Chapter Seven: Takedown

"You know," Ashley said as they approached Chora's Den. "I don't think C-Sec is going to appreciate us shooting this place up."

"We're just going in for a quiet drink," Garrus replied, his metallic voice tinged with amusement. "They opened fire on us, and we defended ourselves."

"We only shot back in self-defense," grunted Wrex. "All the way to Fist's office."

"Exactly," Garrus said.

It was about half an hour after they'd exited Doctor Michel's office. Shepard, Kaidan, and Ashley had affixed helmets once they'd gotten out of the transport car. One of the officers Garrus had called up to secure Michel's office had brought a long case that held two collapsed weapons: an assault rifle and a scoped carbine. Garrus had fixed them to his armor's hardpoints.

The rest of the team was also fully armed. Shepard and Ashley were carrying their assault rifles and sidearms, and Shepard had an extra shotgun on the hardpoint at his lower back. Kaidan only carried a heavy pistol, but with mass accelerator technology, the difference between pistols and longarms was not as great as it had been when chemical-propelled slugthrowers ruled the day. Wrex had an assault rifle, a shotgun, a second shotgun, two heavy pistols, and a drum-fed weapon with a short, stubby barrel – what could only be a grenade launcher.

The walkways leading to Chora's Den were oddly quiet and empty. As they approached, Kaidan activated his omnitool, and grunted.

"Door's locked."

"Chora's Den doesn't close," Garrus mused. "They know we're coming."

"Weapons ready, but check your fire," Shepard said. "Might be civilians in there. Don't shoot unless they're armed."

Wrex rumbled something unpleasant about that, but nodded. Weapons unfolded into waiting hands; Garrus, Ashley, and Shepard with assault rifles, Wrex with his shotgun, and Kaidan's heavy pistol. They moved up to the door, and Shepard debated whether to just blow it open or to pop the lock.

"Kaidan, do it quietly," Shepard said. "They know we're coming, but might not know we're out here."

Kaidan nodded and stepped toward the door. His omnitool lit up, and he went to work. It only took him a few seconds to bypass the firewalls and unlock the door. He took a step back, pistol at the ready.

"Stack up. Wrex, take the lead," Shepard said, and the krogan nodded. Aside from the fact that he wore the heaviest armor and was a biotic who could generate a defensive barrier like Kaidan, Wrex's krogan biology ensured he could withstand abuse that would pound any other sapient to jelly. He was the natural choice to take the lead.

They lined up outside the door, Wrex first, followed by Ashley, Shepard, and Garrus. Shepard drew and primed a flash grenade, and Kaidan, on the opposite side of the door, did the same with a tech mine designed to scramble targeting and heat sensors.

"Grenade in!" Shepard ordered. Kaidan opened the doors with a press of a holo-key, and both he and Shepard flung their grenades inside. There was a yell of surprise, followed by a detonation.

Wrex didn't wait for orders. He leapt forward into the room as soon as the grenades blew, and his shotgun roared immediately. Ashley was right behind him, and Shepard piled in after her.

Shepard saw blood flying from a collapsing corpse not two meters away, colored black in the dark red lighting. Shepard spotted multiple forms on either side of the bar, behind overturned tables or taking cover in alcoves. His helmet's HUD showed him a dozen small element zero masses, indicating kinetic barriers. Most of Fist's thugs were ducking for cover, shaking their heads from the disorienting effects of the flash grenade, or trying to get their weapons to function properly after Kaidan flooded the room with ECM. None of them were shooting.

Wrex was clearly experienced in breaching rooms, as he and Ashley had split the room in half and were advancing in opposite directions, firing their weapons as they cleared different halves of the bar. Shepard slid in behind Wrex, and Garrus behind Ashley. Assault weapons roared, and two more of Fist's stunned guards went down. Kaidan moved in behind Wrex and Shepard, readying another tech grenade.

By the time the entire squad piled into the bar, Fist's men were recovering from the shock and returned fire. Mass accelerator rounds shattered and flattened against barriers, sending gleaming blue flares in the air over Ashley and Wrex's armor. The krogan bouncer Wrex had threatened earlier emerged, blasting away with a heavy shotgun. The withering return fire forced Ashley and Garrus behind overturned tables on the left side of the Den, while Wrex strafed sideways into an alcove, shotgun roaring in the confined space. As soon as Wrex reached safety, he collapsed his shotgun and attached it to his armor, before reaching for the larger, heavier launcher on his back. Meanwhile, Kaidan crouched behind the bar and fired another grenade from his omnitool's launcher, flooding and overloading the kinetic barriers of two of Fist's guards.

Shepard vaulted over the central bar and crouched behind it. Rounds screamed and whipped past him overhead as he worked his way forward around the circular column. As he moved, he spotted a pair of weak element zero cores activating very close by – and directly overhead. If the HUD was right, they were on the dancer's platform overlooking the bar.

There hadn't been anyone up there before, but someone lying prone with their element zero cores turned off could hide pretty well from anyone entering through the front door, especially if they were distracted by a gunbattle. The tactic was pretty obvious; wait until the advancing assault team moved past the bar, and pour fire into their flanks. It would work pretty well against the usual criminal scum Fist would have expected to assault his business.

Shepard and his team were not the usual criminal scum. With a couple of quick taps on his omnitool, Shepard flashed the threat on everyone's HUD.

A heartbeat later, even as both the bodyguards rose to fire, gravity ceased to exist around them and they were lifted into the air. Kaidan then altered the mass effect field to fling the pair of bodyguards across the room into the far wall. As they hurtled across the Den, Ashley and Garrus advanced, one providing support fire for the other. The Turian Hierachy and Systems Alliance boot camps were developed by different species, but they both understood the concept of bounding cover. The two moved with the surety of soldiers who had been fighting side-by-side for years, instead of members of two different species who had met hours ago. Bodyguards fell as they methodically closed on the far side of the room.

The krogan bodyguard Shepard had seen hours ago emerged from behind an enormous overturned table, and his shotgun roared once, then twice. Garrus and Ashley ducked for cover under the barrage, and the krogan sprang out of cover with speed that belied his bulk. The bouncer's feet pumped, and he started to charge across the distance, intending to bring his bulk, muscle, and close combat skill against the pair.

A rocket-propelled grenade slammed into the krogan's shields and blew them apart. The bouncer recoiled in shock, and Garrus popped up from behind cover. His rifle barked once, then twice, two very quick individual shots, and the bouncer recoiled, howling and twitching. His weapon fired aimlessly until a second grenade hit him in the chest and shattered his armor, launching the savaged krogan's across the room. It took Shepard a moment to realize that Garrus had put a round into either of the krogan's eyes, bypassing the thick body plate of his skull to hit the brain directly. The humpbacked alien twitched and thrashed for several seconds, body still alive, until Garrus finished it with another burst.

Shepard glanced sideways, and saw Wrex firing his drum-fed grenade launcher again, blowing another bodyguard's cover to pieces and slamming the man against the wall, leaving him unconscious. He'd obviously kept he weapon in reserve, knowing that it wouldn't do to fire it in close combat until he knew what they were up against.

Shepard rose up enough to get a clear shot with his rifle and fired on the remaining pair of guards. Kaidan sent out another wave of altered gravity, ripping the bodyguards' cover away from them. One fell immediately to concentrated fire from Shepard and Ashley, while the other dropped bonelessly, two rounds punched through the middle of his nose, courtesy of Garrus.

The interior of Chora's Den went silent, save for the occasional moan from the few wounded-but-living guards.

"Fist will be in the back," Wrex said, collapsing his grenade launcher in favor of one of the shotguns. They moved around, policing weapons from the dead and wounded. None of the still-living bodyguards seemed to be in any mood to keep fighting, but they took no chances; most of the weapons were smashed under boots, the rest confiscated.

"He's probably calling in backup right now," Shepard said. "Garrus, Alenko, cover the entrance. Wrex, Williams, with me."

Enrique Fist was still hastily throwing his body armor on when he heard the doors to his private section of the club blow open. He cursed hard enough to peel paint, drawing his Rosenkov-manufactured heavy pistol and hitting the activation panel for his office's defense system.

Who the hell were these guys? On the cameras, he'd seen that damn C-Sec officer, Garrus, and he recognized Urdnot Wrex. The humans, though . . . they were new, and they didn't look like muscle Wrex or Garrus had hired. Shadow Broker agents?

Fist felt sweat pouring down his brow and the back of his neck.

"Dammit, Saren," Fist muttered. "Screw you for making me do this."

He just had to hold them back. He'd called for backup from Niles' group, and they were rushing back. They'd kill these bastards once they returned from dropping off the quarian.

That goddamn quarian. She was the one who got him into this shit. Saren wanted her and whatever info she had, and he'd paid damn well for it, but it hadn't been enough to buy off the Shadow Broker.

The inner door to his office blew open, and Fist saw figures beyond, swarming into the room.

The office's defenses sprang to life. On either side of Fist's desk, two innocuous gun turrets rose up, and swung toward the intruders. Fist started to raise his pistol.

The gun turret on the left simply exploded, a grenade lancing into it and detonating. The other turret tracked toward the intruders, only to be violently ripped out of its housing by a twisting wave of biotic force, and then hurled across the room. Bullets smashed into Fist's shields, and he dove behind his desk.

"Don't shoot!" he cried out, panic shooting through him. Those gun turrets were his ace in the hole. They'd killed more than one assassin who'd come after him, but these people had just smashed them like they were nothing. "Don't shoot, please!"

"Throw out your weapon!" a man barked, and Fist complied immediately, tossing his pistol aside. "Stand up! Hands in the air!"

Fist rose from behind the desk, and wished he hadn't. Three assault rifles were leveled at him, their wielders circling around the desk. There was a woman in heavy battle armor to his right, a man in lighter armor in the middle, and a hulking krogan to the left.

"Oh, God," Fist whispered as he saw the alien. "Wrex."

"Fist," the krogan replied, sounding bored. "You've been a very bad man."

"The quarian," said the man in the middle. "Where is she?"

"Quarian?" Fist said, blinking. "Uh. She's not here. She left a little while ago with my men."

"Oh, well, no use to you now," Wrex said to the human in the middle. "Let me kill him."

"No, wait!" Fist said quickly, holding up his hands. "I don't know where she is, but I know where you can find her!"

Fist realized how stupid that sounded right after he said it, but the people holding guns on him didn't seem inclined to point that out.

"Well?" the group's leader said, arching an eyebrow.

"She went to meet with the Shadow Borker," Fist said quickly. "I told her I'd set up a meeting for her. She had information for him."

"Impossible," Wrex snapped. "No one meets the Shadow Broker face to face. People always talk to him through agents. Even me."

"Yeah, but she didn't know that," Fist said. "When she gets there, Saren's men are going to be waiting for her."

The woman, who had been silent until now, stepped around the desk and grabbed Fist by the front of his armor. She slammed him facedown onto the desk with frightening strength, and stars flashed in Fist's vision.

"Where?" she snarled, shoving the rifle into his cheek.

"Alley three blocks away, outside the common markets, right next to Morlan's!" Fist squeaked. He felt his bowels loosen. "She just left a little while ago! If you hurry, you might be able to find her oh God pleasedon'tkillme!"

The woman instead hauled him up to his feet and pushed him backward. Fist stumbled back against the wall, and flushed with embarrassment. Thankfully, the armor hid the fact that he'd-

Wrex took a step to the side around the desk, shoved the shotgun in Fist's face, and there was an unholy amount of noise.

Ashley spun toward Wrex, leveling her weapon at him. It was more a reflex than anything else at the unexpected gunfire. Shepard jerked toward the krogan, who loomed beside him, eye flicking between the Chief's rifle and the beheaded corpse of Fist.

"I don't leave jobs unfinished," Wrex said, blunt and straightforward.

"Stand down, Chief," Shepard said after a moment. He hadn't given Wrex any orders to not kill Fist, after all. Ashley lowered her weapon, scowling but silent.

"I know where the meeting is," Wrex added. "Been there before. Nice, quiet place for a gunfight."

"We don't have much time," Shepard said. "Let's go. Garrus, all clear?"

"Affirmative," the turian replied. "No hostiles at this time."

"Good. Let's move before Fist's backup gets here."

Fist's men had escorted her through the Wards until they reached the meeting place, a corridor bathed in blood-red light. The criminals were all wary but relaxed, and kept their hands on their weapons. In an alcove, a keeper fiddled with an out-of-the way terminal, oblivious to their presence.

Tali was waiting for no more than a few minutes, while her escort spread out, watching the entrances to the corridor. She kept her hand close to her pistol, and had an ECM mine ready to fire the moment she suspected trouble. She kept her head facing toward the direction their contact was supposed to approach from, but watched her escort through her helmet's HUD.

A couple minutes after they should have arrived, the door at the far end of the corridor opened, and she saw a turian flanked by a pair of salarians appear. They were all armored, and carrying light machine pistols.

The leader of the group, a heavyset man who seemed to prefer high-calorie food over exercise, paused suddenly and pressed a hand to his ear. He spoke quietly, and Tali activated her suit's audio amplifiers. Noise flooded into her helmet's speakers for a heartbeat before she narrowed the sensors' focus.

" . . . attack?" the human asked. "Who is . . . no, sir. Yes sir. They just . . . . Understood."

The human looked up, whistled, and the guards turned to face him.

"Something wrong?" asked the turian, whose face Tali noted was painted like the jaws of a predator. The salarians spread outward, covering opposite sides of the corridor.

"Trouble back at the club," the human said as the turian approached. "You can handle this?"

"Sure," replied the turian. The humans turned and started to move away, and Tali felt a spike of fear run through her.

"What's going on?" she asked, keeping her voice as controlled as she could, despite the fear bubbling up in her. She moved her right hand away from her weapon to put the mercenaries at ease, while prepping her ECM grenade launcher. Her HUD showed a half-dozen hidden weapons on the trio of mercenaries, and their kinetic barriers were active.

"Relax," the turian said, metallic voice calm, and she could hear something else in his voice. The alien's eyes flicked over her, and she fought to hide the shudder of revulsion running through her. Her environment suit was form-fitting, and quarian females' body structure resembled asari enough that anyone attracted to them would find a quarian woman just as pleasing.

"Where is the Shadow Broker?" she asked after a few moments as the two salarians finished their sweep, and stepped closer together to speak.

"He'll be here soon," the turian replied, mandibles parting a bit. He stepped closer. "Where is the data?"

"I'm only giving it to the Shadow Broker," she replied, tensing. "Don't waste my time."

"Don't worry, he's on his way," the turian said, and his arm rose toward her. He brushed the cloth draped over her helmet, and she smacked the arm away immediately, anger replacing her fear. If his fingers had brushed her suit, she would have felt the tactile sensation as if it had been against her exposed skin.

The turian leaned back, and his mandibles tightened against his jaw, making his face narrow – a sign of anger. She glared back at him, but knew the effect would be lessened by the opaque faceplate blocking her face from sight, but her next words sealed it.

"Deal's off," she hissed at the pervert. "I'm leaving."

Fist's men were gone, and had been singularly useless. She was on her own again, against three well-armed mercenaries in an open corridor with no cover. It reminded her of the first gunfight she'd been in on the Citadel. The turian took a long step backwards, reaching for the machine pistol at his side, while the salarians turned to face her, drawing their weapons.

There was a sudden explosion, but in the corridor behind her, and for a heartbeat everyone's attention was stolen. Tali seized the moment, and triggered the grenade launcher on her omnitool. The tiny ECM mine lanced out and detonated, sending waves of jamming over the salarians' helmet HUDs and throwing in a flash of light and sound for good measure. They reeled backward, while the turian snapped up his weapon and fired two long bursts into Tali at less then three meters away.

Tali's suit was quarian engineered, and quarians were widely considered the best technicians and engineers in the galaxy. It was nowhere as large, bulky, or spacious as a suit of heavy armor, but it was just as durable. More importantly, between both her peoples' technology and Tali's own tinkering, she'd been able to cram enough shielding into the suit to match a suit of heavy battle armor.

The turian's bursts slammed into her shields and deflected off, none of the rounds penetrating as she dove back, hunting for cover. There was a dumpster for one of the nearby shops a dozen meters away, and she dashed for it, drawing her pistol and firing as she ran.

The turian kept shooting, loosing burst after burst at Tali. Rounds shattered or bounced off her barriers, slamming into the wall and punching tiny holes. She had no illusions what those rounds would do to her body if they punched through her shields and suit.

She dove behind the dumpster as her displays wailed at her that the shields were about to fail. By then, the salarians had recovered and were firing at her, bullets rippling into the metal she crouched behind. They kept firing, a steady stream of rounds that kept her pinned in place, and Tali's mind whirled frantically as she tried to find a solution.

On her HUD, element zero cores appeared, only now they were behind her, and her heart leapt into her throat.

Fist's men were coming back. This was a trap.

The gunfire intensified, and Tali gripped her pistol tightly, loading another ECM grenade. If these bastards were going to kill her, she though, she'd do her parents proud and go down fighting. The door to the other end of the corridor opened, and she started to raise her weapon.

Something blue and blurry ripped past her, and she managed to realize it was a biotic attack right before the gunfire hammering her slackened immediately. She saw armored figures, humans, a turian, and a krogan, pouring through the doorway, assault rifles in hand, weapons blazing as they sent a torrent of fire down the corridor at the assassins. Beyond, she saw bodies – the corpses of Fist's men, laid out like felled wood.

The soldiers rushed past her, the thunder of their weapons loud and pounding in her hears even through her suit's filters. Tali stayed behind cover as bullets cut past overhead, the team of soldiers moving with coordinated, professional ease. One of them paused next to her, and she realized it was the human who had launched the initial biotic attack.

"Are you hurt?" a male's voice asked, urgent but concerned. The gunfire reached a crescendo as the rest of the human's team continued down the corridor, spraying death down the narrow passage.

"I'm not injured," Tali said, the terror giving way to relief and hope. A couple of seconds later, the gunfire cut off, and she heard a few shouts, calls of all clear, followed by more yells as the soldiers swept the alcoves for any survivors.

Tali stopped to breathe for a moment, the sudden turn leaving her off-balance. She'd spent the last days in quiet, worried terror, trying to navigate this strange place and keep herself alive. Treachery and lies had been a constant, and now she was . . .

Was she really safe?

"It's okay," the human said, standing, and he offered her his hand. She rose on her own, not taking it, and looked over the corridor. The three assassins were dead – quite thoroughly so, with more than one them in multiple pieces.

"Who are you?" she asked, her voice just a tiny bit shaky. "Not that I'm ungrateful, I mean, but . . . ."

"Commander Shepard, Systems Alliance military," the human said. "Are you Tali?" She nodded, and the human seemed to sag a tiny bit, as if in relief himself. "We need to get you someplace safe."

"Alliance embassy on the Presidium," said another human male, walking back toward them. "Between C-Sec and our own security, there shouldn't be anyplace more secure on the Citadel."

"Good idea, Alenko," Shepard said. "Let's move, before anyone comes looking for us."

The squad of soldiers and mercenaries formed up around Tali, and the feeling of relief was a palpable thing. Shepard stood beside her, and from the sound of his voice and the way he kept a protective eye over her, she knew she was safe.

That realization made her steps wobble a little bit.

The transition to the Presidium was a lot simpler and easier than what waited for them in the embassy offices. C-Sec was throwing a fit over the massacre at Chora's Den, but they didn't have any suspects as of yet. Someone had apparently wiped the security footage while killing Fist's personal army. At the same time, someone else had killed a dozen more of Fist's men in an alley, not fifty meters from another trio of murdered mercenaries who suspiciously matched several other mercenaries whose corpses had been found elsewhere in the Wards. Once again, C-Sec had no suspects.

That didn't mean that Ambassador Udina didn't know who was behind both rounds of violence.

"Udina's angry, Shepard," Anderson said, intercepting the group outside the embassy.

"Good," Shepard replied. "We've got what we needed."

"Hard evidence?" Anderson asked, and Shepard nodded. The Captain barely hid the smile on his face at that, and led the group into the office.

"You're not making my life easy, Shepard," Udina growled, facing away from the door while Shepard entered his office. He turned as he ranted. "Firefights in the Wards, an all-out assault on Chora's Den! Do you have any idea how hard I have to-"

His words swiftly cut off. After all, Udina had been expecting Shepard and Anderson, and maybe Kaidan and Ashley. He hadn't been expecting Shepard to enter with a quarian, a turian in C-Sec armor, and a krogan carrying his own weight in weaponry. Shepard himself wasn't sure why Wrex had followed him to the alley or come with him to the Ambassador's office; maybe he just liked the idea of tracking krogan footprints on the clean Presidium tiles.

"Shepard," Udina said, at a loss for words for a second. "What's going on here?"

"Making your day Ambassador," Shepard replied, unable to hide the satisfaction in his voice. "We've got proof Saren is a traitor."

"I . . .you do?" Udina asked, at a loss for words. Shepard nodded. "I see. Actionable evidence, I assume?"

"Correct," Shepard replied, and gestured to Tali. "The assassins we dealt with were agents of Saren, from what we gathered, and they were trying to kill Tali here because she had important evidence."

"I see," Udina said, nodding. "Maybe you should start at the beginning, Miss . . . ."

"Tali'Zorah Nar Rayya," the quarian offered.

"Please, sit down, Miss Rayya," Udina said, gesturing to his office. They followed him inside and sat down, save for Wrex, who leaned against a wall and watched with detached curiosity.

"Can you explain what all this was all about?" he asked. "Your actions in the Wards are causing some consernation among the authorities."

Shepard nodded, politely not commenting on Udina's skill at understatement, and gave him the short version of how they'd ended up waging a small urban war in the lower Wards. He started with the leads supplied by Barla Von and Harkin, the shoot-out at Doctor Michel's office, and the subsequent assault on Chora's Den.

"I see," Udina said, nodding. "I knew Fist had it coming. But what about this evidence you acquired?" He looked to Tali, who seemed as uncomfortable as a person encased in an environment suit could look without seeing her face.

"We don't see many quarians here on the Citadel," Udina said, and she nodded.

"I was on my Pilgrimage. Most quarians don't come out this far on the Pilgrimage. We're not . . ." she hesitated. "Welcome."

That was an understatement; quarians were renowned for their technical expertise, a survival trait that came from living entirely on the migrant Fleet. Quarian engineers and miners were in high demand on many worlds, and often took jobs that would have gone to less qualified natives otherwise. Quarians also had a tendency to strip worlds of necessary resources, something else that didn't engender them to being liked by other species. It resulted in an enormous amount of specism, even among the more tolerant species.

"Please, continue," Anderson said, and Tali nodded slowly.

"I was in an unclaimed system in the Traverse," she explained. "Surveying for resources, when I caught sight of a geth ship. I was curious. The geth don't leave the Veil, at least until recently. I tracked it to a nearby planet in the same system where the geth had established an outpost. I waited until one of the geth was isolated, and I disabled it and accessed its memory cores."

"How?" Kaidan asked. "I read the reports from Eden Prime. We couldn't salvage anything from the geth corpses. They burned their memory cores when disabled."

"Normally, yes," Tali replied. "But the quarians built the geth. No one understands their engineering like we do. I was able to disrupt the geth software long enough to shut off the platform's security systems and access its core, and I salvaged quite a bit of data."

"Anything useful?" Shepard asked, and she nodded again.

"The geth store large amounts of data on each platform. It is part of their software design," she explained. "They share information readily, and the geth's cache had audio files that were tagged as high priority." She lit up and fiddled with her omnitool for several seconds.

There was a faint squeal, and suddenly Saren's voice boomed into the office's confines.

"Our assault on Eden Prime was a major victory," the Spectre's voice, clear and unmistakable, said with complete satisfaction. "We're one step closer to finding the Conduit."

A heartbeat later, another voice, a smooth and cultured female tone, followed.

"And one step closer to the return of the Reapers," she said.

Dead silence followed that, and Shepard stared at Tali. That name was familiar. He'd heard it before, somewhere. Kaidan, Ashley, and Anderson seemed curious and confused, not understanding most of the statement, while Garrus' mask-like face was unreadable. Wrex didn't seem to particularly care either way.

In the subsequent silence, Tali spoke.

"After I acquired the data, I checked the extranet, and found out about Eden Prime," she explained. "I thought this information needed to reach the Council. I didn't recognize the voices, but I knew it was important, so I came here."

Anderson nodded in acknowledgement.

"That was a brave thing you did, Miss Rayya," he said, but she shook her head.

"The information needed to be heard," she said. "The Council, and everyone, needed to know."

Udina suddenly smiled.

"This is perfect," he said. "This is verifiable proof, at the very least of conspiracy. If we can get these audio files authenticated, this can be the evidence we need."

"What was that about Reapers?" Anderson asked, and Tali shrugged.

"There was a lot of data about that term," she said. "The geth apparently revere the Reapers as some kind of machine gods. They believe the Reapers were responsible for the galactic extinction fifty thousand years ago that destroyed the Protheans, and then vanished."

Shepard jerked as if slapped, and the vision suddenly reappeared in his thoughts. He remembered the dream he'd had, of soldiers and slavers being consumed and turned into husks, of the shadowy organic figures being destroyed and infected with machinery by implacable mechanical forces.

"The vision," he murmured, rubbing his temples. That headache was flaring back up, the same jackhammer migraine he'd felt before. "That was what I saw. I saw the Reapers wiping out the Protheans. That was the message in the beacon."

Udina frowned at him, expression skeptical.

"Sounds a little far-fetched, Commander," he said, shaking his head. "And what is this Conduit? A weapon of some kind?"

"According to the files, it had something to do with the Reapers," Tali explained. "It was why Saren attacked Eden Prime in the first place."

Udina shook his head again.

"The council is just going to love this," he muttered, words dripping with sarcasm and dismissal.

"Regardless of what else they might say," Anderson cut in, his voice becoming sharp and eager, "Those audio files prove Saren was behind Eden Prime."

"True," Udina said, standing. "We'll need to copy those files, Miss Rayya. Is that fine with you?"

"Certainly," she said. "I can help with the authentication process too. There are telltale markers of geth data networks. It'll help prove the information came from where I said it did."

"We'll need to get these files to the Council right away," Udina said.

Shepard nodded, rising and feeling a wave of angry satisfaction running through him as he did so. Saren wasn't going to get away – and Shepard was going to make certain of that, no matter what it took. He was going to bring that murdering turian bastard down.

There was going to be justice for Eden Prime, he promised himself, no matter what it took.

Author's Notes: Yes, Tali is one of my favorite characters, how can you tell? :p

This chapter was short, and took a while, but I tend to get distracted by shiny things easily, and I was in a slump. As so often happens, I wrot emost of this chapter, let it sit for a month until my inspirationc ame back, and finished the rest in a flurry of damaged keyboards.

Next chapter, we get to one of the best moments in the game, and maybe finally off the Citadel and to the good stuff.

Until next chapter . . . .