Author's Note: Well, this chapter ended up being much longer than anticipated (at over 10k words, it's my longest one yet) but I made it in record time! Thanks to everyone that left a comment. I appreciate all of your support and input. Also a few important canon characters make their first appearance this chapter. Enjoy!
— AE —
Block 41 Warehouses, Nos Astra Industrial District, Asari Corporate World: Illium, 31-03-2560 GS
Perspective - Nos Astra University Student - Terith - Asari Undergraduate in Ship Engineering - 21 Years Old
15 Minutes Later
Terith stood at the entrance of the warehouse with a stupefied expression. The sight before her was more conclusive than she could have ever hoped, yet more terrifying than even her paranoid mind could've conjured.
Even at a casual glance, it was clear that the warehouse was the scene of a deadly battle. Even without the blood — all the blood — her Surveillance Drone had caught every second of it. Enyala — in the grey armor she'd last seen her Vocal Coach wearing — appeared seemingly from thin air with a red-armored compatriot. Less than a minute later, 3 Asari and a Salarian were dead, half the warehouse was destroyed by explosives and the mutilated corpses were left to rot, exposed to the rain and the elements by the blown-out hole in the roof.
It was one thing to have seen it on her drone, it was another thing entirely to see if in person. To smell it… to practically taste it.
'It's not the worst thing I've seen…'
The tattered, bloody remnants of the people before her didn't compare to the screams of mercy and fear she'd seen on the day of the Quarian Incident. She'd witnessed the brutal murders of dozens of innocent people right before her eyes. She had felt guilty for aiding and abetting those terrorists… even if she could never have known their true motivations. It wasn't her fault, but it felt like it.
With the scene before her, she barely felt anything at all, not even guilt. She wasn't thinking how horrifying the scene was or mourning the loss of sapient life no different than herself. She was merely commenting on how it could have been worse.
'I guess there really is a difference between seeing it and experiencing it, isn't there? Well… I think I've wasted enough time on that…I need information.'
She'd learned the hard way with Teema'Koris vas Sholat that information was power. Perhaps she could blackmail a ticket off of Illium with the information? Perhaps she could protect herself from the fallout of this conspiracy she was in the midst of unraveling? No matter what she was going to do with the information, knowing more would keep her safe.
'Why had Enyala come here? What was she doing killing Serrice Council employees in a Warehouse? Who were those yellow-and-black-armored Asari who fled the scene…?'
She yawned and rubbed her head. She took another Aylith pill for good measure. 'Argh… all those all-night stakeouts are taking their toll. I'm going to need some serious sleep after this… I just need to stop thinking and start doing.'
Before she entered, she made sure to disable the security cameras in the room. Her hacking skills had greatly improved since she first created her botnet. She was no pro, but simple systems like the one in the warehouse were a piece-of-cake now. With no VI managing them and no anti-intrusion measures in place to issue an alarm to the outside world when the security was breached, she could be as brutal and imprecise in her hacking as she wanted.
Once that was take care of, she walked up to the first two dead Asari.
Their armor had been breached in dozens of places and purple Asari blood tricked out of the holes and onto the floor. She did her best to tiptoe around the liquid and almost gagged at the stench of blood. Thankfully, the bodies themselves didn't smell — it was still too early for them to decompose that much — or she might not have been able to handle it. Gingerly, she took the Omni-Tool off of the first corpse, being careful not to touch the body or make any contact with her skin. CSI-esque shows were popular — even in the alien future she found herself in — so she knew to take a steps to avoid leaving any physical evidence behind. The last thing she wanted was to be blamed for a crime she didn't commit.
It was a weird dissociation she was having between her logic and emotion. She knew, logically, that she needed this data to survive Illium's bullshit, but emotionally, she wanted nothing to do with this. Eventually, her logic won out.
'I don't care how they died. Honestly, I'm doing them a service. Maybe I'll have Enyala and her accomplice arrested; maybe I can even implicate Aethyta and throw this whole conspiracy in the light. What's the big deal anyway; don't Asari believe souls just join the Universe or some shit? Even by Asari standards, corpses are-'
She slipped on something and fell backwards onto the floor as she tore the Omni-Tool from the literal death-grip of the dead Asari, breaking the Asari's wrist and leaving the hand dangling. Confused at what she slipped on, Terith looked down to find herself sitting in a pool of dark purple blood, the disturbing warmth of it seeping into the one-piece uniform she wore underneath her Kinetic Barriers.
Like waking up, she froze; suddenly hyper-aware of what was going on. She looked down at her hands, seeing the bloody Omni-Tool in her hands and her arms began to shake.
She tried to calm herself with breathing exercises. "J-just keep it together… this isn't a big deal… Damnit! I can't do this!"
Standing up, she tossed the Omni-Tool in her hands to the ground and felt the startling change from hot to cold beneath her; she was no longer wading in blood. Her whole body shook as she slowly stepped away.
Her rationalizations from before weren't comforting her now. In fact, they all seemed to be pointing towards the same horrifying conclusion she knew deep down. She wasn't being noble; that was just a pretense, and a pathetic one. This went far beyond what she needed to do. She had all the information she needed the moment her drone recorded the battle. She could look up the insignia on the armors later; she could use some processing software to fix the audio and maybe listen in on what was said.
A brittle smile appeared on her face. 'Illium's finally changed me, hasn't it? The more I investigate, the more Illium reveals just how fucked I really am.'
She didn't run away though, not anymore. Not even as something hot and wet stung her eyes. "It's too late now… it's too late for a normal life, isn't it?"
She bent down and clenched the bloody Omni-Tool on the ground tightly in her grasp. "I'm not an idiot… I guess I just never wanted to accept it… the fact that it was too late to have a normal life since the moment I was born on this fucking planet!"
Her heart began to race. "Well if it's already too late, then there is nothing left to hold me back is there?"
She chuckled darkly to herself. "I can't let something as illogical as "morality" hold me back, right? I mean, you can't expect civility without civilization and there's none of that on Illium."
She looked up at the sky and yelled. "You hear that you corporate fucks, you won, alright?! I'll do everything I can to survive. I'll hack terminals, steal from the dead… m-murder, I'll do whatever it takes."
She forced down her haggard breathing and steeled herself for what she was about to do. She walked towards the corpses again.
— AE —
Skies above Nos Astra, Nos Astra Industrial District, Asari Corporate World: Illium, 31-03-2560 GS
Perspective - Ice-Cold Biotic Badass - Matron Aethyta - Binary Helix Mercenary - 984 Years Old
10 Minutes Earlier
Aethyta looked out from the hovercar's broken driver-side door; a door she herself broke just a few minutes earlier. She scanned the Nos Astran horizon using her armor's visor at 10x and 100x magnification but could not find her quarry. There was no disturbance in the traffic nearby nor was there anything picked up by the Nos Astra Traffic Police radio she was tuned into. It could very well be that they had gone to ground by now and there would never be anything to report.
"I can't see the Sisterhood's armored hovercars anywhere. Enyala, can you pick up anything on the sensors?"
The Mercenary shook her head as she looked up from her Omni-Tool. "Nothing. Even boosting the signal with the radio from the car isn't good enough. This piece of junk doesn't even have the range to scan more than a few dozen kilometers. Picking up plenty of birds though…"
The former Mercenary Captain scowled. It appeared that the hovercar she had stolen from the Serrice Mercenaries was even lower quality than she feared. While it was plenty fast enough to catch up to a few lumbering armored vehicles — even if they had a one-minute head start — it had no protective plating nor could it even boost a scan to a few dozen kilometers. It didn't come to as a surprise to the Matron though. She had worked with many corporations in the past. While they all had no problem spending billions of credits on advertising and product development, they minded every credit for anything else. It seemed that Serrice Council was no exception.
"It'll be catching minnows in the ocean at this rate." She sighed.
Enyala sighed along with her employer and looked up from the sensor readings. "Do you think we were too hasty in following them? The Serrice Omni-Tools might have had something of value on them."
The Matron rolled her eyes. "It would have been just like last time and the time before that. There would've been some contact information to an anonymous IP in the terminus, maybe an ambiguous message about "the job" and that would be it. Even if this chase turns up nothing, I regret nothing chasing after them immediately." She shook her head. "We aren't going to get anywhere like this… I think I'm going to call in a favor."
The Maiden perked up at this and gave her a coy grin. "Oh? Calling your girlfriend?"
The Matron rolled her eyes but did not outright deny it. Putting the hovercar into autopilot, she aggressively threw the haptic controls over to her annoying subordinate. "Get to driving while I make the call. Get us to the Core District. We're going to have to work fast if we want to catch up to those Sisterhood cars."
Not waiting for a response, she hermetically sealed her suit so that no sound from her conversation would leak. 'As much as I trust Enyala as a mercenary, there's no way I'm letting her listen in on my communications. This little 'conspiracy game' makes that far too dangerous for everyone involved. There's a reason I've had her keep her helmet on at all times for these operations. The last thing I want is more people involved.'
Accessing the contact information on her Omni-Tool, she input her password and created a secure communication channel to Thessia.
An image appeared of a purplish-blue Asari Maiden in her helmet's Heads-Up Display. The young Asari bowed her head slightly in respect the moment she saw who she was talking to. [Matron Aethyta, it an honor to speak with you. Unfortunately Mistress Benezia is not available to-]
Aethyta scowled. [I don't have the time or the patience for pleasantries, Shiala.] She input the Sisterhood vehicles' registration into her Omni-Tool and sent it over the secure channel. [I am sending you information on a set of vehicles. I need you to use Binary Helix's pull with the Illium Traffic Control Center and the Motor Vehicle Authority to track them down.]
Shiala seemed to come to a realization. [Oh! Is this related to the recent mission to-]
[No. Time. Do you understand? Our investigation is riding on this. Get it done and get it done now.]
Shiala looked at her with wide eyes but immediately acquiesced to her demands.
Aethyta groaned in frustration as her hot temper began to simmer while she waited for the results. 'Normally I wouldn't be so hard on such an ass-kissing Maiden — she's only in her 90s — but she's always had an 'absent-mindedness' about her that I really don't want to deal with right now.'
She impatiently tapped her fingers as she waited for a response.
— AE —
Skies above Nos Astra, Nos Astra Core District, Asari Corporate World: Illium, 31-03-2560 GS
5 Minutes Later
The stolen hovercar circled 10km above the Core District; there were no other cars in sight.
While not technically illegal, most vehicles stayed close to the surface to save on energy. Since they had no clue where they would be headed next, their height would give them a small edge by letting gravity speed them up a little when going into a dive and their central position would allow them to travel anywhere in Nos Astra quickly.
Enyala groaned and clenched her fists in frustration. "Has your contact still not gotten back to us yet? Those armored cars might be slow but they've got to be long gone by now."
Aethyta was just as frustrated, but did not show any outward signs. "Be patient. We're in the heart of Nos Astra now. No matter where those cars are, we'll-"
Her Omni-Tool beeped and the Matron wasted no time sealing her armor and demanding answers. [Tell me where.]
The flustered face of Shiala was taken aback by the suddenness of her response. [Uh… um, the last known position of those registrations were right next to each other in Lane 12 of the Nos Astra Financial District, but-]
[Got it, thanks.]
Ending the call and unsealing her armor, Aethyta turned to the driver. "Lane 12 Financial! Move!"
The Mercenary gave her a mock salute. "You got it boss!"
Enyala throttled the car to maximum causing the both of them to slam back into their seats by the acceleration. The car dove into free-fall towards their destination going from 0 to 250km/h in less than 20 seconds. Aethyta had to hold the broken driver-side door closed with her Biotics for fear of it ripping off. Losing even a little of the fragile car's aerodynamics and they would be spinning wildly out-of-control.
Before they reached the height of the Nos Astra skyscrapers, Enyala leveled out the car. When the drive once again smoothed itself out, Aethyta began to busy herself with the car's scanner to try — once again — to pick up any trace left by Sisterhood's vehicles. It took them only a minute to reach their destination at the speeds they were going. The moment they did, her Omni-Tool went off showing a valid signature to the southeast. The two vehicles were travelling much slower than what she expected.
The Matron grinned. 'Must have messed up one of the cars' Drive Cores when I'd grabbed it in my Biotics.'
"I found them!" She pointed ahead. "There! To the left of those cone-shaped buildings; you see the two cars?"
Enyala nodded. "Got them in my sights. Let's say hello!"
Once again the car went into a dive towards their prey; this time leveling out a few hundred meters from the ground.
Their stunt did not go unnoticed. Before they got within range of the armored hovercars, they found themselves being shot at. The Mass-Accelerated rounds easily pierced the flimsy, molded-aluminum frame and glass of their hovercar. Glass fragments went everywhere. If it weren't for their armor they were wearing, the salvo would have killed the two of them right there.
The hovercar shuddered and Enyala worked hard keeping it stable. "Shit! Aethyta, I'm not sure how much more we can take of this! My armor can take some hits, but if the Drive Core fails, we'll be flattened at the speeds we're going!"
'Well, time for Plan B.' Aethyta looked at their surroundings and formulated a plan. She pointed to the a Lane of oncoming traffic nearby. "Get behind that lane of cars and hold out for a second. I have an idea."
The car swerved to the right and dodged the civilian car just in time for it to take some gunfire and fall from the sky. Dozens of cars were being hit by the array of ammunition being fired, yet they kept coming. Their civilian self-driving protocols didn't have the sensor or algorithmic capacity to handle the military situation. She felt a little guilty risking the lives of innocent civilians, but taking out the Sisterhood and staying alive was more important.
In the meantime, Aethyta clenched her teeth and pulled as much focus as she could get out of her mind into her Biotic Nodules. All at once, she let out a breath and slammed her hands into the car's dashboard. Her Biotics covered the car in a large Barrier.
Enyala looked at her with a stupefied expression. "Holy shit! I didn't know you could cover a hovercar with a barrier!"
Aethyta spoke through clenched teeth. "I. Can't. Hold. This. Forever. Get close. To them and. Take. Them. Out!"
The Mercenary snapped out of her awe and nodded sheepishly. "Right, on it."
The car broke out of cover and the Barrier was immediately inundated with a hailstorm of gunfire. Through the attack, Enyala drove right into pursuit, quickly catching up to the slower vehicles. Aethyta glanced at her driver to see she had put the car into autopilot and took out a Haliat Armory "Lightning Mk IV" Assault Rifle from her back. While the shotgun was a better make, the assault rifle had better armor-piercing power and would be more accurate at these ranges.
Enyala rolled down the side window and boldly stuck her upper-body halfway out of the car. "Let's see how you like it when we fight back!"
Her rifle fire hit the trailing vehicle but did little damage; its armor plating was too thick. Still, it appeared that it did something because it immediately flew away, breaking off from its sister vehicle.
'They're splitting up. Damn. Still, if we can at least get one…' Aethyta made a split-second decision. "After. The. Fleeing. Vehicle. It's. Slower."
Enyala picked up what she was putting down. "Right! On it."
The Mercenary set the autopilot to follow the vehicle that just broke off and continued her assault. All the while, Aethyta held off the return fire with her shields but it was starting to get difficult. She could see the Mass Effect begin to slip off the edges of the vehicle.
"Get. That. Car. Grounded… Can't. Hold…"
"How can I-" The Maiden suddenly stopped herself and a smirk appeared on her face.
Aethyta frowned. 'Whatever she just thought of can't be good.'
Putting away her Assault Rifle, Enyala took back control of the vehicle and sped forwards. Using the car's superior speed, she got above the other car and dropped down onto its roof with a violent smash. The resulting jolt knocked Aethyta around and forced her to drop the Barrier. Now at point-blank range, the enemy Asari easily punched through the vehicle and a few of the shots struck her armor.
"Damnit Enyala! What the hell are you doing?!"
"I have a plan! Just watch!"
The former Mercenary Captain did see the plan, much to her dismay. The two cars began to sink. While their hovercar's Drive Core was a piece of crap, the combined force of it and the gravity on both cars was just enough to overcome the Sisterhood vehicle. The bottom vehicle tried its best to swerve out from under them, but it only served to make them fall faster as precious lifting power was diverted.
Enyala took the opportunity to take out her shotgun. The enemy Asari and her got into a firing match for a few seconds, but neither could take the other out. In the end, the stalemate forced the Sisterhood Acolyte back inside.
The moment of reprieve was enough for Aethyta to disengage her Barrier around the car and take out her own shotgun. She looked outside to see the tops of some of the smaller buildings pass by. "Crap, I think these Sisterhood goons might actually be suicidal. They aren't slowing down; we'll be crash landing at this rate!"
The Mercenary grimaced. "That's not a risk I want to take. Can you slow them down with your Biotics?"
The Matron shook her head. "It didn't work the first time and my nodules are burnt out after that Barrier and with two vehicles now…" She took motioned to the doors. "Drop down and tag-team them?"
Enyala didn't respond right away, but stared at her in shock. "Look out behind you!"
It was just enough time for Aethyta to turn around and see the second armored car speed right at them from the side. It's only thanks to her instincts that she is able to put up a Barrier before being hit head-on.
— AE —
The next few minutes were hazy.
The first clear thought comes shortly after pulling herself up off the ground. She barely remembered getting ejected from the hovercar — her seatbelt breaking off from the impact — and smashing arm-first into the ground. She winced as she tried to move her left arm and saw that the armor was mostly gone, revealing blood-soaked skin beneath. Luckily, it seems that she could still move her fingers.
'Shit… shoulder's dislocated. Armor must've used Eezo to ablate the composite on impact or I'd be missing a limb right now… Always nice to have a reminder that buying quality armor is money well spent.'
Grunting, she bit down on an armored finger. Despite her centuries of experience, she still needed to hold back a yell as she used Biotics to cleanly pop her shoulder back into place. She tried moving it but apart from being less painful, it was little better than before.
'Won't be using that arm for the next few minutes, but at least it won't get any worse… better than broken, I guess.'
Now standing, she took out her shotgun and wielded it in her good arm. She briefly examined her surroundings to find over a hundred Nos Astran citizens fleeing the scene in panic. She turned to glance behind her and grimaced; the stolen Serrice vehicle she had just been riding in was completely trashed after smashing into a nearby building. Turning back, she squinted into the distance to see that the armored car they'd been trying to ground also looked totaled after skidding a hundred-or-so meters further ahead. The second Sisterhood vehicle was also grounded and appeared to be helping board their comrades.
'No way I'm letting that happen.' Aethyta grinded her teeth together. 'You're not getting away after this bullshit you just pulled.'
Taking aim, she used biotics to handle the recoil as she one-arm-fired her shotgun at the 4 Asari. Immediately they scattered.
"Damn, she's still alive."
"She might be good, but she looks injured."
"Right! Wasea, get the heavy weapons! Ena, Terali, stagger warps while provide covering fire!"
Aethyta smirked behind her helmet and got down into a crouch. 'That's cute. The Maidens actually think they have a chance.'
As the three Asari began charging their Biotics, the Former Mercenary Leader did a Charge and found herself immediately amongst their ranks.
Before her enemies had time to react, Aethyta swept a leg, tripping one of the Maidens and catching the other two off-balance. Identifying the Asari that was giving orders earlier as the biggest threat, Aethyta slammed a Biotic-powered punch into her face. The force was enough that the Maiden's body flipped slightly around her arm before slamming into the parked hovercar behind her. She then continued on, flipping well over the vehicle before skidding to a halt a few dozen meters away. With only armor in between her fist and the Asari's organs, there was no chance she survived the impact.
Aethyta grimaced momentarily at the result. 'Crap, I forgot that I have to hold back. I need to take these Maidens alive.'
She turned to see the third Maiden leveling a gun at her. Rather than trying to slap it away, she used a Throw to temporarily get her out of the picture.
As she turned to follow the Throw's trajectory, she saw that the first Asari was beginning to recover from being tripped. She did the first non-lethal thing that came to mind and performed a diving, Biotic-assisted, elbow drop right into her armored stomach. The blow might not have been enough to penetrate the armor, but the force did. The armor only cracked, but the Asari it was attached to broke. Aethyta kicked the Mercenary's gun away and knew she would be out of commission.
She heard a noise behind her. Turning around, she found that the working Armored hovercar was taking off and immediately began running after it. 'Shit! Right, there was 4 of them!'
Aethyta might have considered jumping on, but she was already dealing with the other Maidens. By the time she brought up her shotgun, it was already far enough away that it wasn't worth shooting. She might have considered a Charge or Pull but she was almost spent. Having already held a car-sized Barrier and the recent fighting, there was nothing she could do but watch it fly away.
'Damnit.' She sighed. 'Well at least I have the other two to interro-'
At the sound of gunfire behind her, the former Mercenary Leader instinctively jumped for cover behind the other armored hovercar nearby. She turned to fight back against the source of a noise only to be shocked at the sight before her.
In the short time between Throwing the 3rd Asari and chasing the escaping car, the enemy had run up to her ally and unloaded her weapon into the 1st Asari's head. The Kinetic Barriers and Helmet did little to stop two-dozen rounds; one didn't need a doctor to know that missing a head wasn't going to be recoverable.
'Damn it! I should have known that these cultist freaks were fanatical. I need to take her out before-'
One look at the 3rd Asari, however, and Aethyta knew it was already too late. She had covered herself in Mines and Biotically lifted her headless comrade in front of her as a shield.
The Acolyte looked at the Matron with a wide-eyed, manic glare. "You won't take us alive heathen! Die!"
Before Aethyta could consider her options, a shot rang out and slammed into the Sisterhood follower. One of the mines went off, causing a chain reaction which almost ignited the entire city block they were on. The few civilians who were stupid enough to stick around at "a safe distance" all started fleeing the scene now.
From the wreckage of the Serrice hovercar, Enyala slowly walked her way towards Aethyta. Her visor was broken and her armor looked badly damaged, but she was otherwise no worse for wear. "Well that was a clusterfuck."
Aethyta snorted at that. 'When I didn't see her, I was worried for a moment that Enyala might've died in that crash. Should've known… although now that I think about it…'
Aethyta frowned. "Why didn't you help out earlier? I might've been able to take one of them alive if you had."
Enyala pointed to her broken visor. "And let them see my face? No way, especially now that I know those nutjobs are willing to be suicide bombers. You looked like you had everything under control…" The Maiden looked a little sheepish after saying that. "Well, until everyone started dying at the end there. Now I know why you're called "The Red Terror of the Terminus." Goddess, they literally killed themselves rather than fight you."
"That isn't what-" The Matron groaned at Enyala's coy grin. "Ha ha, very funny." She sighed. "Well, whatever the case, now we're back to square one. We got the Neural Interface Prototype but we still know next to nothing about the Sisterhood."
Enyala looked at the dead bodies. "Could we get any information from their Omni-Tools?"
The Matron shook her head. "No point even trying. They'd be even worse than the Serrice Mercenaries. I wouldn't be surprised if they were all factory-installed and given to them minutes before the deal went down. This happens every time we-"
She was cut off as sirens began to blare out in the distance. Aethyta's took off her helmet with her good hand, tossed it over to Enyala, rubbed the bridge of her nose, and sighed.
"Speaking of annoying shit I always have to deal with…"
Enyala — despite being forcefully given her boss' helmet — looked distinctly more nervous than annoyed. "We never did this much damage to the city before. Are you sure that-"
"We'll be fine. Just get keep your own face covered and let me do the talking."
The Maiden seemed relieved at that and made herself scarce. The former Mercenary Captain just shook her head and walked sedately towards the group of Nos Astran police hovercars that had parked themselves in the distance.
A Turian officer yelled out as she came within a hundred meters of their vehicles. "Stop right there! Don't come any closer or we'll shoot! You are in violation-"
The officer was cut off as an Asari officer came up from behind him and practically slapped the pistol he was holding out of his hands. "Put that damn thing away!" She turned to the other officers. "That goes for all of you! Put your fucking guns down and stay here while I sort out this damn situation!"
Without looking back, the Asari strode boldly towards the former Mercenary Leader but took the time to look at the devastated city block around her on her approach. The Matron could see on her face look on in disgust at the property damage. There were half a dozen totaled hovercars, two building that would need major repair, another dozen structures that would need to be fixed for more minor damage and a whole 300 meters of walkway that would need to be rebuilt.
As she approached Aethyta, the Police Officer was furious. "By the Goddess, what the hell is this now?!"
Aethyta immediately recognized the surly demeanor and put on her best "customer-facing" fake smile she could muster. "Ah, Superintendent Marrana, I'm surprised to see you here. I didn't know that Nos Astra worked you this hard or I would have laid out the welcome mat. Aren't you normally blackout drunk in some underground corporate party by now? It's almost midnight."
"I don't appreciate the tone-" She rubbed her hands in her face. "Aethyta… What is it this time? The "bar fights" you run on Binary Helix's tab never got this far out of hand before. I'll have you know that your privileges only go so far."
"Oh ha ha, you're hysterical." Aethyta sent the Superintendent her Binary Helix information using her Omni-Tool, although she knew it was unnecessary considering their "familiar" relationship they had with each other in the past. "I'll have you know that I'm here on official business; although you already know that since you're here rather than some corporate ass-kissing Captain."
Aethyta glanced around at the damage and winced slightly. 'Nezi is going to be fucking furious if Binary Helix has to foot this bill.' The Matron straightened up. "You can blame the Sisterhood for all this "collateral damage"."
Marrana rubbed the bridge of her nose. "You know Illium's stance on the Sisterhood: they don't exist and they never will exist. You're really busting my quad with all the paperwork you're giving me. Would it be too much to ask doing your "official business" without destroying Illium infrastructure or using government resources? The Traffic Control Center doesn't appreciate Binary Helix lawyers browbeating them into using their surveillance equipment outside of work hours either."
Aethyta rolled her eyes. "Oh don't start with that shit. Throw the dirt under the rug just like every other problem on Illium if you have to, but I wouldn't have been called to take care of this problem if Illium Security hadn't already fucked up defending Binary Helix's corporate interests. I know you're probably going to embezzle half of the repair funds for this yourself-"
The Superintendent cut her off. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
The police commissioner made a dismissing gesture with one hand. "Just… just leave. The Illium Council will figure out who's footing the bill of this but don't expect Binary Helix won't find itself with some of the tab. I hope they finally nail your ass to the wall for this."
The red-armored Matron left the Police behind and went on her way, getting Enyala to follow her as she left the scene. As they walked together, Aethyta did little to hide the fury she had for the whole situation.
— AE —
Crashing Waves Biotic Training Gym, Nos Astra Wards District, Asari Corporate World: Illium, 01-04-2560 GS
1 Hour Later
As soon as they were confident that they were not being tailed, Enyala and Aethyta parted ways. The Matron had taken the long way back ensuring she was never too far away from Illium Police if she needed a diversion against some unknown foe. Because of this, she arrived back at her gym long after combat fatigue had set in. She practically threw off her armor before crashing face-first into her bed not a minute after walking inside.
She was exhausted.
It was past midnight now and she had not slept in 39 hours. Between teaching her Biotic trainees, preparing her getaway, spending the last night at a bar to gauge the reactions of her tails, getting the contact information for the job, getting Enyala on board or the mission, and finally pulling-off her escape from her observers, she had no time to rest. It was nothing the former Mercenary Leader hadn't faced before — sometimes she'd spent a week without sleep, using stims to stay awake — but she found it getting harder and harder to keep up with this continual "mission" for Binary Helix. She was really starting to feel her age.
'This is getting a bit much, even for me. Even when I was fighting off Batarian Slavers I at least had some downtime. I'm not sure how much more I can do for Nezi… at this rate, the Sisterhood is going to take over Illium and our plans will have faced their biggest setback yet.'
She caught herself subconsciously trying to tear the sheets of her bed apart and decided to find something to distract herself with. She rolled over to look up from her bed and over to a nightstand. A small picture sat there of two smiling Asari overlooking a lake. She took the holo-projector into her hands; the movement disturbing the image before it auto-stabilized. She tried to touching Benezia's face, but her fingers slipped through the holographic image.
'Goddess… has it already been 10 years since Nezi and I actually did something together? …Well, something that wasn't work?'
She put the picture back and lied back down on her bed. She looked up at the ceiling for a minute before finally setting up a secure channel on her Omni-Tool. Thankfully, it wasn't Shiala on the other end of the line this time.
The tranquil face of Benezia looked back at her with kind eyes. Her soft-blue skin shone like the Mass Effect beneath her brilliant yellow formal gown. Just seeing her lover's beautiful grace caused the tension in the tired Matron's shoulders to ease into the comforting folds of her mattress.
Despite centuries of hardening herself against the worst parts of the Galaxy, seeing her lover's face — something so unblemished, yet hardened by adversity — threatened to bring forth some hidden instinct within her. It was a combination of her Krogan father's need for dominance, her mother's need for love and both of their drives to protect what was theirs. It was merely the near infinite distance that separated Thessia and Illium them that kept Aethyta from leaping through the screen and grabbing her companion closely into her arms and never letting go.
Aethyta swallowed anxiously, uncertain what to say. Seemingly in response, her sweetheart's eyes soon filled with pity at the conflicted look that Aethyta was trying desperately hard not to show. The smile that came to Benezia's face seemed brittle and fake; it hurt Aethyta to see her like that.
"Aethyta, are you feeling well? You ordinarily call a day or more following an accomplished mission. Was the Serrice Operation not successful?"
Aethyta shook her head and smiled wearily. "Of course it was, don't you know who you're talking to? The Neural Interface has been recovered and-"
She had to force herself from showing any outward signs as she realized something. 'Damn, and I left the Neural Interface in Enyala's weapon holster. Who knows if it even survived the hovercar crash earlier. If it didn't survive then-'
She was torn from her thoughts when she realized that Benezia was trying to talk to her. "-thyta?"
"Sorry, I missed that. I was just distracted for a moment and-"
Benezia emphatically cut her off. "That is entirely reasonable, I assure you. You have just returned from a lengthy assignation with the enemy." She smirked. "I know as thoroughly as yourself how demanding the Sisterhood can be. I imagine they must levy a hefty tax on your senses as they do my own."
Her best friend's smile faded. "I just fear for you; you know this." She leaned forwards and her casual smile morphed into a more determined look.
"You are aware that you need not perform these tasks, correct? If your motive is merely to prove something to myself, then I have no desire to see you undergo such trials. Ever since our first meeting at the Republican Council, I knew you were someone that could be relied upon. You have always been an Asari of such philanthropy and zeal that-"
As much as Aethyta could listen forever to the Thessian aristocrat's dulcet eloquence — and she found it seriously hot — she cut her lover off.
"Please, Nezi… don't. You don't need to try to make me feel better."
The Terminus Matron sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose.
"I'm doing all of this because it's the only part I can play in our plans. I can't play the political games like you and I can't lead a company or negotiate with anything but the end of a gun. If I didn't at least do at least this much, I would be utterly useless."
Her Thessian counterpart glared at her. "You are not useless Aethyta! It was you who orchestrated this conspiracy to begin with!"
Benezia leaned back in the seat she was in and sighed. "In all honesty, I was but a shallow shell before you intruded upon my ivory tower. Preceding our encounter, I merely did what was expected or — in rare circumstances — what was demanded by the retainers and sycophants I surrounded myself with. I looked down on others and belittled their "petty squabbles"; I never once questioned the fruitlessness of my own actions or the righteousness of the causes I championed. I was the "Great-Grandaughter of Matriarch Argana" or the "Heiress to the T'Soni Republic" or even just an Asari "born to succeed". Those are all fine appellations, but they were afforded by circumstance and not by deed… you are living-proof that our flaws and blessings are not in our fate but in ourselves."
The two looked deeply at one another for a moment as Benezia grew quiet. Aethyta was the first to turn away. She wasn't certain why, but she felt guilty; she knew logically that Benezia was trying to remind her of how "amazing" she supposedly was, but it only seemed to make her wish she could comfort her rather than the other way around.
'If there's one thing I can't stand about this "partnership"... it's that I always seem to be the one bringing all the negativity into it. Benezia really is too good for me.'
Benezia was the first to speak. "Would it be wrong to petition a surrender of our grand designs for a lifetime with you? I could not stand to lose my only love."
Aethyta let out a contented sigh at hearing her best friend's words. 'Well, she sure drives a fucking hard bargain.'
She shook her head. "I might be in a little more danger, but you work far harder than me-"
She rolled her eyes and chuckled at the interruption. "-far harder than I. Don't think I haven't noticed Binary Helix's stocks skyrocket since you became a shareholder so don't turn my "useless" comment back on me. We're in this together to the very end and we're each doing our best… I guess. Either way, I don't break my promises, no matter how… enticing it might be. I just wish there was some way to achieve our goal and spend more time together…"
She glanced at the picture next to the bed. "Do you remember Nevos? Back before we took all of this so seriously, we had so much more free time."
Benezia looked away. "Are you thinking that we are making a mistake with this? I will be the first to admit that you are not the only one under a great deal of stress lately-"
"No!" Aethyta waved off the suggestion in a panic. "No, never… this… we agreed that this was more important. We can think of our relationship after our plans have started bearing fruit."
She rubbed her face and groaned in frustration. "It would be nice to be together like that again — for a little while — but I couldn't stand our plan never getting accomplished. After I have finally settled this matter on Illium… maybe we could meet again on Nevos and just enjoy being with each other again. Seeing you again like this has brought up a lot of emotions in me."
Aethyta gave her lover a sly grin. "Emotions I have a hard time containing. When we meet again, I might just give you that child you've always wanted."
Benezia's face flushed as she worked out what was just said. Her next words game out as a stammer. "Y-y-you cannot just-just say things like that you mongrel. Now you take back those words this instant or-"
"I love you." Aethyta cut off with a cheesy grin. "I love you so much that when we meet again on Nevos, we are going to that lake again but I won't waste my time looking at the sea when I have far more interesting… cerulean sights to observe."
Somehow the flush expanded. "What are you-"
Aethyta took a deep breath and surprised herself by not stuttering. "I will bond with you on that beach and you will be mine… and I will be yours… foever."
Benezia's mouth worked up and down for a few seconds but no words came out. It was the first time Aethyta had ever seen the lover of her life genuinely speechless before and she took some pride in being the one to do it.
Benezia gave her a big smile in spite of her flushed face. "I… I would like that."
They spoke for over an hour after that, but Aethyta hardly remembered a word. She looked relaxed and happy on the outside, but on the inside her heart raced. While she meant the words she said — and she wouldn't dare take those words back — she hadn't meant to make such a serious step in their relationship so soon. While she never considered what she had with Benezia to be a short-term thing, she had never taken a relationship this seriously before.
'I've bonded plenty of times before and even had a few children of my own but… this a lot more important than that. If things go bad, it won't just be simple to just leave her like I've done before.'
She looked on at her smiling lover and couldn't help but give a strained smile back. 'What did I just do?!'
— AE —
Sisterhood Headquarters, ?, 01-04-2560 GS
Perspective - Secretive Elder of the Illium Sisterhood - ? - Asari Matriarch - ? Years Old
"…that is the end of my report." Her lieutenant concluded the sentence with a tiny bow of her head.
The Elder's gold-trimmed black robes flowed with her movement as she peered down from behind a mask to appraise the Matron bowing before her. Sitting at the base of the Elder Matriarch's elevated throne, the dark-blue-skinned Matron wore a sophisticated version of the yellow-and-black armor of the Sisterhood. The lieutenant waited for her leader's judgement and orders with what looked like composure and reverence.
'Only the unobservant would think that… no, I can see those subtle twitches in her hands. As expected, she is desperately holding back her typically violent rage.' The Elder sat back, satisfied with her assessment. 'She still needs at least a hundred years before she'll truly begin to mask her emotions… well, she's still a young Matron after all.'
Moving on from that, the Elder digested the news of the Serrice Operation's failure.
"So the new recruits failed… unsurprising. We had high hopes for Captain Erana, but she was a little too zealotous. But enough of those disappointments. Aethyta's "plus-one"; do we have an identity to go with that grey armor?"
Her lieutenant frowned and crossed her arms in front of her.
"No of course not. Our front-line "investigators" are all too incompetent to track even a known agent like Aethyta, yet alone an unknown one. By the time I gained access to the Illium Surveillance Network, Aethyta and her Thessian conspirators had already scrubbed the system."
Rather than being upset, the Elder was merely annoyed. The Lieutenant had already proven her worth with stealing the prototype from Binary Helix to begin with; it was useless to get angry at her. This matter was yet another in a long list of reasons to purge the entire investigation division of her organization for their constant blunders.
'I would have no means of replacing the Investigative Division except with more of the same. While I would love to hire more efficient subordinates into the organization — the Sisterhood's coffers are more than able to accommodate some quality Mercenaries — there is a price. The secrecy of the Sisterhood demands absolute loyalty but it is clear to anyone with a brain that efficient individuals are often ambitious and disloyal; especially in criminal enterprise. While my acolytes are all fools, they are genuinely devoted to the Sisterhood's cause… something I cannot say about the Lieutenant.'
The Elder had trained her lieutenant — almost from birth — to help her lead the Sisterhood. It would take her centuries to train another. The lessons she instilled in her pupil had taken grasp exceptionally well; too well it seemed. While her lieutenant was someone on par with the best Biotics in the Galaxy and a capable tactician and logistics expert, she was also ambitious, sadistic and had a callous disregard for those around her. The Matriarch was having greater and greater difficulty keeping her ambition and sadism checked and knew that it was only the fact that she kept her true identity a secret from her and the fact that the Matriarch was a more powerful biotic that kept her "child" from usurping her position. In spite of her century-long preparations, she had still come to blows with her a number of times when some acolytes were discovered horrifically tortured under her hand.
While the Elder had little genuine care for the peons below her, she was no fool. The Sisterhood of Dilinaga was built upon a foundation of loyalty and secrecy. She needed to keep some semblance of kindness towards her lessers or her organization would come crashing around her.
It was a recurring dynamic between the two factions: while the Thessians had the advantage of their elite agents and the backing of the Thessian Republics, the Sisterhood had deep roots on Illium and was still a complete mystery to all but a chosen few. While this lead to a multitude of failures, those "victories" by the Thessians were pyrrhic at best. The Serrice Operation was no exception. The Sisterhood had ample time to reverse-engineer much of the Binary Helix Prototype's design. It was only a matter of time before she would win this little "conspiracy game" of theirs.
The older Asari Matriarch looked down on her subordinate who was now glaring from the long wait in between speaking. The lieutenant's patience was wearing thin.
'I've been toying with her a little too long it seems..'
"One of the squad members managed to escape. That is no small feat against such odds. Have her privileges revoked for now, but keep her assigned to missions. Going forward We will keep a closer eye on her. We trust you can handle that?"
The Matron nodded, raising her head and looking at the Elder with an bloodthirsty grin.
"I'll do so immediately. She'll fall in line, I can promise that."
She shook her head.
"No. Observation only and only discipline We would approve of. We will not have this "Wasea" end up like those toys of yours."
Her Lieutenant scowled, but gave no protest. While the Sisterhood Elder was confident her subordinate wasn't going to defy her, she cupped her chin in thought. She knew from experience that the Matron would only do what she was told if she gave the sadistic bitch a bone to sink her rabid teeth into.
"As for the operation, track down the leak and dispose of the loose ends. We assume that operational security of the mission was maintained?"
The Matron nodded without any obvious emotion; it seemed her temper had been sated for now.
"Only a limited number were aware of the Op, but that includes a few people from Serrice Council. What should I do if it was one of their people that caused the leak? They-"
The Elder waved her hand and the younger Asari stopped speaking.
"- are irrelevant. Take care of the loose ends regardless of where they come from. We will deal with the backlash from Serrice if it comes to that. We are sure they will be grateful for us rooting out such insubordination. Do keep Us informed of how high the leak goes. It would be unfortunate if there was still such disloyalty after all We have done for them."
The Matrons bloodthirsty grin was back.
The Matron turned to leave but the Matriarch gestured for her to halt with a hand.
"One more thing. That orphan we had been looking into. You are certain she was there as well?"
The Matron shrugged.
"Probably. She had taken out the warehouse cameras, but the closed-circuit one we installed remained undetected and was salvaged a few hours ago. The video recordings we recovered don't lie; an Asari child was definitely there last night and took the Serrice Mercenaries' Omni-Tools. I haven't read her file or looked at her picture myself, but I doubt many other Asari children would be near the warehouse at that time of night but the target."
'But why would the orphan go there herself? Even if Aethyta knows of our interest in her, she wouldn't have risked her element of surprise on some awkward attempt at bait we would not be ready to take. There have been hundreds of more desirable opportunities before now. Is the orphan not already within Aethyta's inner circle? No… perhaps not.'
"Did the orphan and Aethyta ever meet during the operation?"
The Matron shook her head.
"We're very confident that she did not. We never had eyes on Aethyta outside the warehouse, but the orphan was far easier to track as the Thessians did not scrub her records from the Illium Surveillance System. I cannot confirm if they ever communicated, but they did not meet face-to-face yesterday."
The Elder smiled for the first time since the meeting began. 'For the Thessians not to remove her signature from the System… that is decisive evidence.'
"Then she has yet to decide on her place in this "Game" we are playing. That orphan doesn't know it, but she has the key to unraveling an uncomfortably large part of Our conspiracy. She has proven to be a far more stubborn thorn in Our side than she has any right to be… but there may be a way for Us to use her to Our advantage."
The Elder tapped a finger against her chair's armrest. "Her rogue actions in uncovering Aethyta's secrets make it clear that the orphan is suspicious of our enemy. Her ability to track Aethyta makes it clear that she has a great deal of knowledge on their inner circle. We need that knowledge."
"And if she doesn't comply?"
The Elder waved dismissively at the air.
"Regardless of her compliance, she needs to be taken care of. In either case, torture her and eliminate her. We have been hesitant to take care of this situation because of Aethyta's apparent backing of the child, but that caution ends now. It is clear to anyone with a brain that the orphan's relationship with the Thessian Conspiracy only goes so far. There is no reason to hold back, especially if we can take her out before she has the opportunity to use her knowledge."
Her lieutenant saluted. "At once, Elder."
The Matron turned heel and marched out the door. The Matriarch knew even without seeing the Matron's face that her Lieutenant's sadism would be plainly visible for the world to see.
'I almost pity the child, to be the focus of that perversion… but that is the price of crossing me.'
The Matriarch wordlessly took out a bottle of 2354 Gold-Label Elasa with practiced ease and poured herself a glass. She savored the bittersweet alcohol with a wry grin.
'One thing is certain though. With my pupil Jona Sedaris managing this, I know the situation will take care of itself soon…'
— AE —
Codex Entry - Videos: Aethyta's 1st Address to the Asari Republican Council
Video Log transcription of the 13488th session of the Asari Republican Council, 2501 GS
[A large number of Asari are seated on the traditional stone benches circle a central open area. The camera's video feed is also embedded with text from multiple online forums commenting on the events unfolding. At the edges of the camera's view are a number of other cameras and crowds of Asari huddling amongst a number of outer pillars which support the Republican Council Building's roof. In all, there are thousands of Asari.]
[Matron Benezia T'Soni, great-granddaughter of Matriarch Argana T'Soni who co-founded the Siari religion, finishes her speech. As she speaks, she paces the stage and gesticulates.]
"…and so, my friends and allies, we must look to our nature — the racial character that defines us as a species — for our path ahead. The Turian's nature is characterized by their Honor and Duty; the Salarian's by Guile and Intelligence; the Batarian's have their Obedience and Pride and so on. It is not speciesism for a government to focus on one's strengths and play down one's weaknesses, but rather one of its essential roles. Even the Republic does so —following the path of Balance and Patience — but this only limits us.
"So I call upon the Republic today: do not to shy away from our true natures! We are beings composed of many attributes, but that does not make us balanced. We are creatures possessed of long lives, but that need not make us patient. These natures are only a part of us because we allow it, but we can revoke them if we demand it! That is our true nature: one of change and progress; one of emotion and determination! Do not let yourselves be patient when action is needed! Do not let yourself be balanced when an issue demands that you take a side! Do not let the role of the Asari be delegated to but a footnote of history when it is the prominence and wisdom of the Asari that is history's greatest hallmark! Thank you and may the Way of The Consciousness guide you."
[The Asari applaud as Benezia leaves the stage. Cheers both in the room and on digital forums praise the speech. The Council Moderator takes the stage.]
"Thank you for your wonderful oration."
[The Council Moderator waits for the audience to quiet down.]
"Now, the next candidate for this evening's Council is a name that has become infamous in Terminus Space: Aethyta, the Red Terror."
[The crowd yells jeers and boos. The Moderator raises her hands above her head for silence.]
"Her exploits are not being critiqued today, but rather her voice. Despite a long history as a Bounty Hunter, Aethtya has recently taken to inciting political activism in a number of Maidens. Due to this recent popularity, she has reached such a threshold that the sponsors of today's event think it wise to have her voice heard."
[Numerous boos and insults are heard from the crowd. On the forum, numerous posts condemn Aethyta with text such as "Get this criminal out of here!" and "Is the Council so bought that they allow Terminus Warlords now?!".]
"I remind the Council to keep dissent controlled until after the speech is over."
[The crowd still boos, but insults thrown is lessened. After a few moments, the crowd is quiet again.]
"Without further ado, I present Matron Aethtya."
[An Asari wearing red armor walks to the stage. Boos and insults intensify again.]
[Many writers on the digital forum demand for her to be taken from the stage for coming armed. A small minority defend her saying that she is not carrying any weapons.]
[Aethyta waits for the crowd's jeers to lessen and clears her throat.]
"I want to first thank the previous speaker. 13 speakers have spoken before this Council today, yet only one held any semblance of the wisdom and good sense the Asari are supposedly known for. Only one speaker spoke of the change this nation needs. The rest spoke words commonly heard in the high-tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. They were beautiful words full of flowery prose or poetic and metaphorical language sprinkled into the rhetoric. Voices demanding "more funding for the arts" and "enrichment of Asari culture". Voices calling for "the development of foreign exchange" and "longer development times for Maidens".
"Well sometimes the waters roll in under a grim horizon full of raging storms. This voice is one calling out from that hurricane telling those speakers they're full of shit!"
[Yelling and jeers come from the audience. Soon, the voices settle down. Comments on the forum range between having the Matron removed to praising her for her honest tone.]
"This Republic has ignored innumerable indicators of the dark clouds gathering on the horizon. I'm here today to say that the challenges we must overcome are not mere preparations against some vague, far-off crisis. There are serious and systemic problems that exists today and they must be dealt with now.
"The Republic claims to be at peace, but it is a false peace; one filled with violence and death. Its economy is crippled by greed and irresponsibility at all levels. Its industry is plagued by plutocratic corporate meddling and nepotism. Hundreds of millions of Asari cannot find work and millions more are enslaved. Our brethren in the Terminus go without basic medical care or food. More find themselves in an endless cycle of drugs, violence and sex they cannot escape from.
"Ask yourselves why all these speakers today need to reaffirm the greatness of the Asari Republic? Why do they feel the need to remind you all of something that should be self-evident, something intrinsic to the state of a powerful nation like ours? The answer lies in that greatness is not something given; it is earned and the Republic has failed to earn that status.
"A Great Nation would not abandon our colony on Esan to the Hegemony, whose inhabitants' only crime was to be born in the wrong place. We have the largest economy in the Galaxy. Just this year, we completed construction of the largest Dreadnought in the Galaxy. Yet despite having such insurmountable advantages, we keep peace with the Hegemony. I was on the ground fighting the losing war when their "Pirate Fleet" attacked. I saw first-hand the unspeakable horrors inflicted on the civilians. Horrors that I know are perpetrated even now.
"A Great Nation would not abandon the Drell to extinction. I was at the Galactic Conference eight years ago pleading with the Republic to give aid, shelter and transport to the billions facing death on their homeworld. Again, this 'Great Nation' did nothing with its immense resources. Instead the Illiuminated Primacy of the Hanar — the smallest Council government, both in economy and population — saved them from death. The fucking Primacy!
"And these are just raindrops in a large pond. For while the history of the Republic is long, the list of these events transpiring on its shores is longer. Not a single Asari lifetime has passed without a Great War. Not a single century goes by without great and terrible upheaval which threatens the values each one of us holds dead: Our Freedom, Our Sovereignty, Our Way-of-Life. Yet not a single day, not a single minute, not a single second passes without demands for frivolous pandering to constituents. More parks instead of food. Less taxes instead of freedom.
"But I am not here to demand tribute for the lives lost and the damage done in the past. That is for those less fortunate than me; those Asari and Drell whose lives have been up-ended because of our indifference and apathy. No, I am not here as a call to arms; although we desperately need them. I am not here as a call to battle against the injustices I want to correct; for not all share the same opinion as I. I am here to call everyone here today to forge together a grand and galactic alliance of Asari to ensure the survival of our species and the people we each hold dear in our lives.
"I petition for the creation of an Emergency Measures Fund which can be drawn upon in these times of crisis. I plead for the creation of an organization which has the autonomy and authority to use this funding to save and protect the lives and interests of the Republic. I beg for the Political Will to do what is right for all the people outside this Idyllic Utopia that cry out in anger and fear for something better."
[Without a departing word, Aethyta returns to her seat amidst jeers and boos. The crowd is more quiet than before. There are many people on the digital forums condemning the Matron for her alleged acts of piracy and violence in the past.]
[While only barely visible in the camera, it appears that Benezia leans towards Aethyta and says something to her.]