Here we go! Just a few things you should know...
1) This is the sequel to High Class Hostage. You can track that story down through my profile. For those of you who need a refresher, I've started the prologue off with a brief re-cap of what happened. High Class Hostage was my attempt to work through some of the potential problems that could arise from the Synthesis ending and it was written prior to the extended cut release. So, like the first story, this sequel doesn't take into account any of the events and changes that came about as a result of the extended cut.
2) The plan is for regular updates. I'm trying for about three times a week. Ultimately the story will be twenty chapters (including the prologue and epilogue).
3) Reviews are very, very much appreciated! The advantage of posting one chapter at a time is that I can respond to reviews and incorporate your helpful feedback into future chapters. Which only makes the story better. Hurrah for better stories!
4) *Here there be spoilers!* for all three ME games and all DLC. Ye have been warned! Also, Rated T for violence, some adult themes, etc.
5) Finally, I still don't own anything from the Mass Effect universe. That privilege belongs to Bioware/EA. Obviously.
The story so far…
Shepard's final choice affected the galaxy she fought for in ways that she could not anticipate: the mass relays were destroyed, synthetics (including ships and mechs) became sentient, and organics have gained various machine-based abilities. Without the relays, the fleets of the galaxy were forced to make decades-long sojourns back to their homeworlds. Two of Shepard's non-human companions, however, chose to remain on Earth.
Liara T'Soni continued her work as the Shadow Broker from Earth, raising an asari daughter, Tiersa, but with a secret. When she gave Shepard one last gift before the final assault in London, Liara did not tell Shepard that this "gift" was more than an exchange of thoughts: Tiersa is the product of that union.
Upon discovering this, Garrus Vakarian was appalled at what Liara had done. Broken, he wandered Earth for nearly ten years before circumstances placed a human orphan under his care. Raising Adrienna as his own daughter, he achieved a strange kind of peace that was interrupted with the news of Liara's violent death…and Tiersa's unexpected arrival at his home.
For a year, Tiersa lived with Garrus and Adrienna. Then Adrienna was kidnapped by a group of mercenaries looking for revenge against Archangel. During her rescue, Garrus was killed…but then brought back to life by a part of Shepard that had become imbued in the new DNA created by the Synthesis. Adrienna and Tiersa, believing Garrus to be dead, followed his final instructions and departed Earth for Rannoch on a geth ship.
In the meantime, Tali had returned to Rannoch after the Reaper War. As the Admiral in charge of geth-quarian relations, she helped her people re-populate their homeworld and become a great civilization once again—assisted, in no small part, by the exceptional FTL technology gifted by the geth. Tali raised a family of three children in a beautiful house she built on Rannoch. And then she got a communication that Garrus was dead. And that Adrienna and Tiersa were coming to Rannoch to live with her.
Now it is 2213 AD: twenty-seven years after Synthesis changed the galaxy forever. And six years after Tiersa T'Soni and Adrienna Vakarian departed for Earth…
Chapter 1: Prologue: Prisoner #2186
There was nothing Trooper Two-Zeta-Seven disliked more than guarding this particular prisoner. Today, it was especially irritating because he had been assigned to this cell with Trooper Eight-Tau-Eight, who had a tendency to whistle through his nose when he breathed. The annoyance was only amplified whenever Eight-Tau-Eight switched on his helmet mic. As Two-Zeta-Seven fell into his position on the other side of the cell's door from Eight-Tau-Eight, he ignored the other trooper's nod, hoping that would be enough to avoid conversation.
Sometimes during particularly painful guard duties like these ones, Two-Zeta-Seven would try to remember what he had once been. He could remember a woman with sea-green eyes and a tumble of red curls. And he could remember a little boy whom he had once carried around in his arms. The boy had watched him with eyes the same color as the woman's. There had been a planet. Not Earth, but a colony world whose virgin soil was just budding with imported crops for the first time in its entire history. He could remember the satisfaction of watching the greenness burst through the shadowy topsoil: light brought forth from the darkness all due to the power of his own human hands and tools and intelligence.
And he could remember how all this had changed when the ships had descended from the sky: those ships, huge and dark and terrifyingly apathetic to the beings that fled before them. He'd barely managed to get his family into the colony's evac transports in time. And then they had nowhere else left to go but a planet that had promised shelter from the storms of war: a sanctuary.
But then…then there had been pain. Tests and injections and implants. He could remember screaming that woman's name and perhaps his own name, though he could not remember what either of those names were now. And then there had been nothing. Nothing but that smooth, intoxicating voice that told him everything he needed to do and everywhere he needed to go.
The voice had told him where to go: how to fall into formation with the other troopers around him. It had told him what to do: how to pull the trigger of a submachine gun at a family cowering against a wall. The voice had been everything, and everything that had come before…the woman's bright smile, the way the boy would sprint into his arms, the feel of the soil running through his hands…suddenly had meant nothing to Two-Zeta-Seven.
They had gone from planet to planet: killing, capturing, pillaging. Doing whatever the voice needed them to do. Until, one day, as Two-Zeta-Seven had been posed to administer a killing stroke with his baton to a salarian that hadn't been courteous enough to die willingly, the voice was suddenly silenced. And Two-Zeta-Seven began, for the first time in a long time, to think for himself again.
It was not a welcomed feeling.
All around him, his fellow troopers had panicked. The voice had been their oxygen; now that it was gone, they were all drowning. Two-Zeta-Seven had suddenly remembered that there had once been a green-eyed woman and a child and a planet. And he had wondered, for the first time, what had happened to them all. Though he still found that he didn't really want to know. All he wanted was the voice and now it was gone.
But there had been a distress signal: an incessant nagging at the base of his skull that was a poor substitute for the richness that the voice had been. The signal had told them to go to Earth and they had obeyed: their team had been deployed on Mars and so it did not matter that Sol's mass relay had been reduced to debris drifting on the edges of the solar system. There had been other teams deployed elsewhere, all across the galaxy, but without the mass relays, they all knew that those other troops were as good as gone.
At the rendezvous point on Earth, he had met Eva Harper for the first time. She was also the first human he had seen up close after the Synthesis: her green circuitry pulsed in the shadow of her cascading black hair, vivid against her milk-white skin. For the first time, he had realized that troopers like himself—those who had once been able to hear the voice—had been passed over in the multiple blessings and curses the Synthesis had provided.
That did not matter much to Two-Zeta-Seven. He had no particular desire for the green circuitry along his skin or for the ability to communicate on a binary level with other organic and synthetic beings. It had only mattered because it was a confirmation of what he had suspected ever since he had regained the ability to think for himself: that he was no longer human and had not been human for a very long time.
He remembered how young Harper had been then: little more than a child, it seemed, but she told them that they would recover the voice, that they would all be whole again. All they needed to do was renounce their Cerberus allegiance and quietly become agents of a newly-formed black ops research division of the Alliance that would be devoted to discovering what exactly had happened during the Synthesis.
"Cerberus isn't just the organization or the people behind it," she confided to them all. "Cerberus is an idea. An idea that can best thrive within the shelter of the Alliance military. I understand that you once fought them as your enemies. But don't forget that Cerberus is all about protecting humanity. And, right now, the Alliance is humanity."
It hadn't really been a choice: Harper did not speak as sweetly as the voice had, but her commands soothed the raw edges of the void that the voice had left behind. There was only a handful of Cerberus forces left now (perhaps a few hundred out of a galaxy-spanning force of thousands), but they would be enough for this.
Trooper Two-Zeta-Seven had been on several operations over the past twenty-seven years since the end of the Reaper War. A part of him knew that he should be an old man by now, but he didn't feel any older than the day at Sanctuary when he had been transformed from a human colonist into a cog in the great Cerberus war machine. Once, he had heard Harper remark dryly to a researcher that troopers seemed to be destined to die violently…or not at all.
But this current stint in this secret Alliance facility had to be the worst assignment he had ever received. He disliked guard duty. It was boring. It gave him time to think. And Two-Zeta-Seven didn't want to be able to think: he wanted the voice back.
The only consolation to being assigned to guard Prisoner #2186 was the knowledge that this prisoner mattered more than all the others: Harper believed he was the key to getting the voice back. But everyone knew that Prisoner #2186 had been here for nearly six years now. And Two-Zeta-Seven only had to look at the lines forming across Harper's pretty face to know that they were no closer to figuring out how to use this prisoner than they had been when they first brought him to the facility.
One of the researchers came by with the meal cart and handed Two-Zeta-Seven the prisoner's meal. It was marked with a blue lid to signal that it was dextro-friendly. Two-Zeta-Seven sighed: he really didn't want to be the one to deliver the meal into the cell. He tried to avoid eye contact with the meal attendant, but the woman shoved the tray into his hands anyhow. Then, he tried to hand it off to Eight-Tau-Eight, but his fellow trooper stared across the hallway, ignoring him.
Resigned to his fate, Two-Zeta-Seven knocked twice on the door to signal that he was entering the cell. Without waiting for an answer—he didn't expect one—he entered.
The thing he disliked most about Prisoner #2186 was the way he stared at him. The other prisoners were meeker. Some, like that asari on the lower floor, were almost friendly: she had been smart enough to figure out that this facility was not intended as a punishment, but was simply a necessity. It was all for the good of humanity. It had always been for the good of humanity.
Prisoner #2186 had never seemed to accept this. Two-Zeta-Seven could feel the stare as he tossed the meal tray onto the bolted-down table next to two bolted-down chairs. Two-Zeta-Seven removed the lid. There was no cutlery, of course—not after what happened a week ago. The researchers had decided to call it The Fork Incident, which they seemed to find funny. All Two-Zeta-Seven knew was that it had resulted in Six-Beta-Six being carried out in a body bag with a fork in his jugular and Prisoner #2186 being drugged and carried back to his cell after making it all the way to the lower level. The farthest he'd ever gotten on an escape attempt. And there had been many—too many—of those over the past six years.
The old turian's stare was cold steel against the back of Two-Zeta-Seven's neck. This prisoner was even uglier than the average turian: one side was torn up by some old wound and the other had a pulsing streak of blue light that blanketed the turian's eye and temple. He knew that Prisoner #2186 had been wearing some kind of visor that had fused into him during the Synthesis: it was why his cell as the only one lined with various heat and radiation blockers. Two-Zeta-Seven had no doubt that this prisoner was a very expensive guest for this Alliance black ops group.
It wasn't like this facility had been intended for torture. It was a comfortable cell with a bed and the table and a GUI interface arranged across a console in the corner, in order to provide entertainment for the prisoner. Granted, this cell was barer than most. At one point, Harper had granted Prisoner #2186 a series of weights and a punching bag, but those had been taken away after the punching bag had been used to pin down two of the guards and one of the dumbbells had almost taken off Harper's pretty little neck before she was able to get in a tranquilizer shot that subdued the turian.
Two-Zeta-Seven tried not to show any kind of haste in his return to the door, but it was difficult not to feel relief when he reached it and rapped twice on its reassuringly solid form. He glanced back at the turian, but the prisoner hadn't made a move towards either the food nor the door. He just continued staring at Two-Zeta-Seven. Two-Zeta-Seven heard a dull thud outside the door. For a moment, the turian's mandibles flicked against the sides of his face.
Two-Zeta-Seven banged on the door again, grunting unappreciatively at Eight-Tau-Eight's slowness. If the voice had been here, this delay would never happen: all the Cerberus troops had been perfectly synchronized, moving as one great organism rather than scattered and directionless like they were now. The turian tilted his head to one side at the delay. Two-Zeta-Seven didn't like that. It made him feel vulnerable. As he knocked again and continued to feel the cold stare at his back, Two-Zeta-Seven realized what exactly was so disturbing about the turian's gaze.
It made Two-Zeta-Seven feel like he was already dead.
Finally, he heard the door slide open. Two-Zeta-Seven stepped through quickly, glancing back over his shoulder to make sure the turian still stood on the other side of the room. He was surprised to see the turian's brow plates rise and the coldness in those blue eyes brightened. Two-Zeta Seven stepped forward, turning towards Eight-Tau-Eight.
"What the hell was that about? You could ha—"
There was a blue flash and Two-Zeta-Seven felt his body suddenly pulled backwards into the cell. His back slammed against the wall and he crumpled to the floor. He could taste the metallic tang of both blood and broken circuits dangling in the back of his throat.
"Damn it," the turian was saying in a voice that seemed a strange mixture of anger and relief. "Why couldn't you have done this years ago?"
A female voice—no, an asari voice—mumbled something in reply that Two-Zeta-Seven couldn't understand through the electricity swimming across his ear drum. He lifted his head and saw that his SMG wasn't lying too far away. He wanted to reach for it…but first he activated the emergency signal on his comm. Then, Two-Zeta-Seven strained towards the gun.
But the turian was suddenly there: Two-Zeta-Seven rolled, but another burst of biotics poured across his body in a burning surge of pain. The SMG slipped out of his hands and into the talons of the turian. The slugs peppered his chest and Two-Zeta-Seven knew that the turian had been right all along: Two-Zeta-Seven had always been dead, nothing more than a future corpse.
And as he died, Two-Zeta-Seven was comforted by the sound of heavy boots pounding down the hallway. Reinforcements had arrived. Prisoner #2186 wasn't leaving. Not this time. Not ever. Harper would use this turian to find the voice again and then…then everything in the galaxy could be set right again.
But Two-Zeta-Seven was surprised that his final thoughts were not of the voice, but of that green-eyed woman he could barely remember. And he felt a strange surge of sadness as the last of his breath left him.
Because he remembered his own name.