A/N: This is going to be the biggest STG file ever. Because P. is love.
The Editing Gang did not review. Any mistakes are thus, clearly, their fault.
PROLOGUE - A Two-Part Coda in, strangely, two parts
The room was circular, made of overlapping arches of dark gray naggai wood framed in shining silver steel. The arches came into a swirling meeting in the center of the room, a dome backlit by small white lights along the edge, illuminating the space below. Between the arches, silver shelving filled the spaces, lined with a variety of strange objects – the skull of several yahg, bronze masks, clear canisters of softly glowing liquid. At the furthest center-point, a massive battle-suit of gray crystal and greenish-white metal was hung – holes and blast marks littering its surface.
In the midst of thick black carpets sat a massive semi-circular desk of black crystal, festooned with haptic screens arranged on small armatures that extended upwards. Each one showed scenes from body-cams, cybernetic eye camera systems, drone flocks, or other sensors, and groups rotated or moved according to the whim of the operator. The desk itself flickered with a dim red light in an irregular pattern, and lines of energy appeared and faded at various moments.
The turian slouched behind the desk was remarkable for his kind. Naked to the waist, his torso was crisscrossed by metallic implants that glowed a faint, sullen blue to match the rotating circles in his eyes, the black skin below gray plating scarred in many places. Cables and bionetic implants lined his powerful arms, along with glowing blue circuitry.
A slender clawed hand traced a delicate pattern over the blue skin of the naked asari kneeling at his feet, drawing a line up her spine that drew a shivery giggle from her even as blood seeped from the shallow cut left behind, matching hundreds of faint scars on her back. Her eyes were locked in the empty blackness of ecstasy, faint red stains around her nostrils and mouth mute proof of her addiction to red sand.
The turian's face and upper shoulders were liberally covered in black paint, and his forehead was marked with pink lines that traced down the side of his face, each one formed from tiny, barely visible turian script. Blue-circled eyes flitted from screen to screen, blackened teeth parting as he lifted an elcor hyterac cigar to his maw with his free hand and inhaled deeply, the fumes of purple and white smoke framing him in a daemonic cloud of radiance for a moment before the filtration fans sucked it away.
The far door into the room shuddered, then split in half, revealing a slender salarian in a black body suit. Old scars crossed her features, pale welts on her light greenish-beige skin, as she entered and then gave a shallow bow. "The exfiltration went well, master. We had to blow up the frigate, but we got both of the targets and killed the STG cell."
She tossed an OSD into the air and the turian's hand snapped out, blindingly fast, catching it gingerly as his mandibles flickered. "Oh my… how tragic. An entire cell, dead. I must say, the STG is so sloppy nowadays. And how did they perish? Stick up the ass overdose? Genetic meltdown? Or did they trip and fall?"
The salarian female snickered. "Yeah, down a flight of plasma blasts. We used the Eclipse rifles. The info from the Shifter was on point – Ventah was our leak. Not sure why, and since Ventah was ex-Eclipse… we killed her, blew her face off, and left her stripped of useful identification. The STG may not buy it, but they won't know it was us, and there's a dead Eclipse body…"
The turian pushed the kneeling asari away, coming to his feet with almost unnaturally smooth grace. "Hashara, how many times must I repeat my repeatance? If you keep killing them, they won't learn anything. How are they supposed to make a good cake if you don't give the cake time to rise?"
The salarian's mouth pulled back in a truly ugly smile. "It's not like we're going to run out, master. Besides, the last lesson wasn't sharp enough if they were stupid enough to pull this mess again. Just be glad I got this handled before it became an issue."
The turian gave a flick of his blackened mandibles and a long exhalation of breath. "Hashara… the vivisection frogs are never a real issue. The SIX think they're running everything, but all they are really is a seat cushion for the League. And the STG is so busy trying to unfuck everything their bosses fuck up they're blind."
He gestured with his cigar to the far wall, where several galactic starmaps hung. "The… things I can see, my lovely lady, are beyond what others see. They think I'm crazy… but there's a haze of green, spreading from Makana to envelop most of the Salarian Space." The black fanged maw opened in a laugh. "No, the salarians are like clouds. The condensation of the action of outside forces, displayed in a highly visible mass that looks impressive… but is just a bunch of mist."
Hashara leaned indolently against the door. "Boss, I don't think you're crazy. Sitting on a couch for twenty years, being banged by witless boys and pushing eggs until your pelvis shatters, then spending the last five years of life arguing with others over who gets to bang your daughters – that's insane. I kinda hope the Wheel-be-damned plant eats the whole fucking lot of them." She shook her head. "My point, boss, is we can't just let them pin us down and pull apart how we work. Too much gets routed through your… uh, family."
P. leaned back in his chair, and laid his hand atop the asari at his feet. "That's because blood calls to blood. My Daughters can never betray me. The more I hurt them, the harder they cling. The more I debase them, the louder they scream my name. That is power."
He put his cigar down, then pulled the asari into his lap, his voice flanging. "Aside from having murdered some of your own people… I presume there's a reason you came in-person?"
Hashara nodded. "Yeah. We stopped them from getting their hands on the device, but they had been pulling data for a while. The OSD doesn't just have the data from the device run, but the files the team leader had on his tool. They were writing another report… on you."
P. tilted the asari's head back, his voice mirthful. "…A report. How amusing. Am I now a mere appetizer, to be dissected by no-doubt perfectly sane salarian psychologists?"
The salarian's voice was equally amused. "It's a riot to read. They're so far from a clue it's tempting to give them hints or something. They think you're an AI."
Hard, mocking laughter rang out. "…Oh, Hashara. You see why these people are harmless? Let them plot. If they haven't tasted the actual forbidden fruit, they won't get the joke." He glanced upwards. "Although that reminds me. Saren is dead. Desolas is dead. Aventia is dead. The Valluxian Priests are all dead."
The blue-circled eyes met hers. "Jack Harper is the only one alive outside of the Palavanus with the… gifts… of the Arcann. I'll deal with my meddlesome sequels, but I don't like the idea of a man that dangerous being able to see the truth."
Hashara folded her arms. "Vigil is the sticking point there. Harper isn't dumb, he's not sticking his neck out anytime soon. Tracking him means getting past Vigil and… well. We saw what the thing did to the fucking volus."
P. laughed again. "The volus have always been full of themselves, my delightful murderess. They are at least getting the right answers… they just aren't asking the right questions. Or the left questions. Or any questions, really – and the biggest downfall of smart people is they know they're smart and never stop to ask how they are being stupid."
Hashara frowned. "You're surprisingly lucid today, you off your meds again?"
Even the drug-hazed asari laughed at that.
P – P – P
"…and that concludes our report, STG Master."
The slender and androgynous form of the Master sat in the control center of the STG, surrounded by analysts, data screens, and newsfeeds. Its black bodysuit and silvered limbs were still, but the cybernetic eyes behind the blank mask were narrowed.
The tattered remains of a full STG cell stood before the desk, three salarians littered with medi-gel packs and wraps, one of them in a lift chair.
The Master's voice, modulated and neutral, still retained an edge of annoyance. "Two Transcendentals, nineteen War Specs, twenty-two FCA combat specialists, eight intelligence analysts, and eleven data savants wiped out in less than an hour? And two STG frigates destroyed. Six agents captured, along with a cell leader and another frigate. And all we have to show for it is a report? This is not an acceptable level of loss."
The lone senior Agent in the lift chair gave a bitter chuckle. "Our informant gave us good information. She was, I believe, discovered. They allowed us to think we had a safe infiltration and let us gather everything before springing the trap. They made it look like an Eclipse attack… but I knew Ventah. She had not been an Eclipse sister for some time and had a falling out with Jona Sederis. This was all P."
The STG Master sighed. "And no one thought to withdraw in the face of probable blowback?"
The Senior Agent gave a bitter laugh. "I advised Master Agent Vanas six times to withdraw or section the mission and send back what we had, including the bizarre Arthenn artifact. He refused. The blame is not mine, nor will I try to excuse our failure."
The agent lifted his head. "But I would suggest, STG Master, that going head up against P.'s forces is a waste of time. The Daughters cannot be broken – not by mind-rips, not by truth drugs, not by direct neural interface and ghost-hacking, and not even by nanosequestration. They were not even affected by the Makana spore samples. Whatever P. is using will require a great amount of research and investigation before we are even remotely ready to penetrate that group."
The STG Master leaned back. "I agree. This is Black-Collapse-Nine information… but the sophont calling himself 'P.' has gone by many names. And we have scattered files on this being and his activities going back to just after the discovery of the turians. When he is pinned down, he vanishes, his works fall apart… and then a few decades later, he reemerges."
The Master leaned forward. "But his people have never been hard to penetrate, so what changed?" With a wave of its hand, the Master's voice dropped in pitch and in tone. "Return to medical and have yourselves refitted, bionetic package B-series 15. My authorization. You will have one month of recovery and re-acclimation and then you will organize another cell to focus specifically on P. Once you have a baseline, we will construct an OTA to take a more intense approach to this problem."
"Understood, Master. Taska, Miera, depart – I will be there shortly." The senior agent waited until the other two agents limped out before speaking "…There is one other thing, not in the report for obvious reasons. We recently obtained data correspondence from our source inside the Alliance R&D group. They ran an operation involving an actual Reaper derelict."
The STG Master's voice was laced with shock. "And they did not inform the Council?"
"No. It was being handled by Hades, which is probably an Alliance black op now that Cerberus has gone all helpful and not-terrorist. What matters is not the derelict – they reported that it vanished – but that there was an artifact on it that had energy reading matching the ones we took from the device we were after. We don't have firm details yet, but… that strikes me as a very unlikely coincidence."
The STG Master leaned back. "…I concur. I will raise the issue with the League in our next communication window. Why was this routed to your team instead of the Alliance OTA?"
The agent gave a sharp exhalation of breath. "Master Vanas didn't explain. I'm not entirely sure what is going on, several operational teams are moving into areas they don't usually deal with. The fact that you don't know is incredibly troubling."
"Go. I will investigate myself." The STG Master watched the agent leave in his lift chair before tapping his comm panel. "VI – schedule an out of band contact with the League of Zero, highest priority. Clone up two cells of FCA agents, educational package counterintelligence and internal investigation. Pull all of Master Vanas's records, files, and data entries and begin a back trace, and have Senior Agents Soril and Jethoth in my office in ten stanlengths with a complete data reception log of all information from the Systems Alliance Research and Development group."
The male voice of the VI spoke softly. "Acknowledged. Advisory: you have a meeting with Muvai Solus this evening. Reschedule?"
"…Yes. Inform her we are investigating P. for links to Remembrance. Send her the latest copy of the file on P. just put together by Vanas's team and allow her to provide a good time to meet."