A/N: This all began as an innocent post by eleganceliberty and subsequent comment by sinvraal on the Mass Effect community over on Live Journal. And everything snowballed from there, until the idea became a monster that wouldn't shut up for anything. So... here it is! Thanks to everyone in the community who helped me smooth out the problems in the second part, and thanks to sinvraal for beta-ing the third part! Hope you enjoy!
Timeline: A few months after Snapshots, but before the Bring Down the Sky DLC.
Part One: AHAB
A low, repetitive chirping pulled Kaidan slowly out of sleep. He fought the rise of consciousness, trying to remain in the contented haze of his dream even as its images and feelings began to fade. He struggled to hang on to the verdant green field around him, the soft blanket beneath his back, the warm sun on his face, the feel of Elizabeth Shepard's body pressed against his side...
But... too late. It all vanished into the stale air of a starship and the close, padded confines of a sleeper pod. Kaidan groaned, blinking groggily. He turned his head slightly to the right to glance at the tiny embedded digital clock and frowned. It read 0347. Not time for his shift yet. And most definitely not time for him to wake up.
It took him a second to realize the chirping was not his pre-set alarm, but the tone meant to notify him that he was receiving a call on his private comm channel - an urgent one. Adrenaline washed away the vestiges of fatigue as Kaidan quickly reached up and pressed the button to activate his side of the comm.
"Alenko here," he croaked, then cleared his throat.
"Sorry to wake you, Lieutenant," came the reply, and Kaidan immediately recognized the voice of Captain Roger Jackson, his commanding officer. "We have a situation; I need you in my ready room right away."
"On my way, sir," Kaidan answered, already disengaging the locks that kept the sleeper pod tightly shut. The lieutenant felt a flutter of dread push up his throat, but clenched his jaw against it. Despite his best efforts, he always worried the next message he received would be the one to deliver the crushing news: the Normandy had mysteriously vanished, or gone MIA, or been destroyed... and Shepard with it.
Dim orange light spilled over him as the top half of the coffin-like bed hissed upwards, releasing him. The lieutenant clambered out, took a brief second to stretch, and then moved quickly toward the aft of the ship, where the captain's quarters and ready room were located.
He shook his head as he neared the ready room's door, annoyed by the fact he still wasn't used to the layout of the SSV Tokyo. He'd never had so much trouble adjusting to a new assignment... he hadn't spent all that much time on the Normandy compared to some of his other tours of duty, yet every time he woke up he expected to open the pod and find himself aboard the prototype warship instead of the cruiser. He expected Joker's voice every time the PA clicked on. He expected Dr. Chakwas every time he stepped into the medbay. And he expected Commander Shepard to round the corridor every time he heard a pair of approaching boots. He attributed his attachment to the Normandy and her crew to the intensity of his time aboard, to the hell they'd gone through together, and of course, to the feelings he'd developed for Shepard.
Still, it was disorienting, and if he had to be real honest with himself, it was also high time he got over it.
The lieutenant took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders, then touched the door panel. A chime sounded from the other side; after a second the panel's light turned from red to green.
"Enter," the captain called, and Kaidan stepped forward, the doors sliding open automatically at his approach, then shutting silently again behind him.
"Captain." Kaidan saluted.
The older man nodded. "At ease, Lieutenant."
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Actually, Admiral Hackett wanted to see you," Jackson said, stepping to the side and revealing a small holographic display of the Fifth Fleet Admiral.
Kaidan's eyebrows shot up; the dread turned into a spike that stabbed into the pit of his stomach.
"Lieutenant Alenko," Hackett greeted, giving him a grim nod. "I apologize for waking you this time of night, but we have a potentially volatile situation on our hands and we need your help to resolve it."
Kaidan blinked, the news not what he'd been expecting after all. The knot in his stomach began to unfold. "Me, sir?" He'd never been personally contacted by the brass for a specific task before; he wasn't quite sure whether to be flattered or suspicious.
"Absolutely," Hackett said. "You may recall hearing about a group in the news lately… the ones that call themselves the Alliance of Humans Against Biotics?"
The lieutenant's eyes narrowed. "Yes. I've heard of them. A political group mostly, lobbying for the development of methods to completely eliminate the biotic ability in humans." He understood their motives to a certain extent; human biotics was still a relatively new thing, and like anything new, it took some people more time to get used to it and accept it than others. Some people still just didn't understand it, and what they didn't understand they feared. Kaidan had gotten used to the stares and whispers a long time ago, but on some level he found himself increasingly frustrated with those individuals who flat-out refused to even try to understand the biotic ability as anything other than a mutation.
Individuals like those in AHAB.
He crossed his arms, his gaze shifting between the captain and the admiral. "Didn't they kidnap some people or something?"
Hackett let out a long breath between his teeth, shifting on his feet. "Yes, that's right. There have been reports coming in lately across several of our colonies of people gone missing… civilian and military alike. But all those missing are biotic. Originally members of AHAB claimed responsibility, saying they were 'protecting humanity' or some bullshit, but the president of the organization says the kidnappings were the work of a few rogue members and not condoned by the group as a whole."
"You don't believe him?"
Hackett's shimmering hologram clasped his hands behind his back. "I don't know what to think at this point. Their group is full of fanatic, half-panicked xenophobes – they've been known to pull some pretty bold stuff to get people to listen to them. We're working at getting an N7 in there undercover, but he's still too new to be privy to any information that might prove the president's statement true or false."
"So what do you want me to do, sir?"
"We want you to set up an informal meeting with one of the members."
A grunt of disbelief escaped Kaidan before he realized it and he hastily tried to mask it by clearing his throat. He stood a little straighter, uncrossing his arms and looking the admiral in the face. "With all due respect, sir, I'm not sure a member of an anti-biotics organization would have any interest whatsoever in talking with a biotic."
Admiral Hackett held Kaidan's stare. "One might," he said, and then reached over out of view to retrieve a datapad. "We've researched all of AHAB's members," he continued, indicating the readout he held, "and it seems one of them was a classmate of yours during the Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training."
"What?" Kaidan blurted, unable to help it. He'd grown close to several kids during those long years at Jump Zero, but he'd never seen any of them – never even heard anything about any of them – since the program had shut down.
"That's right. Rahna Bachar. She's listed right here."
Kaidan reached for the nearest chair, gripping it tightly as a brief wave of vertigo rocked the floor beneath him. Her. Of all the kids who had attended BAaT, it had to be her…. "Anti-biotic?" he heard himself muttering aloud. "But she was… she is… she's a biotic herself, that doesn't make any sense…"
Hackett shook his head. "I don't understand it, either. Her file here doesn't make it clear if the other members of AHAB even know her history. It's possible she just never told them. I guess she doesn't like being a biotic."
Kaidan still stood there holding the chair, staring at nothing, trying to force his brain to comprehend.
"We'd like you to meet with her… something friendly and informal. Tell her you'd like to catch up or something. Hell, tell her you don't like being a biotic either and were considering joining the group, I don't care. But get her talking. You two grew up together, maybe she'll feel comfortable enough around you to let something slip."
"Sir," Kaidan said, forcing his lips to move. He dragged his eyes back to the admiral, feeling heavy and sluggish, almost as if he were underwater. "Rahna and I didn't part on the best of terms… she may not even agree to see me."
The admiral smiled. "No worries, Lieutenant. We took the liberty of contacting her on your behalf. She seemed pleasantly surprised to hear from you, and agreed to meet you on Terra Nova."
"We're en route now," Captain Jackson put in from his place in the corner, nearly causing the lieutenant to jump. "We'll reach the space port in another few hours."
"Ms. Bachar is the head of AHAB's Research and Development team," Hackett continued. "Not surprisingly, they rent lab space on Noveria, so it's been difficult for the Systems Alliance to get any sort of idea on just what exactly they are researching. This group has never really been taken too seriously, but given this latest rash of kidnappings, the powers-that-be want some answers. We need to find out what they're really capable of. See if you can't also get Ms. Bachar to talk about her work."
"Yes, sir," Kaidan answered reflexively, but his mind was still swimming.
"I'll have Dr. Thomas fit you with a wire so your conversation can be recorded," the captain said. "Don't worry, it'll be completely undetectable."
"And you'll also be provided a subcutaneous transmitter," Admiral Hackett added. "Just in case things get rough, we'll have an N7 commando unit standing ready nearby. They'll know exactly where you are at all times. We don't anticipate any kind of trouble from Ms. Bachar, but it's better to be prepared, especially when dealing with people from these sorts of groups."
There was a short pause. "Alenko," Hackett started, stepping closer to the holographic viewer so that his face loomed larger than the rest of him, "I won't order you to do this. If you don't feel comfortable –"
"No, sir," Kaidan managed, struggling to pull himself from his stupor. "No… I can do it. It's just… it's hard to imagine Rahna being a part of something like that…"
The admiral nodded. "I understand. You'll have a few hours yet to prepare yourself. Captain Jackson has a datapad for you with a copy of this briefing, as well as a few more details and history about AHAB and some of its members. Just remember, finding out what happened to the missing people – finding out if AHAB was really involved - is your first priority. The research is secondary."
"Very well then, Alenko." The admiral stepped back again, beaming at the lieutenant. "I'll expect your report just as soon as your meeting with Ms. Bachar is over with."
"Good luck, Lieutenant." The admiral's image winked out.
TO BE CONTINUED...