Who Saves the Hero – Chapter 35

By Kudara

Disclaimer: The Mass Effect universe is the property of Bioware/Electronic Arts. No infringement of these copyrights is intended as this is a not for profit fan fiction work.

Warning: none

Notes: This is an Alternate Universe story, and is inspired by the Beyonce song "Save the Hero," from the album I am…Sasha Fierce. The portrayal of Cerberus in my story is heavily influenced by the contents of the second and third Mass Effect books, Ascension and Retribution. The Prothean language I'm using is a mixture of Quenyanna and Sindarin, languages originally created by Tolkien.

Rating: Teen

Feedback: Always welcome, feedback is what encourages me to keep writing. Please let me know what you like and what you dislike about the story. Thank you to my beta readers on the yahoo group for their suggestions and feedback which lead to this being a much better chapter than it would have been otherwise.

Errors and Corrections: Yes, please let me know about any errors you see so that I can correct them. This is un-beta'ed so it probably has a few.

Revision History: 09/11/2011

Normandy – Third Deck, enroute to the nearest Mass Relay in the Serpent Nebula from Bekenstein

Feeling like she should check her ass to see if any of it remained, Shepard stepped out of the Medical Bay, leaving behind her a very worried Dr. Chakwas. The neural tissues surrounding her amplifier implant were inflamed, likely due to the excessive use of her biotics during the mission and the resulting stressing and maxing out of her amplifier. The older woman wasn't yet certain what exactly had caused the inflammation, but had given her strict orders to not use her biotics until it had subsided to avoid the risk of doing permanent damage to herself.

Shepard was quite aware of the implications of what had happened, while the exact cause of the inflammation wasn't yet known, that fact that it had happened at all indicated that there were some serious risks associated with continuing to use her biotics as she had been while still using her current amplifier. The possibility of developing permanent neural scarring if she continued stressing her amplifier after the neural tissues were inflamed being foremost in her mind. Either she needed to limit herself to using her biotics in a safe way, or she needed to stop procrastinating and figure out how to create the Prothean amplifier in Haerion Vandhen's memories. Her choice had already been made before they had reached the Citadel a few days ago, she just needed to call together Miranda and Tali, share what she knew with them, and then work with them to recreate the amplifier and its secondary amplification nodes.

Before she did that however, Shepard wanted to talk with Samara about what had happened in Hock's Vault. She paused for a moment outside the Starboard Observation Lounge where the Justicar resided and then palmed the door open. Stepping inside she greeted the asari who was meditating in her usual spot, "Samara."

Her body lit by the faintest bluish shimmer, the Justicar's head tilted very slightly as Samara acknowledged her greeting, "Amanda."

Hearing the asari call her by her first name was enough to lighten Shepard's mood and bring a brief smile to her lips as she proceeded into the room. She passed by the Justicar, who had not stopped meditating, and then stopped in front of the thick armored glass that separated the lounge from the airlessness of space and stared out at the star strung expanse.

Behind her, she heard the slight sound of Samara's biotics cease. "You have found another memory," the Justicar stated, and Shepard couldn't be sure whether she had heard a slight hint of concern in the asari's tone or if it were her own thoughts putting it there.

Drawing in a deep breath as her suspicions were confirmed, Shepard commented, "I suspected this one would show in my aura, and yes I did...in the middle of the mission as a matter of fact. Hock had a Prothean tablet in his art collection, upon it was inscribed a few words from the story of how the Universe and the Edhel were created by the deities Barathon and Breina. I stopped to read it and that triggered another set of memories: Senior Hand of Justice Yáviel Aldaelwa of the Edhel Empire's Office of Justice." She paused for a moment, and then added, "Kasumi was very lucky today that Yáviel didn't identify her as either a threat or responsible for what had happened to her."

Samara rose and came over to join her in staring out the observation window, "For how long was her memory dominant over yours?"

Shepard frowned, her mind going back over the short battle between her and the Eclipse squad as she tried to estimate how long it had taken, "Ten minutes perhaps? An Eclipse squad attacked shortly after her memories became active in my mind and pulled me…her from her memories of the past into what was going on in the vault. She is," the dark haired human shook her head in aggravation, sometimes these memories played havoc with her sense of time, "was very skilled in the use of her biotics."

"She fought against them mostly using biotics?" the Justicar inquired, turning her head to look at the human next to her curiously.

"Except for killing one by breaking his neck, yes," Shepard responded with a brief glance toward the asari. "The memory that first arose was of her and her team doing a stakeout of a criminal who was about to be arrested as soon as the Ministry of Justice issued a warrant in civilian clothing and without any weapons on them. Just as with Lindariel in my cabin, Yáviel believed that she had been kidnapped somehow and transported to another place. She never noticed that her body wasn't prothean or that she was wearing armor now and had weapons on her, so she fought with the only weapon she thought she had…her biotics and her hand to hand combat skills."

Samara expression turned thoughtful; after a few seconds she commented, "I find it curious that while these memories are dominant they do not notice the rather significant physical differences between prothean and human anatomy and realize they are no longer themselves."

Shepard inclined her head in agreement, it was curious that didn't happen, "They literally don't seem to be able to see the physical differences. Yáviel for instance didn't notice that she was wearing armor instead of civilian clothing much less anything else. I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that these are just memories that my mind is in the process of connecting to while I'm remembering them and not..." her voice trailed off for a moment while she considered how to phrase her thoughts, "Not the actual person with all the associated and appropriate neural physiology to comprehend that particular type of thing." Shepard frowned, "Even though that doesn't explain how their...personality I guess for lack of a better word, stays aware and in control when events jar my mind out of their memory into becoming aware of the current surroundings." She looked over at the asari with a shrug of her shoulders, "Something to ask Dr. Chakwas I guess."

"Indeed," Samara agreed easily, "as neither of us is well versed in neurophysiology…though I suspect your answer contains a kernel of the truth."

"True," Amanda replied, and then added ruefully, "Though I am getting better versed in it over time." Beside her the justicar smiled at her comment, and she smiled as well before returning her attention to the view in front of her.

Finally, after a long, though comfortable, silence between them, Amanda mentioned what she had come here to discuss in the first place. "Yáviel reminds me a lot of you," She turned her head to look at the asari standing beside her, "Or at least I think she does, in her outlook I mean and the way she thinks about fulfilling her duties. She was very dedicated to the Empire and its laws."

Samara turned her head to look over at her, the asari's expression subtly questioning.

Amanda had expected she would have to share a bit more than that, "The last Eclipse mercenary Yáviel fought, a human woman, tried to run away. Yáviel pulled her back using her biotics and then executed her because it was a capital offense to attack a Hand of Justice in the Empire," she explained briefly. She paused for a moment, her gaze going back to the vastness of space as she remembered, "Neither anger nor mercy were in her thoughts at that moment, only her duty to fulfill the laws of the Empire."

Beside her the Justicar made a slight sound of understanding, "So it is when I must past judgment by the Code. There is only the Code."

Samara's words brought up another memory of something the asari had said that Shepard had thought sounded a bit harsh at the time. "I might seem a hero to many, but I would kill all of them if I had to," Amanda said it as a statement of fact, her voice neither harsh with denouncement nor sad with regret, but steadily even just as the asari's had been when Samara first said it. Now that she had Yáviel's memories, she knew exactly what the Justicar had meant by it. Amanda looked over at the asari beside her, her light grey eyes meeting Samara's light blue ones with a steady understanding gaze.

The asari's eyes widened slightly and then Samara did something she had never done before; she reached up and briefly touched the side of Amanda's face before letting her hand fall back to her side. "You need to meditate Amanda," the asari stated, a certain sternness underlying her tone. "I do not wish for you lose the unique essence of who you are to these memories. I am dedicated to a Code whose purpose is to protect the innocent and punish the wicked, not offer enlightenment or guidance. You are dedicated to the ideal of justice and to your faith in the Goddess, both of which require that there be mercy toward those who are repentant of their actions and the promise of redemption and true forgiveness of wrongdoings."

Samara continued, "Though I have no doubt the Protheans were a noble people, from what I have seen of them I do not believe they shared your belief that we are equally the children of the Goddess. Would you turn your back on your beliefs and ways to embrace theirs? Would you turn your back on Her?" the asari challenged the human standing beside her.

"Never!" Amanda's sharp, even harsh sounding, rejection was uttered before there was even coherent thought to guide it, coming more from the heart than the mind.

Instead of taking offense at her tone, Samara smiled inscrutability, and the human noticed that the asari didn't look very surprised at her response. "If you were an asari you would make a fine priestess of either Athame or Sira," the justicar commented, her smile deepening. "That is not something I ever thought I would say of a Council Spectre."

Amanda could only stare at Samara as her mind registered that she had been deftly manipulated by the justicar into realizing precisely what the asari wanted her to…again.

Citadel – the Asari Embassy, Councilor Tevos' Office, the day following Shepard's mission on Bekenstein

As the last image flickered and then disappeared from the display screen in front of the asari Councilor, Elana Tevos settled back into her chair, a deep frown etching itself into her normally serene expression. As a part of the intelligence data they compiled to maintain an estimate of the current Krogan population, the CDEM forces monitoring Tuchanka attempted to keep track of every Rite of Passage that took place upon the planet. The long range surveillance video that the asari had just viewed had not been particularly clear or detailed, but it was the best the CDEM could do due to the fact that the krogan regularly searched for surveillance devices and destroyed them once they found them. Normally such footage would not be of any particular interest to the Council, which was why it had been overlooked for a few days before one of the intelligence agents reviewed it and realized that the CDEM had been entirely correct in forwarding it to Citadel Intelligence.

This particular surveillance footage was anything but normal however, the Rite of Passage recorded in it was for a young krogan who had been accompanied by two humans. One of the two humans was Spectre Shepard; the other biotic human was presumably Jack, the prisoner Shepard had freed from Purgatory. The goal of the krogan Rite of Passage was simply for a team of young krogan to prove they could survive in Tuchanka's harsh wilderness. Shepard's team had not only survived, but had killed everything that had attacked them.

Elana had never seen the human Spectre in battle before; if she had not known the identity of the fully armored female already, she would have assumed she was watching an asari commando and not a human. Shepard had impressive strength, speed, grace…and biotic ability. Tevos was fairly certain that none of the other Councilors, save perhaps for Valern, had the knowledge or experience of biotics to accurately gauge Shepard's skill level. Though the asari Councilor had no doubt they would be able to tell that the human Spectre was a strong biotic from the footage of Shepard's combat, she doubted they would see as clearly as she the indications of raw ability and already impressive expertise.

The human Spectre had used her biotic abilities to push objects, lift objects, and throw objects. She had created biotic shockwaves, created warp fields, created singularities, decreased her own mass, created a biotic barrier, countered a biotic attack…and successfully stopped a charging krogan warlord in his tracks. That had been a startling thing to watch. The human simply stood in place, unmoving and apparently unaffected by the seven foot tall krogan charging at her. Then Shepard's biotics had flared around her and she had met the krogan as if she had been holding an invisible shield, sending him flying through the air. The asari Councilor had watched Shepard's biotic counter to the charging krogan several times and she still had only general idea of how the human had managed such an impressive feat.

If it hadn't been for the fact that the Council had been briefed by Dr. T'Rani just yesterday on the results of Spectre Shepard's medical scans, the footage from Tuchanka would have made Councilor Tevos question whether or not the individual they thought was Amanda Shepard was actually Amanda Shepard despite the fact that C-Sec's DNA scanners had confirmed the human's identity. The Alliance Marine Commander the Council had made a Spectre had biotic abilities true, but they had been nowhere near the level of those the human female in the surveillance footage was displaying.

The record from Tuchanka clearly showed that not only did Shepard currently have a wide range of biotic skills, but also that the human Spectre could perform them in a combat environment and needed very little preparatory time to execute them. Even now, knowing what she did about the experimentation Cerberus had done to increase the size and density of the human's eezo nodules, Tevos was astonished that Shepard was showing such a depth of ability and level of control over her biotics after such a short period of time. It was enough to make her question whether or not the human was lying to the Council about when she had woken, except for one fact, whether two months or two years Tevos would find this level of biotic proficiency almost as equally unlikely. It took asari commandoes a decade or more of dedicated training to hone their abilities to the level that she had just watched the human Spectre display.

Thus the question of how the human Spectre was gaining such a proficiency in using her biotics so quickly remained an issue in the asari Councilor's mind. There was of course the possibility that the human was simply gifted in her ability to learn the skills needed to control her biotics and that combined with her prior biotic training with the Alliance explained her rapid advancement.

Or perhaps it was both natural giftedness and prior training combined with who was currently training Shepard in the use of her biotics, Justicar Samara. Justicars were among the most adept of asari biotic users, rivaling the most skilled matriarchs. Tevos would expect Justicar Samara to have an unusual depth of knowledge to teach Shepard. That of course brought up the intriguing question of why the Justicar was training the human Spectre. The Order wasn't known for mentoring or training those who were not intending on becoming Justicars themselves, though there was nothing in the Code of the Justicars that forbid it. It was just so highly unusual that Elana had never heard of one offering to train anyone who didn't intend to join the Justicar Order before now irrespective of whether they were human or asari.

Councilor Tevos shook her head, little about Spectre Shepard was proving to be the way the Council had thought it was when the human had come to them asking for their assistance over three months ago. Dr. T'Rani's rather detailed presentation of the extensive changes in the human Spectre's physiology and neural functions had come as an unexpected and unwelcome surprise on top of the recent revelation of Ambassador Udina's actions two years ago. The asari Councilor had expected Dr. T'Rani to inform them of some reconstructive work on the rest of the human's body given what they had seen of Chief William's scan of her face, but nothing as extensive as what the medical scans had revealed.

Shepard's supposed death as Councilor Metellus frequently referred to it, had turned into an unequivocal statement by the human Spectre that she had died. Burned by both the explosion of the Normandy as it was attacked and the process of reentry, broken from impacting into Alchera's surface, and then frozen solid by the sub-zero temperatures of the planet's icy weather - Elana had been rather concerned for Anderson when the asari doctor had repeated Shepard's own description of the state of her body when Cerberus acquired it. He had mentored the younger marine throughout much of her career, and it was obvious to her, the other Councilors, and Dr. T'Rani that this information had come as a distinctly unpleasant shock to him. They had actually paused the meeting long enough for the asari doctor to ensure that Anderson's alarming change of skin hue was simply from the shock of the news and not that there was something medically wrong with him.

Shepard's statement that she had died was backed up not only by her memories of her death and by the fact that she had found her own helmet upon the planet's frozen surface when she went to the crash site of the Normandy SR1 to place a memorial, but also by her medical scans. The sheer amount of bone, muscle and organs that Cerberus had replaced with biosynthetics as well as the extensive cybernetic and biosynthetic upgrades had been rather compelling evidence that what Shepard was telling them was very likely true.

The other possibility, that Cerberus had replaced so much of the human's body simply to make her believe that she had died, was unlikely simply due to the projected costs of such reconstructive surgery. Dr. T'Rani's estimate of the cost of Shepard's reconstructive surgery considering the fact that all of it was cutting-edge or highly experimental was in the billions of credits. When the number four billion was mentioned, the research doctor hadn't immediately discounted the figure provided it included the cost of developing some of the technology that had been used in Shepard's reconstruction.

As Councilor Valern had put it while dismissing the possibility that Councilor Metellus had raised, "One does not go through this amount of effort or spend billions of credits in reconstructive surgery simply to convince an individual that they were a corpse. There is no reason, given the technology that Shepard's medical scan indicates Cerberus has developed, to believe that they could not reconstruct Shepard's body to the point that it could sustain life and then resuscitate her. Without knowledge of a persuasive reason why Cerberus would need Shepard to believe that she had died when she had not, it is sensible to accept her statement that she died as the truth and proceed from there."

The salarian Councilor's argument had certainly been more persuasive to Tevos than what appeared to be Metellus' reactionary disbelief of anything Shepard told them. Without any reason why the terrorist organization would spend billions of credits simply to persuade Shepard that she had died, Valern was correct, it was more reasonable to accept that the human was telling them the truth.

Cerberus had achieved the previously impossible, bringing someone back from the dead; the only question was why had they spent so much time, effort and money on bringing back Shepard? Whatever the terrorist organization's reasoning, Tevos had no doubt that the Illusive Man was certain that he would gain more from it than his organization had spent. Shepard was a several billion credit investment for them, but what kind of payoff was Cerberus expecting from the human Spectre?

Indoctrination technology? That had certainly been an unexpected and unsettling revelation during the Council's first meeting with Shepard, not in the least of which was the fact that the salarian Councilor had not bothered to inform the rest of the Council that the STG had recovered the Matriarch and her follower's bodies nor about the results of their testing upon them. Or perhaps Cerberus was interested in obtaining the technology to genetically engineer obedient combat troops? Either technology would be worth much more than a few billion credits to whoever possessed it and the thought of Cerberus getting access to one or both chilled the asari Councilor. She had already accepted that the terrorist organization had most likely compromised their intelligence network, and this latest revelation about Shepard being brought back to life by them made it clearer the amount of resources, monetary and otherwise, that Cerberus controlled. Shepard had warned them that Cerberus was more influential and had more resources than the Council and Alliance had previously suspected, now Councilor Tevos was inclined to believe the human Spectre had been telling them the truth.

This only made Shepard's current investigation into Cerberus's motives in going after the Collectors even more critical in Councilor Tevos' mind. Critical enough that despite her growing concerns about the Spectre's emotional and mental state the asari was still not supporting Councilor Metellus' continuing efforts to have the human Spectre's status revoked.

Shepard's emotional state had been of enough concern to the asari Councilor that she had tasked Spectre Vasir with gathering more information about Shepard's actions and behavior on Illium, and that had been before Dr. T'Rani's report on the results of Shepard's medical scan when she had thought the human Spectre was dealing with knowledge of having been in a coma for almost two years. Now that the asari knew that the human had been actually been dealing with the knowledge that she had died, her body rebuilt, and then brought back to life nearly two years later, Tevos was even more concerned about Shepard's mental and emotional state and how it was affecting the human.

Shepard's refusal to look at the scans Chief Williams had done of her on Horizon and her statement that she remembered everything suddenly took on a new and darker meaning, and Elana had to wonder if remembering everything included Shepard remembering her own death from asphyxiation. That was hardly a pleasant memory to have, especially considering what else Cerberus had done during their reconstruction of Shepard's body. Drell neurochemicals had been used to stabilize the human's memories and keep them from degrading, a statement that was backed up by the neural changes evident in the human's neurological scan. As a result, Shepard's memories of the past and the way new memories were formed and stored had been permanently changed; from what the human had told Dr. T'Rani they were more drell-like now in their intensity and immediacy, and much more permanent. In addition, Shepard suffered from flashbacks to intense memories under certain circumstances and indeed had slipped into one during her discussion with Dr. T'Rani while discussing the finding of her helmet upon Alchera.

The asari Councilor sighed and rose from her chair, walking over to her office window to look out on her view of the Presidium. Yes, if these were normal circumstances she would certainly be seriously considering pulling the human Spectre off duty to undergo psychological counseling until cleared for duty. The only problem was these were hardly normal circumstances and it simply wasn't possible to get any other Spectre into a similar position to investigate Cerberus or their involvement with the Collectors and stop them. Therefore no matter how concerned Elana was over Shepard's mental state and behavior the asari would have to hope that the human Spectre was indeed adapting to the changes in her body as Shepard had claimed to Dr. T'Rani along with dealing with whatever psychological difficulties she was facing as a result of her death.

The asari's brown eyes wandered over the carefully manicured grounds below and the myriad of species walking along the pathways for a quiet moment. It would be enough if she we just concerned about the changes Cerberus had made to the human Spectre's body and Shepard's reactions to them and her death, but then there was also the matter of Ambassador Udina's actions in trying to undermine the Council's authority over the human Spectre and what had been revealed in Shepard's Alliance Records.

While making Shepard a Spectre hadn't been an empty action, least of all because it had mollified the Systems Alliance after the revelation that one of the Councils own Spectre's had gone rogue and attacked one of their colony world's, at the time the Council had not intended upon relying only on the first human Spectre to stop what had been until then their most skilled and dangerous agent. They had tasked several STG units to find and if possible stop the rogue Spectre as well, and had expected one of them to succeed in stopping Saren while at the same time giving the Council the opportunity to evaluating how well their first human Spectre performed in the field.

From the beginning that had not worked out as they had thought it would at all, the STG units, except for the one investigating Virmire, had failed to uncover Saren's location while Spectre Shepard showed an almost uncanny ability to follow Saren's footsteps and thwart his plans at every turn even if the human wasn't able to catch up to him. Now of course, after learning about the numerous obstacles Ambassador Udina and the Alliance had placed in Shepard's way, the asari Councilor had to wonder if the Spectre could have caught up with Saren well before he attacked the Citadel had she not had to fund a substantial portion of her expenses as well as try to appease her superiors.

Spectres were supposed to get support and funding through their own race's Embassy and have the support of their Councilor or in this case Ambassador. Two years ago the asari Councilor had not considered that would not be the case for Shepard. Tevos considered it unfortunate in the extreme that instead of receiving support from Ambassador Udina, Shepard had found herself battling against him and portions of the Systems Alliance Military every step of the way as she struggled to complete her mission successfully in spite of the obstacles put in her way. To compound the issue, the human woman had found her loyalty questioned by the very military she had faithfully served once she became a Spectre because she refused to yield to their demands that she dismiss the non-humans that she had recruited to be part of her team. What the asari Councilor had seen as a positive indication that humans were ready to think of more than just themselves, had actually been a display of Shepard's own personal convictions and a rather large dash of pure stubbornness.

That stubbornness had ensured that the human Spectre continued pursuing Saren even after Udina locked down her ship, but in this case it had worked against them all. If only Shepard had said something, asked a few questions…it would have become rapidly clear to Tevos, and most likely Valern as well, that the human didn't have the knowledge of how a Spectre operated that she should have had after reading the information they had sent her. Shepard hadn't however, instead interpreting the entire situation as a challenge the Council expected her to navigate and overcome in addition to tracking down one of the Council's foremost Spectre's.

Why the human had thought such a thing with so much at stake Tevos didn't truly know, but she had her suspicions. Only few days ago Shepard had clearly stated neither she nor they had any reason to trust one another when they had made the human a Spectre, and though Shepard hadn't said it, the clear message that she didn't trust them now nor thought that they trusted her had been unmistakable. It was hardly the most ideal situation between the Council and one of its Spectre's; especially given the critical nature of Shepard's current missions.

The asari Councilor suspected that the mistrust between them had begun with the Council taking Saren's word over the Alliances' regarding the attack on Eden Prime and then had only grown with every mission, driven mostly by Councilor Metellus' constant stream of unrelenting criticism. Now that she had Shepard's Alliance records in her possession, Tevos now knew why Shepard's reports after her mission on Feros had abruptly become less detailed. Councilor Metellus had been using the information in her reports to the Council to undermine her credibility with Ambassador Udina and the Systems Alliance Military. Elana had known that Metellus had objected strongly to Shepard being made a Spectre, but she had never thought that he would go so far or try such underhanded tactics in an attempt to get the first human Spectre's status revoked.

Now they were left with the fallout of his actions, not only in Shepard's continuing mistrustful attitude towards them, but now in Councilor Anderson's subtle change in attitude toward Councilor Metellus. Heralded by the human's sharp and rather pointed rebuke of the turian Councilor for the way he was speaking to and treating Shepard it was quite clear that Metellus had dishonored himself by his actions and behavior in both human's eyes. That fact was quite clear to the turian Councilor as well, and that only created added, and distinctly unneeded at this time, tension between the two Council members.

It was rare for the asari to regret a past decision, but now Tevos regretted that she had pushed to make Shepard a full Spectre instead of assigning the human to another Spectre for more evaluation and training after Nihlus Kryik had been killed. If an experienced Spectre assigned to track down Saren with Shepard as their trainee, Udina would have likely never even tried to intimidate the human woman. She could not go back and change the past however, instead she had to deal with the situation they now had in the present because of both Udina and Councilor Metellus' actions.

Councilor Tevos' hand raised, rubbed at her forehead for a moment and then swept over the crest of her scalp trying to ease away some of her current tension and concern and her thoughts went to the Council's most recent meeting with the human Spectre. She was used to thinking of Shepard as a three decade old human, impulsive, emotional, but showing occasional flashes of intelligence and insight that showed what the human could be if she survived long enough. Neither that person from two years ago nor the angry on-edge person that the Council had met three months ago had been present for Shepard's most recent meeting with them.

It would have been easier to understand and less disconcerting if she had, instead the human Spectre had displayed an admirable amount of calm self-control and maturity during both of her meetings with them. Shepard had maintained it even under Councilor Metellus near constant attempts to antagonize her and then when she and Councilor Valern had tested the human Spectre's newfound equanimity as well during their commentary on a Spectre's salary and compensation package. Elana had been especially impressed by the calm and well-thought out way Shepard had presented her arguments that the Council should support the efforts of her former crewmember Urdnot Wrex to unite the Krogan clans on Tuchanka.

Normally the asari Councilor would be pleased by such signs of maturity in a younger Spectre. Only in this case the sheer difference between how Shepard had acted a mere three months ago and how she had acted a few days ago was startling and unexpected to say the least, especially given what Elana now knew about what had happened to the human during the past two years. The way Shepard had spoken, the way she had acted, the way she had moved, all spoke of a level of experience and confidence in herself that it seemed impossible for the human to have gained in such a short period of time.

Rapidly growing biotic abilities, evidence of unexpected maturity, perhaps it was simply a result of what Shepard was going through in dealing with her death, but Tevos' instincts were telling her that all of it together was too sudden and entirely too implausible. Councilor Tevos was almost certain there was something going on that Shepard was not sharing with them…but what and how to find out?

The asari narrowed her brown eyes in thought, in this morning's intelligence briefing there had been new information about both Spectre Vasir and Spectre Shepard's current whereabouts and activities. Spectre Vasir was enroute back to the Citadel after completing her mission on Illium aboard an asari military ship, and yesterday afternoon Spectre Shepard had alerted the Bekenstein authorities to the illegal activities of one Donovan Hock. No one would remark on her visiting the Destiny Ascension today, she could easily use their communications equipment to securely speak with Spectre Vasir and find out what the other asari had learned about Shepard's activities on Illium as well as divert her to Bekenstein to ostensibly follow up on Shepard's initial investigation.

Her decision made about what step to take to regarding Shepard's unexpected and, at least to her, suspicious changes, the asari's mind moved onto another outstanding issue relating to the Spectre. Something that Councilor Anderson had mentioned after their meeting with Dr. T'Rani; the Prothean beacon message was not one of fragmented sounds and images as the Council had assumed from what little information Shepard had mentioned of it, but a mental message sent by Ksan Ishad the Overseer of the Ilos Research Facility about the attack on their Empire. The prothean's own thoughts and emotions about what was happening and his understanding of his own people…no wonder Shepard had been so affected by it even before the human fully understood it.

Even to an asari, an alien mind's thoughts could be confusing during a meld. Elana couldn't imagine how much more so they would be without any basis for understanding the species or to a human who was completely unused to mind to mind contact. Just how affected was Shepard by the nature of the beacon message and the cultural understanding of the Protheans imparted by the Cipher? And could that explain some of the behavioral changes she had seen in the human?

Illium – Eternity Bar, Nos Astra Main Trading Floor

"Are you sure you want another one of these?" the forming scowl on the asari maiden's face instantly faded as she recognized the subtly concerned voice of Matriarch Aethyta, one of Eternity's more unusual bartenders.

"Umm…" Liara stared down at her empty glass for a moment, was this her fifth or sixth one, she wondered before responding with a quiet sigh, "No I guess not." Before she could say anything more the matriarch had whisked away her glass and replaced it with a full glass of dlara juice.

"Keep you from getting as bad hangover with the way you've been tossing the drinks back," Aethyta explained gruffly as she sat the juice down in front of the maiden and then walked away with the empty glass.

Liars stared at the orange-red juice for a second before shifting her gaze to the back of the matriarch who was walking away from her. "Thank you," she called out after Aethyta, received a negligent seeming wave of one lavender hand in reply. The asari maiden continued watching until the matriarch was back behind the bar and serving another customer before taking a sip of the tart juice just delivered to her. This wasn't the first time the matriarch had seemed to pay more attention to Liara than the other customers, and the asari maiden suspected that, even though she didn't remember ever meeting Aethyta before, that the older asari likely knew her mother and was simply trying to keep an eye out for her.

As for the reason she had been drinking, she had received news finally from one of her contacts on the Citadel. Amanda had docked at the C-Sec docks to drop off a prisoner, most likely from Tuchanka as that had been where the Normandy had been last, then met with the Council twice in one day, and then met with and stayed with the Consort Sha'ira for the entire evening and night, only leaving after having breakfast the next morning.

At first Liara had been hurt, furious and betrayed at the idea that Amanda had been with Sha'ira just weeks after leaving Illium, even though she was well aware that she had been the one to end their relationship. In her anger she had even thrown into the bottom drawer of her desk the one thing of Amanda's that she kept in her office, the display of her dog tags, and vowed to forget about the human woman.

That anger had lasted for only an hour or so before Liara's more rational side began reminding her that, even though Amanda and the Consort had been intimate before she and the human Spectre had ever met, she knew that Amanda only felt a fond affection for the older asari and saw Sha'ira as a close friend. At one time she had been jealous of the matron and concerned about Amanda's close relationship to her. Sha'ira was much older, considered to be exceptionally beautiful by both asari and non-asari, and was a highly respected and much sought after consort. Once she had figured out what was bothering Liara, Amanda had been very open and honest about her feelings of friendship and affection toward Sha'ira as well as her respect for the Consort's wisdom and counsel...and about her lack of any deeper romantic attraction toward the matron. The two of them, despite their past intimacy, were indeed only friends.

That had been when the guilt had started, Liara knew that Sha'ira had offered both healing words as well as physical comfort to Amanda right after the attack on Eden Prime, helping the human deal both with what she had witnessed there and with the regular nightmares she had been having because of the Prothean beacon message. It didn't take much reflection for the asari maiden to come up with a few reasons why Amanda might have sought out Sha'ira during her most recent visit to the Citadel.

Liara had been so concerned about Amanda's reaction to finding out she was the one who had turned her body over to Cerberus and then about herself and her own emotions as well as her hunt for the Shadow Broker that she had never even inquired how Amanda felt about what had happened to her. Had not asked how her former lover was dealing with the knowledge of her own death or of how she came to be alive once again. Had not even called Amanda by her name until the last when she was telling her it was over between them.

And now...and now Liara knew that Amanda had accepted her decision that it was over between them. The human believed too much in fidelity to have spent the night with Sha'ira while still hoping they might be together again someday, and that left the maiden feeling emptier and more hurt than she had anticipated.

Normandy – Laboratory, Second Deck

Mordin, Tali and Miranda were all staring down at their respective data pads with every sign of rapt attention; either obvious in their expressions, or in Tali's case in her body language. Shepard hadn't originally planned on including the salarian doctor given the fact that she didn't want any information about her Prothean memories to make it back to the Council or Alliance, but then upon further consideration realized that the former STG operative wouldn't be able to resist finding out what the other two were working on in his lab and therefore might as well be included from the beginning. To head off his questions about where the information had come from, Shepard had set things up so he would assume that Cerberus was the source of information for the amplifier. With any luck, the salarian doctor wouldn't look any further and figure out that she was actually the source.

Upon the data pads they were reading, in a highly encrypted document, was everything Shepard thought they needed to understand about the Prothean amplifier to re-create it. Details about the firmware, the onboard VI in the primary amplifier to monitor and assist the biotic in creating and maintaining mass effect fields, and a through description of the neural fiber network and secondary amplifier nodes which supplemented the biotics ability to generate dark energy from their eezo nodules and added to their ability to finely control the mass effect fields generated from that dark energy as well as allowing them to have voluntary control over their own bio-electrical fields or aura so that they could communicate with one another.

Leaning against one of the laboratory benches that lined the walls of the laboratory, Shepard remained silent, letting each of them take their time in digesting the data she had just given them.

"Intriguing," unsurprisingly Mordin was the first of the three to finish reading the data. "Was not aware that Protheans were natural biotics like Asari, or regularly utilized mental connections to exchange information. Prothean data devices assumed to be purely data transfer devices like extranet communications system. Not carriers of memory processes." The salarian researcher crossed his arms and lifted one hand to his chin in a thoughtful pose, "Hmm, could partially account for why all such devices so far have been assumed to have severe data corruption. Still memory corruption, but also expecting wrong type of data output. Not correcting for digital recreation of biophysical memory processes of Prothean species."

Miranda looked up from her data pad a slight frown marring her brow, "That might allow us to separate out the memories and find more data, but without knowing exactly how Prothean memories are formed we still couldn't understand their memory processes, and it sounds like that might be where most of the information is contained." The Cerberus operative looked over at Shepard speculatively, "However, it seems as if you might."

Shepard grimaced at that unpleasant possibility, "I might," she reluctantly agreed, "but corrupted data is still corrupted data and I had enough headaches and strange nightmares from the first beacon for that exact reason. Besides, most of the messages would have been just that – messages. Technical data wouldn't have been sent that way."

"Still important data," Mordin disagreed, "Would be able to learn much about the Protheans from them."

"Not as important as stopping the Reapers," Shepard immediately disagreed, giving both Mordin and Miranda stern looks. "Our current mission is too important for me to get sidetracked to interpret what turns out to be a happy birthday message, or more likely everyday bureaucratic orders between governmental officials."

Mordin's thin mouth contorted momentarily in a grimace and then he nodded. "Agreed. Not as important as our current mission. Should we survive however, should inform the Council of the fact."

Shepard waved that off, "Anderson knows, I'm assuming that he informed them already. Besides, they didn't seem to think it was that important two years ago when I found out I could understand spoken and written Prothean on Ilos."

"Do we have any more information or maybe even examples of Prothean electronics and data storage devices than this?" Tali finally joined in on the conversation and Shepard turned her attention to the quarian whose slightly purple tinted visor was facing her. "It would be a big help to actually see what they looked like before we start trying to build one. I've never even thought about building a biotic amplifier before, and this isn't even one whose technology I'm even familiar with…and it's going in your body Shepard."

The clear note of discomfort in the quarian's voice caught Shepard's full attention. "I know it's a risk," she acknowledged, "but given what I'm doing to my current amplifier it's just as much of a risk to my health to not develop one which can better handle what I'm trying to do with my biotics now."

"After seeing the results from Dr. Chakwas after the last mission, I have to agree," Miranda said decisively. The Cerberus operative turned toward Tali, "I'll see what I can do about finding some Prothean technology for us to examine, and we can also consult with the team that built the current amplifier Shepard is using for ideas."