Memories Arc

Chapter 1

The Secret That Would Shake The Galaxy

~I~

The Illusive Man was the most powerful being in the galaxy. A bold claim, which if spoken to any sapient in Citadel Space would be bluntly ignored as the illusions of a paranoid fanatic. But rest assured it was the cold hard truth. The Illusive Man was the only one who knew it, and he planned to keep it that way.

But what made the Illusive Man so strong were not his nonexistent armies or his not-so-immeasurable wealth. You see, power did not come from military might as the turians had come to believe, nor did it lay in one's financial prowess, or the volus would be more than glorified bankers. Power, true power, came from something far more immaterial: information. And for the Illusive Man, information was never in short supply.

Knowledge, networks, bribes, blackmail; all were his instruments masterfully manipulated to learn the galaxy's darkest secrets and twist them to his purposes. In the short period of Cerberus' existence he'd built an information network so powerful and so discreet that would make the Shadow Broker himself green with envy, if he was ever made aware of its massive scale. But while the two held the greatest library of information in the galaxy, they were anything but alike. The Illusive Man didn't waste his resources selling his valuable knowledge to the highest bidder. His resources, his precious data, were dedicated to supporting his loyalists in Cerberus. With his vast storage of galactic secrets, the skills of some of the most talented humans in the galaxy, and a few dummy companies on the side, their small organization of 150 operatives had managed to elude Citadel forces for years while they focused on a single goal: the betterment of Humanity throughout the galaxy.

At present the Illusive Man stood at the end of his grand office, staring at nothing in particular as the magnificent star continued to die. Taking a long drag of his cigarette, he savored the warm smoke as he held it in his lungs before letting it out in a long powerful breath. He was worried, and for no small reason. It was only through years of practice that he showed no sign of it.

It didn't make any sense. He could keep his organization away from the arms of the law for decades. He could twist the heads of government to whatever direction he saw fit. He could even bring a man back from the dead! But despite all of these grand accomplishments, something small, something so simple, had slipped past his control. And now things were spiraling into chaos before him. He had little time to correct his mistake. If Cerberus didn't act fast, over a decade's worth of investment would be lost in an instant.

A virtual display opened at his side, a single red light flashing at its center. Glancing down, he brought his hand up to close the interface. That signal could only mean one thing: Shepard had completed his assignment. Good, there wasn't a moment to waste.

He didn't bother turning around, but waited until the communication link had been formed before starting, "Shepard, good work on Freedom's Progress. The quarians have forwarded their findings from Veetor's debriefing. Nothing new, but a surprising olive branch given our history."

"It pays to have friends. You ever think about playing nice once in a while?"

"Diplomacy is great when it works, but difficult when everyone already perceives you as a threat."

"A perception well deserved, if the attack on the Idenna has any truth to it. Does it?"

It seems he couldn't keep all of his skeletons buried, "I'm not here to discuss history with you, Commander. I'm here because we have a common enemy. Because of you, we now know that the Collectors are behind the abduction of the colonists."

"Why do I get the feeling you knew about them already?"

The Illusive Man finally turned to face the Commander, taking strides to reach his chair. "I had my suspicions, but no proof. Even my knowledge of the Collectors is limited, at best. They come from beyond the uncharted Omega 4 Relay, looking to trade technology for seemingly unimportant items, or unique specimins. Once they've finished their business, they disappear as quickly as they arrived. But this operation is unlike the Collectors. They're not after anything more specific than humans, and any will do. Thousands have disappeared already, and it's up to us to stop them."

The Commander crossed his arms, still skeptical "And you think the Reapers are involved?"

The Illusive Man took his seat before continuing "There are patterns, buried beneath the details. The Reapers are planning something, bigger than the attack on the Citadel two years past. The council likes to believe that the Reaper threat ended with Sovereign; they won't be of any help to us. We're the only ones to stand against them."

"I'm still a Spectre. The council owes me their lives. They'll listen to me."

How lovely it must be to have missed all the changes in the last two years. His ignorance would be colored soon enough, "If you think you can change their views, by all means. Just remember, it's been two years. Things have changed, Shepard."

The Commander stored the thought for later and continued, "If we're taking the fight to the Collectors, I'll need an army…or a really good team."

"I've assembled dossiers on hundreds of potential candidates, ranging from soldiers, scientists, biotics, mercenaries and such. The best in the galaxy are in these files. I'll send them to you for review. Pick the best of them to build your team, Commander."

But Shepard shook his head, "I had a good team, people who have proven their worth to me. I want them at my side, not some mercs for hire."

"Commander, it's been two years. They've moved on. These aren't the same people you fought with against Saren, they've changed. Some have even dropped off the map."

"What about Tali'Zorah? She was on Freedom's Progress, and would've joined me if she wasn't already duty bound. I'm sure the others are still just as loyal."

"Maybe they are, but you may find their current positions beneficial to our goals. It may be difficult to build your team from scratch, but you're a natural leader. I trust you're up for the challenge."

The look on Shepard's face showed he clearly wasn't keen on the idea, but was willing to shelve the issue for later. "Fine, you worry about the Collectors. I'll make sure my team is ready."

The Illusive Man brought up a display beside him, quickly shuffling through the list of dossiers. "Before you begin, I'd like you to take care of a little problem for me. Nothing outside of your capabilities, I'm sure."

"Another errand?" he said in a tired tone. A leash hardly suited him, he found it ironic considering his military history.

"Of sorts. There's been an information leak, and the Shadow Broker is aware of one of our best kept secrets. I have some of the best hackers in Cerberus looking to delete every trace of the files from the Shadow Broker's database, but that doesn't help the team he's sent to investigate. Eliminate them, and our secrets shall remain secure."

"And what exactly is in this file?"

"Coordinates and procedures for reaching one of your potential recruits, but more importantly the location of a planet Cerberus has been protecting for the majority of our existence."

"And what makes this world so special?"

The Illusive Man took a long draw from his cigarette, preparing to share Cerberus's most precious secret. "It's inhabited by humans."

Shepard looked skeptical. "There are plenty of human colonies. Why keep this one hidden?"

"Not a colony, Shepard." The Illusive Man began, "A homeworld. Humans have dwelt there since before recorded history."*

There was a long silence as Commander Shepard processed exactly what the Illusive Man has just revealed. Finally, and with less poise than he usually possessed, he said "What are you talking about?"

"Exactly as I said, impossible as it may appear. Humans, nearly genetically identical to us, on an alien world."

"Two species don't just evolve into the same creature half a galaxy away. What aren't you telling me?"

"Not enough, but we don't have time for a history lesson. There are too few genetic mutations between us to consider us wholly different species, but what little variation exists separates us beyond measure. Our brethren have evolved into natural biotics. You wouldn't believe what miracles these people are capable of."

Shepard rubbed his forehead. Galaxy-shaking revelations had a nasty habit of giving him a headache. "It's a bit of a stretch to believe this…"

"You'll see it with your own eyes, if you hurry." The Illusive Man pressed a button and a moment later Shepard's omni-tool beeped. A few keystrokes later and the dossier the Illusive Man just sent him popped up from the omni-tool. The headline demanded Shepard's attention.

"The War Hero?" he asked.

"Correct. Despite his youth, his accomplishments speak for themselves. He led his people to victory in their Fourth Great War, defeating an enemy that threatened their world single handedly. Well, so to speak. I believe that should meet even your high standards."

Shepard shifted his gaze back to the dossier, scanning the biography for a few moments before saving the data to his omni-tool. "You said we were in a hurry?"

"We don't have time to waste, Shepard. Agents of the Shadow Broker are aware of our interest in the young man. Even as we speak, our friend is walking into a trap. If you don't reach him in time you'll have lost a valuable recruit."

"If he isn't good enough to outwit a few hired guns, what use is he to me?"

"He has no idea what he's getting into. Technology on his homeworld is no more advanced than ours was at the end of the second World War, and due to a heavy focus on biotic power their weapons technology predates even that. Firearms are nonexistent, and their knives won't penetrate high-end armor with military-grade shielding. The man will be a pin cushion before he knows what hit him…unless they want him alive."

"And if he is?"

"Then I leave that decision up to you. Recruit him or leave him, the choice is yours. Just make sure that the Shadow Broker never hears from those agents again."

Shepard nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. "Okay, so how am I supposed to get there? The shuttle isn't built for speed."

"Already taken care of. I've arranged for reliable transportation for your convenience. And I've found you a pilot as well. I hear he's one of the best…someone you can trust."

Shepard was about to ask him to elaborate further, when a third voice made its way over the communications link.

"Hey Commander, just like old times huh?"

The Illusive Man brought up a console on the arm of his chair and terminated the connection. Taking a final draw from his cigarette he placed the remains in the chair's ashtray as he stood, making his way back to the end of the office to stare into the nothingness of space once more.

It was an impossible task, erasing all shreds of the planet's existence from the galaxy's most powerful information broker. But like Shepard, Cerberus wasn't unfamiliar with doing the impossible. He would make sure that the planet vanished from all records and keep it hidden from the galaxy at large. That lone world hidden from the rest of galactic civilization, the last pure human world in existence, would remain protected so long as he stood as its shield.

~II~

A young man in a long white body coat strolled down an elaborate hallway in the dead of night, his footsteps so light the very floor would be unaware of his presence, let alone anyone that might be a threat. But with each empty room he checked, and with every sign of the living all but gone, a single thought kept humming in his mind like a fly he could not swat.

Something was very, very wrong.

The mission was supposed to be a simple capture operation, in and out before anyone noticed. Their target was a crime lord known for smuggling knowledge of secret jutsus for whoever could pay the price. Any hint of a breach in security, especially regarding hidden jutsus, was never taken lightly. The ANBU had been on the case less than an hour after the news hit the Hokage's desk. Over a month-long investigation they'd finally tracked down their headquarters after sending in a false request to acquire one of their village's forbidden techniques. The shadow clone jutsu, strangely enough. And so the ANBU Captain had taken his squad to find the crime lord's estate hidden deep within the forests of Fire Country.

But now here he was, and the place was already dead. He'd cased the entire left wing of the mansion and so far no signs of life. No mercenaries or hired hands, no servants, business associates, or any of the various company you'd expect to find in a criminal estate. It seemed as if the dust mites would be their only company tonight.

Reaching behind his fox-shaped mask the Captain tapped the radio planted into his ear, breaking radio silence with his team.* "There's no one here. It's possible they caught a leak about our operation. It may explain why they left in such a hurry."

A moment later a second voice responded. "West wing is clear. Nothing else to report."

"Copy that. Mouse, anything?"

"Basement is clear, no signs of life. Plenty of evidence, though. Clan jutsus, forbidden seals, and a list of potential buyers. We hit the jackpot, Captain."

"And all that was just out there in the open?" He asked skeptically.

"Of course not. Encrypted files, sealed behind ten centimeters of reinforced steel. But you know me."

"Good work. Rabbit, anything in the central chambers?"

He waited several moments for a reply, but there was no response. So he tried again, "Rabbit, break radio silence. Do you have something?"

Anything would do, even a sharp whisper or tapping through his earpiece would be enough to signal that he'd found something and couldn't risk conversation. But to receive nothing was one of the worst signs a Captain could receive. Best case scenario, his headset was down and he wasn't aware of it. Worst case, the enemy wasn't as gone as he'd thought, and Rabbit was down. And if they'd received no warning, then Rabbit had been killed faster than he could report an attack. And that meant that Rabbit's radio may still be operational. And if the enemy found it, then their communications were compromised. Everything, including what they'd just said, may be open to enemy ears.

Acting fast he clicked the radio several times, sending a wordless message with the clicking of the radio: compromised, converge Rabbit. Even before the message was out he was making his way as quickly as he could to the central chambers. He was a gust of strong wind down the empty corridor, coming to the central staircase. The Captain climbed the stairs with practiced silent speed and he registered Mouse waiting by the door with Tiger approaching on his left.

The Captain got close to the door and signaled for Mouse to do the same. "Tiger, do you sense anything on the other side?"

Tiger brought his hands together and flipped through a few seals, remaining motionless as the jutsu took effect. The young Captain could feel the pulse of chakra expanding, reaching out to touch anything that would hint to their mystery. After a moment of silent sensing he began, "I sense no active chakra networks, but there are traces…I don't think anyone's alive."

Mouse nodded, lowering his hood and placing his ear next to the door. "Can't hear anything…not even any vibrations. We're clear."

The fox-masked Captain nodded. "Keep together. On my mark."

The two took their places on either side of the massive oak doors leading into the central chambers. Both had a hand on their ANBU sword, ready to draw at the smallest provocation. Both giving a small nod to confirm their readiness, the Captain approached the center of the doors, turning the handles and shoving them open while rushing into the room flanked by his teammates not far behind. The three didn't make it far past the entrance.

Right at their feet laid the body of their fourth squad mate spread eagle on the floor, a fresh puncture wound through his heart answering their question as to how Rabbit had met his end. Further in bodies were piled high on either side of the desk at the end of the room, their blood collecting into two separate pools on the floor. Each pile was made up of over a dozen corpses, each with various puncture wounds covering their bodies. Trails of dried blood were creeping from the wounds. Between the two piles, behind the desk in the chair sat the body of their target. His head was rolled back against the headrest with single puncture wound the only visible sign of how the man had passed.

The Captain sniffed and quickly closed off his sense of smell. Rotting corpse stench was never a smell he acquired a taste for. His gaze shifted from their deceased target to their fallen comrade. Rabbit was quick, and he wouldn't have been caught off guard. Whatever killed him did it fast and clean, without warning. And for all he knew, they could still be here.

"We need to leave, now. We'll burn the mansion down. That should get rid of the bodies and our secrets."

Mouse seemed to disagree. "Captain, what about the-"

The sound of shattered glass brought the Captain to full alert. His fears came to life as shards once forming an ornate stained glass window above the room rained down to the ground. The two ANBU beside him fell before the glass hit the floor. Tiger's mask was in pieces before his body touched the luxurious carpet, a hole identical to the crime lord's now marring his otherwise unblemished face. Mouse fell and his coat slid open to reveal a puncture right next to his heart.

For a moment the Captain stood still, fully expecting and ready to die with his comrades. A noble death, he thought. But the moment passed, and then another, and finally the Captain could breathe. His eyes steadied and he turned to his men. Tiger lay dead, and probably was before he even hit the ground. But Mouse was still moving, if only a little.

Leaping to his fallen comrades' side, he knelt beside Mouse. "Stay still, we're getting out of here!"

Mouse slowly tilted his head to meet the fox-masked man. "Captain…behi-"

A loud crack filled the air. Mouse's head whipped back as the force of the round passed through his head. Before the Captain could turn to face his aggressor he felt something hard and hot press against the small of his back.

"On your feet, and keep those fancy knives to yourself."

The voice was heavily warped, like it was somehow being manipulated, or utterly unnatural. Slowly lowering Mouse's body to the ground, he brought himself to his feet without a fight, so as not to give his aggressor any reason to attack. Once he was on his feet he felt the hot metal removed from the back of his coat. Whatever was behind him took a few steps back and said, "Good, now turn around." He complied.

Before him stood a man covered from head to toe in sophisticated white body armor. It looked far more advanced than even the top of the line samurai armor in the Land of Iron. To the young shinobi he looked more like a machine than a man.

"And just in case you get any funny ideas…" He began, before snapping his gloved fingers. Around them a dozen blue shrouds distorted the air, the signs of cloaking fields being disengaged. To him they shimmered into being like magic. The newly revealed squad raised their odd metal weapons as they closed in on their captive who suddenly lost all ideas of escape.

"Take that mask off. And that hood, now." He ordered.

There was no alternative if he wanted to live. The ANBU Captain carefully lowered his hood and unstrapped his fox mask, placing it gently on the floor. The man who now looked at his captors was a blonde haired blue eyed young man, an intense scowl gracing his usually peaceful features.

The leader of the enemy squad nodded, reaching to remove his helmet. With a quick hiss and a tug the man tossed his helmet aside. It was that moment when the blonde's two eyes met his four that made the entire trip worth it. He'd always wondered what a primitive species' face would look like during first contact.

"Captain Naruto Uzumaki…you're shorter than I expected."

Codex Entries

-Humanity's Second Homeworld

REMINDER! Cerberus would like to remind you that this information has received the highest level of classification and must not be discussed outside of the approved working facilities. Failure to do so may result in breach of contract and termination. This document has been scrubbed to comply with your current Cerberus Security Clearance Level (CSCL).

Humanity's second homeworld, located in the data rescinded system in the data rescinded, was discovered by Cerberus in 2166, approx. nine years following the First Contact War. Its inhabitants share a 98.3% genetic match with earth-born humans. This difference is largely due to what is know as the chakra circulatory system present in these humans. These humans exhibit radical natural biotic powers in a manner never seen before in the biotic community. Cerberus researchers believe our similar genetics and their natural biotic prowess is due to data rescinded. This world is also home to fauna with human-like intelligence, though they remain separate from most of human society. Following the Fourth Shinobi World War, occurring approx. 2178, there are currently five major counties. The five great nations are Fire Country, Water Country, Earth Country, Wind Country, and Lightning Country. Currently the five great nations are in a state of data rescinded. Cerberus maintains a stance of passive observation so as not to interfere with the evolution of our brethren. However, as each nation has given their own unique name for the homeworld, Cerberus has named this world data rescinded for record-keeping purposes.

If you would like to know more, or become involved with this research cell, please speak to your supervisor and put in a transfer request. Thank you for using Cerberus Knowledge Online!

-Konoha's Hidden Archives: ANBU Squad 113

ANBU Squad 113 (A-113), code name Hurricane Squad, is a standard squad of the ANBU Domestic Division of the Leaf village. Hurricane Squad was formed 15 months ago and specializes in missions relating to internal security. They have built a respectable record and are the Hokage's top squad for combat deployments not related to the war. It consists of four members:

Fox (23): Captain of the squad. Specialties include large area attacks and unprecedented stamina, multiple elemental affinities. Sage mode further enhances his abilities and classifies him as a sensor. Rapid healing complex. Adept in all areas of intelligence, intermediate healing proficiency. Toad summoning. Good at defusing situations before they lead to violence from his experience as a diplomat. Fox is a jinchuriki, though he does not utilize the powers of his tailed beast. Refuses to allow his squad to become involved in the war effort. Bingo Book ranking: S rank.

Tiger (47): Squad sensor and combat specialist. Large and built like a train, Tiger specializes in taijutsu and is capable of lifting three times his weight without opening the eight gates, which he is also capable of. Stone skin jutsu protects him with natural armor. Problems with alcohol reported, Fox is providing support in rehabilitation. Fox vouches that it will not interfere with duty. Bingo Book ranking: A-rank.

Mouse(30): Squad intelligence specialist, specializing in reconnaissance with intermediate skills in infiltration. Small and lightly built. Master trap and escape artist. Master of the wind walk jutsu, letting him glide across the floor without putting his weight on it. Adept in the silent killing jutsu. Bingo Book ranking: B-rank (annoyed by holding lowest Bingo Book ranking in squad).

Rabbit (29): Squad medic. Lanky build. Excellent record working in Konoha General before volunteering for ANBU. Capable of dealing with all intermediate medical issues and below without outside assistance. Also expert in poison and assassination jutsu. Expert genjutsu user. Works closely with Mouse. Romantic relationship with Mouse outside of work suspected, but Fox refuses to confirm. Bingo Book ranking: A-rank.

A/N

Please leave a comment with either encouragement or criticism. Your support lets me know this story is being enjoyed and encourages me to continue it.

As an advisory, this story breaks from the Naruto canon following Naruto's battle with Pain. The Fourth Shinobi World War still occurred, but it was led by Madara, not Obito. On top of this, the shinobi are not one-man forces of destruction in this universe, for the most part. Shinobi are enhanced, superhuman even, yet not godlike, save for those gifted by blood or demonic curse. I do this because the changes will better fit with the story. Shinobi have the potential to stand proudly among the other races of the galaxy, not towering over them like superior beings. This is an alternate universe story, made to blend the two universes together.

I hope you can understand these changes, and enjoy the story that they make possible.

Reviews, questions and criticism are all welcome!