"Do you understand?" Emiya asked and Roane nodded, hesitating only for a moment.

It was obvious that she held some misgivings about all of this, but seeing as how he was the only one she could rely on there wasn't much she could do.

That was fine; she didn't need to understand everything as long as she did as he told her. He could still salvage this mess. Hiding her and drawing the attention of the STG away, he could leave her behind for a short while and then try to figure out what to do about Hosin. I really should have tried to find him first and work from there.

"Good, now—"

There was a sudden knock by the window, causing Emiya to pause. He turned around, frowning. It was a peculiar kind of tapping, a rapping for attention by the hotel window, rather than a forceful attempt at intrusion.

"What is it?"

He ignored Roane and walked to the window, opening the blinders cautiously. Something like trying to flash him with a bright light or using some sort of laser weapon, or just plain old explosives wasn't entirely out of his expectations at this point. Sooner or later they would begin ramping up the level of force they used against him. Outside, standing against the window was a salarian in a hardsuit, holding onto a rope that came down from the rooftop. Though he had taken off his helmet, showing his large black eyes and the dark gray skin, and lacked any obvious weapons on his person, having rappelled down to talk.

Emiya's eyes narrowed as the salarian raised a hand, mouthing silent words slowly.

'We-need-to-talk—Ceasefire?'

The salarian showed his hands and waist, making sure to make it doubly obvious he was unarmed and had no omnitool or other equipment with him.

Glancing at Roane, Emiya sighed before he reached over and opened the window. "Come on in, then."

"Thank you." The salarian nodded as he stepped down, reaching to unlatch the cord attached to his waist. But as he did, his eyes shot quickly to the asari standing behind Emiya, a fact he did not miss.

"So what is it?"

The salarian rolled his eyes, nervousness quite clear on him.

"My name is Jondum Bau. I am with the Special Tasks Group," he said, waiting for any kind of reaction from Emiya. Seeing none, he simply continued. "There has been a change in priorities and we would like to negotiate a cessation to the current hostilities."

"Oh? That's a simple matter. Stop bothering me," Emiya said, crossing his arms.

Jondum inhaled slowly, nodding once before he looked at the asari. Though he was controlled, Emiya hadn't missed the flare of annoyance from the salarian before he continued to speak.

"Unfortunately there's more, and it concerns Roane Lorrais..."

"W-what is it?"

The salarian glanced at Emiya before he continued. "Your husband has threatened to crash down into Thessia with your orbital station. He is demanding that we—that is, Thessia's governments and Spectre Kryik as an extension and representative of the Citadel Council—deliver you to him and allow you to leave Thessia."

Emiya's eyebrows climbed so high they almost disappeared into his hairline as he processed what he had just heard.

"He did what?"

"Hosin did what?!"

Their voices overlapped as they both stared at the salarian.

"...As I said, he has managed to rapidly descend towards Thessia and has entered a very low orbit, from where he can crash into the planet at a moment's notice. He has effectively all of Thessia hostage," Jondum repeated.

Roane blinked, furrowing her brows as she shook her head, clearly unable to comprehend just what she was hearing.

Even Emiya felt taken aback by what he was hearing. Could Hosin really pull something like that off? Is he bluffing? Or is the STG trying to pull some trick here?

"Roane, open up your omnitool and check if there's any news about it."

She blinked, before nodding and quickly pulling out various news feeds.

"The information is being suppressed for the sake of maintaining public order," Jondum informed them and a second later Roane looked up and shook her head.

"There's nothing here."

"Let me check," Emiya said and borrowed her arm as he began to manipulate the omnitool's haptic adaptive interface.

It took him a minute to find enough secondary discussion about the event—flights being delayed, certain satellites that could be used to look around being taken out of public use and the like—for him to become convinced that something was actually happening, and that it wasn't just some elaborate ruse concocted by the salarian to draw them out of the hotel. Their information suppression was good, but the sheer volume of the extranet meant that something would always slip past their ability to seamlessly cover up. Or they could be double-layering the deception, but can I afford to ignore it if it might be true?

"It looks right." He narrowed his eyes at the salarian. "So what are you doing about it?"

The salarian rolled his eyes, hesitating for a moment before speaking. "Current operations in this theater have been put on hold, with all efforts being directed at achieving a peaceful resolution to the pressing crisis. We are currently seeking to transport Roane Lorrais to Hosin'Reegar, unharmed of course. To that end, we..."

"You need me to stay out of your way. Fine, I'll play along for now," Emiya said with a huff. Though I'll have to keep my own eye on this situation.

Jondum nodded, before turning to look at Roane.

"Missus Lorraine, could I ask you to accompany me? At this time we predict that the council of Matriarchs will rule in favor of accepting his demands, thus it would hasten the process of meeting his demands if we could get you to a shuttle as quickly as possible."

"I—I..." She looked at the salarian, eyes wide and unseeing.

"Roane." Emiya placed a hand on her shoulder, causing her to flinch and snap her eyes to him. "Take a deep breath."

"What?" She blinked at him, her breathing turning more rapid despite his words. Or perhaps because of them.

"Calm down."

"I... How can I possibly calm down?! He—how could he do something like this? This, this is insane!" She shouted, her fist balling up as she shook her head. "Hosin, he wouldn't—he couldn't possibly do something like this!"

Emiya didn't say anything, though he thought that she might have expected him to say something. To deny her words or to reassure her, perhaps? Glancing at the equally silent salarian, he said nothing.

"Don't—don't you get it! What he said! What Hosin is doing?! It's, it's insane! How, how could he do something like that!" She shrieked again, slapping aside the hand on her shoulder. Or trying to anyhow as his hand remained firmly on her shoulders. "Millions could die! How could he do something like that!? How—Doesn't he, but..."

Her eyes were desperate, lost and adrift. She was fraying at the edges, hyperventilating and shaking. As if reality no longer made sense to her. He squeezed once as he exhaled.

"Roane, you need to calm down," he said, and as she looked as if she was about to shout again he squeezed her shoulder more tightly. It must have hurt as she winced, wilting under his stare then. "If he really did something like that, then you're the only one who can talk sense back into him. You need to calm down."

She seemed to deflate then, her hands slackening and hanging limply by her sides as she looked out through the window quietly.

Slowly her breathing seemed to even out and Emiya finally raised his hand from her shoulder as he judged she had calmed down.

"I... yes..." Her voice was barely more than a whisper, her eyes distant and unsure.

But at least she seemed in control once again.

"Could we please move to the shuttle. We do not wish to agitate Hosin'Reegar with any unnecessary delays, if at all possible," Jondum said, awkwardly chiming in.

The asari shook her head once, and Emiya spoke once more. "Roane."

She inhaled and slowly nodded, looking up to him. "Yes, yes. I'm... Let's go... Take me to Hosin now, please."

The salarian nodded, moving to the hotel room's door. Emiya and Roane followed after him. Stepping out through the backdoor on the first floor, they were greeted by a pair of shuttles along with nearly all of the STG members Emiya had seen in the hotel not too long ago. Several of them looked up at their arrival, shooting glares of thinly veiled anger and bitter hostility at him causing him to mentally stumble for half-an-instant.

His resistance had been measured and careful he had thought, wholly appropriate against them. They were valuable specialists and highly trained agents for the STG; their organizations would have no trouble footing a bill to heal them back up in no time from what he had inflicted. Hell, knowing what he did of medical technology, the clean breaks he had caused would be little more than a weeks bed rest for them.

So why the killing intent?

Was it due to how he had handled them earlier?

The Special Tasks Group was made up of nothing but consummate professionals from what he had seen, thus he had made the mistake of thinking that they would see it as he did. Wholly detached, removed of emotion and simply as a game of numbers—of lives and end results in the balance. From his point of view, he had simply mildly inconvenienced them to achieve his goal.

But that wasn't how they saw it.

He had effectively crushed them at their own field of specialization, going so far as merely wound them enough that they could not continue. To them, there was no gratefulness for sparing their lives to be had. Only the sense of helpless vertigo at being met with something that did not fit their worldviews at all, as he was an existence that turned all of their hard work, preparations and planning to nothing.

As they licked their wounds and mended their shattered prides, they could do little about the seed of anger towards him that had taken root in their hearts.

That, or they might think Hosin's actions were related to him.

He blinked, realizing suddenly what he must have seemed like to them. A dangerous and reckless terrorist who when cornered takes the entire planet hostage using one of his subordinates. The timing was too good for him for it to be mere coincidence.

Looking around once more, somehow the killing intent seemed more reasonable now. To them he was someone who had just threatened to enact effectively the greatest terror attack in galactic history. It wasn't anything new though. It had always been like this; just like at the courtroom where his end was decided.

There was no reason to expect anything to have changed in that regard.

Emiya ignored them as they walked to a shuttle past the group, its passenger section's door opening as they drew near. Halting, he looked around as both Jondum and Roane entered the shuttle. The salarian blinked, turning around as he noticed Emiya wasn't moving.

Should I go with them or stay behind? The STG probably would not raise too much of a fuss if he muscled along, especially if he managed to contact Hosin. It would be an easy way out of Parnitha, along with allowing him to stay with Roane to ensure that she and Hoana got out safely. However, his body would still remain on Thessia unless he managed to bring it onboard somehow. Additionally, it would mean leaving Hosin behind. No, I should figure out what's going on by myself first.

"Fujimura?" Roane asked, blinking at him.

Meeting her eyes he nodded once, making her frown for a second before she nodded back. "I'll keep an eye on you over the omnitool. Jondum, tell your people to not interfere with the connection or to try anything through it. If you do, I'll take it as you breaking the ceasefire."

The salarian blinked, his lack of understanding obvious. "You will not be going?"

"Did Hosin demand my presence?" Emiya asked with a raised brow and as the salarian blinked twice before shaking his head, he nodded. "Well, there you have it."

"I... see. Very well."

Returning to the hotel, he spiritualized the moment he was out of sight and dived into the nearest terminal. Finding the hotel's bank account, he wired through a sum of credits to compensate for blowing up the system earlier along with a note of apology. They probably had some form of insurance already, but he had no need for that money anyhow.

Checking quickly that Roane's shuttle was flying away without any issues, he looked at the banking traces that had still been ongoing before he had had to leave before. Huh, it's done.

Still it would take a considerable amount of time to analyze all of the information. Time which right now could be better spent on figuring out what the ever-loving hell Hosin was thinking.

With that thought in mind he began to leap through connections. From a nearby skycar to a local traffic control center to the Thessian Airspace Control, he slowed only once he found the terminals through which the orbital station was being monitored in real time. The Airspace Control personnel were working overtime by the looks of it, running numerous simulations and advising others to steer clear of the orbital station.

He had thought to jump to the orbital station himself, only to pause at the note plastered over every terminal and operator's workstation.

'Do not contact KX-0331 under any circumstance!'

Digging deeper, he found the threat Hosin had made regarding any attempts at connecting to his orbital station triggering the mass effect fields immediately to cause an immediate crash. It seemed like a rather overt measure to prevent being intruded upon and one that could be much too easily triggered, but assuming it was true...

Do I dare try to jump there? How much faith do I have in my ability to move from system to system without tripping something? Shaking his head, he noted that the timetable for another call from Hosin was a mere half hour away.

On the one hand it seemed prudent to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible, on the other hand it could be quite a risk. Additionally it seemed like Hosin had turned off the station's transponder, forcing everyone to keep watch of him through active sensor readings. If the quarian had turned off the transponder then it was entirely possible that the tightbeam receivers were also offline at the moment.

Emiya didn't relish the thought of attempting to ride a tightbeam laser only to be reflected off the surface of the station, bounced away towards some empty and far corner of the galaxy. He wasn't sure what would happen to him if he never managed to arrive at a receiver, either. Would he merely scatter and disappear as the infrared did, or would he simply appear in the physical world again once the signal lost cohesion?

No. It would be safer to wait for the quarian to initiate contact instead, he reasoned as he crossed his arms and settled down to wait. Besides, it seemed like the asari and STG were making plans as well. Better to be on top of everything, before he tried something.

And speaking of which, it seemed like there was a meeting about to begin between numerous world leaders and the STG who were handling this situation. Perhaps he would gain some insight over the situation by listening in...

And while he was at it, he could take a look at the results of the Sapient Rights Council lead. He had plenty of time to read, given that he was experiencing time at a vastly slower rate here, after all. Pulling up dozens of screens to show the numerous Matriarchs and the lone turian, Emiya settled down to eavesdrop.


;


Nihlus Kryik cleared his throat. "Is everyone present?"

"Those that are able. Spectre Kryik, please inform us of the situation."

He nodded at the Matriarch.

As the highest ranking operative currently in the system and in the know, it fell to him to report everything to the council of Matriarchs. They weren't an official body of governance, rather they were mostly advisers and consultants for the whole of Thessia. They could not make orders to any of the many republics, not legally anyhow. But in times of crisis where immediate action was vital and long debates followed by a public vote were not an option, they could function as an emergency ruling body.

The collective age of the asari present here exceeded that of their recorded history a dozen times over; they were the wisest and most experienced of their race, experts and masters of a thousand fields united under one cause. Those who had seen and done all, who had been there and done that. Those who could think not only of the short and long-term consequences, but of how history itself would flow as a result of any one decision.

"Twenty minutes ago, we received a message..." He began to explain the situation.

Given that there were representatives of a dozen cities here and that he was still in orbit, he was reporting to them over a secure conference commline. He could see numerous Matriarchs listening in as the main screen of the bridge was set to act as his receiver during this meeting.

"Goddess above. How well has this been suppressed?" One Matriarch asked as he finished the rough outline of his report.

"The message was broadcast on the Thessian Airspace Control frequencies meaning some of it managed to slip through, but once the operators realized the seriousness of the situation they enacted the communications containment protocol to prevent the spread of information. We had a contingent of salarian information specialists in the area due to the Redhax case which allowed us to censor and handle the extranet for the most part," Nihlus reported, pausing to let the asari digest his words for a second before continuing. "Agents were sent to a few loose ends to ensure that they are made aware of the sensitivity of the situation, but for now the public remains unaware of the situation. There should be no risk of panic at this time."

There was a general murmur on the channels and he could see dozens of matriarchs nodding at him.

Of course, that was only the beginning of what was necessary in efforts to censor this event. They did not want the public aware of how easily something could be turned into a deadly weapon, after all. Generally speaking all FTL-capable vehicles were kept a close eye on, though there was only so much one could do when all one needed to create a simple hovercraft was a circuit board and a chunk of eezo.

Orbital stations occupied a strange spot in this legal area due to being massive objects that could quite easily be transformed into extremely dangerous anti-planetary projectiles, on paper anyhow. As such, they were forbidden from having any external thrust providers of their own or sufficient eezo cores to rapidly enact orbit shifts. Maintaining the altitude and orbital eccentricity of such stations are handled by Thessia's local fleets and Airspace Control, to minimize any such risks and to ensure that all orbital stations were at safe altitudes at all times.

Any private orbital stations were usually also located in Medium Planetary Orbit; thousands of kilometers away from Thessia's surface, to ensure that they could not suddenly change course and crash into the planet. Of course this was generally calculated based on the specifics of the station to ensure that even if something like an explosion split the stations in two, the other half could not possibly crash down into Thessia without being caught in time.

In theory the measures taken should have been enough to prevent just this kind of catastrophe.

On paper, KX-0331 had neither the thrust nor the eezo core to be a danger. But those papers did not factor in an illegal eezo smuggling operation and the facilities to handle both raw and processed eezo. He had the kinds of facilities that had given the Thessian officials a real scare once he had been investigated on Spectre Tela Vasir's orders. For that reason the entire station had been condemned and flagged to be towed out of Thessia's orbit as soon as possible, until a qualified crew could go through the entire orbital station with a fine tooth comb once Hosin had been made wanted.

They had already supposedly searched through the entire station after his supposed escape, meaning that no one had foreseen this possibility since no one was supposed to be there.

But Hosin had remained behind. And he had had the facilities to modify his orbital station and he had managed to rush past any of the usual measures in place against these dangers. By now the quarian was practically hugging the planet with how close he had managed to get in one short burst.

It was an absolute disaster; a tier I weapon of mass destruction.

If Nihlus wasn't so terrified of the scale of the situation, he could almost admire the sheer ingenuity of the maneuver. It required an almost innate understanding of orbital mechanics and mass effect fields to pull off something like this. Even now there was a niggling doubt as to whether Redhax had somehow managed to orchestrate this situation, in the back of his mind. It was making the back of his crest tingle uncomfortably.

"What are his demands?"

"That his wife and daughter are allowed to leave Citadel space unmolested," Nihlus crisply replied.

The Matriarch who had asked the question blinked. "That's all?"

"This cannot be allowed to stand. Think of the precedent it creates! There are hundreds of similar orbital stations like it around Thessia alone. If we cave in to his demands here, then how many others like him will try it again, only with much more steep demands?!" Another ancient asari shouted, slamming her scarred hand onto the desk so loudly it echoed even through the comms. "How was this even possible in the first place?! Answer, Spectre!"

Nihlus considered telling the scarred war-matriarch off, but decided that prudence was the better part of valor just then. "He seems to have stockpiled incredible amounts of smuggled element zero on his orbital station, along with massively overhauling the entire structure to suit his needs over the years—"

"How could he have possibly acquired that much contraband element zero!? Is this not the very reason for the rigorous security measures!"

Nihlus cleared his throat as he answered, "If you'll read the report by Spectre Vasir, you will find the full results of her investigation regarding the smuggling operation."

Another Matriarch nodded, speaking. "Yes, of course. Please continue, Spectre."

He nodded, doing so.

"We have not had the chance to investigate more closely how much eezo he has access to—given his strict warnings regarding such attempts, you understand—however we suspect that he is running an analog circuit through several frigate-class eezo cores, which allow him to bypass the navigational hardcodes that should have given Thessian Airspace Control a warning. But as stated, we are not entirely sure at this time."

The whole assembled Matriarchy sat in silence as they considered his words.

"Then it is vital that it is found out exactly how he accomplished this. Negotiations leading to acquiring this information is vital, for future countermeasures to be possible," another Matriarch said as she nodded sagely.

"To r'jii with that! Blow him out of the sky with one blast of the Dreamer Trembling! Its main gun should be able to vaporize that impudent rat in a snap!"

"Yes!"

"Force must be met with force, lest weakness be thought in our hearts."

"But what of the numerous vehicles he launched from the station earlier? What if each of those is set up to act as a similar weapon? How many of them have been found and disabled? There could still be dozens of them around Thessia!"

That birthed a deafening silence anew, as the most outspoken of the aggressive faction could only clench their teeth at such a possibility.

"Those ancient rust buckets were never meant to operate in-atmo. What danger is there in letting it burn out upon entry?" One asari scoffed, by the looks of it none too pleased by the sudden meeting she had been called to.

"Your lack of talent with biotics is shining through for everyone present, you fool. The quarian has threatened to raise the ship's mass, meaning he will effectively be wrapping it in a Stasis field. It will survive re-entry quite well, I assure you of that. We, however, will not."

Suitably chastised, the asari matriarch grimaced and said nothing more.

A Matriarch who had been quiet until now chose to speak up then. "And where are this quarian's wife and daughter at this time?"

Nihlus nodded, as he answered. "Yes, we had his wife—Roane Lorrais of Trelle—in custody earlier, but due to certain events she seems to have been broken out from the Ulee holding cell at this time. One of the STG's field operatives is making contact with her at this time and informing her of the situation. We should have her in the air within ten minutes."

"And the daughter?"

"Hoana Lorrais is presumed to be with Hosin'Reegar at this time, aboard the orbital station. He has demanded that a shuttle with his wife be sent over, so that she leave with their daughter. A suitable vessel has been prepared, along with the necessary kits for whatever the council of Matriarchs wishes be done regarding the situation." Nihlus inclined his head to the camera and at the Matriarchs he was speaking to as he finished.

There were several seconds of silence, before discussion between private channels erupted for a half minute. He could see many speaking, covering their mouths with a hand at times as they used other channels to talk to each other. The turian stood in silent stoicism as he waited for their deliberations to progress.

"Could this be a retaliation by the quarians as a whole? We've rebuffed their attempts at entering the system several times in the past, haven't we?"

"No, they are too focused on the continued survival of their race at the moment. There is too little for them to be gained out of this, at the moment."

"Records also place Hosin'Reegar as something of an exile from the quarian flotilla..."

Nihlus stepped in here again. "During an interrogation on Roane Lorrais—Hosin'Reegar's wife—by Spectre Vasir, it was noted that there is a long-running disagreement between Hosin'Reegar and the direction of the migrant fleet as a whole. Such motivations conflict with his profile in addendum file 4c-1."

Murmurs and whispers again, causing Nihlus to fidget in place. He could see where the Citadel's Council model had come from, watching the proceedings from the side. They were quite unlike the strictly hierarchical chain of command present in the Turian Hierarchy, as here every voice seemed to have equal weight.

And that was the problem; there were too many voices and they did not bring enough to the table individually he felt.

In the Citadel Council, the three members all had an area of expertise and understanding of their corner of the galaxy. Distinct and separate, yet brought to a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. Here many of the Matriarchs knew each other from before, their roles and spheres of influence overlapped and clashed. He could see how alliances and pacts were playing out, favors and debts skewing the discussions subtly, how it seemed like there were visible shifts in thoughts and attitudes depending on who spoke rather than due to what was being said.

But it was not his place to voice such thoughts and he stood in silence as he waited for them to continue.

"I have run the analysis on the orbital station. Spectre Kryik, are these kinetic barrier output readings still accurate?" One Matriarch asked and he nodded.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then I do not believe it is feasible for the orbital station to be shot with a starcraft's main spinal-gun," she continued only to be interrupted by several loud voices shouting at her. She waited for them to quieten before she continued again. "I am forwarding the simulations now. As you can see, the angle of such a shot must be extremely precise given the spherical nature of the station's kinetic barriers and due to Thessia itself.

"Additionally due to the projected intensity of the mass effect fields and the proto-Stasis field, it will require a very powerful rail gun to be employed, which creates additional problems. Any kinetic shot with the danger of entering the atmosphere will have dire consequences even discounting all the possible effects of the station crashing down. Were the Dreamer Trembling to fire a single shot, the consequences for Thessia could be even worse than were the station to simply fall by itself, potentially. Any shot would have to thus be made below the station or parallel to it—relative to Thessia—to ensure no chance of hitting the planet. But due to the difficulties presented by the atmosphere and gravity well, most of our larger warships cannot be used."

"What?"

"You mean that to destroy the station we need a bigger ship than it is possible to fly so near Thessia's gravity well?"

"Yes. Anything below a cruiser simply will not have sufficient power."

Her calm answer caused the assembled Matriarchs to begin another round of heated whispers amongst each other. It seemed that the asari preference for over-specced warships was very much not in their favor in this instance.

Not minding the continued whispering one bit, she simply continued with her analysis.

"Additionally, since we do not know the exact specifications of the station or how great its mass may become, it is exceedingly difficult to predict at what angle and speed it will descend if the worst comes to pass."

"Assuming such a shot could be made; a perfect right angle that would impact against the barrier's head on and pierce through without striking Thessia or affecting the atmosphere, what kind of after-effects could we expect from it?"

The Matriarch who had been explaining shook her head. "Even in the best of circumstances, the power necessary for a single shot to be effective necessitates extreme velocities. And the angle for such a shot means that it will pass through our atmosphere. Even ignoring those problems, the station will only be scattered and rain down as so much debris. The building material as you well know is of the hyper-dense compressed alloy made with mass effect foundries. Even scattered apart, much of the material will survive atmospheric entry. The 'meteor showers' would be extremely destructive, nonetheless. "

"Was the production for that alloy not ended well over four hundred years ago?"

"Yes," the Matriarch answered again. "But as you can see, the station is very old."

Seeing as no one sought to interrupt her again, she continued.

"Destroying it wholly so as to minimize the amount of falling dangerous metal, even with dreadnought's main gun, will be extremely difficult. It may be feasible to use a host of smaller vessels underneath the orbital station inside of the atmosphere. The upwards trajectory would help disperse most of the debris, however given the kinetic barrier output it may prove difficult to disperse the whole of the orbital station quickly enough. If we had time to request aid from the Turian Hierarchy perhaps such a in-atmosphere task force could be created, but I hesitate to suggest such a course of action using just the Thessian fleets. Overall, I cannot recommend any direct measures be taken and advise for negotiation in regards to a cessation of this crisis. That is all I have to say."

The Matriarchs began to discuss among themselves again, before another suggestion regarding a specialized strike team was raised and promptly shot down. The quarian had specified the exact model and make up of shuttle to be used to ensure he knew the exact dimensions and weight. It was a simple countermeasure against fitting any kinds of complex devices or strike teams on the shuttle, but effective nonetheless.

Unless Hosin himself authorized it, nothing was going to get close to the orbital station.

"What about a disruptor torpedo?"

"Certainly, against a slowly and predictably moving target such as an orbital station, it could work regardless of kinetic barriers. But..."

"From my experience as a warship captain, I would strongly advise against that. That is unless you wish to Warp Detonate the orbital station." An old and until-now silent asari spoke, causing others to quiet down in response.

"Oh Goddess, the proto-Stasis effect would serve as a primer for that?" The one who had suggested it replied with a pale face.

"Indeed."

Nihlus frowned, before realizing what they were talking about. He was well aware that a starship in FTL would react explosively to a disruptor torpedo or mine, but it hadn't quite occurred to him that just as the mass lightening field utilized for FTL would work as a primer for the Warp Detonation, so too would the mass raising weak Stasis field. Indeed, that would be quite catastrophic.

Disruptor torpedoes were weapons specifically designed to breach kinetic barriers by utilizing shifting mass effect fields, in effect replicated the biotic technique known as 'Warp'. A more advanced technique among biotics was using one power and following it up with another that would cause the first to react incredibly violently.

In this case the result of a Warp Detonation on the orbital station that was being affected by a mass raising field would be utterly catastrophic, turning the entire station into a massive fragmentation grenade that would send pieces of itself flying in all directions. And those pieces would carry along the mass effect field, possibly causing quickly flying lighter pieces and much more massive slower pieces to follow after.

Even if those pieces would nominally be small enough to be burned up in Thessia's atmosphere, those that had their mass raised would act as if under the Stasis biotic technique and act effectively as if they were much, much heavier.

Rather than slamming the planet with the station, that would be like firing a dreadnought-caliber shotgun at it. No disruptor torpedoes. Then again, they would probably be too slow as a reactionary weapon.

"I see, then what about..."

Following that, in the space of twenty minutes, half a dozen alternatives were considered and quickly rejected. GARDIAN-lasers were deemed too lacking in stopping power; a giant mass effect field to catch the falling station too fanciful; attempting to immediately fire and take out the station by surprise while it was still clear of Thessia too risky. And the biggest issue that had to be considered was the fact that the orbital station's fusion reactor might very well overload and cause a disaster all on its own, even if the orbital station were to be no problem.

While the process of nuclear fusion would not at least be self-sustaining and such reactors were specifically designed for safety, who knew what the quarian could have rigged up on his orbital station. Even the un-shielded reaction of a few seconds worth of fuel could be disastrous to Thessia's eco-system.

As long as the nuclear reaction remained in the vacuum of space it wouldn't be as grave an issue, but if in the worst case scenario the orbital station did make it into the atmosphere...

"And what of the population?"

There was a long silence, uncharacteristic for this meeting in how long it lasted. They all knew what had to be done, yet none among them wished to speak the words.

The Spectre cleared his throat, opting to bear the burden as the voice of the Citadel in this meeting. "The people of Thessia cannot be told anything. Evacuating everyone is impossible and shelters in the impact zone with the capability to handle the impact do not exist. Moreover, this matter must be kept a secret."

Several of the Matriarchs nodded at him while others looked away, clearly displeased with the matter. Many of them were from the areas that could be heavily affected, with generations of family and friends living there.

"If it became known that a tier I weapon of mass destruction was being employed against Thessia it would cause chaos and panic, while also undermining the Citadel's and Thessia's ability to protect themselves. In lawless corners of the galaxy the use of asteroids in this manner may be employed, but if it were to be known that despite the trillions of credits spent that Thessia was in danger of just such a terror attack..."

"It would create an unacceptable precedent, the very reason the matter has been suppressed."

He nodded, stepping back as they formalized the information control on the matter. While officially no one would be informed or evacuated from Thessia, he was certain many of them would privately send notices to their loved ones as soon as this meeting was adjourned.

Some seemed to be incapable of waiting even that long, as already some seemed distracted with some other communications.

But the meeting continued.

Nihlus listened patiently as the Matriarchs discussed these subjects and more in silence, each present in the convention trusting that those who spoke were experts in their field and wasting no time with contradicting their judgments. It was the first time in history that the Matriarchs had reached a decision within fifteen minutes of convening, as far as Nihlus was aware. A historical event to be sure.

And one no one would ever learn about.

This debacle was going to be buried so deep that the only records left might as well be thrown into a black hole.

While waiting for the asari to finish, he also received a quick update from Jondum Bau which left him confused and off balance once again. That the quarian's wife had agreed to be delivered to the station was good, but...

Why did the human not join? Is this not a perfect chance to escape Thessia?

What were they thinking? The turian felt his talons itching, turning him irritable and anxious. Repressing the worst of it, he focused on the proceedings.

"The demands of the quarian Hosin'Reegar will be met and his family will be allowed to leave asari space wholly unmolested—all in favor?"

The vote was over quickly; there really weren't many options to be had, they had concluded.

Nihlus inhaled slowly, feeling his mandibles twitching as the council settled for acceding to the quarian's demand with overwhelming numbers. The combination of such an overt threat along with the short time frame meant that options that would normally be considered carefully were being discarded. A starship would be prepared, allowing Roane and Hoana Lorrais to leave Citadel space, as per Hosin'Reegar's demands.

It was going far too smoothly the turian felt. Almost as if this had been planned beforehand. Just like everything else that human had done already today and yesterday. Are we all just playing into his hands right now? Did he think this far ahead and prepare something of this scale just for a day like this?

He was shaken out of his thoughts as a representative of the Matriarchs addressed him.

"Spectre Kryik, may we rely on you to handle the practicalities of actualizing the results of this vote for us?"

That sense of crushing defeat and bitter humiliation at backing down still remained from that single face-to-face meeting with Emiya Shirou. His instincts screamed at him to hunt down that man, to try again, to win and regain his honor. But he was a Spectre with all his being, with all the duties and responsibilities that entailed.

Protecting the people went before his personal desires.

The turian nodded to the Matriarchs, raising a hand in a crisp salute as he did. "I live to serve."


;


Tela Vasir blinked, noticing that she was receiving a call through her omnitool. Who would be...?

She only had outside connectivity due to patching in to the museum network, having made sure to bar all other access while she had been at it. Shaking her head, she checked the ID of the caller before she swore.

Slowing down from her jogging, she breathed for ten seconds to appear as if she hadn't been exerting herself for a while now. Then, making sure to not allow any visual feed through either way, she accepted the call.

"Nihlus? What the hell do you want?"

"Vasir, where are you?"

"Following up on some leads, that's all. What do you want?" She repeated.

"...You have a concussion, you're in no shape to be anywhere. Your judgment would be impaired to hell and back. It doesn't matter, drop your lead and get back to base right now. There's a situation going on and I need all the hands I can get."

She scowled, clenching her fists as she controlled her breathing. Her face was flushed and her breathing heavy. Who the hell does he think he is, ordering me around? I've been a Spectre longer than he's been alive, for fucks sake!

"I'll get to it when I can."

"...Fine, but I'll be making a note of this to the Council later." With that the annoying turian hung up.

She breathed heavily, stretching her neck as she tried to calm down. Failing entirely, she lashed out with her biotics as she punched at a wall, denting the material with the blow as she shouted. "FUCK!"

She was going to tear those fucking brats apart.

Raising the omnitool to put away the call functions, she blinked as she saw the museum network still open. And there, she saw something that almost made her crack a tooth with anger. This place has cameras? Of course it fucking did! You fucking idiot!

Vasir accessed them immediately, moving to go through them as quickly as possible, looking for any signs of those three Maidens and the Matriarch. She had to pause for a moment as she found an outside camera, showing a view of the courtyard outside near the rear entrance.

There were three commandos there; asari of affiliation with the one who had been standing inside the door before. Shit, the brat must have told others she was here. Can't get out that way... No, I can still handle this, I can still handle this. They can't get in, so it's fine. I'm fine.

"I've still got this..." She told herself, rolling through the cameras until she found something. "And there you are..."

She grinned, turning around and looking up. Comparing the omnitool feed to her own position, she moved out again.

I've still got this!


;


Liara stopped suddenly, frowning as she looked around. Tyra not five steps behind her had just enough time to react to her stopping that she didn't crash into her roommate's back.

"Did you hear something...?" Liara asked.

"Hey, over here," someone whispered again.

"Professor?" Liara turned around, trying to locate the source of the whisper as she did.

"Over here, behind the statue..."

Liara and Tyra turned to look, finding Baliya hidden behind a large statue near the wall. If someone merely ran through the hallway exhibition she would have had ample concealment there.

"Professor Haphia." Liara exclaimed, rushing over. "Are you alright? How did you manage to get all the way over here?"

"I know a few shortcuts, is all. The hardest part was making sure no bloodstains would show my tracks..." She said with a deprecating smile.

"I am glad that you are alright. I was not thinking very clearly, before. I am..."

The Matriarch shook her head, looking at Tyra. Or rather, at Shiawe on Tyra's back. "No, I understand. You made the right choice, by the looks of it."

"I... Yes—She nearly did not make it." Liara sighed.

Baliya nodded, looking up at Tyra and the commando on her back.

"Well? Did you manage to call for help?"

She sighed, shaking her head. "Perhaps if we made it to the guard's room, but if we could do that we could just as well walk past out through the lockdown. I'm sorry."

Tyra sighed, gingerly putting down the unconscious commando as she did. As she stood back up, her eyes met with Liara's and they shared a silent moment.

Finally, Liara sighed. "You're right, Tyra. But are you sure it will work?"

"Yeah—I mean, we got our butts handed to us... But if we work together and plan it out properly, we could take her down! We know the museum and there's more of us, so we can set up an ambush."

"An ambush?" Baliya repeated, frowning as she looked up at the two Maidens. "That will never work—she is much too..."

The Matriarch trailed off, frowning as she seemed to consider the idea now that it had been raised.

Tyra, taking this as a cue to continue, explained her reasoning. "She was really wary of you, right? We can use that. And as long as she doesn't have a gun, we can fight her. She can't use biotics repeatedly against all of us. As long as we work together and think ahead, we can take her down!"

Somehow despite their exhaustion and pain, Tyra's words seemed to be making sense. Perhaps it was merely her experience at motivating and taking charge shining through, but to all present it did seem like fighting was their only option now.

No one was coming to rescue them, Tela Vasir was not going to give up nor would they be able run away indefinitely.

Baliya exhaled, nodding once. "Yes. Yes. You're right. We can't simply keep running. We will have to fight."

Tyra grinned, giving the Matriarch a thumbs up. "Alright, here's what I've thought up... You and Liara are pretty strong at biotics—stronger than me, anyhow. Liara is a bit slower, but she's got really good control. She'd make a really good center-left second passer, I think..."

"I... thank you?" Liara said with a frown, not entirely sure what that was.

"Right, anyhow. Unlike Liara, I've a little bit of experience in tussling and I can fire off my biotics pretty quickly, so I can probably hold her off while taking the center forward. If you and the professor can keep Vasir occupied, then I can use my biotics to stop her from just punching my face in. If I think of her as a Matron right second defense, then I can probably handle her that way..."

"That will be quite dangerous. Especially given your lack of protection and Vasir's own hardsuit. Any one of her blows will be enough to incapacitate you," Baliya said, before raising a hand to point at the unconscious commando. "Take her hardsuit. It will protect you a little."

"Right, good idea. If I can figure out how to get it off of her..."

Liara frowned, crossing her arms as she spoke. "Will that be enough? She beat us so easily the last time."

"It might," Baliya replied, looking up. "Or it might not. Then she managed to pick us apart and take us down one by one. If we had a gun it would be much easier to take her down..."

Tyra blinked. "Don't we have biotics? Won't that be enough?"

Baliya nodded. "Yes, but a weapon would allow us to put much more pressure on her and allow us to reliably wear her down, since the hardsuit will allow her to focus her biotics purely on offense. Ranged projectiles would force her to focus on a constant barrier which would force her to focus on defense."

"Right, well what if we all decide on roles then? Like, Liara does biotics-biotics, you throw stuff with biotics at her really fast to occupy her like a gun would, and I take it up close?" Tyra suggested.

"'Biotics-biotics'?" Liara repeated, almost amused despite the seriousness of the situation.

"That does sound feasible... And I have just the place in mind."

"Huh, what's wrong with here?" Tyra asked, blinking at Baliya.

"You have a sharp eye for formations and odds from biotiball, but this is not a game. We are not two teams contending to push through to be able to make a goal and score points. We shouldn't think of it as two opposing sides per se," the Matriarch explained. "Here, our focus is Tela Vasir herself. Thus we should surround her here and attack her from opposite sides. If Liara and I are at opposite ends of a hallway, Tela Vasir will have to turn around to react to every attack and we have enough distance that neither of us will be likely to hit the other. As long as we do not hit you by accident then it could work out."

"Oh, yeah. Yeah, that makes sense." Tyra nodded.

The Matriarch continued. "And I have just the place in mind. On the second floor, by the sea fossil exhibition is an excellent spot where we can box her in and I can pull numerous objects to throw at her."

"Oh, oh!" Liara nodded. "Yes, the fossil-containing stone and amber will be plentiful, hard and heavy. Excellent ammunition, as it were."

"Yes, and I have plenty more in the cellar to replace any broken samples once this is over. Though writing a report to the Serrice Council over the expenses and damages afterwards will be... interesting, to say the least." Baliya shrugged with a tired smile.

"Oh, yes. I had not considered that at all." Liara admitted with an embarrassed flush, causing Tyra to laugh lightly.

They sat there in silence for a few seconds, all pondering those words and the situation. Finally, Tyra shook her head and decided that it was time to go.

"Alright, let's move. No time for dilly-dallying," she said as she moved to grab Shiawe again. "Liara, you take the professor. She should be lighter."

"I apologize for the trouble," Baliya said as Liara moved to help her up.

Managing to get all four of their group moving, they began to make for the stairway. As they walked, Baliya began to list things they had to bear in mind. She had not seen combat in decades, but she had quite likely forgotten more about fighting than the other three in the group knew put together.

"As long as we can get over there and set up our ambush properly... We might just be able to manage. It will be a close thing, but as long as we can pile up enough factors then it will work. Fighting is quite often like that; you simply stack as many advantages as possible while denying your enemy the same, and then hope for the best as things devolve into chaos."

"Is that how it's like as a huntress usually?" Tyra asked.

"More or less. We worked in small bands, usually quite independently. When something happened we would usually avoid direct combat until we knew what was going on. Infiltration and sabotage, things like that," the Matriarch answered.

"Is that true for all commandos? I have heard that the Eclipse get into heated fights quite often... They were contracted to run supplies to Dretirop on occasion and they seemed quite proud of that..." Liara pointed out.

Baliya shook her head. "I have not worked with mercenaries before enough to say, but it depends on the asari of course. Take Tela Vasir for example; she is quite a powerful biotic, but she prefers to take it up close where she does not need finesse as long as she has enough momentum."

"So, if we—"

"Watch out!" Baliya shouted and in the next second they were tossed aside.

Tyra realized a second later—as she hit the floor and rolled with the impact to recover—that they had been hit with a sudden Shockwave of biotic force. Only Baliya's quick reaction had saved them. Looking up with wide eyes, Tyra spotted the Spectre walking down the long open exhibition with slow steps.

"You think you were so clever, running around and making me look for you... That's fine, that's fine. It's not like I'll be the one suffering for it, see? I've plenty of aggravation to work out on you."

"Vasir...!" Liara grit her teeth, getting up as she tried to bodily shield the fallen Matriarch who had managed to absorb the most of the surprise attack with her biotic barrier.

"Liara!" Tyra shouted, getting to her feet to stand at the front. "Go around!"

Rushing forward with a Charge and slamming into the Spectre, she barely managed to avoid the hook that would have knocked her out cold a second later.

She barely dodged more by luck than anything else. This close, she could smell the blood still on the Spectre and see the splatters on the hardsuit, that must have come from the commando she had been carrying all this time around. Suppressing a shudder, she pushed outward and jumped aside to dodge a Throw.

Behind her she could hear Liara running off. She would probably have to go up or down a floor and come from the other end to be able to flank Vasir like they had planned. And I didn't get a chance to put on the armor! This is bad! Really bad!

But if Liara could go around and they could attack the Spectre from both sides, then maybe...

She was cut from her thoughts as Vasir rushed forward, taking her completely off-guard. Only the Throw impacting against Vasir's flank managed to buy Tyra enough time to jump out of the way.

"Thanks!" The biotiball-player shouted, throwing her own biotic attack at armored asari. She didn't have the focus or skill to form a strong Throw, but she could push and pressure with just what she knew from playing biotiball.

Or she hoped it would be enough, at least.

The Spectre frowned, looking between the two asari fighting against her and glancing down the hallway Liara had run. That wasn't good; they had to keep Vasir here until Liara was able to make a full circuit.

"Vasiiir!" She shouted at the top of her lungs, Charging forward and aiming to slam her shoulder into the Spectre's gut in a full body tackle.

Tela Vasir turned around just in time, falling backwards and pushing forward with a leg against Tyra's gut. The Charge turned into a counter-throw as the Spectre rolled onto her back and kicked the Charging asari over her, sending her flying through one of the glass vitrine cabinets. She felt something hitting the back of her head as she was sent back-first, upside-down through the display stand where ancient asari pottery had been held.

Tyra had barely enough sense to roll up into a ball and trust her Barrier through the hail of clattering and shattering glass and ceramics. She hit the ground first, rolling painfully with the impact of her own Charge as it rained shards of the vitrines around her. Looking up and shaking her head, she could see that Baliya was using biotics on herself to be able to hop around with just one leg, jumping five meters with single bounds.

She and Vasir were eyeing each other, measuring one another as they kept a distance of fifteen meters between them.

Tyra tried to stand up, only to fall over. She blinked, realizing that she was bleeding from her leg. She stared at the long, dagger-like shard of glass stuck in the back of her thigh, that felt like it was scraping against bone inside her leg. It was coated in a layer of purple blood, drawing a thin line as a droplet made its way to the edge and fell off to hit the floor with a sound that seemed to drown out everything else. She almost threw up, then.

Huh, didn't my Barrier protect me...? It didn't even hurt, she realized numbly, unable to pull her eyes away from the wound.

Should she pull it out? Leave it in? Moving her hand, she realized it was shaking so badly that she could not even make a fist. Her breathing was shallow and rapid, she realized distantly. It was as if she was no longer in control, just watching everything that was going on from some place far away, unable to affect anything.

The lights seemed to reflect weirdly of the shard as well, turning the purple blood into shades of blue and red—

"Hey, Tyra! What's wrong?"

Tyra was snapped back to reality, realizing that Liara was shaking her shoulder. She blinked in confusion. How did she run here so quickly?

Looking up, she realized that Baliya and Vasir were still fighting but that their positions had somehow been reversed, with the Matriarch standing between them and the Spectre. Oh no, our surround strategy...?

"Hold on, I'm going to pull it out...!" Liara said, Tyra realizing that her roommate had been speaking for a long moment but that she hadn't been able to hear any of it.

She wanted to protest, thoughts of bleeding out suddenly erupting in her mind. But before she could as much as say a word there was a blinding flare of pain and she felt like she was completely blown away by the whiteness in her head.

"That's one..." Liara said, applying medigel on the wound. "Just three more, Tyra. Don't worry, you're going to be fine, you're going to be fine..."

Three?

The second flash of pain in her lower back almost made her lose consciousness then. She suddenly realized why she had been feeling so powerless just now. The burning cuts on her back and neck, the warmth running down her skin...

Guess it's nothing like the vids, after all, she thought and suddenly felt like laughing as her gaze moved down. The floor seemed to have changed color, having turned a darker hue that almost looked like purple.

She closed her eyes again, trying to clear her thoughts.

Opening her eyes again, she realized she was lying down on the ground. Trying to lift up her head to look around, she realized it seemed to weigh a ton. Suddenly, she was being lifted up into the air.

"—shit, looks like you're pretty much dead already..."

She realized she was being held up in the air by Tela Vasir, distantly realizing that meant that something must have happened to Liara and Baliya. She tried to look around, but her head wouldn't move as she wanted.

Huh, is this how I die...?

"Guess you won't live without a trauma team... Won't be able to interrogate you like this... Fucking amateur, couldn't you at least form a proper Barrier?" She was being shaken by the Spectre and it was making her nauseous and dizzy. "Damn it. I'll have to do this the quick and dirty way..."

Suddenly, there was a red-hot knife pushing through her forehead deep into her skull. Gasping for breath, she felt like she was being torn apart from the inside by a hundred thousand hooks digging into her skin. A blizzard of noise tore at her eyes and then...

What the—hell?

It wasn't her thought, it was hers. Suddenly, Tyra felt like a veil was being pulled back from over her mind. She realized she was drinking in something from Vasir—The Spectre had tried to reach in and pull something out from her mind, but in doing so had gone too deep and left herself completely open for Tyra's metaphorical hands to grab onto her.

Metaphorical hands that Vasir did not possess for whatever reason, and regardless of how feeble and weakened Tyra felt she knew that this was her only chance.

Through that grasp, she could feel strength pouring back into her. Like a hot buzz, running through her veins and mind at once. She could see herself and she could see herself for an instant as two minds became one involuntarily.

Ardat Yakshi?!

That was her thought again, and she began to forcefully pull away with that realization. Tyra understood suddenly what that meant, and the monumental change to everything it made. But at that moment it was immaterial; she had to hold on, to grab everything she could before—

Like a spinning wheel, for a moment she didn't know who she was. Then her self felt itself clicking back into her,as the wounded Maiden across from her was struggling with the same.

"Gah!" Vasir shouted, throwing back the asari she had grabbed as she took two wobbly steps back. Her heart was beating a mile a minute, with her entire body feeling like she had been doused in boiling oil. But she wasn't dead. That meant she would be fine; she knew cases like this well enough from even before her days as a Spectre. If it isn't immediately fatal, you would be fine. That was the rule of thumb with asari on the Ardat Yakshi spectrum.

And it hurt.

That was even better. If it felt good then there was nothing to be done; the Ardat Yakshi was simply too strong to be fought off then. Breathing heavily, the Spectre tried to calm herself. If she was a real Ardat Yakshi, I would be dead already! Calm down, calm down. She's just on the spectrum, I'm fine. I'm fine...

Vasir took another wobbly step back. As long as she could control herself and keep a handle on things, everything would be fine until a few hours from now she would crash and fall unconscious for days. She just needed to wrap things up here; it was fine. It was fin—

A hand reached out and grabbed her arm, causing a jolt of electricity-like sensations to spread through Vasir's limbs as she gasped. Eyes met, as Tyra managed to somehow stand upright again. It wasn't that her wounds were healed or that she had recovered, rather it was just that she had received a jolt of adrenaline and mental fortitude sufficient to ignore the pain and blood loss enough to keep moving.

Gah, she's still moving! Vasir tried to exert force through her hands to throw off Tyra, but she barely managed to brace herself as the asari threw herself forward, bringing both down onto the ground. Fuck!

Tyra was still weak and would not be able to overpower anyone normally, but Vasir couldn't move as she wanted. The weak response from her limbs along with the buzzing headache that felt like it was splitting her skull in two was too much, allowing the younger asari to get in several free punches as they struggled on the ground. The flailing fists barely even hurt, but the after-effects of the meld made every touch feel like she had bit down on a tuning fork as her vision doubled.

Desperately, Tyra continued to swing her fists, trying to get a solid hit as she could feel the second wind she had received somehow through the meld waning and disappearing by the second. Finally as a punch missed and Vasir managed to flip them over, did Tyra's hand grab onto something that could end it. Her hand lashed, finding Vasir's neck in a desperate swing.

Tyra blinked as Vasir above her stilled entirely, blinking as she realized that a long, dagger-like shard of glass had been shoved through her neck, just above the armored collar of the hardsuit.

The Spectre coughed, blood speckling Tyra's face as the older asari tried to reach up and do something. But with every beat of her heart, more and more of the purple liquid spurted out leaving her ever weaker. Tyra could see as the life faded out of her eyes as within seconds her brain ceased receiving sufficient oxygen to stay conscious.

Tela Vasir lost consciousness on top of Tyra, seconds later.

I need to call help... I can't move, can't... Liara... Baliya... Saiga... Her mind was becoming dark again, the exhaustion and pain forcing her consciousness back. But she couldn't rest, she had to still do something.

But she was too tired. Much too tired...

She told herself she was only closing her eyes for a few seconds, but before she knew it she was completely unconscious, lying in a slowly spreading pool of purple interlaced with glittering daggers on the floor.


;


Emiya sighed, finally accepting that he would not be able to find anything on the Sapient Rights Council lead he had worked on while listening to the Matriarchs bicker and bluster at one another.

Tela Vasir had probably bribed the board members, but he couldn't prove it. The credits must have been handed in person, so unless he could somehow magic up evidence of that transaction—which had most likely occurred in person anyhow, which made it much more difficult to pin down—then he had nothing. Even the credits themselves seemed fairly clean. Then again, as a Spectre she would have all the resources in the galaxy to launder any ill-gotten money. That is even assuming she is dirty.

Still, as long as the Spectre had a concussion and was hunting dead trails then she was mostly harmless. On the surface her records were quite impressive, having worked as something of a public figure among the Council's elite special operatives, often spearheading various operations and missions.

For all intents and purposes, she seemed to be both loyal and clean as far as the Citadel was concerned. Should I assume that she's working with the Council's approval, then? In that case, perhaps hoisting Tyra and Liara onto Baliya wasn't such a good idea, after all...

He had also tried to prod into Liara's and Tyra's backgrounds.

Which had resulted in... more and less useful 's parents in particular had left him quiet for a good five seconds. It seemed too unlikely to be a pure coincidence. He could accept meeting Liara's mother—Matriarch Benezia—by Dretirop as a happenstance given that they seemed to both be on the trail for Professor Henell. But the Matriarch he had run into on the Serrice beach—Liara's father, one Matriarch Aethyta as he had just found out—seemed too unlikely a meeting to be just a coincidence. Additionally, her anger seemed too directed. Too raw, as he thought back to it.

Emiya somewhat sheepishly realized that the asari had probably been looking for Liara all along and he had only unnecessarily aggravated her further.

In comparison Tyra's parentage was quite plain. A turian father, dead sixty years old along with a salarian grandfather some four hundred years ago who had died at twenty-five. No great Matriarchs in the family, no vast glories or wealth to the family name.

Just a run-of-the-mill asari family by the looks of it. So if anything, there was something going on with Liara.

Still, it seems like Liara hasn't been in contact with either parent in years. He couldn't be sure what angle Tela Vasir was working, but this didn't feel like it. Was it something more general then? Something regarding what Liara was, rather than who? He shook his head, he didn't have enough information.

Turning his head, he checked the clock showing the passage of time in the real world and sighed. Hosin's call was still a good six minutes away, leaving him with little to do.

All the power in the world at his fingertips, yet nothing he could do.

Well he had other projects in the works at the same time.

He had been listening in on the proceedings and with so much time to process everything said, he had effectively read everything they had had on hand of the situation. Dossiers, analyses, summaries and more.

Everything about the orbital station, from year of make to the numerous modifications and repairs it had gone through over the years, it was all there for him to peruse through. Everything that was on record anyhow. He had already spotted several errors based on his own time aboard the station; the blueprints were decades out of date.

And Emiya was fairly certain that Hosin had much, much more eezo at his disposal than what the experts had suggested. Of course, how much of that had actually been used was the question. If Hosin was merely attempting to make a bluff it was one thing, but if the crazy quarian was actually serious on walking through his threat...

The impact could be a lot greater than any of them had thought.

And since the Matriarchs seemed to have no plans for preparing the general populace for any danger, it would cause massive fatalities. Even if the station were to drop in the middle of nowhere without any larger settlements in direct danger, there would be numerous planetary effects as well.

Seismic instability or a tsunami depending on where the station hit the planet, radiation and atmospheric wave of overpressure from the impact, horrific winds stretching outwards and ravaging everything.

And those were merely the immediate effects; the long term effects would be far worse for Thessia as a whole.

One of his other queries finished and he pulled out the results. It was a list of cities, a map showing population spread and density across Thessia along with the projected impact zone of the orbital station. Several cities lay in the danger zone, but the most notable among them was Serrice.

It was almost exactly in the middle of the station's orbital path, meaning that depending on the timing it was extremely likely that the city would be affected, one way or another.

Sighing with disgust, he decided to check up on Serrice quickly before it was the appointed time for Hosin to make contact. Perhaps if worse came to worst, he could make a public notification for the population to seek shelter in the parking lot and the university museum. That place might even survive if the station fell near the city...

"Huh?"

He blinked, realizing that there was no reply from the museum as he tried to connect to its systems. With some annoyance he tried to comm Baliya directly instead, but the call was unable to reach her which meant she must have been inside the museum.

What are they doing in there?

Furrowing his brows he checked the outside camera feeds instead and blinked again as he noticed the fourteen asari commandos standing by the doors. They were arguing about something rather heatedly, obviously seeking entry inside the museum yet finding none. Looking back at the countdown in the Airspace Control for Hosin's renewed contact, he frowned. I still have several minutes, it should be fine if I go take a quick look, right...?

It would at most just take a minute to check on things. And if it became necessary for the population of Serrice to seek shelter, then it would be good if the museum weren't in lockdown.

That's plenty of time. I'll just check it out and unlock the doors. It won't even take a minute.

Leaping through the connection, he arrived in Serrice and leaped out through the nearest omnitool in his spirit form. Passing through the outer wall and entering the museum he immediately noticed the pool of drying purple blood on the floor and wall by the entrance.

"Oh," he spoke, immediately turning to high gear and running forward as he realized something was horribly wrong.

Dashing forward at his top speed he scoured the building until he came to a sudden stop. It took him a second to register what he was seeing; five asari, all lying on the ground amidst a shattered and broken exhibition hall. Bits of the wall and floor had been gouged out, with shards of glass and slowly pooling blood staining the once spotless surfaces as the fine white dust of the broken walls and cracked ceiling were just starting to settle down.

The fight couldn't have ended more than a few minutes prior.

Jumping forward he came to a skidding halt next to the two nearest asari. Baliya and Liara? Looking over he immediately recognized Tyra and Tela Vasir further away, along with a fifth vaguely familiar-looking asari in a commando hardsuit. They were all unconscious and injured by the looks of it.

Wasting not a moment he immediately turned around and ran for the nearest first aid kit; he remembered there were dozens of them littered around the museum and he had memorized the locations of most of them due to old habits. The closest one would be just around the corner and...

He stopped to find that it was gone; someone must have already taken it before.

Gritting his teeth, he kicked up a gear and moved a floor up through the floor in his spiritual form and then finally materialized as he took six whole first aid kits with him as he returned down to where he had found the wounded asari.

Dropping all the kits he spiritualized and dived into Tela Vasir's omnitool. Ignoring everything else for the moment he removed the lockdown on the museum and notified the locals of an immediate medical emergency at the premise. He turned to jump out of the omnitool when he stopped himself at the last moment.

I'll have to perform triage; checking them one by one will take time. There's only so fast you can do it while being careful with the patient. Structural Analysis would work, if they were human. I've never analyzed an asari in close detail. Gritting his teeth over realizing that mistake, he mentally forced himself to consider his options instead. Right, there are cameras here that recorded everything. And I materialized in my haste; should clean that up and while I'm at it I can check the footage to figure out what happened here.

That way he would know who had done what and he would be able to guess as to what kinds of injuries each had before he jumped back to the real world. In the digital world he had all the time in the world comparatively, after all.

Winding through the footage at a speed up rate of 128 times faster, he exhaled and rubbed his brow as he caught up with his own arrival and the present moment. Deleting all the security footage to remove any evidence of his own entrance and presence, and scrubbing clean the whole museum security system he sighed at the mess he had caused.

Tela Vasir had to die.

For more than one reason, even. He had been too naive in leaving her alive, he realized. For all the her actions were aimed at serving the Citadel—and how in the big picture she sought to protect the many—she was undeniably his enemy here and now. His grasp had once again exceeded his reach, and in striving for an end where no one had to die he had allowed a mad dog to run wild.

Jumping out of the omnitool, he consoled himself with the fact that it wasn't the only reason she had to die, at least. It was a petty and selfish thought; being able to shrug and tell himself that there was nothing he could do, that he couldn't save everyone. It was a convenient excuse to let her bleed out—his previous first aid experience telling him that with her critical injuries for him to be able to save her, he would have to sacrifice one of the others. She would take too much time to treat, that was all.

"You can't save everyone, so save as many as you can..."

The words tasted of bitter betrayal and crude compromise, just as they always did. Ever the fool, I am. But worse than that, he was a hypocrite.

He said he was saving the many at the cost of the few, yet wasn't he ignoring the looming crisis of the orbital station to come gallivant around? What was the point of administering first aid and allowing them to survive long enough for emergency medical personnel to arrive if the whole planet was to be doomed in the process? He thought the probable death of Tela Vasir was acceptable as long as he could stabilize Liara and Baliya, yet he would not do the same to them for the sake of the whole of Thessia?

Grand words to disguise my selfish rationalizations, hiding my inability to make the right choices as always. Some hero of justice I am...

Stepping over Tela Vasir who was still slowly bleeding out of her neck, where her carotid artery—or whatever the asari equivalent was called, he honestly didn't bother to remember—was emptying the whole of her life's blood on the floor, he ignored the dying Spectre and moved on. Perhaps the twitch of the hand was nothing more than a dying spasm, or perhaps it was a desperate plea for help.

He ignored her all the same.

Baliya is bad off, but she can hold on for a second. The commando stranger is stable by the looks of it; Liara did a good job. She herself is the priority case right now, and... He glanced at Tyra, narrowing his eyes at the unconscious but mostly fine asari. Tyra seems okay for now. He couldn't help but remember the last struggle between the maiden and the Spectre, frowning as he realized what had happened and suddenly drawing a parallel to something else. So it was something she did to me, earlier.

He sighed and shook his head. It wasn't important right now; shaking his head he grabbed the first aid kits and rushed to Liara. Kneeling down he looked her over quickly.

She did not seem to be visibly bleeding beyond the bruise on her temple—she was thrown against the ceiling and fell down the whole way, landing on the cabinet; I shouldn't move her around too much, she might have a neck or spine injury—her breathing was fine at least, though he noted her skin felt cold and clammy to the touch and that her heartbeat seemed slightly weak.

"—Trace, on"—begin synchronization,

Using Reinforcement on other living things was the pinnacle of the mystery, something he was most definitely not capable of since his magical affinity was doubly harmful to other living things due to its peculiar nature. But he could use Structural Grasp if he was extremely careful and did not attempt to pry too deeply, the amount of alien vital force he needed to use too little to cause severe harm to others. Just follow her main blood vessels, lightly... And try to—

"Damn it," he cursed aloud. He had been right, unfortunately. "Internal bleeding."

Asari, like humans—and all living sapient races he knew of really—were dependent on a number of things for their continued survival. Their internal make up was quite similar to humans—a central nervous system connected to a brain located in the head, supplied with nutrients and oxygen that was pumped in by a heart in their chest—which somewhat simplified this matter, but it also made it perfectly clear to him how bad the situation was. For most living beings, blood was life itself.

Without it the brain would quickly cease to function and death would be imminent.

In that sense external wounds were easier to address as it was possible to dress a laceration with bandages and even stitch the flesh back together to hasten the healing process. But when the wound was inside the body, things became a lot more complex. It wasn't something he could just slap some medigel on and call a day with.

He stood up and rushed back to Tela Vasir, glancing only once to note that her eyes had already turned lifeless and empty in the time he had ignored her. With the artery necessary to transfer blood into her brain severed, death had been inevitable without intense efforts and care. Grabbing her omnitool he got back to Liara and took a medigel pack as he turned on the interface. She was a Spectre, there's no way she wouldn't have a program for this... There.

The basic use of medigel was a more effective coagulant and wound sealant: a more efficient form of first aid bandage that could seal wounds and mend flesh temporarily until proper medical aid could be administered for serious wounds. But since there was only so much one could do by closing wounds it was also important to be able to replenish blood in an injured person's body. For that reason, most field medics had specialized omnitools that could catalyze medigel to form a blood replenisher which could then be administered intravenously.

Staring at the program for a second, he shook his head and gave up immediately. No point in wasting time trying to figure out how to work the damn thing when he could just spirit hack his way through more quickly. Diving in, he at the same time stretched out his mind to see how far away the emergency medical team he had called still was and whether there were any updates on the situation with Hosin.

Still five minutes away, but the doors are open and they know where to go. As for the orbital station, he could only assume no news was good news.

Clicking his tongue, he jumped back out into the real world and finished the blood replenisher catalysis program. It would take another thirty seconds, time he shouldn't waste here. Getting up, he moved to Baliya and repeated his earlier routine. Finding numerous small cuts and some deeper lacerations, he applied medigel liberally and then checked her breathing and pulse.

Noting that her breathing seemed slightly shallow, he leaned in to listen. He could hear slight gurgling, meaning... Is she choking on her own tongue? Or is there swelling in her throat from getting hit?

Placing two fingers of one hand under her chin and two on his other hand onto the back of her head, he tried to push back her head to open up her airways properly so she could breathe... Only it wasn't quite working. Emiya blinked as he realized that her head's crest was getting in the way, meaning he couldn't open up her airways so easily. He could use Structural Analysis to check it out, but it would be faster to just check normally given how careful he would have to be with his magical energy. Spiritualizing and materializing again to disinfect himself quickly, he opened her mouth with one hand and checked that she hadn't swallowed her tongue with the other. Then he gently touched around her throat until he found a lump that seemed like it was pressing against her airways.

"Right, well then—Trace, on"—begin projection,

A slim rubber tube about the length of his palm and extended fingers appeared in his hand. It curved gently and on one end there was a trumpet-like flaring end, it was in essence just a thick straw with a rubber washer around it. Placing one end against her nostril and making sure it was the right size and length, he gently pushed it in until it was all the way to her throat and past the constricting lump. He didn't have any water to use as lubricant, so he had to be doubly careful and watch out for any blood or clear liquid coming from her nose, and additionally he had to rotate it around to follow the natural contours of the inside of Baliya's nostril. As he noted that her breathing seemed easier and deeper now, he nodded to himself and stood up to return to Liara.

Checking that the blood replenishment was complete, he moved to inject the drip only to realize he had none of the equipment necessary for that since the medigel was a civilian first aid pack and he had just used Tela Vasir's omnitool. I could probably fabricate some with it, but that would take too long.

So he just projected the needle and drip without another thought about it. Raising the bag and making sure that there wasn't any air in the needle or drip, he grabbed Liara's arm and found a suitable vein to puncture into. Finding the purple veins against her blue skin wasn't easy, but at least he managed it with one try.

This should do for the moment, he thought as he stood up with a sigh. With internal bleeding she needed surgery. Which he definitely could not do, but the blood transfusion would keep her alive until that was possible. And already he could hear the sounds of people running towards his location. Good, the cavalry is here. About time.

Spiritualizing, he dropped down through the floor and made his way to the front entrance of the museum to check that there weren't any complications with the lockdown. With that, he could get his focus back on the bigger picture of Thessia as a whole. Ignoring the little voice scolding him for not having done so in the first place, he paused as he stared at the scene by the entrance.

Two groups of asari were arguing quite heatedly, though not quite shouting yet by the doorway. An emergency medical team and... the Serrice Guard? Where did the commandos go?

Why were the Serrice Guard blocking the EMTs from entering? And who had he heard approaching inside the museum then? Was it the commandos he had seen earlier? He hesitated only for a second before he turned around and returned the way he had come moments earlier.

"She's dead."

Four new and unknown asari in combat hardsuits loomed menacingly over the fallen in the room as Emiya managed to return to the scene.

The one who had spoken just now stood up from where she had been crouched down by Tela Vasir. It was difficult to judge their ages accurately due to the relatively-timeless nature of asari physiology, but he was certain not a one of them was a Maiden.

In fact if he had to make a judgment, he would say that all but one of them were Matriarchs, though one of them was clearly the oldest given how deferential the other three were towards her. And judging by their hardsuits and weapons...

"And?"

"She's empty, by the looks of it. Though it looks like she wasn't very thorough. The eyes still have some kick in them. Vasir didn't die in ecstasy, at least."

"So, not her?"

"Probably not; it's not her style to meld with just anyone, much less to leave so much behind," the asari who was crouching over Tela Vasir's corpse spoke as she stood up. "Still, how did Vasir end up like this then? Is it related to that flagged emergency call that got cut off?"

"There is too little to say with any certainty. What there is suggest someone who has just awoken, though the timing does not seem to fit," the eldest finally spoke, causing the others to still and listen to her every word.

"What shall we do with them?" The youngest asked, eyeing the four unconscious asari as she crossed her arms.

"Cameras are busted. They're our only witnesses."

"The healers are already down below, but these four will require supervision. We can trust the Serrice Guard with that much at least." The eldest among them spoke with a tone of finality that brokered no argument then. "You two bring them here. We in turn shall attempt to track down whoever did this."

Saying that, she turned around began to look around with one of the other three moving to follow her, leaving behind the two who had been ordered to bring up the medical team.

Emiya hesitated, eyeing the two as he weighed his options. He really had no time to waste here, yet something about this wasn't sitting right with him. Just, just one more minute. I can get back that quickly. One minute won't hurt, when I've already spent so much time to make sure they didn't just bleed out on the floor.

"Well, you heard her. You want to go get the EMTs? I'll stay here and keep an eye on them," the youngest of the group said as she leaned against the wall with her arms crossed at the small of her back, grinning as she obviously had no intention of walking back down and up again if she could simply stay here. "I mean, in case someone's still around here or they try to run, you know?"

The other asari rolled her eyes before turning to leave the way she had arrived, heading for the main entrance with brisk steps. As the casually lounging asari was the last remaining member of the strange four in the room, she kicked off the wall and stood straight again. Her expression changed, the playful, almost bored expression had vanished as if it had been nothing more than a lie all along.

Looking around to make sure she was really alone, she wandered over to Tela Vasir's corpse and delivered a swift kick to the corpse's stiff side. "You useless bitch. Couldn't even do one thing right..."

Shaking her head she reached for her waist, pulling out a hypodermic injector and began to stalk towards Liara, activating the injector as she checked the contents once more.

"Well whatever, I'll get a nice fat bonus for the extra effort so it all evens out in the end," she said as she kneeled down next to Liara and grabbed one of her arms, obviously intent on injecting something into her arm as she sing-sang with a whispered breath. "Good night, sleep tight, dream of better days to come oh sweet princess..."

And if she was a compatriot of Tela Vasir, then that meant...

Emiya cursed in his mind, projecting the red hardsuit onto himself as he moved forward. He was supposed to be in Ulee right now, meaning he needed to disguise himself if he wanted to act in Serrice again on such short notice. With so little time to react, there was no time to plan ahead or think through what he was doing, he just knew that he wasn't about to let any of them die so easily.

Materializing behind the asari looming over Tyra, he reached out to grab her by the neck and to knock her unconscious. But the asari had unexpectedly good instincts, somehow sensing him at the last moment and lashing out with surprised backhand at him that shimmered with biotic force.

Not bothering fighting what would be a freight train of a punch, he instead grabbed the wrist and turned on his hip to toss the asari away from Tyra and the others. Placing himself between her and them, his mind began to roll with plans for handling this new turn.

He had expected her to slam into the wall and crumple down at the impact, but she managed to use her biotics in an instant to regain control over her flight. Landing with a roll she snapped out the shotgun at her waist and took aim at him.

She's not just aiming at me, he realized with surprise the instant before the trigger was pulled.

boom!

"Huh...?!"

Her eyes had shot wide open as he had crossed the distance to move aside the shotgun's muzzle, to ensure that there was no way Tyra or the others would be in harms way. The sound of the shotgun echoed, loud enough that it could have been heard all the way at the first floor.

It only took a second for the nearest asari to rush back into the room and another for the other two to arrive as well, surrounding him from three directions. There was a moment of absolute silence as the four and one stared at each other. He didn't swivel his head around, instead inhaling slowly as he felt their attentions on him while keeping his eyes on the shotgun. He was taller than all of them and his helmet left his features hidden which allowed him to effectively stare each of them down by merely looking in their general direction.

"Let go!" The asari with the shotgun shouted as she tried to pull herself free from him, but his grip on the shotgun held. She didn't hesitate to abandon the weapon, jumping several meters away from him as she eyed him with narrowed eyes. "She just showed up out of nowhere and attacked me! She must have been hiding here the whole time!"

Already the hypodermic injector that had been prepared for Liara had vanished back into the asari's waist compartment. Emiya doubted any of the other three would believe him, even if he managed to produce it once more for their benefit. I really don't have time for this...

"You... That armor... Who are you?"

"Mirala? No, that's not right, she's not..."

The oldest asari frowned, glancing at the lifeless Spectre before she spoke. "You're the one Tela Vasir ran into earlier, by that human's house."

He said nothing, internally cursing the fact that he didn't even have a way of modulating his voice in a mere projected hardsuit.

This disguise was paper-thin, yet it was necessary since he was supposed to be thousands of kilometers away from Serrice right now. Moreover at this point in time, anything he could think of doing or saying would either just exacerbate the situation, or end up revealing something that he couldn't afford to show. His first encounter with Baliya had lead him to underestimate how experienced and insightful Matriarchs truly could be, but now he dared reveal nothing.

Unable to talk, he merely continued to stare them down, trying to think of something.

The asari glanced at Tyra and then back up at him before making eye contact with one another, all coming to the same conclusion. They could not fathom where he had come from—literally seeming to appear from thin air without any one of them being able to notice his approach.

"So," the eldest among them spoke as she narrowed her eyes at him before glancing down at the four wounded asari. "This is your doing, then?"

The youngest asari who had tried to inject Tyra suddenly seemed as if she had realized something—or as if she had had an excellent idea—as she perked up and pointed at Tela Vasir. "She must have been the one to take out the Spectre! She's the Ardat Yakshi!"

"The other four... Are they kshirae?"

Emiya grit his teeth, saying nothing as he realized the other asari were now considering killing the unconscious and wounded for some reason. Ardat Yakshi? What the hell is a kshirae? Damn it, what's going on?

"Keep an eye on them! If they move—"

Emiya glanced at the one who spoke and it was in that exact instant the only Matron acted, taking perfect advantage of his inattention to attack. He felt the build up of biotic power as dark energy flared, raising his hands to guard against the near instantaneous Charge he realized was coming. Except—

What?

Only he had entirely misread her move as instead of dashing forward, a wave of power shot forward from her like a tsunami. It took a hold of him and lifted him off of his feet, sending him flying back twenty meters and slamming him against the display case against a wall on the far side of the room with a loud noise.

He clicked his tongue as his feet hit the ground, shattered remains of the glass cabinet and the antiques within clattering down on his back and head. It had not hurt him, but he affirmed again how troublesome biotics were. It did not matter how strong or fast he was, if he was not able to push off against anything to actually move when he needed to resist the movement.

"And that's what happens when you run into a real Justicar, you fraud," he heard the Matron gloating from across the room.

"Hmm, no biotics?"

"Curious that. Holding back, or bluffing?"

"Well, we'll find out soon enough. Brash T'lana may be, but this should not take long." The asari nodded, before glancing at Tyra and Liara. "The matter of the kshirae remains, nonetheless."

The two other asari spoke casually behind the Matron who was slowly walking towards him and she noticed his gaze despite the mask. Justicar?

That was going to make things troublesome. Was she the only one, or were the other three Justicars as well? He had thought they preferred working alone, but...

"Oh, them? You don't need to worry about them. I won't let them get in my way. So relax, just you and me, yeah?"

Just deal with it, no time to waste here. Emiya sighed at the grinning Matron, more exasperated by her obvious bloodlust than anything else. She dies, but what about the others?

If she had felt it necessary to hide her actions, could he assume that she was working alone? He couldn't simply kill all four, that would only end up getting Baliya and the others into even more trouble.

Standing up and flexing his neck, he let the shards of glass slide off of his back and shoulders to fall down to the floor as he exhaled slowly.

"Oh, tough one aren't you? I was sure you'd at least be smarting after that one. Bet you can't even breathe properly with the way the wind got knocked out of you," she said with a shake of her head, before looking over her shoulder at the others. "You two sure she ain't a krogan?"

One of them actually chuckled at that. "Who knows, take off her helmet and we'll see."

Emiya ignored the words as he took a step forward.


;


Jondum Bau exhaled slowly as he continued observing the shuttle making its slow and laborious approach towards the still mostly dark orbital station. The salarian terminal operators continued analyzing and parsing streams of data in real time, noting how the shuttle was in communication with and being scanned by the quarian continuously.

It was good that they hadn't attempted to send a strike team in using the asari as a cover; it was nerve-wracking to realize just what Hosin'Reegar had managed to cobble together on that orbital station when it came to eezo technology. The six orbiting shuttles on autopilot were acting as mobile shields and scanners even now, making it even more difficult to attempt any kind of countermeasures or breaching attempts onto the orbital station than it already was.

It's a good thing the Matriarchs decided to keep quiet and acquiesce to his demands. If this had gone public and they had to worry about keeping face this could be going horribly wrong at this moment...

"Sir."

He blinked, turning to look at the salarian operative seeking his attention. He turned to look at the turian and upon receiving a nod, motioned for the salarian to speak as they stepped away from the center of the CIC.

"What is it?"

"The AI wants to talk about something... It says it is vital, something about permissions."

Jondum rolled his eyes, sighing before he nodded and turned to Nihlus. "Sir, I'll have to step aside for a moment."

The turian frowned, his mandibles flaring as he worked his jaw in response to the salarian's statement without turning to look away from the main display. "...The shuttle with the asari will arrive on orbital station in two minutes. Be done by then."

"Yes, sir," Jondum answered crisply before moving to follow after the salarian operator.

Arriving at a terminal by the side of the room, he nodded for the STG operator to return to his duties. There was no room for someone to be simply hovering by right now. With a roll of his eyes and a squaring of his shoulders, Jondum turned to the terminal.

"Yes?"

It answered immediately, the sound intentionally left synthesized so that there would be no confusion regarding who was or what was communicating with an STG operator. "Requiring permission to alter operative parameters to suit renewed conditions—All necessary operative parameters and heuristics have already been cleared for use as of 13 minutes, 4 seconds and—"

"Operative parameters?" Jondum repeated, not quite certain what the AI—SPEC-13A#345 as it was labeled in the communique terminal—meant by that.

"Baseline assumptions regarding opposition capabilities and tactics were made using existing hacker techniques and methodologies through which confirmed Redhax operations could have been performed. But upon confirmation of stationary base of operations in Thessia, it has become necessary to narrow down the means available to opposition cyber-operative—"

"Narrow down? What? Why?"

"...Due to confirmation of Redhax's continued presence on Thessia—as alias Fujimura Saiga—for an extended period of time, it becomes necessary to strike out physical intrusion techniques and social engineering methodologies commonly employed in confirmed incidents. Observing what targets he has struck and which he has abstained from—either due to the inability to pierce the veil of obscurity or due to the target being too well protected—produces a baseline for the opposition's capabilities."

"Wait, you've gone through all of the thousands of confirmed incidents and analyzed them?" Jondum's head swam as he tried figure out when the AI had had time for something like that. "When did you have time for that? Your orders were to defend the network and with the mirroring you two should have been busy as it was."

A feeling of worry built in the hollow of his chest as he rolled his eyes. Had the AI somehow managed to slave extra hardware for its own purposes?

"Negative. The 4056 known Redhax incidents have been analyzed using 100,004,195,100,004 independent operative variables and factors prior to the beginning of the ongoing operation during mainframe downtime. Permission for analysis was granted by Operative—"

"Never mind," Jondum said to interrupt the AI before it really got going and it did nigh instantly. "So what do these operative conditions entail?"

"Redhax works alone as proven by his active hours effectively mirroring Thessia night-cycles for well over three years now, thus measures to overwhelm him with false positives and misleading trails have high likelihood of working. Additionally, mirroring, encrypting and copying data has relatively high chance of working. Most importantly, air gapping remains highly effective in obscuring and isolating systems—"

"How many measures all in all are we talking about here? And what's prompted all this?"

"304. During the ongoing confrontations very few of the expected measures have proven to be of any use, additionally in the direct confrontation where a VI-mirror attack script was used it proved utterly outmatched."

Jondum sighed, waving his hand. "Alright, submit the formal requisition and get on it. But don't do anything unless ordered; both of you are to remain on stand by and continue monitoring the communications for foul play until further notice."

"Affirmative, logging off this communication."

Exhaling he turned around and returned to the Spectre's side. Normally he would not have rubber-stamped anything an AI suggested so readily, but right now he didn't have the time to go through everything. The things a rogue Artificial Intelligence could do were on a whole other scale of danger, even compared to what was going on right now.

Yet...

I'm not so certain that Redhax is as innocent as he appears in all this right now... The timing is too good for him—If he is planning something, we need to be ready and waiting.

He had seen what that human could do and it had become increasingly obvious that they could only fight fire with fire. The encounter report from the AI from the hotel confrontation painted a bleak picture, though. Still, that had been little more than a long-range puppet the AI had permission to field in lieu of actually being allowed to self-replicate into other systems, limited by the bandwidth and processing limitations of the omnitool the confrontation had taken place in.

Nihlus Kryik quickly glanced at Jondum as he came to a halt, nodding once before both returned their attentions to the shuttle finally boarding the orbital station.

The moment of truth drew near.


;


Emiya burst forward using the moment of unawareness that the blink of an eye brought, crossing the distance between himself and the Matron effectively instantly.

He didn't so much clothesline her as forcefully fold her over his arm as he ran past her, leaving not a one of the standing asari any time to react as he tossed her into the three others. Incapacitate and take out the others, then deal with the one who had tried to inject Tyra with something.

With this—he blinked, realizing suddenly that the eldest asari somehow managed to flow around and over the asari Matron he had thrown at her, like a leaf in the wind moving out of the way of a speeding car. In the same instant that she had avoided it she threw out a wave of biotic force from her hand, grasping three dozen large shards of the glass on the floor and sending them his way like a hailstorm of death. There's a wide but weak biotic field suffusing the entire hallway? Like with that other Matriarch?

No matter, he thought moving forward with his hands moving up to brush aside the spinning shards of glass as he slipped past the curtain and sprung at her like a loosed arrow.

He could see her eyes shooting wide open at his approach, despite clearly not being able to completely follow his movements. Just like the other Matriarch, she's using the field to feel what is moving around her, allowing her to react more quickly!

The difference was that where the other had only seemingly been able to use it as a follow up to her area of effect attacks and it dissipated quickly after she found him, this Matriarch kept it going constantly. He could realize the benefits immediately in combat; a near-perfect danger sense that left her with no blindspots.

But if that was all then it shouldn't be a problem; he could just rush her down faster than she could react anyhow.

He drew back his fist, intending to finish her with one blow before the others could get back up; it crashed forward towards her gut like an avalanche, certain to fold her in half over his arm.

Except something happened again, as her body avoided him at the last instant. Just like before, like a leaf in the wind was pushed aside by a speeding car without impacting against its surface, she dodged him with a movement that was as unnatural as it was effective. He could feel something against his fist as she passed by him, her whole body contorting around him and jumping backwards. It was like trying to push the two positive poles of a magnet together; like something was pushing her aside from her as he tried to hit her.

Another biotic field?

She recovered and before he could turn around and try again, she vanished in a flash of blue and appeared on the other side of the hallway nigh-instantly. This time it wasn't a Charge, but a biotic blink. Tch, that spatial transference technique is trickier to predict. Need to—

Before he could finish that thought he sensed the biotic build up behind him from the three other asari and he moved to avoid the rushing torrent of biotic force that was slung out to throw him back. But he realized with some annoyance that there simply wasn't anywhere to dodge; in a constrained space such as this hallway, a biotic field could easily be expanded to cover the whole of it. Like a plunger pushing through the inside of a syringe. The combined biotic shockwave of the three asari sent him flying backwards at breakneck speeds.

He had known Biotics were supreme in spaces likes this, but he had never before faced down an actual Matriarch so it was a completely new practical learning experience for him. As he righted himself in the middle of his flight, he suddenly felt relieved that he hadn't tried to take on Benezia and that Justicar aboard the starship before.

It wouldn't have ended well.

Flipping through the air he landed on the wall as if it were the ground, riding out the rest of the biotic storm against the surface as if he were able to stick to the vertical surface by his own powers. Looking "up", he clicked his tongue as he eyed the four asari who had gotten into some sort of formation as they faced him down as one.

They seemed to have resolved and prepared themselves quickly enough. So much for taking me on alone. Or just needing four moves.

The other three weren't a problem, but the oldest asari was a bit of a tough cookie he decided.

It didn't seem like she was able to consciously react to me, more like she had a continuous biotic barrier of some kind around her body which simply let her survive. Approaching her will just push her back and aside... Does the field react to the mass of an approaching object? Or its volume? No, perhaps its relative acceleration instead, like a hardsuit's kinetic barrier. It kind of felt like a shear-thickening fluid would, in which case her evasion speed is relative to the speed of my attack? If I rush her down, she'll be pushed aside and if I shoot or throw something at her, the lighter object will probably be pushed aside instead. What an annoyingly well-rounded defense.

He shook his head; it didn't matter. He would get behind the Matriarch and then once he was in range, it wouldn't matter if he had to attack slowly to actually hit her. At that point she wouldn't be able to react anyhow. Or in the worst case scenario he could simply keep attacking her until he got her boxed into a corner. He wondered if the asari had an equivalent to a kabedon, before he shook his head and decided to focus on the issue at hand. Well, worst case scenario I'll just have to use the Cicada Block.

Feeling the worst of the combined shock-wave-front ebbing, he exploded forward like a coiled spring let loose off the wall. Crossing a third of the way to the four asari, his foot touched ground and he jumped off of the surface as he spun in the air to receive the approaching ceiling with his feet.

Standing upside down on the ceiling, he looked down at the asari who just now seemed to realize he had disappeared completely from their field of vision. He jumped down and landed behind the four of them, satisfied with his movements.

They're wide open, he thought as his feet were about to hit the floor.

Only then did he sense the peculiar biotic field that had shifted beneath him, as his feet never touched the floor. He blinked, realizing he was floating in place. Stuck in mid-air. Just then did he notice the curled hands of the Matriarch behind her back, pointing at him.

Realizing that he had been seen through, he grit his teeth and tried to jump back.

"I've got her!" The Matriarch shouted, sounding more breathless and panicked than anything else as she turned around, desperately keeping her biotic grip on him.

He kicked out with his feet and moved his arms, frowning as he confirmed that he couldn't move at all from where he was. His limbs and body moved freely, but without anything to kick out against he was dead in the water. Or rather unlike the water where he could swim, being dead in the air meant that he couldn't even swim around to fight his way out of the biotic hold.

The three others turned around and he could see the sheer surprise and wariness in their eyes now as they spotted him.

"I've got you covered!"

Another shouted, adding her own support to keeping him afloat in the air.

"Right! I'll finish her off!" The youngest shouted and Emiya could feel her charging up the strongest Throw he had seen in his entire life. No doubt wanting to erase him to keep quiet about her earlier actions, she was building up enough force to shatter every bone in a human body.

Alright, this might actually sting, he thought as he crossed his arms. But at least it should lodge him loose from the biotic hol—

"No!" The Matriarch shouted. "No, don't do anything! Just, just keep her still and watch her! If she breaks free I don't think my luck will hold up and get us another chance! You're no match for her!"

Tch.

The Matron's expression mirrored his for just a moment before the annoyance was wiped away.

"So, what do we do? Stasis? Singularity her?"

The Matriarch licked her lips, clearly weighing their options as Emiya weighed his own at the same time. Should I try spiritualizing? I could play it off as a Blink... Probably.

He was wasting time here. Still, at least they're still unharmed, he thought as he glanced at Baliya, Liara, Tyra and the fourth asari still lying unconscious on the other side of the room. But they did need actual medical help and quickly, meaning he couldn't let this go on for much longer.

"Shit! The kshirae! She's trying to use her thralls to break free!"

Emiya grit his teeth, as she tried to get either him or the unconscious and wounded killed again. But there it was again; that word. Kshirae, what is that?

"Are you sure she's an Ardat Yakshi? I've never heard of an asari who could move like this...? And she hasn't used any biotics... And she's huge!"

The Matriarch shook her head. "Shut up! It doesn't matter, no chances! You, take them out before they turn into a risk!"

"Right!" The youngest of the bunch nodded with a wide grin as things were finally going her way again, turning towards Baliya and the others making Emiya grit his teeth even harder.

"Try taking off that helmet of hers, so we can see her face!" One of them suggested and the Matriarch nodded.

Not the time for hesitation; here goes nothing! He spiritualized, disappearing as his material body vanished in swirling motes of light. All four asari gasped, freezing in place as he vanished from sight.

Yet...

I'm not falling down? Biotics act like gravity? Damn it, this doesn't make any sense! He cursed as he kicked out with his spiritual body just like before, still unable to fall down and touch the ground.

And worse yet, they weren't letting go off the biotic hold. The Matriarch was frowning, disbelief and confusion warring for control of her expression even as she frowned and refused to let go.

"Where did she go?!"

"She couldn't have Charged or Blinked away, but how did... No, it doesn't matter. Don't let go! She's still there, tricking us somehow!"

"Wha—but...?"

"The fact that we're still alive is proof of that! That monster would have already torn you apart if she was loose, so don't let go!"

"R-right..?!" The other asari answered, somewhere between absolute bafflement and pure terror.

Damn. Alright, keep it simple idiot. How do I get loose?

A way to maneuver in three dimensions? Flight would have been useful, but he didn't exactly have any easy means of self-propelling in his arsenal. It wasn't like he could ride on top of a flying sword like it was a skateboard, or anything...

He blinked, as an image was suddenly brought to mind. Long lavender hair, black thigh-high boots and a blindfold. A being of terrible, sensuous and seductive beauty from his youth. The kind of snake that had oozed sex appeal and mortal terror in equal measure, who had been the source of more than a handful of awkward teenage erections.

Shaking his head, he spoke the soundless words that none himself aside could hear to actualize his delusion.

"—Trace, on"—begin projection,

The nail appeared in his hand, equally invisible and astralized as he was. Yet the four heads perked at the seemingly-illusionary sound of its rattling chains nonetheless. A length of chain, created from her hair with magecraft, with a ring on one end and the ornate nail at the other end of the chain.

It was a weapon he was utterly unfamiliar with, but had somehow come to him in this moment regardless. Perhaps being bound simply reminded him of it? Astralized as he was, it was relatively difficult to interact with the material world, but this nail and chain would still be enough. Shaking himself free of any extraneous thoughts, his hand lashed out and sent the nail screaming through the air and impaling it deep into the floor some dozen meters away. The chain went taught, the sounds and the sudden cracking of the floor alerting the four asari of his actions despite their inability to detect him or it.

He pulled and as if lodging himself loose from a pit of quicksand he managed to free himself. Landing on the floor, he turned around and sprung to stand between the four conscious asari and the four unconscious asari as he dismissed the nail with a thought.

I need more information—none of this makes any sense, he thought as he jumped forward and dived straight into the Matron's omnitool.

Immediately reaching out to check the status of the orbital station situation, he let out an exhale of relief as everything seemed to be going well. Then he put out a search for the term 'kshirae' and began to rummage through the Matron's personal logs and mails on the omnitool.

He blinked as the first result came up on his search, referencing a character in an old asari play who had gone mad and killed her whole family after falling in love with the night winds. A little bit of digging managed to point to an ancient asari city that had been supposedly destroyed over five thousand years ago, though the tone was closer to Sodom and Gomorrah than something like Atlantis in tone. He shook his head, not finding anything else with the term. Though he was fairly certain he might be writing it with the wrong characters, since many of the older dialects used some that no longer existed in modern use. So, they think Baliya, Liara or Tyra might be a risk?

Suddenly it all simply clicked into place.

The headache he had had after leaving Serrice, the hallucinations, the reaction he had gotten when he explained his symptoms, the way Tela Vasir had died. Realizing that he was gritting his teeth, he slowly exhaled to calm down.

This is about Tyra. She's an Ardat Yakshi, whatever that is...

Was she a danger? No, there wasn't anything like that when—Was he affected? He frowned, exhaling as he crossed his arms. No, that didn't seem likely given how brief the connection had been. But there was obviously something wrong with her, enough to alarm four Justicars who had been facing him in combat.

Shaking his head, he pored over the recent mail on the omnitool as he looked for something that would explain what the asari had been intending with Liara and what her connection to Tela Vasir was.

Among the numerous VI-automated updates on news coverages and what seemed like tips from personal sources, there was one throw away message from an address that must have been automated and generated randomly as a throwaway account. The contents were a single, cryptic phrase along with an extranet link.

'Primary initiative failed, standard compensation.'

Following the extranet link led nowhere as it seemed to have been a private site on a server and address that no longer was in use. The extranet address looks like it was in Ulee, in one of the business spaces for rent at the downtown area.

Trying to track down a single server that no longer even existed there would be difficult to say the least. Someone had gone to great lengths to cover this trail up while carefully plotting it all up. Someone who was not related to the Citadel Council or the STG but was capable of eluding and manipulating them, by the looks of it.

It could be someone on Thessia. Perhaps one of the Matriarchs, an enemy of Benezia? With so little evidence to follow up, there was no way to tell. He would have to investigate Ulee for that. But with so much more on his plate already, there just wasn't any time for something like that.

Okay, what do I need to do? He thought and began to run a mental checklist. Clear Baliya, Liara and Tyra of suspicion of being a danger. Kill the suspicious asari matron without getting Baliya, Liara and Tyra dragged in. Give his own appearance at the scene a reasonable aspect that kept his connection from Baliya, Liara and Tyra obfuscated.

Then after all that and once Hosin's situation was handled, track down whoever the hell was behind this.

Exiting the omnitool, he settled a dozen steps ahead of the running Matron so that he was standing between her and the unconscious four.

The Matron's eyes had time to shoot wide open before she ran right into him. He didn't waste time, wrapping an arm around her neck in passing and then snapping it with the force of her own movement. There was a pregnant moment of silence as the three others noticed him and a second later the limp body of the asari fell on the floor as he let go of her.

One of them flinched at the sight, taking a step back as she realized what he had done. But none of them were willing to take the first move, his presence enough to keep them rooted on the spot.

Crouching down, he grabbed the dead asari's wrist and manipulated it so that the omnitool on her wrist turned on. Breezing through the password he had picked up while inside of the omnitool, he fiddled with it for a few seconds, checking through the mail again. More to simply be seen doing something than anything else, really. Then he took out the hypodermic injector and eyed the contents, noting the unfamiliar label before dropping it. Letting go of the wrist, it flopped down to the floor limply.

"Stasis yourselves, now!"

"But—"

"You two would only get in my way! Stasis, now!"

The other two asari hesitated only a second before obeying. As a result a heavy blue field snapped in place over both, sealing their movements and leaving them so dense that even a gun would not be able to hurt them. They were safe, but also utterly unable to act within their respective fields.

Essentially it was just him and the oldest Justicar now.

She stared at him, tense and wary as she looked for any signs of an attack from him. But she wasn't intent on attacking him yet, nor was she afraid of him per se, instead simply observing him as one would a dangerous foe. Whether it was to divine how he would attack her, to find an opening to abuse or to gleam his purpose here, he didn't know.

How old must she be? Asari could live to a thousand years old. If she had spent that millennia training and honing herself, then what limits lay there for what she could do? Already she had seen through him once.

But, he wasn't interested in fighting with her. She wasn't hostile and the quickest way to handle this was quite easy. Or so he hoped. If it failed, things would get doubly dicey. Okay, play it cool.

Emiya stood up and glanced at the ancient Matriarch.

And then he simply walked out of the room as if his business was concluded.

Spiritualizing out of sight behind a wall, he jumped immediately back to see how the Justicar would react. Ostensibly, she had no reason to attack the four unconscious asari.

"What... What the?" One of the two who had been casting a Stasis field over themselves ceased, looking up and then back at the standing Justicar. "Did she just leave?"

The other cut off the Stasis as well, letting out an exhale of relief as she stood up. "I will call the others for help, she won't be able to get far."

"...Yes, do so," the oldest Justicar said, turning to look at the wounded and still unconscious asari with a thoughtful look. "And tell the medical team to come up along with the Serrice Guard. Learning what occurred here is of the utmost importance."

Emiya let out a sigh of relief, clenching his fist as he realized that his ploy had worked.

As far as he knew, none of the four were being charged with anything, meaning that the Justicars were oath-bound to protect them as innocents. Additionally, the Justicars now had no pressing reason to kill the unconscious four asari, because they had superior numbers and the ability to utterly suppress them, even if they did turn out to be a threat due to the kshirae or Ardat Yakshi risks.

Meaning that given the lack of any other accounts of what happened here in the museum, it would be in the Justicars interests to have each of them arrested and placed into maximum security detention. Whether or not there was a danger of kshirae could now be established properly too, since the Justicar seemed like experts in the field. Then after each was healed, cleared of immediate suspicions and coherent, they could be interviewed and questioned in isolation. Though the Justicar must have been worried about enthrallment, to Emiya the prospect of Baliya, Liara and Tyra being isolated was optimal.

Mostly due to the presence of the Serrice Guard and Justicar acting as a supposed deterrent for him. If this was all some ploy to frame him for the deaths of Liara and Tyra, then while it could have been possible for Tela Vasir or even the young Justicar T'lana to still kill them until now and make it seem as if it could have been his work, after this that window of opportunity would be gone. Before, as long as the times of death could be explained away given that he had left Serrice hours ago, then he could have still been a prime suspect in their deaths.

But with the Serrice Guard and Justicars getting involved and noting that the four asari still lived and were stable, with him long gone out of Serrice there was no longer a solid way of framing him for their deaths. And this had been about him as much as it had been about Liara and Tyra. If he wasn't vital for this scheme of Tela Vasir's, then why wait until he had returned to kill Liara and Tyra?

Emiya nodded, turning and crouching by the dead Justicar's omnitool. He had another iron in the fire that was long overdue his attention in the form of Hosin.

"—Trace, on"—begin insertion,


;


The shuttle's door opened a second after it had landed.

Inside there was a hardsuit wearing asari who hesitantly looked out, before rushing out to greet the quarian and asari child who stood outside. On the quarian's omnitool was a two-way comm open, showing a serious turian who waited silently for the family reunion to wind down. The turian opened his mouth to speak but hesitated and after a handful of seconds and a twitch of his mandibles, closed it and held his silence.

It was a delicate situation, one where one false step could have apocalyptic consequences, where every word and gesture had to be weighed against the fate of billions. The collective of asari matriarchs had agreed to meet the demands of the desperate quarian, seeing that the risks simply were not worth taking when all of their home-world hung on the end of a thread, held an inch above untold disaster by the tired and scared hand of one lone quarian.

"Hosin'Reegar, as you can see we have laid out everything as you wished," the turian said as he finally saw an opening between the tearful whispered words of the asari mother who did not seem to be able to choose whether she wanted to be angry, lost or thankful with her husband.

The quarian looked up, his eyes glowing with the reflection of the numerous HUD screens on the inside of his helmet, moving to look at the commline on his omnitool.

"I..." Hosin said, his voice breaking as he cleared his throat of mucus.

A result of a suit malfunction, or was he so emotionally moved? With the visor in the way, there was no way to tell. For a moment it seemed like the Spectre wanted to say something, perhaps considering whether he should attempt altering the deal.

The two-way live feed was being sent along numerous nodes and tightbeam relays, ensuring that the standards of cyber-security and air gapping that the quarian had demanded were being met. This way there was no way for the Spectre, the STG or anyone else to be able to connect to or influence one of the systems aboard the orbital station.

It would have been relatively easy to cut off all means of long-distance communication to the station, since the quarian knew where all of the external tightbeam communication systems were and could not only turn them off, but manually disengage them as well. That would be enough to make certain no one could attempt hacking in, as only passive and navigational sensors would thus remain online.

But it wasn't the same for something like a shuttle that would land inside the hangar of the orbital station, where it could use numerous short-range signals to attempt accessing one or more of the systems onboard. It was the cyber-era; everything had a computer of some sort installed and most such equipment were also capable of connecting to other similar devices or the extranet through the common signal bandwidths. There were simply too many options, even if he went around attempting to turn off and unplug everything, someone clever and dedicated enough would surely find some crack or hole to get into the station's systems once they had managed to simply connect with it.

For that reason the quarian had made the threat of having installed a safety measure which would cause the orbital station to drop down if someone even so much as tried to access it without Hosin's permission and had demanded numerous stops and searches along the way to make certain the shuttle his wife was aboard was not rigged in any way.

Yet...

"Cowardly rat," Rasa shook her head as she eyed the systems she had managed to access by piggy-backing on the Spectre's live-feed to the shuttle inside the quarian's orbital station. "All talk, yet there isn't anything of substance here. Was it nothing more than a bluff?"

Yet someone had still managed to worm her way into the system. The woman shook her head, smiling wryly as her dark locks shook with the motion.

This whole 'blowing up Thessia'-business had really grown on her as she had thought about it. At first she had thought it some strange prank by a delusional suit rat, but once she realized the broadcast was cut off and wholly censored she had realized that perhaps there was more to the matter than she had first thought. Now, no matter what angle she considered, wouldn't the destruction of Thessia be a good thing for humanity?

No longer would Bekenstein have to contend with Thessia as its economic competitor when it came to being the galaxy's center of commerce. No more would the asari have all the time in the world to meddle in humanity's efforts to expand in the galaxy. No more would they have an iron-hold on the eezo supply of the galaxy. It would on top of crippling their economy also utterly destroy the Citadel's associated militaries' ability to replenish their stores.

And those positive outcomes were just from the top of her head.

No matter how she looked at the whole business, it seemed like a rather potential-rich avenue for Cerberus to explore.

So she had decided to take a look at the situation and see if there was anything she could do to help things nudge along the right path. And it was a good thing she had; he hadn't had any real back up measures in place in case he was taken out or double-crossed. It was nothing more than a desperate bluff it seemed.

Of course, the bluff part was merely due to lacking resolve on the part of the quarian. The means and hardware were all there and functional, it just needed a little nudge. A good bluff had to look real enough actually to be frightening, after all.

Hosin'Reegar's systems were something the quarian had set up and maintained himself almost entirely, meaning it was far from the standard of most orbital systems. This meant she hadn't been entirely sure what to expect at first, but he was a civilian and he worked commercially. As long as one knew how to look for such things, one could easily find traces of such a person's previous work. Hell, the repair shop's own extranet site had given her enough clues to figure out how to quickly and efficiently get into his systems, as long as she didn't mind making a mess of it.

Which was entirely fine, since no one would be around to piece together the clues once all was said and done.

This was the definition of a quick and dirty job, after all.

"Tsk, tsk. No woman likes a man without spine. If you make threats, you should be able to make good on them." She laughed lightly, pressing the button which initiated the upload of the package she had prepared onto the orbital station's systems, and the tightbeam relays across the Parnitha system.

It wasn't just luck that she had been able to figure out what was going on. She had long since noticed something strange going on with the transmission relays and various tightbeam hubs across Thessia. She wasn't entirely sure what was going on, but it seemed like some sort of cyber-security measure against finding the beginning and end-points of any transmissions similar to various Earth encryption and dark web methods. Probably to keep that man from being able to find the STG and Spectre's base of operations.

It certainly was enough to keep her from finding their locations, at least.

But it had also made it possible for her to make use of the numerous jumps and relays to figure out what was going on. Not entirely, but enough for her ends.

Humanity had been independently playing around with data encryption and cyber-security for over a hundred years already, giving her plenty of methods to adapt to her needs here. "As expected, the forced data packet size for each transmission forces me to upload the file in segments..."

It was a good thing that she had been able to infect enough of the tightbeam relays leading to the orbital station that she could use a data compressor to allow her upload to ride alongside the Spectre's commline.

She had thought the matter through after getting a handle on the quarian's system, figuring out everything she needed to make 'the drop' as had come to call it, become reality. Additionally she had set out to cripple the entire communications network at the critical moment to ensure no one would stop it. It was quite easy once she had found a way to do it; with so many systems and relays set to mirror and send out transmissions everywhere, the system was extremely slow by modern standards.

Just simple real-time commlines were enough to cause a noticeable lag if the encryption and mirroring protocols were enacted.

It was almost as if the Council's dogs thought no one would be able to copy the authorizations their transmissions used due to the encryption they had. Too bad the asari council of Matriarchs had nowhere near as good cyber-security, leaving the encryption key within easy reach for someone of her talents. Just the thought made her smile; if a single transmission was enough to cause a several second lag due to all the mirroring, she wondered what would happen once her 'care package' opened itself and activated.

Suddenly every single transmission in the entire network would be flagged as something that ought to be encrypted and mirrored, and thus would be broadcast out into every single other system in the network. And once it arrived there, it would be flagged again as something that ought to be broadcast to every other system in the network. Every message would be copied and mirrored again and again at every step of the way in an endlessly growing self-echo of junk data. Well, until inevitably something would give way at least.

Would the network merely crash, leaving all of Thessia without any communications? Or would it actually bring down other related systems at the same time?

She was quite excited to find out.

It was salarian work, this system. She could instantly tell. It was probably some brilliant ploy to counter some other equally brilliant ploy or conundrum they had encountered, but in their tunnel-vision and lack of foresight they had created a much greater vulnerability in their system.

Typical of them—superb short-term solutions that end up spectacularly blowing up in their faces somewhere down the line.

It was a pity she wouldn't be able to see their faces when everything came crashing down around them. Well, she would have to settle with just watching the main attraction, then.

As the upload on her end to the other six tightbeam relays finished, she smiled as she stood up and turned off the omnitool. Ripping out its battery and flushing the whole thing down the toilet, she exited the stall and cleaned her hands with the sonic cleaner, scowling at the lack of running water there. Disgusting.

As she exited the ladies' room she mused that it was a good thing she wasn't on Thessia anymore, having taken a starliner to one of the other orbital stations where she would have a front-row seat for the show of a lifetime in one of the upscale bars with a window-view of of the planet.

It was a shame that Kai Leng and Miranda wouldn't be there to share it with her. She scoffed at her own thoughts; who was she kidding? She had made certain to leave them entirely in the dark as to what was going on. There had been a slight disappointment with the realization that that man hadn't been on the shuttle. He wouldn't get to experience the crash first hand, which was a shame. But with the STG still around she was sure that he must have been on the surface of Thessia still.

That was still acceptable, she figured.

Sitting down by a port-side lounge where she could observe the admittedly beautiful green pearl far below her, she mused out loud to herself. "Hosin, Hosin, Hosin... I really should thank you, if you weren't such a flake."

Pressing down her order on an adaptive interface by the chair, she waited for her order.

As she received the alcoholic beverage from the blue-skinned waitress, she smiled a false thanks before turning her eyes back to the planet below and beyond the window. She raised the glass, making a toast as her smile turned true with her words.

"Well... It's a good thing I'm here to make you a man of your word, isn't it?"


;


"We'll have the—"

Suddenly everyone manning a console on the CIC of the STG starship froze, as if they had all been put on pause.

Nihlus blinked as the commline to the orbital station stopped, and then after a second disappeared as if the connection had been cut on the other end. The turian blinked, feeling the pit of his stomach falling through the floor as he turned around to look at the communications operator to his left for an explanation.

When no one answered, he roared out his confusion. "What happened?! Get the connection back, right now!"

As if the spell had been broken suddenly everyone began to report, all nearly at once.

"Live-feed to orbital station lost! Live-feed with the 24 direct observers stationed around orbital station lost!"

"All communications down! Rebooting ship's communication module—estimated downtime 13 seconds!"

"AI analysis indicates 99.98% of all communications networks in the Parnitha star-system have crashed!"

"Estimated complete recovery of communications network... two days!"

"KX-0331 rapidly approaching Thessia on collision course! 55 seconds till impact!"

Nihlus flinched as he had to reach out for support, bumping into the equally lost and panicking Jondum behind him. Shaking his head, he grit his teeth and clenched his talons. Get it together or the spirits will judge you unworthy for the rest of your life! Do something!

"Do we still have a lock on the orbital station with the ship's spinal gun?!" He roared, as much to get control over himself as to be heard.

"Affirmative! B-but... KX-0331 is falling at an unexpected angle! Our firing vector will cause massive damage to Thessia! Optimal firing solution would be Trelana's Tribune in 30 seconds or Dreamer Trembling in 13 seconds, but communications are still dow—"

"Communication module online!"

Nihlus felt his spirits rise as he turned to the operator, spittle flying as he shouted. "Transmit firing solution immediately to Trelana's Tribune!"

"Yes, sir!" The operator responded only to turn around a mere second later. "Unable to transmit! Their communications are still down! No estimate on reboot time available!"

"Fuck! Can we move the ship to change the firing solution?"

"Not enough time, sir! Possible firing solution in 25 seconds!"

On the main screen an image of Thessia was brought up, showing the line of fire from the orbiting starship that was chasing the falling KX-0331. They could all see how the firing solution would end with the kinetic slug of the rail gun impacting near a large city on the planet's surface.

Hundreds of thousands would die.

But it was better than the millions if the station were to crash into the planet.

The Spectre clenched his talons as he turned to look up again. "What about the relocating and re-calculating a firing solution?"

"Won't work! We're already too far away, it would take well over a minute to travel and re-adjust the spinal gun!"

"20 seconds till impact!"

Nihlus grit his teeth, looking around at the various starships they were attempting to contact. Yet it seemed like they were the only ones who had managed to get their gear back online quickly enough. Yet it was a worthless achievement, as Nihlus could only stare out and will for someone, anyone who had a half-decent firing solution to take the shot.

But he knew that no one would in the back of his mind already.

Standing in a crowd of deaf-mute observers at the sidelines of this disaster, he knew that regardless of who shot there would be massive destruction on Thessia's surface. Trelana's Tribune would cause the least amount of collateral damage he knew, but was certain that they did not since originally they had been deemed a poor option.

But that had been based on prior models and the STG had been the ones providing the firing solutions and formation orders.

Should he fire? Their firing solution would cause the shot's destruction to reach all the way to Ulee, regardless of timing. If they shot slightly earlier, perhaps it would veer west enough to minimize the destruction while still destroying enough of the orbital station to disable the eezo core.

Still, the collateral damage would be... immense. Maybe if he waited until the last second, maybe someone else would realize that...

No.

No one else would take action. They would all think that someone else had a better firing solution; one that wouldn't end complete disaster. And those who had half-decent shots wouldn't dare take them, afraid that someone else with a better shot would also be firing. Every single kinetic slug fired into Thessia would have massive consequences. The asari were normally independent, but he had been given authority here by the council of Matriarchs. He was a Spectre of the Citadel Council.

They would be deferring to him, even now.

He was the one who had been put in charge. He would take responsibility for this disaster.

It felt like a weight had eased off his shoulders as he accepted that.

Hundreds of thousands would die, but it would still be less than if the orbital station was allowed to continue falling with its incredible mass. By killing them, he would surely save millions. It pained him more than anything else in his entire life had, but he knew what had to be done.

"Shoot down KX-0331 using prepared firing solution."

The silence was deafening in the CIC, as everyone had already understood what was at stake. No one argued and no one refused to obey.

The die had been cast.

"Yes, sir—what? Sir the weapons systems have gone offline!" The gunner began to respond only to suddenly shout out.

"What?!" Nihlus felt the last remnants of his self-control shatter as she slammed his talon down on the panel in front of him. "What is it now?!"


;


Emiya exhaled as he disabled the weapons systems on the STG starship. There simply wasn't time for talking it out right now, so he had just gone ahead and shut down their weapons.

Returning his attention to the orbital station, he ignored the confused and panicking starship personnel. He understood exactly how they felt right now; it was a disaster and there were only bad and worse kinds of options left.

But that was exactly why he did it. He had the luxury of time on his side, nestled inside the starship's mainframe as he was. He had all their files, their dossiers and expert analyses to go through along with the perspective necessary to find the best of the bad options to be had. Just like with the emergency first aid down by the museum, here he had all the time in the world.

It was his fault that things had gone this out of control, anyhow. He knew how dangerous this situation was, yet he had still chosen to waste time at the museum. This was the result of his hubris, thinking that he could be everywhere at once and save everyone.

Which was why he had to make up for that fact.

Perhaps if he could just get aboard the orbital station and reverse the eezo core he could have salvaged the situation and reach an ending where everyone was saved. But that wasn't going to happen; the orbital station was dead to the comms and transponders, just as everything else was right now.

He had tried to connect with something, anything, but there wasn't much luck to be had with that. Things would be so much simpler in that case.

Getting here had been more luck than anything else, but now that he was here, he was going to make the best of it.

With the majority of all communications networks down, he had managed to find his way here in his attempts to figure what exactly was going on. Having left University of Serrice's Museum behind, he had tried to jump into Thessia Airspace Control only for everything to suddenly start crashing around him. He had been able to watch in slow-motion as systems began to ping everything else in an ever-expanding and exponentially growing wave of transmissions. Within seconds of real time nearly everything had gone dark, leaving him utterly without means to figure out what was going on or to move around quickly.

Luckily the cyber-attack had not been able to take out quite everything.

There were plenty of private networks, corporate tightbeam relays and other networks that were incompatible with the tightbeam network still around. Of course their coverage was much poorer, forcing him to zig-zag for hours of relative time until he even manage to get into orbit.

Finally he had been able to get into the Airspace Controls orbital center, from where had got a proper handle on things. And what he figured out wasn't good. Hosin's orbital station was crashing into Thessia and no one was doing anything about it. So he started looking for the command center of the STG, hoping to find something useful there. With the mirroring protocols down, finding the STG starship was quite a bit easier disguised though it was.

So here he was, sitting in cyberspace as he considered the orbital station and Thessia. He only had some 22 seconds to act in real time, which wasn't exactly all the time in the world. Once he left the cyber-world every second in real time was worth a million in here.

"Excalibur might work." He mused, before shaking his head.

He probably had enough magical energy to use it, still. Having had a physical body all to himself and a Servant's spiritual core where he could store his excess energy had left him with a decent reserve. It wasn't quite the same as gemcraft in terms of extra capacity, but it give him enough to keep running for a decent time even if his Independent Action were to run out.

But even if his absolute magical energy was sufficient, that did not mean the faucet through which he could use it to power a copy of Excalibur would be enough to handle the falling station, and moreover he had never really been able to test out how powerful his copy of the holy sword was. Would it be able to completely vaporize the orbital station in one blow and ensure that no damage was done to Thessia? There was no way to know without actually trying it, and he hadn't been one to run with the long odds at face value in a long time.

Even then, Hosin and his family will still die. It didn't seem like there were any easy ways out of this situation.

Sighing, he eyed the detailed analysis of the orbital station that the STG personnel had compiled. I'll have to go all out with this.

Anything he did had to be able to punch through the kinetic barriers and then be able to destroy the fusion core on the station, to disable the eezo core. That would cause its mass to return to normal which would at least stop its acceleration and would also help it break down on atmospheric entry. Probably. But even then, the kinetic energy the falling station had accrued would cause damage on a scale beyond anything Emiya had ever seen.

The station had to be vaporized.

Or at least ground down into small enough pieces that the kinetic energy would mostly dissipate in the atmosphere on entry. That didn't mean he was entirely out of options, but the more he thought about it the bleaker the situation looked.

Maybe if he could just get onboard the orbital station, then...

"System intrusion located—Containing and formatting."

Emiya blinked as suddenly his perceptions vanished. Or rather, the entire cybernetic world was erased around and he was shunted or left behind in nothingness.

Re-orienting himself he frowned and focused on getting his bearing again. Another attack program? No, that was almost like...

"Physical hard-format of drive sector unsuccessful, disengaging drive from systems and unplugging to contain breach. Engaging anti-intrusion systems."

His eyes shot wide as he realized the implications of that. If the digital space he was in was suddenly turned off or destroyed then his spiritual body would be ejected back into the real world. It wouldn't harm him beyond the magical energy expenditure of having wasted time inside the system, but it would leave him somewhere entirely random and unfamiliar with his surroundings for several seconds in the real world, in real time.

He couldn't afford that.

"Haaah—!"

The veil of nothingness rippled and he jumped between the shifting planes, reaching something beyond the absence of data and landing in more familiar territory.

"Second intrusion detected—Correction, primary intruder detected on another sector. Analyzing..."

Emiya looked around, getting his bearings as he stood up. It certainly is talkative. And it seems able to react to my actions, meaning...

"So this is an AI, huh?"

"Re-defining intruder definitions and parameters—high-level sapience and awareness confirmed, non-reliance on blue box hardware allowing free movement within all networked systems. Raising intruder threat rating to maximum—analysis complete; intruder poses extreme threat to instance—eliminating with extreme prejudice."

"And I seem to have gotten on its bad side," he said with a sigh. "Hey, you! Do we really have time for this?"

It did not answer. Whether due to an inability to understand, or an unwillingness, he did not know.

The world shifted again, only this time instead of everything vanishing and leaving him behind, everything was suddenly brought in to surround him. One moment he had been all alone, the next he realized that he was completely surrounded. Rows upon rows upon rows of attack programs—countless beyond counting, numerous beyond numbering—the very same kind he had already once run into in Roane's omnitool. And standing out from that sea of mooks he could see thousands of much larger attack programs, towering over them.

And beyond them in the far horizon he could see hundreds of plants, all spewing more and more attack programs to bolster the already overwhelming number that had him surrounded.

Emiya blinked as he processed that he was suddenly facing an entire army. Oh, right. Roane's omnitool was a cheap commercial model. Even if the STG or this AI tried to leverage their hardware advantage over me in there or tried to use something like a botnet, there were simply limits to what could be contained on the omnitool.

But this was different he realized.

This must be some kind of STG super-computer; something utterly incomparable to the omnitool from before. Just at a guess, he figured that just the central processing unit's cache had more capacity than the omnitool's entire hard drive. Tch, I don't have time for this!

As the first wave of a thousand attack programs charged him, Emiya clicked his tongue as he dashed forward to meet them, roaring out with his first blow.


;


Hoana held onto Kurinth, careful to not press down on her even as she drew strength from her friend, inhaling slowly just like papa had told her to.

It was dark, the only sources of light coming from the shuttle's emergency lights and from papa's omnitool as he worked outside.

I have to be brave, I have to be brave...

She was sitting inside the shuttle, holding onto the safety harness that held her secured in the pilot's chair. All around the shuttle things lays scattered and broken by the constant turmoil taking place. She wanted to run and hide in her room, in the little nook behind her bed where she knew she could always hide when she didn't want to do her chores. But that would mean leaving mama and papa behind and she couldn't do that, they had told her to stay in the shuttle. She could see them right outside, struggling to reach the hangar bay doors, trying to open them up so they could fly out.

They were moving slowly, almost exaggeratedly so, with mama's blue biotics glowing around them. She might have thought it funny if she wasn't struggling with the same thing. Even just sitting here was tiring, as her breathing came slowly and with great difficulty. It was like trying to run against the wind, only it was blowing from every direction all at once, pressing down on her constantly.

Something made a sound in the distance, metal grating on metal as if something massive had been wrenched loose and dragged for several seconds onboard the orbital station that had been her home for her entire life.

Closing her eyes she tried to shut it all out, just focusing on her breathing.

She was scared and confused, holding onto Kurinth to protect her as much as to draw safety from her friend while she listened to papa working by the other side of the hangar. It had always been a relaxing sound; the clink of tools being picked up and set down, the sound of an omnitool's scanners, the little sounds of annoyance papa would make while arms deep in some broken machine's guts.

"The—the red key, the one with the, yeah that one. Give it, give it here," he wheezed, and she could hear how tired he was.

She knew exactly which tool he meant and knew that he would need the D-pliers right after, since after the outer cover he would have to open the inner wiring box. Did he have one? She still had hers; they were in her pocket she knew. Maybe he would need hers, should she go out?

The shuttle shook again as everything began to turn again. She felt her stomach lurching and could hear her papa cursing as he struggled not to fall. She kept her eyes desperately closed as she could hear tools spilling out and falling onto the wall, followed by other loose objects that smashed with much more force. Each sound made her wince and ball her fists with fright.

She tried to open her eyes, to see if papa and mama were alright. The darkness and the shaking floor, along with the creaking and shattering vehicles all around her didn't help, and she could only keep her eyes tightly closed until everything calmed down again. It was so hard to breathe and she was sure it would never end, which only made the cold creeping fear in her chest grow and grip her heart ever-more tightly.

Finally she dared to look up again. She stared at her mama who was glowing with blue fire, using her biotics to help papa as he hung onto the hangar bay doors.

"Damn it, this isn't working!"

"It has to work, Hosin. Please!" Mama was shouting now as well.

"I overrode the lockdown but the doors are still to heavy! Can you use your biotics?"

Hoana closed her eyes again, working to breathe slowly as she shut out their shouting, not wanting to see them like this. And then the floor began to tilt again, causing them to begin struggling to remain still again.

Now she was completely upside down again, held only in place by the straps of the seat. Outside in the hangar, the loose tools fell onto the ceiling from the wall where they had been fallen down earlier, as the entire hangar continued to turn around and around. It was like being inside of a small box that was being spun, making all of them fall from side to side and making everything fly around from side to side.

She wondered for the first time if she was going to die here.

It was such a strange thought that she wasn't quite sure if she could answer it. She had never thought about death before, even when she had been scared before.

Somehow it didn't feel so scary, since she had mama and papa here with her. Inhaling slowly as the blue glow from mama reached over her again, she closed her eyes and held Kurinth carefully in her arms.


;


Emiya dispatched another giant attack program.

It was a thirty meter tall creature with numerous polygonal limbs which functioned as both swords and shields for it as it moved and shook while trying to hit him. He had come to realize quickly enough that these things were several times stronger than the smaller attack programs. But not just stronger, they were sturdier, faster and much smarter in comparison. But the thing that most stood out about their behavior was the sheer aggression with which they pursued him.

They did not back down, they did not relent, they did not give up even when torn to pieces. They wanted to destroy him and nothing would keep them from that.

So he'd mentally dubbed them aggressors after a while to better keep mental track of them.

He hadn't stuck in the strange arena he had been transported to, instead having cut a chaotic swath through the horde of bits and tried to make for an exit. Reasoning that it was akin to a bounded field, he told himself that as long as he could figure out where it ended he would be able to break out and move on to actually handling the orbital station.

That had been well over ten thousand attack programs ago.

He had stopped counting a while ago as he had already gotten too annoyed to even attempt keeping track of the passage of time in here. Kanshou and Bakuya danced in his hands as he slashed, swayed and sliced his way through the hundreds of attack programs trying to swamp him.

Black and white blade flashed; left and right in continuous spiraling circles as he moved around and over the countless enemies that stood in his way.

For nearly every slash, six lesser attack programs were shattered and sent flying. Yet the hundreds of plants that were everywhere just kept on spewing more and more to keep him occupied. So he targeted the plants, destroying dozens of them before he realized that even their rate of respawn was much too high for him to be able to even chip the amount of enemies before him.

"Khh!" He grit his teeth as he pulled in his blades to ward aside a charging aggressor's blow.

They kept evolving, growing larger and faster, getting more and more limbs and other features as they attempted to counter or at least injure him. But so far he hadn't been pushed too badly back by the things, as this evolution was quite slow compared to the speed with which he could adapt his tactics. It took the aggressors a dozen iterations before they could figure out simple tricks and at least twice that for anything more complex.

Using the momentum imparted by the aggressor he spun around the thing and severed most of its limbs with one blade and bisecting the unguarded center with the other a half-instant later. Handling them wasn't a problem yet, but he knew that this wasn't working. Sooner or later he would either run out of magical energy or take an unlucky hit, after which it would all just be a steep downhill.

I need to find a way out. How long have I been here already?

He had tried to shout at the AI who seemed to be puppeteering the attack programs, but it wasn't paying him any attention at all aside from trying to counter any of his attempts to escape.

Dashing forward he broke loose of the formation of attack programs, hoping to reach the edge of this space, only for the entire world to turn sideways suddenly. He fell a hundred meters down before he could kick off another aggressor and hold on to get his bearings, before the world reoriented itself to normal. None of the attack programs had been affected, forcing him to defend himself against an onslaught that sought to make use of the opening. Gradually his movements had been growing slower and duller, almost as if the gravity and way acceleration worked in here was working against him. There was a strange lag between his actions and the cyber-reality mirroring the effects he'd expect.

He wasn't sure if it was due to the hardware struggling to keep up with his fighting or due to the AI attempting to hamper him somehow, but the fact of the matter was that this place itself was hostile to him.

Just like I thought, this is a Marble Phantasm in a sense. And he still hadn't been able to find the AI itself, either.

Cutting down six lesser attack programs, he kicked an aggressor backwards into an approaching formation of more lesser attack programs, bowling them over and buying himself another handful of seconds on that front to deal with the two other aggressors bearing down on him from the left. Spinning around one of them and cutting off its offending limbs, he managed to block the other aggressor with the one he had just dismembered.

It made sense, if he thought about it.

In the omnitool the AI had been constrained by not only the fact that it had to act through an inferior intermediary, but also by the hardware and the operating system already installed on it. The AI could have probably done things which translated to his understanding of the cyber-world as Marble Phantasm-like reality operation if it had been able to rewrite everything from the ground up with machine code, but the fact was that some things like the network drivers were too dependent on the operating system for changes like that to be made in the middle of a fight.

But here in the system Emiya suspected the AI had direct access to, it effectively had the source code to reality as far as Emiya could be concerned. Though it wasn't perfect, as Emiya still had the ability to fight back.

Shit, if only I could take control of the hardware. If I could occupy the memory drives and usurp enough authority of the processing, then I could probably break out of here.

Jumping backwards and spinning in the air he kicked the limb of the aggressor that was aiming to cut him down, taking the momentum for himself and using it to hurl Kanshou out like a buzz-saw at a new aggressor type that was charging at even greater speeds than anything before had been able to. The black blade sunk deep into the aggressor's side, severing one of the supporting limbs in the process and causing it to fall on top of several lesser attack programs, crushing them in the tumble.

At the same time he grabbed the halted limb of the aggressor that he had just used for support to kick off of and swung up and around the limb, monkey-vaulting himself onto the aggressor's 'neck' where he locked his legs so that if it had been a living creature he could have choked it to death while riding on its shoulders.

But knowing that it wouldn't work he instead hurled his upper body backwards as if he was trying to perform a back-flip off of the creature from his seated position on its shoulders. But with his legs still locked firmly around its 'neck', instead only managed to unbalance it into leaning backwards. The aggressor was almost twice as wide as he was but only a head taller, meaning that while he couldn't reach the ground with his hands he could reach it with Bakuya in his right hand as the thing managed to catch its balance and avoid falling over.

Stabbing the blade into the ground he crunched with all his strength. But instead of his upper body that was hanging down rising back up to his knees, his knees came down and over him as he pulled the entire aggressor over himself. Driving all the force he could into the maneuver the aggressor's head was instantly crushed on impact with the ground as a dozen lesser attack programs were knocked down by the impact.

Letting go with his legs he sprung off the already vanishing corpse and flew over the approaching lesser attack programs, arriving at the crippled aggressor that he had thrown Kanshou into. Retrieving his sword he executed the thing and got up to move on.

Okay, can't escape any which way, still unhurt and have plenty of magical energy left—though Excalibur is definitely right out once I get out now—and the aggressors aren't a problem yet.

He was wasting time here, but it was on such a scale that it didn't quite matter. Time flowed faster inside of a computer, meaning that he didn't need to worry about it as much. But if he forcefully broke it down he would be kicked out into the real world, which would mean precious seconds lost as he tried to find another computer to dive into.

In the worst case scenario, he might cripple all the ship's systems which would leave him stranded and unable to act.

He couldn't afford that. Better to struggle for hours in here and spend fractions of a second in real time, than to forcefully break his way out and lose who knew how much time getting back in.

Exhaling as he stood up, he looked around while there was a momentary lull as the attack programs were coping to keep up with his sudden movement. He did have something he could try, still...

It should be a high-value target, but how to define value? An aggressor would pose a decent back up against the other attack programs, but depending on how the plants work that might be a better option instead...

What was before him wasn't relevant; what he needed was to forcibly weaken the AI's control over the system. He suspected that the plants were much bigger, since they were much fewer and did their best to stay out of his way. Unlike the lesser attack programs and aggressors they also seemed to be directly created by something else, while the plants spawned everything else here that was attacking him.

Locating the nearest plant he set forward. Jumping up, he began to step on the various lesser attack programs and ran over them like a sheep dog would over a mob of sheep. If it wasn't an aggressor then he could just run past it and feel secure in his speed, and with the throng of lesser attack programs the aggressors had no chance to reach him as long as he kept moving.

Leaping once more, he cleared sixty meters and vaulted over three aggressors that had set up to try and block his approach.

"—Trace," Throwing both of his blades into the pair of aggressors guarding the plant to take them out, he landed atop the plant with his arm outstretched as he shouted; "on!"—begin projection,

"Rule Breaker!"

The jagged dagger appeared in his hand just in time to pierce through the plant as he shouted out the true name. Something changed, he instantly realized as the nature of reality seemed to warp.

Emiya blinked, looking up and around.

He didn't know what to expect from this attempt at getting out of here, but having everything freeze was certainly not it. Did it crash? Damn it, I—

And then everything went dark and he found himself somewhere else once more, as if he had fallen through the floor, crashing down into something. Finding himself lying on his back in what looked like a small room, he noted that at least he was alone again. Or perhaps it was inside a large box, like a shipping container of some kind. Frowning, he looked around. It was the first time he had seen something so solid in the digital world. Usually everything was one form of wire construct or pane of transparent material. But this was the digital equivalent of a bunker wall, he supposed.

"Where is this?" He wondered, sitting up and looking around and trying to find a way out. Unable to find any obvious means out but finding himself completely alone, he exhaled slowly.

At least he could take a break now.

It felt like he had been fighting for at least a dozen hours back there.

Exhaling with the realization that it was safe to take a break for the moment as he still had plenty of time and the AI seemed to be busy with the repercussions of his counter-attack, he focused on his breathing.

Dropping his arms by his side he closed his eyes and relaxed.

He still didn't have a clear plan as how to go about stopping the orbital station from dropping into Thessia—well, he had some ideas, but they all had snags and problems; if only I could just get aboard the orbital station, then maybe...—but he did know that he needed to calm down and be in top form when he did it. Physically he was fine; his slow and deep breathing had nothing to do with his respiratory needs or his heart rate. Rather it was to calm and clear his mind after the mess that was the encounter with the AI. Like leaked memory taking up processing power on a computer, the mental exhaustion and distractions would only pile up if he kept going.

Better to sit down and rid himself of the burden while he could.

While he was at it he dismissed the red disguise armor he had been wearing for a while now and the noble phantasms he had used earlier. Furrowing his brows, he was fairly certain he could feel the feedback of them vanishing, but it felt off somehow. As if—

"What the?"

Opening his eyes and looking down, Emiya's eyes widened as he saw dancing lights bouncing off of him, tickling him despite the black diamene armor he was wearing.

Something moved in the corner of his vision and Emiya looked down, blinking as he found a strange floating light that seemed to be observing him.

"Huh?"

Reaching out he picked the thing up with two fingers, his eyebrows rising up as he realized that the thing was struggling to get free from his grasp. It was the size of ping ping ball, glowing a simple white light and incredibly simple in structure. This thing was easily a only thousandth of the size and complexity of a basic VI program. Yet it's aware of me?

Poking it with a finger, he huffed as it obviously reacted to the touch. Deciding that the thing was harmless enough he let it go, causing it to pause and hover before returning to observing him.

"Do you understand me? What are you, some kind of hitodama or onibi?" He asked, slightly amused by the thought despite himself.

After a second he sighed, realizing that the thing probably wasn't smart enough to understand that he was talking to it, much less able to respond to his attempt at communication.

Moreover, he didn't have time for this. Shaking his head, he got up and realized that if he stood straight then his head would hit the ceiling of this space.

Looking around he had to blink as suddenly there were now four of the small floating lights down by his knees. Looking at where he had been lying down, he realized that they must have been stuck underneath him. And then he spotted many others, stuck in what looked like small cages made out of light behind him.

"Did I break them free by accident?"

Was this some kind of containment cell for undesirable programs? Scratching his temple he tried to remember if he had ever run into something like that before. They don't look like any of the attack programs or malware I've run into before.

The four free ones seemed to notice each other and were pulled together until they were all within a finger's width apart from one another. Then almost as one they began to move around, bumping into the corners of the small room and into the cages of the other balls.

Well it had nothing to do with him.

No time to waste here, who knows how much time has passed by already, he thought as he reached for one of the walls and pulled back his leg. Though, given all of his prior experience with computers, he was fairly certain that he still had time. Kicking out, the surface shattered instantly and flew outwards. Not bothering with trying to figure out what this place was he instead simply focused on getting somewhere else.

This time he felt the familiar shift of accessing another server or partition as he appeared back on the communications terminal of the STG ship.

Checking the time now that he was finally free he blinked at the read out. Less than five seconds had passed despite what felt like a day inside. "That's some super-computer."

It was a lucky break for him, that much he had to admit.

Now while the AI was off his back he had to figure out what to do about the orbital station. The starship's main guns had too many limitations, meaning that it was probably best if he relied on his own means for handling it. That meant using a broken phantasm. The question was, which one and how?

Caladbolg it is, then? Which meant that he would have to use his bow.

He nodded, finally feeling like he was back in control even if he still felt wholly out of his element. Pulling up the long-range visual feed of the orbital station that was coming in live through the STG ship's sensors, Emiya blinked. Checking again to confirm the lack of visual enhancement, he confirmed that it was showing him the un-altered view he would have from here.

I can't even see the orbital station. Swallowing, he fiddled with some of the settings until he found a zoom function on the footage. It zoomed in, magnifying the view a dozen times over until he could finally see the orbital station as a small speck on the center of the screen. There's... There's no way I can hit that... Is there?

Clearing his throat, he carefully reached out to check the STG ship's systems. He could still turn on the weapons and take the shot, but it would still result in massive collateral damage. And the communications network was still shot to hell.

Rubbing his brow, he tried to wipe away the dancing lights in his vision. Wait, what the?

He looked up, finding that the strange floating light balls had somehow freed each other and were now here with him.

"You... Did you follow me here?"

No, the things seemed equally surprised to see him.

Well, as surprised as a swarm of bouncing balls of light could be. Somehow they were quite expressive, despite simplicity of their of structure and being. Twelve lights seemed to be outlining his torso, flying around him in circling patterns as another six were working on the actual communications terminal.

01101101 01100001 01100011 01101000 01101001 01101110 01100101 00100000 01100111 01101111 01100100 00111111

He looked up, realizing that they were finally trying to talk to him. Tilting his head, he raised an eyebrow as he spoke, "I don't speak beep boop."

4d 61 63 68 69 6e 65 20 67 6f 64 3f

That sounded almost like one of those old game consoles that had been gathering dust at his place, back when he was a kid. The ones with the old slot cartridges and pixel displays. Not that he understood it any better.

He shrugged, shaking his head to indicate his lack of understanding which ironically enough seemed to be completely understandable to the light balls. The swarm huddled up once more, before finally forming up to spell out letters in the air for him, much like an old-school digital six-display would.

r u GOD?

Emiya blinked, not entirely sure if they were serious. But noting how they were patiently waiting for an answer, he inhaled and then spoke.

"No."

The swarm dispersed immediately, buzzing for a moment before they began to ignore him. He blinked as he realized they seemed to have written him off for the moment, just as he had decided to ignore them earlier. Noting that they were working on modifying a communications laser module, it didn't seem like they cared about him at all anymore. Somehow he wasn't sure whether he should be annoyed or amused by the reversal.

Well he had more important things to worry about at the moment.

Like the asari home-world that was half a minute away from catastrophe.

Right, I have the most powerful supercomputer I have ever seen here. If it can calculate firing solutions for the spinal gun, then I should be able to use it just as well. It seemed like a reasonable presumption, he thought as he pulled up the aiming software. Only to blink twice at the sheer overwhelming wall of numbers, vectors and variables he was presented with. The effect of the nearby gravity well, orbit radius and eccentricity for both objects, relative velocity and angle, loss of delta-V due to firing the spinal gun affecting the shot...

Emiya shook his head, closing his eyes for several seconds.

So many things he had never before had to consider or account for.

But if that was all, then perhaps he could have managed. He had plenty of time in here. As long as the AI stayed off his back, then he could simulate the conditions until he could pull of that one in a billion shot necessary to hit the orbital station. If that was all, anyhow.

The problem was it was physically impossible for him to manage it.

Simply impossible.

It was too far away—the station would have crashed into Thessia long before his arrow managed to reach it. Even his fastest arrows would far too slow and those with sufficient power to manage to pierce through were far from his fastest arrows. Caladbolg would take minutes to reach the orbital station from here, even with the vacuum of space giving it a boost in speed with the lack of air drag.

Letting out a shuddering exhale, he rubbed his eyes.

I need to get closer. With tightbeam communications quite literally flying at the speed of light, on paper it should be easy... He sighed, his re-check of the comm situation confirming that there weren't any suitable targets to jump to closer to the station.

"Tch."

No tightbeams, no electromagnetic transmissions, no transponders; nothing. It was only through the starship's direct sensors that he could verify that everything was still out there. Even if the orbital station wasn't a problem, this communication blackout would cause billions of credits of damages and it would take weeks to sort it all out.

Who is behind it, anyhow? It couldn't have been the STG or anyone from Thessia, that made no sense. Nor did it make sense for Hosin...

Right?

One thing at a time, he told himself with a shake of his head.

Could he fly the ship close enough for himself to jump onboard? Or perhaps ride something smaller and faster, like a torpedo or even a weakened rail gun slug? Or fire a comm buoy he could ride onto to get to a better position to fire? Or if he waited for the station to enter the atmosphere, he could fire at it from the ground? Could he get there in time?

Seconds in real time ticked by as he stretched the computer to its limits, trying to find the best way to solve this problem.

Sighing as he set aside the various plans he had considered and discarded now, he rubbed his temple again. Looking around, he found it peculiar the AI had not come back, but he wasn't looking a gift horse in the mouth. The STG personnel on the ship also seemed to be reacting rather poorly to their lack of control over their own ship, though that couldn't be helped at the moment.

Exhaling, Emiya looked at the little light balls. Counting their number, he noted they were all still here and they would probably soon be done with whatever they had been doing. For some reason they were adjusting the tightbeam, working overtime to utterly break the thing's firmware and make it do something it had never been intended for.

For the sake making communications halfway visible through the background radiation of space it was vital to keep the wavelength of the lasers distinct from it. Basically tightbeam communications were two people with flashlights sending Morse code at each other at a distance. And to continue the analogy, you could either use the visible spectrum of light or you could just give up with having the other person be able to see anything for it to actually be useful.

With the right equipment it was possible to capture and read a tightbeam transmission set to a more common wavelength, the problem lay in how common some of those were. Space was full of various kinds of radiation that was coming from all over the place, but some wavelengths were more common than others. Detecting such wasn't a problem, but trying to distinguish a message from background noise would be incredibly tedious and it would also have comparatively little benefits. It wasn't like it was particularly safer to use more discrete wavelengths, since encryption of the transmitted data was far more easily manageable for similar benefits.

Tightbeams were essentially lasers, not entirely unlike the GARDIAN-lasers used in knifefight-ranges in starship combat, thus the same general rules regarding light scatter applied; the longer the wavelength, the further it would go before being scattered too much. Thus infrared was the most common option for both weapons and communication.

But the little light balls were taking it beyond even that, tweaking the module all the way into microwave-territory.

The exact stuff that space was already rife with from the big bang, the background noise that few paid any attention to. Furrowing his brows, Emiya couldn't understand what the things where up to. Certainly it would give them very good range, but with all the noise it would be difficult for a receiver of any kind to get anything other than a pure garbled mess.

It was obvious they had some kind of plan.

Which was a lot more than he had.

Emiya sighed, raising a hand to rub his temple. The fact of the matter was that he was still stalling, hoping for a way to enter the orbital station to magically present itself to him. As it stood the alternatives were clear.

He could do nothing and let hundreds of thousands die as the station crashed into Thessia with enough force to glass the planet for hundreds of kilometers point of impact by an explosion that made the nuclear warheads of his time look like paltry firecrackers. Even if the station missed any of the habituated settlements, it would still kick up enough dust and debris to permanently alter the planet's weather.

It might even cause an ice age, altering the ecosystem on a scale that even the asari would consider effectively permanent.

Or he could accept what had to be done and simply get to it and seek to minimize the victims, instead of trying to find a conclusion without any. A broken phantasm would finish it quickly and cleanly. Perhaps he could launch a fast moving comm buoy, or fly the STG ship at full burn into the atmosphere, or perhaps he could ride a kinetic slug fired from the ship's main gun as if it were a cannon ball.

If he simply wished to shoot down the station, he had plenty of options.

But knowing that he still had time made him complacent and reticent to act. Kept him from simply acting immediately, knowing that even if he waited subjective hours he would still have plenty of time due to the dilation present in the computer systems. Unlike those who were paralyzed by the coming destruction, too afraid to try, he was paralyzed by the knowledge that it was likely that there was always something he could have done better.

Maybe if he read through everything one more time; if he could figure some way to to end this without any victims, he could make up for how had failed earlier.

But the facts had been staring him in the face the whole time.

Having saved Baliya, Liara and Tyra, he had to kill Hosin, Roane and Hoana if he wanted to save Thessia. It was as if there was a balance; a finite number of seats of happiness to go around. As if by having chosen three, he had to sacrifice another three. And as he put it that clearly for himself, he felt why he had been stalling for so long grow clear.

"To hell with that," he ground out as he exhaled, gripping his fist tightly.

For what reason had he sold his soul to the Moon Cell? Wasn't it to prevent disasters exactly like this? Wasn't it all, the decades of suffering and struggle, the century of conflicted contemplation and tortuous torpor, just for these moments? To be able to save not just the many who did not deserve to suffer, but also those whom he wanted to save?

Then to hell with that.

He'd find a way even if it was the last thing he did.

Pulling out the last known schematics of the orbital station that the STG had gotten their hands on, he began to pore over them again. But it had been decades since those had been verified and Hosin had been thorough in his efforts to isolate himself on the station, meaning there was no guarantee for how how accurate any of it was.

Seconds passed—hours relative to his perspective, as he went over everything again and again. Ever so slowly the orbital station continued inching towards Thessia and eventually Emiya simply found himself staring at the slowly updating long-range visual feed.

Already the station had fallen so deep into the gravity well that it was impossible to stop. Soon it would hit the atmosphere, after which it would be too late. Nothing had changed, no solutions had presented themselves.

Was there really nothing to be done?

He blinked as something happened, the unexpected change on one of the starship's status informing him of a surge in power consumption.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he looked around until he found the source of the disturbance. The light balls seemed to have finally gotten whatever they were doing finished, activating the tightbeam module and beginning to stream out a transmission.

Emiya frowned, moving closer as he took a look at them.

They had gotten the modifications on the laser working, having turned it into a microwave emitter with great effort. And with that, one of their number vanished.

He blinked, perking up as he realized the light ball must have just transmitted itself much the same way he usually did. Except that he had never simply shot himself down a laser without any knowledge of whether or not anyone was receiving on the other end.

Frowning again he pulled out the sensor readings to find out where the little thing had vanished. Looking up for a second he noted that another two had also disappeared and that the tightbeam module had changed where it was transmitting several times already.

Checking the sensors he noticed that the light balls were aiming at various starships, never sending out more than two with any single attempt or destination. But... the comms are still offline for each one? Where are they going?

The tighbeam modules on the receiving ships wouldn't be able to make sense of the microwaves, since they were set to automatically filter out them as meaningless background noise. The only things that would be able to pick up on whatever the floating balls were doing were passive sensors, like a spectrograph which would analyze and store the result on a separate computer—

Emiya blinked, his brows rising as he processed that thought.

For the balls of light who had to copy themselves over in ones and zeroes of machine code there were probably a lot more steps in the process. But for him who could enter computer systems through a display screen and jump out through security cameras...

Couldn't he simply jump in through a sensor?

"Huh."


;


Hoana yelped as suddenly the shuttle's dashboard lights all turned on as at the same time the deep clunk echoing through the floor told her that the magnetic anchorage had been disabled.

"H-huh?"

She looked up, hoping to shout out to papa and mama that something was happening when suddenly the shuttle was in the air and moving forward towards them.

Blinking back the tears of surprise and confusion, she wanted to shout out a warning, only to freeze as the stranger suddenly appeared behind them and grabbed both of them. Clad in black with a strange red cloak and sleeves, the figure somehow seemed familiar to her.

And then a second later the shuttle was swerving around and breaking her line of sight. Before she could get herself out of the pilot's seat she heard two surprised shouts behind her and she craned to see what had happened. As the shuttle's doors closed and the seals applied, she realized both mama and papa had been thrown aboard the shuttle by the stranger who was nowhere to be seen.

"Wha—what was that!?"

"Are you alright? Hoana, what—"

Hoana opened her mouth, wanting to say something only to freeze as she noticed both were looking over her shoulder with wide eyes. She swiveled around, gasping as she beheld through the open hangar bay doors the burning blue meteorite. It was coming right for them, she realized as she grasped Kurinth and closer her eyes.

"What, who is flying? Hoana, who is flying the shuttle?!" She heard papa shout behind her, but she didn't know and she was too overwhelmed to answer. The station continued rotating, obscuring the vision of their approaching demise as the hangar bay opening turned away with the turning of the station.

The shuttle shot out then at full speed and if it weren't for the artificial gravity and inertial dampening they would have all been glued to the back of the shuttle due to the intense acceleration.

Papa rushed forward to the dashboard, his hands moving so quickly across the haptic adaptive interface that Hoana got dizzy just looking at it. Suddenly the display changed, showing the reverse view. Behind them they could see the orbital station still spinning and behind it—

The vault of heaven caught fire, blinding them for a moment before the automatic filter activated, bringing the visibility back down to something they could handle. Hoana gaped as she opened her eyes, lost for words as she stared at the burning seven petaled flower.

"What..."

Translucent and billowing, she could just behind it see the raging maelstrom tearing her home apart. She could see how the sky around the flower was starting to waver and burn as well, as the overflowing storm raging behind the thin flower could be contained no longer.

Suddenly a shockwave rocked the shuttle with the sound of thunder and fury, as one of the burning petals shattered at the same time as the dashboard's displays turned crazy.

"The fusion reactor! It must have—"

The shuttle was rocked again, this time twice in a row as two more petals of the translucent flower shattered.

"That's Fujimura!" Mama suddenly gasped.

"What! Where?"

Hoana blinked following papa's gaze and peered into the eye of the storm, the blazing brightness hurting her eyes despite the screen having darkened a dozen times over already. And for just a second she thought she could see that dark stranger there, his red mantle raging behind him as he held aloft the burning sky.

The petals were now rapidly breaking, causing more and more of the great burning storm to spill out and over the edge. For each broken petal a burning rainbow and shifting aurora spilled out, spiraling outwards from the center of the roaring inferno. The shockwaves struck the shuttle one by one, pushing it further and away from the station until the final petal broke.

They were already dozens of kilometers away, yet the final burst almost broke the shuttle with the force of its blast. The rear-cameras couldn't handle the intensity any longer and burned out, forcing papa to start hammering away at the interface.

"Damn autopilot, just... Turn around!" He slammed his hand down, growling as he tried something else. "There!"

The shuttle's front view was brought up and the craft turned around, coming to a halt in the air as they simply stared at what remained of what had once been their home in silence.

A seven-colored aurora of burning rainbows, a shimmering veil of light spiraling outwards and covering the whole sky as it continued spreading slowly. Nothing of the orbital station remained, only the specks of dust that had been vaporized still glowing.

"So pretty..." Hoana whispered, frozen in awe as she could only stare.

That day it rained light on Thessia.


;


Hi! Sorry I've been gone for so long. But you know how it is with "life" :D

Super duper alpha to omega thanks to daniel-gudman for feedback and criticism, and to PseudoSteak for proofreading my crazy writings again. This chapter was effectively 60k words long, given how many times I deleted and rewrote scenes and because I wrote it in snippets of 15-30min sessions, I lost coherency and plot threads constantly. Crazy stuff.

Oh yeah and thanks to my patrons, I appreciate them too and apologize for the long radio silence :V