8. The Forgotten Hero
Arturus took Shepard, Tali and four troopers to the elevator and Shepard counted that they descended ten levels before exiting. When they did so, they found themselves in a pyramid room, which was, initially, bare and plain white. That changed at a snap of the Turian's fingers, however.
Suddenly they were standing in the void of space, among stars, each distant but collectively illuminating. Arturus produced a silver cube from a pocket in his armour. He raised it aloft in the palm of his left hand and after a second it began to shine, dimly at first, but soon building in intensity until it made the onlookers squint and look away. Presently the light died away again, and they returned their attention to what was, evidently, the Prothean artefact each of them had been searching for.
"A cog," he announced briskly, but with satisfaction, "a simple cog. To make the machine work." He extended a long, bony finger from his right hand, stretched it out to touch one of the stars. When he did so, it blinked blue, in the hue of Asari skin. And then blinked again into the form of a miniature construct. A matchstick-like, holed construct.
"Not to scale. We view it from the distance the Turian probe spotted it from. But this," he looked at the cog more keenly, "does go there."
Shepard stared at him, then the cog, and then at the small blue image. "That's a relay. A dormant relay. You're going to fix it." It was always controversial when they found one of these. But in the hands of Cerberus, and of this Turian with a vendetta for whatever, it was bad news. Very bad news.
"You can't do that, Arturus," Tali snapped, "Your people will be blamed. Believe me, I know about this kind of thing."
One of the guards grabbed her arm at a nod from him. "Be quiet, scavenger. In fact, I would have you leave myself and the Commander altogether now you have been informed of the facts. You too, I won't let Shepard out of my sight, I promise." He motioned for the troops to accompany Tali out of the room.
As soon as the door shimmered shut after them, Arturus dropped his hands to his sides, pocketed the Prothean cog and let the room go white again.
"Alone at last," he breathed, and looked at his opposite number, who just shook her head and scowled. "The cog will reactivate it, we have run sufficient tests and are now ready for a vessel to be deployed for the, ah, amendment."
"You have no idea what will happen if you do that. It might take out every relay there is, no one really knows the details of how they were built. Maybe it was left because it was faulty."
"Data on the exterior and interior of the cog has been analysed 24/7 ever since the Turians picked it up on their illegal dig. Only recently was it deduced that that data was a reference to the location of something larger. For which the Turians, and then we, looked. And we found it-The relay."
"The Turians would've kept this quiet, made a note and walked away. They wouldn't incur what you're going to if you do this. Even if nothing happens at all, if you, a Turian, off the back of a Turian looting party, open that relay, your race is in big trouble. Everyone is going to be pissed at you. I guarantee someone will decide to have a war with you. Palaven will burn, Arturus."
She watched his eyes delight in her speech, a proud but controlled smile etched into his face. His armour seemed somehow at once glorious, vain, and stained by shadows, even amid the surrounding bright white. "But you want that," she added, and said no more.
"You are as astute as they say, Commander. Yes, I have no idea what will happen when we fit the cog. Maybe it won't work at all anyway. But I will have a Turian vessel there doing the work and it will be beamed live onto the extranet for all to see. So yes again, I agree, there are dark times ahead for Palaven."
"Well, we, as noble Turians, should not dig where we did. None of this would have occurred if the Primarch had stopped it."
"You were the number one agent in your defence ministry, you knew it was happening. I wouldn't mind betting you were the one that ordered that dig."
"Again, you have me Shepard, I really am most impressed. But I sent myself to retrieve it, did I not?"
"And you're KIA with your squad because I blew your ship... you blew your ship to hell. So no one's looking, are they?"
Arturus let the smile fade. "No. They think the cog has gone with me, too." That was bad news for Shepard and Tali and they both knew it.
"My true motives are of course much more personal. They have led me to hate the Primarch, his lackeys, the fools that act as officers, the insolent soldiers, the insignificant others." He shook his head and began to pace, head down. "Once my line was great and well renowned. We were what you humans call, top brass. All of us. We led by example, and always on the field. We were not stupid, did not demand sacrifice for naught, but we always, like you, got the job done. We were part of my people's history, Shepard. But a trawl through the archives now will not reflect that." His words were becoming spits of contempt, still eloquent, but barbed, deep and resonating in a pool of self pity and righteous anger.
"Go on," Shepard muttered, arching an eyebrow.
He spun on his heel and stopped stock still to face her. Then he took a step forward, until he was close, his breath hot on her. "Do not mock me, Shepard. You are above it. If you weren't I would snap your thin little neck."
Shepard dropped the eyebrow but remained stoney-faced. "I'm listening."
Arturus nodded and stepped back.
"There was a battle, with the surface of a planet's moon the theatre. It was of no great intergalactic consequence, but defeat would sully the Primarch's name. Sadly, the intelligence afforded my ancestor was hopelessly flawed. Enemy numbers were considered low, but in reality they proved to outnumber the Turian force 10 – 1. Nevertheless, he and his unit fought their damnedest and won the day, exhibiting bravery and tactical nous on a Herculean scale as you would say. It was a veritable military miracle. Only one man lived to tell the tale, though. My ancestor was that man. Against all odds he had somehow grasped this victory." Arturus chuckled. "Yet, on his return, he was not greeted with honours or thanks. Rather, he was blamed for losing his entire unit. The Primarch did not consider it a victory, deciding the cost had been too great and that it had been needless. This despite the fact he had been the one who commanded that insignificant moon be taken. Anyway, after a brief trial in kangaroo court, he ordered my ancestor be stripped of rank and honours and cast out of the service altogether. Staggering."
Shepard had to admit it sounded like a pretty hard deal.
"He died in exile, a hermit somewhere, refusing even in slander to embarrass the Primarch by ever attempting to find justice. It would not have been difficult, but he felt it would be disloyal. And ever since my family has been considered weak and incapable. Until myself. Over the years I have broken barriers, studied to levels beyond my peers, attained respect, clawed back all that lost trust and respect and found influence in the position I hold, or held, currently."
"So, just as you get your family's rep back, you're going to waste it all by turning traitor like this. A true traitor this time, unlike your ancestor." She laced her words with a caustic, withering irony.
"Turian society forsook me a long, long time ago. Now vengeance will be mine."
Shepard had to laugh. "Oh boy. Heard that one before."
Arturus seemed to shake a little, recognising his slip into melodrama. Then he steadied and said simply: "Very well. Now you know everything, whatever I may think of you, it is time for you to die. Guards!"
The troopers came in and grabbed Shepard, hauled her back to the door. Arturus' voice chased after them. "Space them both."