9 AC: Parnitha System, Thessian Orbit
The Council no longer met on the Destiny Ascension, not least because it had been destroyed in the final battle of the Reaper War several years earlier.
The new Council chambers were simple, but elegant. The Ascendant had supplied it, and a super-carrier on its way to resupply Thessia had dropped it off. The station resembled an angular lotus flower, with its outer armoured petals providing docking areas while shielding the inner ones that contained living quarters, embassies, and amenities. More essential systems were buried towards the base, and at its heart was a large parkland, the center of which housed the Council hall itself. The Council hall could be accessed both through the elegant pathways that wove through the park, or through underground tunnels for increased security; and while its round open spaces seemed bright and airy, the whole hall could be sealed and jettisoned as an emergency escape pod if needed. Indeed, each 'petal' was a self-contained emergency ship, docked semipermanently to the station's core. Memories of the lives lost at the Citadel remained strong.
In part, that was the reason for their name. The Citadel Council was no longer named for the station that shaped the galaxy, but as a memory of what had been lost, and a promise to protect the future.
The Citadel was now the alliance of the races, focussed on equality and cooperation, not a mere station.
The Council had met many times over the past years. The Reaper War's end had left the galaxy disorientated. So much had changed, so quickly, with the truth of the galaxy revealed, the horror of the Reapers encountered, and their eventual defeat.
The conversation over what to do with the remaining Reapers had been a long one.
Were they prisoners of war? Would they be put on trial? How would that be possible?
Was simply destroying them the right move? They were dangerous, but to simply eradicate a race, or worse, the only remaining remnants of many races, was a heavy thing.
Should they be contained, their knowledge put to good use, their histories saved? What then of the pain of their nature, the horror of the long-dead within them?
The Doctor had offered to eat them, and solve all those problems. The Ascendant had told her to shut up.
In the end, the Ascendant spoke to each Reaper. Some gave up what memories they could, and went quietly. Others screamed and fought. In the end, it was the Ascendant and the Ascendant alone who carried the burden of genocide.
That had been years ago, and the rebuilding had not stopped. The scars and casualties of the war were great, but the unfailing aide offered by the Ascendant and its Shells ensured an endless supply of material goods.
Broken, the galaxy rebuilt itself stronger. The unity of the war held, and peace reigned.
Not that you'd know it from the Council.
"This one only stated that the hanar should receive two votes, as we represent the drell as well," said the hanar Councillor.
"And this one says that if you bring that up one more time I'll tie you in a knot," said Urdnot Bakara with irritation. She still hadn't been ousted, and was actually regretting her decision.
"Another vorcha clan has tried to claim a seat, even though they have nothing approaching a species majority. The clan is larger than the entire drell population, so maybe we should let them?" asked Challa innocently.
"If we're doing Council admittance on population grounds, then extra seats should be given to those races with larger numbers," said Atkins with a smirk, more to end the line of argument than actually push an agenda. Transcendent Humanity still outnumbered the rest of the galaxy.
"If we could, there is an actual item on the agenda today?" said the long-suffering Tevos. She missed the days when it was just her, Valern and Sparatus. Valern had retired due to both age and stress, but Sparatus seemed to love the new Council. He certainly seemed happy when he was yelling at other Councillors.
"Yes, thank you Councillor Tevos," said Udina-Ascendant. He stood, drawing their attention. "The Ascendant wishes to announce its withdrawal from this Council."
"What!" yelled Atkins, face changing colour.
"Finally taking over huh?" grunted Urdnot Bakara without much concern.
"No. It is simply that this is meant to be an alliance of equals, and we are not equal. Remember, you do not speak to just Udina, but to all of us. To all of me. We cannot sit at this table as your peer," he said.
The new salarian Councillor, Esheel, snorted. "You have always put yourself above us, but it is refreshing to hear you say it."
"We are above you," said Udina-Ascendant apologetically. "We care about you, but we are more and greater. We warp this Council with our presence, wrap it around us without trying. This is not arrogance, this is fact. Understand, we are not the end of evolution, of advancement. We are the start of another path. And we cannot walk it with you at our side,"
"How much are you withdrawing," said Atkins tightly.
Udina-Ascendant looked at him, and smiled ruefully. "Don't worry. Neil. We will maintain diplomatic contact, and an embassy on-station. We are, however, planning on leaving Sol."
"I...didn't think you could?" said Atkins, frowning in mild confusion.
"The Sol Shell was our core, our brain if you will. But are we not the descendants of the Uploaded? The first Avatar was a prototype, the new one is not."
"You really are replacing the Reapers," said Challa quietly.
"No. They were necropoli, tomb-cities to dead things. We will be a living world, free to roam," replied Udina-Ascendant.
"To roam where?" asked Tevos.
"The Relay network covers a fraction of the galaxy. We are no longer bound by it. There are billions of stars out there, and we want to see them all. "
A quieter conversation happened in the cold and dark of interstellar space. The Ascendant had requested the Doctor's full presence, and she didn't think it wise to ignore it.
"Finally kicking me out, huh?" sent the Doctor, her remaining Reaper bodies supplemented with several more vessels, both salvaged and custom-made.
"Your assistance was vital to the war. Your presence is not vital to the peace. Quite the opposite," replied the Ascendant from its new Avatar shipbody. Flock drones swirled around its mountainous mass: the only vessel in the galaxy that could act as its own Relay, transmitting itself to any point.
"Oh, I know. It was always going to come down to something like this. I'm a hungry little monster, and I may be sated for now, but...It's what I am. My mother hungered for knowledge so much that she chose to die to make me, and I am far more voracious," she whispered quietly.
"Yes. We cannot see the future, but we do not need to. Our involvement in the Council would have created dependency, so we left. They must grow on their own. You, however…"
"I am what I am. I will feed, eventually. The Reapers were a gift in that regard. An enemy no one would miss. So, what now then? Do I get the same mercy you gave them?"
Behind her calm words, the Doctor's bodies powered their drives, but not their weapons. This Avatar wasn't a barely-complete prototype with limited energy reserves. She would never survive it.
"No. We offer you something else. Exile."
Slowly, her bodies powered down.
"Exile? From…?" she asked.
"The galaxy. Place yourself into hibernation, and sail to somewhere else. Begin again."
"The Milky Way's not big enough for the both of us huh?" She thought for a long few minutes. "I know I don't have a choice, really, but I don't hate the idea. Knowledge is knowledge, and I won't hunger if I sleep."
"We are glad you are amenable," said the Ascendant, the slightest ripple of energy empathising its words. "Go then. Maybe those that descend from the two of us will meet on better terms."
Without another word, the ship bodies of the Doctor turned, and left.
The Ascendant kept its word, and withdrew from Sol. Once again, the home of Transcendent Humanity was theirs.
Yet, everything was different.
Once, they had been alone. The universe had been a great darkness, unreachable and full of monsters. Now, friends and allies teemed in Solar space, many making permanent homes there.
The ancient enemy was gone, and they had a place in a galaxy that had been shaped by war and compassion into a bright and brilliant thing.
There was a future, and Transcendent Humanity moved into it.