Sorry for yet another long break! Now that NaNoWriMo and exams are both over, I have more free time. The plan is to settle in to a 2-3 week publishing schedule. This story has quite a few more chapters in it, and I'm ready to start picking up the pace! Yay!
If you want to read my NaNoWriMo novel (warning: first, very rough draft) you can find it on my fictionpress page (same pen name as here).
Chapter 20: "Former Enemies, Former Allies"
When they docked on the Citadel the next afternoon, Shepard returned to the apartment she and Garrus shared only to pack a few extra military-issue uniforms and grab a quick, non-military-issue meal before she departed again.
She could tell Garrus was itching to come with her. They were a team, he loved a good fight, and she knew he wanted to be there with her, watching her back.
"Garrus," she'd nearly laughed when he suggested he continue on with her to Saarnash, "You're a councilor. You're a galactic security issue – the Hierarchy isn't going to let you take off on an adventure."
"This is even worse than C-Sec," he muttered.
That time, she did laugh, and when she did, he softened. He even chuckled a little, too.
"Okay, so it's not worse than C-Sec," he admitted. "But it's frustrating."
"I know," she said, turning to pack the last of her things in a small rolling bag.
Garrus sat on the bed, watching her close the case. The computerized lock beeped as it shut, its tiny display blinking off.
The sounds of the Citadel outside were quiet and muffled through thick, bullet-proof glass, but there was a strange normalcy to it. It was subtle, unobtrusive, and a reminder, just as the gentle vibrations of the Normandy's engines had been a reminder for so long, of where they were.
But no matter how long they stayed here, Shepard wasn't sure these new, quiet sounds would ever feel like home.
"Would it be terrible for me to say that a small part of me misses the war?" Garrus said, suddenly, blankly.
Shepard turned away from the window and met his eyes.
"Not the reapers," he added, "but the cause… We had something to fight for. We couldn't afford to rest, and now…"
"We're restless," she concluded.
His expression was unreadable, but she didn't need to see his inner turmoil on his face to know how he felt.
She took a seat beside him, her hand settling softly on his, their breathing blending smoothly into the quiet background of Citadel noise.
She was amazed at the condition of the Citadel. Perhaps she shouldn't have been, considering the Keepers' reputation and she work she saw them do after the Battle of the Citadel, but it still awed her to step off the Barunaal into gleaming, smooth lines, not marred by rubble or even dust. It hadn't been that long since the Reapers had taken the Citadel. She had not seen the damage herself, but she knew it must have been awful.
And yet, here she was, stepping onto the Citadel again, and feeling every bit as small as she had on her first visit here during her Pilgrimage. She stood still a moment, letting the experience settle in.
She saw everything with new eyes, these days. Sometimes, it felt like a dream.
And then Gerrel and Xen emerged from the ship behind her, all piercing voices and disruptive pomposity, and the dream vanished. She sighed.
Raan, who had swiftly veered away from Gerrel and Xen, rested a hand on Tali's shoulder.
"It has been many years since I have seen the Citadel," she said. "Since my Pilgrimage as a young girl."
"Has it changed?" Tali asked, knowing the question was silly, but wanting the answer anyway.
"Not a bit," Raan replied, and Tali could hear the smile in her voice, despite her dark helmet. "Come," her aunt continued, "let's check into the hotel before Gerrel and Xen take the best rooms."
Tali grinned at that, and squeezed her aunt's hand. The geth representatives would be arriving later, just before the meeting. Unlike organics, they had no need for rest and recuperation after a long flight. Though from what she had witnessed of them since Legion's update, they did seem to be developing an appreciation for the aesthetic that she had previously assumed to be exclusively organic, so perhaps their behavior would change more than she expected.
Hours later, their belongings in the block of rooms that had been reserved for them, Tali, Raan, and Koris met in Raan's hotel room to prepare for their meeting the next morning with the council.
"What we need," Koris said, his voice calm and thoughtful, "is simply footing in the Citadel. We need a chance to prove ourselves."
"Gerrel and Xen will argue that we already have, with the aid we gave to Commander Shepard in the fight against the Reapers," Raan replied.
Koris waved away the remark: "They will argue, but we already know that is not enough to sway the council. Especially considering the situation with the geth."
"You mean the standoff that nearly killed an entire race?" Tali heard the sarcasm dripping from her own voice, but she did not intend to censor herself here, with these two allies. She would save that self-control for later.
Raan nodded solemnly, the bright light of the Citadel's artificial afternoon reflecting off her helmet.
"They are concerned, and rightly so, that we are hot-tempered, irrational, quick to anger," she said. "It is the same argument that we have heard for hundreds of years. We act without thinking – it is what brought the geth into existence."
"What about the geth?" Koris said thoughtfully.
Tali and her aunt both turned their heads to regard him, though his demeanor revealed nothing about his thoughts.
"What about them?" Tali finally asked.
"Perhaps working together, we can help each other. Showing a strong relationship with the geth might help the council to see that most of us are rational."
"Who did the geth send to represent them?" Raan asked.
"He calls himself Senator," Tali said. "He was one of the geth on Rannoch when they received their… upload."
"Senator?" Raan echoed, amusement in her tone.
Tali shrugged. 'They're not very good at the naming thing yet."
"I imagine it must be unusual to spring fully formed from a consensus…" Koris said. "How do you choose a name for yourself or make a life for yourself when all you have ever known is unity?"
The question was rhetorical, and neither woman tried to answer it. It hung in the air between them.
"Tali," Raan said, breaking the silence, "Will you reach out to Senator? See if he will meet with us when they dock at the Citadel."
Tali was already typing away on her omni-tool, drafting a quick message to the geth representative.
"If we are going to make a place for ourselves in this galaxy, we are not going to be able to do it alone," Raan concluded.
Tali agreed. If there was one thing she had learned in the past three years, it was that there was no place for self-isolation in this galaxy. All you had to do was look to the batarians to see the dangers of xenophobia. And all you had to do was remember the Battle for Earth to understand what the disparate races could do when they joined forces.
They set a course for Saarnash, and Shepard and Liara put their heads together to devise a strategy for dealing with Balak.
"My source says he's getting anxious," Liara updated Shepard right away. "He's been in one place too long and he thinks he's being followed."
Liara smiled wryly: "Balak has more enemies than just Cerberus and you. I have no doubt he's being followed."
"By the Hegemony?"
Liara nodded. She brought up a file on her console.
"Information from within the Hegemony is difficult to come by," she said, "but I finally found someone on the inside willing to talk, for a price."
She was sitting straighter, her fingers flying over the keypad as she called up the various messages and data files she had obtained. Shepard smiled at the confidence once again radiating from her friend.
"Here," Liara said, tilting the screen for Shepard to see. "This is the new leader of the Hegemony."
Her eyes scanned the screen, and immediately froze on the name at the top of the page. Charn.
She looked back at Liara, whose expression was almost gleeful.
"You're kidding me," Shepard said dryly.
"I wanted to see your face when you learned this," Liara said. "But no, I'm not joking. Charn is the one who ousted Balak, according to my inside source."
"This is rich," Shepard said, crossing her arms and leaning back.
She tried to suppress her own gleeful response to this news, but it was hard not to feel there was some poetic justice to this. Balak was slimy and untrustworthy, and she had no trouble believing that he had gotten exactly what he deserved when he was forced into exile. She didn't believe that all batarians were as bad as the Hegemony, but if there ever were an example of power corrupting… well, that was it.
And now, Balak's one-time second-in-command was his number-one enemy. It was almost too good to be true.
But she wasn't in this to exact some sort of revenge on Balak. He had offered her assistance against the reapers, after all, as much as it had felt like his last resort. And she was still wary of playing with batarian politics. If she had it her way, she would simply offer Balak sanctuary. But she wasn't sure he would be content with that.
Strike that. She knew he wouldn't be content with that. She sighed.
Liara raised an eyebrow.
"What is it, Shepard?" she asked.
"I just don't know what we're going to do once we find Balak," she confessed. "I'm not willing to make this into an international issue."
"They attacked you. They've already made it an international issue."
"It's still a personal grudge on their end, as far as I can tell. And it goes against everything I've fought for to meddle, as much as I'd like to tell the batarians what to do." She sighed again. "Actually, what I'd really like to tell them is where they can stick it."
"Unfortunately, I have a feeling that won't stop them from attempting to assassinate you," Liara said calmly.
"I know," Shepard admitted. "I just don't like my options."
"Well, we'll have to create some more options, then."
"Now you're onto something," Shepard smiled.