After the conference call with Desolas was concluded, it was felt that immediate action was required. To put things mildly.

Every fully realized member nation of the Citadel Council had invested an enormous amount of manpower and resources into the Citadel Security Fleet over the centuries. While a few million soldiers was just a drop in the bucket compared to what the Citadel could call on at full muster, it was still millions of soldiers. Likewise, three entire Dreadnoughts, ten Cruisers, twenty-eight Frigates, and eleven Freighter ships was a sizeable fleet by any reckoning. Although neither the fleet nor its crew could compare to what even the Salarians could bring to bear under serious circumstances, losing that much firepower in a single battle would be one of the worst military disasters in Citadel history. Only the Rachni Wars and the following Krogan Rebellions could boast similar statistics.

Sparatus, Tevos, and Yindrel had each conferred with their superiors at length about the startling news of the CSF's defeat. He had no idea what the Dalatrasses had to say about the matter- that group always kept things close to the chest when it came to matters of great import.

The E-Democracy, however, was a very different story. The nature of Asari politics made it very difficult to keep emerging diplomatic situations covert. There was a saying on the Citadel that 'There are no secrets among the Asari', and to an extent it was true. Sparatus knew a precious few, of course, but he was one of the most well-informed people in Citadel Space. In general, Asari society was very open, and the fact that the government was largely comprised of the general populace made it very hard for it to keep secrets from the general populace, even when it was a necessary measure. That was one of the reasons that the Council relied so heavily on the Spectres and the STG for operations that required…discretion.

Unfortunately, the transparent nature of the Republics meant that, for Tevos, "conferring with her superiors" entailed what amounted to public disclosure of the incident. While a few high-ranking Matriarchs were the only ones always kept in the loop, something like this required that many more individuals be alerted, especially since it was guaranteed to get out eventually.

Basically, if the middle and lower ranking Matriarchs weren't apprised of some important happening and it later came to be public knowledge that it was so, well…they'd feel as if they'd been slighted. Politically marginalized, as if their input was of no concern. And the populace would feel the same way. In a pure democracy, widespread dissatisfaction like that could radically alter the balance of power in a relatively short period of time. With the E-Democracy came not only transparency in government, but the expectation of transparency. Even minor secrets could turn into reputation-destroying scandals if they were to become known. Little white lies a Salarian Dalatrass wouldn't even blink at could make the front page of major extranet news sites across Citadel Space.

Given the sheer number of Matriarchs "wired-in" to the E-Democracy, something like one-tenth of the entire Asari population was fully apprised of the situation, just a hairs breadth away from a public service announcement. And since those Asari had easy access to the extranet, it was a virtual certainty that the news would get out into the general public within, oh... perhaps a few minutes after Tevos' debriefing. And then the media would get involved, and the situation would be officially out of control.

Personally, Sparatus thought the whole thing rather inconvenient. The citizens of the Hierarchy were, by and large, far more accepting of secrecy than the Asari. Sure, they didn't like it, exactly…But every Turian served in the military when they were fifteen, so they had another perspective on it. COs would always have to keep certain things on a need-to-know basis. Doing otherwise risked intelligence leaks that could mean the difference between life and death for the men and women under their command. In the end, he supposed, it came down to an issue of trust. The citizens of the Hierarchy were raised from birth to trust their leaders implicitly, whereas Salarian and Asari children tended to be educated in the principles of skepticism and suspicion from an early age. In a capitalist democracy like the Republics, everything is a competition. You have to be wary of every little contract or vote. You had to worry about the person behind the counter trying to swindle your hard-earned credits, or even members of your own family trying to cheat you out of your "inheritance" with clever words and legalese. Everything about it was a mess, because everyone was it in for themselves. In a socialist bureaucracy like the Hierarchy, everyone was on the same team, and they worked together for the common good. In Sparatus' mind, the superior model of government should be plain as day.

Most Turian politicians who ran for office in any of the Citadel's various wards swore by the Turian system, mostly on a platform of expediency and efficient function. They were often flabbergasted by what they saw as unwarranted distrust from their alien constituents. On an academic level, they were often aware that red tape and other restrictive protocols existed to curb corruption. However, most of them chafed at the very implication that they were even capable of graft or embezzlement. In the Hierarchy, you would only ever come under investigation if something was found amiss with your Administration, whether through reports or complaints. It was always a bad sign if you received a notice of irregularity… Working on the Citadel, though, it always seemed like regulatory officials and investigators were breathing down your fringe over every little thing. Sparatus knew more than one colleague who'd burned out under the pressure. They just couldn't adjust to the compromises necessary for the governance of a pan-species society.

Of course, both systems had their fair share of advantages and issues. The Hierarchy model, while benefiting from the trust and cooperation of its citizens, was far from perfect. If, for example, the citizens felt that their best interests were no longer being looked after, the backlash could be particularly brutal. Turians as individuals were very protective of their families, comrades…and even their own leaders. If the leadership seemed to abandon its duty to the citizenry, though…the feeling of betrayal would be very poignant, almost personal. Though such occurrences were rare, they almost invariably ended with bloodshed. Gorsham was the textbook example.

Even now, the outer colonies of Hierarchy space were a powder-keg waiting to ignite. 'Remember Gorsham!' had become a rallying cry for the Liberationist faction, who were gaining a lot of clout with the colonies most affected by the recent supply shortages. The vaunted trust Turians were expected to show their leaders was strained at best on many of the furthest colonies from Palaven, and utterly broken at worst.

News of General Desolas' failure would get out eventually. There was no getting around that. Millions of soldiers from every Council race had been involved in this catastrophe. They'd all be reporting to their own governments… And even the Salarians wouldn't be able to keep a lid on things once the media got involved. Any yahoo with an extranet terminal could stream high-quality images and audio halfway across Citadel Space in a matter of minutes, these days, and there was no chance at all they'd be able to stop all the troops from telling their friends and family all about what happened 'over there'. Statistically, it was unavoidable, regardless of what the Council ordered.

If half of the things Desolas had rambled about were true, they'd definitely have some interesting stories for their grandkids. Sparatus had his doubts, given the fantastical nature of Desolas' account, but on the other hand he'd never known the General to exaggerate. Either way it left the Progressive faction in a rather precarious position.

Desolas screwed up. No two ways about it. One does not simply lose an entire expedition force in a single battle and chalk it up to bad luck. No. That just didn't happen, certainly not to an accomplished General like Desolas, regardless of his reputation. There had to be some other explanation. Some trick, or gimmick. Turians were not simply outfought.

According to Desolas, the aliens possessed an even more advanced level of technology than they'd originally suspected. He said something about… "Star-mechs." A portmanteau of starship and mech, given the context. Sparatus had trouble wrapping his head around the concept. He supposed the closest Turian analogue would be a remote fighter-drone. In common military theory, Drones were infeasible for use as anything above a support role, due to their inherent weaknesses. Autonomous drones could be hacked if the enemy had a well-trained and/or equipped cyberwarfare specialist or team of specialists. Remotely-controlled drones could likewise have their signals hijacked, or else jammed, to either turn them against their masters or render them functionally useless. Of course, neither was much of a concern when dealing with an as-of-yet unknown alien pattern of computer. With the way Desolas had described the aliens rigging their tech with traps, Sparatus expected that the CSF's computer specialists were of little use during the battle. Even if the aliens had been able to effectively deploy auto-drones in the space-battle, that on its own shouldn't have been enough to cripple the CSF so quickly… There was something else that must've gone wrong. Maybe a whole lot of things. Sparatus simply wasn't seeing the whole picture… And given Desolas' present situation, he wasn't likely to see any picture but what the aliens decided to put in front of him for quite some time.

Whatever the case might've been, facts were facts and the battle was settled. For whatever reason, Desolas had lost control of the situation in space and been subsequently compelled to surrender wholesale. Now it was Sparatus' job to run damage control for the Progressive faction's golden boy…To find some way to spin this situation to the Hierarchy's favor. He had his work cut out for him, to say the least.

Obviously the Primarch had not been at all happy to receive word of the first major military defeat involving Hierarchy ships in over ten years. He'd chewed Sparatus out over the vidcom for well over two entire hours when he was informed of the bad news. It had been made plain to the councilor that the Progressive faction could not afford to have this blow up in their faces with things as tense as they were between Palaven and the outer colonies.

With that in mind, Sparatus was to undertake the important task of meeting the aliens, face-to-face. The Primarch had made it clear that Sparatus needed to take control of the situation personally before it spiraled any further out of hand. Perhaps just as importantly, he needed to be seen doing so. They could not afford to allow any other party to diffuse the situation on their own now that Desolas (and by extension, the Progressives) had made such a hash of things. They made this mess, now they had to be the ones to clean it up, and leave things spotless at that. Nothing else would suffice to salvage their reputation after the full account of things came to light, whatever they might be. Sparatus and the other Councilors had been given but an inkling, he was sure, and things were already looking grim.

Sparatus had set out for the Traverse aboard a lighly armed cruiser, just that morning. He had ensured that there was some fanfare around the event, though he remained tight-lipped in front of the cameras. The public at large had just been apprised of the situation yesterday, after Tevos conferred with the Asari E-Democracy. She had been rather crafty about her phrasing, though, accepting partial responsibility for the botched campaign, yet still making it clear to all that she laid most of the blame squarely at the feet of the Turian Hierarchy. She used prettier words than that, though, as Asari were wont to do. Sparatus didn't appreciate being put on the spot like that, but he couldn't exactly fault her reasoning. She was opposed to this venture from the start... But Sparatus couldn't say the same. He was blinded by his preconceptions, and misguided by some need for triumph in the wake of the Stalwart's botched operation with the alien ship. He'd been hoodwinked by the Salarians and his own stubborn pride, just as Desolas was.

The facts were laid bare for the people of every member and associate race of the Citadel Council; The fleet that they had dispatched to deal with the new alien threat presented during the Relay 314 Incident had been defeated and forced to surrender- the majority of survivors now in alien hands. Predictably enough, there was a shitstorm.

Warbirds on Palaven both Conservative and Progressive screamed for total mobilization of the military, and an escalation of hostilities. Mostly the Primarch was able to keep a lid on things, though, and cooler heads prevailed. If only just. The Salarians and the Asari had more subdued reactions, but there were those among them who called for a more pronounced armed response as well. Every major military organization in Citadel Space had gone on secondary alert, and mercenary outfits across the galaxy salivated with anticipation. War seemed like it might be hiding just over the horizon.

By and large, though, most of the Citadel's people preferred a more conciliatory approach. The decision to send the CSF to "pacify" the alien presence in the Traverse had been controversial in the first place, and now all the nay-sayers seemed vindicated in their worst fears. There were those who believed that the Citadel would do well not to stick its nose where they felt it did not belong, particularly in the anarchical Terminus systems and the very fringes of Citadel Space.

Yindrel and Tevos were left to deal with the demands and complaints of the Associate Ambassadors, as well as the myriad of concerned citizens and politicians belonging to every race that sought to impose their will over the situation. They were practically camped out in the Presidium that morning, along with a great multitude of journalists, activists, and everyday citizens. Sparatus made certain that it was understood by everyone both there and watching the news back home that he fully intended to rectify this situation and get their troops home. The lost hardware was a secondary concern; new ships and equipment could replace that old CSF junk in short order, provided the Council was willing to foot the bill. Even the Destiny Ascension could be rebuilt from the original shipwright's archived designs. The real concern was a moral one, over the fates and lives of the CSF and regular military personnel now marooned on an alien world.

Sparatus had promised that he would see them safely returned, and that he would do everything in his power to preserve a peaceful, safe galaxy. He meant it, too. He had every intention of seeing to it that war was averted, contingent of course on the safe return of the CSF personnel and citizens of the Citadel Council.

His ferry, the cruiser Zuno, was not a Turian warship. It was vessel owned by the Vol Protectorate, who were not compelled to contribute to the CSF under General Desolas. Sparatus believed that the use of a ship that did not conform to the exterior design standards of any vessel in the CSF would mitigate the chance of being shot down before they were able to establish communications. As a Citadel Councilor, his death on this mission would put an end to any talk of peace; If Sparatus failed and was killed by the aliens, the galaxy would go to war.

It was a heavy burden, and Sparatus was nervous. The Captain of the Zuno, Jilo Ardun, had been courteous enough to set aside one of the ship's lounge's for his private use as an office space for the duration of this… assignment. Sparatus hoped that things did not take too long; every day that the situation continued, the worse things were going to get back on Palaven. The Primarch could only keep the other Generals stalled for so long if Sparatus didn't produce results in a timely manner.

Given the circumstances described by Desolas, it was unlikely that the aliens would resort to simple butchery of the prisoners now under their power. If the General's information was good, then the aliens seemed to have some concept of reasonable treatment for enemy prisoners of war. Sparatus just wished he knew more about the conditions in which they were being kept, although Desolas seemed not to know much himself. There was a great deal of difference to being locked in a brig with food and toiletries and being strapped to a vivisecting table, after all.

The latter seemed improbable, though. The Krogan might've been prone to sickening experiments or plain sadistic games with their prisoners, but they had been a savage race. From what Sparatus was hearing of these aliens, they seemed quite a bit more civilized than the overgrown reptiles. Their technology, at least, was significantly more advanced than anything the Krogan could cook up, especially before they were uplifted. There were quite a few social and scientific theorists who peddled the notion that technological sophistication was one mark of a civilized society, perhaps the mark. Normally Sparatus wouldn't put much stock in that, but at the moment he certainly hoped they were right.

More likely was the unfortunate possibility that the aliens might try to stonewall Sparatus, not wanting to give up the perceived strategic benefit of holding so many captives while the enemy held none. It would be an understandable mistake. The prisoners did grant them a good deal of leverage, but… At the same time, as long as so many people were held captive in such a visible manner, it'd remain the military issue of the day. Nevermind that the Batarians held easily a hundred times as many Citadel citizens captive at that very moment, spread throughout their illegal slaving business in both their home systems and the Terminus. The Council races would demand that their troops be rescued if this went on for too long, which would undoubtedly end in an escalated military confrontation with the aliens.

In short, the only way to resolve the situation in a manner that involved no further bloodshed was to negotiate the release of almost two million prisoners of war on a relatively speedy timetable. That was one of the reasons he'd had to say goodbye to Maelina and Lexios without so much as spending one more day with them before he left- The CSF situation simply could not wait for any longer than absolutely necessary.

They were about two hours away from the last known location of the CSF before they lost contact early on, which corresponded almost exactly with the estimated location of the alien planet. Sparatus hoped that he could bring an end to this soon, and get back to Maelina and Lexios in one piece. He'd promised his wife and son he'd come back, and with the rest of the CSF and "Uncle Desolas" to boot. He didn't intend to let them down on either count.

Nihlus woke up to see the sun shining in his eyes, and he squinted to let them adjust as he rose from his cot. He could smell someone burning fish rations outside the tent somewhere, probably those idiots from Barsul Company. Everyone else must've been outside, too. The tent was empty, except for him.

The circumstances Nihlus (and many other soldiers of the Turian Hierarchy and Citadel in general) now found themselves in were most… peculiar. Not uncomfortable or unwelcome, exactly, though not many of them were thrilled with the outcome of the invasion. Indeed, it had been a bit of a wash. But as far as prison camps went, Nihlus could imagine worse.

Nihlus and about six hundred other men were being kept in what amounted to a recently mown meadow, out in the wilderness. The area was fenced off with tall metal barricades and turreted watchtowers, but they were mostly left to their own devices other than the occasional inspection by their alien captors. According to the somewhat awkward machine translation from their language to Salarian through those clunky omni-tool-like devices of theirs, they were simply enforcing the rules and conditions outlined to them at the beginning of their internment here.

Basically, the prisoners could do whatever they wished with their time so long as they surrendered all weapons and complex machinery not yet cleared by their inspectors as peaceable in function, such as Omni-Tools, computers, and other utility gadgets. They could keep things like e-books, digital notepads, some basic tools, and their own uniforms, minus the armor of course. All in all, the place reminded Nihlus more of being back in boot camp than all the cautionary tales the instructors used to tell them about detention facilities if they didn't shape up. Honestly, though, they were mostly left to discipline themselves.

There was a strongpoint by the gate with a single guard in a small pillbox in the interior of the camp, but he kept almost entirely to himself. If they had a question, or needed something, they could go to him and he'd phone his "Supervisor". Apparently, that was the one in charge of their camp, and possibly others. The Supervisor. He, if it was a he, had never shown his face in the camp. They heard of him often enough from his underlings, though; They were men in blue jumpsuits and black body armor, with face-obscuring polarized screens that hid their faces. Many of the prisoners found them unsettling, at first, due to the resemblance to Hastatim. They were only carrying what looked like metal clubs, although Nihlus guessed there was probably more to them than that if push came to shove, given the aliens' predilection for advanced technology.

There were sixty tents lined up in rows within the camp, with space for ten men each with room to spare. Given the volume of prisoners taken after Desolas' order to surrender, Nihlus could only assume that there were many such camps spread across the planet's surface rather than in one place, to reduce the chance of organized resistance should there be a single breakout.

Nihlus had been separated from the General and the other campaign leaders after the meeting with Vice-President Flambeau and his subsequent swearing to secrecy. They put him and the kid from Zuril Company, Rovek, up here. Desolas and the others were probably kept down in the Vault for security purposes.

The camps seemed to be segregated along the lines of species and gender, or at least this one was; All six-hundred or so prisoners were Turian males. Those two Asari from before were nowhere to be seen. Nihlus wondered where Julon was. She'd still been on the ships back when Nihlus dropped in with Falon Company. Desolas was fine, at least, so the Destiny Ascension had to have made it. But Julon and he had been on one of the cruisers, the Unconquerable.

All told, the Engineers were proving to be true to their promise of treating the surviving members of the pacification force with honor and dignity. It wasn't as bad as it could've been, certainly. Not as bad as many of them had feared. Indeed, they had been expecting some level of abuse from their captors, given their recent hostilities. These fears soon proved unfounded. The Engineers actively avoided contact with the prisoners except on official business, and they quickly left through the gate once their routine inspections were concluded. The prisoners of war were left almost completely to their own devices, once they were stripped of any military gear.

Still, there were many in the camp who were angry, or burned out from all the fighting. The battle for the alien planet had been short but exceptionally bloody. Entire Companies had been all but wiped out in the initial wave of the invasion, and all subsequent deployments resulted in a steady stream of heavy casualties. Zuril Company alone took something like 80% losses… If they ever saw Hierarchy Space again, a lot of them would probably require a full reconstitution.

From what Nihlus heard, he'd been one of the lucky ones. He'd been taken out of commission pretty early on, so he missed the worst of it without getting too seriously injured. No one in their camp was missing arms or legs or anything like that, though; Anyone with serious injuries was apparently sent to a hospital they'd set up with the medical units.

He got up after a while, and walked out of the tent. There were plenty of other guys up and about, talking amongst themselves or looking for their squadmates. The sun was shining and the weather was clear, but the atmoshphere of the camp was anything but joyful. They may have been treated well by their captors, but this was still a closed off detention facility filled with the remnants of a broken and battered army. You could practically taste the bitterness and anger in the air.

Nihlus heard men cursing the alien's name; 'Damn humans.' or 'Human bastards' seemed to be muttered under every other breathe, and the aliens who entered the camp for inspections or deliveries got plenty of dirty, brooding looks. It was only the constantly drilled-in discipline of the Turian Legions that kept the men civilized, and even that was under heavy strain due to their circumstances. Nihlus was honestly surprised there hadn't been any violent incidents yet. In retrospect, it was probably a good idea for the aliens to keep their distance.

Nihlus ran into Rovek and a few of the other guys from Zuril Company hanging out in the main clearing between the two groups of tents. They were gathered in a loose circle, openly discussing their experiences with the aliens.

"There were these three... I don't know. Super Soldiers. They were like alien meat-grinders. They must've been responsible for at least half of our losses. They had this...this armor, man. It seemed impenetrable, at first." Said Dorin, one or Rovek's squaddies. "It took two of those Asari biotics going at them with everything they had to punch through... Nothing else worked."

"Hmmph." Grunted someone Nihlus didn't recognize. "Figures it'd take a freak to down a freak. Wish we'd never gone down that spirits-forsaken hellpit."

"The uh...The turrets and the mechs..." Rovek stuttered, nervous as usual. "They didn't go down so easy, either. The, uh... The color's the same. I think it's some kind of special alloy, or something. They were really resistant to Incendiary and AP rounds...uh, from what I've heard."

"Yeah." Nihlus nodded. "One of the Salarian techs I was working with said the same thing. Small arms are next to useless against the humans' mechs and emplacements, no matter what kind of ammo you're packing – You need heavy weapons, or a Tyrus."

"AFVs aren't much use against an enemy that packs grenades like those." Dorin shook his head. "We should've stayed in orbit, softened 'em up with a little bombardment while we had the chance."

"Then we would've just gone down with the transports, or ended up here even sooner." The stranger pointed out, sounding pretty disgruntled. "The alien fleet crushed the CSF in minutes after they...after they just appeared like that. I heard someone serving on the Destiny Ascension going over the details, yesterday. One of Desolas' staffers. It was a total disaster. According to him, they barely knocked a fifth of those birds out of the sky before the Ascension was crippled."

"We weren't ready for this fight." Nihlus concluded. He leaned back on the soft grass, gazing up into the sunny sky. "The aliens... they were prepared for us from the very beginning, and... We have to face facts. Desolas wasn't cut out for this from the start."

"What do you mean?" Asked the stranger, narrowing his eyes and scowling. His tone sounded almost defensive. "General Desolas did everything he could. He was operating without any decent intel in a bad situation. If there was some fault in this op, it's on more heads than his alone."

"Maybe. And I'm as loyal to the General as anyone else in what's left of Zuril Company," Dorin asserted. "but even I have to admit that we jumped the gun on this one. We should've waited for a while. Observed. We should've assessed the situation before jumping in head first like that."

"That's not fair." The stranger complained, sitting up and facing Dorin. "Desolas was under a lot of pressure to get results fast. Sparatus and the other Councilors didn't exactly want us to take our time on this, remember? They wanted immediate action. Everyone did. The General was acting under their direct orders."

Nihlus was rather skeptical of that, considering how passionate the General was about the severity of the alien threat. He didn't think Sparatus had to twist Desolas' arm too much to get him out here spoiling for a fight, but refrained from saying anything more. This guy clearly took the General's side on the issue, and Nihlus really wasn't looking to get into a fight right now. He was too tired. Tired of fighting without a cause.

"Well, uh... It's not like it matters now, right?" Asked Rovek, looking between the other two. "Battle's over. We surrendered."

"Of course it matters." Stated Dorin, ripping up a blade of grass absently. "Things are probably going to get sorted out through the Council now that we've been captured. Now that a pre-emptive attack has failed, they'll probably try a more... diplomatic approach. That means the asari. And you can bet your ass they'll be looking for someone to pin this thing on."

"The asari have been sabotaging General Desolas froom the start." the stranger spat, addressing no one in particular. "It's because they're a democracy- They don't have what it takes to make the tough decisions. They're always dithering and arguing. If we'd listened to them a thousand years ago, we'd all be speaking Krogan right now."

"Turns out they were right this time, though." Nihlus said. The other Turian turned to look at him. "For all our effort, this op was a bust. So many good men and women, dead or wounded. And what do we have to show for it?"

The stranger opened his jaws, but no words came out. He raised a finger, but lowered it just as suddenly. There were no words to justify what'd happened, at least none the other guy could think of. Nihlus was glad he had the sense not to descend into nonsensical nationalistic ranting, like some soldiers he could think of. Andorien, may his name live on as a warning in the chronicles of the reconstituted Zuril Company, sprung to mind immediately.

"O-oh yeah!" Rovek spoke up suddenly, alleviating the tense silence for the moment. "You two haven't met yet. Sergeant Nihlus, this is Lieutenant Saren Arterius. Lieutenant, this is Sergeant Nihlus Kryik."

"Arterius? You must be the General's brother." Nihlus remarked. That explained why he was so fiercely defensive of Desolas. The General was a widely celebrated public figure- Pretty much every soldier in the Hierarchy was passing familiar with him by reputation. It was a well-known fact that the General had a younger brother serving in the military, although Nihlus hadn't known he was part of the expeditionary force.

"...Yeah. General Desolas is my elder brother." Saren said, somewhat hesitantly. Nihlus could understand why. There was always a lot of pressure to perform well when serving under family members, or else you ran the risk of sullying their reputation with allegations of nepotism. General Desolas had plenty of problems to deal with already...

The General surveyed his men at work from a large metal scaffold hanging over the warehouse floor, along with his security detail.

There were a few dozen supply officers directing a couple hundred enlisted men down below, sorting through the supplies as they were unloaded from the alien trucks that'd reverse-parked in front of the big, vertical paneled doors on the walls. They were hard at work, unpacking the crucial dextro-amino acid provisions and medical supplies the aliens had recovered from the ships.

It had been easy for Desolas to convince Flambeau to allow the crews from their ships to salvage whatever rations they could before they were ferried down from the surface. After the human's people were finished inspecting them for military contraband, he'd even allowed Desolas to handle the distribution of them throughout the many internment camps scattered across the planet.

Without these supplies, the hundreds of thousands of Turian prisoners of war in alien custody would not last long. This world had plenty of land and crops for foraging... If you could digest levo-amino acid based foods. Otherwise, everything that grew on this planet might as well be poison. Only the frequent and efficient deliveries of the supplies they'd brought with them would allow for any kind of extended campaign on the planet, and they were still necessary now that the men were being held prisoner.

The foodstuffs and other supplies would arrive via truck from the makeshift spaceport they'd set up outside the aliens' largest settlement. Really it was just a patch of empty, clear grassland. Then his men would sort through everything, and his commanders would decide where to send what based on reports filed by the ranking officer of each camp. While they were prisoners of war, Desolas and many others had noted that their organization had remained largely intact.

There was remarkably little oversight for an operation being conducted under the supervision of their captors; Just a few squads of human troops for security, and inspectors to make sure they weren't trying to smuggle weapons into the camp.

They do not fear us, Desolas realized with subdued irritation. He was too tired to be angry. And why should they? He wondered. We've done nothing but annoy them, and that 'Vice President', Flambeau... He seemed more patronizing than anything else.

Desolas recalled the meeting with the Vice President of Public Relations, as the man had called himself, and what came afterwards. Nihlus Kryik and that other kid, Rovek Stravius, had been sent to the camp with the rest of what was left of Zuril Company. Rovek was enlisted with them, and Nihlus was attached on loan from the Stalwart. When conducting ground operations in concert with proper Legions, Naval soldiers tended to be organically deployed as needed within the existing companies, depending upon their expertise. It was thought that Nihlus' experience fighting the aliens would come in handy for Zuril Company's role in the first wave of the assault.

Unfortunately, things didn't work out that way, and it sounded like Nihlus was captured pretty early. In fact, Private Rovek was the one who penetrated the deepest into the human stronghold. Kid'd sure have some stories to tell to the rest of the guys in Zuril, when this was all over. Till then, both of them were on strict military intelligence control orders not to reveal anything they'd seen to their friends. For now, they were just two more prisoners who'd surrendered along with everyone else, well outside the human stronghold.

Desolas had been both surprised and relieved to find out that Saren had been sent to the very same camp. It was almost suspicious... But no. There was no way the aliens could know that he had a younger brother serving in the Navy. That was too far-fetched. Still, it was a fortuitous coincidence. He hadn't contacted his brother since well before the formation of the fleet – It wouldn't have been proper for someone in his position. Desolas kept an eye on his kid brother, of course, but he was sure to be discreet about it.

The Asari and the Salarians had been set to oversee their own people, with similar orders to their men (and women) not breathe a word. As added 'assurance', Flambeau informed them all that he'd have men watching their every move, ready to move in and detain them should they attempt to disclose any of the sensitive diplomatic information they overheard during the meeting.

Desolas sympathized. He had a detail of watchdogs, too, 'courteously' provided by Flambeau. Several armed men in dirt-brown and beige armor with cloud-white helmets followed him everywhere he went. They were dressed in the same uniform as Flambeau's bodyguards. Their dual eye-shaped visors glowed a ghostly blue, and their mouths were covered by a vent that amplified the sound of their breathe. They reminded Desolas uncomfortably of a squad of Hastatim, though he realized by now that was irrational. The humans' soldiery in general seemed averse to showing their faces, wearing all manner of face-obscuring headgear. So far, almost everyone who seemed to work directly for Flambeau had gone faceless before Desolas and his men.

The sole exception was the human standing by his side at that very moment, leaning over the railing on the scaffold. Desolas had to stop himself from pushing him over the edge. It'd be so easy, and it'd be one last blow against the enemy, but... He had no doubts that the comparatively lenient treatment of his men would be put in serious jeopardy should he make a violent move against this one.

Desolas had observed the hierarchy of these aliens as well as he could over the past day or so. Flambeau, the 'Vice-President', seemed to command great authority amongst the humans. They saluted or bowed as he approached, and stepped aside as he walked by. They did not speak when he spoke, and obeyed his every order without hesitation. This other human, Flambeau's immediate underling, Desolas guessed, was afforded a similar (if lesser) degree of deference by the rank-and file and their officers.

Jack, he called himself. He looked like every other human to Desolas, but he had a few distinguishing features. His hair was long and dark brown. Most remarkably, his two eyes were differently colored; One was blue, the other green. Heterochromia, he believed it was called. It didn't occur among Turians, but some of the animals native to Palaven could get it.

Jack wasn't wearing any of the human uniforms Desolas had observed, either, or anything like what Flambeau was wearing. He wore what looked like a leather jacket over a red shirt, blue pants, and boots that also could've been made of leather. Desolas didn't claim to be an expert on alien fashion, but it was clear that Jack wasn't dressed like a soldier. He wore no armor and carried no weapon, yet the uniformed troops obeyed him, just as they did Flambeau.

"So, Desolas, you like the way things are lookin' so far? Got everything your guys need?" Jack asked, standing up straight and turning back to face the general.

"...Yes." Desolas admitted, ignoring the familiar use of his given name by his captor. It was his duty to demand good treatment for his men, but he had no illusions. He was in no position to demand respect from his vanquishers, regardless of their odd amicability. Perhaps it was simply some custom of theirs. "Everything is proceeding smoothly. We've managed to co-ordinate the distribution of about one third of the supplies so far. That should be enough to see the men through the week, at least. More, if they ration conservatively."

"Great! That's fantastic." Jack smiled, seeming genuinely pleased. "My boss'll be happy to hear it. And if Mr. Flambeau's happy, it makes everybody happy. Especially when it comes time for those bonus checks, eh?" He sort of chuckled after that last part, as if he'd just told a joke. If so, Desolas didn't get it. "But yeah, that's great. This set-up is looking really good, I've got to say. Almost as good as me. All joking aside, though, is there anything else I can get you? Really, don't hesitate to ask. Anything at all... within reason, I mean." He turned around to look at Desolas expectantly, and leaned his back lazily against the scaffold's safety rail. Desolas hesitated for a moment as he wondered if the alien was serious, then decided to give it a go. He had little to lose by asking, at this point.

"If possible, I'd like to take another tour of some of the camps, and... see for myself how my men are faring." He tried his best to phrase the request as diplomatically as possible, although he was unused to such language. He wracked his brain for the memory of some simpering asari milquetoast he might've seen on the extranet newscasts for a quick understudy.

"Still don't trust us yet, eh?" Jack flashed him what might've been a wry smile with his mouth full of perfectly white, straight teeth. Desolas made note that they looked a little fake. "Don't worry, we're taking good care of 'em. Can't say as I blame you, though. War can be one mean son of a bitch... uh, from what I hear, anyways. Tell you what, we've got some free time before we have to head back to Dawn's Landing to have dinner with General Horton tonight." Jack had mentioned that Desolas' presence was requested for a social distraction with the enemy General that evening... He had thought it unwise to refuse, and he was a bit curious himself anyways. He wondered what sort of man the alien commander was, in person. His tactics were sly and underhanded, dishonoroable even... But Desolas could not deny their effectiveness. It'd be an interesting dinner, to say the least. Perhaps his opponent felt similarly, or merely wished to gloat. "I'll make a few calls, get us an Executive Vertibird. You have any particular camp in mind, or you just want me to take you on the grand tour?"

"A1 through 5 should be... 'great'." Desolas was momentarily surprised that his request was granted so easily. It was becoming a familiar feeling with these aliens. He supposed he should be grateful.

"All the big ones near the Landing, huh? No problemo." He stood up from the rail he had been leaning against. "I'll call us our ride."

It took two days for the Zuno to arrive in the alien star system. The remains of the CSF were still clearly visible in orbit from very far away, as were the four alien starships surrounding the orbital perimeter. Three of them appeared to be of the same class, about the same size as the Zuno at 250 meters in length. Light cruisers or heavy frigates, most likely. The fourth vessel was the largest, at 330 meters and a very different exterior design, according to their visual sensors. A modest fleet by the looks of things, good for routine patrols or hunting down pirates. But that meant little when they were surrounded by the charred husks of almost the entire CSF, including a badly mangled Destiny Ascension. Any fleet that could do that kind of damage to the asari's most powerful superdreadnought over the course of a single battle was nothing to scoff at. Sparatus remembered how Desolas mentioned that the alien... 'star mechs' simply appeared as if conjured out of the hellpits themselves. Stealth tech, or worse; Teleportation. Both technologies were supposed to be so far beyond the Citadel race's present understanding of science that they might as well be impossible, according to the Salarians.

Sparatus had taken the vanquished general's ravings with a grain of salt, then, but... they were running out of other plausible scenarios. According to the Zuno's scanners, all of the wreckage in orbit had at one time been property of the Citadel Council; Not a single derelict alien vessel had been left drifting in orbit.

In any case, it would've been most unwise to take this as an opportunity to attempt a second assault, even if he had brought another Turian fleet along. Those four lonely alien ships might as well have had the words 'This is a comically obvious trap! Attack this!' written under them in big, glowing orange letters.

The sad part is, there are plenty of Turian Generals who'd take the challenge at face value and do just that... Sparatus thought with some despair. There were too many Warbirds active in the military right then, whether they were Conservative or Progressive. Too many bitter old men who'd like nothing more than to rekindle the "glory days" of the Rachni Wars or the Krogan Rebellions, neither of which any of them had ever actually lived through. They thought of all the honor and glory that came of war, and none of the horror and sacrifice.

"How do you... Want to hail them? …Councilor?" Wheezed Jilo Ardun, the Zuno's Captain. Both of them were on the bridge at the moment, with Sparatus standing next to the Volus' somewhat squat command throne atop a raised dais in the center of the bridge. The compartment itself was thankfully spacious, in accordance with Citadel anti-discrimination regulations requiring that starships from every associate and member race were accessible to the other Council races, regardless of body shape. Thanks to those ordinances, pretty much any ship owned by any government associated with the Citadel Council had to be able to comfortably house multiple Elcor in order to pass inspection. Private vessels were exempt, of course, and certain commercial Volus ships were known to be all but impossible to navigate save through crawling if they'd been built on the cheap. But the Zuno was an armed cruiser owned by the Vol Protectorate, specializing in risky diplomatic envoys like this one. A Krogan would find this vessel comfortably roomy.

"According to Desolas, the aliens have deciphered one or more of our languages. Send out a broadcast on all channels in the most common Asari, Turian, and Salarian dialects. The one I prepared on the way here." Sparatus clarified. He'd spent the better part of their journey composing an elaborate "Second Contact" package, as he liked to refer to it.

First contact had not proceeded according to the established Citadel Conventions; They had begun by exchanging gunfire, rather than words. The aliens had only been exposed to the stern and unrelenting talon of the Citadel's war machine, as opposed to a true picture of their flourishing and diverse spacefaring society as a whole. The Second Contact package sought to rectify the alien's likely incomplete understanding of the Citadel Council, and what it represented.

In it, Sparatus had included numerous works of art. Scanned images of ancient frescos from Palaven, and sculptural masterpieces from Thessia. Even some lyrical poetry from Sur'Kesh. Everything had a few common themes; Appreciating the natural beauty of the world, the joys of life and prosperity, and harmonious existence with one's fellow beings. It all came together to deliver a message of peace and hope for the future.

Of course, Sparatus included a more conventional greeting in the form of a simple letter. He'd ran it through the ship's computer to translate it into the most commonly spoken Citadel languages, and attached it to the main data packet as a separate document. The aliens shouldn't have any trouble understanding such basic communications, given the garbled and encrypted signals that were bouncing between the alien starships and the colony below.

Hail, strangers.

This message is being transmitted from the Zuno, a starship belonging to the Vol Protectorate. The Vol Protectorate did not participate in the aggressive police action that began approximately 72 hours ago, and the Zuno has approached your fleet with no intention of engaging in further hostilities. Please do not fire upon, damage, or destroy the Zuno.

I am Councilor Linos Sparatus, and I speak on behalf of the Citadel Council, with full powers of political delegation from the Turian Hierarchy.

Approximately two days ago, a military force under the command of the Citadel Council attempted to engage in a police action against your colony close to Mass Relay 314 while operating under the suspicion that this colony and others were engaging in in violation of the Citadel Conventions, the common laws of Citadel Space.

As you are no doubt aware, this military force was repulsed by the colonial defenses, and subsequently surrendered under conditions set by the Citadel Conventions and the commanding officer, General Desolas Arterius.

In light of these events, I have come under the banner of peace in the hopes of initiating a dialogue with the leadership of your government. We (The Citadel Council) acknowledge that the military force in question may have acted in error, and would have it made known that certain elements of the military force in question may have participated in actions unsanctioned by the Citadel Council.

Please respond via the frequency detailed within this data packet if you are willing to engage peaceful negotiations.

Councilor Linos Sparatus

The letter was intentionally vague on the issue of the actual events that transpired on the alien planet, as well as the true extent of the Council's culpability in them. Those sordid details could be sorted out privately, in a meeting behind closed doors. This would be the official first diplomatic contact between the aliens and the Turian Hierarchy, though, so it should be something they didn't mind being put in the history books.

And then they played the waiting game. For several tense minutes, the Zuno's bridge was under the shroud of quietly nervous anticipation. The Volus at their workstations were admirably disciplined, keeping all hushed whispers to a minimum. But the sense of unease was so thick you could practically taste it in the air. Even Captain Ardun was twiddling his fingers together from his command throne, rapidly swiping holographic readouts from his omni-tool as he checked and double checked the ship's systems. A nervous habit, no doubt.

"Captain!" Called out one of the communications officers suddenly, causing Sparatus to take a breath with involuntary sharpness. "We're being hailed... By one of the alien ships... Sir! They're trying to... Establish a connection."

"Patch us in." Sparatus ordered. He didn't bother asking if it was malicious. With them as outnumbered and outgunned as they must've been, there'd be little point in making such a blatant attempt at networking with the Zuno if cyberwarfare was their aim. Ardun nodded, and waved his men to obey. While Ardun was obligated to assist Sparatus in this diplomatic mission, this was not a Hierarchy vessel. The ship was still the Captain's to command.

A hologram appeared in the middle of the bridge, shooting out from the large central projector. During battle, the projector would display an enormous holographic monitor that stretched all the way to the ceiling, dominating the bridge's space. This would display crucial information such as hull integrity, remaining fuel supplies, and targeting solutions, as well as a real-time three-dimensional diorama of the battlespace.

Now, there was an unmistakably alien face, appearing as a flat image. The Councilor found himself momentarily at a loss for words. Sparatus had seen the footage from the Relay 314 Incident, of course, but he was still struck by the unnerving physical similarities between the aliens and the asari, especially now that it was rendered in such photographic detail.

From what the Council's top men in the Spectres' Research & Development department had told Sparatus, the human remains identified as male onboard the wrecked alien vessel at Relay 314 were stockier and heavier looking than the females, who were (outwardly) all but indistinguishable from pink-skinned asari from the forehead down.

Sparatus guessed that the alien on the screen belonged to the former gender, but he supposed it hardly mattered either way. If the alien expressions correlated more or less with asari ones (by no means a sure thing), then the male alien was looking at him with a stern, determined gaze.

"Attention 'Councilor Linos Sparatus' of the... 'starship' Zuno, this is Captain Lawrence Biggs of the RobCo-REPCONN Spacecraft RRS-1 Jupiter." Said the floating alien head. "Your message and the accompanying data have been received, and are currently being processed by command. You are instructed to hold your current position. Do not attempt to flee the system or engage your weapons systems. Please acknowledge if you understand."

"Affirmative." Sparatus replied automatically, flinching a moment later. He had recognized the syntax of clipped military speech even through translated Salarian, and responded in kind. But this was a delicate situation, and he should know better than that. He cleared his throat. "We can understand you perfectly, and we eagerly await the opportunity to engage in dialogue with your leadership."

"Acknowledged." The one called Captain Lawrence Biggs nodded. "Jupiter, signing off. A RobCo-REPCONN executive will be in contact with you shortly, and we extend our thanks for your patience in advance." The hologram winked out, and the room began to buzz with vigorous activity. The crew typed at their workstations and Ardun shouted orders; They were ensuring that both the engines and the ship's few mass effect cannons were shut down entirely. They knew what was at stake here; Even the smallest slip-up could have devastating repercussions, for both themselves and the galaxy as a whole.

Sparatus' first impressions of the aliens was fairly positive. Perhaps it was just because he was a Turian, but he appreciated working with an obvious military man instead of some... Some pirate warlord or feudal princess. They still had no idea what sort of government they were dealing with, but Sparatus was strangely comforted by the familiar austerity of the military. That wasn't to say that he trusted them, per se, just because they sent this Biggs person to deal with the situation first. But there was a certain expectation of professionalism and civility that came with proper soldiering, as opposed to the barbarian warrior culture of races such as the Krogan or the Vorcha. Even the Batarians had a warrior caste that formed the third-to-highest stratum of their society, and from what Sparatus knew of them they were just as greedy and dishonorable as the other two.

It was only a few minutes before the aliens contacted them again, and another hologram shot out from the projector. But Captain Biggs was nowhere to be seen.

It was a different alien, probably male, with neatly trimmed hair on his head and upper lip. His mouth was curved up in a smile, but his eyes were looking down on Sparatus with the imperious gaze of a Primarch.

"Hello, Councilor. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance." He said, in a voice that didn't sound particularly pleased or displeased. The general impression Sparatus got from his first few words was one of vague and detached interest, like a scientist going over yet another batch of test results. "Doubly so, considering that this will be the first documented communication between the highest governing bodies of our two civilizations.

Let's get down to business, shall we? My name is Robert Edwin House, President, CEO, and primary shareholder of RobCo-REPCONN, the largest and most influential corporation in human history. Earlier this week, an army under the command of one General Desolas Arterius attempted to invade a privately owned colonial endeavor on the planet New Anchorage. Although I have my own theories as to why, I would very much like to hear the official position of the Citadel Council. I'm sure it will be enlightening." The floating head looked at Desolas expectantly.

This was it. The moment Sparatus had been preparing for since he departed the Citadel. The Hierarchy and the Citadel both had their own company lines, of course, but it was Sparatus' job to phrase it in such a way that this... Robert Edwin House was convinced of his sincerity.

That the aliens... 'humans', according to House, sent a corporate executive to meet with him should speak volumes about them as a civilization, although analyzing that was a job for a xenosociologist, not a Citadel Councilor. But perhaps it was simply an error of translation. Sparatus had a difficult time believing that a mere corporate colony had successfully repulsed and neutralized the Citadel Security Fleet on its own.

Both Asari and Salarians, as well as most of the associate species, allowed private corporations to claim and colonize planets on their own, so long as they jumped through various hoops to receive the proper blessings and approval from the government. Turians and batarians, on the other hand, did not permit private organizations colonization rights. In Hierarchy space, the only two groups that had permission to settle new colonies were the Turian Hierarchy and the Vol Protectorate. This caused some friction with the Quarian Migrant Fleet. Whenever a new rare dextro-planet was discovered (and immediately claimed by the relatively dense Hierarchy), the Quarians wrung their hands in helpless frustration. It was well known that many among the Quarians desperately desired a new planet to colonize, but without any leverage on Palaven they had little recourse whenever the Hierarchy barred them from potential homes.

Regardless of them, it seemed as though the human government was rather supportive of their corporations, if Robert Edwin House's title was being properly translated. Sparatus would take care not to voice the Hierarchy's opinion of large entrepreneurial organizations, as this was hardly the time for controversy.

"As I stated in my message, the intended purpose of General Desolas' presence here was to investigate, and, if later proven necessary, curtail the practice of illegally activating Mass Relays connected to the Citadel." Desolas answered, doing his best to use diplomatic language while downplaying the Hierarchy's culpability in any wrongdoing.

"Yes, Desolas and the Salarians told me something similar." House said in reply. "Connected to the Citadel, you say? That's the first time I'm hearing about that. Would you care to elucidate?"

"Certainly." Said Sparatus, trying his best to keep the excitement from his voice as he seized upon the opportunity. "Every Mass Relay is a part of a greater network that leads into Citadel Space and, ultimately, the Citadel itself. In the past, reckless activation of Mass Relays has led to major catastrophes that threatened the stability of the entire galaxy. The activation of Mass Relays is therefore subject to the regulation of the Citadel Council, for our own protection. When one of our patrol fleets caught one of your starships attempting to activate the nearby Relay 314, there was an... altercation."

"I am aware." Said House, sounding mildly annoyed. "The spacecraft you are referring to was likely the ECIS Patterson. The telemetry and security footage transmitted from the Patterson along with its distress signal was the first contact we've had with you, I believe. I won't bother asking if there were any survivors."

"Unfortunately not..." Sparatus clasped his hands together out in front of him, in an ancient Turian gesture of shame and remorse that was likely lost on the human. "After reviewing the event in question, I, along with the rest of the Council, would like to acknowledge that the situation was handled very poorly on the part of Captain Mavriun, the commanding officer of the patrol fleet that sunk your starship." Mr. House's face twitched oddly for a moment, but he didn't say anything. Sparatus was afraid he'd touched a nerve, and scrambled to recover. "You may rest assured that Mavriun has been relieved of his border patrol duties, and will be held responsible for his actions before an official military tribunal... once he returns to Palaven."

"And that brings us to why you're really here." Mr. House observed. The expression on his face had relaxed into impassivity. "After your... 'police action' resulted in failure, the remainder of your military enforcers were detained by the colony's security detail. As per our agreement with General Desolas, they are being kept in reasonable conditions and facilities, with all of their basic needs well attended. However, given your brief contact with General Desolas two days ago, I assume you're already aware of this."

"That's correct." Said Sparatus. It appeared as though House was willing to cut right to the chase. Sparatus appreciated that. "Right now, the primary concern of the Citadel Council is the safe release of our people, and a cessation of hostilities between our two civilizations."

"In that order, I would imagine." Said House. "I predicted as much. The manpower delegated to this... Security Fleet of yours was quite substantial, even by your standards I suspect. In fact, it seems to me that a fleet of this size with this level of investment in both soldiers and ordinance is a bit much for a single colony. Mathematically speaking, it's infinitely more probable that this fleet was intended for a sustained campaign of conquest against what you perceived to be a numerically inferior nation. Is that what the Citadel considers a 'Police Action'?"

Sparatus had begun to sweat about halfway through House's response. The alien's voice was smooth and articulate, but there was anger in those words, that much was plain. And he had deduced the Council's less... scrupulous intentions in short order... from a certain point of view. Now, there was no doubt in Sparatus' mind that House was no mere corporate boss. He was far too perceptive.

"It was...believed at the time, based on our own documentation of the... search for surviovrs aboard your ship, that your people may have been engaged in other practices contrary to the common good of the galactic community." Sparatus said, trying to emphasize that Sgt. Kryik and the others were not intended as grave robbers or tech thieves.

"Your people have been saying things to that effect as well, although I believe that this paranoia all stems from a misconception on your part. Your chief concern is that my Securitrons appear to be controlled via an Artificial Intelligence, correct?" Mr. House asked.

"That's about right, yes." Sparatus nodded. "Among other things, the mechs deployed on board the Patterson killed almost two entire squads of our Naval Scouts. In general, the Citadel does not employ such heavily armed mechs unless they're remotely controlled. Keeping our other concerns in mind, it seemed as though your people might be unaware of the dangers of Artificial Intelligence research... and may need to be persuaded otherwise, for your own good and ours.

"Yes, I'm sure General Desolas is a master of peaceful persuasion." Mr. House sneered, a normally impossible expression for a Turian to make. But from what Sparatus knew of the Asari, it was not a good sign. "But you have no need for concern on that front. We've seen those holotapes, too. As I explained to your agent, my Securitrons are guided by a highly comprehensive mathematical Logic Engine, not a self-aware Artifical Intelligence. Indeed, they have no capacity for learned behavior whatsoever, beyond what they're programmed for. It's an unfortunate limitation of the design, but I've found over the years that the Logic Engine's reliability is preferable to the superior adaptability of a self-aware AI. So if you were worried about some... Revenge of the Machines scenario, you can take comfort in the fact that your fears have no basis in reality. RobCo-REPCONN is a responsible firm; Our products are far more reliable than whatever bargain basement automatons your people are hawking."

"I see." Said Sparatus, paying no mind to the implied insult. If the worst House had to offer was a tongue lashing, Sparatus would be a happy man. Too good to be true, of course, but it's good to have dreams. "That is... good to hear." He did his best to sound as though he bought it, but in truth, the Councilor was unconvinced. He supposed that they had never had solid proof of dangerous AI development; that had been speculation on the part of General Desolas and the STG. But the mere possibility was considered compelling enough to be a major contributing factor in deploying the CSF. If it did turn out that the humans were completely innocent in that regard... there would be fallout. The people would not be happy, especially since they would feel as if their leaders had deceived them. But that was a problem for another day.

"This invasion was a mistake, I admit, but one made with the best of intentions. The CSF's primary mandate is to ensure the security of Citadel Space, and that was always their purpose here. But it is clear now that using these... Forceful measures was the wrong approach." Sparatus continued. "We realize that. That is why I was sent here by my fellow Councilors, to represent both the Citadel Council and the Turian Hierarchy, and sue for peace."

"Contingent upon the safe and timely return of your people, including the General who's caused us so much trouble over these last few days." Stated House. It was not a question.

"That is... correct as well. I can say nothing as to the nature of human government, but the Citadel Council is answerable to its constituent citizens. The soldiers you now hold prisoner have families, friends and loved ones on their homeworlds, and our government takes its responsibility towards all of our citizens very seriously. We desperately wish for an end to hostilities between our two peoples, Robert Edwin House, but please mark this; I speak for the entire Council when I say that we will do whatever it takes to get our people back." Sparatus bluffed. The truth was far more bleak for the CSF, if House didn't acquiesce.

Neither the Asari nor the Salarians would be in any real hurry to back another venture into human territory after the complete loss of the first fleet, and the Progressives were not in a position to push a war agenda without the support of the Council... at least not without major repercussions. The Primarch could use his executive power to force the issue against the wishes of high brass, but that could really end up biting them in the ass if things went south against the humans.

The much more likely course of action would be to simply disable the as many nearby Relays as they could find and cut off human space from the Mass Relay network. It'd close off an entire sector in the Traverse, but the Council would do anything to prevent a costly galactic-scale war with a largely unknown but somewhat technologically superior foe. In the face of that, losing access to a some primo colonial real estate was a small price to pay. Meanwhile, they could bolster their defenses and make noises about the occasional peacekeeping expedition, just as they now did with the Geth. Rescuing the CSF was pretty far from the top of the priority list, in that case. Sparatus was really hoping House wouldn't call his bluff.

"You've no need to rattle your saber, Councilor. I think you've incurred quite enough damages already." Sparatus had an odd feeling that House knew he was bluffing. He couldn't put a talon on it, but he just had that feeling. That House saw right through him but kept playing along anyways. "I am amenable to the release of our captives, as the temporary nature of their lodgings may have alerted a more astute mind than the General. New Anchorage lacks the resources necessary for long-term imprisonment of such a diverse population in any case. However, after this little stunt of yours, I'm sure a man in your position is aware that we're going to require some... assurances against any future infractions.

"I understand completely." Sparatus said, quite sincerely. Were there positions reversed, he'd have some demands of his own in mind.

But now they were getting somewhere. Conditions. Of course he had been expecting something along those lines, and prepared accordingly. He'd compiled an exhaustive memo of how far he could expect the Primarch and the other Councilors to go to get their troops home, in the event of negotiations. Pretty far, most likely. Tevos was of the opinion that this whole thing was a bust from the start, and it was time to face the music and foot the bill. According to one of Sparatus' sources on Sur'Kesh, Yindrel and his Dalatrass puppetmistresses viewed it as a poor investment on their part, and they were grudgingly willing to pony up if it meant they could stop up the hemorrhage.

The Primarch had a million other problems to deal with at the moment, and personally viewed this as a matter for the Council to solve. He was that kind of guy... The 'you break it, you fix it kind'. Normally a laudable work ethic, but it could also be a double-edged sword when the consequences would have widespread and profound repercussions for the entire Hierarchy, regardless of who's to blame. The Primarch commanded Sparatus' infinite respect, admiration, and loyalty, both as the leader of the Hierarchy as a whole and of the Progressive faction in particular... But he was not a perfect paragon. He had his flaws, though it would not be proper to point them out to his face. He was a great man, but by the spirits he could be a short-sighted, stubborn old coot sometimes.

"I presume that you have a number of conditions, and I am eager to negotiate over a more... Secure connection. In private, if possible. I'm not sure how humans view... such things." Sparatus said. Hiding public matters and backroom dealings like these chafed at his personal morals, since they stunk of corruption. But it was an unfortunate fact of life for any Citadel Councilor who wished to stay a Citadel Councilor that certain information was best kept on a need to know basis. It was easier if he thought of it as classified military intelligence, he supposed. No Turian soldier worth his salt questioned the necessity of military secrets. Some things were simply better left outside of the public eye, if you were to get anything done.

"Yes, that would probably be for the best. Well enough, then. We can hash out the details of our arrangement behind closed doors, if that's your preference. I believe our two Generals are meeting tonight at a private gathering on the colony, along with some other people of note. Would that be an agreeable venue for further negotiations?" House asked, sounding rather impatient.

"That will do excellently." Sparatus thought fast, and agreed. Now was not the time to get cold feet. Hopefully, he may even be able to coordinate with Desolas. "I look forward to meeting... In person."

Robert Edwin House chuckled for a fraction of a second, and then the hologram winked out.

The Zuno was cleared to approach the colony just a few minutes after Sparatus' vid-conference with House. The alien planet was really a beautiful place, even from an orbital view. Like most habitable garden worlds, it was mostly ocean. But the planet's landmass was covered in untamed vegetation and wilderness, along with several oases of civilization that comprised the human colony itself. All characteristics of a moderately colonized virgin world.

The ship was to remain in orbit beneath a cordon of two of those frigate-class vessels from the human navy. Sparatus rode a shuttle down to the surface, along with his two bodyguards.

Mitus was an old friend of Sparatus'. He'd been his Sergeant, back when they were serving in the Dakulor Legion. A tough man to the core, and loyal to a fault. When Sparatus was promoted to Councilor, he'd requested Mitus to be deployed to guard him and his family. Councilors could make a lot of enemies, and Sparatus had needed someone he could trust implicitly, even beyond the bond all Turian Legionaries shared.

He was stocky and somewhat shorter than Sparatus, with dark brown skin and green eyes. The white markings on his face branded him as a Palaven native, just like Sparatus. Under ordinary circumstances, he'd be decked out in a heavy hardsuit, carrying a Phaeston and a sidearm.

Today, he was wearing a sharp suit in formal black with maroon trim. There was a compact pistol hidden in the suit's inner breast pocket, but he was otherwise unarmed.

His other bodyguard was a Spectre by the name of Shera T'Moria. She was an Asari with indigo skin and distinctive red facial tatoos around her eyes and forehead. They seemed almost Turian, but they didn't match any colony Sparatus was familiar with. She was there on the recommendation (and behest, Sparatus suspected) of Councilor Tevos.

"Absolutely not. Out of the question." Sparatus said from the across the cushy passenger bay. It was more like the interior of an upscale atmospheric airliner than a military shuttle – Probably came in handy for the Zuno's diplomatic rendezvous.

"It's just a precaution." Shera insisted. "It's not like I'm planning to use it. Just preparing for the worst."

Sparatus had interrupted the Spectre as she was in the process of loading a fresh tungsten block into her custom CQB Assault Rifle. It was a hideous, blocky thing with sharp angles and all sorts of gadgets and attachments bolted on. It had a dark gunmetal finish and black polymer furniture, giving it a sinister, almost villainous appearance. The laser sight attached to the underside of the barrel had a prominent, blood-red lens.

"We can't afford the worst." Sparatus said. "If we're in a situation where you need to use that thing, then the mission is already a complete failure. Besides, we're trying to project a conciliatory image, not a provocative one. I won't let you risk spooking the humans just to satisfy your paranoia. Too much is at stake."

"That thing's been illegally modified." Mitus observed. He was sitting beside Shera on the other side of the shuttle's passenger compartment. He eyed the ugly gun with curiosity as the Spectre carefully placed the ammo block in and slapped the panel shut. "Barrel that wide belongs on a shotgun, but the suspension field chamber is from a Haliat Thunder. Lots of room. Very high rate of fire."

"I'm a Spectre." Shera shrugged, checking over some of the other doodads mounted on the gun's rails. "Normal rules don't apply to us. We can mod our gear however we like."

"Maybe when you're boarding a batarian slave trawler or assassinating a Terminus warlord, an automatic shotgun is a good call." Sparatus allowed. "But this is a sensitive diplomatic mission. Leave that monstrosity on the shuttle. That's an order from a Citadel Councilor." Sparatus glared at the Spectre, and she met his gaze stubbornly for a few moments before she looked away and reluctantly put the gun down on the seat beside her. She was gentle, almost loving as she set the gun upright on its stock and buckled it in with the safety straps, like a mother taking care of her baby. She didn't say anything more to the two Turians.

Mitus snorted and rolled his eyes as they watched in silence, but Sparatus crossed his arms in vexation. Spectres were supposed to be cool, rational, and disciplined operators. Not... whatever Shera was. Tevos owed him an explanation when they got back to the Citadel.

Sparatus himself had his trusty utility knife tucked away in his own interior pocket, but that was different. He'd had it since his very first day in Boot Camp, and hadn't been apart from it for more than a day since. But it wasn't as if he intended to draw it – It just made him more at ease. He felt naked without it, and an impairment like that had the potential to seriously impact his performance as a diplomat.

Besides, a knife was concealable. That thing was not.

"Anyways." He opened his omni-tool to go over the readout the humans had sent after Robert Edwin House tuned out from their vid-conference. "According to this, we've been invited to attend a gathering hosted by the commander of the humans' military forces here on this colony. They'll probably search us for weapons when we get their, so there's no point in bringing more than it takes to make it clear that we aren't defenseless. This is a game of impressions, not firepower." Sparatus said.

"... Fine." Shera said, turning to look at them again. She sighed, opening her own omni-tool to take a second look at the readout. Mitus did likewise.

The document included both directions and landing protocols so they could safely make their way to the surface. The orbiting starships waved them through after a brief hail, and their pilot was in ongoing communication with the human's air control on the surface.

Additionally, the readout contained the formal invitation itself.

Dear Councilor Linos Sparatus,

It is our unique privilege to cordially invite you and a reasonable number of guests to partake in an event of great excitement and splendor. The esteemed General Timothy Horton, Hero of the Battle of New Anchorage and Supreme Commander of the New Anchorage Task Force has announced a celebration that shall take place on the evening of October 14th, in the 2309th year of the Common Era. The site of merriment is to be the Blue Siren's Bar & Lounge, on the corner of Robert House Boulevard and Main Street, in Sector One of Level Three of Old Dawn's Landing. If further directions are required, please feel free to contact RobCo-REPCONN's department of Public Relations with the special number provided below to speak to your personal RobCo-REPCONN Customer Service Representative.

With Regards,

Avery Flambeau,

Vice President of Public Relations, RobCo-REPCONN, Inc.

An addendum was written further down on the readout, seperately from the rest.

As per our agreement, we can continue our discussion in a secure location once you arrive at the venue. When you get there, one of my agents will provide further directions in a discreet manner.


"Secret meetings with the alien Primarch, eh?" Said Mitus. "Gonna decide the fate of the galaxy, boss?"

"Just the Council's bank account, I think." Sparatus returned offhandedly. "During our conversation over the vidcoms, Robert Edwin House intimated that he was willing to negotiate for the release of our people... so long as we make certain 'assurances' against future hostilities." He scratched one of his mandibles thoughtfully as he re-read the flowery invitation for what must've been the tenth time, looking between the lines for any clue or double meaning.

"This sort of thing happens all the time after a ceasefire." Sparatus explained. "Take the Unification Wars, for example. After the Hierarchy pacified the colonies, it took a lot of guarantees before they would negotiate. Palaven had to promise to maintain the existing territorial borders in a lot of cases, which can be seen today in the current Administrative Sectors. Otherwise, we'd have been bogged down for years, maybe even decades mopping up resistance groups and guerilla cells. Compromise is often indispensable in bringing a speedy end to conflict, even when it seems like you've got total military superiority. Few would argue that Primarch Vandor didn't make the right call when he agreed to the holdout Chieftains' terms. Hopefully they'll say the same about me after today." Sparatus was of the opinion that the lessons of the past should be thoroughly studied and applied to the future to spare the waste of labor and, in the case of war, lives. As a result, he was something of a history buff.

"Yeah, 'cept our position isn't anywhere near as good as it was back in the Unification Wars." Mitus said. "Now it's backwards. They're the Hierarchy and we're the Chieftains."

"It's not quite that bad." Sparatus shook his head. "I'm fairly confident that the Hierarchy could overpower this garrison if we mobilized the full measure of our strength. The problem is that there would be no turning back after that – If we go all in, we'll stay that way. The warbirds on Palaven will make sure of it. None of them want to seem soft on 'the enemy'. That old birds' club has been hankering for a good war for a long time now, especially with all the tensions with the colonies. But as the Turian Councilor, it's my job to look out for the best interests of our race as a whole in the galactic community. I can tell you right now a war like would be more costly than we can afford, especially if it can be avoided with something as inexpensive as words. I'd rather spend a hundred years negotiating than waste a single Turian soldier's life, if both paths produce the same result.

"Beautiful speech." Shera clapped slowly, bringing her palms together three times. "You should think about becoming a politician. I wouldn't worry, though. If push comes to shove, the Hierarhcy's a member of the Citadel. The Asari and the Salarians will back you up. Should be more than enough to take on these hoomans, or whatever they're called."

"Humans. Remember that." Sparatus ordered. "Humans. Spectre T'Moria, the absolute last thing we need down there is a poorly timed joke at the expense of our hosts. We have no idea how they might react if you offend them. If I hear you calling them anything else during our negotia- In fact, no. Just don't say anything. Your my bodyguard, not a diplomat. When I want your opinion, I'll ask for it."

Shera didn't act like other Spectres. Say what you would about the hornheads' politicians, but their Spectres were always professional and coldly efficient. Sparatus wasn't personally familiar with Shera, but he had the sneaking suspicion that she was some high-ranking Matriarch's favorite daughter and that Tevos owed her mother a favor. She certainly didn't act like a consummate professional, as Sparatus had come to expect from other Spectres of her race.

"Fine, sir." She huffed.

Sparatus dearly hoped this wouldn't turn into a problem.

"The Phaeston's okay, I guess, for a workhorse gun, but it's too... mediocre for Special Ops." Shera commented.

"It's the workhorse of the entire Turian Hierarchy for a reason. It's got the punch of a Heavy Rifle with the accuracy of Marksman's Rifle, not to mention a good clip-size and rate of fire. Win win, win win." Mitus argued.

Sparatus resisted the urge to clench his mandibles in irritation, or order them to cut the chatter. Neither would be advisable behavior in their current company.

They were rapidly descending on a wide, luxurious elevator, with a great view of the massive underground complex beneath the surface of the colony. They sat down on a circular leather sofa that wrapped around the elevator's cylindrical compartment. Sparatus sat next to the window, and his bodyguards sat on either side of him.

The humans sat across, with an armed guard on either side of the currently sealed door in the back of the elevator, hanging off the ends of the sofa. Three more were filling up the rest of the space, along with their leader.

He had introduced himself as Avery Flambeau... the same human that'd sent him the invitation the meeting they were now on their way to. He was dressed in a beige two-piece suit of clothing, with a multitude of thin, decorative black stripes running up and down it's length- It didn't seem very functional, being looser than some of the jumpsuits he'd seen some of the human workers around a few levels up but tigher than the robes Asari and Salarians fancied for formal occasions. And then there was the long, red strip of cloth dangling down the front of his neck, which served no visible function. Sparatus wasn't particularly fashionable, but even he knew that clothing which favored form over function tended to be the realm of the rich and powerful among capitalist societies. It was certainly a sharp contrast from the elevator's other human occupants, with their brown body armor, combat boots, and ghastly skull-like helmets.

The bone-white mask that seemed to imitate human facial features was unsettling, but Sparatus didn't pry. From the sound of the man's voice, it was possible he was disfigured somehow.

"That's just it – It's a little less accurate than a sniper, a little less powerful than a shotgun. It's rate of fire's just a bit slower than an assault rifle, and it's thermal clip overheats just a little bit faster. It's good at everything, but it's not great at anything." Shera asserted. "Like, say you're boarding a starship- Some dinky little pirate ship, or something. You're in close quarters – What good's that marksman-like range then, huh? You'd be better off with a shotgun, or an SMG with a big clip. Some missions call for specialized equipment... Sometimes situations on the same mission. That's why you should always have four guns – An assault rifle, a shotgun, a sniper, and a pistol. That way, you can have all the guns you need to kick ass at any range, in any environment. Be great at everything, instead of just okay at it."

"Four guns...?" Asked Mitus. "Four top of the line guns, no less? The Council must be made of money. Huh. So that's where my tax credits go. Well, us poor, Legionary plebs have to make due with one gun, and personally, I'm glad that gun is the Phaeston. It's the best gun out there for the fighting soldier, no matter what you covert ops assholes say." He stubbornly insisted.

The two of them quieted down for a while after that. The sub-city visible from the elevator's window was oddly beautiful, despite the angular, blocky, and uniformed architecture. There was a kind of mathematical rhythm in the city's grid-like design, visible from the tower-column upon which their elevator descended. The structures were arranged in a pattern of stylish asymmetry, not conforming to any particular fetters of composition. It was like an anti-snowflake, if that made any sense; A lack of harmony so distinct as to become a school of design all its own.

He'd seen similarly structured cities on visits to Irune, where trade and commerce flowed freely and new new buildings constantly sprang up to ride the current. Nothing like the order and planning associated with Turian architecture, but Sparatus supposed that function had a form all its own, when it came to matters of economy.

Neon lights of just about every color shone from below, like some kind of reversed night sky, glittering with starlight. It gave one the odd impression of a city in perpetual night, yet lit up like a feast-day festival was going on around every corner.

It reminded him a bit of the Citadel, truth be told.

"So tell me, Councilor, what are your thoughts on, eh... Our fair city, so far?" Flambeau broke the silence, speaking in that rough and branlike voice of his. The words themselves were unfailingly polite, but Sparatus couldn't help but associate the sounds coming out of his mouth with the utterances of a life-long deathstick addict.

"It's beautiful, Avery Flambeau." Sparatus answered truthfully. "I find myself impressed by the ingenuity and industry of your people." Never hurt to slather on some honeyed words to smooth things over, if only a little.

"Thank you, and please, just call me Avery, Councilor." Said Flambeau. "I'd been afraid the view from space might've spoiled our first impression with you folks. Nobody likes the, eh... Look of a bombed out city. Even on a planet like this one."

"Ah, well. Yes. The journey downwards has certainly been... enlightening." Sparatus commented. He was somewhat uncomfortable with the topic of the ruined surface cities, for obvious reasons. Best to retreat to safer conversational ground.

"Isn't it just?" Flambeau asked. "Y'know, Level Three isn't the bottom floor. There are still three whole Levels underneath it, and quite a few sub-basements after that. These Vault Cities can get pret-ty deep."

"This colony must be quite mature." Sparatus noted. "Just from what I've seen of these three...'Levels' and the colony on the surface... I'd think your people have been here for half a century, at least."

"Heh. Not quite." Flambeau chuckled. "In fact, you're a ways off. But I'm sure you and Mr. House can discuss that-"

Suddenly, the elevator began to slow its descent. It didn't stop quite abruptly enough to give them whiplash – In fact, it was rather gentle, almost as if the effects of gravity had been temporarily negated as they reached the bottom of the Level. An application of Mass Effect fields in the elevator system, perhaps?

"Speak of the bell." Flambeau said, confusing Sparatus. He'd noticed that, although the translation job the humans had done for the Salarian language was top-notch, they hadn't had any reference pool of idioms or many figures of speech to work with. Although such things were a rarity in the Salarian language anyways, the same might not be true for the human tongue. In any case, Sparatus had observed a great prevalence of idiosyncrasies in human speech patterns, in the short time he'd been among them.

Everyone filed out of the elevator in loose order, with Flambeau leading the way flanked by two of his henchman, followed by Sparatus, Shera, and Mitus. The rest of the skull-helmed soldiers trailed behind them, both keeping their eyes on the aliens in their midts and keeping a lookout for external threats. With a few surreptitious glances at them as they walked, Sparatus took note that they seemed very well trained. They walked with purpose and economy of movement, working together to keep tabs on every potential avenue of attack in an organized manner. He suspected that they were silently communicating through those menacing visors of theirs.

Walking through the city, the uniformity of form became all the more apparent in the buildings around them. Everything appeared to be made of modular components, made from the exact same material. They were surrounded by metal and glass on all sides but the ceiling, which might have been as much as two miles up.

It was conspicuous that they encountered relatively little in the way of foot traffic on the way there. The wide streets were free of other pedestrians, though the area was obviously inhabited. There were businesses and shops lining either side of the road, with goods and wares on display behind big glass windows. Sparatus recognized what must've been both restauraunts and retail outlets, judging by the interior furnishings of tables or shelves of items. A commercial district, then.

Before long, they had arrived at what could only be the Blue Siren's Bar and Lounge. The invitation hadn't included a description and Sparatus couldn't read the street names or even the sign above the entrance, but it was the only building with people gathering outside that they'd yet seen. Aside from several armed guards in the same uniforms as Flambeau's men, there seemed to be a collection of what Sparatus assumed to be other guests loitering outside.

Men wore suits of a similar make to the one Flambeau sported, but mostly in darker colors. Women wore elegant dresses that would've been right at home in the Presidium, except perhaps for a tendency towards showing more skin than the Asari preferred for formal occaisons. Even so, the physical similarities between human females and Asari were truly astounding. They dressed in every color of the rainbow, and wore much more prominent jewelry than their male counterparts. Guests of either gender had taken noticeably greater care to groom their hair than what Sparatus had noted with the other humans they'd seen on their way down.

There were even some children present, accompanying their parents most likely.

They must have been the people of note – Men and women of power and influence in human society. Under normal circumstances, Sparatus would've liked to mingle a little with them before they went into the den of the beast, so to speak. Get a feel for the general consensus of the capitalist elite so he wasn't going in blind. He knew that the opinions of such as they were of far greater import to societies that hadn't adopted the Hierarchy's more egalitarian approach to government.

But Flambeau was there, looking at Sparatus expectantly.

"Ready for your, eh... debut, Councilor?" He asked, with what might've been a playful voice from a less damaged man.

Sparatus took a deep breathe, and steeled himself. They made their way to the entrance – One of the same hydraulic bulkheads that covered every portal in the city.

"Let's go."

A/N : So... This chapter took longer than expected to finish. Sorry for the long wait. I had actually intended to make it a little longer, but I'm going on a trip soon where I won't have acess to my computer for a few days, So I decided to post what I had instead of dragging this chapter on further.

Hopefully I'll post the follow-up chapter before Fallout 4 comes out.


The planet Providence is the current headquarters of Extrasolar Colonization Initiative. Widely considered the crown jewel of the Extrasolar Frontier, Providence was one of the only "Garden Worlds" already capable of supporting a sizable human population upon its discovery by human colonists. Consequentially, Providence became a major staging area and way-station for future colonial endeavors.

Much of the planet remains unpopulated despite generous incentives from RobCo-REPCONN for immigration from Earth or the other Solar planets. Only five settlements of a few hundred thousand people apiece marks Humanity's claim on the lush, tropical world.

Unlike the majority of human colonies, which have their eco-systems tailored from scratch by GECK devices, Providence possesses an ecosystem completely alien to Earth. Alien animals and plants never before seen by human eyes are a ubiquitous sight on Providence, and groundbreaking scientific discovery is an everyday occurrence. Another notable facet of Providence's natural resources is the presence of large deposits of rare Element Zero in the planet's crust, which cemented the planet's importance to the human colonization effort for decades to come.

By 2303, Providence was established as the de-facto headquarters of the E.C.I., with multiple functioning Orbital Space Stations for the construction, storage, and refueling of RobCo-REPCONN Spacecraft. The mining and refinement of Element Zero is also a key industry, overseen directly by the E.C.I. under the supervision of RobCo-REPCONN.

A unique aspect of Providence's local culture is the rumored existence of rare individuals who, by exposure to Element Zero, gain the supernatural ability to telekinetically create and manipulate Mass Effect fields. Initially, these stories were paid little mind by the local authorities or their corporate overlords. However, after the First Contact War, RobCo-REPCONN began to take an unexplained interest in events that had previously been relegated to the category of fairy tales and folklore.

Reviews :

5 Coloured Walker : Hastatim Squads aren't considered a war crime... when used judiciously. The problem with Gorsham wasn't that Hastatim were deployed (that's rather par for the course as far as military crackdowns go in the Hierarchy), but rather that Desolas essentially re-organized his entire force into a single, massive Hastatim unit.

Hastatim are considered a distasteful, but necessary evil by the general public consciousness in the Hierarchy. They're by no means of one mind about it, of course; There are those who agree and disagree about their usage. The majority of the Turians are at least willing to tolerate the use of Hastatim, if it gets the job done and lessens the long-term loss of life. Needless to say, that wasn't the case on Gorsham. Desolas' handling of the situation and lack of preparations beforehand meant that very few of the locals were willing to proceed to the safe-camps, resulting in massive casualties when his troops started going door to door and shooting people. Given the sheer number of colonists left in their homes (almost all of which are armed to some degree), the first houses that were cleared violently escalated what should've been a measured response to civil disorder into full-blown street warfare, with Turian soldiers gunning down Turian civilians left and right. Another thing to consider is that this is the information age – given the ubiquity of cameras and recording devices, pretty much the entire Hierarchy saw these events take place almost in real time whenever a resistance fighter pulled out an Omni-Tool or one of Desolas' "Hastatim" developed a guilty conscience.

Super Mutants are becoming less and less common on Earth because local authorities tend to crack down on them and wipe them out once they've got the resources that come with RobCo-REPCONN's backing. Even a small group of Securitron Mk. II's are more than a match for a tribe of Super Mutants. Consequentially, the terrestrial population of Super Mutants is in a state of constant shrinkage.

The Super Mutant population on Mars, on the other hand, is growing. The intelligent Super Mutants were relocated there by RobCo-REPCONN because their presence on Earth was disturbing to the ever expanding populations of the New Vegas Territories. Captured psychotic Super Mutants were likewise shipped to Mars, but at the behest of Lord Death rather than Mr. House. By this time, Lord Death considered mere humans to be too weak to provide a decent challenge, so he craved worthier opponents. Mr. House agreed to provide them, killing two birds with one stone since it also alleviated some of the mutant problems at home while keeping Lord Death occupied. Idle hands, and all that.

Currently, the only method of reproduction for Super Mutants is the capture of baseline humans and mutating them in specialized facilities created and maintained by Dr. Mobius, under the orders of Lord Death.

Lazyguy90 : That'll be next chapter.

Ussopking : That's a bit of an oversimplification. Flambeau is offering Desolas Mr. House's carrot ahead of time, so he'll have something to lose if he doesn't comply with Mr. House's plans further down the line.

Noble1998 : Some good ideas there. I'll keep them in mind for future chapters.

Eipok : Can't recall where I first heard that phrase used to describe Mass Accelerators, but it was some other Mass Effect fanfic, I think. It sounded cool, anyways, which is why I like to use it.

Vandenbz : Yeah, I'm trying to portray Sparatus somewhat more sympathetically than a lot of Mass Effect fanfics I've read. He's pretty much the Turian protagonist for the Misguided Patriot's arc.

Next chapter, he'll finally negotiate with House, face-to-face.

Eipok : I don't really proofread my chapters, so that probably has something to do with the prevalence of errors. It's and Its in particular have always been something of a point of confusion for me.

Horton will appear next chapter, and hopefully get some characterization in.

britael : Interesting thought about the Volus. In many ways, they're similar to the current state of Humanity, except... well, "not evil", for lack of a better term. It'll be interesting to see how two opposing philosophies (pacifism vs. violence) working to achieve the same end (profit!) might come into conflict.

Crazy Iemon : I might consider doing something like an omake or worldbuilding-exclusive chapter as a breather between arcs, when I finish this one.

Liberty Prime strikes me as a sort of superweapon meant for shock and awe, which is always fun to write about. It doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would've fit well for the First Contact War, though. But I'm sure humanity will make plenty of other enemies down the line...

AravingLooony : Umm... K?

Thepkrmgc : Yeah, I'm still thinking of a suitably dramatic way to "break the news" about Earth to the Council.

TarkNorthWind : Sure, the people of Switzerland in real life today might be prepared for nuclear armageddon, but at this point in the story (which takes place in an alternate history, mind you) it's been almost 250 years since the great war. A lot can go wrong in that time, especially with Nuclear Winters and supply shortages, not to mention the inherent social chaos that comes with the collapse of organized government.

The situation in Vault 101 comes to mind.

SalemTheSpeakerOfTruth : Face-to-face with Sparatus, at least, next chapter.

thegavinator : I actually have something like that planned, for much later. Let's just say somebody finally succeeds in pushing Mr. House past the threshold from annoyed all the way to angry. It's a bad day to be that somebody. Or somebody else on that somebody's planet, for that matter.

JackFrost21 : Glad to hear it. I find that tragic monsters make for more interesting characters than complete ones, in most cases. That's one of the reasons I'm not much of a fan of the reapers.

Paradox Dreams : It bears noting that Mr. House hasn't so much given up leverage so much as created. Desolas going down doesn't do anything for Mr. House, but pulling his ass out of the fire gives him a string to pull on should he ever need the help of a Turian General with a dirty little secret.

BieberLover69 : A story with Lord Death as the sole protagonist and viewpoint character would indeed get old pretty fast, and likely stink of a god-mode gary stu besides. Might be funny for an omake chapter or two, but you can rest assured that the main characters of this story will be a bit more down to earth.

Quelthias : Indeed, that's the impression I was going for.

Lost : Yeah, sorry about that. Still, I think the main story is also above 100,000 words at this point, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem since that's the maximum #words filter.

metaladdict : They still need to work around the details and fabricate a ton of evidence, but that's generally the least interesting part of a conspiracy, so it'll mostly occur "off-screen".

FranticHamster : Thanks. If you've got a thing for political maneuvering, the next chapter should be pretty entertaining as well.

Ababab678 : Glad to hear you like the story. I am trying to post chapters more quickly, but writers block and real life have a habit of creeping up on me.

Ozkarus : Hunter is an example of a Thunderbird who prefers melee to ranged weaponry. That said, he's a bit of an oddball in that he prefers to use a knife instead of something more exotic or just more powerful, like a Displace Glove or a Proton Blade. All Thunderbirds are quite capable at any range, since it's a requirement for qualifying in the first place, so it really comes down to a matter of personal preference – In Hunter's case, he finds enjoyment in killing at long range as a Sniper or up close and personal, but when he's up against numerous opponents he often can't give each one as much personal attention as he'd like. In that case, he's just as capable of picking up an Assault Rifle and going to town as any other Thunderbird.

There are female Thunderbirds, but due to the extreme physical qualifications necessary just to be considered for recruitment, only the very strongest women around even have a ghost of a chance to get selected. So while there are a few females in the Thunderbirds, they're definitely a minority.

A Thunderbird becoming a Specter would involve a massive clusterfuck of overlapping agendas and loyalties between RobCo-REPCONN and the Council. I don't see either group being okay with an agent who's almost definitely going to end up compromised in one direction in the other, especially considering the sheer material investment on the part of RobCo-REPCONN.

The government of the New Vegas Territories is, on paper at least, an entirely separate entity from RobCo-REPCONN. It just so happens that Mr. House is the President of both organizations. In practice, RobCo-REPCONN and it's various offices and departments handle most of the services and burdens that are traditionally the realm of the civil authorities, and the nominal government is more or less a rubber stamp.

Transportation, national finance, healthcare, etc. are all handled by various departments within RobCo-REPCONN, with some hands-on guidance from Mr. House when the need arises. There's a powerful oligarchy of RobCo-REPCONN executives running things all around human space, with Mr. House pulling their strings.

The common people tend to have an extremely positive outlook on Mr. House. While individual opinions obviously run the gamut from hero worship to abject hatred, most people think of Mr. House as a sort of national hero wise leader. After all, everyone who lives in the colonies owes their entire way of life to Mr. House, as do many of the people in the New Vegas Territories.

As far as most people know, the technology that's revolutionized their civilization in only a few decades is the sole product of Mr. House's ingenuity. To them, he seems like a superhuman genius – a saviour, come to heal the worlds ills.

The only reason Mr. House doesn't have a much more powerful cult of personality is that he isn't a very public person – He prefers to operate behind the scenes. He makes appearances when necessary, but he doesn't relish in the celebrity treatment like some other dictators.

As for territory held by Humanity at this point, the population is divided between the Solar System and the Extrasolar Frontier. The Solar System is densely populated on the planets and their moons, but there are only a few of them. Conversely, the Extrasolar Frontier has a myriad of habitable and semi-habitable planets thanks to the E.C.I.'s terraforming program, but all of them are relatively sparse in terms of population. As stated in the Codex Entry above, even the oldest and largest of the Extrasolar colonies only has a few hundred thousand people – whereas even the NCR on Earth alone boasts a population in the tens of millions by now.

In terms of sheer number of planets, RobCo-REPCONN and the others have a lot less territory than the Systems Alliance did at this point.

Mr. House has access to microchip technology, as evidenced by the Platinum Chip, but that was at the bleeding edge of Pre-War technology.

Current Securitrons ( ) are simply an improvement on previous models, utilizing Saturnite armor and Mass Accelerators in their guns. They can also take advantage of FTL communications, so that House can control them remotely even all the way from Earth.

As for the fate of the Citadel's Ships... That'll be on the table between Sparatus and House in the next chapter, so I won't spoil it.

The problem with Kinetic Barriers, as far as Mr. House is concerned, is that they have several drawbacks when you consider human technology. For one thing, they won't do anything against energy weapons, which Mr. House naturally assumes any force likely to oppose him would have access to. The fact that the aliens didn't have energy weapons was something he took note of after he encountered them; It wasn't in his projections.

Aside from that, Mass Effect fields don't play nice with Saturnite – They cause anything made out of the stuff to explode in a violent chain reaction on the molecular level. Considering the utility of a nigh-unbreakable, extremely good insulating material, it's hardly a wonder that Mr. House chose to keep the Saturnite instead. After all, it's perfect for Spacecraft hulls and armored vehicles alike.

As for Enclave Power Armor, it's called that because the suits' designs are lifted directly from Enclave models recovered from the Capital Wasteland, with little in the way of alterations or improvements beyond bolting on a jetpack and making it out of Saturnite rather than synthetic titanium and steel alloy.

The more impressive human tech will be showcased in later chapters, where it won't make the First Contact War too much of a roflstomp in favor of the humans.

The plan for Earth is mostly as you described – Urban Megacities in some areas, while others are left as they are. Most of House's resources are being funnelled towards his extraterrestrial assets. Earth, at this point, is something of an afterthought. Besides, keeping certain areas wasteland has its advantages; As long as Earth is still a terrible place to live, he'll have a constant influx of eager and willing recruits fro his colonies. If Earth started to recover too quickly, he'd have trouble finding volunteers. It's to his benefit to leave Earth as is in the short-term, especially since he's yet to seize control of the entire Biosphere (unlike on the colonies).

As for humanity's plans, I wouldn't expect them to push for a Council seat right off the bat. Politically, it just doesn't make any sense at this stage. Mr. House isn't even 100% on working with the Citadel, let alone joining the Council. He's a man who assesses the situation and makes careful, deliberate moves to further his agenda. Right now, he has no reason to believe the Council would even be amenable to giving Humanity a seat on the Council, nor does he have an idea that this is even a thing that they do. As far as he knows, the Citadel Council is just a Coalition of alien species – The particulars of Citadel politics elude him for the moment.

Ranger Station Charlie : More like a red phone, a la the mythical Cold War-Era Washington/Moscow hotline.

Propaganda : ...Huh. Didn't notice that. Thanks for the heads up. Anyways, at the moment, Mothership Zeta was cannibalized for parts by Lord Death and Dr. Mobius. Please disregard any earlier statements I may have made to the contrary.

ZReporter : The batarians will play a major role in a later arc.

Mr. House's negotiations will finally get underway in the next chapter.

It'll be interesting to see how the Council interacts with factions on Earth other than Mr. House, and how House reacts to it.

Mr. House's method of controlling Lord Death is far more nebulous than the way Krogans are organized. Krogans have to accept that there's always someone who can bring them to heel if they step too far out of line, whether its their own men or a stronger warlord. Lord Death doesn't have that issue, so a lot of people wonder why Lord Death doesn't just off Mr. House and take over himself.

As for the Council and Mr. House, that'll be a point for discussion in future chapters.

bookcoda : Perhaps.

McCabeRz : Yes, Lord Death is something of a deconstruction of ultra-violent bad karma video game characters; Terrifying, hated, and utterly unstoppable. You're also not the only one to draw comparisons to Lord Death and Darth Vader.

As I've said, the Reapers won't be prominent antagonists in this story; I just don't think they're interesting enough to make good villains.

Happy to hear you like the story, hope you enjoyed this chapter too.