Councilor Sparatus stared out the window. Fake clouds drifted past on the Presidium's simulated sky. It would all be over soon enough. The lies, the disrespect, the humiliation. The other races would see. Their constant disparaging of him and the turian people would turn against them. He should be excited, thrilled even. But instead he was filled with a growing sense of dread. It had sounded so easy when he'd first joined them. But as the war dragged on, he'd begun to wonder whether his actions would be welcomed, in the pale light of day.
The ornate clock in his apartment began chiming seventeen o'clock, and the sky dimmed to night. The clock was mechanical, good solid turian workmanship. Another man would have seen it as an outdated relic, an inferior waste of money. But for him, it was a piece of home, a reminder of the people for whom he was responsible. People who were now fighting a war over Palaven's skies.
He broke his gaze. He was, after all, procrastinating. It was time.
He activated a preinstalled app on his omni-tool and spoke into it softly. "This is Sparatus. What's the situation?"
"Sparatus, where the hell have you been?" demanded an annoyed turian voice. He'd turned the volume down, but the anger was clearly audible.
"Shepard yanked me off the Citadel," explained Sparatus. "I haven't been able to get away from her AI until now. The damn thing listens to the whole ship."
"She has an AI?" asked the voice. "That's crazy, I thought she hated them."
Sparatus shrugged, a well-practiced habit even in the absence of humans. "You know as much as I," he said, for the benefit of his interlocutor. "The whole thing's a mess. The other councilors wouldn't so much as censure her for it, let alone rip it out and destroy it like in the old days." He took a breath. "So, what are we doing now?"
A pause. "I don't know, Sparatus. We had to abort our plan halfway through after you vanished into thin air. It'll probably be impossible to take you 'hostage' this time. The security will be too tight." Another pause. "I don't think we have a choice. We'll have to commandeer the Citadel itself."
"You're going to break into Citadel Control? That's one of the most heavily defended areas of the station. How is that supposed to happen?" asked Sparatus.
"No. We all know from the Battle of the Citadel that the true controls are in the Council Chambers at the top of the Tower. We need your access codes to get in."
This was it, the moment he'd been dreading. If he cooperated, he was a traitor to the Council. If he refused, the galaxy might not survive. He glanced around his apartment helplessly. His eyes landed on the clock, and a thought struck him. Forget the galaxy. It's too big, too impersonal. Palaven is burning, right now. My friends, my family, all of them could die at any moment. I have to do this.
"All right," said Sparatus. He typed the codes into his omni-tool. Spirits forgive me. "Do you have them?"
"Affirmative. It will take us a week or so to get the plan together. I'll contact you, and we can rendezvous in the Chambers. We'll also work on figuring out how to activate the panel once we're there."
"Acknowledged," replied Sparatus. "It'll be good to finally meet you in person."
"Likewise," replied the Illusive Man, closing the channel and voice masking software.
He felt the butt of a shotgun nudge him in the back.
"Put your hands up, stand, and turn around. Slowly," said a female, human voice.
He followed her directions, leaving his meal behind. It was a pity, Apollo's actually made decent food. He'd never had a chance to sample it before. The woman activated her suit radio.
"All C-Sec officers, this is Commander Shepard, Special Tactics and Recon. I have the Illusive Man in custody on the Presidium. I need a skycar at my location, now."
The first thing Garrus saw when the elevator doors opened was Professor Mordin Solus. Unlike some of the Normandy crew, Garrus had never really had a strong opinion on Mordin. They had rarely interacted during their mission against the collectors. The know-it-all attitude was the sort of thing that ought to get on Garrus's nerves, but for some reason, it didn't. During a moment of downtime between missions, Garrus had started to talk about the experience of sniping: the coldness of the gun, the knowledge that every twitch of the finger would take a life. Mordin had listened intently, and then explained in barely-intelligible jargon the precise parts of the turian nervous and endocrine systems responsible for the feelings he'd just described. Garrus felt like he'd learned something that day, even if he hadn't understood a word of the biology.
"Shepard!" said the salarian, chipper as ever. "Excellent timing. Good to have you here."
"Mordin?" replied Shepard.
"Eyesight still sharp. Surprise understandable. Hadn't expected to return to work."
"You mean STG?" asked Garrus. Maybe it was an obvious question, but the building looked more like a lab than a military installation.
"Special consultant. Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong," replied the salarian, a determined look on his face. He looked over his shoulder, and in a lower voice, continued. "Helped female krogan. Fed information to Clan Urdnot. Encouraged political pressure to free females."
"You're Wrex's inside source," said Garrus, realizing the implications. Mordin had always maintained the necessity of the genophage. For him to suddenly change sides, there must have been good reason.
Shepard's omni-tool chimed. "Excuse me, Mordin. Spectre business," she said. She turned away from the group and began talking on her suit radio over a private channel. "That's impossible. What's he doing on the Citadel? Don't we screen people coming in?" She paused. "Yeah, I know it's all security theater, Bailey, I just thought-." Another pause. "Well, I'm kinda in the middle of something, so just hold him for now." She hung up, an utterly bewildered look on her face.
"What happened?" asked Garrus in a low voice.
"Nothing we need to worry about right now," she replied. "We can deal with it later."
Garrus nodded, setting his curiosity aside.
"Indeed," said Mordin. "Security warnings not normal. Need to get offworld for sake of krogan." He began leading them towards a large glass tank.
"Security warnings?" asked Bashir. "What are you talking about?"
"May not be apparent," replied Mordin, "STG personnel always unflappable. Have seen minor perimeter breaches all day. Equipment malfunction? No, was inspected yesterday. Must be deliberate."
"Wait, you mean someone is intentionally setting off your alarms?" asked Garrus.
"Possible. Still evaluating probabilities." They arrived at the tank. Inside, Garrus could see some krogan bodies covered by a sheet. "These didn't survive," added Mordin.
"We all know you did everything you could," said Bashir.
"Effort irrelevant. Was too late." Garrus could practically hear the pain in the doctor's curt voice. "One survivor. Immune to genophage," said Mordin in a more optimistic tone. "Can synthesize cure from her tissue."
He led them to another tank. As he'd promised, it contained a female krogan, shrouded in some kind of robes. I'll have to ask Wrex about those later, Garrus thought.
"Last hope for krogan," added Mordin. "If she dies, genophage cure... problematic."
Shepard approached the tank, and exchanged some barely inaudible words with the krogan. Garrus wasn't sure whether the glass was muffling her voice, or if the survivor really was that weak. Maybe both. Bashir discreetly pulled a tricorder and scanned the krogan. He took a sharp breath but said nothing, and stashed the tricorder again. Garrus caught his eye, and the doctor shook his head.
An alarm sounded, but was just as quickly silenced. "False alarm!" called one of the STG agents.
"Are you sure?" Shepard called back.
The elevator opened, and Padok Wiks got out. He quickly walked up to the group. "Commander, I need you to make an executive decision."
"What kind of decision?" replied Shepard.
"Given the number of perimeter breaches, we can no longer guarantee the security of the site," explained Wiks. "We either move the female now, or declare lockdown and do a sweep. That will take hours at a minimum."
Shepard's eyes narrowed momentarily. "What did Wrex say?"
"When I told him there was only one female left, he went ballistic, called me a liar, and some other things. He demanded we release her at once, security be damned."
"I take it you want to wait?" asked Garrus, reading the expression on Wiks's face.
"Precisely," said the base commander. "Moving her was already going to be a lengthy process given the level of quarantine we maintain in the labs. Expediting it, and doing all of this in an insecure environment... I cannot recommend that course of action, Commander. There are too many variables."
"But if we wait, we'll piss off Wrex, and possibly scuttle the treaty," said Garrus. "Can we afford the risk, Shepard?"
She considered it for barely a moment. "No, we can't. Move her immediately. If possible, try to reestablish a smaller perimeter around the landing area."
"We'll do what we can," replied Wiks, "but I make no promises. The landing pad has long sight lines in multiple directions. A fallback perimeter will be a logistical nightmare. If you'll excuse me." He jogged over to a cluster of agents and began issuing orders. They all departed for the surface. Shepard and company were left alone in the room.
Mordin sat down at the console for the krogan's tank, and began overriding security protocols.
"Are you sure about this, Commander?" asked Bashir. "What can we possibly have to gain by moving her now?"
"You have to think about this the way Wrex does," explained Garrus. "He thinks the salarians are looking for any excuse to draw this out. Maybe he even believes they'll kill her rather than hand her over."
"Ridiculous," said Mordin, still typing. "If wanted her dead, would be done by now. But salarian-krogan relations... complicated."
A look of disbelief crossed Bashir's face. "So Wrex believes this is all fake? The alarms and everything?"
"Probably," replied Mordin. "Not as if Cerberus shuttles flying around outside." The console beeped, and a pod on the side of the tank opened. Mordin climbed into the pod and shut the door. "Need to monitor krogan as she clears quarantine. Meet us at next checkpoint, Shepard."
"You'll see Tuchanka again, I promise," Shepard said to the krogan. She did not reply.
"Get to elevator, Shepard," urged Mordin.
They ascended to the next floor without event. The lab personnel were all busy securing the area, so Shepard had to approve the pod through the quarantine checkpoint. They repeated this process a couple of times, before it finally arrived on the surface.
Mordin and the krogan both disembarked. They approached the shuttle, where Wrex was waiting.
"Are you all right?" he asked the krogan.
"I'm fine, Wrex," she replied in a dismissive tone.
"Still can't believe these pyjaks tried to tell us there was more than one of you left," he remarked. "How stupid do they think I am?"
"If you'd gotten here a few days earlier," replied the female, "there would have been more than one of us."
A lone salarian approached the group. As he came near, Garrus recognized him as Captain Kirrahe, except that his uniform now marked him as a commander. Although he looked more relaxed than he'd been on Virmire, that wasn't saying much. In his eyes was a look of deep uncertainty and apprehension. Salarians always hated not knowing things.
"People, this area is not secure!" said Kirrahe. "I need you to evacuate."
"Oh, please," said Wrex. Garrus could practically hear the krogan's eyes roll. "Your fake alarms aren't fooling me. Now why don't you all stand down and-"
A flash of silver streaked across Garrus's field of vision. Everyone drew their weapons, except the unarmed female krogan. Garrus spotted a sniper in the telltale Cerberus colors of white and yellow.
Kirrahe fired a strange looking pistol at the sniper. The bullets, large blue globes, adhered to the sniper's body for a moment before exploding. This had an unfortunate but predictable effect on the sniper's body. Garrus let out a low whistle and nudged Shepard. "How do I not have one of those?" he muttered.
"We can go shopping later, honey," she replied. "But don't you usually prefer bigger weapons?"
"Was anyone hit?" asked Bashir.
"That's what shields are for, kid," replied Wrex.
"Yes, actually, I was," said the female. She rummaged in her robes for a moment and held up a silver dart. "This struck me in the neck."
"You mean she tried to poison a krogan?" said Wrex. "Wow. I knew they were dumb. I didn't realize they were that stupid."
Out of the corner of his eye, Garrus noticed that Bashir seemed to be frozen, as if something had taken hold of his mind. He drew out his tricorder again, and scanned the dart. Stashing it once more, he tapped his comm badge. "Bashir to O'Brien, medical emergency. Beam the female krogan, Mordin, and me directly to the medical bay."
"Shepard, that's all of our spare energy," said O'Brien. "We won't be able to use the transporter again for-."
"Do it," interrupted Shepard. The three people Bashir had mentioned vanished.
"What the hell was that?" said Wrex.
Shepard shrugged. "We'll just have to go back to the Normandy and find out, Wrex."
"Excuse me," said a voice. Everyone turned back to Commander Kirrahe. "I don't think I was supposed to see that, Commander," he said.
"No, you were not," confirmed Shepard.
"May I assume it's Spectre-classified?" asked Kirrahe. "Presumably I will need to discuss this with the Council and receive appropriate clearance."
"Very well," he said. He activated his suit radio. "Wiks, this is Kirrahe. I have a code 478-Quale on Shepard." The radio buzzed. "Acknowledged, out." He approached the group again. "OK, Commander, I'm all yours. Indefinite leave of absence. Just let me know when the Council can reconvene. And, if you don't mind, I'd appreciate a lift to the Citadel."
Shepard shrugged. "Three-quarters of the Council is on the Normandy right now, but you're welcome to join us for the time being, Kirrahe."
"Thank you," he replied. They all boarded the shuttle, and it took off.
The moment the shuttle alighted in the Normandy's bay, Wrex barrelled towards the elevator. "Make way, krogan coming through," he barked at James and a few other Alliance personnel on his way past. As Garrus was stretching his legs, the doors were closing behind Wrex.
Shepard and Kirrahe had stood up as well, and were climbing out of the shuttle. "Hey, Shepard, got a minute?" Garrus asked.
"I should probably go after Wrex, but if it's fast, go ahead," she replied, waving Kirrahe in the direction of the elevator. The salarian nodded and crossed the shuttlebay without them.
"That call you took, when we met Mordin," said Garrus. "What happened?"
"Apparently Jane captured the Illusive Man on the Presidium," she replied in a low voice. "We have to get back there and figure out what's going on. But in the meantime, I need to go make sure Wrex and Mordin don't try to kill each other. Talk later?"
He nodded, and she strode quickly towards the elevator, leaving Garrus to his thoughts.
Jane... Shepard's clone. At the time, the idea had immensely creeped him out, but he'd put his feelings aside for the good of the mission. Now, the acrid smoke of confusion and doubt rose to the surface of his mind once again. It wasn't that he didn't trust the clone, although he wasn't sure he would put his life in her hands. When he saw her, his mind immediately went to Shepard. Not just her face, of course.
He sighed, and began walking towards the elevator. The whole thing was very distracting. Getting involved with a human had been confusing enough, let alone Shepard, of all people. And now he was supposed to cope with there being two of them. I need to talk to her, he thought, calling the elevator. We can't keep this kind of thing from each other. As the elevator doors opened, a horrible thought occurred to him. Spirits, I hope she doesn't think I'm asking her for a threesome. Or offer it herself, for that matter. As they had gotten to know each other better, this kind of translator glitch had become less of an issue, although miscommunications had put both of them through some embarrassing situations in the past.
He pressed the button for deck three. Reflecting on some of those absurd scenarios, Garrus had to chuckle a bit. He and Shepard had done a fair amount of research into each other's romantic cultures and practices. Casual polyamory, while highly unusual, was not stigmatized by either culture, and would barely register next to some of the things they had accidentally said to one another. We'll get through this one. We always do.
Shepard reached for the door just as it opened. Wrex stepped out of the medical bay, a grim look on his face.
"What happened?" she asked. "Is she all right?"
"Yeah, she's fine," replied the Clan Urdnot Chief, "but my people might not be. Cerberus injected her with something that's ruining her genophage immunity. The doctors are doing their level best to fix it, but who knows if it will work out."
Shepard looked through the window. The female krogan was sitting on a bed, apparently unharmed. On the other side of the room, Mordin, Bashir, and Chakwas were all clustered around a piece of medical equipment she didn't recognize. They were having an animated discussion about something. Chakwas almost looks angry. I've never seen her like that before. "You're OK with Mordin treating her?" asked Shepard.
Wrex shrugged. "No. But nobody else knows enough about the genophage to get this right, not even Bashir." He sighed, and walked over to the mess, sitting in a human chair that was far too small for him. Shepard followed and sat opposite him.
"You folks got any ryncol?" asked Wrex. "I could really use a drink right about now."
Shepard shook her head. "Until you showed up, I was the only person on the whole ship who could actually drink that stuff without losing a day or two of work. And it still messes me up pretty good for a few hours at least."
Wrex brought his fist down lightly on the table. "Damn. We'll have to pick some up on Tuchanka."
"You might be waiting a while," replied Shepard. "We have to divert to the Citadel."
Wrex groaned. "What happened this time?"
"Supposedly, my clone arrested the Illusive Man," she replied.
He snorted. "Guess it's just one of those days, huh?"
"An old series of human vids?" asked Kirrahe. "Are you sure...?" he began, and trailed off. Are you sure you haven't lost your mind? he wanted to say.
Valern shrugged. "The humans say it matches perfectly, and the technology is obviously superior to our own."
"Except for speed," added Udina, turning away from the War Room's main hologram. "Bizarrely, their ships are much slower than ours, even at conventional FTL."
"And then there's the matter of their knowledge," said Tevos. "By Shepard's report, they correctly predicted multiple events during her period with Cerberus, but now the timeline seems to have diverged."
"So you believe them," said Kirrahe.
"I wouldn't go that far," replied Valern. "The Alliance Navy was very reluctant to share this information, allegedly because they did not think we would believe them."
"It seems they were right," interjected Udina.
Tevos held up a hand. "Please, Councilors, we've discussed this extensively. No need to rehash the argument."
The Council usually strove to speak with one voice, at least publicly. Kirrahe knew the political realities were rarely so simple, but he had never heard of them arguing openly in front of a civilian. Which I am, by Council standards. Doesn't matter what the Salarian Union calls me, I'm an outsider here. He cleared his throat. "So, as far as the classification is concerned...?"
Valern made a dismissive gesture. "Oh, don't worry about that. Your STG security checks were much more stringent than a Council clearance anyway. It's just a bit of paperwork."
"Even so," added Tevos, "we should probably make a formal resolution of it, preferably with Sparatus present and voting. In the meantime, Commander, please keep this information in the strictest confidence, outside of this vessel."
"Of course," replied Kirrahe. "I take it everyone on the Normandy already knows?"
Udina nodded. "Including Urdnot Wrex, but we would prefer to keep that circle from expanding any further."
"And the female?" he asked.
"She was transported," replied Valern. "There is little we can do to hide it from her at this point."
"I see," said Kirrahe. "Thank you. If there is nothing else?"
"You're dismissed, until we arrive at the Citadel and formally grant your clearance," said Valern. "Please remain aboard until that time."
[Ladies, gentlemen, and people who are neither, we are now beginning our final descent into Priority: Earth. At this time, please fasten your seatbelts, return your seats and tray tables to their upright and locked positions, ensure all carry-on items are securely stowed, and place any personal items under the seat in front of you.
Seriously, I estimate no more than ten-ish chapters remain in this fic (not counting any epilogue or omakes, which may or may not get written). Due to inclement thought patterns, I am flying an instrument landing, and cannot see where each chapter break will happen, so the exact number of chapters is still subject to change. However, the events of the ending are more or less planned out at this point, and we are now in the process of winding down the last few plot arcs before the resolution.
When the final chapter is posted, I will go back and reupload the remaining chapters as I promised to do some time ago, and give all of the chapters one final pass before I mark the fic as completed. That way, the people who only read complete fics will get a nice tidy story without random A/N's cluttering it up.]