glaring daggers into the both of them.
Oh, they all knew the score now, and why Guinevere had called for this public setting. By announcing Sakuradite in this public, they would prevent the Council from squashing the information. Furthermore, it would cause corporations and other interests to immediately start demanding access to the production of Sakuradite, all of which benefits Britannia, but also the long term ambitions of their Emperor.
Unfortunately for them, what they failed to realize was that Pandora's Box had merely been cracked open.
An eternity ago, Seyelnia Tevos had made an oath to never get drunk again. The wild and loose days of her maiden phase had left her with too many regrets, and one of those was directly tied to one night of drunkenness that still haunted her to this day.
However, right now, she was damn well tempted to break that oath, as she tossed back the electric-blue contents of the ornate tumbler glass, the liquor both heating and cooling as it journeyed its path down her throat. She then proceeded to open up the decanter and pour more of the liquid into the glass, before sealing it again, leaving the liquid to sit there, glowing in the dim lighting of her office.
To say that the session had been a disaster would be an understatement of the century. Even now she was trying to grapple with how thoroughly they had been blindsided by the events of this morning.
No, it was worse than that. What was the human expression? Oh yes, they were played like a fiddle.
She had to grudgingly admit that what the Britannians had done was a stroke of diplomatic genius. They had not only outmaneuvered the Treaty of Farixen through the judicious use of the ironclad definitions contained therewithin, but then proceeded to tear it up with this Sakuradite they were lauding.
Her initial, visceral, reaction had been that while they may not have been lying, they were at least exaggerating. But then when she thought about it, about all the economic and military moves that had been worrying to the Council of Matriarchs, the revelations that they were aware of the Turian Hierarchy's assassination of Empress Marianne, it all made sense.
All of their actions were with this in mind. By revealing Sakuradite how they did, they were upsetting the status quo by offering something that could not be matched by anyone else. They now wielded power that was previously taken for granted by the likes of the Council Races by creating a demand that could only be fulfilled by them, and if they continued to play as intelligently as they have been over the last few years, then they would broker deals that would only benefit Britannia.
She couldn't help but admire the ruthless pragmatism of the Britannian Empire. It was almost Asari-like.
Snorting at the thought, she decided she had delayed the inevitable, and grabbed her glass, leaning back in her chair and sipping the liquid.
Now she had to play damage control. She already knew what the Turians were going to do, it was sadly becoming predictable when it came to anything involving the Britannians that the Turians were going to resist it. Odds were likely they were going to make a motion for the Council to demand all research and production of Sakuradite be relinquished to the Council. She could almost see Avitus gleefully making the motion, her peer's xenophobic tendencies towards humanity, especially Britannians, had become increasingly unrestrained in recent months.
A motion like that would be damaging to the Council as a whole, as it would have a chilling effect on the sharing of new technologies or ideas between the races under their aegis, if the Council could simply decide to confiscate it. Such a stance would undermine what the Citadel represented and destabilize centuries of cooperation.
The chime of her holocom caused her to place down her drink, there would only be one person would be able to override her security lockdown, and it would be best that she did not ignore it. Accessing the console, she accepted the call, settling back into her chair, she waited as the holocom whirred to life, then projected the image in front of her.
"Speaker Corlinis," she greeted the official spokeswoman of the Council of Matriarchs.
"Councilor Tevos," her fellow Asari greeted, "I apologize for the time it has taken the Council to respond back to you, however, there has been a development that has required the full focus of the Council."
"What is the development, Matriarch, if I may inquire?"
"The first will likely reach the Citadel within the next hour, but the Britannian's attacked Torfan."
Tevos couldn't help but blink, recalling what she knew about Torfan, which was unfortunately only an overview. It was a suspected slave processing hub for the Batarians, where they brought their captives in order to 'legally' launder them and send it back into Batarian space. It was an unfortunate facet of dealing with the Batarians, but because it was in a legal grey zone where the Batarians could claim it as their space, it was viewed as untouchable to the Council, at least for military intervention, without causing the Batarians to possibly declare war.
"If the Britannian's are attacking Batarian space, then that complicates everything, Speaker. The Council will have to respond to this aggression."
She knew immediately that was the wrong thing to say as Corlinis' expression softened. It was strange to see any sort of emotion from what Tevos had considered an inordinately hard woman.
"Councilor...Seyelnia, I apologize, you've mistaken my Britannians launched a counter-raid upon Torfan in retaliation for Emrys, deploying two of those new Dreadnoughts and their Home Fleet to retrieve their citizens. They've already returned back to Britannian space."
"How did they do this without our knowing, Rechae," she asked. The Council had always made it their mission to keep track of every Britannian Fleet, for the Britannian's to move their fleets, let alone their Home Fleet, so quickly, was a major failure on everyone's part.
"According to them, they used their military wargames as an excuse to redeploy their forces without the Turian's interfering. At least, that is their reason, however we believe that the incident at Emrys caused some 'omissions' to be allowed by the Controllers."
In other words, the loss of life, and the Turian hatred of the Batarian slavers, allowed a few incidents of overlooking what the Britannian's were planning to do. But that didn't explain where these Dreadnoughts came from, such ships would attract too much attention. There would be too many questions asked, even ignoring the possible violation of the Treaty of Farixen.
Which meant the Dreadnoughts had to have come from another location, one they were previously unaware of. Something that the Citadel Council was going to have to get to the bottom of immediately. The Britannians being in possession of any major shipyards or production facilities that were off the books, so to speak, were enough to threaten the delicate balance of power that already existed within the Citadel, especially when considering the Britannian's current status.
"I'm guessing that the fact that the Council is aware of this, that the Britannian's have been in communication."
"They were transmitting the entire operation to us as it happened. From their entrance into the Torfan system, until their withdrawal with nearly forty thousand people rescued. The entire operation took less than three hours. "
Goddess, just what she needed, she thought dismally, already putting together a timeline that she did not like. If the Britannian's had already completed their operation at Torfan, that meant that it was already ongoing when Foreign Minister Guinevere was in session with the Council. And the fact that the Council had not immediately intervened, or even stopped Britannia, despite their lack of knowledge of what was happening, would undoubtedly feed the paranoia of the Batarians, who were already suspicious of the Council of pro-human sentiments.
"Why wasn't I informed, Rechae," she demanded, letting her irritation show. It was not exactly wise to show such any emotion to the speaker of the Matriarch Council, but she was frankly past the point of caring. It was one thing to be blindsided as the Council, it was quite another for the Matriarch Council to leave her in the dark.
"Because in addition to Torfan, and repatriating every single Asari they found, they've made an offer to the Asari Republics we cannot possibly refuse."
The nod was the only confirmation needed, "We're guessing the Batarian incursion into Emrys accelerated their timetable on Sakuradite's release. They've been planning this for years, Seyelnia, amassing a stockpile that could supply the initial demands for Sakuradite until they could build refineries. In return for our support of Sakuradite, they are willing to set up several production facilities in Asari space, albeit under a license production agreement for the next twenty years, tentatively. This is an opportunity that the Matriarch Council has decided it cannot ignore."
And it made sense, considering. The Asari Republics were the largest consumer of element zero of the Citadel races. Anything that could reduce their consumption of the exotic material and correspondingly the credits that would be saved, would be a boon in the long run for the Asari.
It was simply a fait accompli, they could not refuse what was being offered, despite the status of the offerer, because to do so would not be in the best interests of the Asari.
Which meant, she not only had her marching orders, but she would now have to work to ensure that the corresponding fallout once Torfan was revealed would be framed in a favorable manner.
Which meant...she really needed another drink.
Holy Britannian Empire
Dinas Carhaix, Arcturus Stream, Carcerem Cluster
April 6th, 2170 [13 AH]
That was the only thought that dominated the young, teenage mind of one Kallen Stadtfeld. That she had been betrayed by the very people she had loved as she watched the woman that should have been her sister be interviewed on the Citadel News Network.
The one person she had always believed would fight for her brother no matter what. Who had fought for him, despite all the ruin it brought upon both herself, and the family.
And here she was acting as if he no longer existed.
She shut off the vid, unable to bear herself watching as yet another one of the very people she looked up to 'moved on'. Moved on and left her brother behind to rot in whatever prison the fucking Citadel Council had deigned to dump him.
Hell, her own parents had no idea where they kept him, nor did they any longer attempt to find out. All they did was go through the motions of the day, like they never had a son.
Then again, it wasn't like they had much anymore. The Stadtfeld Consortium was no longer being run by her father, instead the scandal brought on by the arrest of one Naoto Stadtfeld had resulted in the decline of the Consortium. Contracts that had been plenty and profitable had disappeared, as those had previously been happy to do business with the Consortium no longer wanted anything to do with it, and what had once been the golden child of Britannia's economic power, was now nothing more than a pale shade of what it once had been.
And then her father had a heart attack, the stress from the lost fortune and the loss of Nathan had been too much for him.
Now, the very company her family had owned was gone. It was now owned by someone else, and while they still made their money from it and their name was still on it, they no longer had any say in how it operated. Entire generations of blood, sweat, and tears, stolen from them by the Citadel Council and their xenophobic tendencies.
And if that were not enough, then there was Jane, her best friend. The one person who could understand her. The one person who she could depend upon.
She was gone.
While she was still alive, and she thanked whatever higher being there was out there that made it. It still didn't take away from the fact that Jane Shephard was gone. And it was unlikely she would ever see her best friend again.
And it wasn't her fault even. No, it once again came back to the Citadel Council. The Citadel Council that refused to allow Britannia to save their own people. The Citadel Council that sought to constrain Britannia, to keep it in a pretty little cage.
It was the fault of their feckless government, that instead of fighting for the people they claimed they had a noble obligation to protect, simply ignored their plight and played games with their lives. They chose not to do nothing more than whine about her brother, then meekly did nothing when they chose to throw him in prison.
She hated them. She hated all of them.
And she would make them pay.