Chapter 36.5: Current Events V
Illium, Nos Astra.
Liara's Office. Early Evening, shortly before sunset.
Liara T'Soni had a beaming, infectious smile on her face as she embraced her father, having enjoyed not only her first real conversation with her, but the opportunity to bond with the parent she never knew. She could feel Aethyta tense up at the unfamiliar contact, but soon sighed as she, too, wrapped her arms around the other asari. Touched by the moment and temporarily overcome with emotion, she let out just two words, barely above a whisper.
"Father…" She replied happily.
She, of course, knew that Jordan had spoken with the Matriarch in Afterlife. After all, what kind of information broker would she be if she didn't know about that. Regardless, she owed him one for this. She didn't quite have the courage to step up as the bigger asari and speak to her father, yet he seemed to have done enough to convince Aethyta to do it instead.
They'd spent many minutes, possibly even an hour, speaking prior to this, trying their best to get through the initial awkwardness. They learned a bit about each other, but not nearly as much as they liked. But, it was definitely a start. Obviously, she couldn't tell her father about her new occupation as the Shadow Broker, but still…
Their moment, however, was interrupted by a knock at the door, causing Aethyta to tense up. Frowning, Liara hesitantly ended the embrace and separated herself from her father. She was not naive enough to assume this was a sanctioned meeting by the Matriarchs from Thessia. She knew that her father was likely NOT supposed to reveal herself.
"Who's at the door?" She asked, shortly after activating her omni-tool.
"A Matriarch would like to speak with you, Miss T'Soni." A turian voice responded immediately. "She requests to meet with you now…" He paused for a moment, "And she does not appear to be accepting of the answer 'no'."
Liara sighed, "I guess this is it." She said to her father, shaking her head at the end of their much-too-short meeting.
"It's fine. I've survived for over a hundred years without meeting you. I think I can wait more than a few hours or days to talk again."
Liara smiled warmly at her father, "Thank you… dad…" She said, before motioning toward one of the nearby walls. Approaching it with her father, she imputed a code into her omni-tool, allowing a piece of the wall to open up.
"Secret exit. Classy…" Aethyta said with a smirk, "You know where to find me…" She said, obviously preferring to stay longer. Finally, she forced herself into the exit, leaving Liara as the wall slid closed again, hiding the doorway.
Liara's smile quickly fell as she returned to her desk. She sighed and she put on her business face. "Send her in, Vibius." She finally said over her omni-tool.
"Of course, Miss T'Soni." He replied immediately, timed just before the door sliding open.
In walked a tall and proud asari matriarch, wearing a set of unique black and purple armor. It was definitely not council-made or from any asari producer that she knew, rather it reminded her of some of the products she'd seen human's produce. Her dark blue skin was only visible on her neck and head, thanks to the full-body armor. She bore regal purple markings on her face, reminding Liara of Justice Samara's red headpiece. Her even darker blue lips were drawn into a slight smirk, as if she believed she owned the room she was walking into.
'Oh how sorely she is mistaken.' Liara thought to herself.
Her confident stride stopped within a meter of Liara's desk, stopping in a straight pose with her arms hung loosely at her sides. Liara recognized her pose as a combat-ready 'relaxed' pose often used by huntresses. This was a powerful and dangerous asari matriarch, and one that she recognized thanks to her position as a broker. However, her guest didn't need to know that.
"What can I do for you, Miss…?" She asked polity, allowing her guest to introduce herself.
"My apologies. I am Matriarch Ishara." She introduced herself. She looked around for a moment, before gesturing to a nearby chair. "May I?"
"Of course, please." Liara responded, giving Matriarch Ishara a moment to grab the chair and sit down.
"So, what may I do for you, Matriarch Ishara?"
"Well… you see, I believe our conversation would go more smoothly if we were alone." The Matriarch began.
Liara scrunched her brow in mock-confusion, looking around her room for a moment before turning her attention back to her guest, "We are quite alone, Matriarch. I assure you that there is no one listening to us as we speak."
Ishara raised a metaphorical eyebrow, "Really? No one else in this room, nor listening?" She asked.
Liara nodded, tilting her head in slight confusion.
That's when the Matriarch rose a glowing hand, using her powerful biotics. Throwing her hand to her left, she clenched her fist and pulled it back, forcing the dark energy to wrap around an unseen object and pull it into range. Reaching over with her other hand, she unsheathed an asari sword from her hip, thrusting it forward through the invisible object quickly and decisively.
The Geth Hunter didn't have even have time to decloak before it hit the ground, dead. Likewise, the sword was re-sheathed before the inactive Geth unit thudded against the ground.
In a heartbeat, four other Geth Hunters uncloaked, raising their shotguns toward the deadly Matriarch, ready to kill the asari for her crimes against their comrade. She, however, seemed unimpressed by their display.
"I did give you an opportunity to leave." She informed them.
Internally, Liara was shocked by the display, but maintained her external composure. Speaking as neutrally as she could, Liara replied, "Impressive. I did not realize you noticed their presence."
"Please. Only amateurs and civilians would be fooled by such a party trick outside of combat scenarios." She helpfully informed them, "Now, may I please speak to Miss T'Soni in peace?" She asked aloud.
Liara looked to the four hunters, shaking her head, "Leave us. Return in an hour." Hesitantly, the four Hunters did what they were asked, leaving the room through the main exit, truly leaving the two asari alone. After a moment, Ishara's smirk returned, "See, that wasn't too hard. Now, with your bugged office disabled and your Geth gone, we can get down to business."
Liara raised a false eyebrow, "And what type of business are you interested in, Matriarch. I am but a humble information broker on Illium. What use could I be to such an important figure?"
"Ahh, but this is a mutual meeting." She began, "We will both benefit from today, as long as we cooperate with each other. After all, we've been waiting patiently for the right time to speak with you, as I'm sure you've been looking forward to speaking with us. I represent a very important organization, Miss T'Soni. One with which you would not want a bad relationship with."
Liara was slightly confused, but persevered, "I'm sorry, but I do not believe you currently represent the Council of Matriarchs." She replied, "Whom do you represent, Matriarch?"
"Why, Shadow Broker, I'm surprised you haven't already figured it out."
Liara froze, her eyes narrowed as they focused on the matriarch's face. She called her the Shadow Broker. And this wasn't a simple guess, or bait of some kind… she KNEW who she was. Taking a deep breath, Liara responded after a moment, "I believe I don't understand. Do you believe I am the Shadow Broker?"
"Cut the crap, T'Soni. We know who you are."
"Yet, I do not know who you are." She replied, "You are certainly not Matriarch Ishara. Ishara is currently on Earth, in a meeting with Alec Ryder and Jien Garson pertaining to the Andromeda Initiative. In addition, Ishara has never worn human-made armor, as she custom-produces her own. You have her facial markings and weaponry down and accurate, but that is all."
The Matriarch suddenly started chuckling, clapping her hands for a moment before stopping and shaking her head in amusement, "Impressive, Doctor T'Soni. Truly impressive…" She then reached up and wiped away the false markings, leaving a perfectly dark blue face, with no markings at all, though they might just have been hidden under further makeup. At this point, Liara certainly wouldn't put it past this other asari.
Liara maintained her cool and analyzed the asari before her. Obviously an ex-huntress. Indefinitely a Matriarch, if her overall appearance and biotic prowess was to be considered. However, aside from that, she did not recognize the matriarch. "Who are you?"
"You may simply refer to me as Janiri." The Matriarch told her, "As for who I represent, you should be able to figure it out. I'll even give you a hint. You sent us a warning, not to involve ourselves. You would, quote, "use all of your resources to figure out every last secret of ours.""
Liara let out a breath as she realized who this was. "You represent the Benefactor."
Matriarch 'Janiri' nodded, "Yes. Whom you and others call the 'Benefactor' is the organization I represent."
Liara had many questions, yet knew the possible danger she was in. In all that time since she'd issued the warning, she'd discovered absolutely nothing about the benefactor, which was absurd. She was the Shadow Broker, yet she couldn't find any information. Whoever or whatever this organization was, it was dangerous, and even more secretive than the Broker, if they truly knew who she was.
'Janiri' seemed to almost know what she was thinking, and smiled, "I see your curiosity shining through, doctor." She commented, "Now, I'd like to propose something. We're going to play a game; something we haven't done since our old school days, I'm sure. Many decades, or centuries in my case, ago."
"What kind of game?"
"The Honesty Game. One person asks a question, the other answers honestly. Then, the second person asks a question in return, and the first person answers honestly. You may decide to stop answering or asking questions at any time, however, it must be fair and equal. For instance, if you ask the first question, and I answer, you will be obligated to at least answer my first question, as it's only fair." She explained.
"And what if the rules are broken?" Liara asked.
"Neither of us will break the rules, though I will be generous and let you stop asking questions at any point. That is, after we've gone a few rounds. However, if you break the rules otherwise, well… let's just say you've lost the possibility of making a few more friends."
The Shadow Broker had to admit she hadn't done such a game for over a century. Such a 'game' was often used in early asari schooling as ice-breakers or during early bonding with friends, but this certainly didn't feel 'friendly'. And, she was quite curious about who she was and who the benefactor was. Unfortunately, as the Shadow Broker, she knew a lot of information. And, if the benefactor, or whoever they are knew who she was, there wasn't likely a lot they needed from her. But, whatever they DID need would likely be very important... and very dangerous in the wrong hands.
"I believe I am willing to play." Liara finally answered, bringing a smirk to "Janiri's" face.
"Perfect. I'll even allow you the first question." Liara nodded, thinking for a moment, trying to word this as precisely as possible. "What is the 'Benefactor', truly? Its real name and goal."
"That's quite the opener…" Janiri replied, nodding, "I'll give it to you, since I'm feeling generous." She leaned forward in her seat, "We call ourselves The Guardians of Athame."
Liara narrowed her eyes, "I've never heard of the Guardians of Athame before."
"That's the point." She replied with her smirk still intact. "My turn, then. I'll start somewhat simple: How did you learn of Hagalaz?"
She figured a question like this would be imminent in a game like this, but this showed a few things by simply asking the question. The 'Guardians of Athame', or whoever they were, knew about the Shadow Broker and who she is, yet their own knowledge was limited. They knew she took the mantle, but not how. That could be useful to remember.
Answering the questions, too, is an important part of this game. She must be careful how she answers, being honest, yet not giving away too much. Otherwise, the game will end to her disadvantage. She knew Janiri was watching her closely, making sure she wouldn't be lying. In fact, even then, her omni-tool was likely running a program that aided her in this, not that Liara wasn't already doing the same. She HAD to tell the truth, to be on the safe side, but not the entire truth. That's how you played the game.
"I was approached by the Geth, who led me there." She replied honestly, without giving away any particular names, dates, or events.
"Was Jordan Sower, an Avatar, involved?" Janiri immediately followed up.
This time, Liara smirked back, shaking her head, "I believe it is my turn, Matriarch Janiri."
"And it appears you understand how to play this game." She replied with a light frown, before her smirk returned. "Very well, your turn."
She needed more information on their organization, so she filed away her questions about them and the broker for later. "What is the goal of your organization? Cerberus exists to advance humanity's interests…" She used as an example.
"Yes, and the Templars exists to further and advance Geth interests." She replied, shocking Liara internally. The number of organics who knew of the Templars was supposedly in the single digits. How did she know? Janiri soon continued, actually answering the question, "The Guardians of Athame have a more important goal. We exist to ensure the survival of our species." She answered.
"Reapers?" Liara couldn't help but ask.
"My turn, please remember." Waiting for Liara to nod, she asked away, "Did Jordan Sower approach you about Hagalaz and the Shadow Broker without you contacting him prior?" She asked specifically. Liara knew, there and then, that there was a specific purpose to this game. Janiri was trying to get very specific information. Once she got to it, the game would end to her advantage. Strategically speaking, she'd have to answer as vaguely as possible, and be more diligent in her questions.
Finally, she replied with a single word, "Yes." Janiri nodded, allowing the follow-up question, "Why do the Guardians of Athame exist?"
At this, Janiri's eyes finally narrowed as her smirk turned to a frown, "Because the council of Matriarchs are fools, caught in their own, selfish desires for power. They'd rather rule in purposeful ignorance, than survive as equals amoung others." She replied passionately. Liara filed that bit of information away for later. The GoA has some sort of problem with the Council of Matriarchs on Thessia. They oppose them, but why?
"Your turn, I assume."
Janiri, realizing her mistake, forced her carefree, superior smirk back onto her face before she spoke, "Yes. Does Jordan Sower possess any sort of foreknowledge of the future?" She asked, freezing Liara's heart.
Technically, from what she understood, Jordan knew what was SUPPOSED to happen, not what WOULD happen. She didn't completely understand all of it, but she knew that this wasn't something that should be known by many.
"Not quite." She replied simply.
"That's not much of an answer, T'Soni."
"Many of your answers have been lacking as well, Janiri."
"Very well, we seem to have reached an impasse. Either was can continue like this, where neither of us gets what we want, or we could try to be a bit more open with our answers. Which do you choose?"
"And what assurances do I have that you would give me the same curtesy?"
Janiri remained silent, before her smirk grew and she let out a quick laugh. "Very well, I will go into further depth on one of your previous questions first, in exchange for more insight on my question."
Taking a chance, Liara nodded, "What is the goal of the Guardians of Athame?"
"As you said earlier: Reapers." She replied easily, causing Liara to raise an eyebrow, "Long ago, the asari discovered a cache of protean data. It gave us many technological advantages... but it also revealed the existence and very real danger of the Reapers. Unlike many who knew of this, we believed the warnings, and have been working to prepare for them." She explained, "Now…?"
Sighing, Liara decided to somewhat explain, without giving away much of Jordan's secrets, "He doesn't quite possess this 'foreknowledge', rather, he can predict what is coming with extreme accuracy based on prior knowledge, and seems to know things I do not."
"Interesting." Janiri replied, "See, that wasn't so hard. Now, shall we continue?"
"Alright." Liara answered. With the way things were going now, perhaps she'd be able to learn more about the organization. However, she knew that the deeper she delved for answers, the deeper Janiri would go as well. "Very well, what is the relationship between the Shadow Broker and the Guardians of Athame?"
"Good question. You see, we created the Shadow Broker within our organization. As I'm sure you're aware, that Yahg killed the previous Broker, and took his place. Rather than attempt to take the position back, we drew back from the Broker, allowing him to exist without our intervention."
That answered one question, but raised many more. Why would they let such a powerful position in the galaxy remain outside of their grasp? Especially when they knew exactly where the Yagh was residing the entire time? Something's fishy here.
"Now, how many Avatars are there, and what are their names and titles?"
Liara frowned, but answered. "There was four, but now there are three, as one of them was killed. The Avatar of Synthesis is Jordan Sower, the Avatar of Oblivion is Brian Miller, the Avatar of Destruction is only known as Commander Smith, and the Avatar of Control was Cynthia Wake, who is KIA." She answered simply. To be completely honest, she still knew almost nothing about the Avatar of Destruction. Whoever she was, she'd been careful around her agents. In fact, every agent she'd sent into the Talons had been executed, but that didn't stop her from trying. In fact, one or two of them seemed to finally be making some progress within the merc group.
"I see." Janiri answered simply.
"What are your reasons for supporting and funding the Andromeda Initiative?"
"It is our final answer to the Reapers, and our failsafe. If all else fails, the Andromeda Initiative will guarantee our species' survival in another galaxy. If the Reapers cannot be defeated, they must be evaded." Janiri explained. She paused for a moment, before smirking a bit wider, "What is the Crucible?"
Liara felt her heart stop once more in her chest at the question. How the hell did she know about that? Was the organization intercepting her messages? Or, perhaps the GoA held recruits and members in many different species…
Liara hesitated. Sure, they may claim to be against the Reapers, but… Could she really tell them? "The Crucible… is a theoretical answer to the Reapers. A device that is proposed to exist to defeat the Reapers, possibly created by the Protheans."
"It wasn't designed by the Protheans, but I thank you for your honesty. Now, your turn."
Liara shook her head, "My question... Who is included in your membership? Species, important figures?"
"That's a lot of questions." She replied simply, "We have members in nearly all species across the galaxy, in every corner of society. As for specific members, you'd have to ask about them separately. But, I'll give you one name."
"No." Janiri answered immediately, before she asked her question in full seriousness, "Where are the plans for the Crucible?"
Liara froze for a moment after receiving the question. They know the plans for the device exist, but do not have the blueprints? That means that whoever Admiral Hackett has been very careful in his process of 'covertly uncovering the plans'. She couldn't just give up this information, especially with the way this organization... the so-called 'Guardians of Athame', seemed so dangerous and elusive. After all, according to Jordan, they'd kill anyone who asked questions or tried to investivagate them. It only took a moment to comprehend these points, before Liara finally answered.
"I refuse to answer that question." She said, causing the room to fall into silence.
"Is that your final answer, Doctor?" Janiri asked, her earlier smirk nowhere to be found, "There are no second chances, Doctor."
Liara narrowed her eyes, "I have answered honestly so far, but I will not answer that question."
"We do not need to be enemies, T'Soni. We can be invaluable allies in this conflict. We've been searching for these plans for centuries, and you know where they are. Would you really doom this galaxy because you can't trust us?"
"Forgive me for being cautious, but up until thirty minutes ago, I did not even know you existed."
"Fair enough…" Janiri said, standing up, "We are not enemies, but we are neither allies, Doctor T'Soni. I had hoped for better, but had feared far worse... We will be in touch." She said, turning to leave, but stopping by the doorway, turning back toward Liara, who'd remained seated.
"Honestly, I'm surprised you played along for so long with us. So, I'll give you a piece of information that you may appreciate… Trebakur Dozk is on Zeithea." She said, confusing Liara.
"Are those names supposed to mean something to me?"
"Maybe not to you, but it meant something to the previous Broker… and it probably means something to Spectre Vasir. Do some research, Doctor, and don't forget our generosity." She told her, "That is all."
And with that, the unnamed asari, known only as Janiri, left the office. Alone with only her thought, Liara began diving into her records, attempting to make sense of what she'd just been given. Things were being set into motion, and Liara now had no idea where things would go from here.
Broker Preliminary Report:
The Guardians of Athame
This mysterious organization is puzzling, and very little is known about them. What little is known, raises many questions. They have existed since before the Asari established contact with the Salarians, this is certain. This organization also seems to bear some kind of connection to the Asari's monotheistic religion based on Athame's Doctrine. The name makes that obvious, but the representative, known only as "Janiri" is the same name as one of Athame's advisors in the mythology.
They acknowledge the existence of the Reapers, and seem to have the survival and/or defeat of the Reapers as their primary purpose. Originally, they founded the Shadow Broker, before the mantle was taken by another, and left their grasp. For unknown reasons, they did not attempt to retake the position, and left the Shadow Broker to his own devices. Based on the Broker's archives, the Broker either did not know of the GoA's existence, or he kept the information off the record for, once again, unknown reasons.
They are interested in the Avatars, specifically their supposed foreknowledge. They also are increasingly interested in the Crucible, though their true colors are yet to be known. They attempted to appear benevolent and generous, but this was likely a farce. To what end, I do not know. More data is needed.
Broker Data Search:
Zeithea is an uncharted, uninteresting planet in the Titan Nebula, off the beaten path of exploration in said nebula. Located barely within the habitable zone, and sized as an average garden world, the rocky planet very well might have supported diverse life in the distant past within the system of Cof. At night, the planet reaches beyond freezing temperatures, and occasionally barely reaches 0 degrees Celsius during summer mid-days, allowing certain locations across the equator to thaw yearly. A breathable atmosphere, yet desert-filled environment, the only living creatures on Zeithea are Thresher Maws, some grasses, and several species of bacteria. The atmosphere is breathable, but it known for spikes in toxic gases within its atmosphere at seemingly random times, making colonization ill-advised.
Broker Side-Note: Quarterly shipments are sent to the planet at the behest of the Broker. How this was overlooked remains a mystery, though it is done through automatic and quietly secretive channels. Something is there, yet the Broker archives make no mention of anything of value being there. Although, to be fair, there is no mention of Hagalaz within the archives.
Broker Data Search:
Trebukar Dozk is a Krogan Warlord, known for his brutality, ruthlessness, and efficiency. An exceedingly loyal Broker Agent, he is also known as one of the few Krogan snipers in existence. Trained with almost every weapon imaginable, he prefers close-combat like most Krogan, yet can still easily hit his mark from over a kilometer away. Unlike other Krogan as well, he is well versed in tactics and stealth, making him exceptionally deadly. It is rumored that he can control his bloodrage, remaining fully coherent went entering such a state, making him an increasingly dangerous foe, and powerful ally.
-Successfully eliminated four confirmed members of the League of One after they had gone into hiding.
-Assassinated the Turian Primarch several centuries ago.
-Introduced the Krogan and Blood Pack to the Vorcha.
Broker Side-Note: Has been used previously to keep other, less loyal Shadow Broker agents in line. Has gone into hiding several decades ago, his whereabouts kept off the record. When compared to Spectre Vasir's records, there has been previous encounters and violent engagements between the two of them. It is possible he is responsible for the murder and assassination of Hialus Vasir.
Sending encrypted message to Jordan Sower…
Tell Shepard to return to Illium ASAP. Broker emergency. Must speak in person. Bring only people you trust and who know the truth.
Been a while since I've done a Current Events Chapter. This one, unlike the others so far, is very specific in the information it gives out, and is extremely important to what comes next. As you may be able to guess, Tela Vasir's Loyalty Mission is coming, now.
The location and the character 'Trebakur Dozk' are of my own design, since the Titan Nebula certainly does not have that location, nor does Tela Vasir have such a background in the games. I hope the next chapter and the info I'm playing with work out well enough for everyone. For a recap on Tela Vasir's history, you can refer to "Chapter 19: Baptism" for the events from her perspective. However, please keep in mind that you are ONLY hearing the story second-hand from Tela's point of view, so many details may or may not be inaccurate or misremembered, but much of it is, at the very least, very true. Just keep that in mind.
My own version of the Benefactor is now introduced and partially explained, and I hope it makes some kind of sense with my decision. I certainly did not answer all questions about the Benefactor, and I'm sure you want to know much more. Unfortunately, 'Janiri' wasn't simply going to explain everything for free. Her actions were very deliberate, and they have plans in store for the galaxy, especially with secrets on the line. Honestly, this has kinda been my headcanon for "The Benefactor", since all we really know is that they have near-unlimited funding, they knew about the Reapers long before Shepard, and the speaker/representative in 'Mass Effect: Andromeda' sounds female. I'm obviously taking it a bit further, but I hope you can all see where I'm coming from and follow my logic.
As for here, they knew that Liara's the Broker and have no reason to spill that secret. After all, that'd only accomplish the complete destruction of a vital resource in the future fight against the Reapers. Not to worry, though… much more information about the organization known only as either "The Benefactor" or "The Guardians of Athame" is coming soon. If you have questions, I may answer them when I have time, if you want to message me or leave a review.
Hope you enjoyed this little chapter, let me know what you thought, and see you next time! Hopefully, I'll have it done within a week or two.