Cecillia struggled to move, almost every inch of her body buried under the collapsed, once beautiful ceiling. She tried to stir, to call out, to do something, but her body was unwilling to comply with her desperate demands. She tried to think, to make sense of the devastation around her, but her thoughts remained dazed and unfocused.
Her breaths were labored and heavy, with every intake of air feeling like a thousand tiny pinpricks stabbing at her lungs. Her ears ached; she was dimly aware of the warm, purple liquid flowing from her left ear canal. Her hearing muted, she could faintly make out the howling screams of dying asari mixed with distant weapons fire. Her nose stung with the unmistakable stench of burning flesh and chemical explosives. Her right knee throbbed with an incredible pain, no doubt shattered by the crushing debris from above. Fine cuts from sharp rubble and glass marked her face, and purple bruises were already beginning to take form. Exhaustion swept through her body, and merely staying awake was a struggle in itself.
She tried again to gather her thoughts, to remember what had happened.
She sat in the main gathering room with one of her mother's acolytes, enjoying her favored Swellshick tea as the sun's rays showered her through the glass ceiling above. After hours of deliberations about the necessary requirements of becoming Secondary Head Manager of her mother's corporate empire, she and Verris had decided to take a break from the day's events and talk about anything other than business. She paid close attention to the time, aware that her sister Talia would be coming home from her studies soon, giving them more time to spend together. Then the city klaxons blared.
Pinned to the floor, Cecillia had just enough room to turn her head a few degrees to the right. That's when she saw a familiar Asari laying some two meters away, body limp and lifeless. A long, fist-wide metal girder was impaled through the poor woman's stomach. Her lifeless eyes were staring vacantly into the opened ceiling above, displaying her last shocked emotion before she died. Blood still oozed from her agape mouth and opened gut. "Ve…Verris?"
"Verris?" They were both standing up now; the acolyte in front of her looked genuinely confused. "What are those alarms for? What's going on?"
"I don't know" Verris answered hesitantly. "The sirens are supposed to signify an invasion force. But that's impossible. This is Esan" she said, as if that explained everything.
Before Cecillia could respond, a heavy explosion detonated in the distance, causing the entire room to vibrate from the force of the impact. Then she heard the familiar sound of mass-accelerated weaponry. A wave of anxiety suddenly washed through her. Talia.
Without thinking, she immediately darted from the room, heading for her guest quarters upstairs. Verris ran behind her, trying match her speed. "Where are you going Cecillia? We should be going downstairs. There are safe rooms down there."
"Talia's out there somewhere. I'm not going to cower in safety while my sister's in danger." The explosions and weapons fire outside increased. They seemed to be getting closer. "I have to find her." She took a right and ran full speed. Her room was at the end of the hall.
"Cecillia this is insane!" Verris yelled, struggling to keep up. "I love Talia too but if you go out there you could get killed."
Ignoring her, Cecillia barged into her room and yanked her closet door open, revealing a semi-large gray metal container, her most prized possession. "I was the Police Chief of Illium's most dangerous district for nearly 50 years. I can handle myself." She frantically put in the pass codes of the metal container and put her thumb over the biometric scanner, a hiss of air confirming her identity as the hydraulic locks unlatched. The container opened to reveal her Parnitha-Class Serrice Armor. With practiced ease, she equipped her armor quickly and efficiently.
As she was doing so, Verris was gleaning information from her Omni-tool. "Lady Therissa is currently downtown for a business meeting. Communications from that district are jammed, we can't reach her. Hold on...I'm getting updates from Tyrixas in the Alluris district. Goddess, she's saying shuttles have been spotted offloading massive numbers of Batarian troops, and thousands of civilians from those protests are beginning to riot. It's chaos out there."
Cecillia snapped the last piece of her armor together, then drew her favored sub-machine gun and flicked off the safety.
Verris was still typing away at her Omni-tool. "Tyrixas has ordered all estate staff to head for the underground safe rooms. Cecillia, we must go now!"
They both ran downstairs; other fearful staff members were rushing towards the underground safe rooms. Just before Cecillia ran out of the front entrance, Verris grabbed her arm. "Cecillia please." She was pleading. "It is my duty to keep you safe. You must come to the safe rooms with me."
"I can't Verris, not when my sister's out there somewhere." She put a hand on Verris' shoulder. "You go on ahead. I'll return with Talia by my side. I prom-
The loudest explosion Cecillia had ever heard ripped through the Estate roof, the force knocking the two three meters back and causing a shower of debris to rain upon them.
And though she knew it was impossible, Cecillia could hear Talia's horrified screams halfway across the city.
"Talia!" Cecillia shot up from her bed. Her eyes darted across the room frantically, her heart pounding and breath coming in rapid succession. She instinctually reached for her sidearm, only to grasp the fine cloth of her nightgown instead. At first confused, realization slowly dawned on her as her mind began to make sense of her surroundings. She was not on Esan. She was on the Citadel, in her private suite overlooking a stunning view of the Presidium Ring. There was no fire. No devastation. No pain.
Cecillia sighed wearily as she rubbed her eyelids. "VI, lights." It had been 244 years since the hostile takeover of Esan, yet the events of that day still haunted her dreams. She had learned that the Asari philosophy drilled into her all her life - about focusing on the cherished times instead of the loss - was simply Varren shit. She could never forget; the pain never went away. Making one last effort to push such thoughts aside, she made her way to the restroom to get ready for the day's events.
She observed herself in the mirror. Her once brilliant green irises had finally begun to dull with age, made all the more apparent by the dark lines under her eyes. She had not gotten a good night's sleep, and it showed. She cupped water in her hands and brought it to her face, allowing the cool droplets to trickle down. Her face markings were perhaps her most striking feature. While many Asari decided to keep their markings subtle, and some chose to have none at all, Cecillia had adopted the traditional Tevos markings. White dashes dotted her blue face, surrounding her eyes and spreading outward towards her unusually scaled scalp crest. The two colors contrasted quite nicely. Her upper lip too was marked entirely white, while her bottom lip remained its natural color save for the single white dash that marked the center, with a similar dash marking her chin. Cecillia did not consider herself to be exactly beautiful, but knew that she had a natural grace that both Asari and non-Asari found attractive. Her face, not quite as lithe as other Asari, eschewed authority and respect. It was a good trait to have for a person in a position of power, let alone as a Councilor.
A digital message appeared on her mirror, the suite VI recognizing her position in the apartment and routing it to her location. It was marked urgent and highlighted in red, meaning it was a priority transmission from Thessia. Still antsy from her restless night, she held off reading it, instead undoing her nightgown and preparing a morning bath. It was likely another report on the estimated trajectories of the galactic economy for the next decade, or perhaps a status update on the economic impact of the Hegemony's newfound interest in expanding in the Traverse. The latter thought put a sour taste in her mouth. She knew that as Councilor she should stow away her personal feelings and look at every event without prejudice. But she had seen the effect of Batarian expansion firsthand; experienced it, lived through the consequences. They were bullies, adamant in their superiority and constantly seizing power and wealth from others, knowing that the Council wouldn't dare take a serious step in halting their aggression. When she had become Councilor five years ago, she had thought that she could change things; steer the Council into a more proactive role against Hegemony interests. But despite her efforts, nothing changed. Any serious attempts to halt their expansion or support the abolitionists were discarded almost before they were proposed. 'Much of our consumer goods are produced in the Hegemony' her superiors on Thessia would say. Never mind that they were made by slaves, some of them Asari slaves. But apparently that didn't matter to the powers in Thessia, so long as the status quo remained and cheap goods kept flowing into their borders undeterred.
Cecillia banished the unpleasing thoughts from her mind as she lowered her body into the warm bath water below. Water jets underneath gently massaged her back and legs as a sweet scented soap was dispersed into the tub.
Of course, such things, as important as they were, probably wouldn't be marked urgent by the Armali Council. Cecillia closed her eyes and sunk lower into the soapy water, now only her head exposed as the moving currents caressed her body, ebbing away the last bit of anxiety in her. Ah well, whatever it was, it could wait for lat-
Her Omni-tool on the sink counter chimed twice, indicating she had received another message, this one private. Rolling her eyes, Cecillia sighed and got out, water dripping across the floor as she made her way to the counter. She activated her Omni-tool and checked her inbox; it was a message from Matriarch Lidanya, Commander of the Destiny Ascension.
I hope you are doing well. I know you must be busy, but if you could find the time in your schedule to speak with me in person, I would greatly appreciate it. I hate to perturb you with my troubles, but after decades of patience, there are strategic faults in the fleet that I feel can no longer be ignored. As Commander of the Citadel's Defense Force, it is my duty to ensure that this fleet is the most well prepared, well trained, and well equipped force in the Galaxy. But it saddens me to say that the Armali Council does not see it this way. We are defending the heart of our civilization, and we must be prepared to resist any threat that may come our way. But time and time again my fleet is among the last to receive the newest ships, upgrades, weaponry, and offensive and defensive ordnance. We are constantly rotating outdated and unwanted ships that are decades - sometimes centuries - old. More often than not we spend more time repairing malfunctioning systems and aging engines. I fear the Homeworlds see my fleet as little more than a used shipping yard; a place that they can dispose of their older vessels for newer ones. How am I to defend this Citadel against any cohesive fighting force if I cannot even rely on my ships to function properly?
Let me be direct. We need better equipment, better training, and yes, newer ships. We need to modernize.
I am not naïve. I understand that the Citadel is among the safest, most well secured location in the Galaxy. And I know that the most cutting-edge technology would be better served on the fringes of Citadel space where they are needed most. But even the places we think most safe can fall victim to aggression.
Cecillia momentarily paused, remembering how safe and secured Esan supposedly was, how safe and secured she felt, before the planet fell in just three horrific days. She continued reading.
I am not asking for the newest ship off the Asari dry-docks, latest STG upgrades, or Turian ordnance. But we must modernize. My fleet is equipped to deal with threats posed a thousand years ago; it would not stand up against any professional navy today. For a force meant to defend the heart of galactic civilization, this is unacceptable.
In particular, I was hoping to discuss the idea of finally upgrading some of our ships with Silaris Armor. The Carbon nanotube sheets, woven with chemical diamond disposition, are unsurpassed in strength and heat resistance. I understood the reluctance to do this in the previous decades when the technology was new and producing it was prohibitively expensive. But the cost has cheapened in recent years and the Armor is now becoming commonplace. I know you have no official power concerning defense budgets but as Councilor you undoubtedly have sway with the Homeworld.
Not as much as you think.
Again, I do not wish to trouble you with my problems, but you are the only one I can go to for help. And finally, on a more personal note:
I have been invited to attend the Dilinaga society party tomorrow. I am told that some of the most influential Asari in the Galaxy, including you, will be attending. Shall I look forward in greeting you tomorrow? After all, I am tasked with ensuring your safety, yet we have hardly met. It would be wonderful to discuss things with you unrelated to politics, to be with you in a less…formal setting.
I look forward to your reply.
Your friend, Matriarch Lidanya.
Cecillia could read between the lines. She had suspected that the Commander had taken in interest in her, and unlike others, this didn't seem like a lust for power. Regardless, if the Matriarch did find favor in her, she would soon be disappointed. Cecillia had been willing to accept sacrifices when she took the seat of Councilor. One of those sacrifices was to abandon any prospect of a relationship. Oh, there was no rule that said she couldn't have it, but it was implied to come with the job. Perception meant everything, especially for those in power. Manipulation, misdirection, seduction; they were far more subtle tools, but just as effective. To others, she had to appear attractive, attentive; available.
And therefore single. Not that it was an overbearing sacrifice…in fact it may have been a blessing. With her track record for failed relationships, it was nice to finally have a legitimate excuse to just give up and let go. No more heartbreaks. No more pain. At 744 years, and still childless, she would spend the rest of her withering centuries alone.
Alone. As the universe intended.
This was best for Lidanya anyway. Cecillia knew that the true fault in her relationships was herself. One could not be so unlucky, go through so many painful relationships, by sheer happenstance. She was the problem. She could never truly give her partners what they wanted; needed.
'Why are you so distant?' they would ask. I don't know.
'Why do you shun affection?' they implored. Good question.
'Do you truly love me?' they pleaded. Well, do I?
It was simply who she was; distant, unaffectionate, unloving. She was a loner, always had been and always will be; and nothing was going to change that. Her mother knew this and tried to fix her, to break her out of her encompassed shell. But then she ran away. Her partners for the most part showed patience, believing that with time she would break out of her icy demeanor. But she never did.
She was Cecillia Tevos. The loner.
Her Omni-tool chimed again, retrieving her from her introspection. It was the same message as before, the priority transmission from Thessia. Cecillia quickly typed a brief, professional reply to Commander Lidanya, informing her that she would find time to speak with her but would decline the Dilinaga invitation. That finished, she opened the priority message to see what was so damn important.
-Thessia Intelligence Service
-Clearance level 001. Priority Athla-Cresteris
-Subject: Turian Fleet Mobilization
Cecillia raised a brow. In recent weeks there had been scattered reports of the Turians shuffling around their fleets and armies, but nothing quite definitive. The Hierarchy had always been an insular society, especially when it came to military matters. She read on.
Intelligence Command has confirmed through varying sources of a large scale mobilization of ships and troops within Hierarchy controlled space. Any notion of a training exercise has been dispelled. At least 40 legions - 400,000 soldiers - have been pulled from peacekeeping duties along with the 47th, 39th, and 23rd flotilla. Hierarchy Command has recalled 35% of all Reserves back into active service, and 6.3 million soldiers have been put on stand-by status along the Newrian Veil.
Various reports of death notifications to family members of soldiers have been confirmed; a large number of these from the Bostra colony. General alert readiness has been issued on worlds across Hierarchy space (particularly the Newrian Veil). Sources from the STG have confirmed that numerous dry-docks have been ordered to increase ship production by as much as 30 to 35 percent, and at least one dock has been issued orders to construct two new dreadnaughts, despite the Hierarchy not needing a replacement for another 26 years. The scale of their mobilization and increase in production suggest that the Hierarchy is preparing for an invasion.
Evidence suggests most fleet activity is taking place on the edge of the Newrian Veil. Intercepted transmissions from that area have been limited. The few we've managed to decipher suggest that the Turians have lost an entire Flotilla due to intense fighting with an unidentified force; from who or what, we don't know. While most of the data was heavily encrypted, we were able to lift two important details concerning the fleet movements.
First, there are repeated references of Relay 314, an inactive Relay located on the edge of unexplored space near the Newrian Veil.
And second, a limited casualty report of the supposed conflict. It is as follows;
(NOTE: Information attained through third tier sources on unsecured channels, and therefore may not reflect reality.)
-Fifteen ships, including the Dreadnaught Bostra, four Cruisers, and ten Frigates are listed as 'destroyed' or 'captured'.
-Two-thirds of the 19th legion (6,132 soldiers) listed as killed in action. One-sixth listed as 'captured'; the rest walking wounded and/or combat effective.
It is unknown who or what the Turians have engaged against. In response to this information, Asari alert-readiness has been raised and Turian space will be extensively monitored. All Asari Command will be notified when updates are available.
Cecillia stared wide-eyed for a few moments, forgetting that she was standing soaked and naked by the mirror. She was not expecting that. She went over the brief contents of the message again, making sure she had read it right. The Turians are preparing for an invasion? Against who?
More shockingly; what did the report mean by 'captured'? That would imply that not only did the Turians engage in a fight, but that they lost. The Turians were a species of professional soldiers; they had the most powerful military in the galaxy. They didn't lose engagements.
Cecillia dried herself off and dressed quickly, deciding to wear a simple one-piece attire. Activating her Omni-tool, she linked up with her secretary. "Kaila, prepare a shuttle for the Turian embassy. Notify Kravux that I will be arriving shortly."
"Of course Councilor."
She was going to have a talk with the Turian Councilor.
AN: This story may take a few liberties from cannon. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think.