Ananke - The Illusive Man

There was a click on the console.

Beyond the viewscreen, the star churned. Vast currents slid over its mantle in slow motion, oceans of blue plasma that swirled and gleamed. A corona radiated about the star like a halo, in places flaring into angry fingers that could dwarf all of Earth twenty times over. Even behind a state of the art radiation filter the light was intense, casting long shadows across the Illusive Man's face.

He tore his gaze away from the light show just long enough to glance at the new message from his agents in the Sahrabarik system. A ship had emerged from the Omega-4 relay.

The Normandy had made history again.

The Illusive Man dismissed the message and returned his attention to the star.

He'd always liked the blue ones the best. They reminded him of his beginnings, when Cerberus had been nothing but a manifesto and an idea. In the early years he'd had many stars to choose from when selecting an orbit for his base of operations – he'd effectively owned more than one. But he had grown, and so too had his enemies, and now Cronos station's circuit had been reduced to a few underdeveloped stars. Useless ones, planetless, and so far from the nearest relay it took specialized ships just to ferry in his supplies.

But that was the nature of his work. The Illusive Man had to be elusive too.

He watched the star burn, unblinking, fingers steepled in front of his face.

Idly he wondered how the Normandy had fared. Was the ship still more or less intact? How many of the crew had survived? Had Shepard?

But the screens that only hours ago had been filled with the Normandy's feeds were blank. All of EDI's data feeds – and several that had bypassed her – had emptied when Shepard had cut communications. With the AI unshackled, the Illusive Man had nothing. He doubted he'd ever see another byte of data from his ship.

The Illusive Man resisted the urge to rub at his eyes. It had been a habit when he was a younger man and all alone with no one to see his weakness to knead at the subtle scars around his eyelids and remember.

He had sacrificed so much in Cerberus' name. His eyes. His name. His life. People he had loved, though Shepard would never have believed it. The Lazarus project alone had cost him enough money to outfit two supercarriers, and it was just pocket change. EDI, Miranda, Shepard… the Normandy itself, all lost to him. They were precious resources, all, and he wasn't sure which of the four he would miss the most. But it did not matter. The Illusive Man knew he would get none of them back.

So be it. Humanity was at war, and in war, there were sacrifices. The Illusive Man was not one to be cowed by large numbers. He had sacrificed much, but what he had gained… was incalculable. Lazarus had completed its mission. The collectors were gone, and their home was ripe for exploration. He already had teams following leads across the galaxy, searching for new IFF's that could fool the Omega-4 relay. If reports were accurate, he would have another vessel ready to scout the galactic core inside of a week. He'd send a team to see what Shepard left of the base.

Even if it was only rubble, there was so much it could teach him.

And the Illusive Man had a smug suspicion he'd find more than rubble. That Miranda was angry with him he could understand, at least from a distance. But that her anger would so cloud her judgment that she'd allow a resource to be destroyed? That he could not believe. He'd trained her too well for that.

The Illusive Man smiled, more certain now than before. No, Miranda would not let Shepard destroy the base. In a week's time, when he sent his team, they would find it waiting for him. He was sure of it. And Miranda would beat herself up over it for a month or a year or ten years, but in the end she would know she had done the right thing. She might never return to him, but she was his protégé and would follow in his footsteps, whether she liked it or not. It was inevitable.

She was a creator, like him, and there was no changing sides.

The war between creators and destroyers had waged as long as humanity had existed. Two hundred years ago there had been stories that demonized the mad scientists who created things of beauty and power and put on a pedestal the heroes who destroyed them. There would always be fear and suspicion, people who would dig their heels in and fight and kill to keep things the way they were.

But in the end, the Illusive Man knew the creators always won. Change always won. Progress always won.

He always won.

And so he would again.

He would beat the Reapers. For too long the balance of power had been skewed in their favor. It was time they tasted defeat. It was time they met their match. Humanity – not the Reapers – would be the new galactic power, and the Illusive Man would lead them there no matter what Shepard or the Alliance or the Council or anybody else said about it. He would lead the way dragging the entire galaxy behind him if he had to.

He produced a cigarette from his breast pocket and lit it. The taste filled his lungs and he held it in for a long moment before releasing it in a steady stream that curled in the stinging blue light. In front of him, the star continued to churn.

"Access station VI," he said, pocketing his lighter. "Close Lazarus cell. All objectives achieved." The screens went blank in a millisecond as the files were archived. "Create new cell." New files appeared, waiting to be filled.

A blank canvas for his next phase.

"Designation?" the VI asked. Its voice was empty, none of EDI's simulated inflections.

"Ananke." He'd picked the name out long ago. Destiny. Motion. Fate.

"Ananke Cell created," the VI parroted. "Awaiting mission parameters."

The Illusive Man smiled in the darkness.

There was work to do.

A/N: The end.

Four years and half a million-ish words later, and I'm done. I think I'll finish off with a self-aggrandizing author's note.

First of all, once again, let me express my sincere thanks to all of the people who have read Interstitium. This project has been a great deal of fun for me, but there is no way I would have gotten through it without all of the kind words and discussions people have sent me over the years. Some of you guys have been reading and reviewing from the very beginning, and some of you are new, and some of you have read in silence. Whatever the case, thank you.

My various betas deserve especial thanks as well, particularly Angurvddel and Vocarin, who have provided insightful comments - from corrections on typos and grammar to themes and worldbuilding - that has immensely improved things the whole way through. Thanks a lot, guys.

Interstitium has been a learning experience. Here at the end, it's easy for me to look back and point out a million things I wish I had done differently. Some big ones: I wish I had picked a format and stuck to it - either been completely canon compliant or permitted myself full reign to AU it anywhere I wanted instead of some awkward place in the middle. I wish I had not cut my Liara-on-Ilos subplot. I probably should have written Shepard differently, and perhaps gone with a Shepard/Miranda romance instead of Shepard/Tali, given how much material I ended up giving Miranda. But oh well. Live and learn. For the most part, I'm proud of what I've done. (My personal favorite chapters were the EDI, Wrex, Mordin, and Admiralty Board chapters. My single favorite scene was probably Jack confronting Samara after Pragia.)

A few people have asked me about my plans going forward. In short, I have no immediate plans to continue writing fanfiction. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the primary one is that I would like to shift my focus back to writing my own original material. I am in the early stages of writing a sci-fi novel, and hope to take what I've learned here and eventually publish and be a real author.

That said, Mass Effect holds a very dear place in my heart and I cannot preclude the possibility that I'd return to write more on it. I have lots of ideas for how I would have tackled ME3 (fair warning: I'd rewrite almost the entire thing - it'd be much more AU than Interstitium was for ME2, especially with regard to the geth, the Crucible, and Cerberus), and in particular would really, really like to write about Javik. If I can find a way to condense things down to a much more manageable size, or perhaps find a collaborator to help me write, you might see more ME from me. If not, I'll at least post my story outlines at some point.

I hope you've enjoyed reading Interstitium half as much as I've enjoyed writing it.

Thanks again, everybody.