A/N: This is a Mass Effect 2 fic, a direct sequel to Dancer in the Dark and Tomorrow's Dawn. This also follows fics Just Like Old Times, Friends like These, Second, and The Lioness and the Bull in that order. They are not required reading, but do establish the characters in this particular timeline.

While I've tried with my previous stories to stay within the framework of ME canon (if there can be such a thing) this plot line diverges right at the end of ME2 and prevents the events in Mass Effect 3 from happening. Sorry, James, Samantha and Steven... you won't be coming along this time around.

As usual, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy!

"Well viewers, it's been quite a day for all of us on the Big Blue Marble, hasn't it? Our 'friends' at the Citadel have never been happy with us, have they? Forget that the only reason they're still there is that our entire 5th fleet was almost wiped out saving them from the geth. It was the least we could do, right? I mean when blood spilled on Eden Prime at the start of the geth invasion, they rushed to defend us. Oh, that's right, they didn't. It was a 'human problem.' And tens of thousands of human lives were lost.

"So when the geth went knocking on the Council's door, what do you think happened? They piled into the Destiny Ascension, the biggest, baddest freakin' dreadnought in known space- and tucked tail and ran. They abandoned the Citadel and tried to escape. They fled, while ships like the Jakarta, the Warsaw and the Cape Town threw themselves into the fire, saving them and their precious seat of government. Not to mention millions, millions of people of all species. Not just humans, mind you... But asari, turian, salarian, elcor, hanar, drell, volus and I bet you even some batarians in the lower wards. We didn't ask whose lives we were saving. We didn't check to see who was friend or who was foe, or just decide to save our own. Because that's not the humane thing to do. Our humanity is just not something these aliens seem to understand. But we didn't let that stop us from saving them.

"And ever since, every move we've made in the Attican Traverse and even the Terminus to protect our interests and defend ourselves against alien aggression has been criticized at every turn. We hear cries of 'human impulsiveness,' 'human racism...' and 'human aggression.' Aggression? Or initiative through the eyes of those who don't try as hard? Maybe it was equal amounts of both that kept us all from being overrun by the geth hordes unleashed by the quarians centuries before humanity ever turned its eyes to the stars. And what thanks did we get? Other species blocking us at every turn, fighting against any initiative they perceive as giving humanity the slightest edge. And you know why? Because in less than a hundred years, we've accomplished what's taken them millennia to do. And it scares them, plain and simple.

"But we do have one thing in common... Yesterday's news... I- I'm not gonna lie. That even took me by surprise. Not just that the geth were going to sit down and talk with their previous masters. That had to happen sooner or later. Let's face it, the way things are going, the quarians are just going to die out and turn into an artificial asteroid belt in whatever system they're currently scavenging. What its name? Laye? Leyya? Somebody needs to look into who owns that piece of real estate, because there might be something worth salvaging if the quarians render themselves extinct.

"Anyway, after yesterday's revelations there was another bombshell that you're not hearing about. Future Content isn't reporting on it. Westerlund News has been quiet on the subject. But the Council certainly hasn't been. They got a big ol' bug up their collective asses and boy have they been letting Arcturus hear about it. What is it, you ask? Why are they complaining to us about what the quarian and geth are doing on the other side of the galaxy? You won't believe it when I tell you.

"You see, Alliance Command took it upon itself to start these talks between the Migrant Fleet and the geth. You heard correctly. We brought them together. Sources have confirmed that peace initiative came from the diplomatic corps on Arcturus Station where the newly commissioned SSV Shenyang, ironically named after one of the eight ships destroyed by the geth at the battle of the Citadel, was dispatched to the Leyya system two weeks ago. They have since been on station at the quarian flotilla, awaiting the arrival of geth diplomats, if there is such a thing.

"Not that I can think of anything better for one of our newest, most modern warships to be doing at this particular time. I mean, we've only had, what, five or six colonies, hundreds of thousands of our people go missing? Certainly we can spare one ship, what with all the reinforcements the Council has sent in to prevent these new Eden Primes from continuing among our most exposed colonies. Oh, right. They haven't! Again, it's a human problem. I keep forgetting.

"So with our colonies under attack, our own people vanishing into thin air, once again we're the ones stepping outside our boundaries trying to make peace for others. And once again, what do we get for our troubles? That's right. Hindrance. Obstruction. Calls to have our seat on the Citadel revoked, and not just by representatives of the Council species. And you know what? This is going to shock you. I never thought I'd hear myself say this... but I agree with them one hundred percent. Maybe it's time we pull out.

"I mean, is this really any of our business? I feel bad for the quarians. I really do. It's a tragedy having to lie in the bed they made and all, but do we really have a stake in seeing a bunch of former slave masters try to reconcile with a race of homicidal robots? Don't we have more pressing issues, like finding where our colonists have disappeared to? Do you think maybe, just maybe, the geth might be behind this latest rash of attacks to begin with? Even if they're not, maybe we should be discussing a little unfinished business we have. Compensation for Eden Prime perhaps? Apologizing to the families of the thousands of servicemen and women who died defending the Citadel against their invasion?

"And let's not forget about our new friends we're so eager to help. The quarians. There's a reason they've have been stuck in space since before humans had powered flight. They've had countless opportunities to atone for unleashing the geth into civilized space. Have they done it? No. Have they even tried? No. Are they going to? No! According to them, they're the victims. It's the geth's fault the quarians gave them sentience, just like it's the geth's fault they decided to use it. Had the geth been just a little more successful in their rebellion and killed all their creators, who knows what problems would have been avoided down the line? I certainly don't support genocide, but in the grand scheme of things, you gotta wonder if the geth would have attacked us at all if they had better role models.

"The 'Migrant' Fleet. Ha. Let's take a close look at what that means. Migration, by definition, means moving from one destination to another. Look it up in the dictionary. 'To move from one country or region and settle in another.' The quarians don't migrate. They're not settling anywhere. They've never even tried adapting or integrating with any other culture. It's an infinite universe, filled with an infinite number of worlds they could discover and colonize, and they've got a fleet larger than any other species in the galaxy combined. So why haven't they done it? In the past century, we've colonized dozens of systems, hundreds of worlds. It takes hard work. Perseverance. But at a more basic, simple level, we decided to do it so our species wouldn't be confined to one world. So that humanity, regardless of what happens to Earth, will persevere. You don't keep all your eggs in one basket.

"The quarians just don't seem to have that drive. Is it any wonder they lost their homeworld? Is it any wonder they don't have a single colony to call home? Who's to blame for that? I got two guesses for you. It ain't the geth, and it certainly ain't us! No, they'd rather wander space for the rest of eternity and blame everyone else. It's probably bred into them by this point. Space is their home.

"The 'Migrant' Fleet... Maybe it's time we start calling the flotilla what it really is. The Vagrant Fleet. They don't contribute. They don't build. They take. They consume. They descend on a system like locusts and strip bare any planet they can reach. They steal, and pilfer from those who are truly struggling out on the rim of civilized space, robbing what other honest, decent folk worked hard to earn, and when everything of value is gone they move on. It's a vagrant fleet. An invasion fleet.

"Even their mere passing will tie up a mass relay for days. Imagine having to wait a week before traversing the Charon relay just to get to Arcturus. Imagine for a moment, what would happen if the Vagrant Fleet were to come to Sol. I hate to say it, but if the quarians and geth can't make peace, can that be far behind? Are we going to offer up our home to the poor, helpless quarians? Is our solar system next to host the great galactic tent city, until what little resources we have left are sucked dry?

"It makes you think, doesn't it? Now you know I don't support extremist groups like Earth First, Terra Firma or Cerberus. But I understand them. I understand the need for them. In a galaxy where every other species looks out for itself, where they predate our ascension by centuries, and in some cases millennia, sometimes it takes a few radical voices to make us pay attention to what is going on right under our noses. We have it pretty good here, and it makes us complacent. And even though Chicken Little runs around with his tiny wings in the air screaming 'the sky is falling,' sometimes it's not just an acorn falling from a tree. This time, the sky may truly be falling.

"Of course, the Council has a lot to say on this subject. They're furious that we 'upstart' humans are trying to negotiate galactic issues without consulting them first. But do you really think it's just because we didn't ask permission or circumvented some back-channel protocol? No. They're angry that we might be able to solve a problem they created when our ancestors were just mastering the art of sailing on the open seas. It makes them look bad, more ineffectual than they already do. They don't want us solving any more problems because the more problems we solve, the more responsible we become, and the more the galaxy looks to us to solve its problems. And all we'll get for it is more problems, both home, and out there. And that, my friends, is the problem!

"So I'm going to say something you'd never expect to hear me say. I assure you that right now I am at my most lucid and am under absolutely no duress. But maybe, just maybe the Council is right on this one. Maybe we just need to sit back and let the rest of the galaxy solve their own issues. Maybe it's our turn to throw up our hands and say, 'this isn't a human problem.' Because, when it comes to both of the parties at the negotiating table here, we may be courting disaster regardless of which side comes out on top.

"Now before I say goodnight, I leave you with one parting thought. There have always been rumors, dear friends, that the former hero of the Citadel, the first human Spectre himself, Commander Shepard... I- If there's a finer representative of what humanity is capable of, I- I just can't imagine. And when he was lost with over twenty of his crew it was a loss for all mankind. But the rumors have always persisted that not even the geth could kill Shepard.

"These are rumors no more. It's been confirmed now that Commander Shepard is alive. He went into hiding two years ago, after the Council that he and his crew fought so hard to defend sent him on the suicide mission which destroyed the SSV Normandy. And can you blame him? After the loss of his ship, his friends, who wouldn't step back and say, 'This is what I'm fighting for?'

"But who is he working for now that he's back? Not the Citadel Council, as if you had to ask. Not the Alliance, either. No, Commander Shepard has apparently renounced his allegiance to both. After all, if one is declared dead, then who really has authority over you? But why go dark for so long? Why the secrecy? Why would the greatest hero in the history of the galaxy go underground? I have an idea. Maybe he got tired of putting his life on the line, day after day, only to be hung out to dry by the very governments he was defending. Maybe he was tired of fighting with his hands tied behind his back and decided the best way to defend his people was to cut those ties that bound him. Far fetched, you say? Outside the realm of possibility? The crazy musings of just another talking head? Well, before you discount me, wait until I tell you just who Shepard is taking orders from these these days. The Citadel knows it. The Alliance does, too. And the answer may, or may not surprise you.

"Commander Shepard now works for Cerberus... Cerberus. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Makes you wonder if maybe, just maybe, he knows something we don't. We have to take a break. We'll be right back..."

Throughout the galaxy, accretion disks formed with many compositions. Some gas, some ice, others mineral. This particular disk was unique, a black hole surrounded by the shattered hulls of ships of every size and design. Countless numbers of these metallic carcasses drifted lazily in orbit, marking eons of destruction, a final graveyard of silent memorials to cultures long dead and undiscovered, never known and thus never forgotten.

Far at its edge, in the shadow of a gutted hulk almost a kilometer in length, the Normandy SR-2 hovered in darkness as her crew worked feverishly to keep her from becoming the latest monument.