Written By Kenneth White
It had been almost two weeks since Lylanya had left The Migrant Fleet. Upon entering the Spero the quarians had initially been both confused and hostile at the scene of a crying asari and one of their own lying dead on the floor, but things calmed down a bit as soon as they saw the Spectre insignia she carried. The quarians informed the captain, who thought it best to keep things quiet for the moment. Lylanya was unofficially brought to see The Admiralty Board where she told them all she could. It wasn't a trial, but to her it felt like one, but she knew in a way it would be good practice for her reporting back to The Council. It had been decided to not let Yalo's intentions spread, and to merely tell his family and those that knew him that there had been a docking accident.
Having returned to Citadel space, Lylanya had sent her report to The Council on the whole affair. Over the past week and a bit they had dealt with certain aspects related to the recent events that had taken place that she couldn't do alone. Lylanya had hoped the whole thing was behind her now and that she could move on and forget it all, but now that it was all taken care of, she had been summoned for a follow-up personal meeting with one of The Council representatives to finally put it all to rest.
Lylanya walked into a dark room, stepping into a soft beam of brightness in the centre that was the only source of light. This light streamed down from somewhere above and seemed to dissipate instantly; the transition from the edge of the beam instantly becoming pitch black. Lylanya stood there for about ten seconds by herself, looking ahead at nothing with no hint of emotion upon her face and adorned in her asari commando armour. A green-striped pistol hung from her hip. Another bright light flared into existence, appearing ahead and above her. There was nothing in the light, but instead the light itself formed a humanoid figure; feminine in form and wearing long, elegant robes. There was no natural colour to the form, instead it taking on a peachy hue. It's eyes were an almost blinding white glow rather than having any discernible pupils or irises, and the overall projection itself was almost twice the actual size of the individual being represented.
"Agent Lylanya Alanthios of the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance branch. Thank you for coming."
"Of course. I serve The Council."
"Before we begin on your mission report, I feel that I should tell you that your field-testing of the prototype image-shifter has produced some interesting results. Your feedback has been interesting, but we're not sure how practical the device will be and need further testing. The main concern is that tech-based tactical cloak technology has actually made a few leaps and bounds in the last half a year or so, so we have to way up the costs and benefits of both and see how feasible and functional it is in comparison. As of now we have given another two Spectres these devices for testing. You may continue to use yours if you like, though I'd recommend getting it upgraded, since we've made a few improvements on it since last time.
"Now, onto the matter at heart. We've gone over your reports from what has been often referred to lately as 'The Yalo Disturbance' amongst The Council. I'm not entirely sure how much you know of how the events outside of your own influence have played out, so I hope you'll forgive me if I go over some of the key points your report I feel need clarification and discussion, and then relate it to the events in question."
"Of course," Lylanya nodded.
"Very good. According to your report, you met the quarian Yalo'Pala nar Lerta while on your mission to extract the salarian scientist Doctor Haedian from the krogan gang led by Durrlex Gonamida. Yalo was not affected by the gaseous substance you used to disable the krogan, and you were forced to negotiate with him in order to retrieve Doctor Haedian. Later when Agent Vaetorals and his squad assaulted the base, Yalo and one other krogan simply known as 'Intarr' were not present, and somehow escaped said assault. While returning Doctor Haedian to Mannovai, he began to speak of his work with The Salarian Union, unaware of you being a Spectre. He also spoke of the quarian Yalo, and told you of this quarian's plans to save his people. After returning Haedian to Mannovai, you contacted us again to report and received additional orders to find and infiltrate The Salarian Union's base on Mannovai. Is this correct so far?"
"Good. Now, your next step wasn't staying on Mannovai and discovering the base, but instead tracking down this quarian who you'd met and then heard so much about. Can you explain why you came to that decision?"
"Haedian had told me a lot about Yalo on the journey as I had said. What I had heard intrigued me, and I thought his intentions were worth further investigation. He also seemed like a very capable individual in my prior run-in with him, especially when it came to tech-based skills. I thought that I could perhaps seduce the information out of him, and even get him to help me find Haedian by planting an idea that Haedian was the key to his plans in his mind. It half-worked."
"You then go on to say that you agreed to help this quarian with his own quest, citing that 'curiosity' was the main driving factor for it," the hologram said. "Tell me, Lylanya... had you initially planned to help him see his mission through as far back as that, or was it merely a ruse on your part that, for one reason or another, didn't end?"
"It had initially intended to be a ruse on my part, yes," Lylanya answered. "But by the time we were almost through accomplishing my primary objective, Yalo's own plan had become more than a growing interest to me. He purposefully kept the true nature of it veiled, but continuously intimated at a very dark nature to it. It was clearly no small feat, and he was clearly determined. Before we even had Haedian and the answers to what he had been up to in secret, I had already come to the conclusion that Yalo could no longer be ignored, and that if anything he was up to something far more critical and worth investigating."
"I see," the figure of light responded. "To skip ahead a little, you later go on to say that at some point the interest became personal. When exactly did this happen?"
"I... I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"No, I don't," Lylanya said firmly. "If mere curiosity was the genesis of it becoming personal, then as soon as Haedian told me about him en route to Mannovai. Beyond that, I can't answer that. When does a thought become a memory? When do you go from merely liking somebody to being in love with them? Where does one day stop and another begin? The answer is in there somewhere."
"But you do fully admit that it did become personal for you. You admit that somewhere it became less about being a Spectre and more about you doing what you wanted to do. You specifically say in your report -and I quote- that 'genuine reasons to follow him personally became less and less genuine and more and more personal.' Why did this happen?"
"Curiosity at first, like I said," Lylanya admitted. "The further things went and the more they unravelled and yet didn't, the more I wanted to know. On top of it all he had a charisma to him, and something that made you want to follow him. I don't even think he realised he had it himself. There was a determination and strength to him, and deep down he was fighting for a noble cause. By the time I found out the nature of it and what he was actually planning on doing, I was already pulled in. I knew I had to stop him, but then I thought about what he was trying to accomplish and thought that perhaps he could save his people another way, through another means. And I wanted to help him with that."
"So you admit to helping him see out his plan, knowing full well what he was trying to do?"
"Yes," Lylanya said, and she paused, then continued on somewhat reluctantly. "I think, in some ways... I admired him a little more for what he was doing when I found out. Not because of what it was, but for the nature of it. I could relate to it."
"Because deep down we weren't that different," Lylanya said. "We were both doing things we regretted for what we perceived to be the greater good. I serve The Council, trying to make the galaxy a better place, but I often have to do things that I regret to get results. He was doing the same thing to help his people. I didn't like it, but I could understand and relate to it. Especially when he brought it to my attention. He got to me on a personal level I haven't felt for a long, long time, and for the first time in decades I felt like I could be myself, as much as I tried not to. I suppose the main thing is I at least managed to hide the side of myself you wanted me to."
"I see," the glowing figure said, and there was a long pause before she spoke again. "Despite all of this, you managed to uncover a rather disturbing and insidious plan by this quarian, even if you intentionally helped it along the way. This eventually led to the involvement of two major corporate powers, namely Binary Helix and Cirrostratus Industries, and then eventually the human terrorist organisation Cerberus. I suppose you'll be wanting to know what came of our work in chasing down these parties?"
"I would," Lylanya admitted with a sheepish nod.
"Well, Binary Helix are fairly well in the clear it seems. They never agreed to sell their eezo-rich planet to Yalo, and in fact -according to your report- outright refused to for reasons that all of us I'm sure would admit are correct. They did sell it to Cerberus, but in doing so they never directly broke any laws. If anything they've benefitted from this whole affair, since Cerberus paid a lot of money for something they couldn't even afford to take advantage of anyway. Ironically, now they probably could, but they no longer possess it."
"What of Cerberus themselves?" Lylanya asked.
"We haven't managed to find or track down this 'Operative Alan Duncan' you mentioned, unfortunately, and beyond that the organisation seems to be laying low. They own the eezo-filled rock now of course, and our sources report that is has definitely been secured by a group of humans that could be Cerberus, but there's not enough evidence to prove it. As of now all they've done is secure the place, there's no indication of any illegal or questionable operations taking place there. We'll continue to watch, but for now, that's all we can do. Besides all of that, it's located in The Terminus Systems. We have no jurisdiction there. The best we can hope for is that somebody bigger than them comes along and bullies them out of it."
"They've taken the biggest fall by far. More from the press than anything. They got wind of Ivan Levine being linked to Cerberus, and his reputation has taken a nosedive from it. The company is already starting to struggle and Levine's entire share market is crashing and burning. Then there's his working on unsanctioned technology, thanks to our friend Haedian's involvement with the whole thing. The Salarian Union of course fully denied they had anything to do with the prototype at all, used Haedian as a scapegoat."
"But Haedian has evidence in his possession that proves they were developing it first!"
"Yes he did, which he's used to by amnesty from us. His involvement is all going to be kept very under the radar. The Salarian Union has since seen the evidence and finally admitted to the research. The Council is still debating what to do about it at this time. Overall the crime is rather minor, since the technology isn't strictly illegal, but is merely unsanctioned and unapproved by The Council. Especially since all evidence points to the device actually being used for what it was intended. The most likely outcome is that all research related to the project will be seized and destroyed, and that Council appointed inspectors will make mandatory inspections of all salarian research facilities for a set period of time."
"So where is Haedian now?" Lylanya asked.
"I don't know, actually. He bought his freedom, and we honoured that agreement. He could be anywhere."
"Is there anything else?"
"There is just one more thing to speak to you about, yes. The Council wishes to at least acknowledge that your mission was a success, even if you performed in a rather unorthodox manner. We are, however, concerned by this. While your delayed action in these matters may have actually given us a good result, it also ran the risk of causing a lot more harm than good. Had you hesitated to do your job any later the results could have been catastrophic. That being said, you are a Spectre, and it is your call how you deal with things. The important thing is that we got results, but we urge caution next time nonetheless. We appreciate your honestly and openness in giving a full report, which is something not all Spectres do, and sometimes we prefer it that way too.
"The Council feel the more crucial matter here is not the way you went about things, but the fact that you let the job get personal; something you fully admitted to in your reports. You are a Spectre first and foremost, and mustn't let any personal feelings get in the way of the mission. This is why The Council had decided to grant your request of three weeks leave, effective immediately. You will then return to the service of The Council as a Spectre, as well as assume a new identity. We feel you may have overexposed yourself on this mission and need a blank slate before you can continue your work. Use this time wisely, Lylanya, and learn from your mistakes. By the time you return, you must once again be prepared to put your feelings, your beliefs and your opinions aside for the sake of the galaxy. That is what you have been trained for, that is what you are. Don't forget that."
"Yes, ma'am," Lylanya nodded firmly.
"Very good. You are dismissed."
"Before I leave, may I speak candidly?" Lylanya queried.
"Yes?" the figure of light said curiously.
"I just wanted to say that he was right," Lylanya stated firmly. "Yalo, I mean. About the quarians. They've been exiled from The Council for three hundred years! Haven't they suffered enough?"
"That's not for you to decide," the voice said back, booming and devoid of emotion.
"Who does get to decide that?" Lylanya stressed. "Who will decide that? Why are we continuing to punish the quarians for a mistake they made so long ago? Of course the salarian government is probably only going to get a slap on the wrist for what they just did, yet the quarians get kicked out of the club permanently for circumstances that aren't much different. Are they still serving an unjust, overly harsh sentence, or have they merely been forgotten? Or is it just because they weren't as important as the salarians are?"
"You have said enough! Leave!"
"Who cries for the quarians who are still paying for one little mistake that nobody else cares about any more? Who? If The Council hadn't forced them to adrift without any help at all, then Yalo wouldn't have needed to take such extreme steps to save his people!"
"You are the cause of this! You the ones who created this problem, and still complain when you have to clean up the mess! They deserve another chance, and all you have to do is give it to them!"
"Agent Alanthios! Leave now! This is your final warning!" A pause. "As I said, it is not for you to decide!"
The room went dark, and soon after a semi-rectangular opening appeared at the edge of it, with brightness beyond. Lylanya sighed and slowly made her way towards it, disappearing into the light. On the other side a turian adorned in red and blue robes greeted her. He had dark blue eyes, and an unmarked face of pure dirt-brown complexion.
"How did it go, Miss Alanthios?" he asked.
"Better than I hoped, worse than I feared," she said, standing before him like the very life had been sucked out of her. "But I've got my time off to think about things."
"Anything I can do to help?" the turian questioned.
"Yeah. See if you can charter me a flight to Earth, as soon as you can. Washington D.C. if possible."
Lylanya stood up a bit taller, then twisted her neck, a more determined look on her once seemingly defeated face.
"I have somebody I need to apologise to."
The turian gave a polite bow, turned around and swiftly left. Lylanya turned about and walked to a large window that looked out at the void of space. She placed her palm against the glass and gazed out at the shimmering specks, nestled amongst gentle interstellar clouds of navy blue and deep purple.
"There are too many lives out there for me to make up for," she sighed. "But still... I have to try."
That's it. It's finally done, after almost two years. I'd like to thank all the readers who have followed me through this journey; one that started before we even really knew anything much at all about Mass Effect 2 beyond the fact it was coming. I'd also like to thank any readers who haven't started this story until after I've already written these notes. To those who gave me feedback, extra special thanks, and even more thanks to those who were willing to give constrictive criticism and point me where I went wrong.
Super special thanks to Christina Nordlander-Dawson, who has sort of been somewhat of an unofficial editor for this story for me, even though she hasn't even played the games or read the existing novels. I never really considered a chapter complete until she'd at least gone through it and given me some feedback and then I'd edited it again in response.
Thanks to BioWare for making the two games on which this novel was based on, particularly the lead writer for the original game and writer of the (so far) three official novels: Drew Karpyshyn. I always loved your style, and I'd like to think it's influenced my own for this fan novel. Thanks to BioWare Social Forums members GodWood and Calla S for contributing two of the characters featured in the final chapter after heeding my call (namely Operative Alan Duncan and Dr. Abigail Morgan respectively).
Finally, I'd also like to outline to you, the reader, what my basic objectives were for this story. I like to say that first up I prefer to think of it as an unofficial, online novel rather than a fan fiction, but in the end that's for you to decide. In either case, here's the basic story behind the story Mass Effect: Digression.
The idea actually came to me shortly after reading the second official novel, Mass Effect: Ascension. I was already a big fan of the quarians and this book opened them up even more than the first game and galactic codex already had. The basic idea and concept that enslaved people often rise up against their oppressors due to the overall driving need for freedom had often intrigued me, and I thought that I could apply this to the quarians, and also make the story somewhat of a mystery by not actually revealing the concept until past halfway through it. I basically came up with the concept of the main character of Yalo, decided to write up a single, first chapter to see how it came together and then would see where things went from there. The first chapter seemed to write itself, and fans were interested, so it grew from there.
One I had it started, I immediately wanted to achieve three basic things with this story. If I could do this, I felt the story would be a success. Again, it's up to you, the reader, as to whether these goals were attained or not, but here they are.
1) To make the story fit in with the canon and mimic the official novels. I wanted a story every Mass Effect fan could enjoy by doing it in the same style that Drew has and exploring more of the Mass Effect universe with fresh characters that don't interfere with established canon. This was the main purpose I felt, and the first basic rule and concept from the very start. I have no interest in writing about my Shepard because my Shepard doesn't appeal to everybody on the same level. An original story with original characters can, because every reader can enjoy it on the same level. I also wanted to make it somewhat epic and grand in scale, but not so much that it interfered with the games and the main story and wouldn't contradict other people's Shepards. Simply put, I wanted readers to be able to make it a story that could be unofficial canon to them... sort of an unofficial novel.
2) To make a story with almost no human characters set in the Mass Effect universe and keep it interesting. While there are humans in the story, all the main ones are aliens. I thought it was fairly easy to centre a story around a human and make readers identify with them, but it would be more of a challenge to make most of the main cast aliens and push humans into the background. The official storyline deals with humans a lot, as do Drew's novels, so I wanted to try and explore some rather different territory. In fact in gereral a lot of stories -especially sci-fi ones- purposefully put humans at the centre stage, and I wanted to break that trend. I'd like to think that this story has proved that you don't need a human as the focus to keep fans interested.
3) To create a story where there is no villain because the protagonist is also the antagonist. The main character in the story isn't exactly what you'd call a noble or even good "person" so while he is technically the protagonist of the story, he's also in some ways the villain as well. He's quite often conflicted and has goals that are understandable and even admirable, but the methods he uses are more than a little questionable. He's torn and knows what he's doing is wrong, but he feels it is necessary. If any body is the hero of the story it's actually Lylanya, not Yalo, so in a way the hero of the story isn't the main character but instead the supporting one.
That about covers it I think. Once again, thank you all. Keep reading, and here's to Mass Effect 3 (and it hopefully not contradicting anything in my story too much).
- Kenneth White