When You're Strange

Chapter 16

A/N: Well, it's been a while. Lots of interesting stuff happened last time, and more to come, so let's dive right in, shall we? Oh, and haters keep right on hatin'. You're not gonna stop this train of lunatics. :D


Shepard looked back at Virmire as the Normandy sped away, watching the brilliant flash of fire bloom up from the facility as she pressed the button on the remote detonator. Her smile was sad as she watched. While it was a beautiful – if small – explosion, and her crew had benefited significantly from the data they'd found there, she was saddened by the needless loss of life she'd witnessed within the facility.

There'd been many indoctrinated test subjects within, and while she had never been one to mourn putting an end to a life that deserved it, death by forced brainwashing was a horrible way to go. Her own methods were quick, and usually painless; mercy killings in some instances. She sent a prayer to the spirits for those lost both inside the facility, and those on Kirrahe's team that hadn't made it.

She turned and headed towards the elevator, wanting to check in on Kirrahe and the rest of his team, as well as give their report to the Council. She palmed the interface and leaned against the lift wall, sighing tiredly as it slowly ground its way to the engineering deck.

As the lift doors opened, she was assaulted with a myriad of voices coming from all over the cargo bay; most of them of the high-pitched, almost nasally, fast-paced salarian speech pattern variety; the rest a mix of the species she normally encountered on this deck. Wrex was growling at a young salarian lieutenant – couldn't have been older than 13 – for crowding his usual post against 'his' crates. Ash was talking almost as fast as the salarian she was speaking to, passionately arguing about gun mods. Garrus was talking with Kirrahe and one of his surviving team leaders about accommodations for his team until they reached the Citadel, which would be about a week-long trip. Tali had joined the fray, babbling techno-speak with three salarians at once, all of them spewing out enough technical jargon to make Shepard's head spin.

She rolled her eyes and huffed a sigh that made her cheeks puff out for a moment, then headed towards Kirrahe. Garrus looked up and flicked a smile at her, which she returned, then faced the STG Captain next to him. "Welcome aboard, Captain. I am ready to make my report to the Council, should you like to join me. I believe you mentioned something to that effect before we began the assault."

Kirrahe's face lit up fractionally as he nodded. "Yes, am ready, Shepard. Thank you for welcoming us aboard, our own ship was sadly not as lucky as yours when faced with the AA guns. Was just discussing accommodations for my team with Officer Vakarian, he assures me you have space, so that issue dealt with. Shall we?" He gestured towards the elevator quickly, then clasped his hands and nodded his head, quietly deferring to Shepard with the motion.

She smiled and imitated his gesture towards the elevator, heading for it with him tight on her trail. They stepped in and she hit the interface before leaning casually against the back of the slow-moving lift. A thought quirked the corner of her lip up, and she glanced over at the fidgety Captain beside her. "You know, Kirrahe, I didn't want to say anything too over the top at the time, but that was one hell of a speech you gave down there. I'm not even salarian, and I was inspired. For so many of your team to have made it out alive, they must've been even more inspired. You're a damn good leader, and I hope your government recognizes that."

Kirrahe's face flushed slightly greener than normal, a sly, guarded smile perking his lips as he looked over at her. "Thank you, Shepard. Is not always easy to fan the flame of courage in my species, but we do the best we can with what we have."

She nodded in respect and smiled at him as they both turned to face the now opening lift doors. They headed up the stairs to the CIC, and walked quietly into the comm room. Shepard activated her comm device. "Joker, patch the Council in if you would. You know, if it's not interrupting your Fornax viewing or anything." She grinned at Kirrahe as his eyes grew even larger than normal at her comment.

["Patching them in now, Taren. And for your information, I do work sometimes. I just know how to balance my play and work time, unlike someone else I know."]

Shepard laughed. "Ha! Touche, Joker."

The three councilors sputtered into view slowly behind the comm panel, and Shepard quickly plastered her 'Commander Mask' on as she faced them. She nodded respectfully to them before she spoke. "Councilors, this will be a jointly filed report by Captain Kirrahe and I. We have critical information about Saren and his associates that you need to know about. I am sorry to say that the galaxy must begin preparations for war. We'll soon be under siege by an enemy we may not be able to defeat, but we've gotta try."

Valern, the salarian councilor spoke first. "What proof do you have of this impending attack?"

Shepard held her hand up for a moment of silence. "If you will give me a moment, I will call Garrus Vakarian into the room. He recorded the entire mission for us on his C-SEC issued visor. He has all the proof you could possibly ask for, and if you will not accept his irrefutable evidence, then I will gladly submit any of my ground team's minds for your inspection, Councilor Tevos." She looked pointedly at the asari councilor, as if daring her to refuse the offer, should they attempt to dispute Garrus' recording as faked.

Sparatus, the turian councilor spoke up. "Very well Shepard, bring forth your evidence. I will accept the recording as proof, though I cannot speak for my compatriots." He slid a glance at the other two councilors, and Tevos nodded. After a few moments, Valern – grudgingly, it seemed – also nodded.

Shepard dipped her head slightly, bringing her fingers up to her ear to activate her comm chip. "Garrus, please report to the comm room."

She was about to address the Councilors again when she heard his voice on her comm, where nobody else could hear. {"On my way. You know, it feels strange when you call me anything but Vima now. I can't believe it's only been two weeks since we bonded, it feels like years with all the little side mission we go on. Oh, by the way, I downloaded a new vid yesterday I think you should see. It's an independent film about a turian-human couple, and the challenges they face... as well as the perks they discover as they get closer to each other. The reviews were pretty stellar."}

She coughed as her eyes shifted nervously to the Councilors, who were waiting for her to speak, and she replied as tactfully as possible, given the situation. "I'll take that under advisement, Garrus. Shepard out." She hoped he would get the hint.

Fortunately, Kirrahe decided to take the opportunity to give the Council his report, while Garrus' voice sounded once again in Shepard's ear. {"Ohhh ho-ho, the Council are on the comms right now, aren't they?"} He took her silence as an affirmative answer, so he resumed his assault on her auditory senses. {"Am I being distracting? Is my 'beautiful voice' keeping you from performing your duties, Commander?"}

She shot a quick, nervous glance towards the holo-image of Sparatus as the thought of flexing her throat to trill her annoyance (as well as some arousal) through her comm occurred to her, then was swiftly squashed. Even through the long-range comms, she knew sub-harmonics could easily be heard, and she wanted to let the video evidence show them the truth of her heritage, rather than her own slip-up.

Garrus sounded like he was barely holding back laughter as his voice resonated through her senses once more. {"I'll bet you're just dying to let me know exactly what you think of my little distraction, aren't you? You know, my visor recording will reveal to the Council that you're a hybrid. I wonder what Councilor Sparatus will think of that? I'm going to love watching his face. As much as he's always gone on about humans not being ready to join the galactic community, I'm curious how shocked he'll be to find out he's let a turian masquerading as a human join the Spectre's."}

She barely held back the smirk that scene in her head induced, and she bit her lip, trying hard to appear as if she were concentrating on Kirrahe's report. She nearly sighed in relief as she heard the doors behind her swish open, and she turned to see Garrus enter, a cocky smirk on his plated face. He wasn't in range of the comm's holo-sensors yet, so his momentary joviality would not be noted by the Council members. He fought hard to straighten his face as Shepard glared at him with a look that screamed 'you will pay for this later', but he somehow managed it, just as he came in range of the holo-sensors. He came to a stop slightly behind and beside Shepard, as he waited for Kirrahe to finish his report.

It didn't take long, the salarians being the efficient species they were known to be, and the Councilors turned their attention back towards Shepard and her newly arrived companion. Sparatus nodded greeting to Garrus, which he returned, before removing his visor and taking out the small storage chip that contained his visor's recorded data. He inserted it into the comm panel, and keyed up the video feed of their mission on Virmire. Everyone stood watching the playback with rapt attention, pausing intermittently when one of the Councilors would ask a question.

Sparatus quirked an browplate the first time Garrus called Shepard Vima, but held his tongue. Each subsequent time the term was uttered, his face grew more perplexed and tight, until he finally had the appearance of a very constipated turian. Ever the proper turian, he refrained from commenting on it, but it was obvious that it was bothering him. When the video played the part of her telling Wrex to retrieve the genophage cure data if he was able, Valern and Sparatus both interjected their harsh disapproval of her actions, but ceded that it would be many years – if it ever occurred – before the krogans would finish the cure by their own means. By comparison, their reaction to the geth being modified was mild. Very concerned, but mild.

When the recording finally reached the point of their conversation with Sovereign, Shepard paused the video of her own volition, and looked at each of the Councilors in turn as she spoke. "What you are about to see is the holographic representation of a reaper. This is the cause of the invasion I have warned you about. As you watch this, please keep in mind that the actual ship that contains this being is nearly as large as the Destiny Ascension, and has obliterated everything in its path so far. If you choose to ignore this threat, the entire galaxy will suffer for your refusal to see the truth."

Tevos nodded her affirmation. "Please continue, Shepard."

Shepard resumed the playback.

Every eye in the room, holographic or otherwise, was fixed on the recording as Sovereign began to speak. Shepard could feel the tension building in the Council chambers from where she stood, as the holographic figures grew rigid, tense, their faces more and more concerned and worried as time went on at what they were witnessing. As the windows of the room in the playback shattered, the tension nearly broke as all three holographic figures jumped slightly in surprise. Shepard paused the video.

"This is one of the creatures that wiped out the protheans fifty-thousand years ago. We don't have a lot of data on them, other than what scarce bits have been retrieved during missions, as well as what the prothean beacons have shown me. They are incredibly powerful, a destructive force that wants only one thing: the extermination of life as we know it. If we do not find some way to fight these beings, we will all be obliterated, just like the protheans were.

As you know from my Feros mission report, I encountered a creature that was old enough to have first-hand knowledge of the protheans. Saren had sacrificed one of his followers – an asari – to it, in exchange for the cypher, which is the key to understanding the prothean language, and thus the messages from the beacons. I am beginning to fully understand what the message each beacon has been giving me is. Each one gives a different perspective of the complete harvesting, and utter annihilation of the prothean race. They all tell the same story. If we are not prepared to fight against them, we will be harvested, just as the protheans were; just as every galactic civilization that came before them were. They do not know mercy, they do not negotiate. They are synthetic, heartless, and immensely powerful.

As I mentioned earlier, Councilor Tevos, I would be happy to submit my mind for your examination, should you believe me to be lying, or adjusting the truth. Or, if you simply want to see what the beacons have been telling me. Whatever it takes to get the council on-board with preparations, we will cooperate fully."

Tevos seemed deep in thought, before she finally nodded and spoke. "I believe you, Shepard. However, I must confess, I am curious about these visions. I would like to witness them myself. If you are able to impart a clear translation of them, I should very much like to know what the protheans left behind for us to find."

"I'll do my best, Councilor. Dr. Liara T'Soni may be able to help in that regard, and we should be arriving at the citadel in about a week's time." Shepard sighed and gestured to the paused video. "The rest of the mission is worth a look, if you would like to watch. We encountered Saren in person, and I believe he is indoctrinated, based on Dr. Thanoptis' description of the symptoms. It would explain quite a bit as to why he would choose to help the reapers, as well as why he betrayed the Council, and the galaxy as a whole. He is not in his right mind, if he is indoctrinated. I will let you decide for yourselves, should you choose to watch." She tried not to twitch nervously, as she thought of what else the rest of the video contained.

Valern spoke up. "By all means, let's get on with it."

Shepard nodded and resumed the video. The playback continued to their confrontation with Saren, as Shepard watched Sparatus' face closely. When the file played Saren's questions to her about smelling and sounding like a turian, both of Sparatus' browplates rose significantly, and when her recorded self revealed her heritage, his jaw and mandibles slackened in shock, his eyes wide in realization. Shepard fully expected him to scream in outrage, but neither a sub-vocal scream, nor his silent voice betrayed any such thought.

She chanced a look at the other two Councilors, who were equally surprised, but seemed to recover far more quickly. Shepard fixed her gaze back on Sparatus, who was now looking at her, rather than the video, and when she heard the indignant shock and questioning begin to rise in his subvocals, her lip twitched into the tiniest of smirks as she stretched her throat and trilled affirmation. He blinked, his eyes going wider than it seemed possible for a turian, then returned his eyes to the video, which was displaying Saren convulsing as Sovereign took control once more. As the scene quickly escalated into the firefight, then ended with Saren's escape, The Council collectively donned expressions of concern on their faces, as their gazes slowly traveled from the recording to Shepard.

She stopped the recording, and Garrus took the chip from the comm interface. Shepard took a breath before she spoke up. "The rest of the mission is just my ground team picking up Captain Kirrahe and his men, then leaving the planet. We detonated the charges after we reached a safe distance, and the facility has been destroyed. We also managed to retain that geth Prime unit we captured, and it is currently being studied by our resident geth expert, Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, as well as our chief medical officer, Dr. Karin Chakwas. As soon as they have a report ready, I'll forward it to you." She stood quietly as she waited for what she assumed were the inevitable questions about the only topic she'd failed to mention: her newly revealed heritage.

Sparatus looked as if he were about to speak, when Tevos interrupted unwittingly. "Very good, Shepard. We will expect the rest of the information in a personal report once you've arrived at the Citadel. Is there anything else we should know about?"

Shepard shook her head. "No, Councilors. Until we have the full report on the modified geth Prime unit, we have no further intel to contribute."

Tevos nodded as if to accept Shepard's words, then cut the comm link, but Sparatus intervened this time. "Do not expect that we have forgotten the... other information regarding you personally, Shepard. We shall be discussing those details in depth once you arrive. Council out."

As the comm link blinked and faded out, Shepard looked to Garrus, worry creasing her features. "Odd that they would wait to discuss that. Do they suspect someone is listening in, maybe?"

Garrus shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe they want a more in-depth study? Or they need time to confirm it? I'm surprised Sparatus held back as well as he did, I fully expected at least some sort of outburst, if not from learning your heritage, then from finding out that we're bonded."

Shepard nodded enthusiastically. "Exactly, it doesn't make sense. I mean, there was a small reaction for a moment, but Sparatus is usually so outspoken. I wonder if they're looking to sweep this under the rug, so to speak."

Garrus quirked a browplate at this. "Sweep it under the rug?"

Shepard blinked in confusion at first, then realized she'd used a human saying, something she normally didn't do around him. "Oh, sorry. It means to cover it up, or try to hide or ignore it."

His features relaxed as comprehension dawned on him. "Ah, yeah that would make sense, if that was their intention."

Shepard turned to Kirrahe, who appeared to be deep in thought, and not paying any attention to their conversation. "So, Captain, ready to get your crew settled in for the trip?"

Kirrahe's eyes lit up as she addressed him, and he cleared his throat as he spoke. "Yes, ready. Am curious myself, regardless of Council's intentions though. How do you have turian DNA?"

Shepard and Garrus both sighed and shared a tired look. She gave a slight smile to Kirrahe and began. "Well Captain, it all started years ago, in the first contact war..."

~o0o0o0o0o0o~

Tali was having a field day. She'd managed to wrangle the salarians she'd been speaking to earlier in the cargo hold into investigating the Prime unit along with her, and they were all eagerly picking apart the specimen, under Chakwas' watchful eye. What they'd uncovered so far was both horrifying and fascinating all at once. Her nerves pricked under her skin as the anticipation mounted with each new discovery.

The geth had been modifying themselves for many years before the reapers had gotten their claws into them, and each new technological advancement was carefully recorded and cataloged in the data packet she intended to return to the Flotilla with, after sending a copy to the Council through Shepard.

As she slowly dismantled the unit's central processing chamber, something flickered at the edge of her vision, in the direction of the unit's partially disassembled head. She jerked her head towards it and stared, hoping it had been nothing but nerves. As nothing moved for several moments, she returned her attention to her task, shrugging. Another flicker snapped her eyes to the geth's 'face', for lack of a better term.

She looked around at her little team of salarians, then up at the good Doctor, all of whom were staring at the geth's face. Apparently she wasn't the only one who'd noticed. Good, she wasn't going crazy. She backed away from her prodding, and ran a deep scan on the central processing chamber, hoping to find some clue as to why the geth was reacting, when it should have been dead.

As the readings started to roll up her screen, she muttered the important bits to herself. "Low level functions still active, cognitive processors shut down, area scanners... active... Keelah, it's still alive! Barely, but still..."

She shared an apprehensive look with her fellow investigators. "I'm calling Shepard down here. Who knows what this thing could be capable of."

As everyone nodded their affirmation of her suggestion, she activated her comm unit. "Shepard, can you please come down to Engineering? We may have a situation with the Prime unit."

{"On my way, Tali."} Came Shepard's reply.

Tali looked up at Chakwas as a thought came to her. "I'm going to go get Wrex and Ash too, tell me if something else happens while I'm gone, I won't be but a minute."

At Chakwas' nod, she stood and rushed out of Engineering, running towards Wrex's area, as she shouted to both he and Ash, "Wrex, Ash, come with me, something's going on with the geth! Shepard's on her way."

She turned and ran back to Engineering before they had a chance to reply, both of them hot on her heels.