0439 Hours, November 7, 2183 (Council Calendar)
Normandy, Faster-Than-Light, Milky Way Galaxy

Shepard gasped as she shot up. She was sweating profusely, her eyes bloodshot and wide as she scanned the room. She tried to find her baring on where he was and what the hell happened. She tried to stand, but a wave of vertigo hit her like a truck and her knees began to buckle. She crashed into a nearby cart topped with medical devices and equipment that went tumbling onto the floor. As she tried to right herself, she heard a ping and a swooshing noise off to her right. The Commander looked over and through her double vision she saw an older woman in a skintight grey uniform rushing over. She felt her reach under her armpits and help her back over to the bed that she just fallen out of. As she gently laid her back down, she pulled up her Omni-tool and a thin blue line of light came down from the ceiling and began to run along the length of her body.

"Relax Commander, you're safe. Please don't try and get up until you've had a moment to readjust. You've been unconscious for the better part of a day," Dr. Chakwas calmly explained as she observed the holographic computer on her arm.

Shepard continued to lay on her back as her vision slowly returned to normal and the room ceased to spin. She looked around and saw that she was in the Normandy's medical bay. As she started to concentrate, the memories of the previous day started to come back slowly.

"What happened? The last thing I remember was…" She trailed off as it all started to come back to him.

Eden Prime. Fighting the Geth. The Beacon.

"After that Beacon did whatever it was doing to you, Commander, you were brought onboard the Normandy for immediate medical attention. We managed to mend your internal wounds, and your brain scans didn't reveal any damage. But you seemed to be experiencing erratic brain waves patterns," the older woman replied.

Shepard groaned as she raised a hand to her head, "Yeah… I feel like I just woke up from shore leave on Terra Nova." Her head was pounding, like an ice pick was being driven through the side of her head. Slowly, she moved back up to a seated position, letting her head rest in her hands as she tried to get over the dizziness.

"You were very lucky Commander. Interfacing with an ancient alien computer? Who know what that could have done to you. I would have thought Captain Anderson would have drilled that reckless streak out of you by now," Chakwas reprimanded the Commander with a motherly glare.

Shepard chuckled a bit but groaned when the laughing agitated her headache, "Trust me, I definitely won't be doing that again."

The door behind her beeped and retracted into the walls revealing a man wearing some sort of black, cloth military uniform she'd never seen before with circular patches on the shoulders. He had short cropped, military style hair and a clean-shaven face. Beside him, Captain Anderson walked as the pair strode into the medical bay. Shepard quickly made a move to stand at attention, before the doctor placed a hand on her shoulder halting her.

"Ah, ah, ah Commander. Not so fast, I still have a few more readings to take," Chakwas said as she looked over her datapad.

"At ease, Shepard. Take your time, you've been through quite the ordeal," her commanding officer and mentor waived her off with a smile. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine… mostly. Bit of a headache though… back's kinda achy," she replied, letting herself relax as she usually did around the older man.

The Captain smirked at that, "Good to know you're feeling like your old self. I was worried that Beacon might have ruined that charming wit of yours."

The man beside her tilted his head, "Wit? Really? I didn't see a whole lotta that down on Eden Prime?"

Shepard looked over to him, recognizing him now that her mind was clearing, "Right… Lt. Colonel Mitchell, right?"

He nodded and offered his hand, which she took after only moment's hesitation, "Yep. Glad to see that Beacon didn't completely scramble your brains."

"Thanks… I think. So, Captain Anderson convinced you to come along?" she asked.

Mitchell nodded, "Yeah, he had some good points about why it was for the best. Besides, what kind of contractors would we be if we didn't do what our new employers asked."

Shepard looked over at Anderson for clarification. He nodded as raised a hand to the Colonel, "The Alliance has officially enlisted the services of the Atlantean Defense Force in this matter. Governor Swan never officially requisitioned for their assistance. Hopefully this will help smooth things over with the Council, since we didn't let their people in on the dig site until after you helped us find the Beacon." Anderson motioned to the Colonel.

"Exactly, I'd rather not have our charter stripped only a couple of weeks after we got it. Besides, from what Anderson here's been tellin' me about this Saren guy, you guys are gonna need all the support you can get," Mitchell added.

"Right… Saren…" Shepard muttered as her memories came back to her. "Nihlus… he knows him, right? Why did a SPECTRE go rogue and attack us?" she asked, mostly to herself.

Anderson shook his head, "Saren hates humans. Despises us." Anderson looked absolutely heated as he said the words, in a way that Shepard had never seen her mentor. Even Colonel Mitchell looked over at the man beside him in confusion.

"You know him?" the Commander asked.

Anderson got a distant look in his eye, staring through the bulkhead as if he could see the Turian. He returned his attention to her, "Yes… a story for another time. Now, Dr. Chakwas, how is the Commander."

The doctor walked over to the other side of the Commander's bed and pulled up her Omni-tool. "I'm not sure Captain. While she was unconscious, I was reading erratic Beta-waves, and other patterns consistent with someone in a deep sleep. Not quite comatose, but deep. To be honest I'm surprised you're even conscious and coherent; I was expecting you to be down for far longer Commander."

"Do you remember anything from the Beacon?" the Colonel asked. The Captain and Commander looked at him, wondering where he was going with this question. "The Beacons are neural transmitters, right? Maybe the information we were looking for got passed to you."

"I suppose that makes sense. What do you remember, Commander?" Anderson nodded for her to continue.

Shepard gaze drifted into the distance as she tried to remember the events in question, "Right… I grabbed Williams and threw her to safety… then, I couldn't use my biotics to free myself. And then…"

The woman trailed off as her eyes widened. Her breathing became more labored, and faster. Her chest rose and fell quickly as she tried to get a grip, literally, on the bed under her. Sweat started form on her brow and she closed her eyes for a moment. The three others noticed her distress, with the Captain stepping forward and placing hand on her shoulder and looking at her with great concern, "Shepard?"

Taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes and nodded at the officer, "Sorry sir… I just, I definitely saw something when I was out…"

Chakwas frowned a bit when she heard that, "I noticed an increase in rapid eye movement while you were unconscious. Signs that are typically associated with intense dreaming."

Shepard swallowed hard, "I saw… I'm not sure what I saw. Death… destruction… it wasn't really clear…"

"Not surprising, humans and alien brain suckers probably mix like oil and water," Mitchell commented.

All three of the Alliance personnel stared at man and his peculiar way of speaking. "Not exactly how I would put it, but yes. You're lucky to have only come out of such an ordeal with only a headache Commander. Don't do that again," Chakwas reprimanded the woman, who despite being the superior officer sheepishly nodded like a child being talked to by their mother.

Shepard turned back to her commanding officer, "So, what's the plan, sir?"

Anderson sighed and folded his arms, "Things don't look good Shepard. The Beacon was destroyed, and we suffered immense casualties on Eden Prime."

Shepard instantly thought of Private Jenkins who died only minutes after setting down on the planet. In the chaos of the battle, she put his death out of her mind. She learned a long time ago that if you wanted to survive in combat, you had to put those things out of your mind until the mission was over. "Sir, did we manage to recover Jenkins body?"

He nodded solemnly, "We extracted him before we got the call to come get you. He's down in the cargo bay. Once we arrive at the Citadel, we'll transfer him to Alliance VA. He'll be receiving full honors and a flight back to his family once they do the autopsy."

"Good… that's good…." was all she could mutter, thinking back to that horrible moment when the young man, barely out of high school, was cut down by the Geth drones.

Mitchell cleared his throat, "I'm sorry to hear that you lost one of you men, Commander. I… I wish we could have done more."

The Commander looked up at the older man, seeing the genuine look of sympathy on his face. It surprised her to see that kind of emotion on the face of a mercenary. It was something that she noticed down on the planet when they were fighting their way back to the camp for the dig site. Dr. Jackson and Vala were not what she had come to expect of mercenaries, and neither was the rest of their team. She knew that the Atlantean Defense Force was something of an anomaly. The rumor mill had been buzzing for weeks since they'd helped defend New Rivers. Everyone had an opinion about them, but what most couldn't figure out was what they gained by helping the colony. They'd gotten their credits; they could have fled the planet and been on their way. Instead, they risked their lives to help people they had no connection to. And now again.

"Thanks, Colonel. I appreciate it," she replied, not sure how to deal with the friendly merc. She looked back over to the Captain, who seemed to be equally intrigued by the man. "We have Nihlus with us, he can tell the Council what happened, can't he?"

Anderson frowned, which did not inspire confidence in the Commander. "Nihlus has sent a brief message ahead of us explaining what happened. But he didn't get much back. Just instructions for him to head to the SPECTRE HQ as soon we arrive."

"I take it that's not a good sign?" the Colonel asked.

"Normally, the Council would have wanted to debrief him over the QEC. But if they want to debrief him in person, well, it can't be good. It doesn't help that we're accusing the Council's top agent of treason," the Captain explained.

"But Nihlus is a SPECTRE too? Doesn't he have some sway with his own people?" the other man asked, his, and the Commander's for that matter, confusion growing.

"It's not that simple. There's no official ranking in the SPECTREs… but there is favoritism. And Saren just so happens to be their favorite." Anderson sighed and began to pace a bit. Shepard could see that this Saren was a really sore subject for the man. She'd served under him for the majority of her special operations career, and she'd never seen him this stressed. "Once we arrive, we'll head to out Embassy and debrief Udina. Then we'll see the Council. Hopefully, between Nihlus and your testimony, we'll be able to expose Saren and bring him to justice."

"And the Geth? We're at war with them now. What are we doing about that?" she asked her Captain. She then turned to the Colonel, who met her gaze with a tired look, knowing what she was about to bring up. "Sir, there's something else. Something that the Colonel here needs to explain."

Anderson raised a hand to calm her, "Colonel Mitchell already told me, Commander. I know that the Atlantean Defense Force encountered the Geth in Terminus. And that they found their own Beacon."

Shepard looked over at the mercenary in surprise, "Really? You just admitted like that?" Back down on the planet, Dr. Jackson had told them the truth of how they came to find out about the Beacon. At the time, Colonel Mitchell was not happy about his teammate telling her. Obviously, there would be little point in hiding that fact now. But she figured she'd need to bring it up to the Captain first.

"We're all working together now. We need to find Saren, and stop the Geth. So, all our are cards on the table," Mitchell nodded with conviction.

"Exactly. And part of that is figuring out why they wanted that Beacon. You said you saw something while you were unconscious, what did you see?" Anderson asked.

Shepard closed her eyes, thinking back to the vision she'd had while she was asleep. Though vision was a bit generous; nightmare was more accurate. She felt her heartbeat increase as the images and sounds came back to her. She swallowed and opened her eyes. "I saw… creatures… synthetic ones… Geth, maybe. Slaughtering people… but the people… were alien… I'd never seen their kind before… but the images are fuzzy. Like looking through a window in the rain."

Anderson raised a hand to his chin in thought, "Hmm… we need to add this to our report to the Council."

Mitchell couldn't help but let out a scoff, drawing looks from her and her Captain. He noticed their gazes, and let out a nervous chuckle, "Sorry, no disrespect intended. But ain't no way the Council is gonna listen to what sounds like a dream. Words ain't gonna cut it here."

"He's got a point," the Commander couldn't help but agree.

Anderson, however, shook his head, "That Beacon obviously had some sort of data in it. That's why you came to Eden Prime in the first place, and why Saren and the Geth attacked. Who knows what was inside, weapons technology, info on other Beacons? It could be anything, and your visions might be the key to discovering that. Words are all we have right now."

Shepard nodded in understanding, despite her privately doubting that she held the key to this big mystery. But as she glanced over at the mercenary, she saw not doubt on his face, but hesitation. A slight biting of the inside of his cheek, and a side glance over at Anderson. Like he had something he wanted to say, but wasn't. When he looked over at her, he saw that she was eyeing him, and quickly put on a mask of no emotion. But she caught it, and it only told her that he had something else he wasn't telling them. But for the moment, she'd let it go. There was something about him and his team that she felt… felt like she could trust. Her training told her not to, but her gut said they could be trusted. She'd get to the bottom what else they were hiding in time, but for now they had other worries.

"Alright, that's enough for now. I need to finish checking the Commander's vitals and make sure there's no lasting complications," Dr. Chakwas pulled up her Omni-tool, waving her hand and shooing the officers out of the med bay.

Anderson placed a hand on her shoulder, "Take your time Commander. I need you healthy when we arrive at the Citadel."

Shepard nodded, "Aye, aye, sir."

With that, the Captain turned and started to walk out followed by Colonel Mitchell. Shepard turned and let Chakwas continue her tests. Her thoughts wandered to the vision that she got from the Beacon, and she couldn't help but feel a cold shiver go down her spine. Whatever she saw, Saren and the Geth wanted whatever it was about. That meant that she would be going after them with everything the Alliance could send. And her SPECTRE application would no doubt be put on hold. Or cancelled. Sighing, she closed her eyes, and tried to prepare herself for the onslaught of political bullshit that was no doubt coming their way soon.

Once they'd gotten underway, SG-1 had been shown to their temporary quarters. The crew quarters were on Deck 4, below the deck they were currently on. There they shed their Asgard nano-mesh armor, depositing them in the empty lockers near the entrance to their quarters, leaving them in their black BDU's. They took some time to settle in a let the adrenaline of battle wear off. Mitchell sent a message via subspace to Atlantis letting them know that they were alright, and on their way to the Citadel. After a few hours, they all went up to the mess hall one deck above.

The Alliance marines and sailors gave them odd looks, even the occasional glare. Daniel mentioned to the rest of the team about how Gunnery Sergeant Williams and the other marines stationed at the dig site felt about mercenaries, and the Atlanteans in general. The team had gotten used to warmer receptions in their travels over the last few years in their universe as the reputation of the Taur'i grew. Sure, there were occasional situations with new cultures who'd never heard of them where they were treated with suspicion, but those were becoming fewer and far between. The blatant dislike they were getting from the Alliance personnel wasn't exactly inspiring feelings of hope for a successful future with the humans of this universe.

Daniel was pushing around the chicken tiki masala on his tray in the mess hall, something he never thought he'd be eating on a spaceship thousands of lightyears away from Earth. He was thinking about what Commander Shepard was going through right now. What nightmare the Beacon was making her watch. He wasn't sure if she'd be able to comprehend it given that she probably had no experience with these kind of technologies. He really didn't know how they were going to get the information inside her head without using a Memory Recall device. Granted, they'd already revealed a lot of their advanced technology, but still. He doubted that the Commander or her superiors would be open to the idea of letting them browse around inside her head.

As he was thinking, he heard a chiming sound, and looked up to the med bay entrance open. "How's the Commander?" Daniel asked as he saw Colonel Mitchell and Captain Anderson walk up to the table.

He sat next Teal'c and Vala, and across from them were Sam, Lt Alenko and Gunnery Sgt Williams. They had been sitting quietly eating rations while waiting for their commanding officers to come out of the med bay with, hopefully, good news about Commander Shepard. It was a bit of an awkward wait for SG-1. As they ate their Alliance rations, which Daniel had to admit was a lot better than the MRE's he'd been eating over the last ten years, there was an uncomfortable silence as neither group knew what to talk about. As the two officers walked over, the Alliance marines stood at attention as the Captain of the Normandy approached.

Captain Anderson nodded in response to the doctor's question, "She's awake. Bit of a headache but other than that she'll be fine. Doctor Chakwas is going to run a few more tests just to make sure nothing else is wrong."

Williams frowned, "I'm sorry, sir. I-I should have been more cautious."

Anderson raised a hand, "I already told you to stop blaming yourself, Gunny. For all we know, the Geth boobytrapped the device so that it would do exactly what it did if someone got close."

Williams looked like she wanted to protest further, but simply nodded and remained silent. Daniel knew, of course, that the Beacon reacted the way it did because it was designed to mentally connect with anyone who came close. But it was possible that the Geth had rigged it to blow, since the Pyramid he connected with didn't blow up.

"Sir, would it be alright if we go and see how she's doing?" Alenko asked, anxiety over how his friend and superior was doing clear in his voice.

"Chakwas still needs more time with her, Lieutenant, but once she clears the Commander, you'll be able to. In the meantime, I've got to contact our embassy and make sure they're prepared for our arrival. I'll leave you all to it," with that the Captain walked away from the group and towards his personal quarters.

Williams stared at the med bay a bit longer before shaking her head, "I'm gonna head down to the motor pool. I've gotta…"

She didn't finish as she stood up and moved toward the elevator. As she walked away Alenko looked like he was about to call out after her but seemed to decide against it and sat back down. Seeing the now empty seat, Mitchell sat himself down as well and pulled out a power bar and started to dig into it. Sam looked at the Alliance officer with some concern.

"Is Gunnery Sgt. Williams alright?" she asked.

Alenko sighed as he leaned back in his chair, "I kept trying to tell her it wasn't anyone's fault but… well, the Gunny is particularly hard on herself. Given her history."

"What history do you refer to Lieutenant?" Teal'c asked.

Alenko bit his cheek as he thought of what to say. "I'm afraid you'll have to ask her that yourself. Not my place to tell," he explained with a shake of his head.

Teal'c simply nodded, not pressing the matter further. Daniel was a bit curious himself but didn't try and ask any follow up questions. Despite her feelings towards him and his team, he was appreciative of the Gunny. If it wasn't for her, Vala and himself probably wouldn't have made it out of the basecamp alive.

Mitchell swallowed his food and turned to face the officer, "By the way Lieutenant, I wanted to say you did a hell of a job out there against the Geth. I've never seen biotics in action… but whoo-wee I wouldn't mind having a couple more of you guys in our outfit."

Alenko seemed surprised at that but nodded none the less, "Thank you sir, I appreciate it. Actually, I'm a little surprised you all seem to be this comfortable with me."

"Why's that?" Vala asked, taking a loud slurp of her drink.

Alenko looked at them even more bewildered than before, "…Because I'm a biotic?"

Daniel had no idea what the man was talking about but based on context he guessed that biotics were not held in high regard. Teal'c and Mitchell shared looks of confusion as well but said nothing. The last thing they wanted to do was offend the man by asking personal questions about a subject that he was clearly sensitive about.

Mitchell shrugged off the Lieutenant's comment and attempted to change subjects, "So… you ever been to the Citadel before?"

Alenko shook his head, "Can't say that I have sir. Not much reason for the common soldier to go the seat of political power in the galaxy. But I've heard it's a sight to behold."

"Is it true that people of all races live in harmony there?" Teal'c asked, leaning forward in curiosity.

The man chuckled as he leaned back in his chair, "Well I don't know about harmony, but somehow millions of citizens of all races call the station home. How C-SEC manages to maintain any kind of order on that place is beyond me though."

"C-SEC?" Vala asked.

"Citadel Security. They're responsible for defense, law enforcement, and peace keeping on the station," he clarified.

Mitchell frowned as he heard that, "Are we going to have… travel issues when we get there?" While their private military status gave them certain privileges when traveling to colony worlds, the Citadel was another matter entirely. The heart of galactic civilization; where the most powerful governments and individuals had embassies and places of business. And no doubt eyes that would be watching their every move.

Alenko shook his head, "I doubt it. Being officially contracted and traveling with us means you'll get diplomatic status."

Vala perked up at that, "Oh, so we have a get out of jail free card?" Noticing her teammates scowls, she cleared her throat with a nervous chuckle, "Metaphorically speaking of course."

Alenko eyed the woman with concern. In the short time SG-1 had gotten to know him, the man seemed to be a bit of boy scout. Not unlike Jonas Quinn or some of the younger members of the Stargate Program. A… tumultuous woman like Vala obviously set off warning signs in the Alliance marine's mind. "It'd probably be best if you didn't abuse the privilege… the Alliance is already in hot water for bringing you in on the dig site."

Daniel sent a look to the dark haired woman before turning his attention back to the Lieutenant, "We'll make sure we don't do anything that will make the Alliance or us look bad."

Mitchell nodded at that, "Anderson filled me in a little on we can expect when we arrive, but what do you think Lieutenant?"

"Once we reach the Embassy, we'll have to meet with Ambassador Udina. He already received data packets on what went down on Eden Prime, but they'll need our eye-witness testimonies to help corroborate the story."

"From what I understand Lieutenant, the loss of the Beacon has put the Alliance in a… delicate situation," Teal'c commented carefully.

"That's putting it mildly," was the man's response.

"Why's that? It wasn't your fault the Geth launched an assault on your world," Mitchell pointed out while leaving out the fact that, while unintentional, the responsibility laid more on the Atlantean's doorstep.

"The laws and regulations surrounding Prothean technology are some of the strictest in Council space. We might not get penalized legally but losing such a valuable piece of technology is gonna hurt us politically. And during such a crucial period too," the officer explained.

"Right… the Alliance has been pushing for that Council seat, right?" Sam guessed.

"That's right. Problem is, most races have spent centuries trying to get on the Council and have gotten nowhere. Everyone sees humanity pushing too hard to try. That we're wanting too much too soon."

"And what do you think?" Teyla asked.

Alenko folded his arms and let out a deep sigh, "I can understand where other races are coming from, I might even be persuaded to agree with some of their opinions. But… humans have done a lot since entering the galactic stage. Not just for ourselves but for the other races too. I think that warrants some considerations."

"So, with the loss of the Beacon…" Mitchell started.

"They'll probably try to spin it as humans being unable to protect our colonies and secure important Prothean tech. Or that we let it happen on purpose so we wouldn't have to share the tech. I'm not sure what'll be worse: being seen as treacherous or incompetent."

Teal'c nodded as he started to understand what was at stake for these humans, "Hopefully our word will help dissuade such talks of your people."

The Lieutenant nodded at that, "I hope so too."

The table fell silent after that, with no one sure how to continue the conversation. So, the team and Lt. Alenko simply ate in silence, trying to digest both their food and the events of the previous day. Eventually, the Alliance officer finished his meal and walked away, saying he head to get back on his rotation. As the man disappeared into the hall near the elevator, Daniel leaned in closer to speak to their team leader.

"So, what did the Commander have to say about the Beacon?" he whispered.

"She saw something, that's for damn sure. She looked about as bad as you did when you woke up," he commented. "She doesn't seem to remember a whole lot about what she saw though."

Sam hummed in thought, "Probably because of her lack of experience with similar technologies and understanding of the Prothean language."

"So, asking her to describe a fifty-thousand-year-old dream probably isn't going to work is it?" Vala asked sarcastically.

Daniel shook his head, "No probably not. Besides, even if she did understand it, she'd only have part of the message. The rest is up here." He tapped the side of his head a few times.

"Well, one way or another we need to figure out what they're after. And with this Saren guy involved now, who knows where they could be heading next," the Colonel replied.

The team silently acknowledged that. The Geth working with the Reapers was bad enough, but now one of the Council's elite operatives was too? One with unlimited access to Citadel space; able to go wherever he wanted to and do whatever he wanted to. If there was another Beacon somewhere out there, and the Council knew about it or had intel on it, the Geth would be able to get to it. And soon.

About an hour later SG-1 was being escorted down the hall just in front of the CIC of the Normandy. They couldn't help but be impressed at the level of sophistication the Alliance warship had. While it certainly had a pleasing aesthetic, it was also much more utilitarian than most other advanced races' ships they'd been on. Compared to their own battlecruisers that were strictly functional in design, the Alliance ship looked like something that that a society who had an extra century of development would create, as opposed to the decade long crash course their Earth had.

The glowing holographic displays being worked by the Alliance personnel were a stark difference to the physical computers and interfaces they used on their own ships. While there were structural similarities, the overall design of the ship was simply much different than its Taur'i counterpart with its large, open areas and dim lighting. SG-1 was used to the brightly lit, claustrophobic hallways of the Odyssey and couldn't help but feel a little exposed. Being stared at by half the bridge crew didn't help much either.

As they neared the end of the neck, they noticed the Captain and Commander along with Nihlus, Gunnery Sergeant Williams, and Lieutenant Alenko standing just behind a man in a large chair with various holoscreens surrounding him. There were a series of four elongated windows that showed the streaking of stars as the ship flew through space. Anderson turned to face them once he noticed the group approach and nodded to the marine security detail in thanks before dismissing them to return to their other duties. Shepard turned as well and simply gave them a nod of acknowledgment before turning back to face the screens.

"Colonel, welcome to the bridge. I had you brought up here because I thought you and your team would like to see this," Anderson greeted.

The man sitting in the command chair suddenly spoke, "On final approach to the Relay now, sir."

"Understood Flight Lieutenant, take her in," the older man replied.

"Aye, aye sir."

Everyone watched through the viewports as the ship accelerated towards the enormous, pronged object floating in space. As the Normandy approached arcs of electricity danced between the two as energy began to build. Soon the entire frigate was engulfed in the sapphire mass effect field. The ship glided alongside the Relay as the energy continued to build and build until finally with a flash and spacial distortion the ship blasted away and disappeared from sight.

Barely a few seconds went by before the field disappeared, and the stars streaked to a halt. The ship came out of FTL and appeared in a nebula of pink, ivory, and magenta that seemed almost ethereal. Before long the Normandy finally broke free of the nebula and into more open space. In the distance a massive construct could be seen. There were five arms all equal in length; their outer hulls shone ivory and reflected the nebula around it. Their interior seemed to house what looked like cities with lights and grids. All five arms were connected to a massive ring at their rear with spokes connected them all. In all the galaxies, only one other place could compare to it in the eyes of SG-1.

"Holy…" Mitchell quietly spoke in awe.

Nihlus nodded, pride brimming in his eyes, "The Citadel. Heart of galactic civilization."

The ship continued to glide towards the station as the team watched in complete fascination as ships of all shapes and sizes and functions flew past the Normandy. Soon they were close enough to get a much better visual on the station. Traffic from sky cars and shuttles decorated the city-like structures on the arms.

Teal'c stepped closer to the window as his eyes narrowed, "Colonel Mitchell."

The Colonel stepped closer to the taller man to see what he was staring at so intently. As he looked through the viewport his eyes widened a bit. Floating just off the port side of the ship was an absolute behemoth of a vessel. It had a cross-like structure that had a spire standing straight 'up' with the center of its body hollowed out and glowing with mass effect fields. The hull was a pristine white that reflected the nebula perfecting giving the ship an angelic-like quality. It was graceful, advanced, and one of the largest vessels SG-1 had ever seen.

Alenko stepped next to the Colonel with a similar look of awe on his face, "The Destiny Ascension. Flagship of the Citadel Fleet."

"Damn impressive…" Mitchell muttered in response.

They'd been given a brief description of the Asari dreadnaught from the Quarians, but words simply didn't do it justice to seeing the vessel in person. The whole of the Citadel really: the civilian ships being directed in perfectly uniform traffic, the Citadel Defense Fleet, and the shining nebula they were all in really made the whole experience seem ethereal.

Vala had her face pressed right up against the window, her cheeks squished against the translucent surface, whispered in response, "My, my… I wonder how much one could get for a ship that size..."

"Well size isn't everything," a voice commented behind him.

The Colonel turned and got a better look at the pilot who had made the remark: he was a young man probably in his late twenties with a short, well-trimmed beard with hints of red peeking through. He wore a white and blue cap with the Alliance insignia on it and seemed to complete his pilot-jockey persona. Mitchell instantly recognized the confidence, though some might say cockiness, of a man who thought his skills were top notch. Hell, he'd been that kind of man when he first joined the Airforce.

"Why so touchy Joker?" Williams asked with mirth in her voice.

"Just sayin' you need fire power too," the man replied with a shrug.

The Gunny scoffed at the officer, "Look at that monster! Its main gun could rip through the barriers of any ship in the Alliance fleet!"

The Turian SPECTRE nodded in agreement, "The Destiny Ascension is the most formidable vessel in the galaxy. Not even the Hierarchy has been able to construct a vessel that can match it in one-on-one combat."

Alenko seemed to agree with the NCO's opinion, "Good thing it's on our side then."

The pilot, who they now knew as Joker, returned his attention to his station as he contacted Citadel Flight Control to obtain clearance to dock. As the man went about his job, the SG-1 team leader noticed that the fleet outside seemed to have ships that varied greatly in design. Not just in classification, but in cultural aesthetic.

"So does the Citadel operate its own fleet? I'm seeing a lot of different ships out there," Mitchell commented as he stared out the viewport.

"The Council races provide ships that make up the Citadel Defense Fleet. We provide the bulk of the armada with the Asari and Salarians filling in the gaps their ships are best suited for. But the Ascension is an Asari vessel," Nihlus explained as he stood behind Joker.

Sam turned her attention to the Commander, "No Alliance ships in the fleet?"

Shepard shook her head to the blonde woman, "No, only Council races are allowed. The other races are permitted to have a small military presence in their embassies along with a handful of combat-ready vessels."

"It's one of the many reasons the Alliance has been pushing so hard for a Council position. Council status will give us more access to the galaxy and allow our ships to go where we need them to," Anderson finished.

Mitchell and Teal'c could understand that; having your own forces be limited and monitored by an outside government did not sit well with them. Hell, it was why Atlantis wanted to maintain its independence and anonymity with the galaxy at large. In the early days of the Program, the SGC was similarly aggressive in its pursuit of technology and military allies during the early days of the Program. No doubt the Alliance would be doing anything and everything it could to try increase its political standing, and military by extension.

"Unfortunately, many won't see those desires the way you do, Captain," Nihlus pointed out. "Most see it as humanity being too aggressive, and impatient."

Vala turned from the window to the SPECTRE, "You don't seem to think that of us 'lowly' humans. How come you're being so nice?"

Nihlus looked like he was a bit confused at the question, though more likely from the way Vala phrased it. He seemed to work his way through the odd human lingo and get to the root of the question. "Like I told the Commander on our way to Eden Prime, I see what humanity can offer the rest of the galaxy, and not just militarily. I'm in the minority unfortunately," he stated solemnly.

"What do you mean?" Sam questioned.

The Turian frowned as he let his gaze drift towards the Citadel, "I've been one of the more… vocal voices when it comes to trying to get humanity a better standing on the Citadel and in the galaxy at large. This has made me something of an outcast within the ranks of the SPECRTES and in the Council's eyes."

"Hmm, and how will your diminished position effect the charges the Alliance wishes to bring against Saren?" Teal'c asked.

Nihlus was silent as the question, which didn't inspire confidence in the rest of the team and the Alliance personnel. Their hope was that their testimony combined with the SPECTRE's would be more than enough to get Saren stripped of his rank and a warrant issued for his arrest.

The Turian sighed, "Honestly, I don't know. Saren is our number one agent, and the Council's favorite. Despite our… past friendship, he didn't pull any punches when it came to criticizing my opinions about humanity. We'll just have to hope that the Council is in a listening mood." Not exactly the words any of them wanted to hear, but until they were before the Council all they could do was hope for the best.

"What about footage the port security cameras? Didn't they get any good shots of that guy?" the Gunny asked.

Anderson shook his head, "We checked, but unfortunately wherever Saren seemed to be based on SG-1 and Nihlus's contact report, the camera's shorted out. Some kind of EM interference. As it stands, we've only got the words of SG-1 and Nihlus. And that doc worker."

The rest of them grimaced, realizing how bad the situation really was. The Alliance vessel continued to glide past the fleet and into the space between all the arms before approaching the ring structure connecting them all. Anderson explained that this was the Presidium and was home to the all the races' embassies, as well as the Council chambers. Other figures in the galactic elite called the ring home, and it was the most prestigious part of the station. The Normandy gracefully passed into the environmental shields of the docks and slowed to a halt as magnetic cranes latched onto its hull, securing it in place. An airlock extended from the cradle and latched onto the hull with a hiss as it sealed airtight.

Joker powered down his station and swiveled around, "Docking procedures complete sir. She's all tucked in and ready for bed."

"Nice flying Lieutenant. Presley, you have the con," Anderson ordered the balding man near one of the stations behind them as he walked towards the airlock.

The Alliance personnel, SPECTRE, and SG-1 followed him as they prepared to disembark. Just as they were about to step into the exit, however, as three officers approached them carrying a familiar set of items to the humans from Atlantis.

"I thought you'd appreciate the return of these," Anderson explained.

The men handed the items back to their respective owners as the team went about strapping them on their persons. Mitchell nodded at the Captain, "Thanks, but I'm surprised you're giving these back to us. Aren't we about to be around a bunch of diplomats and politicians?"

"Think of it as a sign of good faith. Besides, now that you're officially contracted through the Alliance, certain privileges have been afforded to you and your team," Anderson replied as he turned and walked through the airlock. He stopped for a moment and turned back to the Colonel, "Just try not to abuse it. It'll be hard to secure your release from C-SEC if you do something… undiplomatic."

That wasn't exactly what the team wanted to hear, but they simply were glad to have some means of defending themselves again. Hopefully the Quinn was somewhere nearby, cloaked just in case things went south. Everyone followed the Captain as the airlock doors opened up to allow them to leave. They walked along the extended walkway until they finally exited and found themselves out in the open. All around them were ships of all shapes and sizes, each with the Alliance insignia on them. A handful seemed to be Alliance warships, while others were clearly civilian ships of various kinds, no doubt used for diplomatic purposes.

As they moved off the walkway attached to the Normandy, the turned and began making their way down a large catwalk towards an elevator. A pair of Turians flanked each side as they nodded at the Captain and Nihlus. The one on the left side of the elevator tapped a holographic button on the panel beside her and the doors slid open allowing them to enter. Once the party was inside, the doors slid shut and the elevator began its ascent. A soft chime came on over invisible speakers that helped fill the awkward silence that would have inevitably arose.

Daniel looked around in curiosity as they continued to climb, "Huh, of all the things I was expecting to find when we came to the Citadel, elevator music was not one of them."

Teal'c nodded as he listened, "I find it quite relaxing… perhaps we should ask Rodney Mckay to install such music in our own."

"Maybe… having some good ole' Bob Dylan playing in the halls wouldn't be too bad I guess," Mitchell replied as he tried wrap his mind around the oddity of the situation.

"Bob Dylan?" Ashley questioned.

"He's a… was, an old rock star back in the twentieth century," Mitchell replied, hoping they wouldn't catch his slip up.

Shepard couldn't help but let out a slight chuckle at that, "Twentieth century music? Didn't peg you for a nostalgist Colonel."

"Oh sure, give me an ice-cold beer and some swanky tunes under a warm southern sky and I'm right at home," he replied jokingly, playing up his country upbringing a bit.

Alenko eyed the man curiously, "Your accent… somewhere in the southern part of North America, right?"

Mitchell turned to him. He wasn't exactly sure what the condition of his home state was in this alternate universe. He did know that the United States, Canada, and Mexico had formed a North American union of some sort, thought each country still held their individual states and cities. His real concern, however, was confirming that he was from Earth. There was a galactic registry for Earth and Alliance citizens, but with billions spread throughout Alliance space, the Traverse, and even Terminus, it was nearly impossible to keep track of everyone. Even more difficult to add new citizens who were born on fringe Alliance colonies. But admitting to being from Earth could bring unwanted questions about why they weren't registered in their systems. Their cover as colonists from Terminus was enough to ward off suspicion, but they'd never really thought about what to say when they were questioned about their places of origin. And since this meeting with the Alliance had come sooner than expected, the Colonel didn't know exactly how to respond.

So, he went with his gut, which told him that despite the potential problems, lying to their new allies was not the right course. And he felt that these men and women could be trusted. "Yep, born and raised."

"What part? I'm from Vancouver," the younger Alliance officer asked enthusiastically.

"Kansas," Mitchell replied.

Shepard let out a laugh, "A farm boy? I wouldn't have pegged you for that, Colonel."

He turned to the Commander, "You from Earth too?" It sounded like she had a certain familiarity with Earth given her immediate association with his home state and farming.

"Yeah… been a while since I've been back though," she replied, her demeanor shifting. The Captain sent a glance to his officer, and Mitchell could see it was one of concern and sympathy. Obviously, there was some bad history there, so Mitchell wisely steered the conversation in a different direction.

"Well, maybe once all this Council business is done, we can all grab a beer. Never had a beer on an alien space station before," he said, looking around to see if anyone else had interest.

Alenko let out a sigh as he nodded in agreement, "After what we just went through, I could use a beer."

Everyone fell silent at that. Mitchell winced slightly as his back-to-back questions seemed to completely derail the conversation. He could see that the Alliance personnel were still trying to work out the attack in their minds. Especially Gunnery Sgt. Williams, whose whole unit was wiped out. She held herself together, but the Colonel could see that she was very much affected by the loss. The distant gaze, the deep breaths. No doubt she'd have to undergo some psych-evals once they were done with all this political business.

It was something that had the Colonel thinking. Other than the Commander, neither the Lieutenant nor the Gunny seemed to have been in combat before. Or at the very least, not combat on that scale. The Alliance of the modern day hadn't had to flex it military might since the Skyllian Blitz, and it clearly showed with how the battle of Eden Prime had gone. Granted, they were taken by surprise by a technologically superior force. But Colonel Mitchell knew that the humans of this universe would be in for a rude awakening once galactic conflict came to their colonies' doorstep.

The elevator slowed down as it came to rest at the main floor of C-SEC. The door chimed once then opened allowing the group to make their way into the security station. Immediately SG-1 noticed individuals of all species walking around doing whatever it was people did on this station.

Mitchell and Teal'c kept their eyes open, having read Colonel Sheppard's report on the crime-filled Omega station out in the Terminus systems. Of course, one couldn't exactly compare the two places. And despite being massively outnumbered and essentially at the mercy of their hosts, Mitchell didn't feel like they needed to worry here. At least not too much, especially given the Quinn's presence somewhere nearby. But he couldn't help but draw some parallels from this situation to when SG-1 first visited the Tollan's new homeworld all those years ago, before his time in the Program. Another cool file he thought. Daniel, Sam, and Vala on the other hand were all too excited and curious to be in a place with such diversity of people and cultures, technology, and… souvenirs as Vala described it.

The group walked through the busy lobby. There was a line to a desk that seemed to be the main reception area. Conversations between the civilians and the police manning the terminals could be heard as the humans walked by; where the detention area was, what C-SEC was doing about some robberies that had happened, and another complaining about some Hanar in near the Citadel Tower.

Nihlus halted, causing the group to stop as well. "This is where we part ways, I'm afraid."

Daniel looked at the Turian in confusion, "Really? I thought the Council needed your testimony too?"

"They do, but I have to report to SPECTRE guild quarters for debrief. I've got a lot to explain before the Council session," he replied, and from his tone the Colonel could tell that he wasn't looking forward to it any more than SG-1.

"Good luck Nihlus, we'll see you at the Council chambers," Captain Anderson spoke and offered his hand. Nihlus returned the gesture and walked away towards another corridor before turning down the hall and disappearing from sight.

Everyone else continued their walk up a set of stairs to another elevator that took them a few more levels up. As they exited, they passed through a long hallway before doors at the end slid open to reveal, shockingly, sunlight. Stepping out into the open, they were greeted by the sight of the Presidium. The massive ring was a completely self-contained environment. There were two equal sides of the interior; each side had pristine marble architecture with several levels reaching all the way to the 'ceiling' of the ring. Walkways spanned the distance between the two sides to allow people to walk back and forth without having to hail one of the skycars traveling along the circular path of the ring.

The ceiling had some sort of simulated blue sky with clouds moving around as if they were on a planet. Artificial sunlight shown everywhere, and it was almost enough to fool the humans from Atlantis that it was real. A river of the clearest water was running between the two sides with fountains and grass parks surrounding it throughout. Looking from left to right, the team could see that the environment curved upwards as it the ring curved, but thanks to artificial gravity no one seemed to be falling down as the curve continued up steeper angles. It was a beautiful sight, and the team took more than a few moments to breathe it all in. Daniel had pulled out his notebook and began to jot down notes as he took in the view. The rest of the team took in the incredible sight while Mitchell rested his hands against the railing in front of them.

Anderson came up beside the Colonel, "Quite a sight isn't it."

Mitchell leaned against the railing in front of them as he nodded in agreement, "I'll say… pictures definitely wouldn't do this place justice."

"I remember my first time here, after the First Contact War. I couldn't believe I was on an alien space station… couldn't believe how… familiar everything here was too," the Captain stated, his voice distant as he remembered.

Shepard chuckled, "What were you expecting sir?"

Anderson shrugged, "Well considering we'd just spent the last week getting blasted to hell by the Turians, we certainly weren't expecting the pristine political capital that they have here. Made me feel like I was back on Arcturus."

"So, is this part of the station strictly for political parties?" Daniel asked as he tried to get a better look at the other areas across the river that separated the two sides of the Presidium.

Alenko shook his head, "This part of the Presidium is where all the embassies and Citadel Tower are located. But the rest of the ring is residential housing and markets for the elite of the galaxy."

Daniel nodded and wrote down a few more things in his notes. The Earth-born members of SG-1were busy observing the crowds of people and the beautiful plants and fountains that decorated the area. Despite having encountered numerous cultures in their universe that were far ahead of their Earth, they were still pretty new to seeing advanced civilizations like this that were few and far between thanks to the tyranny of the Goa'uld.

A low whining caught everyone's attention as a large, turquoise skycar pulled into the space just in front and above them. Slowly, the vehicle descended and hovered for a moment before the left side and roof split open to reveal an empty canopy. Captain Anderson stepped in followed by the other Alliance personnel. After a brief moment of hesitation, SG-1 followed suit and took the empty seats in the car. Once everyone had settled in the cab closed and the car took off. Apparently, the human embassy was a few blocks away so to save time the Captain had decided to get them a skycar. The ride was short thanks to the high speed of the flying vehicles, and soon the group filed out of the car and made their way to the human embassy.

They walked past a reception desk that had a purple Asari wearing in an elegant and expensive looking dress. She looked up at them and gave short smile before returning to her work. Walking past her to the right, they all followed Anderson up several sets of stairs until they came to long hall that had several doors with large holographic signs over them. Each sign seemed to be written in a language that none of SG-1, even Daniel, could read. At the end of the hall, however, they saw the holographic sign had the words 'Human Embassy' written over the top of the door.

Daniel looked at the other doors as they passed them, "What do these words mean Captain?"

Anderson tilted his head to look at the door Daniel was staring at, "That's the Volus and Elcor embassy. These other ones are the embassies for a few other charter races that have enough political standing to be considered important."

"These two races share an embassy?" Teal'c questioned.

"Some races don't have a large enough economy or military to contribute to galactic society at large, or they may not have a vested interest in contributing too much of their own resources to things outside of their own race's interests. So, that means they get smaller embassies and less influence on galactic policy," the officer explained.

Daniel scrunched his face in thought, "Huh… well that doesn't really seem fair. If decisions are being made that effect the galaxy, shouldn't everyone have an equal say?"

Anderson was quiet for a moment as he considered the younger man's words, "I suppose you might be right doctor. But I'm a marine, not a politician. I'm not in a position to make those kinds of judgements on a political practice that's been in place for a thousand years."

Daniel in turn thought about the Captain's words and conceded the point. Throughout his whole life, and most especially his time in the Stargate Program, he'd always been one of the loudest voices when it came to standing up for the fair treatment of others. Unfortunately, it had gotten them into serious trouble on more than one occasion. Given the fact that this was a much more fair and equal society than most back in their home universe, and they just arrived, he figured he should probably keep his thoughts on the matter to himself. For now.

As they approached the entrance to the humans' embassy, everyone quieted down and put on their best 'political' poker face that they had. For the Alliance personnel, save Anderson, this was all new for them. They were military and had never had to speak to any sort of politician before. For SG-1 on the other hand, this was old hat for them. Their main function as a reconnaissance unit was to act as ambassadors and meet with alien races and their leaders. The circumstances might have been a little different than they were used to, but none of them felt too nervous at the prospect of meeting the most powerful individuals in this galaxy. Having been in the same room as ten-thousand-year-old System Lords, Asgard, and Ascended Beings, this would be a walk in the park for them.

The door slid open, and the group walked in. Inside was a massive office that was entirely open to the outside environment of the Presidium. The office felt like a massive deck that one would expect to find in a large mansion. To the immediate left of the entrance was a small table with a pair of curved chairs. In front of the entrance was a three-piece desk with a single chair resting behind; two of the desks had an orange, holographic computer screen. Further back, there was a larger, kitchen style table with four chairs that was no doubt used to host a small party for luncheons or like gatherings. Even for a high-ranking politician, to SG-1, this office seemed excessive.

"This is an outrage! The Council would step in if the Geth attacked a Turian colony!" a deep, accented voice rang out.

The group turned their attention to the far corner of the office where they noticed a balding man dressed in a fine ivory suit pacing back and forth in front of three flickering, auburn holograms. The farthest left hologram was an equally dressed Turian, followed by an Asari in the middle, and a Salarian to her right. The Citadel Council: the most powerful political body in this galaxy. The group walked up behind the man as the conversation continued.

The Salarian Councilor folded his arms over each other as he gave the human a stern gaze, "The Turians don't found colonies in regions that boarder the Terminus Systems, Ambassador."

"Humanity was well aware of the risks when you went into the Traverse," the Asari pointed out with a raised finger.

The Ambassador's expression became even more irritated, "What about Saren? You can't just ignore a rogue SPECTRE! I demand action!"

The Turian Councilor held his arms behind his back and straightened his posture even further, "You don't get to make demands of the Council, Ambassador."

"Citadel Security is investigating your charges against Saren. We will discuss C-SEC's findings at the hearing. Not before," the Asari stated tersely, like a mother to a child.

With that the holograms fizzled out and faded away. The human ambassador's hands clenched into fists as he seemed to visibly shake with anger. He took in a deep breath before releasing it and letting his emotions subside. He straightened his posture, pulled down on his suit to get rid of the wrinkles, and turned to face the nine people who had just entered the embassy. He eyed the Alliance personnel with slight annoyance before turning his gaze to SG-1 with barely concealed suspicion.

"Captain Anderson. I see you brought half your crew with you," he stated pointedly.

Anderson stood at attention with Shepard to his right in a similar stance, "Ambassador Udina. Just the ground team who led the recovery mission on Eden Prime. In case you wanted to confirm any details for yourself."

Udina scoffed, "I have the mission reports. I assume they're accurate?"

Anderson took a moment to respond before replying with only the slightest bite in his voice, "They are… sounds like you convinced the Council to give us an audience."

"Barely… but they were not happy about it. Saren's their top agent. They don't like him being accused of treason," the balding man replied.

Shepard shook her head in frustration, "Saren is a threat to every one of our colonies out there! He's working with the Geth and needs to be stopped. If the Council doesn't listen to us-"

"-Settle down Commander. You've already done more than enough to jeopardize your candidacy for the SPECTREs," Udina cut her off.

A wave of looks passed between SG-1 who was remaining silent during this whole conversation. Neither the Captain nor Nihlus had mentioned that Commander Shepard was being considered to join the ranks of the Council's elite agents. From what they knew about the organization thanks, the group only took in the best of the best. That she was even being considered spoke volumes about the Commander's capabilities. Of course, they'd seen them firsthand back on Eden Prime.

"…And who are these people?" Udina's voice drew the team's attention, signaling that he was finished berating the Commander and was on the lookout for another target.

Anderson turned to give the ambassador a better view of the foreign humans, "This is SG-1 of the Atlantean Defense Force."

"Ah yes, the mercenaries the late Governor Swan… unilaterally hired," Udina pointed out with a frown.

Anderson, to his credit, kept a straight face in his reply, "…Yes, they were instrumental in helping secure the dig site and the Beacon."

"Before it was destroyed," the Ambassador specified with barely contained annoyance.

Udina walked closer to get a better look at the team beside the Alliance soldiers. They could understand the look of confusion he was giving them; they weren't exactly subtle in their appearance. Decked out in Asgard designed combat suits and armor plating, SGC combat vests, and carrying a variety of weapons both standard and exotic one could not mistake them for being a part of any of the known military powers. Udina's gaze drifted to the back of the group and up as he stared at the Jaffa. The man towered over everyone else, but Udina was more focused on the golden tattoo on his forehead. Teal'c stared intensely at the man, and Udina only held his gaze for a moment before the former First Prime's glare forced him to turn away.

"I take it you're the one in charge. Colonel Mitchell?" the ambassador asked, turning his attention to the man, no doubt knowing the man's name and rank from the mission reports he read.

Mitchell nodded, "You guessed right. This is Dr Daniel Jackson, Colonel Samantha Carter, Vala Mal Doran, and Teal'c."

"Hmm, I must say Colonel I was quite suspicious when I read the reports your team arriving on Eden Prime only a day before the Geth attacked. If not for the word of Captain Anderson, well, we would have called for you to be arrested and detained."

"But?" Mitchell asked, sensing the man was going somewhere with this.

"But… given that you had numerous opportunities to engage our forces while they were occupied with the Geth and steal the Beacon, you risked the lives of your troops to save those trapped in the city, and with Captain Anderson's endorsement, I've been told to extend our gratitude for your assistance. And with you officially under an Alliance contract, we can move forward without further suspicion," Udina explained, though the man's voice seemed to imply the opposite.

Mitchell nodded in thanks nonetheless, not wanting to start an argument, "Like I told Captain Anderson and Commander Shepard, we were just looking to help out."

"And we appreciate everything you've done. But… despite your good intentions and actions, there is still a few issues we must deal with," Udina stated firmly, sharing a knowing look with Anderson.

Mitchell shared a similar glance with Sam, the pair figuring where this conversation was about to go. During the entire trip on the Normandy, they hadn't once been questioned about their unique weapons and technology. SG-1 figured that the question would be coming up at some point. "Those issues being?" the Colonel asked, feigning ignorance.

Anderson pulled up his Omni-tool, expanding the orange holo-screen so that everyone could see. Several boxes popped up showing the battle on Eden Prime, probably captured from the Alliance personnel's helmet cameras. It showed SG-1 using their Zats, the Jaffa staff weapons, and the Quinn fading in and out of sight as it dropped off Aron and his squad. "I've come across more than my fair share of experimental technologies in my time with the Alliance. But I've never seen anything like what your team is using."

Udina hummed in agreement, "We also have reports from the New Rivers incident that this 'SG-2' and your cruiser also used similarly exotic technology. We need to know how you gained access to it, how you developed it."

Mitchell frowned at the demand from the Ambassador. The next few minutes were going to be critical in defining future relations with the Alliance. If they didn't buy their cover story, then things would get messy real fast. And they'd probably have to signal the Quinn to beam them out. Which was something they were hoping to avoid if at all possible.

"Well, that's a bit of a long story, but the short version is that we found something out in Terminus," he replied cryptically.

"Found what exactly?" Shepard asked.

Daniel stepped forward, drawing everyone's attention. "When we first established our colony in the Terminus Systems, some of our people went searching out in the jungle one day and found the ruins of an old city. The technology was… well, more advanced than anything they'd ever seen before. Wasn't long before some of our scientists got the hang of how to use it."

"These ruins… they were Prothean?" Udina questioned, now thoroughly intrigued.

Daniel shook his head, "No, we ruled them out pretty quickly. We don't know what they called themselves, but over the years we managed to translate enough of their language to allow us to use some of their technology. Even reverse engineer some of it for our own use."

"So, that's where you got those strange weapons and your ship," Shepard deduced as she felt the satisfaction from having one of her many questions answered.

Mitchell nodded, "Yeah, most of it was recovered from ancient weapons vaults. Energy weapons. Pretty fancy stuff."

Anderson and Udina shared a look at that, seemingly having spoken about the subject before this meeting. Everyone on Atlantis knew their unique technology was going to draw attention, hence the reason for their desire to stay under the radar until now. Their cover story was, admittedly, shaky. But claiming to be from the Terminus Systems, the Alliance and the Council would have no way to verify their claims. That combined with the goodwill they'd earned for saving New Rivers and Eden Prime and the potential for the Alliance and Council to gain access to their technology through peaceful trade, even if Atlantis had no intention of doing so, would give the Atlanteans some protection.

"Yes… we had some analysts break down Command Shepard and her team's helmet cam footage. Your technology-" Anderson started.

"-Is beyond anything that anyone else has. I doubt even the STG has anything in development that comes close. Frankly, that is the main reason we want you here now. You have access to technology that could tip the balance of the war with the Geth that is coming," Udina finished.

Mitchell frowned as he realized why they had really been brought to the Citadel, "You never wanted our testimonies in the first place."

Anderson shook his head, "Believe me, those testimonies will be crucial in the hearing. But I'd be lying if I said that was the main reason. The Alliance brass has been hoping to run into you for some time, ever since the incident on New Rivers. If it was up to me, we would have been straight with you from the start. But after we saw how your ship could cloak itself from both visual and sensor readings, my superiors feared that we might never be able find you again. I am sorry for the deception, but we need your help."

Mitchell looked at the older man and saw genuine regret in his eyes, but also an understanding that he was just doing what he felt he needed to do for the safety of his people. The Colonel could understand that. Hell, he'd been in similar positions before back in their home universe. Even when their alternate versions had blasted their way into the SGC to steal the Atlantis ZPM, he understood why they did what they did. To save their people. And the man had been a hell of a lot more cordial than them since they'd left Eden Prime.

Daniel took the opportunity to ask the question, "So, what is it you want from us exactly?"

Udina lifted a hand to his chin, "In the Governor's report, she stated that beyond wanting to help with the dig site, you came to Eden Prime to trade?" Mitchell nodded slowly, not particularly liking where the man was leading the conversation. "We're willing to offer you a quid pro quo: technology for anything you might need: supplies, ships, credits. You provide us with samples and the knowledge of they operate, and we will provide the same. Whatever it is you may need," Udina explained their offer.

Vala hummed in thought, "Seems like an awfully good deal to give a group of people who you just met. I mean, we could be lying about all this." The rest of her team couldn't help but silently groan and send sharp glares at the thief, who realized what she said without thinking and chuckled nervously. "I mean, not that we are. We totally being honest. About that."

Udina shook his head, "It doesn't matter. We are about to be at war with the Geth. Given how the defense of Eden Prime went… we are going to need every edge we can get, and your weapons might just be the key to turning the tide."

"Why do you not simply take them? Would it not be difficult to detain us and confiscate our weapons?" Teal'c questioned with his arms behind his back. While his voice had no edge or aggression to it, the Alliance marines couldn't help but stare at the massive human apprehensively, no doubt thoughts of having to fight him filling their heads with dread.

Anderson cleared his throat, drawing attention to himself. "Besides the fact that getting into a fight in the embassies would look very bad on the news later? We don't have time to get an R&D department up and running on weapons that, by all current understandings, should be impossible to exist. We need your help in getting our own combat ready weapon systems up and running so we're ready for the next engagement," the Captain explained.

It was understandable enough. The SGC had spent years retro-engineering alien technology without the help of more advanced cultures. They'd made a lot of mistakes and even when they managed to get something right, it was usually far behind what the Goa'uld or races had created. It wasn't until the Asgard began to teach them how to build advanced ships and weapons that they were able to contend on even ground with their enemies.

Mitchell sighed as he took in their words, "I get where you guys are coming from. Believe me, I do. But I don't have the authority to make that kind of call. I'll need to contact my commanding officer, and even then, I don't know if there's a guarantee. We're not exactly keen on giving out technology that gives our people a distinct advantage over everyone else."

Udina eyes narrowed for a moment before being replaced by a neutral expression, "This is bigger than maintaining a monopoly on a new technology base. Billions of lives are at stake with the Geth riding rough shot throughout the galaxy. Humans, your people, are in grave danger."

Despite the man's temper and somewhat entitled nature, SG-1 could tell that he genuinely wanted what was best for his people. And they'd be lying if they said they didn't understand where he was coming from. In their eyes, the Atlanteans were just colonists who went out on their own, but still came from Earth like them. And while they had great sympathy for the Alliance and the humans of this galaxy… they weren't them. Not the same world, same galaxy, same universe. That didn't mean that they didn't want to help, but neither were they going to put Atlantis in a position that would make her vulnerable. Exposing their existence was one thing, trading advanced technology was another.

Udina sighed, seeing that the team was having an internal debate on how to respond, "We will need an answer by the end of the day. Anderson, come with me. We need to prepare for the session with the Council." With that, the ambassador made his way towards the door to the embassy. Anderson nodded at the Commander and Colonel before following the man, leaving the two groups of humans alone in silence. That silence was broken by a deep sigh from the Gunnery Sergeant.

"And that is why I hate politicians," she groaned.

"No arguments here," Vala concurred as she hopped up on a nearby table.

Ashley turned to face the rest of the team with a frown on her face, "You guys serious about not going to help out the Alliance?"

Teal'c raised an eyebrow in response "Were you not under the belief that we were untrustworthy only a short time ago?"

"Well… yeah-but- I mean," the marine stuttered as she tried to think of a response.

Shepard shrugged with a smirk, drawing attention to her, "He's got a point Gunny." The NCO frowned at the Commander agreeing with Teal'c but refrained from trying to defend her position. "Still… I can't help but wonder the same thing. If you gave us the schematics and know-how to build those weapons, you'd all be set for life," Shepard pointed out.

"Well, some things are more important than money," Sam replied, drawing an eye roll from their resident thief.

Shepard eyed Colonel Carter for a moment, something akin to confusion and maybe surprise on her face. But whatever she was thinking, the look quickly faded, "Well, I hope that at the very least you'll help us prove Saren a traitor and the Geth a serious threat."

Mitchell nodded in agreement, "If they take our word for it."

"They better. Our most pristine colony gets attacked and the Council doesn't do anything? That's gonna cause big problems in Alliance space," Williams muttered in frustration.

"I gotta ask Commander, how is the Alliance gonna handle this whole situation?" Sam asked, frowning at the Gunny's comment. Humans in this universe already didn't love aliens, and the feeling was vice versa. If the Council hung the Alliance out to dry, tensions would rise higher than they already were.

Shepard's brow furrowed as she thought about the attack, "We've never been attacked like this. Not even the Batarian attack on Elysium compares…"

"Elysium… never been myself. I heard it's a great place to take a vacation," Mitchell commented, though in truth he'd only read a brief summary on the colony, and he didn't want to sound too uninformed about it.

She nodded, "Yeah… one of the most beautiful worlds I'd ever been to. I was there on rotation, a fresh lieutenant just beginning her career when we got the call Batarian pirates had launched a surprise attack. Before we even knew what was happening the capital had been taken and our forces were being overrun at every turn. The nearest Alliance fleet was almost seven hours away. I was the highest-ranking officer that wasn't missing or incapacitated." As she spoke, Shepard looked into the distance, as if she could see the planet through the hull of the station and across thousands of light-years of space.

The red-haired woman had everyone's attention now. For her marines, looks of reverence were pointed at their Commander as she recounted the tale. SG-1 in turn was curious. Among the briefings on the Alliance and the galaxy at large they'd sat through over the last few months, the Skyllian Blitz was a topic the more military minded members of Atlantis studied thoroughly. They were well aware of the attack on the Alliance colonies, and of the one woman who was credited with saving Elysium, the most prominent human world outside of Earth and Terra Nova. They just didn't put two and two together when that the Commander was the same Shepard that had saved the colony.

"So, what did you do?" Daniel asked, knowing the story but wanting to hear it from the person who was there.

"I rallied what troops I could and led a few hit and run attacks on their forces that were occupying the city. We kept them busy while civilians evacuated to the outskirts of the city, rescued some would-be slaves before they could be loaded on transport shuttles," she explained.

Mitchell and Sam silently listened with admiration. They knew that the Commander was a top-tier operator after seeing in her in action back on Eden Prime. For a young officer to be given that much responsibility, well, it spoke volumes about her leadership abilities. Obviously, those events shaped her into the woman she was to become and was right now. Had she been born in their universe, and one hundred and fifty years in the past, she would have been a valuable asset to the Stargate Program.

A scowl formed on her face, "Eventually, we managed to drive back the Batarians to the center of the city… until word got back that there was a second battalion of raiders waiting for the civvies who were running out of the city. They'd set a trap and lured the bulk of our forces further away from them. Of course, with what remained of our forces spread so thin, we couldn't divide our troops to go rescue the civilians and hold back the Batarians at the city center." Shepard got a distant stare in her eye, "I decided to send every man and woman under my command to the city outskirts to protect the civvies while I held off the Batarians."

Sam's eyes went wide, "By yourself? How many Batarians are we talking about?"

Shepard nodded, "A few platoons' worth. I had my troops pre-position weapons, mines, auto-turrets, and practically everything but the kitchen sink along the path that they would be retreating down. Once the Batarians gave chase, I was able to hold them off until reinforcements arrived in the system. After that the remaining Batarians were mopped up and the colony was saved."

"Damn… gotta say Shepard if I hadn't seen you in action myself, I probably wouldn't believe ya. Hell, I'm not really sure I do still, but you don't seem like a lady who likes to toot her own horn," Mitchell complimented.

Shepard chuckled, "Well, you can find articles about it all over the extranet, I'm sure. All exaggerated, but it'll give you the better picture of what went down."

Daniel cleared his throat, deciding to change the subject back, "You were saying? About the Alliance response to this?"

Alenko sighed as he folded his arms in thought, "Parliament will probably issue a call to arms. They'll call in every off-duty and reservist we got and get them geared up and ready for combat. Might even institute a draft on Earth and the outer colonies," he surmised his government's possible reaction.

Daniel folded his arms in turn and frowned in concern, "Really? A full draft?"

The Commander shrugged, "No one's seen the Geth in three hundred years. They could have been massing a war machine all this time. We need to be ready for anything. But…"

"But?" he asked.

She sighed, "But we haven't fought a large-scale conflict like this… well, ever really. Sure, skirmishes like the First Contact War and the Blitz. But a galaxy wide war? I… I honestly don't know if our forces are ready for that."

That wasn't exactly the kind of confidence the Atlanteans wanted to hear but couldn't disagree with her assessment. The majority of the Alliance forces spent their time on colonial defense and patrolling their territory. Most of their space and ground forces had never even fired a weapon in combat. Only their special forces and their frontier fleets had seen action. Against a force like the Geth who needed neither combat experience nor felt any fear… Alliance military personnel would be in for a rude awakening. Not to mention the obvious technological imbalances. Hence their desire to have access to Atlantean technology.

"So, what now?" Daniel asked as he saw the natural end of that conversation.

"Now we wait until the hearing starts. Hmmm… you guys have never been to the Citadel, right? Why don't we all take the scenic route to the Citadel Tower," the Commander suggested.

Mitchell hummed in thought. It would give them a good opportunity to gather some intel about this place. What little they knew about it came from extranet searches and word-of-mouth from the Quarians. Plus, he was sure Jackson was dying to get out there and mingle with the cultural melting pot. Not to mention Mitchell really didn't want to stay in this room doing nothing for the next few hours. He nodded to the woman in agreement. Vala perked up immediately, whispering a silent 'yes'. Daniel rolled his eyes at that, but the man was also excited to explore a bit before the meeting with the Council.

The group left the embassies and made their way to the walkway that ran along the edge of the river. They passed cafes, restaurants, stores, merchant stands, and just about everything else one would imagine they'd find in a bustling city. They got a fair amount of looks as they walked as there weren't many humans on the Citadel, let alone the Presidium. Especially ones that were so well armed. Still, no one seemed to bother them, not even the various C-SEC officers that were posted around the area. SG-1 assumed that they'd been told of their presence and therefore weren't concerned with eight heavily armed individuals walking around.

As they walked, they noticed a tall, jellyfish like creature standing under a tree. Next to it stood a C-SEC officer who was clearly aggravated and stressed. The Turian seemed to be talking to the creature in hushed tones before sighing and lowering his head into his clawed hand. He turned and took a few steps away as if to collect himself.

Shepard walked closer to him, "Is there a problem here officer?"

The Turian shook his head in frustration, "This Hanar refuses to listen to reason! It's creating a public disturbance! Why can't it act in an orderly and lawful manner?"

Daniel looked over the shoulder of the Turian at the Hanar in question, "What laws or disturbance rule is the… Hanar violating?"

The team looked at the alien in question. They'd read about the various space-faring species that inhabited the galaxy besides the big three of the Council. Some were big, some were small, and then there were some like the Hanar that were just… odd. Tall, walking squids that glowed bright with bioluminescence, and speaking with a strange manner. They were definitely one of the weirder alien races they'd seen, even back in their own reality.

"I'm a reasonable officer, but if an individual wishes to spew religious nonsense they need to purchase a public evangelical permit," the C-SEC cop replied.

"You mean you need a permit to preach religious beliefs?" Daniel asked, surprised at the restriction such an advanced culture seemed to have.

"Not just a permit. There are specific areas and times where preaching is legal and allowed. Failure to follow these regulations results in forfeiture of the license," the officer explained.

Daniel tilted his head in confusion, "Okay… but what is the exact purpose of these permits? I mean, what does it matter if someone's preaching religion or loudly talking about the newest celebrity gossip?"

"The permits help us weed out undesirables and keeps the area and our citizens safe," the Turian replied tiredly. Obviously, the officer had been at this a while and was completely over it.

Shepard frowned, "Keep them safe from what? A big jelly fish talking about enkindling some non-believers. I've heard these guys spout their rhetoric before, they're pretty harmless."

"The Citadel is the last place where we need a religious war popping up. If we don't enforce these rules then chaos could erupt!" the officer exclaimed. Everyone stared at the officer anticlimactically, not buying the melodrama that he was exuding.

The Gunny rolled her eyes as she thought of better places to be, "Well then why don't you just arrest the damn thing?"

The Turian sighed, "I would if it was anyone else… but my superiors have ordered me to try and find another way. The Hanar get very… vocal when they feel their freedoms of religion are being oppressed."

"Well, if you'd like we can talk to the Hanar. Maybe an unbiased third party will help," Sam offered.

Alenko tilted his head and winced slightly, "Eh, I don't think we've got time for-"

"-Actually, I'd like to help, Commander, if that's alright? I've got some questions I'd like to ask the Hanar," Daniel backed up Sam's offer of assistance, looking to Shepard for approval. The red haired woman thought for a moment, then nodded.

The Turian waved them on, "I've tried everything I can think of to get the stubborn jelly to move. If you think you can, you're more than welcome to try."

With that the officer moved off to a more secluded area and raised a hand to his head, no doubt contacting his superior back at the Presidium's C-SEC Headquarters. Shepard motioned for Daniel to move closer to the Hanar as the rest of the team held back a bit to let them do their thing. Mitchell tilted his head as he and the rest of his team watched, as the archeologists good and curious nature was once again getting them sidetracked. Though to be fair, the Commander seemed unusually interested in this alien as well. She was a bag of contradictions: suspicious, yet regretful. Aggressive, yet helpful. He couldn't help but think again that she would have fit right in at the SGC.

The Hanar noticed the two humans walking up and turned to face them, "Greeting's humans, have you come to hear the blessed words of the Enkindlers? Or… has the honorable C-SEC officer enlisted assistance?"

Daniel moved forward and stared up at the unique creature in front of him, "Hello, my name is Daniel Jackson. It's a pleasure to meet you. And this is Commander Shepard."

The Hanar nodded to them both, or at least what they assumed was nodding, "This humble one offers his gratefulness at your sincerity. I am surprised to see so many of you here, not many of your kind have chosen to come to see the greatest work of the Enkindlers for themselves."

"Who are the Enkindlers?" Daniel asked as he pulled out his note pad.

"The Enkindlers are the holy creators who pulled us from the primordial muck and made us into what we are today. All races owe their lives to the wisdom and power of the Enkindlers. It was they who paved the way for all of our ascendance," the Hanar replied in its sub-harmonized voice, its body glowing with every word spoken.

Shepard turned slightly to face the archeologist, "The Enkindlers are the Protheans, it's what they call them. The Hanar worship them as gods."

The archeologist looked a bit surprised, "Huh. You seem to know a bit more about this kind of stuff than I'd expect from a marine."

Shepard smiled, "Well, I used to read a lot about things out here when I was a kid… actually had plans to go out there and dig up old ruins and explore new worlds." She got that far off look in her eyes again, something that Daniel noted she seemed to do a lot. "Things didn't exactly turn out the way I thought they would have, but I still get to travel a lot,"

Daniel chuckled a bit at that. Things didn't turn out exactly as he had planned as kid either, not that he could explain that very easily to her. He turned back to the Hanar, writing down some notes, "Alright… so what exactly did the Proth- the Enkindlers- do for your people?"

"They raised up and gave us the gift of intelligence and reason. Our civilization in all its glory would never be what it is today without the compassion and generosity of the Enkindlers," the Hanar praised.

Daniel nodded in fascination as he continued to jot down notes. This was what he had been missing, exploring new worlds and meeting new cultures. For all the chaos and danger, they faced during the Stargate Program's early years, this was the part that he never got tired of. "So, they uplifted your race? Or did your people evolve naturally, and you found remnants of their technology?"

The Hanar seemed to glow in excitement as it told the tale that they believed in about the Protheans. As Daniel continued to take notes, he started to think about the knowledge of the ancient race that he had in his mind. The Hanar, and the rest of the Citadel races for that matter, had romanticized and placed the Protheans on a bit of a pedestal. The race was impressive in their time, but he knew from what he'd seen and been 'told' by the Beacon that the race wasn't exactly the noble and peaceful race that everyone thought they were. Not that they could tell anyone outside of Atlantis that without revealing what was in his head. Not yet anyway. Given that the Commander hadn't said anything about the Protheans either meant that she didn't comprehend the vision the Beacon had given her. Or she was worried that no one would believe her either.

"That Turian over there says that you don't have a permit to be preaching here," Shepard thumbed towards the officer in question.

The Hanar 'nodded', "Yes, this one was requested to purchase an evangelical permit… but does one require a permit to speak truth to those who would otherwise be ignorant of the glory of the Enkindlers?"

"I'm all for religious freedom and the right to say what you want… but wouldn't it be less of a headache to just buy the permit?" Shepard suggested.

"To purchase a permit would be accepting monetary exchange that puts limitations on this one's religious freedoms. This is something that this one will not allow," the Hanar rejected.

"Okay… what if I bought the permit for you? That way you're not involved in the 'monetary exchange' at all," Daniel offered kindly.

The Hanar seemed to ponder this for a moment, then it shook its head, "This one is afraid that even accepting something that was purchased with the intentions of putting limits upon the Hanar beliefs would be unacceptable."

Shepard seemed to be getting annoyed now, as all their suggestions were being rejected, "Alright, look here. That officer is just doing his job and you're making it that much harder. Just buy the damn permit."

"Ah, what my friend means to say is… if you want people to hear your beliefs about the Enkindlers then you should go about it a different way," Daniel quickly spoke so as to avoid an incident and keep the Commander from angering any further as he had seen her pissed off-side already.

The Hanar 'stared' at the man, "What do you mean to suggest Daniel Jackson?"

"Well… think about it. Most of the people on the Presidium are diplomats and ambassadors, not exactly the kind of people who are going to be listening intently to your message. It was probably one of them that told C-SEC you were out here, right?" he reasoned.

"Hmm, it is true. The populace of the Presidium has proven to be most resistant to hearing the words of the Enkindlers. This one believed that they would benefit from hearing the great works of the Enkindlers, but…" the Hanar trailed off.

"So maybe you should try going to another part of the Citadel? I'm sure that you'd have a much better time talking to the people on the streets than here. You might actually find some people there who want to listen to your words… and you probably won't have to deal with C-SEC much anymore," the archeologist spoke earnestly, gesturing slightly to the Turian subtly.

A tentacle was raised as it gently massaged the dorsal side of the main body of the alien as it hummed in thought. Shepard raised an eyebrow and turned to face the man next to her. "Quite the diplomat doctor," she whispered.

Daniel shrugged in response, "Not my first time." Shepard pondered that vague answer with a glance at the man, but before she could ask about it the Hanar lowered its tentacle and seemed to glow brighter.

"Your words hold much wisdom, human, surprising this one to no end. Tell the honorable C-SEC officer he will receive no more issues from this one. Enkindlers willing, this one shall find more receptive ears among the populace of the wards. Farewell humans," and with that the Hanar began to glide away towards a skycar hailing stand.

Daniel watched as the odd alien walked, or rather floated, away and couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed that the conversation ended so quickly. He had many more questions he wanted to ask the fascinating creature. There was such a diversity of life here that made him more curious than ever to get out there and explore, to talk to these new cultures and get an understanding of them. This universe offered a golden opportunity to explore a galaxy that had never known the tyrannical oppression of the parasitical race that dominated their old galaxy.

"Huh, I was just going to let the officer take the jellyfish out of here if it wasn't going to cooperate," Shepard said with a short laugh, obviously not being very serious.

"Well, if the Hanar can't express his views here then it's better for him to go somewhere better. I just don't want to see him get arrested for something that isn't really that big of a problem," Daniel replied firmly.

"Religious freedom important to you doctor?" she asked, turning surprised at the conviction she heard in his voice.

"Let's just say we've had a lot of issues with the subject in the past… but I've always believed that every person should be able to believe and talk about whatever they want, within reason. Didn't seem like the Hanar was hurting anyone," he explained.

Shepard thought about the man's words, then nodded, "Fair enough." The Commander eyed him curiously for another moment. Daniel noticed and started to feel like a bit like an exhibit being stared at. Finally, she spoke, "So, how does someone like you join a mercenary group?"

Daniel tilted his head in confusion, "Someone like me?"

"Someone who's clearly spent a lot of his life buried in books and history vids," she joked.

Daniel rolled his eyes as he was reminded of the endless back and forth him and Jack had in the early days of the Program, "Yeah, haven't heard that one before."

Shepard chuckled, but shook her head, "Seriously though. You've got the brains to find a Prothean Beacon that our scientists spent months looking for. And the way you handled yourself when the Geth attacked? You've obviously seen combat before. That standard procedure for you guys? Throwing your scientists and researchers into the thick of battle."

"Not exactly… this wasn't exactly the career I had envisioned for myself when I was in school," he admitted dejectedly, but after a moment shook his head clear of memories of old classrooms and freezing Chicago winters.

Shepard stared at the man, a sympathetic look in her eye, but she didn't press any further. She nodded towards their teams and the pair walked back to group and the Turian. They explained to the officer that the Hanar wouldn't be a problem anymore. The officer thanked them and went on with his duties. The group moved on and eventually they made their way to the massive structure that protruded up and out of the Presidium. It reminded the Earth born members of SG-1 of the Stratosphere Tower at Las Vegas, but much larger and even more luxurious. The group made their way into the building and past a small reception area before entering the elevators that would take them to the top. The speed at which the elevator climbed surprised the humans from Atlantis, and within seconds the door chimed and opened allowing them all to exit.

Stepping into the Council chambers, the Atlanteans took in the beautiful sight. A walkway lay before them that led up a short set of stairs. The walkway was lined with ivory arches and sparkling lights and majestic maroon tress resting above. Past the short stairs was a large fountain with five spouts shooting into the air. In the corners of the fountain area were small grassy plots with other exotic plants that were clearly well groomed and cared for. It was enough to make any green thumb enthusiast actually turn green with envy. More arches lined the walls and ceiling, giving the place an almost holy sense of awe, like a cathedral.

"I did not expect to see such a sight on an artificial station," the Jaffa remarked as his head tilted up to take in the sight.

Daniel nodded in agreement as he snapped a couple of photos, "It's incredible..."

This place was unlike any other they'd been to in this galaxy or their own, save for Atlantis. Even back in their own universe, few places could compare to this Citadel. For a group of people who had been essentially stuck in one place for months on end, this place seemed like a paradise of new and interesting things to do. Mitchell had no doubt that once they got back to Atlantis and debriefed, there would be a flood of requests to visit the Citadel. Hell, he wouldn't mind taking some R&R here himself. But not now. And not anytime soon from what Daniel had seen in that Beacon.

They all walked up the stairs to the fountain when they noticed two Turians, one in C-SEC gear, having what looked to be a pretty intense argument. The one on the left had blue and black armor and some kind of sensor overlay on his left eye and a series of deep blue tattoos under his right. The other Turian wore a set of fine clothing that seemed to indicate he was a higher-ranking individual. His face was covered in turquoise-white tattoos that gave him an even more predatory look. He had his arms crossed over his chest and seemed to be very annoyed by the talk they were having.

"Saren's hiding something. Give me more time, stall them!" the one on the left stated with a firm shake of his hand.

The one on the left shook his head with a tired sigh, "Stall the Council? Don't be ridiculous! Your investigation is over Garrus."

With that the higher ranking Turian turned around and made his way towards the stairs that led to the rest of the chamber. As he turned to start walking, he noticed the humans who had just walked out of the elevator. He gave them a once over before shaking his head and making his way towards them. Ashley let her gaze follow the Turian for a moment and everyone could see the anger and offense in her eyes. The group turned their attention to the C-SEC officer who had moved closer to the group once he had noticed them. He eyed them all up and down until his gaze rested on the Commander.

"Commander Shepard, I'm Garrus Vakarian," he introduced himself.

"You know me?" she asked surprised, a feeling felt by everyone else as well.

The officer nodded, "I'm… was the officer in charge of the C-SEC investigation into Saren. You and your team's files were included in the relevant paperwork."

Shepard glanced to the stairs behind him before turning back to the Turian, "Who were you just talking to? Seemed pretty tense."

Garrus sighed and a frown grew on his face, or what SG-1 assumed was a frown, "That was Executor Pallin, head of Citadel Security. My boss. He'll be presenting my findings on Saren to the Council."

Mitchell scrunched his face in thought, "Huh, sounds like you don't care for Saren very much." It was a bit confusing to the man. Given the racial tensions between humans and Turians, he figured that C-SEC wouldn't have even bothered looking into the Alliance's accusations. Especially after what Nihlus told them.

"That's an understatement. I don't trust him… I don't know, something about him just rubs me the wrong way. Plus, he's a SPECTRE," Garrus explained with barely concealed hostility as he thought about the Turian in question.

"You don't like SPECTREs?" Shepard asked, the surprise in her voice equaling Colonel Mitchell's.

"I don't like any group that thinks they're above the law. It's made my investigation hell. Everything Saren touches is classified and concealed. I've been trying to backtrack his movements over the last few months, but I can't find any hard evidence," he replied.

"So, the Council keeps potential evidence from the department that protects the station and them?" Daniel questioned in confusion.

Garrus nodded begrudgingly, "If his crimes had happened on station, I might have some more room to push, but given that this is an investigation on a human colony I don't have a lot of leverage. SPECTREs are the Council's right hand, and they're given a lot of freedom and protection because of that. But I know he's dirty. I just… I need more time to prove it."

Daniel and Sam shared a look as they processed this little bit of information. They were no strangers to government agencies having a looser leash with which to operate. The SGC was practically its own entity that, while operating with some governmental oversight, made a lot of its own decisions since they were the most qualified ones to make them. Even so, they did report to someone. They'd heard that SPECTRE's operated with impunity, but if even the Citadel's own security force was essentially forbidden from investigating them…

"Commander, I think they're ready for us," Alenko interrupted their thoughts, the man putting away his omni-tool after reading a message.

Garrus nodded and stepped out of their way, "Good luck Commander. Maybe they'll listen to you."

She returned the nod, "Appreciate it, Officer Vakarian. I hope so too."

With that, the group continued onwards past the fountain and up a set of stairs surrounded by more ivory arches and trees. There were dozens of people dressed in the finest suits and dresses going about their business; military officials, ambassadors, dignitaries, and all manner of political parties that seemed right at home. There was no doubt that this was the political epicenter of the galaxy. The upper level of the Council chamber was even more extravagant and beautiful than the entrance. Large patches of grass and shrubbery lay about with benches that many people were sitting at. Some seemed to be wrapped up in deep conversation, while others seemed to be simply enjoying the atmosphere and reading on small tablets or their omni-tools. Surrounding the garden area were walkways and doors leading to what SG-1 assumed were private meeting rooms and areas that visiting dignitaries could go and relax.

Sam couldn't help but admire the beauty of it all, "Too bad this place is not open to more people. That spot right there would be a perfect place for a picnic."

Kaiden nodded in agreement, "Sadly, security here is too tight to allow any unauthorized access. It is a shame though."

Vala scoffed, "Tight security? We walked straight up here."

"We were scanned as soon as we entered the building for anything out of the ordinary. Plus, there's hidden security measures all over the place, undercover agents, and god knows what else. There's a reason no one has ever attempted to infiltrate or take this place by force. If it wasn't for the fact that you five are under Alliance diplomatic status, you wouldn't have even made it onto the Presidium," Shepard pointed out.

Teal'c hummed in response, but his eyes began to scan his surroundings with the newfound knowledge that they were surrounded with potential threats. Mitchell too didn't care to hear that information, but also figured that at this point they really didn't have anything to fear from their hosts. For now, anyway. As they were walking past a Turian and Salarian, both dressed in exquisite suits, they couldn't help but overhear some of their conversation.

"Don't be ridiculous! The Volus won't be joining the Council for years," the Salarian stated confidently.

The Turian raised a talon and scratched the side of his head, "I'm not so sure… the humans are making a strong push for a Council seat. If the humans get it, you can be sure the Volus won't be far behind in their attempt."

The Salarian waved off his colleague, "Allowing the humans to join is a sound strategic move. They have the military, economy, and population to handle colonial expansion to offer as a Council race. Much more than any other charter species. No… I'd bet the Hanar will be next after the humans. Perhaps the Elcor after them."

The group continued walking, having their own destination in mind and not wanting to be caught eavesdropping. Daniel noted the conversation, however, and immediately his diplomatic side started to think. It seemed that not everyone thought so negatively of humans as Alenko had made it out to be. Though to be fair, the Lieutenant's opinion was no doubt colored by his dealings with other race's militaries which were bound to be about as trusting as their own. Still, if there was a chance for this galaxy's humanity to be seen in a better light, then maybe the humans of Atlantis would be able to find a place here as well if – when – their true nature was revealed.

The group came to a longer and wider set of stairs just below some sort of auditorium. Just below the final set was Captain Anderson and Nihlus waiting patiently for them to arrive. They walked right up the pair and the three Alliance soldiers offered crisp salutes. Anderson offered his own in return then gestured to the stairs behind him.

"The hearings already underway. Commander you're with me and Nihlus. You too Colonel Mitchell, the rest of your people will have to wait here with the Lieutenant and Gunnery Sergeant," he explained.

Mitchell turned to his team before turning back to the officer, "Would you mind if Daniel came with? Diplomacy is really more his wheelhouse."

Anderson shook his head, "Sorry, but only you are authorized to attend. Won't tell you what it took to even get that approved. Plus, well, there's not a whole lot of room up there."

Mitchell nodded in understanding and looked back at his friends, "Alright, you guys hang here for a bit. Be back in a jiffy."

With that the three officers and SPECTRE began to climb the steps up to where Udina was speaking. As the three fell into place behind the ambassador, Mitchell took in the view. Just in front of the outlook they stood on was a large, glass floor that covered some sort of private garden below. Beyond that, a massive window allowed lavender light from the nebula to shine through and illuminate the auditorium. A pair of pink-leaved trees lined the windows. Below them, the three figures he'd seen early today on hologram in the human embassy; the Citadel Council. More striking than them, however, was the massive, twelve-foot hologram to left of them. It was the Turian that had taken shots at his team and the SPECTRE beside him. His arms were crossed, and he leaned back on one leg as if to say that this whole ordeal was beneath him. His hologram's massive stature didn't help Mitchell's opinion on that.

The Asari Councilor spoke up, "The Geth attack is a matter of grave concern, but there is nothing to indicate Saren was involved in any way."

"The investigation by Citadel Security turned up no evidence to support your accusation of treason," the Turian Councilor spoke, his annoyance evident.

Shepard and Mitchell couldn't see the Executor anywhere, meaning he must have already delivered Officer Vakarian's report on his investigation. Considering that not much time passed between his walking away and their arrival at the hearing, no doubt the Executor was very much in line with the Council's thinking that Saren was innocent. Or he didn't think that it was worth the effort of trying to fight the Council on it. Either way, they shared a look that said they were both thinking the same thing.

Udina seemed to be fuming at this point, no doubt he'd already spent a fair amount of time trying to convince the Council, "We have eyewitness testimonies that say Saren was there!"

The Salarian Councilor tapped a few buttons on the console in front of him and an orange holoscreens appeared, "We've read the Eden Prime reports, Ambassador. The testimony of one traumatized dockworker is hardly compelling proof. And this… Atlantean Defense Force is hardly what we'd call an unbiased or trustworthy source."

The Colonel couldn't help but feel a bit terse at that comment. Not that he could exactly blame them. Afterall, in their eyes they were a private human organization who was brought in without the Council's knowledge on a classified Prothean dig site. And only after the aftermath of the Geth attack they were brought in officially for the Alliance to save face.

"And the word of your own agent?" Udina asked in return, his face scrunched in anger.

"I resent these accusations. Nihlus is biased by his petition to have a human in the SPECTREs," the subharmonic voice of the Turian in question spoked from his hologram.

Nihlus's face grew fierce as he stepped forward, "You can't lie to me Saren, you were there! You attacked me and the colony. You're working with the Geth! You're a traitor to the SPECTRE's, the Council, and the galaxy!"

Saren scoffed, turning his attention to his fellow Turian, "And you've gotten too close to the humans. As a SPECTRE, you must be disciplined and focused on the protection of the galaxy. Perhaps the stress of your duties has become… too much for you." The silent threat was heard by all; the suggestion of benching Nihlus, perhaps even early retirement sparking a fire in the SPECTRE's eyes.

Anderson stepped forward to defend him, "Nihlus takes his duties far more seriously than you! He risked his life to help save the people of Eden Prime!"

Both Shepard and Mitchell looked at the Captain in surprise. While he hadn't known the man long, Anderson seemed to come across and a level-headed and honorable individual. This sudden outburst seemed out of character. Apparently, it was, given the Commander's reaction to him. She stared at the man with wide eyes, a look of absolute confusion on her face.

Saren turned and sneered down at the older man, "Captain Anderson. You always seem to be involved when humanity makes accusations against me… and this must be your protégé, Commander Shepard. The one who let the Beacon get destroyed."

Shepard's narrowed, "The mission to recover the Beacon was classified. How'd you even know about it?"

"I have access to every SPECTRE's mission reports. After going over everything in them and seeing you now… I must say, I am unimpressed. But then… what can you expect from a human," the SPECTRE mocked.

Mitchell frowned as he listened to the Turian. He grew up in the South, so he'd been exposed to his fair share of racism growing up. He never understood it, never tolerated it. He couldn't imagine not having Teal'c as a friend, or Vala, or any of the Jaffa or Quarians he'd come to know. He took a step forward and raised his finger at the hologram, "I'm not gonna pretend I know about all this political stuff, but this guy sure sounds like he's got a bone to pick with humans." Saren had gotten under his skin, and not just because the SPECTRE had shot at his team on Eden Prime.

Saren threw a clawed hand towards Mitchell in dismissal, "For what reason are we allowing mercenaries into this hearing? Mercenaries who were illegally brought into a classified Prothean dig site."

"If it wasn't for them, you and the Geth would have done a hell of a lot more damage down there," Shepard stated fiercely.

"Plus, it wasn't technically illegal right? As long as there isn't any serious technology found, the Alliance can bring in whoever they want before having to ask the Council for permission," Mitchell smirked up at SPECTRE, noting the narrowing avian eyes sending death glares his way. "Only after my team found the Beacon would y'all wanna get in on the action. But the Geth through a wrench in that didn't they?"

Saren snarled slightly as he stared down at the Taur'i, "Your species needs to learn its place, human. Your people are not ready to join the Council…" he turned towards the Commander standing beside the Colonel, the woman's fist clenched, "You're not even ready to join the SPECTRE's…"

The Turian's insult only seemed to make the Commander even angrier. Anderson placed a hand on her shoulder to prevent her from saying something that might get her in trouble during an official hearing, but even he had a deep scowl on his face as he tried to keep himself calm too.

Udina stepped forward as he looked at the Council, "He has no right to say that! That is not his decision."

The Asari Councilor nodded at that and turned to look up at the massive hologram, "Commander Shepard's admission into the SPECTRE's is not the purpose of this meeting."

Saren uncrossed his arms and waved a hand flippantly at his accusers, "This meeting has no purpose. The humans are wasting your time, Councilor. And mine."

There was a wave of looks that passed between the three Councilors as they all seemed to be having a silent conversation. It was obvious, even to Mitchell, that they did not think that Saren had anything to do with the attack. Moreover, they appeared to share the Turian's sentiment that the humans were wasting time from the annoyed expressions they had plastered on their faces.

Shepard noticed this as well and growled in frustration, "You're seriously going to let Saren hide behind his position as a SPECTRE? You need to open your eyes!"

Udina turned to the woman and flashed her an intense look, "Commander!"

"What we need is evidence. So far, we have seen nothing that is more than circumstantial or hearsay," the Turian Councilor replied coolly. "We have no recordings, no audio files, not even so much as a drive signature from Saren's personal ship entering the system. Even with Nihlus's testimony…" the Councilor trailed off, throwing a short but hard glare at the SPECTRE.

"Maybe there would be if you hadn't hamstrung the cops from investigating," Mitchell finally muttered under his breath.

All eyes turned to the man who immediately regretted saying anything. He wasn't exactly putting on his best diplomatic performance, hell, he could almost feel Jackson's glare at hitting the back of his head. Still… he couldn't help but feel a bit annoyed at the dismissive and downright condescending nature this Council was treating the humans with. He'd noticed a few glares and looks since they'd arrived on the Citadel, but now he was really beginning to understand just how low of a standing humans seemed to have in this galaxy. It made him all the more nervous when he thought about how they would react when the truth of Atlantis was revealed.

The Turian Councilor narrowed his eyes at the man, "You may wish to use a more respectful tone, Colonel. Especially when throwing accusations at the Citadel Council."

Mitchell raised his hands in a placating manner, "Hey now, I'm not looking to pick a fight. But your own officer said he's got his hands tied tighter than a Christmas ham. Seems like a counterproductive way to get to the truth."

"SPECTRE's are exempt from such investigations. We have to be able to operate without oversight in order to do our jobs. I wouldn't expect a human to understand," Saren replied, his eyes narrow as he stared at the man.

Mitchell folded his arms over his chest as he stared right back at the Turian, "I think I understand just fine. You think you're above the law. Don't have to answer to nobody."

"SPECTRE's answer directly to the Council, Colonel. They may have a much looser set of restraints than other intelligence organizations, but they are not above the law," the Asari interjected.

"But they only answer to one governing body while being able to go wherever they and want and do whatever they want. Seems like a recipe for abuse, at least that's what my grandma would probably say," the man replied.

Saren shook his head, "The only abuse that has happened is the Alliance abusing the trust the Council placed in them. They lost the Beacon, incited the wrath of the Geth who have been unseen for over three centuries, and now hope to threaten their way into getting what they want with the dangerous and unknown technology used by you on Eden Prime and New Rivers! Technology that has clearly been hidden in a clear violation of the Prothean technology laws."

"We're not even members of the Alliance, and we operate out in Terminus," Mitchell fired back, feeling that things were about to get worse with those kinds of accusations going around.

The Asari Councilor held up her hand, "Gentleman, enough. We are here to decide if the Alliance's charges have any baring. Nothing more."

"Do you have anything else to add from your report Commander Shepard?" the Salarian Councilor asked.

Shepard shook her head and crossed her arms, "You've made your decision. I won't waste my breath."

The Turian Councilor looked to his Asari counterpart and shook his head at the woman's response. The Asari in turn sighed and turned back to the humans in front of her.

"Given that there has been no evidence of any connection between the Saren and the Geth, nor anything tying him to the assault on Eden Prime, the Council denies the Alliance's petition to have him disbarred from the SPECTRE's," she spoke calmly and firmly.

Saren nodded, "I'm thankful to see justice was served."

With that, his hologram faded and disappeared. Udina seemed to be seething with anger, as did Shepard and Anderson. Mitchell sighed in frustration too. He was genuinely concerned that an organization like the SPECTRE's had the kind of power that they did. That Saren was above reproach, even with the word of his fellow SPECTRE against him, was startling. It seemed like the Council was either blindly trusting him or had ulterior motives. It wouldn't be the first time that the leaders of a government had hidden agendas that SG-1 needed to unravel.

"This hearing is adjourned. However, there is a matter of importance that still needs to be discussed. Ambassador, you and your people will have a moment to collect your thoughts. Then we will see you our private chambers," the Asari stated, and the three Councilors walked off the pedestals and out of sight.

Udina turned and briskly walked down the stairs followed by the other three humans. They stopped just in front of where the rest of Shepard and Mitchell's teams were as Udina turned and glared at Anderson.

"It was a mistake bringing you into that hearing Captain. You and Saren have too much history, and it made the Council question our motives," the ambassador reprimanded that Alliance officer.

Anderson gave the man a glance before turning to the Commander, "I know Saren. He's working with the Geth for one reason: to exterminate the entire human race. Every world we have, even Earth, is at risk."

"What kind of history do the two of you have, sir?" Shepard asked, a look of concern appearing as she saw just how different her mentor was behaving. The Captain got a distant look in his eyes that the military members in the group knew all too well.

He glanced down at his hands and clenched them into fists, "I worked an op with him a long time ago… the op went south. Things got bad. Real bad. That's all I'm going to say on it, but I know him. What kind of person he is… he has to be stopped."

"I tend to take people shooting at me personally, but your history with the guy is going to throw a wrench into trying to prove he attacked you guys. Udina's got a point; the Council is just going to think you're trying to settle some personal vendetta," Mitchell pointed out, acknowledging the ambassador with a nod.

Anderson thought about the man's words for a moment, then nodded, "Maybe there's some truth in that. But it doesn't change the fact that Saren is a threat to humans. With a Geth army at his back, there's no telling what he'll do next."

Shepard nodded in agreement, "So, what's our next step, sir?"

Udina lifted a hand to his chin in thought, "You heard the Council in there, Commander. As a SPECTRE he's virtually untouchable. We need to find evidence that exposes him for the criminal he is in order to get his SPECTRE status revoked. Once that happens, he won't be able to hide."

"What about Officer Vakarian? He seemed pretty adamant about finding evidence against Saren. Maybe he can help us," Kaiden suggested.

Ashley seemed to disapprove, "I don't think we should involve any aliens in this one, sir."

Sam had a look of concern at hearing the Gunny's comment, "What is wrong with involving aliens Gunny?"

"Don't trust them. Especially since this is about a human colony, we should keep everyone involved human," she stated coldly, glancing to her side at the SPECTRE next to her.

Nihlus narrowed his eyes at the woman, "Despite the fact that a Turian helped you save that colony?"

Before the Gunnery Sergeant could respond, the Commander spoke, "We need all the help we can get Williams."

The woman looked like she wanted to object but nodded obediently and fell back into a relaxed stance, "Understood Commander."

Shepard turned back to her commanding officer, "Any idea where we can find him?"

"I have a contact in C-SEC who can help track him down. Name's Harkin," Udina offered up a lead.

Anderson scoffed and shook his head, "Forget it. They suspended Harkin for drinking on the job last month. It was all over the news."

Daniel looked confused, "Why was it all over the news? Drunken behavior doesn't seem all that interesting considering where we are."

"He was the first human allowed into C-SEC, so it was pretty big news. A lot of outlets tried to spin it to keep more humans from joining. It was terrible timing and has put us in an even worse light than we already were. I won't waste my time with that loser," Anderson explained.

The ambassador waved the Captain off, "You won't have to. I don't want the Council using your history with Saren as an excuse to dismiss anything we might turn up. The Commander will handle this." It was a harsh decision, but understandable in the eyes of SG-1. It was clear that this whole situation was personal for Anderson. Which meant it was a bad look to have the man anywhere near this investigation that was beginning to take shape.

Apparently, however, that didn't sit too well with Shepard, "You can't just cut Captain Anderson out of this!"

To everyone's surprise, Anderson shook his head with a deep sigh, "No… the ambassador is right. I'm… I'm too close to this. I need to step aside."

Shepard looked shocked the man backing down, and Mitchell had to agree. Even if it was the right call, Mitchell knew it wasn't easy to remove yourself from a situation that you wanted to help solve. When he got framed for murder back on Galar, he couldn't leave the planet until they found the real murderer. Even when he was cleared of the charges thanks to his diplomatic status, he knew that he'd never be able to live with himself if he just walked away.

"Captain, you stay here a moment and brief the Commander and her team on what they'll need to be doing. Colonel, if you and your team would follow me please," Udina motioned for SG-1 to follow.

Mitchell frowned as he looked at the ambassador, "Follow you where?"

"For a private meeting with the Council. We have much to discuss, and it's a conversation best held behind closed doors," he explained.

"I'm guessing the Council wants to talk to you guys about your tech," Alenko surmised.

"You guess correctly, Lieutenant. Now please, follow me," Udina asked as he began to walk towards the far side of the chamber.

Mitchel turned to Shepard and stuck his hand out, "Well, I guess this is where we part ways Commander. Nice working with ya."

She took his hand and shook, "Likewise Colonel. I hope the grilling isn't too bad for you and your team." She then turned to Daniel and Vala, "Thanks for your help, without you who knows when we would have found the Beacon."

"But it got destroyed," Vala stated with a wince.

"True, but it also alerted us to Saren and the Geth. If it wasn't Eden Prime, it would have been somewhere else, and maybe an even worse attack," Alenko pointed out. Shepard nodded in agreement with her subordinate. Even Williams seemed to acknowledge the fact, though her face quickly soured, no doubt the thought of her colony being a sacrificial lamb so the rest of the galaxy could be warned of the Geth reigniting the fire inside her.

Daniel nodded in agreement, though from the look on his face he didn't like the thought anymore than Williams did, "Still… if only we could have gotten the data off of it. Maybe we'd know what they were planning."

Everyone seemed to agree with the archeologist, but Mitchell could see that Shepard was eyeing the man with a look that he wasn't particularly fond of. The woman had stepped aside with Daniel back on the Eden Prime, asking him about the Beacon. He knew that the Commander was sharp, and no doubt knew that there was a lot more to their being there for the Beacon than they let on. Of course, they couldn't exactly tell everyone that ancient machines were coming to kill them all. Not without evidence. And as it stood, while only Daniel and the Commander had been exposed to the evidence, Shepard had yet to indicate that she was aware of the Reapers.

"Maybe… I doubt we'll know what Saren and the Geth are really after until we capture him," Shepard stated though gritted teeth.

Sam let stuck her hand out like Mitchell, "If there's anything we can do to help, let us know. You hired us now, after all."

Whatever the Council wanted with them, Sam and the others knew that they needed to stay in contact with the Commander. Not only because she was going to try and find Saren, but because of the Prothean vision rattling around inside her head.

Shepard nodded and returned the gesture, "Appreciated Colonel, Colonels. Mr. Teal'c, Ms. Mal Doran, good luck. And Dr Jackson…"

Daniel looked over at her at the mention of his name, "Yes, Commander?"

An apprehensive look appeared on her face, "… Good luck, hopefully you turn up something on the data the Geth took."

Daniel nodded in understanding and pulled up his omni-tool, "Here, I'll send you my contact information. I'm willing to help however I can."

A moment later the Commander's omni-tool came to life. She looked down at it, scrolled through the information, then closed it with a nod. She looked up at the archeologist and gave a small smile of appreciation.

"Thank you, doctor, I'll be sure to call you if we need your help with anything," she said.

With that SG-1 turned and began to follow ambassador Udina. Mitchell held a small smirk on his face as he eyed the archeologist at his side. Daniel, noticing the look, raised his eyebrows in confusion. Once they were out of earshot the pilot let out a short chuckle.

"What?" he asked.

The Colonel gave a small nod in the direction of the Alliance soldiers, "Off Atlantis for the first time in months and already trying to get women's numbers, Jackson?"

Daniel frowned as it took him a moment to understand what the man was implying. Then his eyes went wide, and he turned back to look at the Commander, then back to his friend, then back to the Commander. His cheeks turned slightly red, and he fumbled over his words as he tried to explain himself.

"I wasn't- that's not why- she just- it's not like that," he tried to explain.

"I would hope not, Daniel," Vala pouted off to the side, before her face burst into a teasing smile.

Everyone let out a laugh, even Teal'c produced a small smile. Daniel looked at his friends, sighing and shaking his head. As they followed Udina from a distance, Daniel whispered that it was important to keep in contact with the Commander. Even if she didn't remember much from her exposure to the Beacon, that could change as time passed. Or, if they couldn't find any more Beacons or data, they may have to consider using a memory recall device on her.

"I'm sure General O'Neill is gonna love that idea," Mitchell commented dryly.

"You sure you're not just trying to get a look at what she thinks about you?" Vala teased again.

"Seriously?" he complained with a groan.

Mitchell laughed again and raised his hands in mock surrender as they walked, "You really think we'll need to hook her up to one of those mind readers?"

Daniel rolled his eyes, "She was talking about the Beacon visions we had. She won't be able to understand them… so we need to see what she is seeing."

Teal'c hummed in thought, "I believe Colonel Mitchell is correct. O'Neill will not be willing to expose a member of the Alliance military to such technology."

"You mean besides our staff weapons and the Quinn?" Vala exasperated.

Sam shrugged, "She's got a point… besides, I have a feeling this meeting is going to address just that." She motioned to the man leading them to a door on the far side of the auditorium. The team quickly stopped their discussion as they came back into listening distance of the man.

Udina stopped just in front of a door that led beyond the Council chamber, "We're about to meet with the Council. So, if you would kindly refrain from speaking about… any topic not pertaining to the matter at hand it would be greatly appreciated." No doubt he was referring to Saren.

Everyone followed in step behind the ambassador as the doors slid open to reveal a long hallway. Stepping inside there was a small booth protected by kinetic barriers that glowed orange with a single Turian inside. Udina stood by the booth and held a hand to it.

"I'm afraid you will need to surrender your weapons here," he stated.

Mitchell was confused, "Wouldn't have made more sense to make us surrender them before we got up here? Besides, I thought that we were allowed to carry weapons on the station?"

"If you were only going to be in the Council chambers, yes. But we're about to meet them in a much closer context. So, please," the man once again gestured to the booth.

After a moment's hesitation, he nodded in understanding. Mitchell and the rest of the team began to unhook their weapons and placed them on the booth's counter. After a few moments they had all disarmed and stood waiting for Udina to continue onwards down the hall. Nodding to the booth attendant, he continued leading them until they came to another closed door. He opened his omni-tool and punched in a set of codes. The red holographic lock blinked and shifted for a few moments before finally turning green and disappearing as the doors slid open. They all shuffled inside with Teal'c bringing up the rear just as the doors closed behind him.

The room was small, just large enough to hold the team, the ambassador, a small table, and the three Council members sitting on the opposite side to the humans. Udina took a seat just to the right of the Salarian Councilor on the end of the table. Seeing the empty seats, SG-1 each took one and got settled in for what they figured was going to be a long talk. Mitchell noticed the Jaffa seemed to be eyeing another individual in the room who was skulking in the shadows in the far-right corner of the room.

The Asari Councilor spoke first, "Colonel, thank you for agreeing to this private meeting. Introductions are in order: I am Councilor Tevos, this is Councilor Sparatus, and finally Councilor Valern. I would just like to start off by saying that we appreciate you and your team's efforts in trying to save the Prothean Beacon. And even more we recognize and praise the nobility you showed by helping Eden Prime fend off the Geth assault with little to no profit to be had for yourselves."

Mitchell was a little thrown off by her courteous tone, a tone that was far more inviting than what she had been using in the hearing, "Thanks… we were just trying to do the right thing."

"And despite your good intentions, the Beacon was still destroyed," the Turian spoke, casting a look at Daniel and Vala.

"We didn't know that would happen. It was activated before we arrived, when the Gunnery Sergeant stepped close, it… took hold of her," Daniel explained.

"Yes, we read that in the report and the analysis of the remains of the Beacon. We understand that anyone who got to close would have activated it; we do not hold you accountable for this unfortunate incident," the Councilor Valern reassured him, though his tone seemed to indicate otherwise.

The Councilors were being unexpectedly courteous, at least on the surface. Especially compared to how they acted during the very public hearing. Obviously, they'd read the reports from the Commander and her team, and the Alliance garrison that held the city from the Geth. Like the Ambassador, they wanted to speak to SG-1 for one reason, and one reason only.

"But bringing the Geth to the planet… not informing us of your discovery of another Beacon out in the Terminus Systems…" Councilor Sparatus calmly stated, though the humans could sense the anger behind his forced composer.

Before they could respond, the Tevos placed a hand on the Turian's arm. She turned back to the Atlanteans, a neutral expression on her face, "You have to understand, while not part of the Alliance or being in Council space, finding a piece of technology as important as a Beacon… you should have contacted us immediately. Perhaps we might have prevented the Geth from tracking down whatever signal you inadvertently activated."

Daniel couldn't help but feel somewhat defensive at Tevos's comment, but he kept calm and polite, "We didn't know that the Geth would track the signal back to Eden Prime. We were hoping to figure out why they attacked us. Why they wanted the Beacon in the first place."

"We understand that, but now we must deal with the consequences of your actions, intended or not. The Geth are moving in force throughout the Traverse, the Terminus, and who knows where else." The Salarian Councilor pulled up his Omni-tool, and several holographic screens around the room popped up showing stills from the battle of Eden Prime. "From the reports we received, they have advanced technologically beyond anything we imagined. We must be prepared to fight them," Valern pointed out, motioning to SG-1.

Daniel tilted his head and looked over at Teal'c and Sam and the three shared a look. They'd been in this situation more times than they cared to remember. Arriving through the Stargate on an alien world with a technologically inferior civilization. The people there wanting what they had, be it computers, medicine, or their weapons. Of course, this was the first time where they were dealing with a space fairing culture that, while advanced, was still below themselves.

"So, you want what the Alliance wants?" Mitchell guessed, noting the look in the veteran members of SG-1. He had a lot less experience with these things than the other members of his team, even Vala who'd spent decades roaming their original galaxy. Still, he'd been around enough truck stop barters to see through to what the Salarian was getting at.

Udina nodded as he straightened up in his chair, "You hold the key to a swift and decisive victory over the Geth… or a bloody war of attrition that will cost billions of lives."

Tevos nodded, "Which is why we have chosen to forgive your mistake of not informing us of the discovery of a Beacon. As the first ones to engage the Geth in three hundred years, your intelligence could prove invaluable. And, more importantly, what you have to offer dictates that we must think about the future and not get bogged down in policy."

Valern pulled up a holo-keyboard at his seat and began typing in commands. A moment later, a larger uni-directional screen appeared in the center of the table. On it appeared images of SG-1 firing fighting alongside Shepard and her team. Various images frozen showing Zats mid fire. Other images showed the Jaffa after they'd dropped from their pods using their staff weapons. There were even slowed footage of the Quinn halfway through transitioning to its cloak.

"You possess technology that has never been seen before. Even our most elite intelligence organizations have not found anyone else in the galaxy in possession of this kind of tech before," the Salarian began, his reptilian eyes laser focused on the screen. "Udina has informed us of your explanation as to how you were able to acquire such technology…"

Vala noticed the way he trailed off and let out a nervous chuckle, "And… you're not buying it are you."

Daniel and the others gave her an annoyed look, but they knew that their story for how they had more advanced technology than anyone else was shaky at best. They simply didn't have a better one that even remotely stood a chance of being believed. The truth of their origins would come to light one day, but hopefully it was after everyone believed them about the Reapers. Revealing both at the same time… it wouldn't end well. And would kill any chance of getting the galaxy ready for the coming invasion.

Sparatus grunted in frustration, "No. We don't."

Tevos stepped in again, "But that is irrelevant. Under normal circumstances, such technology would simply be shared by the Alliance or any charter race due to the laws we have in place surrounding these situations."

"Strictly speaking, you don't fall under the Alliance's authority. Which means we can't simply order you turn over what you have," Udina explained.

"Huh, to be honest I'm still surprised you didn't just detain us and take our technology," Mitchell admitted, reiterating Teal'c's earlier comment back in the Human Embassy. They'd certainly been held hostage for a lot less in the past.

Sparatus scoffed, "These aren't the Terminus Systems, Colonel. We aren't uncivilized barbarians and pirates here. However, we cannot afford to let such technology slip through our fingers. Especially now that the Geth have become a serious threat to the security of Citadel space. We need evert advantage we can get."

"And you believe our technology will give you that advantage?" Teal'c asked simply.

Valern nodded, "You have access to handheld and ship-borne energy weapons. Not simply anti-missile and fighter weapons, but viable and effective weapons that we have guessed must be plasma based." Images from the New Rivers appeared now, showing the Apollo as it engaged Batarian pirate ships in orbit, obliterating them with ease. The images were surprising since the human colony wasn't associated with the Alliance either. Obviously, the fingers of the intelligence groups in this galaxy stretched farther than they thought. "From the footage as well as the testimonies we've read from the Alliance soldiers, these weapons were able to cut through the Geth's kinetic barriers with little difficulty."

"More concerning than your weapons, is your ships. The sensors in the main settlement on Eden Prime as well as the Normandy couldn't detect it until it appeared out of thin air. Somehow, you have access to a kind of stealth drive that masks a ship from both visual and sensor readings… we've never seen anything like it. Not to mention your cruiser's unique barriers and powerful weapons," Udina pointed out as he gestured to the still image of the Quinn and the 304.

"Such technology could let a fleet slip into Citadel space completely undetected and attack vulnerable positions before we even knew what was happening," Valern explained their fears.

"Or allow us to strike key Geth positions before they could mount a proper defense," Sparatus stated their hopes firmly.

Sam leaned forward, "So, what exactly are you suggesting?"

The Asari Councilor tapped a few buttons on her omni-tool and sent them over to her. Sam's tool came to life as she pulled up the data package and began to sift through its contents. Mitchell leaned over to try and see what was on there as his eyes began to blink left to right as he read.

"In exchange for access and the technological know-how on how to produce our own versions of your technology, the Alliance is willing to offer you a garden world of your choosing, and instatement as a charter colony under the protection of the Alliance Navy. Moreover, we can offer you supplies, manpower, and technology that you do not have access to in order to bring your people into the luxuriousness that our most pristine colonies enjoy," Udina stated with pride.

"The Council in turn will give you patent rights and trade enterprises that will allow you to grow your economy in a very short amount of time. Given a few years, your world could become one of the wealthiest colonies in Citadel space," the Salarian spoke like a salesman selling a new car.

Sparatus leaned forward, an annoyed look on his face, "…And the Council is willing to offer security forces to help protect your colony's interests. Ships, fleets, and scientific personnel to help further understand the alien technology you've discovered on your homeworld. Protection from the Geth, or unscrupulous organizations that may target you." The Turian was clearly not happy about that, but from the looks of his two peers he was clearly out voted.

The five Atlanteans shared looks at the offer that the Council and the Alliance was making. Despite being officially hired on as 'extra security' by the Alliance, they hadn't exactly worked out any specifics on what they would be doing or what the Atlantean Defense Force would be paid. Things had been moving fast since Eden Prime, and warning the galaxy about the Geth and Saren didn't leave a whole lot of room for anything else. Still, while it was an offer that they knew the SGC and their Earth would have been happy to accept several years ago, things had changed since then. Drastically so.

Daniel slowly spoke as he thought about how best to word their response, "This is… really generous. We thank you for this really… but-"

"-But we can't agree to most of this stuff on here," Mitchell stated bluntly as he leaned away from Sam's Omni-tool, much to her annoyance as she sent a sideways glance at her friend's lack of tact.

Tevos and Udina shared a look before she spoke, "Which parts were not to your liking, Colonel?" Her tone was even and calm, but Daniel could sense an underlying edge to it.

"Well, pretty much everything that involves us joining the Alliance or you sendin' people to our planet," Colonel Mitchell explained. This was a potentiality that had been discussed by Daniel, Weir, Woolsey, and the others in their diplomatic department. Once their technology was exposed, they knew it wouldn't be long before the Alliance would try and integrate them into their colonial registry system. Even if they thought they were based in the Terminus Systems, Atlantis and her people were simply too tempting to resist. Then there was the Council that would no doubt be itching to get in on the action as well. And who knew who else would be getting in line, ready to offer anything to get even a glimpse at their technology.

Now they would see how civil they were willing to remain once they refused, and how far they would go to get their technology. Mitchell was silently thankful that the Quinn wasn't too far off and could swoop in under cloak and beam them out if need be.

Udina frowned as he looked at the humans across from him, "Forgive me Colonel, but I do not believe you fully grasp what we are offering. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Colonists would kill for the chance to own such a monopoly on a new market."

"You will become a powerhouse of wealth and trade, rivaling that of Ilium or Terra Nova. Not only will your technology allow the galaxy to protect itself against the Geth scourge, but will stimulate economic growth in current sectors, and create new ones we haven't even thought of," Tevos continued passionately, and even Mitchell could tell she wasn't putting on an act for their sake.

Atlantis had been steadily growing a small stockpile of credits with its trade of raw materials from untapped corners of the galaxy. Their ships were able to mine in systems the races of this galaxy couldn't touch thanks to their hyperdrives. They'd purchased weapons and other pieces of technology for research and defense purposes, but ultimately had saved the majority of their earnings in secured accounts set up via the Extranet. With the farms on the mainland now producing enough crops to sustain their population, and other supplies holding strong, they had little for more ways to earn credits. Of course, neither the Alliance nor the Council knew that. As far as they knew, the Atlanteans were a rag tag group of fringe colonists who found some extraordinary technology out in the Terminus Systems and would be unlikely to protect themselves from a sustained attack from the Geth or a large enough force.

Mitchell frowned as he tried to explain, "Look, we've been on our own for a while now. We've had to struggle and fight and do whatever it took to survive. It's made us pretty independent. We ain't lookin' to join up with the Alliance anytime soon."

Sam stepped in, "We're here to help the Alliance and the Council figure out what Saren and the Geth are after. They wanted the data in the Beacon we found, then they managed to gain the data from the Eden Prime one. We want to help you figure that out… but we're willing to find out on our own if need be."

It wasn't a threat, but they knew they didn't have the luxury of time on their side. The Geth would be looking for more Prothean ruins to find whatever it was that Daniel missed in the Joab pyramid. And now with Saren at their helm, they would have access to any part of Citadel space that they needed. If they didn't stop them and find the information first, find out what the Protheans wanted them to learn of their true enemy… they would be defenseless when the Reapers arrived.

The Asari frowned at the idea of them going off on their own. But she quickly returned to a neutral expression. "Which is why it is important for us to work together. The Geth are a threat to everyone, even those in the Terminus Systems," Tevos argued while maintaining a respectful tone.

"And we still haven't determined that Saren is involved," Valern pointed out, an air of annoyance in his voice.

Sparatus growled in frustration and slammed his clawed hand onto the table. "You humans don't understand what you've gotten yourselves into. With the threat of the Geth we need every advantage we can get if we're going to win a war against them. We don't have time for your human selfishness!"

Udina sent a glare at the Turian's remark, but kept his attention focused on SG-1, "We need your technology. Surely there must be something that we can do to convince you? I'm sure there are many among your people who wish to return to Alliance space. To escape the hostile Terminus Systems and rejoin their families. If you don't help us, billions of lives will be forfeit."

The team wasn't sure if things were quite as dire as that, at least in regard to the Geth. It was true, the Quarian-made machines were technologically ahead of the Alliance and Council races, but the gap wasn't so wide that their superior numbers wouldn't prevail over the Geth. Still… they had a point, a war with the Geth would mean countless worlds and people would perish. Moreover, even if they managed to beat the Geth, the galaxy would be in no shape for a fight when the Reapers arrived.

Daniel stepped forward towards the table, his hands held out in a placating manner. He shared a glance with Mitchell and Sam before facing the leaders of the galaxy. They'd discussed this with Jack and Elizabeth over a subspace communique during their ride on the Normandy. Until they had more evidence that proved the threat of the Reapers, they all agreed that they had to at least try and work with the Alliance and other races. But under no circumstances would an offer for technology be on the table. Who knew what would happen if the Geth or Reapers gained access to things like hyperdrives or beaming tech. "…We would be willing to talk about joint operations between our organization. We want to help the Alliance find out what the Geth are after… but I'm afraid that anything involving weapons technology is… well, is going to be something our leaders won't allow."

The three Councilors and ambassador all shared a silent conversation. It was obvious that they thought that SG-1 would immediately capitulate and give them what they wanted. In fact, it was something that had been brought up more than once during their meetings back on Atlantis on how the Citadel and Alliance would deal with an independent entity like Atlantis. While they were being more courteous than they'd anticipated, there was no doubt they would push for anything and everything they could get their hands on. Very rarely did the Council not get what they wanted nor did others seek to prevent them from doing so. The few exceptions were often made examples of by history; namely the Batarians and the Krogans.

"And that is your final word on the matter?" Sparatus asked, not even trying to hide the anger in his voice.

Mitchell stepped forward and nodded firmly, "Yeah. Look, we're not trying to make any enemies here. Lord knows we've got plenty of those already. But… we're a lone colony that has spent a lot of time defending what we've carved out for ourselves. We're not about to just shack up with y'all at the drop of a hat, even with the Geth ridin' rough shot in the galaxy."

SG-1 tensed slightly, waiting for the Council to signal C-SEC or SPECTRE's to come barging into the room and attempt to arrest them. Such a move wouldn't be an issue for the Atlanteans, however, as Sam slowly reached over to her Omni-tool to send a subspace signal to the Quinn to beam them out. However, the Asari Councilor placed calming hands on her colleagues' arms and nodded.

Tevos nodded finally and folded her hands, "Very well. Perhaps we tried to do ask much too quickly. You've only just arrived at the Citadel after being in combat. The first time visiting the Citadel is a once in a life experience. Why don't we table this discussion until tomorrow once we've all had a rest from this trying day?"

Valern pulled up his omni-tool, "We will have a suite prepared for you and your team. You are free to explore as much as you'd like, but we do ask that you stay on the Presidium while you are here. We also ask that once you've settled into the suite you contact your superiors as soon as possible so that tomorrow we may begin talks in earnest."

This was not what the Atlanteans were expecting. Mitchell gave his team a confused look before nodding to the Salarian and moved back towards his team, "Alright, thank you for that. So… do we just head back this way or…"

Tevos gestured to the door behind him, "Head back the way you came and there will be an escort waiting for you. We will contact you tomorrow to resume talks once you have contacted your superiors."

The Colonel nodded and motioned for the rest of his team to follow him. As they left, Daniel noticed the three Councilors giving Udina a hard look. No doubt they were blaming him for SG-1 not being as cooperative as they had hoped. The team returned to the hall that they had come in from, retrieved their weapons, and stepped back out into the Council chambers. Awaiting them was an Asari in fine purple clothing; her arms held together and resting in front of her.

"Greetings SG-1, if you will follow me please I will take you to the suite the Council has ordered prepared for you."

Tevos watched as the humans of the Atlantean Defense Force left the room. Once they did so, Sparatus growled once more and stood from his seat, the chair being thrown back and crashing to the floor. Valern sighed as he watched his fellow Councilor pace about in anger.

"We shouldn't let them leave here. We should seize them, their weapons, and hold them hostage until the Atlantean Defense Force gives up their technology," the Turian demanded.

Tevos shook her head in annoyance before pulling up images of the incidents on New Rivers and Eden Prime. Specifically, images of the different teams that were deployed to different parts of each colony. "Because of their seemingly impossible ability to deposit troops anywhere they want without a shuttle, attempting to keep them by force wouldn't be much use," she pointed out. The images then changed to show the helmet cam of some Alliance marines on Eden Prime following several Atlantean Defense Force soldiers as they turned a corner, only to see a flash of light. When the Alliance marines turned the same corner, the Atlanteans had seemingly vanished into thin air down a dead-end alley.

"All the more reason to find out how exactly they can do so. They've obviously have more technology than they've let on. We need this. Our people need this," Sparatus continued.

Valern's black eyes blinked rapidly as he looked at each image, "Energy weapons, a new type of barrier… and some sort of teleportation technology. Just who are these humans." All three of them looked over at the Alliance ambassador. Udina sighed as he leaned back in his chair, pulling up his own Omni-tool to show the images of SG-1 and SG-2. Each person was isolated, with stats being pulled up alongside their faces showing their various heights, weights, and other physical descriptions.

"We've run their faces through every facial recognition pattern we have at our disposal. We can't identify them with any of the Alliance records," Udina explained.

"Those records aren't as complete as you'd like, isn't that correct ambassador?" the Salarian asked.

"No… since our people began to settle the Traverse and even Terminus, our census has been unable to keep track of them all. Still, we should have gotten some sort of return on the older members of their teams. This Colonel Young who helped organize the defense of the settlement on Eden Prime would have been born before First Contact," Udina elaborated.

"Their ranks and training suggest Alliance military training," Sparatus stated coldly as he eyed the human.

"And this one," a voice called from behind them. An Asari with lilac face tattoos wearing durable and advanced purple armor walked out of the shadows, pointing to the image of the large, dark skinned human on SG-1 with the odd golden tattoo on his forehead. "Teal'c, I believe they called him. He was able to go toe-to-toe with Nihlus without much trouble. Only N7 special operators would be capable of doing the same."

"And as I and my superiors have told you time and time again, we have no idea who these people are or where they came from. Or how they came to possess this technology." Tevos could see that the man was growing quite weary of being accused of trying to go around the Council's back. But with no answer for where this new group of humans came from, it was getting harder and harder for them to believe the Alliance.

"There's more. My sources on in Terminus to think that the Atlanteans are dealing not just with fringe colonies out in the Traverse. But with the Quarians as well," the armored Asari stated further.

"The Quarians? Why? What reason would they have to speak to those exiles?" Valern questioned.

"I don't know… but from what I've been told they've been using them as proxies for the last few months to get supplies and weapons. Almost as if they've been preparing for conflict," she replied.

"Conflict… with the Geth?" Sparatus questioned.

"Perhaps the Beacon they encountered in Terminus wasn't the first… maybe they and the Geth have been racing to find others," Valern hypothesized.

"Which would make their decision to not inform us all the more damning… but why. What reason do the Geth have to want Prothean Beacons. And why are the Atlanteans after them?" Tevos questioned, and the room fell silent at the question.

There was something else going on that none of them understood, which was alarming in and of itself. The Council had access to some of the largest intelligence networks in the galaxy. Between the STG, the SPECTREs, and even the occasional bought secret from the private information brokers, there was hardly anything the Council wasn't aware of. The fact that they were completely blindsided by the Geth attack and the appearance of these humans… something was happening in the galaxy. Something big.

Tevos turned towards the Asari, "SPECTRE Vasir, I want you to shadow them. But in civilian clothing. See what else you can learn from these humans. Valern, contact the Special Tasks Group and have them prioritize in the Traverse and the Terminus."

"And if they choose not play ball?" Udina asked, looking over at the Councilors, a grim expression on his face.

All three Councilors looked at one another, another silent conversation between the three. Tevos turned back to the ambassador, a remorseful but determined look on her face. Udina held her gaze for a moment, then nodded in silent agreement. He stood up, straightened his suit, and left the room. The SPECTRE nodded to her superiors and followed close behind.

Tevos sighed and rubbed her scalp crest, "I do hope these humans see reason."

Sparatus's eyes narrowed, "We cannot waste time on diplomacy, Tevos. The safety of our people is at stake."

"I know… but there was something about them. I can't quite place it but… I feel that something has changed. For the first time in centuries… I'm afraid."

"So, not in any danger?"

Sam bit her lip and tilted her head in thought, "Well… I don't know if I'd go that far. The Council and the Alliance seem pretty vested in making a deal with us. Whether or not they'll let us go our separate way without one… At the very least we've got Captain Anderson's support, so there's that going for us. Plus, the Quinn is out there somewhere under cloak, so we've got an ace in the hole if things go south… well, more so than they already have."

Colonel Carter was standing in the center of the living room of the suite the Council had given them. Though simply calling it a suite would be an understatement. The place was more akin to a multi-million-dollar condo that one would expect to find in New York city or Miami. There was the living room with a massive ten-person fine leather couch, an artificial fireplace, and a massive window showing off the entirety of the Presidium. In the other room was a bar and lounge area filled with every kind of liquor, both human and otherwise, that had quickly drawn the attention of the team's resident thief. Upstairs were some bedrooms that were covered in the smoothest silk blankets and sheets. There was a small library with an office that had drawn the attention of Daniel and Teal'c almost immediately as well. This left Sam and Mitchell alone to get a hold of Atlantis and give General O'Neill and Dr Weir a briefing of what had happened in the last few hours. After sweeping for bugs, Mitchell's Omni-tool was displaying a large holoscreen that showed the two leaders of Atlantis standing in their office beside Stargate Operations.

"So, they don't even believe the word of their own guy?" O'Neill grumbled; his patience already thin only a few minutes into the debrief.

"I'm afraid not. Nihlus is something of a radicalist in the SPECTREs. He's one of the few that's actually on the side of the Alliance and humans in general. Which, unfortunately, has made him an outcast in the eyes of his peers and the Council," Sam explained with a wince.

"Do we have any idea why Saren is working with the Geth?" the Atlantis Administrator asked. "I thought that the Geth didn't work with organics," she pointed out, referring to the many talks they'd had with the Quarians about their mechanical creations.

"We don't know. Obviously having a SPECTRE gives them a distinct advantage to be able to travel around the galaxy without getting into an engagement. But as to why he's with them…" Sam shook her head as they still had no answers for that. The only thing that made any sort of sense was that the Turian must have encountered a Beacon of his own, and somehow understood it enough to know that the Reapers were returning. But then why join the Geth, why work with the machines if he knew about them. More questions and very little in the way of answers kept popping up the more they tried to guess.

"In the meantime, they put us up in a pretty sweet pad. You oughta' see this place sir. Hell, the probably costs more than my whole neighborhood back home," Mitchell whistled as he took another look around.

The General looked confused, "So you guys say no to giving them space guns, and they put you up in the Ritz? Someone. Explain how that makes any sense to me."

Weir frowned beside him, "It's probably part of their negotiating strategy. Butter you up and hope that you sing their praises to us."

"And butter us up they did," Mitchell reiterated, referring to earlier in their debrief. To say that the team, and now Jack and Elizabeth, were surprised at everything the Council and Alliance was willing to offer them would be an understatement.

"That's putting it mildly… the Geth must have them shaking in their boots if they were that quick to offer us a deal. What's been the Alliance's response to the Geth's attack on one of their colonies?" the General asked.

Mitchell shrugged, "Well, we talked about it briefly with Commander Shepard. She seems to think that they've got a draft coming their way soon."

"Really? A draft." Weir questioned alarmed.

"Pretty much. The Alliance will probably start mobilizing its fleets and start conscripting from its colonies. The Geth have always been a problem in the back of everyone's minds, but from what she said, I don't know if they're quite prepared for a full-scale war," Sam summarized what Shepard had told him.

"Well, they better get ready. We've already been in contact with the Admiralty about Eden Prime. Suffice to say, they are pissed," the General informed the SG team leaders.

Mitchell shook his head, "Damn… I was afraid of that. What did they say they wanted to do?"

Weir took over after a long sigh, "Besides mobilizing the Fleet to a new system? They are pushing for full access to our military technology."

Sam and Mitchell's eyes widened at that. Mitchell wiped his face down as he tried to run through various scenarios in his head. "… Gotta say, I wish I hadn't seen that coming," he replied with a sigh.

The older man rolled his eyes, "Yeah, tell me about it. Admiral Zorah damn near chewed my ear off when I refused. Said that he didn't see the point of this alliance if they weren't getting anything out of it when their people were in danger."

The alliance with the Quarians had been a fruitful one, but it was still in its infancy. In exchange for working on the Tretonin and potential other technologies, they'd helped Atlantis with keeping her people alive. But now with the Geth back, a side of them they hadn't seen before was coming out. And it wasn't a side that any of the senior staff on Atlantis particularly liked.

"I ordered one of the motherships to help the Apollo guard the Fleet," the General informed them.

"It seemed to placate them. For now…" Weir said wearily, her eyes showing signs of exhaustion and lack of sleep. No doubt they'd spent the last day in non-stop talks with the Admiralty after the events of Eden Prime.

"We're gonna need to work fast on finding that information the Geth and Saren were after. To do that, we need the Council and Alliance on board," Mitchell pointed out the obvious.

"And if that doesn't work?" the other Colonel asked, knowing full well that they wouldn't be trading their weapons tech any time soon.

Weir bit her lip, "Hard to say. We don't have any experience with the Council or the Alliance. But given how desperate they are with the threat of the Geth, well, I have to assume they are going to do what they think is necessary for their protection."

Mitchell's eyes narrowed, "You think they'll try and keep us here. Hostages? Leverage?"

"I don't want to jump to any conclusions, but I also think that being cautious wouldn't be the worst idea," she replied.

"Meaning you should have the Quinn on standby to beam you guys outa there. If things even smell like they're about to go rotten, I want you to pull out. Got it?" Jack ordered, his tone leaving no room for argument.

Mitchell nodded without hesitation, "Understood sir. In the meantime?"

Jack thought for a moment, "In the meantime you guys might as well get some R&R. See the sights, get a hot meal in ya. Keep us updated with check-ins every four hours."

"I'll work with Richard and have a rough draft for a possible deal with the Council and the Alliance as well. Strictly military cooperation. They won't like it, but we should explore every avenue we can with them. No need to burn a bridge if we can help it," Weir spoke up.

With that Jack waved his hand across the space in front of him and the subspace link disconnected. The holoscreen blinked out of existence and left the Colonels standing alone in the living room of the large apartment the Council had given them. Mitchell let out a breath as he relaxed a bit. He and Sam moved out of the living space and towards the private library Daniel and Teal'c were at. As they walked past the bar, Mitchell noticed Vala sipping on some kind of drink as she sat on the back countertop. She saw them walk by, and smiled as she held up her drink. The other two noticed them as well, nodding as the officers walked over to them at their table that had datapads and even some physical books spread out.

"So, what did Jack say?" Daniel asked as he flipped through his notes.

Sam walked around and looked over his shoulder at his notes, "The usual: look around, ask questions, see what we can do get us out of this mess."

Daniel looked up at his friend and the two shared a smirk, "Oh good. I was worried we were going to try changing things up for once and use diplomacy."

Teal'c looked up from the datapad in his hands with an eyebrow raised, "I do not believe that diplomacy will see our desired result achieved here Daniel Jackson. The Council will not accept anything less than access to military technology."

"So, what will?" Vala asked as she skipped into the room, jumping into a chair as it slid on its wheels next to Daniel's.

Mitchell raised a hand to his chin as he paced about the room in thought. The Council wasn't just going to let them walk away, that much was certain. Even if they couldn't actually stop them from leaving, they'd be blacklisted from Council and Alliance space. Which would make finding out what the Geth and Saren were after a lot more difficult. They were already trailing behind as it was, and they didn't have much time to screw around. They needed to find out where the Geth were headed next, they needed to get the galaxy ready for these Reapers, and they needed the cooperation of the Alliance and the Council to do it.

Mitchell snapped his fingers, drawing everyone's attention, "We want the Council's help? First we gotta prove that Saren was at Eden Prime. Once we do that, we can convince them that the best way to deal with him is to beat the Geth to wherever they're headed next."

Sam tilted her head as she thought it over, "It would also give them more of a reason to trust us. We prove their best agent is a traitor, then maybe they'll devote the resources we need to find him and the Geth."

"Or they'll hate us for ruining their best agent's reputation," Vala dryly pointed out.

They all conceded that point. Too many times in the past had they been placed in similar situations and ended up being ostracized by a world's population for one reason or another. The Council races were a lot more advanced and civilized from what they could see, however. Despite the prejudices against humans they'd see, they hoped that wouldn't prevent them from seeing the truth when it came out.

"So, how are we going to prove that Saren's working with the Geth?" Daniel asked the most important question.

They all looked back at Mitchell, who stood confidently for a moment before stating, "I have no idea." The team deadpanned as the silence of the condo filled the air.

At once, everyone but Teal'c let out a sigh.