A/N: Oi vey, sorry for the massive delay. Summer vacations, no computer of my own and helping parents move really made writing difficult. Anyway, things are moving towards the big finale. I hope to finish it up by the end of this year, just in time for ME3 to show us how it really ends.
"No. I will not have it."
Shepard rolled his eyes, "You've made your position clear, Captain Xen. Numerous times."
Daro'Xen waved her hand derisively, "Then it should be apparent how absurd this whole idea is. I could understand giving her the benefit of the doubt when she was a quarian with nanites in her system. I could even accept, hesitantly though it may have been, the artificial intelligence on her ship. But I draw the line here. She was under the direct influence of a reaper. A process, you yourself said was irreversible. What guarantees do we have that she is no longer under Reaper control?"
"The way indoctrination works, for one." Regala didn't appreciate the scathing tone in Eva's voice, but said nothing, "When the indoctrinating reaper dies, it's subjects either die with it or recover. Had there been another reaper nearby, her indoctrination could've theroetically been transferred, true. But there wasn't, ergo she is no longer indoctrinated."
Daro laughed sarcastically, "And we are simply supposed to believe the word of an AI? One who admits to being one of the idiots that created this whole problem in the beginning?"
"Depends. Would you take your own advice on the geth? You are one of the idiots that created them after all, right?" Eva's eyes narrowed and Regala found herself glad she was just a hologram, otherwise there would've certainly been a fight.
"That is enough." Tali's voice cut any response Daro was preparing, "Both of you. We're here to discuss Aila's command, not to throw insults about."
"The AI is correct. Indoctrination requires constant monitoring. Like gardening." Mordin smiled slightly at his analogy, "Tests show nothing worrying. Elevated brain activity. Presence of biotics. Curious changes, but not signs of continued indoctrination."
"I want to believe you, doctor, but the truth is we cannot simply ignore the fact that she was under reaper control. You said it yourself, she has elevated brain activity. What if that increased activity is a way for another reaper to take control of her?" Councilor Anderson shook his head, "I don't want to throw the kid to the wolves anymore than you do, Tali. But we have to be damn sure it's the right move before we let her return to her duties."
"You say that like we'd let her return at all." Daro commented acidly, "She is a threat to the galaxy. We can't afford to play the role of 'bleeding heart' when faced with galactic extinction."
Han stepped forward and pointed forcefully, his voice grating dangerously, "Choose your next words carefully, Xen. I will not let harm come to my daughter."
Daro shrugged; "Then you should've done a better job, Han. She has already experienced 'harm'. The question now is if we risk her causing 'harm' to others."
"How dare you-"
"Admiral!" Tali held her hand up, "No one- " she shot a pointed look at Daro " is discussing hurting Aila. Please calm down."
"I'll let it go this time, but only because I believe you Tali'Zorah." Han sat down, still glaring at Daro'Xen, "But I will not let her harm my child, I don't care what 'threat' she sees in her."
Daro appeared to have a retort ready, but she was interrupted as Tsarina cleared her throat, "May I remind you, Ms. Ambassador, that this is not a purely quarian matter. The decision reached here could have far reaching implications on the whole galaxy."
"And what does the rest of the council think should be done?" Han asked warily, "Do they agree that my daughter is a threat to this galaxy?"
"We believe the situation warrants careful consideration." The salarian commented, "However, we are not as eager to act as some of those present. While the admiral's concerns are warranted, the expert testimony of Dr. Solus must be taken into consideration."
Tsarina nodded in agreement, "Dr. Solus. You believe Aila is not a threat?"
"Indoctrination is complex. Certainty regarding freedom impossible." Mordin held up his hand, "However, all tests indicate no indoctrination presence. Comfortable in saying she is safe. Should be observed, however."
"If there is nothing else to add, I propose we adjurn for one hour to consider our positions before a vote." Tsarina bowed slightly, "This meeting is in recess."
The Normandy had jumped back through the relay, letting the citadel fleet and geth handle collecting the reminants of Rentari, a collaborationt that seemed to be a surprise for all parties involved. Aila rested her forehead on the observation window, her thoughts wandering as she lazily gazed at the stars, her eyes trying to draw shapes and patterns in the small dots.
Throughout her life, that had been the one constant thing that she could always rely on: the serene calm that the stars gave her. Her brow crinkled slightly and she let out a disparing sigh. Not anymore. Now the stars were a curtain, hiding an evil far worse than her nightmares. An evil that she had, however briefly, been a part of.
The door behind her chimed and slid open, causing her ear to twitch slightly. She shifted her weight slightly, letting her arms fall to her sides and leaning back slightly as two arms snaked around her. She let a light smile inch across her lips as the arms tightened protectively, bringing her own hands up to rest on her partners.
"You don't deserve this." Regala whispered, holding Aila tightly, "Sure, it was your idotic, fool hardy plan that got you captured, but last I checked being a prisoner of war wasn't a crime."
Aila smiled, "But the last time you checked, the enemy wasn't capable of mind control and didn't possess technology that maked ours look like stone chisels."
"You heard Mordin. You are you again." Regala spun Aila around, "It's not like you're some... sleeper agent the reapers planted to sabotage our plans. Sure, having you carefully observed makes sense, but-" Her sentence was interrupted by a tender kiss.
Aila gently cupped Regala's cheeks and tilted her head, "I know. And I would be lying if I said I didn't want them to come back and say "Mordin is right. Here's your ship back, have fun" when we go back into that room, but-" she lowered her head, her hands sliding down to rest on Reg's shoulders, "... it won't happen that way. It can't happen that way. Too much is at stake, I know that. Will they execute me? No. Even if all of Daro's posturing is true, the rest of the board and the council wouldn't go for it." She sighed and turned to gaze back at the stars, "But I'm not getting the Illusion back. Keelah... it would be a miracle if they let me anywhere near the front-lines of the upcoming battle."
"I'm sorry, Aila." Aila's head whipped back around, a confused look evident on her brow. Regala sat down heavily, "Part of this is my fault too. I should never have let you sacrifice yourself on that ship. I should have... Keelah, I don't know. Knocked you senseless so you couldn't pull your damned heroine routine."
She leaned into Aila's hand as it wiped a tear from her cheek, "That would've gotten us all killed, and you know it Reg." Aila kneeled and grabbed Reg's hands, "Indoctrination is... its hard to describe. You are yourself... mostly, but there is a part of you that can only watch. Its like they divide your personality into segments and only let certain ones effect your actions." She shook her head, "Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I had time to think. Time to just... look at everything; where I was, where I had been, the steps I took. And during this inner contemplation, I guess you could call it, I came to a realization- " She looked up and laughed slightly, "And you'll love this. The realization that... my actions and approach has been... impulsive, reckless... keelah, its been downright childish at times."
Regala bit the corner of her lip and smirked slightly, "It has been that, hasn't it?"
"Told ya you'd love it. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that the only person responisble for my current mess is me. There are dozens of paths I could've taken that would have resulted in a better present." She stood up and pulled Reg to her feet, "I can't fix those, but I can make sure my next epic "screw the pooch" moment isn't my fault. And it starts by accepting whatever verdict I am given and doing whatever I can within that situation."
Regala tilted her head forward, resting it against Aila's forehead, "That was... disturbingly mature coming from you, dear. But regardless of what path you choose, I'll be by your side the whole way." She quirked an eyebrow, "This is Aila, right? Not the indoctrination talking? How do I know you'll still be you?"
"Don't worry, sweetie." Alia giggled and kissed Reg's cheek lightly, "I'll be giving you headaches again in no time. Besides-" She shook her head, her long black hair falling between them and lightly obscuring her face, "This particular change is rather ravishing, no?"
She yelped as Reg flicked her forehead, "It'll give me something to drag you out of bed with, that's for sure."
EDI's blue sphere appeared next to the window, "They've voted, Ms Gerrel. They want to see you now."
"Aila'Gerrel vas Illusion, please step forward." The room adopted an air of tension as Aila stepped forward, glancing at her father and Regala for support before turning to face Tsarina, "The assembled conclave has reached a decision regarding the extent to which you will be allowed to return to active duty, if at all, as well as what cares should be taken to ensure the security of the galaxy."
"It is the will of the assembled delegates that Aila'Gerrel be stripped of her command of the quarian vessel Illusion. She is to report for duty on-board the Alliance vessel, SSV Normandy at the request of Captain Shepard. This decision is based on testimony by Captain Shepard and Dr. Mordin Solus, who will keep Lieutenant Commander Gerrel under careful observation for the forseeable future." She looked at Aila, "Do you have any questions, lieutenant commander?"
Aila gazed around the room, "What about my... I mean, the Illusion's crew, councilor? Who will command them?"
Daro'Xen raised her hand, "That will be discussed at a later date. It is a purely quarian matter, after all." She glanced sideways at Tsarina.
If the councilor noticed, she didn't show it, instead nodding in agreement, "We have also taken into consideration your... relationship with Lieutenant Darini. She will be re-assigned to the Normandy as well."
Regala's face colored slightly, as Aila's mouth hung open a tad, "My... relationship? How did the council... find out?"
Tsarina smiled slightly, "Ms Gerrel, I have lived for 634 years, I can tell when two individuals have feelings for each other." She looked over at Han, "Besides, your father vouched for keeping you two together."
Aila cleared her throat and fidgeted with her hands slightly, "Councilor, I would be lying if I said I was happy with the ruling..." she detached her command star and held it gently before setting it on the table, "but I understand it had to be done. Just... promise me my crew won't be split up under the new captain, and that whoever is in charge is the best you can find. They deserve as much."
"Don't worry, Commander Gerrel." Tali leaned forward, "We will put the well-being of the Illusion first, she is too valuable to tie up with back-room politics." Her pointed gaze drew a haughty scoff from Xen, which she pretended to ignore, "We'll make sure you stay informed about our decision."
"In the mean time, EDI and Eva were able to mine the reaper's databases before it was destroyed." Shepard tapped on the desk and brought up a galaxy map, "EDI?"
"Analysis of the database reveals a series of references to the Bahalk system in Batarian space." The system flashed on the map.
"The Batarian Hedgemony lost contact with that system a few days ago, according to our sources." The salarian councilor commented, "The relay paired with that system's is not allowing transport either. They're trying to keep the situation internal, but an entire system going dark is hard to mask."
"The only reason a relay wouldn't transport is if the destination relay was destroyed." Eva appeared next to the galaxy image, "EDI and I have come to the conclusion that the reapers have arrived, and that somehow the mass relay in the Bahalk system was destroyed."
A stunned silence fell on the briefing room. Tsarina finally broke the calm, "You're saying the reapers are currently in our galaxy?"
"Unfortunately, yes. However, we still have time." Eva rotated the galaxy map, then drew lines from the highlighted system to other systems, "If the relay was operational, we'd be up to our necks in reapers by now. Whoever destroyed it might have saved the galaxy, if we can come up with a plan in the time between now and the reaper's reaching another system with a relay."
Shepard leaned against the table, "How much time to we have?"
She shrugged, "Hard to say. Rentari's ship had been modified from it's original design, I can only make a guess at the speed and range. Worst case, things get interesting in 3 months."
"And by 'interesting', I gather you mean 'we're all gonna die'..." Reg commented dryly.
"If we aren't prepared, definitely." She smirked apologetically, "Even if we are prepared, that could happen. With your technology, it takes entire fleets to destroy one reaper."
Aila leaned against the table, smiling at Eva, "I sense a 'but' coming."
"Am I that easy to read?" Eva spun the map again, this time illuminating a patch of empty space, "The 'but' Aila picked up on is here, assuming they didn't find it. It's another station similar to the one I was found on, originally built in our home system before massive comet impact knocked the planet it was on it out of it's orbit, eventually resulting in it leaving our system all together. Our government wrote the entire installation off, stripped it and just let it fade out of memory."
Daro's hand shot up, "Should we be discussing this with her present?" She motioned Aila's direction.
"Programmed her omni-tool to emit blocking field." Mordin motioned towards her arm, "No active connections possible. Monitoring her vital signs. No indication of indoctrination."
"Admiral Xen. While your concern is understandable, we discussed this in-length during the deliberations." Tali snapped, "Doctor Mordin will inform us if the situation changes. At this point, even if the reapers find out they're in no position to combat our plans until they reach the next relay anyway."
"Knowing about the facility wouldn't help them either." Eva commented, "They could even know the location and how to get there, but without a piece of knowledge only I have, they'd never get there."
Daro threw her arms up, "Very well, we'll do it your way. I still don't see how a stripped and abandoned station is going to help us."
"Our government might have written it off, but not the military. It became a black installation, one that never existed and was never used for missions that never happened. When the reapers began their extermination dance, the facility cut all communications and went dark, much like the outpost I was on. If we're lucky, the reapers never found the station."
"How do you know about this station and where it is? If it's drifting, it might have been destroyed ages ago. And there is the problem of getting there without the use of a relay."
"I know about the station because my superior was one of the few who knew about it." Eva snapped, glaring at Daro pointedly, "When the reapers attacked, he gave me all the information he could about it before locking the outpost down. How do I know it hasn't been destroyed? I don't. But do you have a better idea?"
"You still haven't mentioned how we're supposed to get there." Daro waved her hand, dismissing Eva's challenge.
"Sweetheart, we built the relays." Eva answered, grinning as she drew an irritated glare from Daro, "The facility has a small-scale relay on-site. We find a relay that's in a position to make a connection and I input new parameters based on the estimated location of the facility. If we receive travel confirmation, we know the facility exists."
"The mass relay in the Phoenix Massing is currently within the contact margin." EDI commented, "Based on relay size calculations provided by Eva, the Normandy is just small enough to make the transit."
"Whats the reason for going, Eva?" Shepard asked, "Are there weapons or designs there that we could use?"
"Yes and yes. It was a "black operations" facility with a sizeable armory and the blueprints needed to produce spares. If I can get it back online, we could begin outfitting your fleets with more effective weapons, give them a better survival chance against the reapers."
"Captain Shepard, take your ship and investigate this facility." Tsarina looked at the rest of the groups in attendance, "The rest of us will mobilize our forces and establish a command hierarchy. I, for one, don't plan on going the way of the protheans. May the Goddess watch over you. All of you."
A/N: Yep, the pieces are falling to place. If you payed attention to previous chapters, you can probably see how things are eventually going to reach a conclusion. Aila losing the Illusion is a bummer, but they couldn't just let her carry on her merry way considering what she went though.