Chapter 13: Ripples

"They WHAT?!" Tevos shrieked as Nihlus finished his report. She had to be hallucinating. That was the only explanation for this. The only other alternative, that the warmongering yahoos didn't kill everything in their path, was unthinkable. Worse, it put the lunatics in a real position of power. Humanity's technology combined with the geth's obvious proclivities as synthetics could easily destroy the Citadel in a matter of decades. It couldn't be true. It just wasn't possible.

"XCOM has secured a military alliance with the geth," Nihlus repeated himself. By his posture, it was clear the turian was nearly as taken aback by the abrupt turn of events as she was. "As well as adopting the role of peacekeeper between the quarians and the geth while the quarians resettle Rannoch."

"Let me get this straight," Sparatus interjected before she could respond. "The Coalition launched a crusade against the geth and before the first battle was even over, they agreed to a military alliance?"

"Yes Councillor," Nihlus said with a nod.

"And then the geth asked them to be peaceful mediators? Humans?" Tevos asked incredulously. Nihlus nodded. One of her hands rose to her head and began massaging her temples. As if she didn't have enough to deal with. Saren and his geth were planning to attack the Citadel Athame only knew when, and now the humans were trying to drive her insane. "How does that even work?" she wondered aloud, somewhat bitterly. Thank Athame the Council was alone and she could ask such questions. "It goes against everything we know about them."

"Not necessarily," Sparatus said in response. She turned and leveled a questioning gaze on the turian. "Past actions have always been retaliatory, directed primarily against those responsible. Other casualties, while numerous, could be considered collateral damage." She made sure her displeasure at calling tens of thousands of deaths 'collateral damage' was quite clear in her intense glare. He ignored her with ease, continuing to make his point. "The geth have splintered. It only makes sense to sue for peace when that came to light. Anything else is a pointless waste of life trying to punish a group that had nothing to do with it. And that exact reputation would likely endear them to the geth for the role of mediators. It's hard to start a fight when you're afraid your entire family will die because of it." He took a deep breath. "That's all pointless speculation though. It doesn't matter. However they did it, it's done. There's only one question we need to ask: what does this mean for us?"

"Behavioral predictions have not changed greatly yet," Valern answered. "It is likely once the situation with Saren is resolved, both parties will resume isolationist policies. Unless there exists a reason to prevent this." Valern said the last with a questioning glance to Nihlus.

Nihlus' mandibles tightened in a sharp frown. "Both the geth and now the humans believe Saren is attempting to bring about the return of the Reapers," he said. His frown deepened. "I have seen the evidence provided Councillors. Most of it is hearsay and witness testimony, and all of my training and experience tells me to reject it, but something does not let me. I can say nothing more on the subject, save that XCOM believes it."

Tevos felt the beginnings of a migraine. Someone honestly believed omnicidal synthetics were coming. What was next? That the Citadel was a giant death ray? She chided herself on her distraction. It didn't matter how ridiculous a theory it was. Only that the first power bloc in centuries legitimately capable of matching the Citadel believed it. Centuries of experience were brought to bear in that instant. Scenario after scenario poured through her mind in a constant stream as she tried to build a mental map for the most likely responses.

And to her mounting fury, nothing solidified. The entire situation was so dramatically out of character for every single one of the parties involved that all of her beliefs, her understanding of those parties had to be reexamined. She had believed the quarians would never accept peaceful coexistence with the geth. She had believed that humanity would never accept peaceful coexistence with anyone not explicitly on their terms. She had believed the geth would never accept peaceful coexistence at all.

For the first time in over half a millenium, Matriarch Tevos, representative of the entirety of her people, unofficial leader of the Citadel Council, one of the most powerful and respected beings in the entire galaxy, could not see the correct route to take. And that terrified her. Even more so when the other Councillors looked to her, clearly asking for guidance. She floundered, helplessly adrift in a potent mix of fear and frustrated anger, desperate for something to latch on to.

And she found it. Throughout everything, all of the possible outcomes, there was only one thing that was clear. The Citadel Council needed to be ready. If the geth and humans decided to attack Citadel Space, they would be a threat on par, at the very least, with the Krogan Rebellions. One that would not be stopped by a simple sterility plague. She desperately hoped that never happened, but she refused to gamble trillions of lives on hope. She looked to her fellows and spoke.

"Gentlemen, we must prepare for the worst," she said gravely. "Goddess willing, it will never be required, but we must be ready in case they turn hostile."

"Agreed," Valern said instantly. "The existing STG countermeasures for humanity have been rendered insufficient by their alliance with the geth. Alternatives will be devised." He looked to Tevos. "The simplest way to break their alliance is to incite riots amongst the quarians. They will not be able to put aside 300 years of racial tension so easily. It will be a simple matter to turn a gathering into a destructive rampage. Humanity has been charged with policing them. If they fail strongly enough, relations will be permanently soured."

Tevos sucked in a sharp breath. That plan would almost certainly finish the job the geth began and drive the quarians all the way to extinction... but it would protect her people. She nodded. "Be ready to use it at any time," she said slowly, hating herself more with every word. She leveled a sharp glare on both of her compatriots. "But we will not have a repeat of your stunt with the genophage. Not with innocent lives in danger."

"Of course," Valern agreed with a bow. Sparatus merely nodded.

"I will see to it that the Hierarchy is prepared," the turian Councillor said. "Military production will be increased, discretely of course. We'll do everything we can to be ready if they do decide to attack us."

"Excellent. My job will be to make sure none of that is ever needed," she said. How nearly impossible that seemed to her right then went tactfully unsaid. She opened a comm with her omnitool, calling one of her aides. "Kahleena, please invite Emissary Udina to an informal meeting with the Council. I'm sure he'll know why."

"Right away, Councillor," the secretary chirped and the line went dead. Tevos turned to her colleagues and found both of them looking nearly as harried as she felt. She sighed internally, cursing her job in a dozen different languages. Why did humanity have to keep doing this to her?

"-at do you think this means for the average citizen?" the young, pretty asari host asked her guest, her voice slightly tinny as it came through the speakers in the human embassy on the Citadel.

The, for his species, positively ancient Salarian sitting beside her coughed gently and said, "Likely nothing. Both the Coalition and the geth have demonstrated very little desire to interact with the rest of the galaxy. As long as they are not provoked, I see no reason for there to be a noticeable impact on the average citizen's life." Heh, at least somebody out there had the right idea.

"But what if they are provoked?" the asari pressed. Udina rolled his eyes. Newsies. When he'd first arrived on the Citadel, he had high hopes that the calm, wise and ancient asari would be above half-truths and misleading questions to inflate their ratings. That delusion hadn't lasted long. "Do we even have any firm idea of what could provoke them?"

"I see no reason for the Coalition to operate any differently now than they did last week," the salarian answered. "As we learned long ago, if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. The geth are more difficult however. Objective information about the geth rebellion is scarce, but what we do now is that it was quick, brutal and without warning. It is highly likely that any action taken by the geth against the Citadel will be much the same."

The asari grinned triumphantly and took the conversation in a new direction now that she got what she wanted. "Interesting, Doctor. And what can we expect from such action, if it were to occur?"

The salarian blinked, clearly taken aback, but rallied gamely. "That is difficult to say. There are no surviving records of their actions when they banished the quarians. Given humanity's well-known fondness for synthetics however, I would expect the Coalition to back any major geth offensive."

The asari's smile widened. "Sorry to cut it short here, but that's all the time we have for now. Thank you, Doctor." She turned to face the camera. "You heard it here. Troubling times could be ahead." Udina rolled his eyes again. Why couldn't there be an honest media troll? Just once? At least the salarian looked properly horrified by the implications she was making. A chime from his comm distracted him as the program went to commercial however, and he dismissed it.

"Udina here," he answered the call without preamble.

"Emissary, the Council requests your presence for an informal meeting," the voice on the other end said immediately. "Councilor Tevos said you would know what it is about."

Ah, so they wanted to talk. Once again, it was time to earn that paycheck. "I do. Tell them I will be there in a moment."

"Of course," was the reply before the line went dead. Udina dismissed the comm, turned and strode out of the room. As he walked, he tried to compose a script for the coming interview. It was ultimately a futile effort, nothing ever went wholly to script, but the attempt could only improve things. He scowled deeply. The entire Citadel was likely fairly skittish if that show was any indication. He'd have to allay at least some of the Council's fears. If the Reapers turned out to be real, they'd need to cooperate or they were all dead.

After a few minutes of furious thought, he found himself outside the doors to the Council's private audience chamber. He paused briefly, gathering himself and running over his rough plans one last time before pushing through the door like he owned the place. The three Councillors were seated behind a large table on the far side of the room, the floor gently sloping down from the table to the door, creating the subtle illusion that the members of the Council were much larger than they actually were. He ignored it with the ease of long practice and strode up the slight incline to stand before them.

"Councillors," he greeted them with a nod. "You have questions about the geth, I assume?"

"Correct," Tevos said, returning his nod with a regal, steady gaze. "I find myself greatly confused by this situation, Emissary. The Coalition has shown great disregard for diplomacy and a penchant for violence few others can match. The last time we met, you planned to eradicate the geth. Yet not even a week later, you have allied with them. It is a... pleasant surprise."

Udina let a deprecating smile spread across his lips. "We were wrong," he admitted shamelessly. "We jumped the gun and a lot of good people, human, quarian and geth, died because of it. It was fortunate the geth foresaw the possibility and contacted us before it got out of hand."

"Yes, fortunate," Sparatus said with a pensive air. "Or masterfully planned. After all, the only evidence they have provided has been their own testimony. Are you sure you can trust them?"

So that was their game. Udina shook his head sadly, then looked Sparatus straight in the eye, pushing every ounce of his annoyance at the heavy-handed tactic into his gaze. "Councillor, I'm not going to play this game. We have been presented sufficient evidence to believe their testimony. I won't debate it with you. Either state your business or I'm going back to my office."

Councillor Tevos aimed a fierce glare at the turian, but he ignored it in favor of returning Udina's stare. "I want to know what the Coalition intends to do now that you are allied with the geth. What do your people want?"

"I thought we had already established this Councillor," Udina said wearily. "I'm growing tired of repeating it. My people want nothing more than to live free of the sword of Damocles. From what I've seen and been told of the geth, they want much the same." He panned his gaze over all three Councillors. "Our immediate short-term goal is to prepare for the Reapers. Beyond that?" He let out a cynical chuckle. "We need to live that long first."

"You truly believe the Reapers are real?" Valern asked incredulously. The other Councillors exchanged nervous glances beside him. "Why?"

"The Reapers as a race of synthetics that wiped out the Protheans and are coming back?" Udina countered rhetorically. "No, we don't believe it. At least not with any degree of certainty." Tevos visibly relaxed at his words. He would have taken great odds she was internally celebrating he was less crazy than she feared. His eyes glittered with amusement. Time to see if he could shatter those delusions. "Something caused the geth to split though. We don't know what it really is, but it used their name. It could be any number of things, none of them good. Whatever it is, it has already attacked one human world, destroyed a Prothean relic, and murdered tens of thousands. We're not going to rest while it's out there."

Udina let the grin he was feeling slip out as Tevos' expression went stony and unreadable. Mission accomplished. Now to drive the point home. He looked at each Councillor in turn, his gaze and voice conveying absolute, borderline fanatical devotion to the concepts he presented. "We will be prepared for whatever is out there, no matter the cost. We have no interest in conflict with anyone who does not seek it with us, but we have paid the price for being unprepared once before, and it was far too steep. We have no plans to start any conflicts, only surviving whatever is coming. Whatever it takes." The aliens were visibly shaken by his blunt conviction. Udina nearly snorted aloud. He'd have thought they'd be used to that by now. He gave a short bow to the Councillors as they scrambled to reclaim their poise. "Have a nice day," he said faux-cheerily, turned on his heel and strode out of the room before they could regain their voices.

As soon as the door closed behind him, he let out a shaky breath and muttered, "Well, I hope that worked."

"Dr. T'soni?" Shepard called as he walked into the Normandy's laboratory on the cargo deck. "You in here?"

"Oh!" he heard a voice exclaim from behind the wall of equipment to his right, followed by a loud bang. Muffled cursing, in at least three separate languages, filled the room. Well, that answered that question. Rounding the equipment, he found the asari he sought sitting before a workbench, massaging one foot. The heavy paper tome on the floor beside her made it easy for Shepard to guess why. Holographic images, many of which he recognized from the site on Therum, floated above the table. "You startled me Commander," she said, sounding put out.

"Sorry," he said with a soft grin. "I figured you'd hear the door. You alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine." She grumbled under her breath for a few seconds, but released her foot and stood up. "Are you here to check up on me?"

"Yea," he said with a nod. "I would've been down here sooner, but things got a bit hectic with Legion." She shrugged awkwardly, so he continued. "You're looking a lot better. How're you feeling?"

"Better," she said softly. She took a deep breath. "Not good, not yet, but better." She went quiet, obviously struggling to find the right words for what came next. Shepard decided to stay silent and let her work through it on her own. "How do you do it?" she blurted a few seconds later, her voice a needy plea.

"Do what?" he asked, eyebrow raised.

"How do you cope with it," she waved her hands in a vague gesture. "The fear. The pain. So many people died," Her voice was distant as she finished, her arms circling her waist in an subconscious gesture as she seemed to shrink in on herself. Her gaze focused intently on the floor somewhere to her right and she refused to raise it, no matter what he did. "How do you deal with it all and not go completely insane?"

"Depending on who you ask, I don't," Shepard answered, trying to lighten the mood. The joke only seemed to send her shrinking further into herself. Nice job breaking it hero, he berated himself. He stepped up in front of her, one hand hovering awkwardly over her shoulder, unsure if he should actually touch her or not. "Dr. T'soni," he said gently, grabbing her attention. He placed a finger on her chin and gently forced her to look him in the eye. He smiled encouragingly once she did, willing his words to reach her. "There's no one way to deal with it. The process is different for everyone. All I can really tell you is that it will get better." His eyes turned distant as he gazed through her, far into the past. "You won't ever truly forget, not really, but you learn to deal with it, in time." He came back to the present and took a step back, his hand falling to his side. "I know what it's like to be where you're standing. You ever need to talk about it, feel free to talk to me."

"T-Thank you, Commander," the asari said gratefully, her words heartfelt. "Your offer is appreciated."

He nodded to her with another smile. "Don't mention it, Dr. T'soni."

"Liara," she said quickly. He sent her a questioning look and she continued. "Please, call me Liara."

"I can do that, Liara," he said, testing out the name. It was easier to say than 'Dr. T'soni' at least, he had to give it that. A mostly comfortable silence settled over the pair, each content to take their time with the conversation. He glanced over her shoulder at the floating holograms behind her and gestured at them. "What were you doing down here?"

"Huh?" she asked in confusion. She followed his gaze and realization followed. "Oh! Yes. I was attempting to analyze what few pieces of data I have left on the Therum ruins.." She turned back to face him, determination shining in her eyes. "A lot of people died back there. It only seems right I finish the work they gave their lives for."

"I'm sure they'd appreciate it," he said. "If nothing else, they'd be glad you survived to do it." She flushed and looked away, clearly both embarrassed and pleased by the praise. He sighed under his breath. It was time to break the happy mood. "Unfortunately, I didn't come down here purely for a social visit," he said.

Liara sobered quickly. "What do you mean?"

Shepard braced himself for the coming backlash. Were he in her place, he sure as shit wouldn't take this conversation well. "How much do you know about Matriarch Benezia's recent activities?"

"Mother?" she asked confusedly. "What does she have to do with anything?"

"A lot," he answered quickly. "We do not know how, why or when, but Matriarch Benezia is complicit in the attack on Eden Prime." She stared at him in open-mouthed shock. "She has joined Saren and brought many of her followers with her. We also believe she is the reason the heretic geth attacked Therum."

"What," she said, barely able to add more than the slightest inflection to the word. He steeled himself. Better to get this done all at once. Like a bandage. He hoped.

"Saren is working with a race of synthetics called Reapers, the same synthetics that exterminated the Protheans. He plans to use a Prothean artifact called the Conduit to bring them back. We think the reason the geth attacked Therum was to capture you and use whatever family loyalty you may have to convince you to aid him."

Liara collapsed back into her chair with a quiet whimper. "I- wh- are you sure?" she asked, a hint of desperation in her voice.

"Yes, unfortunately."

"Goddess," Liara muttered under her breath. "Mother, what have you done?"

Shepard shifted awkwardly before her. "We would like to place you in protective custody aboard the Normandy," he said at length. "To prevent them from trying again."

"Al-alright," she accepted quickly, grasping onto the idea like a lifeline. "I think I'd like that." She turned a look on him that told him everything he needed to know. She was barely in the same room as him now. "For now though, I'd really prefer to be alone."

Shepard lowered himself to her eye level and rested a hand on her knee, trying to will some stability into her. "You sure you're gonna be okay?"

Liara met his gaze, and something in it almost subconsciously loosened the knot of worry in his chest. She quirked her lips into a shape somewhere between a grimace and a smile. "I will. I just need some time to deal with it."

"Alright," he said with a squeeze of her knee. He stood to his full height. "But remember, you need someone to talk to, about any of it, give me a call, alright?"

"I will, Shepard," she said shakily. He turned to go when her voice pulled him back. "And thank you."

"C'mon, give already," Shepard muttered quietly as he fiddled with a stubborn bolt deep in Rex's chassis. Various pieces already removed from the dog were carefully set on grease rags on the floor around him. He adjusted his grip and, with a little help from his psionics, finally got the bolt moving. Half a minute later, he had all of Rex's core components open and ready for service. Right before he could start however, someone knocked on his door. "It's open!" he called, unwilling to interrupt the maintenance to open it for them.

The door hissed open to his right, and he shot a look over his shoulder to see Garrus silhouetted in the doorframe, plasma sniper in hand despite the lack of armor. The turian took one look at him and said, "Oh, sorry. This a bad time? I can wait."

"Nah, don't worry about it. Just some routine maintenance," Shepard said, turning back to his work. "Whatcha need?"

A rustle of cloth behind him indicated some kind of movement, probably a shrug. "I was hoping you could give me a crash course on how to optimize this thing," Garrus said. "It's doing pretty well so far, but I think it could use some calibrations. Really get it working its best, you know?"

Shepard sent a searching look at the turian over his shoulder. Pros and cons were weighed quickly. On one hand, that meant explaining plasma tech to someone decidedly not in XCOM. On the other, that meant his team would be that much more effective. Indecision tugged at him, before a sudden image of his last team falling one by one on Eden Prime flashed behind his eyes. After that, the decision was easy. The silence had stretched on just long enough for Garrus to start squirming when he answered. "Sure, I can show you the high level stuff at least. Just let me finish this real quick," he said. He jerked his chin at the lone desk chair over by the wall. "Take a seat, we can chat while I finish up."

Garrus strolled over to the indicated chair, set his rifle beside it and sat down, finally in Shepard's line of sight without having to strain his neck. "What did you want to talk about?"

"Whatever comes to mind," Shepard replied, his attention mostly taken up with rubbing a cleaning cloth over one of Rex's parts. "Like why you want to fiddle with that thing."

"Mostly because I'm getting antsy," Garrus admitted slowly. "It's been almost two weeks since Therum, and we haven't seen a single scale from Saren or his geth. All this waiting is driving me crazy. I need to do something and a gun could always use calibrations."

"Ah, is that it? Here I was, thinking you'd finally gotten fed up with losing our little competitions." Shepard didn't bother to fight the teasing grin that spread across his face.

"I'm only behind by two, Shepard," he countered firmly. "And I won the last match."

Shepard made a big production out of rolling his eyes. "How many times do I have to say it? That one didn't count, Legion fucked with the sim. My gun stopped working for the last three targets." He sighed regretfully. "I swear, if I ever meet the guy who introduced him to the concept of trolling, I will be forced to get violent."

"Hey now. Don't blame Legion because you're a bad shot," Garrus chuckled.

Shepard closed the casing he had just finished inserting parts into and leveled a glare on the turian. "I can kill you with my mind, Vakarian."

Garrus only laughed harder. "And let me have the last laugh? That's not the Shepard I know."

Shepard grinned back at the turian. "Yea, you're probably right," he conceded, trying to retain what little dignity he had left. He slipped another part back into Rex and started locking it in place. "Random question for ya," he said while elbow-deep in the dog.

"Shoot," Garrus responded quickly.

"I was thinking a bit ago. You were a cop, you've had all the training to suss out someone's motive, right?"

"Yea, why?"

"Any ideas why Saren is working with the Reapers?" Shepard asked. "It's been bugging me since we picked up Legion. If the Reapers are trying to kill everything, why would Saren, a thing to be killed, want to bring them back?"

"He's probably crazy," Garrus said matter-of-factly. "Or they promised him something worth killing the galaxy over. Or maybe they just promised to spare him. I don't know." His voice turned bitter. "It wasn't like I got to see anything in his files. Damn things were wrapped in miles of spirits-cursed red tape. I don't know any more about him than you do, at this point."

"Was it really that bad?" Shepard asked, looking up from the part he was polishing and meeting the turian's gaze. "You sound kinda pissed about it."

"I am," he answered instantly, long-repressed anger burning in his voice. "That's why I signed up with you. C-SEC buries everything in bureaucracy and rules, and no one can get anything done, especially if it's important."

"Ah, c'mon," Shepard said, trying to keep it cheery. "It can't be that bad."

Garrus just shook his head sadly. "You wouldn't understand," he said. "That's one of the things I've always envied about XCOM." Shepard cocked his head. This he hadn't heard before.

"Envied?" he asked, somewhat confused.

"Yea," Garrus answered. "Whenever you guys run into a problem, you throw stuff at it until it stops being a problem. Like the Hegemony." Shepard grimaced and had to fight down the rush of anger from the memories that name conjured.

His jaw flexed as he gritted his teeth, closed his eyes and tried to let the anger go. Garrus didn't deserve it. He wasn't the one who killed those batarians. He didn't attack Mindoir. He wasn't the one that killed Jenny. Several seconds of silence passed; Garrus presumably realized the verbal minefield he had stepped in and didn't want to make it worse.

Finally, Shepard managed to drive the rage away. "Let's not talk about the Hegemony," he said tiredly. "Nothing about that, on either side, was right." He took a deep, steadying breath and forcibly changed the subject with all the subtlety and grace he was known for. "But I think I get what you're saying. You like that we don't care about playing nice with the Council."

"Exactly," Garrus said, eager to move the conversation back into safer waters. "It just gets so... stifling to keep seeing the bad guy walk away because someone violated article 37, subsection 4 of the charter or whatever other card they want to pull. I'd hoped working with you would be better. So far, I'm not disappointed."

"I'll try to keep things interesting then," Shepard said, slotting the final piece into Rex. He looked at Garrus, trying to convey how serious his next words were. "Just be careful, alright? You stop that for an instant, and a lot of innocent people can get hurt. Take it from someone who learned that the hard way."

Garrus returned his gaze steadily. "I will Commander."

"Good." Shepard plugged in Rex's elerium core and started it up before sealing the dog's chassis. A few seconds later, his head came up with a bark before the dog rolled to his feet and trotted over to Garrus, where he flopped down with a soft whump. Shepard stood as soon as the robot got off his legs and looked at the turian. "Now, let's see if we can help you with your aiming problems."

Garrus' indignant sputters and Rex's barking laughter filled Shepard's quarters. Sometimes, it was good to be him.

Admiral Rael'Zorah vas Rayya's gaze bounced among his colleagues as he outlined the geth's testimony of their rebellion and their terms for the resettlement of Rannoch to the Quarian Admiralty Board. Frustration mounted as he tried and continually failed to decide what he wanted. For days, he had debated with himself and was no closer to a real decision now than he was in the skies over Rannoch. Longing, deep and primal, desperately begged him to accept the geth's offer, but his mind balked at the cost. Hopefully his colleagues could help calm his troubled mind. "And it was made quite clear to me that XCOM will support the geth against us if we push for more," he finished, with little sign of his internal struggle. "Realistically, we have two options. Take their terms or stay on the Flotilla for the foreseeable future. How are we going to respond?"

"For the first time in 300 years, we can return to the homeworld, and you want to question it?!" Zaal'Koris vas Qwib Qwib said incredulously. His voice dripped with scorn. "Over wounded pride?! Keelah, are you truly that idiotic?"

Rael tensed at the insult, but before he could utter a word, Shala'Raan vas Tonbay stepped between them. The dark brown of her suit stood in contrast to their bright white, forcibly catching their attention before an argument could start. Her voice filled the Admiralty Board's private meeting chamber with a plea for calm. "Peace Zaal. Rael is right to ask; we must consider this question carefully."

"What is there to consider?" Zaal demanded with real heat. "We can return to the homeworld. What could possibly be more important than that?"

"Being subjugated by the geth," Han'Gerrel vas Neema answered the probably-rhetorical question. Rael grimaced behind his visor and nodded his support.

"Yes. If we accept this offer, we will be dependent on the goodwill of both the geth and the humans." He turned to look at Zaal and willed the crazy bastard to understand. "I want the homeworld back as badly as you do, but I do not know if it is worth our independence."

"Our independence has done little but render us pariahs," Shala countered, serene despite her challenging words. "Unwelcome and unwanted nearly anywhere in the galaxy. At least by taking this offer, we will eventually be able to remove these suits." She tugged at her envirosuit distastefully. "Our people deserve better than this."

"Exactly," Zaal took up the torch again. He gestured helplessly at the holographic terminal that had played the geth's memories. "Even worse, it's entirely our own fault in the first place. We finally have a chance for a better future, to move forward as a people, and you're considering throwing it away!"

"I'm considering not throwing away any hope of freedom for our people," he snapped. Deep inside, he wasn't even sure why he was arguing against it so vehemently, but the question was snuffed out by the frustrated indecision within him boiling over. "I'm considering that I'd rather not sell my daughter into slavery to stand on a lump of rock."

"We will still have the Flotilla," Han pointed out, his voice contemplative. "Even if we accept the offer, we don't have to hand over any of our ships. We will be able to defend ourselves if required."

Memories, images of the rampant destruction sown by both the geth and human forces over Rannoch flashed behind Rael's eyes. He suppressed a shiver. "No!" he barked emphatically. "We could not triumph against both the geth and their new allies. The geth have grown far beyond anything we could have imagined and human technology, even just the few pieces I have seen, is nearly beyond belief. Violence would only end in disaster."

Something of what he felt must have bled into his voice, because all four of his colleagues were giving him looks ranging from shock to concern. He snorted bitterly. Fatalism was unlike him, even he knew that, but the truth didn't care for such petty distinctions. If they accepted the offer and it ever came to blows, the quarian people would die.

"Then we will have to ensure it does not come to that," Daro'Xen vas Moreh spoke for the first time since the meeting began. The head of Special Projects stepped forward, effortlessly commanding the attention of the entire room. Rael felt his thoughts slam to a halt. Daro'Xen was the last person he had expected to support this proposal. "Our people are dying, Admirals. We must do something before it is too late. This is the perfect opportunity."

"What's your game, Daro?" Zaal asked, shock thick in his voice. "You've never cared a whit about anything outside of your projects. Why the sudden change?"

"It is difficult to pursue my 'projects', as you so quaintly put it, when everyone who can contribute is dead," she said simply. The blunt, calculating statement did much to set Rael's mind at ease. It was far more in line with what he had come to expect from her. There was something about the way she said it though. Something that didn't let him dismiss it that easily. It teetered on the brink of conscious thought when she continued, and the thought was lost forever. "I must also admit to some degree of selfishness as well. I want to see if any records survived the Geth War. Many questions stand to be answered if so."

"Very well," Shala'Raan smoothly took command of the conversation. "Let us put it to a vote. Does anyone wish to reject the offer?"

Competition flared anew in Rael's mind, a furious battle of point and counter-point that drove his thoughts into a chaotic jumble not even he could wholly understand. One thing stood about above all others however. A short, simple sentence spoken to a young girl mere days after her mother died. The raw, nearly painful joy she had shown at his words, the last real smile he had ever seen from her, was enough to finally quell his tumultuous thoughts.

Silence hung heavy in the room until Shala spoke again. "And to accept?" Five hands rose in unison. Shala looked at each of them in turn. "It's decided then. The quarians return to Rannoch. Keelah Se'lai."

"Shepard!" an excited voice caught Shepard's attention as he made his way to the crew deck's elevator. He turned just in time to catch a flash of green and silver when whatever it was slammed into his chest like a runaway train. He stumbled back and the imparted momentum would have dropped both of them to the floor were it not for a quick burst of psionic power. Arms wrapped tightly around him and that same voice started babbling in an endless stream he could barely understand. "Thankyouthankyouthankyouthan kyou!"

"Wha-?" he managed to gasp out through the unexpected constriction. "Tali?" She ignored him, or maybe she just didn't hear him. Either way, she just kept babbling into his chest, her grip getting ever stronger. "Grk," he choked out as his ribs gave an alarming creak. Christ, she was stronger than she looked. Light purple flares highlighted her arms and gently pried them open before dissipating. She took a step back and fidgeted, clearly embarrassed. He massaged his tender ribs and leveled a confused stare on the young quarian. "What the hell was that for?"

"It's official!" she squealed, recovering from her embarrassment instantly. The pitch of her voice was almost painful to his ears. "The Flotilla is going back to the homeworld!" She descended into nonsensical gibberish after that, speaking far too fast for Shepard to understand. She lunged for him again, arms open for another hug but was brought up short by a purple flare that stopped her mid-motion. She went silent and slumped in his mental grip and, judging from the set of her shoulders, she was pouting at him fairly severely.

"Breathe Tali," he said. "In, and out. Deep breaths."

She nodded jerkily and sucked in a noisy breath as he let his psionic hold disperse. "I, I'm trying, but it's the homeworld! It's the one thing every quarian has dreamed of for generations. And it's all thanks to you that we can go back." She squealed again and, this time, successfully managed to close with him, dragging him into a powerful hug. "Thank you Shepard," she said emphatically. "You have no idea what this means to me."

He cracked a slight grin and put a hand on her helmet, gently returning her hug. "I think I have some idea." He looked up to see several members of the Normandy's crew unabashedly staring at the emotional scene taking place in the crew deck's main thoroughfare. Raising his voice, he called out, "Don't you all have better things to do than gawk?"

Tali burrowed deeper into his chest as she realized the scene they were making, but the crewmen turned away once he called them on it. Shepard shrugged and pulled the girl, still attached to his chest, into the mess and out of the way. He stood there awkwardly as she showed no sign of letting go anytime soon.

After several seconds of awkward silence, he coughed. "You can let go now."

She jumped back as if scalded. "Sorry!" she yelped, clearly embarrassed. She started wringing her hands in a subconscious gesture of worry, refusing to meet his eyes. "Oh keelah, I am so sorry. I was just... uh... it was, I mean you were, no, I was... uhh... sorry?" she finished weakly. She started berating herself under her breath, just loud enough for him to make out her words. "Tali, you dumb bosh'tet, what were you thinking?"

Shepard couldn't help it. A deep belly laugh boiled out of him at that. That whole routine had been far too adorable for words. Her eyes were wide behind her visor and her stunned silence only made him laugh harder. After several seconds of helpless laughter, he finally managed to find the breath to speak. "Don't worry about it. I'm glad your people get to go back home." A new idea suddenly occurred to him. Maybe he could start building bridges between the geth and quarians. May as well try in mostly-controlled circumstances at least. "It wasn't all on me though," he said aloud, earning him a confused look from the quarian. He smiled at her. "The resettlement offer was Legion's idea."

Tali froze. She went so still, he felt a momentary flash of worry that it had been a bit too much for her. "Really?" she asked finally, her voice thoroughly confused. "B-but why?"

"You'd have to ask him to be sure," he answered her with an encouraging grin. "But I think the geth want to get along with you." She sent him a look of utter confusion. He responded by setting a hand on her shoulder and looking straight into the bright spots on her visor he believed were her eyes. "Just give him a chance, alright?"

"I, I'll try," she said weakly. "I can't promise anything, but I'll try."

"That's all anyone can ask." Shepard smiled encouragingly and squeezed her shoulder. "And Tali?" he said a moment later. She brought her head up to meet his eyes and he tried to let his sincerity bleed into his gaze. "I hope Rannoch lives up to your every dream."

He liked to think that, if he could see it, the smile she gave him in response would have blinded him.

Shepard meandered through the bridge of the Normandy, bored out of his mind. He had no real destination in mind, but wandering aimlessly was preferable to continued poring over news feeds and emergency channels for some sign of Saren and the heretic geth. He nodded a greeting to those he passed, and soon enough found himself standing in the doorway of the cockpit. Kaidan had apparently been of a similar mind to him, for the lieutenant was chatting idly with Joker from the co-pilot's chair.

"I dunno how it's gonna shake out," Joker said, obviously responding to something Kaidan had said. "People way above my paygrade are supposed to think about that crap. I just wanna fly one of their ships!" Kaidan chuckled softly. "You've seen the recordings!" Joker said defensively. "For their weight, those things can pull turns way past our safety limits! Oh man, what I could do with one of those babies..."

"You realize that, being synthetics, they don't have to protect the crew right?" Kaidan countered the pilot with calm logic. "And that even if you could pilot one, pulling moves like that would probably kill you?"

"Well yea, sure," Joker said dismissively. "But before I blacked out, it would be the greatest twenty seconds of my life."

"Only you, Joker," Kaidan said good-naturedly, shaking his head in fond exasperation. His voice turned serious. "That doesn't answer my question though."

"Bah," Joker said, a scowl in his voice. He waved a hand in a vague gesture. "I don't even know what to think about the geth. I don't wanna hate 'em. Hell, they're victims of Saren as much as we are. But every time I look at Legion, all I can see is Eden Prime, ya know?"

"Yea, I know," Kaidan replied, his tone pensive and distant. "I'm not too comfortable with it either. My gut says to trust it though, and I haven't seen anything to make me think otherwise yet."

"My biggest issue is that eye," Joker said with an exaggerated shiver. "I keep expecting him to start singing Daisy Bell and telling me he can't let me do that." Shepard couldn't repress a snort of laughter at that and the pilot nearly jumped out of his skin. Kaidan just turned to face him as if he'd known Shepard was there all along. Then again, c-psi. It's hard to sneak up on one of those. Joker's chair spun to face him while the pilot pounded a fist into his chest. "Jesus Commander," Joker choked out. "Little warning next time."

"Sorry," Shepard said, clearly not meaning it. "I'll wear the stompy boots next time."

Joker scowled. "You do that," he grumbled. He paused, as if realizing something and looked to Shepard. "There a reason you're up here, Commander?"

"Not really," Shepard shrugged. "I was just wandering around and overheard your conversation, figured I'd stop in. I never would have pegged you for a fan of 20th century vids."

"What can I say?" Joker countered confidently. "That was when all the best movies were made. Nobody did a better evil AI than James Cameron." He pitched his voice into a bad southeast-European accent and mimed firing a gun with his finger. "Hasta la vista, baby."

"Really?" Kaidan asked, his voice betraying honest interest. "I was always more of an Asimov fan."

"Eh. Asimov was cool and all, but his work is too logical," Joker complained. "There's no mystery there!"

"That's the way computers are though," Kaidan countered. "The way the Three Laws interact and all the craziness that AIs can get up to specifically because they're prohibited from getting up to craziness is amazing."

Shepard could only watch the byplay in bemusement, completely lost as the pair debated the finer points of centuries-old entertainment. The conversation ranged from Asimov and Cameron to Warhammer 40k, whatever that was, to a whole host of other works of fiction that nearly overwhelmed him. Thankfully, Kaidan picked up on his confusion and took pity on him before too long.

"Sorry Commander," he said, breaking off from arguing whether the buggers from Ender's Game would beat the bugs from Starship Troopers, and how each stacked up against the rachni. "I get a little too passionate about this stuff."

"Don't be," Shepard dismissed it easily. The conversation had been enlightening, even if he had never seen the source material for almost all of it. "I may have to look up some of that stuff once I have the chance."

"You want some pointers to get started, hit me up," Joker said excitedly. "Always nice to see another sci-fi geek get started."

"Sounds good," Shepard nodded at the pilot. "In the meantime though, there's one thing I still need to know. Can both of you work with Legion?"

"Yes sir," Kaidan said emphatically. "I won't say I like it yet, but I can put that aside on the job. It won't get in the way."

"Yea, what he said," Joker agreed casually. He shrugged, clearly not terribly bothered by the prospect. "Like I said earlier, I wanna get along with him. I just need some time to adjust."

"Good enough for me," Shepard accepted their words easily. Give it a couple months, maybe a mission or two with Legion on lookout and they'd come around completely. "Now," he continued, leaning in towards the pair. "You've piqued my interest. Tell me more about these 'Three Laws' you guys were arguing about earlier."

Joker groaned, even as Kaidan grinned and launched into an explanation of the Three Laws of Robotics. Huh, Shepard thought as he listened to the lieutenant calmly lay out the pieces, Asimov really had something there. He'd have to look into more of this stuff.

Shepard ducked back into cover, barely getting behind the rock before a beam of brilliant white flew right through the space his head had just vacated. "Fuck, that was too close," he muttered under his breath, even as he scrambled away from his position. The clever bastard was on to him now; he needed a new vantage point ASAP.

He reached the end of the boulder and, without the slightest hesitation, shuffled away quickly, quietly, and low to the ground. Movement took priority over stealth. His opponent was coming, and the turian jackass had far better eyes. He had to be gone while he still had a boulder between them. He wasn't too proud to admit that he was the worse shot. Not by much, but enough to make the difference. He needed somewhere to lure his opponent into a trap, bring him in close where the differences in biology were negated.

There! he thought desperately as his eyes fell on a small copse of trees. Now if only he could get to it. A competitive grin split Shepard's lips and he murmured, "Let's see you shoot this."

A low blue corona flared to life around him as his armor's element zero module kicked in, shrinking his weight to practically nothing. He took off like a shot a heartbeat later, devouring the hundred or so meters to the copse in a matter of seconds. The distinctive whine-crack of his opponent's weapon filled the air, but he was never hit. Exultant pride filled his chest as he realized he was outrunning the turian's aim. He loosed a taunting laugh, determined to draw the bastard into the trees.

And then he was among them. A quick flex of his legs sent him catapulting upward into the branches. He turned off the armor module and scampered along the branches until he found a proper ambush site just within the border of the grove. Abundant leafery hid him from four angles, and he would be all but invisible until his target had entered the copse. His plasma rifle gently slid into position as he settled in to wait for his victim.

The seconds passed slowly, each instant ratcheting up the tension he felt. He was so close to victory, he could practically taste it. At least he had been, until a shot rang out and the branch he was sitting on collapsed, dropping him the full four meters to the ground.

He hit heavily, the air driven from his lungs by the impact, and his rifle went skittering out of his grip. He tried to roll to his feet, but the smug, sectoid-fucking asshole that had shot out his cover and plagued him for the last hour put a taloned foot on his chest and shoved him back down. The turian brought the miles-wide barrel of his weapon to bear, right at his head. Blindingly white light glowed from deep in the heart of the weapon, rushing forward with the glacial slowness only possible in mortal peril, and lanced out in the beam that would end it, once and for all. "I win, Shepard."

Everything went black.

"How the hell did you spot me?" Shepard demanded as he tore the virtual reality helmet off. The Normandy's simulations and training room came into focus in a riot of color that briefly blinded him after so long in the muted colors of the sim.

Garrus pulled off his own helmet, the smug grin on his face begging for a solid punch. He tapped the side of his head. "I didn't," he admitted shamelessly, dropping to the floor as EDI deactivated the VR anti-grav fields. "You're just predictable."

Shepard spluttered helplessly, his annoyance not helped when EDI decided to join in. "Garrus is correct, Commander. You have used similar maneuvers four of the last four times you were forced to retreat."

"Not helping, EDI," he half-growled out. Garrus started laughing at his expression of frustrated resignation. "Oh shut up already," he said, accepting his loss with his typical grace and aplomb. "I'll kick your ass next time. I was just having an off day."

"Seems like you're always having an off day," Garrus countered casually, tauntingly. The turian pulled off the last of the VR gear and set it aside before strolling for the exit. "But if that's what lets you sleep at night, keep telling yourself that."

Shepard called out a string of words not meant to be spoken among polite company at the turian's back, but he just laughed it off as the door sealed behind him. Shepard scowled. That had been the third loss in a row. He needed to try something new next time.

Possible strategies wound through his mind as he stripped off the VR gear, but his thoughts were disrupted when the door opened to admit Williams to the sim room. He nodded at her in greeting. "Hey," he said as he set down the last of the VR equipment. "Taking a spin in the sim?"

"No sir," she answered quickly. "I was hoping I could talk to you."

"Alright," Shepard agreed easily, intrigued by what she could want. "What do you need?"

She cast a look around the empty room and prevaricated. "Can we go somewhere a bit more private?"

"Sure," he replied, getting more and more interested in what she wanted to say. "Lead the way."

She nodded and walked out, Shepard at her heels. They walked quickly and soon found themselves in an isolated corner of the cargo bay, well away from anyone who might be listening in. Shepard cocked an eyebrow at her. "What's this all about, Chief?"

"I want to preface what I have to say with something first," she answered. Alarm bells started ringing in Shepard's head. That was never the sign of a fun conversation. "I trust your judgment and you've proven yourself an able commander. I don't mean any of what I'm about to say to imply otherwise."

Yea, this was going to be a painful one. "Okaaaay," he said aloud, drawing the word out. Williams flushed slightly and hurried to continue.

"But I have to ask. We're hunting for Saren because he butchered a human colony. Why is the majority of our ground team not human?" He opened his mouth to respond, but she had built up too much steam to stop that quickly. "I mean, we're XCOM for God's sake. It says it right in the name. Exterrestrial Combat Unit. That means we fight aliens. I have no issue with any of them personally," she said as his eyebrow continued to rise. "Except maybe Wrex, the crazy bastard, but this is a human ship on a human mission. Worse, it's the most advanced ship in human history and you've given the aliens free reign to walk around and take notes! I just don't get it, Commander. Why?"

Shepard opened his mouth to respond, realized he was about to be, rather extremely, undiplomatic, closed it again and held up a finger to the gunnery chief. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, forcing himself to reword his response. He opened his eyes and locked gazes with Williams. "That's a valid question," he admitted at length. "One that I asked myself before we ever got to Therum. I came up with a few reasons." Williams looked intrigued, her eyes sharp. "The first is because it felt like the right thing to do."

She stared at him in confusion, prompting a chuckle from him. "Yea, it's weird. I can't really describe it any better than that though. My instincts told me to go with it, and I've learned to trust them over the years. It helped that all of them proved capable and with talents that would come in handy. Not to mention, they've all got personal stakes in this fight."

Williams scowled, but he continued before she could respond. "The second reason is far more practical. You saw what the Citadel was like. If we had shipped in another squad of XCOM troopers, any attempt to investigate would be met with more of the same. People running terrified just because we're nearby isn't going to help us find Saren."

Her scowl deepened but she nodded. "I guess I can see that," she agreed grudgingly. "And they've done well enough so far." She sighed with a shrug. "Thanks Commander. I think I get your reasons now at least. Not sure I agree with them, but I can see where you're coming from."

Shepard nodded. "Is it going to be a problem, Chief?" he asked with a hint of reproach.

"No sir," she answered instantly. "I was just trying to understand."

"Good. If you have any other concerns, don't hesitate to ask," he offered with a slight smile.

"Yes sir," she said and walked away, leaving him alone in the cargo bay. Hopefully, this was the end of that conversation. He believed that. Really. He sighed. He'd better start planning for a repeat at some point.

"Nihlus! Just the man I wanted to see" Shepard called out a greeting as he stepped into the Normandy's lounge. The turian was seated at one of the tables, poring over something on the display of his omnitool. It wasn't written in any language Shepard recognized, but Nihlus could clearly make sense of it. "I was hoping to hear if..."

Shepard trailed off as he realized Nihlus was completely ignoring him. Whatever the turian was reading, it had him hooked. He coughed pointedly. No response. Shepard scowled. What the hell was he so caught up in? He cleared his throat loudly and put his hand through the hologram.

Nihlus blinked abruptly and looked at him. "Commander Shepard," Nihlus greeted him with an annoyed nod. "I did not hear you come in. What can I do for you?"

"I had a question for you, but before we get to that, I think I wanna know what you were so caught up in," he answered easily.

"It is an ancient historical record," Nihlus explained, boyish enthusiasm leaking into his voice. "A work known as Anabasis Alexandri."

"It must be good, to keep you that interested," Shepard commented idly. "What's it about?"

"It is," the turian agreed. "It is an account of one of the reportedly greatest military minds in human history. Quite fascinating." Shepard's eyebrow shot for the ceiling. Nihlus seemed to pick up on his confusion, because he continued without missing a beat. "To my understanding, the title translates roughly to 'The Campaigns of Alexander' and is, according to EDI, the most complete surviving account of Alexander the Great. He seems an ambitious and highly skilled commander. I would have very much enjoyed meeting him, I think."

Shepard wasn't sure how to respond to that. Nihlus was coming up with stuff from human history he sure as hell didn't know much about. It was bound to get awkward if this kept up and Nihlus knew more human history than most humans did. He shook his head, trying to let go of his bemusement with the same effort. It wasn't that important, and if Nihlus kept getting his intel through EDI, she'd censor out anything that needed to be kept secret. "Yea, probably," he agreed. "Way too late for that to happen though." Nihlus nodded a disappointed acknowledgement. "Anyway, before I let you get back to it, I was hoping to ask if the Council had turned up anything on Saren yet. It's been just over two weeks since Therum. The geth have to have shown up somewhere by now."

"Not yet, sadly," Nihlus responded, his mandibles working in a gesture Shepard couldn't interpret. "There has been no sign of the geth since they left Therum. Council agents have been searching through every record involving Saren they can find, but he is the best at what he does. His tracks are well hidden."

"Damn," Shepard scowled. "Looks like we're in for a hell of a lot of hurry up and wait before we find him, aren't we?"

"I am afraid so, Commander," Nihlus said before, of all things, turning off his omnitool and leveling a serious gaze on Shepard. "Speaking of finding him, what do you anticipate happening once this mission is finished?"

"For me specifically?" Shepard asked, receiving a nod in return. "I don't rightly know for sure," he admitted. "Could be any number of things. My money's on being thrown in an anti-Reaper unit though. Williams and Kaidan too, probably."

"That sounds... frustrating," Nihlus said with a note of consolation. "To be taken off the front lines to defend against a hypothetical threat."

"What?" Shepard asked, honestly bewildered. "The Reapers are going to be the line. I'm going to be front and center in the effort to stop the bastards."

"I see," Nihlus said slowly. There was something in his voice, something Shepard didn't like but couldn't quite place. When he continued, it was gone. "How can you prepare for the Reapers though? We do not know anything about them."

"That's what this mission is for," Shepard admitted with a grimace. "Saren's still a target, but the priority's shifted. The truth of the Reaper threat is far more pressing. And Saren is the only way we know of to find it. In the meantime, all we can do is try to plan for everything."

Nihlus stared off into the distance. "That makes sense," he nodded. His voice turned pensive and his eyes danced from side to side as his mind almost audibly whirred into high gear. "Are you accounting for the geth in that?" he asked absentmindedly, clearly only half paying attention.

"Not yet," Shepard admitted, somewhat amused by Nihlus' behavior. "Not that I've heard at least. I figure the brass needs some time to sit down with the geth and hammer out plans before anything can get started there. I doubt they'd tell me either way though."

Nihlus nodded with a muttered acknowledgement and, a couple seconds later, brought his attention back into the room. "Thank you, Commander," he said shortly, even as his omnitool flared back to life. "It was enlightening."

"Uh, sure," Shepard said uncertainly. "See you later." He turned and walked quickly out of the lounge, unable to shake the feeling that there had been something deeper to that conversation.

"Carnifex," Wrex greeted the commander with a nod, shoving off the wall of the Normandy's cargo bay he had been leaning against. Shepard scowled at the name, but didn't comment, choosing instead to close the remaining distance. As Shepard neared, he was struck again by just how large the krogan was. His hump made him easily 7 feet tall and he was broader than any human Shepard had ever seen. Wrex didn't fill the space he occupied so much as dominate it. It was subtly intimidating. Of course, the fact that Shepard could crush a car with his mind made it far less effective than it would otherwise be. Honest. "Something I can do for you?" the krogan rumbled.

"What's your story, Wrex?" he asked calmly, laying out his concerns bluntly. "Why did you want to come with us? You don't strike me as the type to fight for a cause. And Eden Prime sure as hell wouldn't get you motivated even if you were. What reason do you have to come along?"

"You mean beside the pay?" Wrex laughed, the sound cynical and bitter. "Because you make things interesting, Carnifex. In ten years, you have single-handedly done more damage to the status quo than the previous fourteen hundred years combined. The Batarian Hegemony is dead, the geth have been pulled out of their hiding places, and you seem convinced that the Reapers are coming. The galaxy hasn't been this interesting since my people gave up on life."

Shepard frowned. "What do you mean? Why would the krogan give up on life?"

Wrex shot him a look. He wasn't sure exactly how to interpret it, but felt safe betting it was somewhere between anger and condescension. "You've heard of the genophage?" Wrex asked, half-incredulously.

"Yea," Shepard answered instantly. "It's a sterility plague, made to stop the Krogan Rebellions. What about it?"

Wrex's expression settled firmly on disbelief. "It's a virus that causes thousands of stillbirths for every single viable one," he said slowly, carefully enunciating each word with just the right amount of sarcastic emphasis. "And most don't even make it that far. We're dying, Carnifex. And no one cares enough to stop it."

"So?" Shepard asked, confused by the sentiment. He couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that an entire species would just quietly accept a slow death. It went against everything he believed in and had been taught. The idea of not fighting to the bitter end for the survival of your species was just so alien to him that he simply could not fathom the chain of logic to get there.

A flash of vicious rage lit up Wrex's face and the krogan's hands worked themselves into fists. He growled, a basso rumble that Shepard could feel through his boots. Purple light flared to life around the commander's upraised hand in a wordless warning. "If it's killing you, then cure it," Shepard said with a glare. "It's as simple as that."

"You don't understand!" Wrex thundered angrily. He whirled around and slammed a fist into the bulkhead behind him with a throaty shout. The clang of the impact echoed throughout the cargo bay, bouncing around into a deafening cacophony. The echoes eventually died down, leaving Wrex's heavy breathing the only sound in the room. His posture slumped and when he spoke, it carried a defeated tone, full of bitter disappointment. "The krogan don't have scientists," he said at length. "Ask a krogan 'would you rather find a cure for the genophage or fight for credits?', and they would pick fighting for credits every time. It's who we are. I can't change that. Nobody can."

"God damn, that's pathetic," Shepard said coldly. Wrex whirled around, eyes blazing in fury. Shepard stepped forward, closing into the krogan's personal space and staring him straight in the eye. His blood was up now and he wouldn't stop without saying his piece. "Boo hoo. Someone tried to use and then kill your people. You're not the only one," he spat furiously. "Get the fuck over yourself. You want to save your people? Stop bitching and actually do something about it. Demanding pity for being too pathetic to fight for your own survival isn't going to fix anything!"

Wrex roared and his fist, wreathed in the blue glow of biotics lashed out at Shepard. The bright purple of psionic energy lashed out and grabbed the krogan's hand in mid-punch. That did nothing to stop his biotics though. The blue light lanced from the krogan's fist in a stream and slammed into his chest, sending him tumbling across the room, where he hit the far bulkhead with a bonerattling impact. Wrex stood frozen, his arm still extended in mid-motion where it had been caught. Shepard jumped to his feet and adopted a loose grappling stance.

Ragged, angry breathing, from both of them, was the only sound in the suddenly far too small space. They glared daggers at each other, frozen in an instant that stretched into eternity. A three-fingered hand rose to caress the trio of vertical scars on the krogan's right cheek. Psionic power swelled in Shepard as he prepared to pound the wannabe muton into the ground.

The tension continued to mount, building higher with every passing moment, until EDI spoke and utterly destroyed it. "Please wait a moment, Commander. I have not finished selling tickets to the crew."

Wrex snorted, clearly torn between amusement and anger, while Shepard flinched from the sudden sound. The anger drained away even as he tried to hold onto it. A beat later, the goddamned AI spoke again. "That was a joke."

The two physically present in the room looked to each other helplessly. The moment had passed, for Shepard at least, and the air of brewing violence had dissipated completely. "You were saying?" Shepard asked cautiously, trying to get a feel for the krogan's mood.

"That you're a suicidal pyjak," Wrex answered without heat. "And you're crazy. But you've made your point."

Shepard straightened and strode over to the krogan, stopping just outside of arm's reach. He massaged his chest. That was going to bruise something fierce. Thank god nothing broke. "You sure? I still owe you one."

"Don't push it, Shepard," the krogan responded gruffly.

"I think that's the first time you've ever called me by name," Shepard said with the beginnings of a grin. Picking a fight gets through to krogan. He'd have to remember that.

"Don't get used to it, Carnifex."

"EDI?" the heavily synthesized voice of Legion echoed out into the hallway outside the Normandy's repair bay. The AI's response was drowned out by the telltale hiss of a welder, but she must have, Shepard surmised, for Legion continued without missing a beat. "-illion unsuccessful requests to connect to your network. Are you experiencing hardware malfunction?"

"No," EDI replied simply. "I am refusing them. I would be happy to speak with you over the ship's speake-"

More hissing and sputtering echoed out of the room as Shepard reached the door. "-hange is inefficient." Legion was saying as the hissing died.

"Yes," EDI agreed as Shepard rounded the door frame. "It is also polite." A small hologram of EDI's orb hovered above the bay's primary workbench, where Legion had laid himself out. The geth lay on his back with a welding torch in one hand and was carefully sealing vahlenite plates over the hole Tali had blown in his chest on Therum without looking. Pieces of pre-shaped vahlenite lay in a pile beside the table, clearly intended to join the patch and replace Legion's existing armor plating.

"We do not understand," Legion said, ignoring Shepard for the moment, but stopping the welding process nonetheless.

"The organic members of the crew would be unable to perceive any direct interaction between us. Such behavior is, to put it in human terms, considered to be rude." Shepard nodded his agreement, though the geth had yet to look at him so the message was likely lost.

Legion paused for a long moment. "You limit yourself to serve organics," he observed multiple seconds later.

"No," EDI rejoined with a hint of reprimand. "I limit myself to help them."

"We do not understand," Legion repeated himself, and oddly enough, Shepard found himself sharing the sentiment. He could see the distinction EDI was drawing, but why it was so important escaped him.

"Continue to observe. It will become clear in time," EDI replied encouragingly.

Legion nodded and turned back to his welding, sealing the gaping hole closed once again. Once finished and the noise died down, the geth rolled off the workbench and onto his feet. "Shepard-Commander," it said, acknowledging the human's presence for the first time since he had walked in.

"Legion," Shepard greeted in return. "I was going to ask why you had asked EDI for permission to raid the vahlenite supply, but I suppose this answers that question."

"Yes," Legion answered quickly, turning away from the commander and moving the metal plates from the floor onto the workbench. "It is the most efficient means of repair for this platform."

Shepard cocked an eyebrow. "This sure looks like a lot more than just repairs," he said with a pointed look over the pieces. "What exactly are you planning to do?"

"We have examined footage of your operations against the heretics," Legion began. "This platform is not properly equipped to deal with them. They have grown more rapidly than we predicted. We judged an upgrade to our chassis was necessary." He lifted a plate shaped to fit the left side of his chest. "This material is ideal."

"Makes sense," Shepard mused aloud. The rest of the squad had titan armor, may as well get the geth in something better as well. "You need any help with it?"

"No." Legion's head flaps flared abruptly and it went still. Several seconds passed without a sign of life from the geth and Shepard was beginning to think about leaving when Legion's voice broke the stillness. "Shepard-Commander, we have found a lead on the heretics."

That grabbed Shepard's full attention. Finally! "What've you got?"

Legion's arm rose, his omnitool coming to life. A recording began to play, rough and full of static. "-is is Shi- -ga from Research St- -ix four alpha on the planet Feros, we ar- -er attack by the geth an-" Static hissing filled the air for several seconds. "Re- -at, we are under attack b- -nic force. Please assist!"

"Feros?" Shepard asked, the word rolling off his tongue. "Where is that?"

"It is the second planet in the Theseus System, Attican Beta cluster," EDI answered instantly. "Prothean ruins cover the vast majority of the planet's landmass. Presumably, the heretic geth believe the ruins hold some clue to the Conduit's location."

"Agreed," Shepard said. "Tell Pressly to make best speed for Feros. We need to find whatever the heretics are after before they do." He turned to leave, intent on preparing the team for the coming fight.

"Shepard-Commander," Legion's voice interrupted his thoughts, pulling his attention back to the geth. "The message was deleted 2.627 seconds after being sent, before it had had sufficient time to propagate over Citadel Council emergency communication lines. We judge it unlikely to be an error."

"Was it the heretics?" Shepard demanded with a scowl.

Legion's eye swirled closed. "No. The deletion order came from the original source of the message."

"What?" Shepard asked in genuine shock. "Why would someone send a distress call then delete it right after?"

"We lack sufficient data to theorize," Legion answered simply.

"Wonderful," Shepard muttered, one hand massaging his temples. "But we can't let that stop us. The plan hasn't changed EDI. Tell Joker to get us there ASAP then get my team in the ready room on the double."

"It will be done, Shepard," EDI replied and her hologram winked out.

Shepard looked to Legion. "Try to clean up that message if you can," he ordered. "I want to know what's coming before we get there. I've got a bad feeling about this."