Chapter One: Observation and Reconstruction

Note: Most of the characters cited in this work are the property of Bioware, and under copyright. I make no claims on them, and wrote this work solely for my own amusement. This story is inspired by Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2, and follows the continuity established by my previous story, The Spirit of Truth, which I invite you to read. This story starts 3 years after my postulated end of Mass Effect 3, which may be entirely moot in 10 months or so, when the game debuts.

This story contains implied alien-human intimacy and overt erotic content, and is told in 4 parts.

Each part is synopsized below. Synopses may be skipped, but do not contain any important spoilers.

If you are reading this story for the first time, then I highly suggest you read it to the end before you check out the forums, the wiki, or the fanart.

Change is a constant part of any universe and every character in this story changes, sometimes dramatically, over time. I'll leave it to you, the reader, to discover what happens. So please enjoy the story for what it is.

Spirit of Redemption:Chapters 1-14

Shepard and Garrus, who have had hybrid children courtesy of Collector technology and the good offices of Dr. Mordin Solus, continue to make the galaxy a safer place after the defeat of the Reapers. To that end, they recruit new Spectres—the human, Sam Jaworski; a rachni, Sings-to-the-Sky; a geth, Cohort; a krogan, Gris; and a turian. . . none other than Garrus' nemesis, Lantar Sidonis. All of these new Spectres have multiple responsibilities—familial and personal and professional—which pull them in different directions, as the forces of human prejudice and hatred come to the Spectre base on Mindoir, threatening all of their families. In the end, Garrus must decide if he can truly trust his life, and the lives of his family, to a man who betrayed him once before.

Spirit of the Hunt: Chapters 15-27

Continues the story of Redemption with the revelation that the human Adam and Eve Coalition cultists were being manipulated by outside forces, under the direction of one person: "The Leader." Strange artifacts of the Sower Civilization are found, and the young people of Mindoir—Elijah Sidonis, Rellus Velnaran, and Dara Jaworski—begin to explore options both professional and romantic in this strange new galaxy. But the fight once more comes home to Mindoir, with tragic results.

Spirit of Unity: Chapters 28-73

Relics of the Sowers have been stolen by a renegade faction of salarians. Shepard steps back from direct command for personal reasons, and Garrus and the other Spectres take the investigative lead, moving from Rannoch, the quarian homeworld, to Omega and all points in between. In the meantime, Rellus Velnaran and Dara Jaworski train to fight at the sides of their respective Spectre relatives.

Spirit of Victory: Chapters 74-and continuing

In the wake of the events of Spirit of Unity, the batarians are restless. War is coming, and new Spectres are needed. Rinus and Kallixta, Rellus and Dara, Elijah and Serana, and Siara and Makur are the young guns of the galaxy, joined by new characters as they attempt to prevent the batarians, and their new allies, the yahg, from destroying the peace that their parents have worked so hard to create.

Author's note: Pardon the intrusion, but I'm re-uploading this chapter to inform my readers, that if they're interested in more of my work, my first novel has been published to Kindle. You can read it on any electronic device, with the Kindle app. You can find a direct link to the novel on the Kindle store in my FanFiction profile.


The Normandy entered the Menvra system, scattering particles of light around it as it slowed from relativistic speeds. Cruising now, Joker plotted a course that would swing them around the gravity wells of the outer gas giants, both for the tour and for the fuel efficiency. He never really got tired of seeing planets from space. "They say, you've seen one ammonia-methane gas giant, you've seen them all," he told EDI, "but I disagree. Wait a second. Haven't I seen that blue one before?"

"This is, in fact, the seventh time the Normandy has visited this system," EDI chided him as the planet vanished to port, and a new giant appeared in the viewport. "Aerobraking maneuvers will be required in five minutes, Jeff."

"I know, I know." He studied the next planet as it loomed larger and larger ahead of them, taking in its rings of ice, its dozens of moons, the pristine, almost pure white of its clouds. "The new station has a hell of a view. All the diplomats might even look up at it once in a while, and get all distracted."

The station, of course, was Bastion. Locked in orbit around the ringed giant Turan, it caught the orange light of the K-type star Menvra and glittered like a jewel in the depths of space. Only a quarter of the way through construction, it was already close to the size of the original Citadel—the station it was intended to replace.

No one knew for sure if Shepard and her crew had managed to destroy the Reapers for all time. It seemed likely, but it might take another 50,000 years to be sure. So, the new Council had decided that in the wake of the great war, some infrastructure changes were going to be needed. Since everyone had a wartime economy, it was an ideal time to start, too. First, new research in travel technologies that didn't involve mass effect drives were heavily subsidized. Quite a few researchers were pursuing dark energy drives, in fact. Multiple technologies, and reliance on no single alternative, were the order of the day. Humans were at the forefront of this research; of all the races, they had most recently been pursuing other alternatives anyway. They only had to go back thirty years and dig up data and thought processes documented out at Jump Zero. The salarians were investing heavily in the research as well, but since they and the asari had been solely using mass effect technology for 2,700 years or so . . . they had a lot of retraining to do.

Second, new mass relays that did not link to the existing grid were being built. This marked the first time since the Protheans that any race had attempted to build new mass relays, and this new grid was designed to be substantially different from the old. The oldest relays were being moved, at enormous cost, to new locations, where they would only link to one another, a closed loop. The new grid would be, eventually, more extensive than the old, and, if the specs were right, any relay could link to any other in the entire network, allowing for much greater flexibility. It was no longer a hub-based system. Or it would be, when it was finished being built.

The Citadel itself was being slowly closed down. It had been badly damaged in one of the last battles, and it was, after all, the center of the Reaper web of technology. The Council had decided that to destroy it would, in effect, be a form of xenocide, since the Keepers were a species almost completely symbiotic with the station; they could no longer live outside of its confines. It was, however, too much of a temptation towards stagnation, to continue to use the Citadel as a hub of commerce and diplomacy and travel. Thus, Bastion was born.

The brainchild of a team of human and turian engineers, it was, in essence, an artificial moon, simple and spherical in shape, rotating between a spray of long wedges, each of which would be docking and defense platforms, when completed. Where the Citadel looked like an open flower with delicate petals, the Bastion would be a sunburst, a closed globe with rays outstretched. Where the Citadel placed the people on the outskirts, on the arms that were the wards, the Bastion moved people inside, into multiple shells that rotated to create gravity. Also, where the Citadel had used the nebula around it as a defense, Bastion would be slightly more exposed, yet more mobile. When complete, station specs called for it to have a propulsion system capable of slow orbital maneuvering; in case of attack, it would be able to move into the protective embrace of the gas giant's massive ring structure. Its massive kinectic fields would be able to deflect the debris, but no ship known, short of a Reaper, should be able to do the same. In theory, anyway. Its large mass required delicate placement, as well; its gravity well might otherwise disturb the existing stable orbits of Turan's moons.

At the moment, of course, Bastion was mostly a delicate web of scaffolding, limned with the fire of the system's star. The station's reactor core was visible, deep in the heart of the struts and beams, and it glimmered as Joker watched, a tiny star itself, fragile and exposed. Joker didn't have the physics background to grasp how it was possible, but this was not a mass effect core; rather, it was, apparently, a dark matter micro-singularity. It sounded . . . dangerous and unstable. As beautiful as the station was, docking the Normandy with it made him nervous . . . every time. "They've got the reactor online? Damn, they're working fast." Joker asked, adjusting their approach again. "Last time, I think they were still using portable generators in the living areas."

"Station records indicate the reactor came on-line yesterday. It is only operating at ten percent of nominal load, pending further testing." EDI sounded approving as she rattled off more information. "They have increased the size of the habitable area. One half of the completed area is pressurized to Earth standards. Additionally, there are several sectors reserved for non-oxygen breathing guests," she answered softly. "The skeleton itself is complete, and the station is indeed turning, generating enough force to simulate gravity within each of its admittedly incomplete concentric shells. It is indeed a remarkable feat of engineering and determination. Aerobraking maneuvers in two minutes."

"I know. Give me a countdown starting in one minute." He began touching the various consoles, altering their trajectory minutely. They were going to burn off a lot of speed as they swung around Turan, grazing its upper atmosphere, and then would come about into the lanes of dock traffic in a graceful parabola.

Behind him, Joker heard a throat clear. EDI didn't bother switching from her personally chosen self-image of a tawny-haired human female back into her default blue eyeball avatar, so Joker knew it could be only one of two people behind him. "Hell of a view, isn't it, Commander?" he asked.

"Hell of a view, and a hell of a statement," Shepard agreed. Joker glanced up, seeing the black hair, blue eyes, and white and blue facepaint that most of the galaxy knew her by. He also saw the lines of tiredness under the eyes, lines that spoke of long hours and sleepless nights. "There's a rumor going around that now that the quarians are resettling their homeworld, an entire generation of their people is coming here to work for their Pilgrimage," she commented after a moment. "They trade their technical skills for the money their people need to rebuild their home. Everyone wins."

"Yeah, till it's finished. If it gets finished. You know how governments get about budgets and boondoggles. And this baby will take a good seventy-five or eighty years to be finished." Joker didn't add the dark thought that plagued him now, occasionally: If I live to see it. Out loud, he continued, sardonically, "The galactic press is billing this as construction on an asari timescale. 'Only the asari have the patience to see this kind of massive project through to completion.'" He mimicked the voice of a newsfeed announcer perfectly, while making his disdain clear.

Shepard leaned against his chair, and snorted. "Bullshit. Most medieval cathedrals literally took generations to build. Sometimes three generations of builders worked on them for their entire lives, grandfather, son, and grandson."

"Well, you have to admit, generations were a little shorter back then. Low life expectancy, and all that." He gave her a sidelong look. "We short-lived humans are just not meant to take the long view of such matters, you know."

"If it took a century to build, it took a century to build, same today as back then." Her expression was imperturbable under the turian clan paint she wore. Like the marriage knife in a sheath at her left wrist, buckled into the bands of her omnitool, it was an inseparable part of who she was now.

"Jeff is feeling very optimistic and peaceable this morning, as you can see, Commander," EDI commented dryly. "Commence aerobraking maneuvers in fifteen seconds. Fourteen. Thirteen. . . . "

They swung around the pale beauty of Turan, skimming through its upper atmosphere like a bird catching a pike, sweeping just above the water, wings touching down to leave a trail of white marks against a placid lake. Then they arced back around, and entered the designated approach lanes, coming in for a smooth contact with the docking clamps.

Shepard pointed out the window. "Isn't that the Tarawa?" Sure enough, one berth over, was one of the Normandy-class ships out of the Earth shipyards near Luna. Like all the Terran-built ships of her class, she was named for a major battle in one of the old Earth wars of the twentieth century. Turian-built frigates of the same class had different naming conventions, of course.

Joker squinted at the tail numbers. "Oh, yeah, it is. Aurelia's ship!"

Shepard looked down at him. "I didn't know you were on a first-name basis with Captain Takahashi."

"I'm not. Aurelia's the AI—" Joker paused, looked up, and realized that the commander was looking down at him, grinning ever so faintly. "Hey, what can I say? I keep up with what the kids are doing."

EDI's head turned towards them. "The Tarawa has been scouting uncharted systems in the Kepler Verge, with an eye towards new relay positions. They've done very well indeed for themselves," she noted. There was a clear note of pride in her voice, and Joker reached out and touched the console right under her image, an unconscious gesture of long standing.

"I'll leave you two to catch up with the kiddo, then," Shepard told them, lips still quirked into a smile, and headed back aft.

It was a secret only a few people in the galaxy were actually privy to, but when EDI had created clones of her processes and databanks for transfer into other Normandy-class ships, she had additionally added personality matrices that were not of Cerberus creation. EDI had postulated that the adaptive intelligence of a human would be a valuable asset to her 'daughters' and further postulated that a randomizing element would add variability to the other AIs, making their functionalities and responses more difficult for the Reapers or the Collectors to predict. In essence, she wanted to ensure that her progeny could evolve and adapt to different circumstances better than if they only possessed her own traits and characteristics. Lacking any other source, she employed specialized personality templates that she had created some time previously.

These personality templates were, in fact, ones that the AI had made in an effort to understand humans better. Since the human with whom she had the most interaction with was Jeff Moreau, she'd used him as the point of origin for all her matrices. In a very real sense, the crippled helmsman now had a literal fleet of daughters. All of which he kept tabs on with a sort of beaming, semi-proprietary pride.

Any number of turian and human captains had, over the past several years, sent memos up the line, asking if there was any way to scrub the odd behavioral patterns and "borderline sense of humor" from their AIs, but to remove any element of the personality matrix in a stable AI risked destabilizing it; a risk no one was willing to take.

Shepard was, personally, just glad that she had the original EDI and Joker aboard her ship. One of each at a time was enough to deal with. Ruminating on all of this, she stood in the airlock, patiently waiting for the decontamination protocols to complete, and listening for the hiss of the external hatch opening. When it did, she pushed herself out into the long, pressurized, but weightless tube that currently connected her ship to the equator of the partially-built station, and maneuvered her way down to the far end, where another hatch led to an enclosed tram. After a fairly long ride, the tram opened up on a new area—all exposed metal and chemical smells. There were hundreds of cargo containers here, which she wended her way through, finally finding the freight elevator and a guard station.

Most of the guards on duty were a turian, who looked dubiously at her facepaint. The one who took her ID scan started a little, and suddenly scrambled to attention. "Sorry, Commander. We get a handful of humans each month who think that the paint looks cool, or some damn thing."

"Right up until they get re-educated by someone actually from the clan whose marks they're copying?" She couldn't help the grin that tugged at the corners of her mouth.

"Pretty much," he growled. "I need to log your visit. Reason for staying, length of stay?"

"Not a problem," she told him, somewhat amused. "I'm here to meet with the Council. Probably for half a day at most." She looked around. "Are the work crews ever going to get the personnel transports working, or are we stuck with freight elevators from now until the heat-death of the universe?"

The turian grimaced as his hands moved over his console. "Security decision."

She arched her eyebrows. "Oh really?"

"Yeah, fewer access points for the time being makes for fewer guards needed. Or that's what they tell me." He shrugged. "The various ambassadors don't like it much, but they're all used to how neat and clean and complete the Citadel was." He essayed a tentative grin. "Plus, most of them don't like how rough the ride is on the way in. No artificial gravity on the freight elevators. And with the outer hull not rotating yet. . . ." He shrugged.

Shepard laughed. "No, I don't imagine they would." She floated into the elevator, and, weightless, rotated around until her feet pointed up towards the car's ceiling. Then she strapped herself into the safety harness. "Embassy level, please."

The guard nodded and punched the console for her. After a moment, the elevator doors closed, and she could feel it shudder into motion. She counted to ten, and her stomach flipped as the inertial push of the elevator sent her head towards the "floor." As the car came to a halt, however, her feet sank down the other direction, and she wound up standing on the ground properly. Her body felt what it believed to be gravity, and her inner ears started behaving better. Rationally, she knew that she was now standing on the "ceiling" of the elevator, her feet planted there by the centrifugal force of the rotating shell of this particular level of the station. The elevators themselves were a phenomenal feat of engineering, as was the simple fact that all of the individual shells that made up the station rotated at the same rate.

Structurally, the station design made sense. It was less dependent on mass effect fields, for starters, and getting away from Reaper-origin technology was a driving force behind its design. It was also more energy-efficient than using artificial gravity, a must for a station that was going to be the size of a small moon, and would eventually be able to house millions of people of different species. It was just that what made logical sense was difficult to explain to the inner ear.

Sometimes, it was better not to think about these things rationally. Sometimes it was better just to accept that it worked, to remember why she had studied environmental engineering at the Academy, and not systems engineering or habitat design.

It had been easier, on the Citadel. It had been an inexplicable marvel, more magic than science, when she first saw it. From space, she could see Bastion's bones and guts laid bare, could see the human, turian, and quarian hands as they built it . . . . but there were touches, here and there, showing an effort to make Bastion a place of magic, as well. The "ceiling" some thirty meters overhead was a work of art, painted with clouds and vapors. Every half hour, the lighting changed, making the ceiling look like a different planet's sky. At the moment, it was the dim orange-gray of a Martian winter. She imagined that this was in place at least as much for psychological benefits as for aesthetics; people of any species cramped into gunmetal gray hallways for long periods of time, without seeing sky or sunlight tended to become . . . edgy.

In her musings, she'd walked quite some way through the wide, winding corridors, and realized belatedly that she'd reached the Council's chambers. There were almost a dozen embassies on Bastion at this point—asari, turian, salarian, and human, the old Council races. The volus, elcor, quarians, hanar, rachni, krogan, and geth had embassies as well, and all had seats on the new Council—much to the consternation of the more entrenched, established political hounds among the older races. The drell had an embassy of their own, although they tended to defer to the hanar in everything, but did not have a Council seat.

Shepard stepped into the Council chamber, and smiled in greeting to Councilor Anderson. "About time you got here, Shepard," he said, pitching his voice low, to avoid being overheard. "They were about to get started without you. As usual."

"Sorry. Got a day behind on leaving because Amara was sick. Didn't want to leave until I knew what was up."

Anderson paused in mid-step. "That's your little girl. Is she okay?"

"Eh, nothing we haven't seen before." Shepard sighed. "Obstructed crop. It's a developmental thing. Once she gets a little older, we think she'll probably outgrow it, but in the meantime, anything she eats can sit in there and gum up the whole works. Garrus knows how to handle it. But, the docs wanted to make sure she wasn't developing a chronic inflammation." She gave Anderson a tired smile. "Sort of the equivalent of gastritis in humans."

"Those two kids give you more hell than I would know what to do with."

She shrugged. "We knew that we were signing on for the unknown. Though neither of us knew just how much unknown we'd be getting." Her tone was rueful. "Truth be told, Kaius gives us more trouble usually, health-wise. Renal troubles. But you didn't call me here to talk about their health." She waved it away. "You'd think after saving the known universe a couple of times, that the Council could cut me five minutes of slack now and again."

Anderson grinned at her. "You are the worst savior in the history of the universe, Shepard. You didn't do them the courtesy of dying on the job. A dead martyr is much easier to manage than a live hero. A dead martyr, you can prop up to be an emblem of any cause you want. A live hero is just damned inconvenient." Anderson opened a door, and waited on her for a moment, still grinning. "Besides, that was five years ago. What have you done for them lately?"

She awarded him a scowl. "Would you like a list?"

"Might not hurt."

They shared a look, laughed, and walked into the Council room.

By necessity, it was larger than the old Council chamber back on the Citadel. It had to accommodate many more representatives, for one, and there was a large audience area, where reporters from dozens of planets were welcome, during open-door sessions, to observe the proceedings. Shepard climbed the stairs to the open stage, where eleven chairs and their owners currently sat, and stood to attention.

"Commander Shepard, how good of you to join us." That was the asari Councilor, who hadn't lacked for sarcasm since the destruction of the asari homeworld at Reaper hands. There were millions of angry asari out there now, who felt that Shepard could have saved their homeworld, and had instead saved the humans and turians first. Who felt that after three thousand years at the top of the totem pole, that they had been unseated unfairly. Not every asari felt that way; the ones on the colonies that had been saved by virtue of the joint human-turian fleet were certainly grateful for their lives. But the asari Councilor was a native of lost Thessia, and probably a pureblood at that.

"It's my privilege and my honor to be here," Shepard replied, blandly. "How may the Spectres serve the Council?"

The volus councilor leaned forward. "There is considerable concern that the placement of the Spectre training base on the human-dominated world of Mindoir—"

Damnit, that's supposed to be classified information, not just something you blurt out at the top of a meeting! Shepard glanced over her shoulder to make sure that there were no reporters present; there were not. Presumably, the chamber had been swept for electronic listening devices before the meeting as well.

As she returned her attention to the councilor, he had already continued, "—has shifted their focus to a more human-centric one. This gives humanity an unfair advantage. My people, through me, would like to propose that the facility be moved to a more neutral world."

Shepard sighed. It was going to be one of those meetings. "In what way," she began, her voice tightly controlled, "are the Spectres any less ready to do the business of the Council than they were five years ago? In what way are the Spectres less qualified or prepared to defend the lives of people throughout Council space?" She looked at the asari councilor for that set of questions, and then turned her attention to the volus councilor, to add, with a polite smile, "Let's start with that, before we get into the practical reality of the expense of setting up a new base not five years after beginning work on the existing one. I mean, I've put my personal money into the existing facility to shore up shortfalls in the Council's budget, time and again. If I am forced to move the Spectre base to a different planet, I will bill you for that shortfall. Just so we're all clear on that to start with." And don't even get me started on the incredible lack of foresight and wisdom in the original regs, which specified that Spectres needed to supply their own gear. Sure, it takes the burden off the taxpayers, but at the cost of encouraging corruption among those who are not technically bound by the damn laws.

The volus councilor pulled his hands back towards his body as if he'd touched something hot. Yeah, I didn't think you'd come up with this on your own, my lad. Whose puppet are you today?

The asari councilor spoke again, her tone more conciliating now. "The Spectres have proven, time and again, that they are still a valuable asset to the Council, and to galactic community as a whole. Nevertheless, we are concerned that they are becoming too much a tool of one race in particular."

Shepard carefully, deliberately, put one hand to her chin, touching the turian clan paint she wore—paint that showed that she was married to a turian male, a full member of his clan, entitled to their protection, and they to hers. She paused for a moment, saw the mandibles of the turian councilor twitch, ever so faintly, and smiled at the asari. But it didn't reach her eyes. "Councilor, with all due respect, there are seventy-five active Spectres at this point in time. This includes fifteen humans, fifteen salarians, ten asari, twenty-five turians, five drell, and one hanar member. The asari recruitment numbers have dwindled, certainly, but I do not think that you can call us unrepresentative." There had been, before the war, two hundred Spectres. Rebuilding their ranks was a slow process, at best.

"Shepard-Commander?" The geth councilor, who went by the label of Emissary, spoke for the first time. "Would you be willing to accept prospective Spectres from species other than those you have listed?"

She nodded respectfully. "Of course, Emissary. Though each candidate would have to meet our standards and pass the tests." She glanced around the room. "I would certainly welcome any applicants from the geth collective or the rachni, if any are willing."

"We will send a candidate to you in the near future, then, to ensure that the parameters of fairness and equity are met. We do not believe, however, that this will be enough to create consensus on this Council."

Truer words were never spoken, my friend. Shepard felt the corners of her mouth twitch slightly as the other councilors from species without any current Spectre representatives began to lobby for their candidates to be sent as well. "I've never said that you couldn't send a candidate," Shepard wound up explaining to the volus councilor, as patiently as she could. "You simply haven't."

The rachni councilor spoke up suddenly, through her asari interpreter. While Shepard had heard that some of the brood-warrior rachni had learned to use their biotics to project thoughts directly, even conversationally, to individuals or groups, this proto-queen apparently felt that this might be threatening to her fellow councilors, and thus used an interpreter. The asari's eyes went blank and pale as the rachni proto-queen temporarily dominated her mind. "The songs of some are filled with sickly greens," she said. "There is dissonance here. No true harmony can be sung until old wounds are healed."

"Do you see any way in which those wounds could be healed?" Shepard asked, dividing her focus between the interpreter and the young queen.

"Only time, which fades and mutes the colors of memory. But for now, to create harmony, allow this council to send its eyes to your world, as well as our singers. Show your colors to us, sing your songs of blood and death with your fellows, all black and violet and ash."

Is it just me, or does it get easier to understand the geth and the rachni, and harder to understand the other races as time goes on? Sickly green, huh. Envy, spite, malice? "You think the Council should send observers to our base along with a fresh batch of candidates, to examine our evaluation methods as well as our own preparedness?" Shepard summarized after a quick mental translation. "In addition to reviewing our exceptional success record, I hope?" Shepard added the last, flicking a glance toward Anderson.

"Considering the fact that since you took over the command of the Spectres, you have an eighty percent success record, with the lowest number of civilian casualties in the history of the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance force, I should certainly think so," the human Councilor replied. Shepard could see the hanar councilor rustling his tentacles in agreement."

"Very well then," she said. "Forward me the names of your observers and your candidates, and once we've evaluated them, I'll take them to the base."

The salarian councilor frowned. "You plan to conduct your own background check on our observers? I don't believe you have the right to veto whom we send."

Shepard found a new strategic reserve of patience somewhere under her skin, smiled, and said, "Of course not, Councilor. However, I do have intelligence resources at my disposal that the Council does not. It is in everyone's best interest that your observers, as well as the candidates, be thoroughly vetted."

The meeting dragged on from there, but she'd won—this round, anyway. There was wrangling over how many observers to send—every species present, apparently, wanted their own observer. Shepard held out for a more limited number, for security purposes, and got it down to a manageable five. One asari, one salarian, one turian, one human, and one elcor. One of each of the original council races, and the elcor to represent the newer members. The names blipped up on her omnitool as she left the Council chamber, shaking her head at Anderson as she walked.

"So, what's the real agenda here?" Shepard asked when they were seated in human embassy proper. "It would be prohibitively expensive to move the base at this point, so I doubt that's it. We have an excellent record, so that's not it. Is this more of an effort to try to remove me as commander of the Spectres?"

Anderson lifted his hands. "Your guess is as good as mine at this point, Shepard. It's certainly a possibility."

She looked down at the names on her list. Rishayla. That would be the asari. Noratus Ferox. Turian, obviously. Aegohr Malin Oros Picali Sotur Kesh. With a string like that, it had to be the salarian. Harruuma. A name like that could only belong to the elcor. Male or female, was hard to say. Now, who's the winner in our human lottery . . . . Joshua Elhanan Cunningham III. And to think I thought salarian names went on for a while. "We know anything about any of these folks, just to get me started? Or should I just contact all my sources and let them get to work?" she asked Anderson.

"Don't know much about any of the non-humans," he admitted. "They asked me for a list of names for human 'observers' for a variety of projects a few months ago. Cunningham's Earth-born, has top-level clearance, worked for the military before starting his own security consulting group."

"Security consulting group; I like that. That means mercs?"

"High-class ones, at least. He passed his background check for baseline Council clearance, anyway."

She snorted a little under her breath. "Great. Well, hopefully his movements should be easy to track because of his work history."

They discussed the matter further, and she took the opportunity to use the embassy's secure comm station. First, she sent the names, via encrypted transmissions, to Hagalaz, to the Shadow Broker, Liara T'Soni. There was no immediate answer, but that was not a surprise. Dozens of transmissions came to the base every few minutes, and they needed to be sorted through. Additionally, Feron had recently taken to making sure that Liara got a full night's sleep on a regular schedule. The drell had been surprisingly firm about that. Even more surprisingly, Liara had let him be firm.

Shepard's second transmission was to her own people, on Mindoir. It was night there, but there was always someone at the communications desk. She was surprised to see whom, however. "Kasumi?" she asked, as the woman's face appeared on the screen. "Since when do you take the midwatch?"

"Got three security people down with the Skyllian flu, Shep. I'm just covering for them until everyone's back on their feet." Kasumi ran the Spectre's base security with a velvet grip. It had the benefit of keeping her occupied and off the grid, and kept her skills sharp, too. Shepard had put her in the field more than once when situations required delicacy instead of confrontation. Her most recent success had come in recovering two kidnapped diplomats from under the noses of their Lystheni captors, without so much as a shot being fired.

"Skyllian flu? Someone breached decontamination protocols?" Shepard's voice was sharp. It hadn't been so very long, after all, since everyone who'd come in contact with her children had had to wear masks and gloves to do so.

Kasumi raised a placating hand. "Dr. Chakwas already sent out memos reiterating the fact that decontamination saves lives and man-hours. Still, there's a chance they picked it up down in the valley from someone on the science team. We won't know till the tests come back, which direction the virus was transmitted, from us to the valley, or from the valley to us."

Shepard shook her head. "Okay. I'll leave it at that, then. The Council's decided to throw a hell of a lot of stuff at us, all at once. We're going to have an influx of new candidates and, apparently, some observers this time, too." Her lips pulled down at the corners. "I haven't looked through the candidates myself yet, but I'm forwarding their names and the names of the Council observers now. Check 'em out for me?"

Kasumi's position shifted subtly; where before she had clearly been relaxed, she was now on edge. "I'm on it, Shep." Her voice was crisp, and her hands were already moving over the panels in front of her, opening databases and resources for their background checks. "You want to talk to Garrus while you've got the comm line open?"

Shepard thought for a moment. "It's past midnight. Let him sleep, if he's asleep. But tell him, well . . . you know what to tell him. Looks like it'll take us a week to pick everyone up, and of course, to take a nice, circuitous route home, without telling our passengers where we're going. Tell him I'm sorry the schedule just got screwed all to hell. Again." She smiled, and for a moment, the tiredness that dogged her steps every day fell away.

"I'll let him know, Shep. Mindoir base, out."

The comm line closed, and the terminal's aerogel display shut down. After bidding Anderson farewell, Shepard headed out of the embassy, for the long walk back to the transit station.