Officer's log: Jordan Noles, Electronic Crimes department.
Found another misused batarian access code. Someone disabled life support for a number of patients at Huerta Memorial. The doctors say they can attribute at least four deaths to the incident. Report filed.
Never worked with a Spectre before. Wasn't expecting Jondum Bau to be so... approachable. Regardless, his access level is incredible. If we keep chasing leads, we might be able to close this one out by end of day.
The Citadel's docking arms extended and latched onto the Normandy. As soon as the catwalk finished extending, the airlock opened. Shepard, Garrus, and Wrex crossed the bay, sans weapons.
"I hate this," grumbled Wrex. "I feel naked without my gun and armor."
"Thank you for that visual," replied Garrus, trying very hard to purge it from his mind.
They passed through security with the usual speed, Shepard's Spectre credentials allowing them to skip both the line and most of the screening. Bailey was waiting for them on the other side.
"So, you finally caught him?" asked Wrex.
"Actually, I did," said Jane, stepping out of the adjoining C-Sec office.
Wrex shot her a skeptical look. "Some people might be a little suspicious of the Cerberus clone taking in the Cerberus boss."
"I guess it's a good thing none of those people are here, then," replied Jane without missing a beat.
Wrex let out a short laugh. "I like her."
"To answer your question, Wrex," said Bailey, "we're suspicious as hell. He was just sitting on the Presidium, making no effort to hide. The whole thing doesn't make sense."
"I want to talk to him," said Shepard. Bailey nodded and wordlessly showed her and the others to the holding cells.
He sat with his back to the glass, his legs crossed. He neither slouched nor reclined, was neither relaxed nor anxious. He looked for all the world as if he were still in his signature chair, utterly in control of everything. The only element missing was the cigarette.
One hand on his gun, Bailey unlocked the door. Shepard crossed the threshold, and he shut it behind her.
"Shepard." He had not moved, was still facing away. The room's audio recorders automatically picked up the speech and relayed it to the hall. Hearing it, Garrus felt an odd tingling up and down his spine. The man's voice sounded detached, almost robotic. Does he even know that he's locked up?
"How do you know it's me and not Jane?" she asked. For that matter, thought Garrus, how does he know it's either of them and not Bailey?
"If the clone wanted to ask questions, it would have done so by now," he said dismissively.
"Charming as ever," she said.
"Did you want something?" he asked, still eerily calm, and still facing the wall. Garrus stared at the scene, not sure what he was witnessing. He had seen many interrogations at C-Sec, but the Illusive Man was a cipher.
"Do I want something?" repeated Shepard. "That's all you have to say for yourself?"
There was no reply.
"You killed over four million people on Eden Prime. Four million innocent, human lives snuffed out in a fiery inferno. Is that Cerberus's mission now?"
"It was necessary. The prothean would have been a destabilizing influence."
Garrus had no idea what that meant, and Shepard seemed wrongfooted for a moment. "Prothean? What are you talking about?"
"It doesn't matter," he replied. "That outcome was averted. It will not happen."
Realization jolted through Garrus like a rush of electricity. He checked his omni-tool, and sure enough, the Normandy was unreachable. "This is a distraction," he said. "The real action is happening on the ship."
"Yeah," said Wrex. "Kinda got that feeling."
Bailey pressed a button, illuminating a light in the cell. He let Shepard back out.
"He played us," said Garrus, showing her the omni-tool. "Kai Leng is probably on the Normandy right now."
She nodded. "I should've known something was up. Bailey, you have extra weapons and armor, right?"
Bailey gestured to Wrex. "Yeah, but not in his size. Not a lot of krogan on the force."
"I'll improvise," replied Wrex, his biotics flaring. "Now let's go."
"Could be a double bluff," said Bailey. "I'm gonna go check on Sparatus, just in case."
"I'll keep an eye on him," said Jane, jerking her thumb at the cell.
Shepard shut the door behind her, leaving the Illusive Man alone in the cell. He slowly counted to six hundred, continuing to stare at the bare metal of the cell wall the entire time. A normal human would have found it mind-numbingly boring. He was not normal.
Ten minutes ought to be enough. He uncrossed his legs and rose. Turning to face the one-way mirror, he spoke two words: "Red sun."
He waited again. This part of the plan was optional, because it hinged on multiple decisions by his adversaries, and his role could be filled by Leng if necessary. Shepard and Bailey were predictable enough. The clone, however...
The door unlocked with a click.
The omni-tool chimed.
It chimed again.
A third time.
Sparatus groaned and opened his eyes. The inactive tool, little more than a bracelet with a holo-emitter, let out a pulsing orange glow, alternately illuminating and darkening his bedroom. He grabbed it and slipped it over his arm. The councilor made sure the video function was disabled and then answered the call.
"Sparatus here," he mumbled.
"Councilor, are you all right?" asked a human voice. Still a little groggy, it took him a moment to recognize Bailey's voice.
"Yes," he said. "Is something wrong?"
"Probably not, but we'd like to move you to a safe location anyway."
"Do not let Shepard beam me up again," he grunted, sweeping himself out of bed with his arm still held horizontal.
"Wasn't planning on it," said Bailey. "The Normandy is not secure."
"Great," said Sparatus. "Give me a few minutes, Bailey, I just woke up." He began rummaging through his dresser.
"We might have the Defiant beam you up, though," said Bailey. "It is in the neighborhood, after all."
Sparatus snorted as he pulled out a suit. "No. Just take me to a safe house on the Citadel."
"May I ask why not, Councilor?"
"The ship is owned by the geth, Sisko's 'deal' with them notwithstanding." He began pulling the suit over his carapace. "I have no interest in allowing the geth control over a quarter of the Council so easily."
"All right, Councilor. It'll take us a while to get a safe house set up. I'll send a couple of bodyguards in the meantime. Just stay put until they get there." The call dropped.
He fastened the last clasp and stood there for a moment. Of course the Normandy was in trouble. Shepard had been a fool to let an unshackled AI run rampant on it. Probably Citadel control would end up shooting it down. Spirits, they could take out the rest of the Council that way. For a split second he was excited at the prospect, before quickly drowning it in a wave of alarm. They won't listen to me. Without a full Council, the Alliance will run the war their way, with no oversight. Things will get worse, not better.
Before he could consider this further, his omni-tool rang again. He answered it, mildly annoyed. "What now, Bailey?"
"Sparatus," said the turian contact he'd spoken with before. "It's time."
"Now? So the Normandy..."
"Is a ruse," replied the contact. "We needed to keep C-Sec busy long enough to pull this off, but it'll be tight. Get in a skycar and meet us in the Council Chambers, right now." The line went dead.
Sparatus dropped his arm to his side. Precious seconds ticked by, punctuated by his mechanical clock's ticking. If he stayed, the resistance would most likely fail. They might turn on him, and even if they didn't, he would be letting the pro-Shepard majority dictate the course of the war. But if he left, he'd be turning his back on the Council. He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Time to go.
Another misused code. This one disabled the docking controls at D24. It could've taken out the Normandy if it had been timed better.
Bau says he found a lead. All the targets so far have been human, or Alliance affiliated. He thinks he knows who's doing this. Wouldn't let me in on it. Wonder if it has anything to do with that weird press conference Hackett gave after Shepard blew up the Bahak system. The Alliance obviously didn't tell us the whole story, but I have to wonder how the batarians felt about it.
The doors to the medical bay opened with a hiss. Shepard's eyes fell instantly on a familiar purple enviro-suit. "Tali, is that you?"
The quarian continued working on the door to the AI core. "Shepard!" she said, chipper as ever. "I heard you had a gynoid AI robot attack the ship, so I thought I'd come and lend a hand."
"What were you doing on the Citadel, though?" asked Garrus.
"I was trying to negotiate supplies for the fl-I mean, for Rannoch," she said. "A bit hard to do without the Council, though. None of the bosh'tets on the whole station have the authority to make a simple deal with me."
"Tell me about it," said Wrex. He ambled over to the examination table where the female krogan was still sitting. "You're unhurt, right?"
She gave him what Shepard assumed was an annoyed look. The robes made it hard to tell. "It was one robot, Wrex, and it didn't even have a gun. Give me a break."
"There, I got it!" said Tali. She took a step back as the door opened.
Smoke poured out of the AI core. "EDI," Shepard called. "Are you there?"
EDI's servers powered on. A silver gynoid robot, its epidermis apparently burned off, awkwardly stepped out of the smoke. Several weapons were instantly leveled on it.
"Yes, Shepard," said EDI, speaking from both the robot and the servers. "Was there a particular topic you wanted to discuss?"
"Keelah," said Tali, lowering her shotgun, "it just keeps getting better and better."
Noles crossed the refugee camp, thinking through the situation carefully. After declaring that he had a lead, Bau had disappeared into the Spectre office, probably to review Shepard's report on Bahak. She had detected another use of the codes, but the Spectre office was isolated from C-Sec radio channels. She was effectively on her own.
The signal was growing stronger now. She looked up from her omni-tool, and slowed down as her officer's instincts kicked in. She was a good several dozen meters from the nearest uniformed C-Sec, surrounded by desperate people. Taking a furtive glance around, she noticed a number of batarians playing cards nearby. Probably just refugees, she told herself. Fear was no excuse for racial profiling, of course. Still, she discreetly moved her right hand closer to her holstered pistol. With luck, she would not need it.
She reached the panel where the signal had originated. A gun poked her in the back. Damn, so much for vigilance! She raised her arms.
"Where is Shepard?" said a gruff female batarian voice.
"No idea," she replied, holding very still. Sudden moves would get her killed.
"Don't lie to me." The batarian, whoever she was, sounded furious. "You needed Spectre codes to track me down this fast. Where is she?"
"Ad'erra?" said a male batarian voice. "What are you doing?"
"None of your concern, Ka'hairal," replied the female. The Balak siblings. Noles was being held at gunpoint by Ad'erra Balak, the disgraced batarian subcommander who had presided over the evacuation of the Bahak system. And her brother was present too, but... not with her?
"This is about Shepard, isn't it?" he said, his voice accusatory.
"Everything is about Shepard." A tone of bitter disgust.
"You can't let her consume your life, Ad'erra."
Noles began to relax her right arm, ever so slightly. If she could just get her pistol... The gun prodded her in the back again. "Touch it and die, human. Ka'hairal, we've had this discussion before. You know what she did in the Bahak system."
"She lied to save them, Ad'erra! How can you not see that?"
"Maybe it's because those lies got me exiled, Ka'hairal. You know what that's like, after the mess on X57. Or did her choice to spare you leave a soft spot?"
"I'm sorry, Ad'erra. I've put up with you until now because I thought I knew what you were going through. But if you continue sabotaging the war effort, it can only help the reapers."
A pause. "Don't be ridiculous, Ka'hairal. Put that thing down before you hurt yourself. We both know you won't pull the trigger."
Another, longer pause. "Ad'erra and Ka'hairal Balak," said Jondum Bau, "lower your weapons or I will open fire."
The gun was withdrawn from her back. Noles turned around, nice and slow. The salarian was training one pistol on each of the batarians, who had both dropped their guns to the floor. "Nice timing, Bau."
The salarian nodded. "Next time, wait for me."
The elevator doors hissed closed behind Councilor Sparatus. Below him, the Presidium slowly fell away, as the elevator ascended into the Tower. The last time he'd ridden this elevator had been eons ago. Normally, the ride was soothing, giving him a sense of calm detachment from the everyday problems of the people below.
Today was different. When next he rode this elevator, it would not be as a Councilor, of that he was certain. Maybe he would be leading the Citadel's navy to liberate Palaven, or perhaps he would be in custody for high treason.
After what had surely been an eternity, the elevator finally arrived at the Council Chambers. The door rose. To his surprise, Sparatus saw a human before him. The masked man wore all black and carried a sword, which he immediately put to Sparatus's neck.
"He's here," the man said. It was then that Sparatus noticed a yellow hexagon on the man's chest. Cerberus.
Garak pulled up a chair and sat down next to Bashir. "Fancy meeting you here."
Bashir put down his empty mug, and Quark swept it off the bar and into the replicator. "It seems we can't see enough of each other," said Bashir.
"Indeed," said the cardassian. "So, made any progress?"
Bashir sighed. He'd known Garak would ask. "You gave me the book a few days ago. What do you think?"
"Doctor, I formed an opinion of Sherlock Holmes a mere three hours after you handed over the anthology."
Bashir shot the spy an annoyed look. "Of course you did. Those are short stories. I can't get properly into a novel so quickly, especially with the krogan excitement."
Garak raised a brow plate. "Krogan excitement? Do tell."
Bashir quickly summarized the events on Sur'Kesh. "I gave her a preliminary round of gene boosters, but I didn't have the equipment for proper treatment. She might recover her immunity anyway, especially with Mordin treating her. But I wanted to be sure."
"So you came to the Defiant to fetch additional medical supplies," finished Garak.
Garak looked as if he was about to say something, but before he could get it out, the Defiant's red alert went off. "All hands to battlestations," announced Captain Sisko over the intercom. "The reapers have entered the Serpent Nebula."