Disclaimer: I own no franchise mentioned in this work. Halo belongs to 343, Mass Effect to Bioware.
I know a lot of people have been reviewing wondering where this will go. As I mentioned in the initial chapter, this is a very short story. It was a simple muse, fun to write, but I already have enough projects going right now. After Halo: Infinite comes out I might write something for that, remains to be seen since we know very little about the campaign.
For now, hope you enjoy!
Liara's first impression of Earth was that it was strangely quiet. A soft breeze brushed against her skin, and the thud of footsteps sounded behind her, but there were not the usual sounds of an industrialized society. Looking upwards, the asari cringed slightly at the sight of 'Tahamee's flagship floating a scant few feet above them.
Distracting herself from the hundreds of kilometers of ship and subsequent trillions of tons of metal almost literally crushing them, Liara looked to the side and blinked. A herd of some kind of wild animal was standing there, peacefully grazing as several of its members watched their arrival with curiosity rather than fear.
Shaking her head to clear it of the strange dichotomy, the archaeologist focused forward on the numerous rows of armor-clad Spartans lining the path to the building she had seen from orbit. The armor these ones wore was obviously far, far more advanced than their deceased comrade and she was only able to recognize them as such due to her research while waiting above the Ark.
Aside from the military personnel, the plaza in front of the building was completely empty, though a few news drones hummed overhead at a respectful distance. As for the building itself, it was easily a hundred meters tall and stretched to either size, creating a wall that ran from one horizon across to the other. The entrance was an imposing door that was currently closed, with a small group of figures standing in its shadow.
'Tahamee stepped forward, the casket following behind him as the Sangheili marched down the corridor of Spartans. Ragirus followed behind, Liara by his side as the Jiralhanae gently nudged her with his hand. The soldiers from the fleet stayed behind, indicating to the asari that they were more for a ceremonial show than any actual protection.
As they advanced, the line of Spartans collapsed around them, their armoured boots creating a barely audible thump as they marched in perfect lockstep. Once they reached the group at the door, the soldiers in front split off as the entire escort went to parade rest.
Liara took in a calming breath as she noted the multitude of medals on the uniform of each individual as well as what looked like markers of a high rank pinned to their collars. 'Tahamee came to a stop and saluted, stepping to the side while keeping his head bowed as the casket drifted past him. A Spartan wearing armor that looked more ornate than those of the escort returned the Sangheili's salute and stepped forward. As the armored behemoth looked down on the Demon, the door to the building split into three pieces and slid open, revealing a massive hall that was totally empty.
"You are the one who found him?"
Startled by the feminine voice, it took Liara a second to realize that the question was addressed to her. She answered, "No, a mining team found the ship. I interacted with the AI and activated the distress beacon."
"Her government was uncooperative with our inquiries. She defied their orders to stay silent and acted as an individual to assist us in locating the target, in exchange for a reasonable request," the Fleetmaster added.
The Spartan looked at the Sangheili and something seemed to pass between them. Liara stared into the blue visor as the armored human nodded and muttered, "I agree, that is almost fitting. We will deal with this shortly, for now we must move." With that, the Spartan spun around and marched forward, casket following as 'Tahamee, Ragirus, and Liara fell to the back of the escort.
"Who was that? What is this place?" Liara whispered as the group entered the building.
"Supreme Commander of the Spartan Branch, along with other human military leaders. This is known to the humans as Valhalla, a tomb for the legends that have earned their rest," Ragirus answered succinctly.
Any further questions Liara had were cut off as they exited the hallway into the building proper, leaving the asari yet again speechless. Every way she looked stood unceasing rows of hardlight projections on pedestals, with names, dates, and eulogies alongside each. She shrunk down slightly as she realized the true scale of sacrifice that the Ascendancy was honoring in this place, the death toll that could accumulate over 150,000 years of continuous history.
Their walk through this section seemed almost endless, the silence overwhelming as the only sounds were the soft thud of footsteps and humming from the rather unobtrusive news drones. After more than an hour of walking, the group finally reached a break in the ranks, giving Liara a view of a seemingly unremarkable hill. At this peak of the mound was a single small wing, propped upright with various items scattered around it.
It was strange to see a seemingly untouched piece of land in the middle of such a large structure, but the group did not seem phased as they respectfully made their way around the edge. On the other side of this hill was a small door leading down beneath the rest of the building. The escorting Spartans split to either side as the casket was led down into the depths. The walk down was short, putting them in a tiny room that held a number of physical statues.
Liara eagerly examined these, each figure clad in almost identical armor to the Demon that they had found. Unlike the projections above, however, these only had a small bit of information. Two dates, probably birth and death, a location that was most likely the place they had fallen, and finally a single, three digit number. Glancing around, Liara counted 32 of the figures, all of them only identified by number rather than name.
The only empty pedestal sat at the very end of the room, facing the door they had entered. As the group approached, a groan echoed from the floor as it moved aside, revealing a simple open space beneath. With the casket floating above this hole, the humans lined up and saluted as a lid formed over the Demon, sealing him inside forever. The entire device then lowered into the ground as the pedestal moved forward again.
To finish the ceremony, the last statue began to form as it was transported in with the strange digitized matter transport that the Ascendancy seemed to prefer. Liara was caught off guard as a single differentiating feature appeared on the statue, that being the small, blue woman sitting languidly on the shoulder of the armored titan.
No one spoke, letting silence settle in the small room before the line of humans turned to begin leaving. A couple glanced at Liara, their eyes glowing, but none bothered her as they followed the group. Once they were clear of the inner sanctum, the news drones buzzed off into the distance, disappearing into the endless depths of the structure.
While she had been part of military ceremonies before, they had almost never been so brief, especially for such a legend as this Demon had been. After a few seconds of thought, Liara admitted to herself that a massive ceremony would not have made sense. No one alive in the Ascendancy personally knew their hero, and having a massive number of people in this peaceful place would have been a disrespect to its purpose. The Demon had been at rest for the last 150 millenia, the only thing that was happening today was moving his body to join those of his fellow Spartans.
Liara was distracted from her thoughts as the intimidating form of the Supreme Commander appeared beside her, startling the asari slightly. The Spartan addressed her as she stated, "I have reviewed the Fleetmaster's report as well as your own claims. Your actions in recovering 117 are greatly appreciated, but the salvation of your galaxy is not a request that requires such favors. The potential threat these Reapers represent has concerned Ascendancy High Command."
"Thank you for taking it seriously. The Citadel Council refuses to take action," Liara replied as a bit of frustration leaked into her voice.
"The Mantle demands it, should these accusations prove true. If the Reapers are indeed guilty of the abhorrent crimes you have accused them of, they might require a significant force to dislodge and destroy. To achieve this, I am authorizing the deployment of 5th Sierra to find the truth and take whatever action they deem necessary," the Spartan informed her. "This is a considerable allocation of resources, however, you remain our most knowledgeable individual on what they might face. Unfortunately, your lack of neural interface technology means that we cannot possibly disseminate that knowledge in an effective and timely manner. As such, your journey home will be aboard the 5th while the 7th Fleet of Foregone Convalescence is assigned to other tasks. If you are willing, your assistance in confronting these Reapers would be greatly appreciated, though at the risk of your annihilation should you be found to have lied about their nature."
A small laugh came from Liara at that as she reassured, "I wish I could be lying. It would make things a lot easier."
"Then it is as I thought, you truly believe this threat is real, and you seem of sound mind. Unfortunate," the Commander sighed. "I wish you well in life, then, and may the Mantle guide you."
"Will I ever see this place again?" Liara questioned before the Spartan could leave to join her comrades ahead.
Looking around at the massive open space around them, the Spartan answered, "So few see this place that the probability of you doing so at all was effectively an impossibility, on the scale of your discovery of the Master Chief. As for Earth and the Sol System, if you are involved in the diplomatic ventures of your government, it is certainly possible with your lifespan. Most of your time in such a role would be spent at the Eternal, the Capital of the Mantle Ascendant, but visits to other Ascendancy worlds is not uncommon for diplomats."
"Thank you," Liara responded, watching as the Commander nodded before rejoining the other humans.
"You are a strange one, Little Blue," Ragirus rumbled. At Liara's curious look, he explained, "Most react with fear to a civilization like the Ascendancy, much as your Council did. The very idea that someone is so far beyond them is terrifying, yet you are instead endlessly curious."
The archaeologist shrugged and responded, "I've always loved alien cultures, and now I get to study one that is still alive and larger than the Protheans could ever imagine. Why be afraid, if you had wanted to kill us, you could have without much resistance."
"You must be popular amongst humans with that attitude," the Fleetmaster commented.
"Shepard and I were close..." Liara admitted, blushing slightly as Ragirus laughed and gently nudged her in a teasing manner.
"I hope to meet her as well one day, then," 'Tahamee replied. "Perhaps we shall visit your galaxy again sometime, poke around to see what else might be laying around."
Liara smiled and admitted, "I think I'd like that."
"Forgive the lack of organization, this mission was not expected," a voice said as Liara stepped through a slipspace portal. The Spartan who had been leading her moved to the side, allowing her a view of the speaker. She was reminded of Saren as she examined a man that looked more machine than human. Metal plates were visible all around his body, with flesh and lines of hardlight connecting them.
Behind him was a cavernous bridge with multiple levels facing a large holographic projection in the center. Taking a second to really look at it, Liara realized that it was one of the mobile spheres she had seen outside the Sol Shield along with the accompanying fleet of ships. It wasn't exactly hard to figure out what type of ship she was on when given such a clue, though it concerned and reassured her in equal parts that the Reapers were being taken seriously enough to warrant such a force.
Realizing that the augmented human had been talking to her, she replied, "It's alright, everything today has been unexpected honestly."
"Indeed," the man said, turning to look at her. The asari suppressed a shudder at the unnerving gaze and focused on his words as he continued, "I am Admiral Kausalya Sugiyama of 5th Sierra. We have been assigned to evaluate a possible threat to your species in your galaxy, is this correct?"
"Uhm, yes, they're called the Reapers," Liara began.
The Admiral cut her off, "Excellent, we shall begin our journey shortly. Intel on this target is sorely lacking, I have been informed that you are willing to cooperate with investigations into this matter and will assist in this endeavor."
"I...yes," Liara responded, struggling to keep up with the fast pace of the human.
"I apologize, most interactions among the crew are done through a more advanced medium. Your civilization does not possess such technology, so regrettably we are limited to verbal. Even so, we may still acquire possibly critical details. What information do you deem most important to share?" questioned Sugiyama.
After having spent the last couple years slipping into her role as an information broker, Liara found it easy to begin summarizing what little was known about the Reapers. It helped that she was intimately familiar with the events around Shepard and the attack on the Citadel, but the lack of investigations into the attack hindered her intel. The Admiral was totally focused on her, at least as far as his physical body indicated, though she was certain that he was capable of multitasking given the size of 5th Sierra.
As she talked the officer questioned much of what she stated, digging into information about what Reapers looked like, their combat capabilities, and even their very nature. Rather than being intimidated by the artificial intelligence that had declared itself devoted to galactic genocide, Kausalya seemed curious. It didn't take much thought for Liara to conclude that that was probably a reasonable reaction given that the Mantle Ascendant could apparently throw around entire worlds as mobile battle fleets and had been working with AI for longer than local galactic history.
Once Liara had informed the Admiral about the AI nature of the Reapers, he seemed to become much more confident in the direction of his inquiries. A short introduction to Rampancy later and Liara understood why that was, given that the Reapers exhibited all the signs of a Rampant AI. Sugiyama's suggestion that the Reapers were a primitive Construct built by a species new and inexperienced with such things seemed unlikely given how advanced Sovereign had been, but Liara also couldn't exactly prove the theory wrong.
Much to Liara's surprise, Admiral Sugiyama did not voice many questions about the situation with the Batarians and other species that had caught the Ascendancy's attention. His simple answer to why was both sensible and alarming as he pointed out that information regarding both topics was readily available on Citadel data networks and had been retrieved by 'Tahamee's Seventh fleet.
This conversation distracted Liara from their journey through Slipspace, though she was still cognizant of the fact that they had traveled across intergalactic space in a matter of hours. As they arrived back at the edge of her home galaxy, the Admiral gestured for her to join him at his holotable. Rising from the seat she had taken on the floor of the bridge, Liara watched as Kausalya brought up a map of the galaxy with nothing but a thought. A blinking dot at the edge obviously indicated their current position, though various other points in the galactic proper were also shown.
As she stepped beside him, the Admiral swept his hand across the expanse and said, "For all you have told me, we are still curious where you believe it is best to begin this task. Where would you suggest we go?"
Liara suspected that this was some sort of test, to see if she would lead them into an ambush. Of course, that would require her, or anyone in the galaxy for that matter, to have the capability and stupidity to attempt such a thing. Blinking away that somewhat amusing thought, she considered the map for a second before she replied, "Well, I think we should first attempt to gain access to the Mass Relay network, preferably one with a Citadel Comms Buoy to hook up with."
"One of our scouting ships has located such an item, they are being redirected to it now," the Admiral informed her. "Why do we waste time with such a step?"
"It's not a waste of time," Liara grumbled slightly. "I may know more than you about the current situation, although that's a big maybe, but I'm still pretty much just as blind in regards to the Reapers. Even with all my connections, there isn't any information I can find on them because no one knows or wants to acknowledge that they exist. You know the human I mentioned several times, Jane Shepard?"
Sugiyama tilted his head slightly and responded, "I do not know her, you have mentioned her several times so she must have some experience with the Reapers. I was under the impression that she was dead."
Wincing slightly at the blunt statement, Liara confirmed, "Yes, she was killed by a Collector attack on the SSV Normandy. I know that Cerberus has possession of the body, I want to know why they want it."
"This is for a personal reason," Kausalya stated, though his voice was more curious than angry.
For a mere moment Liara considered lying, but she figured it was pointless as she admitted, "Partly, yes. More importantly, however, I think that they're trying to revive Shepard. I've tracked several scientists and medical professionals who have been recruited by Cerberus, all with experience and knowledge in fields relevant to achieving that goal."
"A difficult task, but one that might be on the limits of possible for your civilization, albeit unlikely to succeed. If they have not succeeded, you hope that we might where they have failed," the Admiral summarized.
"Shepard is...was our galaxy's best hope at stopping the Reapers. She might not be necessary to do so now, but her knowledge could save lives and make your mission here shorter. With your technology, it seemed like a viable path to investigate at least," Liara explained.
Sugiyama blinked for a long second before nodding and saying, "A convincing argument, I will admit. Your devotion to stopping this threat is admirable, but at the end you wish to have this Shepard beside you."
"Of course," Liara agreed, preparing for a possible berating.
"The pursuit of personal goals during this mission is questionable, perhaps," the Admiral considered. "Yet, your reasoning is not flawed, the knowledge of Jane Shepard could prove to be valuable. I will not spite relevant advice merely because it benefits someone else, you will have your connection to the Citadel network."
Letting out a breath, Liara relaxed and added, "Once the connection is established, could you break into Cerberus to find that information?"
"That is a difficult request. Your methods of data handling are primitive, our capabilities are greatly limited by this," Kausalya replied with a hint of annoyance. "This system is unknown to us, we do not know where to go to accomplish such a task."
"Shit," Liara swore. "Would it at least be possible to examine traffic going to the Citadel?"
The Admiral nodded, "That is a far more specific, targeted task. You are not bothered by allowing an AI to dig through this data?"
"Like you would need any of that to cripple the Citadel Council," Liara scoffed. "The Council won't take the Reapers as a threat, they don't get to complain about this."
Several minutes went by as Kausalya turned back to his holotable, though nothing was on it. Even so, Liara was certain that the commanding officer was busy, given that he apparently communicated mostly through direct digital means with the technology on his body.
"How curious," Sugiyama suddenly stated, drawing Liara's attention. Much to her surprise, a Citadel News Network broadcast was being displayed on the holotable. What truly caught her attention, however, was the image of Shepard being led towards the Citadel Chambers, the guards escorting her like a prisoner. It was so out of place, so unexpected, that Liara could only watch in fascination as the anchor droned on about the circumstances, something to do with Cerberus and the recent visit by an unknown alien force.
After the story switched to something far less interesting, the asari blinked a couple times while the image above the table dissolved. Her thoughts were interrupted as the human commented, "It would seem that you were correct."
"That could just be a clone," Liara pointed out, trying to not get her hopes up.
"Analysis indicates that that is highly unlikely, almost impossible for your civilization to accomplish. Examination of other footage and comparisons show distinct biological signs that that was not a clone. Subtle body language, her gait, such are very, very difficult to emulate. Certainty is impossible until closer examination, obviously, but this route of investigation has my interest," the Admiral admitted.
Liara rolled her eyes slightly, though she wasn't surprised by the somewhat arrogant assertions they were becoming somewhat trying to hear. Suppressing her frustration with the thought of what could be accomplished against the Reapers, she asked, "How fast can we be at the Citadel?"
"It is an intragalactic journey, hardly any time at all," Kausalya replied. "Shall I ready the fleet? It seems foolish to devote so many ships to a mere retrieval mission involving a neutral, albeit aggressive, third party."
"We don't need the whole fleet, a single one of these ships is more than enough. Which one can arrive the fastest?" Liara inquired.
Sugiyama smirked ever so slightly and answered, "The ship we are currently on, of course."
"Ship? This is not-, nevermind. Not important. Won't bringing an entire planet near the Citadel cause gravitational issues?" she wondered.
"Don't be ridiculous," the Admiral berated. "Our gravitational field is suppressed to allow for cloaking in the event that a stealth insertion is necessary."
The archaeologist considered the horror she would feel if she were to realize that an entire artificial planet had stealthily appeared above her head. That led to the realization of what such an ability would entail as she muttered, "You can cloak this entire planet? That's...you know what? Fine, sure, whatever. Let's get to Shepard and put the fear of the Goddess into the Council, before I go insane."
That seemed to amuse the Admiral, but he kept silent as the ships orbiting the world broke off. A slipspace portal swirled open in front of them as the lead craft of the fleet departed for the Citadel. Liara was only alerted to this thanks to the holomap projected on the bridge as the distinct shape of the Citadel station appeared. Hundreds of small indicators followed shortly thereafter as the view zoomed out, giving her a good view of the formations arrayed around the center of Council civilization.
Obviously their sudden arrival was not expected as the fleets began to desperately try to reorient against the threat bearing down on them. Amongst the hundreds of ships, it only took one firing to set off the entire barrage as the holotable view lit up with projectile trajectories.
"They are firing on us," Admiral Sugiyama commented offhandedly to the asari, as if talking about the weather. "The weapons of this ship are not meant for them."
"Great, not destroying every ship in sight will help relations immensely," Liara muttered, though the sarcasm in her tone fell somewhat flat considering that it was a true statement. "How long can you last against their assault?"
Kausalya gave the archaeologist a strange look and responded, "This is a military vessel, our shields are rated for frontline combat. So long as power is not disrupted to the projection nodes, they will not be able to break through. Analysis of available information indicates that no weapon or mode of transportation used by the Council is capable of accomplishing that task."
"Excellent, let's go talk to the Council, grab Shepard, and hopefully get closer to finding out where the Reapers are," Liara suggested.
"That is acceptable," the Admiral stated. "Prepare for transport."
That was all the warning Liara had before her vision flashed and she was left stumbling slightly as her body tried to reorient itself to the new location. After regaining her balance, the asari looked up and straight into the four glares being directed at her by the Citadel Council. The second thing she noticed was the ring of guns pointing at herself and Admiral Sugiyama, courtesy of the numerous soldiers in the Chambers.
Kausalya himself was looking around in the calm, detached manner that Liara was beginning to realize was his default. While she was quite understandably concerned with the multitude of weapons being pointed at them, the human seemed more curious as he tilted his head to look straight down the barrel of a gun in front of him. Letting out a hum as he straightened, the Admiral began striding confidently towards the Councillors.
Shouts immediately flew around the Chamber as the focus turned to the human, a cacophony of orders overlapping each other as to what he should do. All of these were ignored by Kausalya as he continued forward, forcing the soldier in front of him to give way or be trampled underfoot. Tension continued to rise as he approached the Council and the party in front of them, though Liara couldn't see who it was through the ring of soldiers on the platform.
All it took was one nervous twitch from one of the many armed individuals and a round ricocheted off the Admiral's shoulder, stopped just short of his form by a thin, translucent field. The first shot was quickly followed by three more as various personnel fired, acting on nerves and unclear orders.
Liara fully expected to die at that moment as she locked eyes with the Turian in front of her, the asari painfully conscious of the rifle currently pointed at her unprotected chest. Whether that soldier was willing to end her life, she would never know as the seemingly inevitable wave of firepower never appeared. Instead, the Council Chambers were eerily silent except for a strange series of clicks that seemed to be coming from all around.
After a moment, Liara realized that it was the sound of triggers being pulled, albeit without the shots that should have followed. All around her, the armed guards were separately trying to get their weapons working as Admiral Sugiyama continued forward. The last bastion of soldiers before the Council was set and prepared, though now weaponless aside from knives and hand to hand training. That proved as useless as expected as Kausalya swiped his hand to the side dismissively, sending the entire group flying to the side and out of his way.
"Your weapons are vulnerable to cyberwarfare. Foolish," the Admiral commented, finally speaking to the increasingly nervous Councillors. "I come searching for one Commander Jane Shepard. I assume that is you?"
Liara blinked before realizing that Shepard had been hidden behind the abnormally large human, inciting her to rush forward to rejoin Sugiyama. Several soldiers seemed ready to stop her but were deterred by the immediate threat caused by Kausalya. As she reached his side once again, Liara stared at Shepard, the two of them meeting eyes for a second.
"This is the one who knows?" the Admiral inquired, drawing Liara's attention.
Liara almost answered without thought but caught herself, instead turning back to Jane and trying to think of a question to ask. Before she could, Shepard smirked and whispered, "Blueberry."
"It's her," Liara stated, pulling on her composure as an information broker to suppress her blush. "Either that or someone cloned her and her memories and managed to combine them, in which case it doesn't matter much anyways. Maybe?"
"Your people lack a sufficient understanding of cybernetics and neural implants to convince me that that is likely. As for if it matters, that is a consideration of identity that your civilization will have to answer for itself," Kausalya responded. "Please wait while I speak to the Council, we shall begin our primary task shortly."
Sparatus exclaimed, "You cannot just-"
The Turian was cut off as his chest flattened and he suddenly clutched at his throat. Liara could still sense the intensity of the glare from the Ascendancy Admiral as he relaxed his hand, letting the Councillor fall to his knees gasping for breath.
"Silence," Kausalya ordered authoritatively, making it clear that he was not going to be so kind as their previous visitor. "I have been deployed to this position by the authority of the Mantle Ascendant to assess claims of violations of the Mantle of Responsibility and undertake whatever action is necessary to eliminate the culprits. I am not here to negotiate, I am not here to establish a prolonged diplomatic relationship between this Council and the Ascendancy. As far as you are concerned, my commands are now law. Fortunately for you, there are not many laws. Unfortunately, you will have broken at least two of them when they are announced."
"You had no way of knowing that you were breaking these laws. In fact, you were not party to creating them, in no way responsible for enforcing them, and could not have agreed to abide by them. Even so, they should have been obeyed, not because we say so, but because you must share these principles to have a functioning galactic civilization. As such, I will delay the announcement of these laws until after the primary threat presented by the Reapers has been dealt with. Instead, you are being given an ultimatum, one last chance at surviving with your society intact."
The Chamber was eerily silent as the Admiral finished, "While I am gone, this Council shall endeavor to address the violations of the Mantle of the Responsibility for which it is guilty. You must find a solution to prevent the Quarians from extinction, for it was your denial of assistance that has sentenced them to their inevitable grave. You must find a solution to prevent the Krogan from extinction, for it was your hand that crafted the virus that is a blight upon their species. You must present an explanation as to the actions taken against the Rachni, for even in clear victory they were exterminated to the last. Finally, you must end the practice of slavery within all territory you control, for no being may truly flourish when treated as anything but. There are many problems within the galaxy, many of them minor and certainly solvable, but the inability of this Council to address issues that clearly required intervention was a colossal failure. That policy of inaction will now end, or this Council will cease to exist."
With his part said, Kausalya turned to leave. He stopped as Councillor Tevos argued, "This Council has stood as the preeminent ruling body of the galaxy for millenia. Foreign superpower or not, you do not get to dictate to the rest of the galaxy what the terms of their existence shall be."
"You will not comply with these demands?" the Admiral questioned harshly.
"I will not cede to such brutish behavior," Tevos declared.
A brilliant orange beam of light suddenly washed over the Asari Matriarch, projected from the palm of Kausalya's outstretched arm. There was no chance to save the doomed Councillor as she screamed, the sound cutting off as her skin seemed to disintegrate to leave exposed bones. Those quickly followed, with only a settling pile of carbon ash to indicate that anything had ever existed.
"So be it," Kausalya responded. "The Ascendancy recognizes the burden of the Mantle of Responsibility. We take no joy in deciding such matters, in holding the fate of entire species on the actions of the few. You may debate the morality of our duty, but do not pretend that you did not wield the same power against those I have mentioned. You have been given the chance to justify your choices, perhaps you were in the right in your actions. Prove it, and you may yet survive."
"By the Goddess," Liara muttered, leaning into Shepard as the human put an arm around her shoulders.
They were distracted from the remains of the Asari Councillor as the Admiral addressed them, "Come, the message has been delivered. We now must assess your accusations against the Reapers and give them their chance to explain themselves."
A slipspace portal opened in front of Kausalya and he gestured to it. Shepard glanced at Liara as the asari took a hesitant step forward, leading the two of them into the exit. The Admiral followed after, stepping around them as Shepard looked around in wonder at the bridge.
She was not left to her awe for long as Kausalya stepped past them and took up his usual position by the holotable. He looked to Jane with a frown and said, "I am told you know the most about the Reapers that threaten your galaxy. Tell me what you know."
"Hmm," Shepard intoned, taking a deep breath as she gathered her thoughts while obviously thinking of the fate of the Asari Councillor. After a moment, she said, "The Reapers are an advanced race of hostile AI that are determined to kill everyone in the galaxy."
When it became clear that that was all she had to say, Kausalya frowned and inquired, "Have you any idea how difficult such a task would be?"
"They did it 50,000 years ago to the Protheans, I'd say that it's possible," Jane retorted.
"A significant time to accomplish that goal," the Admiral admitted. "Would you know where they can be contacted?"
Shepard looked at him in disbelief, turning to Liara. The asari gave her a helpless shrug, it had already become obvious that the Ascendancy did not do subtle. Blinking away her shock, Jane stated, "You can't just send a message to them like you're inviting them to dinner. They're genocidal AI, they will kill you on sight."
"So you have said, yet you have not told me where I may find them to confirm this," Kausalya noted.
"They were en route to the Bahak System, before I destroyed the Mass Relay they were going to use to invade the Citadel. Before that they were hiding on the outer edges of the galaxy," Shepard explained with exasperation. "What are you planning here, just appear in the system and hope?"
The Admiral ignored her question and instead focused on the holotable as an image of the Bahak System appeared. Vectors indicating information of some kind appeared and disappeared seemingly at random before suddenly stopping, not that the result meant anything to the two women. Gesturing at the map, Kausalya stated, "The fleet will approach in a defensive formation, with elements deployed to contain the spread of their ships until this situation is resolved."
"If you're so determined to do a suicide run, could you leave me on the Citadel? I still have a crew waiting on my return," Shepard commented.
"This should not take long, they shall wait," the Admiral replied.
Growling in annoyance at the dismissive response, Shepard turned to Liara and questioned, "How can you just accept this?"
"Shepard," Liara began, trying to calm her down.
"The Reapers number in the thousands, this ship is ridiculous but it will not survive that fight! This is suicide, how can you-"
"Jane!" Liara shouted to cut off the tirade. "Look at me." Shepard did so, her eyes clearly showing anger and fear as Liara gently touched their foreheads together while initiating a meld. Within seconds she showed what words could not as her experiences over the last day played out, letting Jane live through the awe of this new civilization much as she herself had.
After several seconds the Commander staggered back, only keeping from falling to the floor as she ran into the holotable instead. Liara quickly moved to help the human woman as Shepard blinked and shook her head to try and adjust to the sudden information. Once she had recovered slightly, Jane looked up at Liara as she questioned, "What was that?"
"Their homeworld," the asari answered calmly.
"That is not possible," Jane argued, shaking her head stiffly. "That, there's, there is no way that that is real."
Liara nodded and agreed, "I know, I know, it shouldn't be. I stepped foot on their world, I saw only the smallest sliver of their civilization and it seems impossible, but as far as I can tell it isn't. It exists, it's real, out there, sitting on knowledge the likes of which we cannot even dream."
"The Council believed everything to be an illusion, a masquerade to hide weakness. You're saying they're wrong?" Shepard pressed.
"Does that surprise you?" Liara returned dryly.
Jane frowned at that and softly admitted, "No. Can they really stop the Reapers?"
"Can the Council?" the asari questioned in response.
"What are your plans?" Shepard asked, turning away from her lover and to Admiral Kausalya.
The heavily augmented human tilted his head as if listening to something for a second before he replied, "Your actions destroyed the Bahak System, and all life within it. This is...unfortunate. Limited unique life forms were present, you are spared judgement of the Mantle as your actions were not meant as a deliberate attack against their existence nor were any sapient."
"What a relief," Shepard interjected. "What does that have to do with the Reapers?"
Kausalya gave the Commander a long look before answering, "The entities you call Reapers are no longer present in the system. Sensors have detected large numbers dispersing towards the Batarian Hegemony. Their defenses will be insufficient against a probable attack."
"How do you know that?" Shepard questioned, more out of curiosity rather than surprise that the Hegemony did not surpass the Protheans.
"We broke into the information networks of both parties and ascertained force dispersion and tactics. The results are skewed," the Admiral answered, as if talking about the weather.
Jane blinked and retorted, "Wait, what? How...?"
"You would not understand," Kausalya dismissed.
When Shepard turned towards her, Liara simply rolled her eyes and grumbled, "You'll get used to that."
"Great," Jane mumbled. "Fine, whatever. What is your plan?"
"Intercept their number, deploy fleet elements to cut off their paths and prevent a scattering, and discuss the situation," Kausalya summarized.
"As I said, that is suicide. They will destroy you," Jane insisted.
Kausalya seemed amused as he returned, "They are welcome to try, no one has yet been successful in previous efforts."
"You don't think that they can," Liara observed.
"I find such unlikely," the Admiral confirmed.
Shepard stepped forward and stated, "They fire a liquid metal beam that can destroy a dreadnought through its shields. That doesn't scare you?"
"What a primitive and ineffective weapon," Kausalya noted. At the shocked and confused look from Shepard, he clarified, "Against energy shields, such a beam would simply dissipate, its matter being scattered outwards from the point of contact. Against soft physical armor it might be more effective, but far less so than a round utilizing induced fusion of appropriate materials."
"You're saying they would need to use rounds that produce nuclear fusion to penetrate the shields on this vessel?" Shepard asked in disbelief.
The Admiral waved a hand dismissively and responded, "Of course not, that form of weaponry does not possess the scale necessary to overwhelm shields on cruisers, let alone this craft. Nuclear weapons were questionably effective when the Demon still lived, we have moved far beyond such mundane methods."
" I learned about the weapons that 'Tahamee commanded. This fleet is more advanced, so what do you use?" Liara prompted.
"Hope that you should never need to find the answer to that question, for if you fear us now then our truly powerful tools should be beyond comprehension," the Admiral warned.
"Are they enough to defeat the Reapers?" Shepard naively pressed.
Kausalya smiled and responded, "Certainty in such matters is rare, but in this I am close to such."
"When will we find out?" Jane questioned.
"Whenever they cease fire and deign to answer our offer to talk," Kausalya answered, gesturing towards the front screen to reveal a swarm of Reapers being tracked across the void.
Obviously not expecting this, Shepard grabbed Liara's shoulder as if to pull her to cover, only to freeze when a beam swept directly across the viewscreen. Rather than annihilating the bridge, the beam simply stopped several meters away as a soft blue hexagonal pattern appeared. Aside from brightening the view for several moments, the weapon of genocide did nothing else as it continued out of the camera's scope.
"How long has this been going on?" Shepard demanded once she had regained her composure, again.
"They fired immediately after our arrival several minutes ago," the Admiral supplied.
That threw Jane off as she countered, "We've been taking fire for several minutes?!"
"Indeed, we departed the Citadel once we were aboard, and arrived here seconds later. Our methods of travel are significantly more...advanced, than your own," Kausalya informed her, failing to sound anything but condescending.
"And you just let them fire on you without retaliation?" Liara asked, somewhat surprised at that.
The Admiral nodded and explained, "Most species, upon first contact, display aggression in some form. It is standard procedure to ascertain their capabilities before initiating possible hostile contact whenever the chance is provided. If we were in danger, we would leave, or fire in return. Shields can recharge, diplomatic relations cannot. To be clear, Sierra-designated fleets rarely engage in such mercy. It would seem that your blue partner has greatly exaggerated their threat."
"She gave you what she knew," Shepard argued, leaping to defend the asari. "I would have told you the same thing. You brought me here to ask about the Reapers, what else do you need to know?"
"They have ignored our attempts at communication," Kausalya stated after a moment. "What method would be best to gain their attention?"
Shepard frowned and commented, "Weird, usually they won't shut up when I've talked to them. It's all death threats, but still."
"They have sent such a message, but fail to respond further."
"Oh. Well, prove that you're a threat, seemed to work for me," Jane suggested.
"What a crude method, but so be it. Orders have been dispatched," the Admiral said with a hint of irritation.
There were many questions that Jane wanted to ask, Liara didn't have to be partnered with her to recognize that. While perhaps not the information broker that the asari maiden had become, the human Commander was still prone to curiosity and a desire to discover the unknown. Before she had a chance to ask any of them, however, a brilliant light flashed across the screen, casting the entire bridge in an angry orange hue.
It lasted only a moment, obscuring the void outside for that brief instant, but it silenced any conversation as the effects became clear to see. For a vast swath of space, the Reaper fleet that had been so determined to break their shields was simply gone, the only sign of their existence being a slowly expanding cloud of miniscule debris that blocked out the stars.
"A lack of energy shielding and appropriately durable hull plating would seem to be detrimental to the odds of survival in combat," Kausalya noted dryly. "As expected, remaining forces are attempting to flee, your suggested method has failed. Isolating and engaging stasis on all vessels."
"What did you do?" Jane questioned softly.
The Admiral replied, "Several vessels opened fire on an occupied sector. These Reapers lack energy shields and were unable to withstand the barrage. As expected from prior encounters with other civilizations, they fled upon realizing their disadvantage. Unlike others, however, they are maintaining their claim to superiority and refuse to surrender any information to us."
"So what is your plan for that?" the Commander pressed.
"Simple, we shall take it by force if they will not offer it in peace," he answered.
Liara inquired, "How long will that take?"
"We are interfacing with their systems, not our own. The time is entirely dependent on how slow their connection is, so far indications seem to show that it is horribly primitive, incapable of superliminal communications let alone high-speed slipspace data transmission," Kausalya growled in annoyance. "Why should that matter?"
"The longer we wait, the more time they have to spread through the galaxy and damage our own civilization," Shepard explained.
"Fleet elements have been deployed to intercept and restrain errant forces until the situation is resolved," Kausalya repeated. His somewhat bored demeanor suddenly gave way to an odd detached gaze, as if his mind was focused elsewhere. Given the highly cybernetic nature of the Ascendancy, Liara would not be particularly surprised if that were indeed the truth.
This confused Jane somewhat as she turned to the asari after a second and asked, "Is he...?"
Whatever response Liara had was interrupted as Kausalya leaned against the holotable, his hand clenching and digging into the metal with unbelievable ease. The Admiral took a long and deep breath before informing them, "You were correct to bring this to our attention. I apologize for my doubt, this..this is unacceptable."
"So, what now?" Shepard prompted after a second of silence.
"We wait for a decision," Kausalya answered.
Liara glanced at Jane before questioning, "You're the Admiral, are you not making the decisions?"
"When dealing with violations of the Mantle, we have certain protocols to follow. If necessary, the extinction of an entire species may be authorized as an extreme measure. This is initiated by the highest ranking officer in a region, myself in this case, and voted on by the command structure underneath them. Rarely do the orders of a superior officer require approval, but I cannot order the extermination of an entire species on a whim," Kausalya explained sadly.
"Suddenly not so devoted to your Mantle of Responsibility then?" Shepard snarked.
That did not seem to please the Admiral as he glared at her and inquired, "Were you aware of the extent of their crimes?"
"I know that they killed the Protheans, probably others before them," Jane admitted cautiously, stepping back slightly at the unexpected aggression from Kausalya.
"A billion years, a hundred thousand civilizations, it is possibly the most heinous violation of the Mantle we have ever encountered," Kausalya muttered, a hint of pain obvious in his voice.
Horrified as she may have been at the revelation of the true scale of the Reaper atrocities, Shepard seemed encouraged as she inquired, "Finally convinced that they present a credible threat?"
"To the Mantle of Responsibility? Absolutely. To us specifically? Hardly," the Admiral dismissed. "They are stagnant, caught in their own cycle, endlessly guiding civilizations to a technology rife with issues. From what I have seen, these Reapers do not advance, do not innovate, they have been and will always be what they are and nothing more or less. Against a galaxy guided by their hand, they are vastly superior, but when faced with the unknown, they will falter and die."
"If your Captains vote to do so," Liara noted.
Kausalya sighed and responded, "They will. There is no other choice, not anymore."
Shepard tilted her head slightly as she whispered, "You weren't exaggerating, were you?"
"If only it were so easy," Kausalya replied, swiping his hand to bring up thousands of images that surrounded the three. It didn't take Liara or Jane long to realize that each was a different victim of the Reapers, each a civilization that had been ruthlessly crushed beneath the power of the rogue intelligence.
"By the Goddess," Liara murmured, her eyes darting around as she struggled to comprehend the wall of images that encircled them.
Jane took a moment of silence as well before asking, "You found all of this in their systems?"
"We did, and more."
"How long will it take for them to reach a decision?" Shepard questioned.
"It will not be long," the Admiral stated, closing his fist to dismiss the documented atrocities. "Vessels are already beginning to seize and redirect Reapers to designated areas, and more have been dispatched to clean up the Outer Rim. They will not fire until the order is given, but rest assured that their weapons will not stay silent this day."
That seemed to calm Shepard down, allowing Liara to interject, "What about the Council?"
"The interference by the Reapers will be taken into account, as will the origin of the Citadel itself. It must be cleansed, to ensure nothing remains when our task is complete," Kausalya answered. He held up a hand to forestall any more questions as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. After adjusting his shoulders, he turned and muttered, "Please wait, the time has come."
After several seconds, a dull red light suffused the bridge replacing the soft, neutral white with a more alarming atmosphere. Admiral Sugiyama strode away from the table, his gait unwavering as he took up a position in the center of the bridge, back straight and hands clasped behind him.
"This is Admiral Kausalya to all vessels of 5th Sierra," the human leader began, his voice strong and clear. "As of this transmission, the beings designated as Reapers by the local inhabitants of this galaxy are to be considered enemies of the Mantle Ascendant. They have been deemed to be incapable of negotiating with the Ascendancy, and unwilling to adhere to the Mantle of Responsibility. The Reapers are hereby under Exterminus. May they find peace in death, for we shall grant them none."
There was a second of silence, as if the galaxy itself was holding its breath for the inevitable outbreak of violence.
It did not last as in the next moment the void outside was filled with a brilliant flash of light, blinding Liara momentarily as she jerked her head to the side. Somewhat irritated at the lack of warning, she turned back forward while blinking away the spots in her eyes to witness the result.
A solid beam of energy had speared straight through the Reaper fleet, destroying several vessels with terrifying ease. Several of the machines turned to flee, others fired uselessly against the Ascendant forces, but Liara was certain that neither option would free them of their fate. Reality itself seemed to shudder for a moment as the gravity of the ship fluctuated, giving the asari the strange sensation of moving while standing still.
Whatever it had been, it appeared to affect the Reapers far more as the fleet of thousands froze in place before slowly beginning to fall towards the active energy weapon in their midst. The strange effect repeated several times, each pulse drawing the race of machines in faster and more violently. Before long, they faded from the viewscreen, lost to the void as if they had never existed at all. Seconds later the weapon ceased, leaving the bridge in a heavy silence as the subtle hum of such a massive discharge subsided.
"What was that?" Shepard finally asked, dragging Liara's attention away from the void of space and to the Admiral.
"It's a carefully engineered expulsion of energy designed to destabilize the star at the center of this system, rendering the entire area uninhabitable and unfit for space travel," Kausalya explained as he walked past them to once again stand at the holotable.
Blinking at the blase explanation of such a terrifying weapon, Liara paused for a moment before exclaiming, "Wait, what?!" As the Admiral glanced at her, she questioned, "Is this your plan to deal with the Reapers in every system?"
"Of course not," Kausalya dismissed. "Any forces arriving in this system will be destroyed by the release of energy, their vessels incapable of handling such forces. As for those that have already dispersed, my fleet has given chase and shall hunt them down until none are left. This task shall take some time, even for us, but it will be done."
"That's what you meant by exterminatus," Shepard noted with a frown. "That's a far cry from your condemnation of the Council for much the same."
Kausalya nodded as he countered, "You witnessed their crimes, saw the devastation they have brought to this galaxy. They have been deemed beyond redemption, incapable of existing within the principles of the Mantle of Responsibility. Your Council was spared that fate because I believed them to be different."
"You equate the Citadel Council to the Reapers?" Shepard demanded angrily.
"They attempted to destroy the Rachni and the Krogan, and have stood idly by as the Quarians seek salvation. Are you truly willing to say they are not at fault?" Kausalya calmly inquired.
"So you would doom the Asari, Salarians, and Turians as well?" Liara interjected.
Kausalya sighed and replied, "No, we would not. Your government, or alliance may be the better label, is ill equipped to handle the challenges of galactic civilization. Their solutions to problems rarely solve the problem, and at times do not even address the symptoms. It is the Council that faces judgement, not your entire species."
"Huh. That's a lot more tempting," the Commander muttered.
"Shepard!" Liara scolded.
Jane smirked and shrugged as she argued, "What? They're useless, you know that. I don't want them all dead, but if it means saving the galaxy from a bunch of religious zealots then so be it."
"We are not a religious sect," the Admiral commented.
"You worship your Mantle and are willing to kill for it, counts as zealots in my book," Jane countered.
Kausalya seemed amused as he retorted, "It's not a matter of worship, it's a set of guiding principles to facilitate the continued existence of life. There are admittedly some more complex theories around the Living Time, neural physics, and other Precursor philosophies, but none involve the worship of a god."
"Doesn't matter to me what you think of yourselves, you're a bunch of assholes threatening our galaxy," Shepard returned.
"Jane, please," Liara muttered, glancing between the two humans.
"You do not hesitate to speak your mind," the Admiral commented, throwing off the conversation.
Shepard shrugged and noted, "If you wanted to kill me, you would have."
"A fair point," Kausalya granted. "I know that those in the Ascendancy may come off as gruff and distant, perhaps even apathetic or hostile. Your civilization is too primitive, too biological, to understand the intricacies of the Ascendancy. There is nothing wrong with that, but it means that our interactions tend to be distorted and incomplete."
"Is that why you murdered a Councillor?" Liara questioned.
"The Council believed it was beyond consequences, that diplomacy could succeed where demands failed. I merely disabused them of this notion, and made clear that my threats were more than flippant posturing. Her death was necessary, more than can be said of many."
Jane snorted and muttered, "Your views on death are probably a little different to ours."
"Certainly," Kausalya agreed. "All things that exist shall one day cease, all that live will die."
"Right," the Commander drawled. "So what are you going to do when we return to the Council? Kill the rest of them?"
"If they show any inclination to change, they shall be left to their scheming. What is a lesson if one cannot learn, after all? Beyond that, we shall withdraw our overt presence from your galaxy, monitoring the situation to ensure that the Mantle is upheld," the Admiral summarized.
Shepard paused at that, considering her words before commenting, "That is generous of you."
"Information uncovered when the databanks of the Reaper were breached indicates that external factors and forces may have been applied to influence certain behaviors. We shall verify this on our return to your Citadel," Kausalya answered.
"Are you saying that the Council was indoctrinated?" Jane questioned in surprise.
"Indoctrinated? No, not in the way you know it. Your civilization was guided, influenced to actions they may not have taken otherwise. At least, it is possible that is the case," the Admiral stated. Their consideration of his words was abruptly interrupted when the world disappeared for a moment as they were suddenly teleported onto the Citadel.
Hesitating for only a moment to regain their bearings, both Liara and Shepard refocused on the Ascendant leader. Much to their surprise, they had arrived in the private chambers of the Citadel Council. Valern and Sparatus were both present, though Tevos was obviously absent except for in spirit, or as specks of dust in the air.
Both Councillors dropped to the floor as a pair of guards at the door made ready to fire. This accomplished little as both froze in place due to thin blue bands of hardlight wrapping around their limbs. Seemingly ignorant to the attempt on his life, futile as it may have been, the Ascendant Admiral merely tilted his head as if listening to something only he could hear.
After a second, he finally turned his gaze to the two Councillors and inquired, "What is your response?"
"Shepard?!" Sparatus exclaimed in surprise.
"That's not-" Kausalya began with an annoyed frown.
"If uniting the galaxy against you is what is necessary, then that is the path we shall follow," Valern interrupted.
That did not please Jane as she angrily interjected, "You'll cooperate with him but not your own Spectre?!"
"Hmmm, acceptable," the Admiral declared, though whether he was angry or amused Liara could not tell.
"He is a pertinent and legitimate threat!" Sparatus argued. "Unlike the Reapers-"
"The Reapers have been dealt with," Kausalya stated, silencing the Turian Councillor. "Relevant data has been transferred to your servers."
A holographic twenty-sided die suddenly appeared in front of the Admiral. A soft female voice informed them, "Data retrieval complete."
"Good, and the Lost Created?" Kausalya inquired, ignoring the Councillor's looks of horror at the AI in their presence.
The lights flickered for a moment before the Construct replied, "Fighting, but it shall be purged shortly. Rampancy was evident, unsurprisingly."
"Excellent, then our task here is complete," Kausalya announced as the AI disappeared. Turning to the Councillors, he warned, "Stay true to your promise. Others will be watching, and they will not be as forgiving as I am."
"That's rich," Shepard muttered.
Kausalya merely glanced at her before addressing Liara, "The Mantle Ascendant thanks you one last time for your prudence in this matter. It will be remembered."
"So that's it? You just leave?" Liara inquired in return.
"I have better tasks to address than watching a galaxy lost in its own shadow. With a new path before you, your people shall hopefully one day join the Ascendancy in our task. My fleet shall clear the last of the Reapers from existence, and from then on we shall only watch and intervene if the matter is critical," the Admiral explained.
Liara considered that for a second before nodding and concluding, "I hope it does not come to that."
"As do I," Kausalya admitted. "Farewell, and may the Mantle guide you."
With that, the massive armored human disappeared with a loud crack. As the Councillors started yelling at Shepard and more guards finally burst into the room as it unlocked, the sole Asari simply watched through the windows as the massive planet-sized ship outside slipped away. Many things would change from here, the entire galaxy forced to confront shortcomings that had existed for centuries or millennia, and all of it brought on by a derelict ship holding one AI watching over a lifeless human corpse that had ascended into legend.
I know this story moved fast, I was trying to avoid writing a massive 100k+ word piece. It's not my best work, but I'm happy enough with how this turned out.
Thank you all for reading, until next time!