Author's Note: Hello all. First of all, let me apologize for the wait of this update, as I said in the last chapter it was some time before I got my new computer at the end of June. "But Creamofwheat2311 it's nearly mid-July!" you all are probably saying, and I know. A day after I got my computer (an apple macbook pro paid for completely by my college, pretty sweet IMO) I went on a family vacation and wasn't able to work on the chapter very much. However when I got back two days ago I pumped out the ten thousand or so words to finish the chapter because I don't want to keep you waiting any longer than you all already have been.

I do have to say though, you all are absolutely awesome readers. 1000+ follows, favorites, and reviews in just eleven chapters? That's pretty incredible to me, and I can't thank you all enough.

But anyways, here's what you all have been waiting for, the next installment of "The Infinity Effect."

As always, special thanks to my beta JonHarper and my wonderful girlfriend for acting as a soundboard for ideas (though sometimes unwillingly).

Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I own nothing, but all original content is mine.


Infinity Effect Chapter 12: The Citadel

SSV Normandy

En Route to Citadel

March 3rd, 2186

"By - by the Goddess, Shepaaaard!"

Liara's eyes rolled back into her head for the briefest of seconds as the wave of pure, ecstatic pleasure washed through her entire body, sending tingles through her head crests and causing her toes to curl strongly.

From behind her, she could hear Shepard let out a grunt, followed by a heavy sigh as the weight of his body gently fell on her back. He kissed the top of her neck right where her crests began in the way that only he could, making her shudder as goosebumps covered her light blue skin. Shepard layed his head on Liara's neck and she felt the moisture of a slight bit of sweat on his cheek, as well as his hot breath warming her shoulder.

"Commander Shepard, we are thirty minutes away from the Citadel."

"Thank you EDI." replied Shepard, letting out a light groan of protest. He pressed his palms to the bed on either side of Liara and pushed himself up, Liara giving a disappointed quiet whimper as he did so.

As Shepard maneuvered off the bed and padded his way into the bathroom, Liara flipped over and pulled the sheets and blankets up to her chin smiling, basking in the post-"activities" glow that Shepard always managed to put her into.

The Commander came out ten minutes later freshly showered, and Liara admired his physique like she so often did as he reached into his closet and pulled out his Alliance Dress Blues, setting them across a chair.

As Shepard slid into his pants Liara shimmied out of bed and made her way to the bathroom as well, making sure to brush her fingertips across Shepard's back as she passed him.

She came back just as Shepard was tying his shoelaces, and upon reaching the side of the bed started re-adorning the labcoat and other pieces of clothing that had been so quickly discarded when Shepard had first called her up to his cabin. They had spent the first hour "catching up" and the next six in a deep sleep followed by another brief round of the activity that they had been denied for so long.

"Any progress on decrypting the files from the Cerberus mech we captured on Mars?" asked Shepard, eyes travelling up and down Liara's supple curves and smooth skin.

Liara's eyes widened in sudden realization, and she put a hand to her mouth to hide her gasp of surprise. "Goddess Shepard I completely forgot about that! We only have thirty minutes until we get to the Citadel and there might be some very important information in those files – "

"Dr. T'soni, there is no reason to be concerned." said EDI through the cabin's speakers. "The data has already been decrypted for quite some time now, I have forwarded all of the recovered files to the datapad in your labcoat."

"EDI, you are an absolute life-saver." exclaimed Liara, relieved. Securing the fasteners on the front of her labcoat she searched the pockets of her coat until she found the datapad.

She accessed the files in question and started giving them brief lookovers, furrowing her brow as she continued to read. "Is this, am I reading these correctly?"

"What is it?" asked Shepard, peering over Liara's shoulder.

"It looks, like some sort of weapon…." said the Asari quietly, obviously in thought.

Shepard rose his eyebrows. "A weapon? How can you tell?"

"The schematics, the design, they resemble Prothean examples of weapons systems I have seen archived elsewhere."

Shepard put a hand on Liara's shoulder. "Liara, this could be exactly what we need. If these are the plans for a weapon that could help us fight the Reapers…"

"But Shepard, look at the scale of this! It's massive, nearly a third the size of the Citadel! Could we even build it? Let alone figure out how to operate it. We don't even know if it is what we think it is…"

Shepard frowned. "We should bring it into the Council meeting anyways. We don't exactly have a lot of options."

"Okay," said Liara, nodding. "EDI, how long did it take you to recover and decrypt those files? Looking over the volume when we first broke into her systems, it would have taken me a few hours to do."

"It did not take long, one minute and 39 seconds to be exact."

Liara's mouth dropped in surprise. "Less than two minutes?"

"Correct. With my processing power alone, it would have taken nearly half an hour. However, Cortana offered some of her processing algorithms in assistance which greatly sped up the decrypting."

"Very impressive," conceded Liara.

"Indeed, she is very… efficient," said EDI simply. "Commander, you have an incoming communication from Admiral Hackett and Admiral Lasky in the QEC."

"Thank you EDI, I'll be down immediately," said Shepard.

"I'm going to go to my quarters and compile all of the data we'll be bringing into the Council meeting," said Liara.

"Sounds good," said Shepard. The two quickly exited the cabin and made for the elevator, Shepard giving Liara a quick kiss as he stepped out on Deck Two into the CIC. He greeted Specialist Traynor, the nervous Alliance R&D scientist who had been conscripted into the Normandy's crew when the Reapers attacked Earth. It was her who had first familiarized him with the Normandy's new Alliance-spec retrofits and who had now seemed to settle into the role of yeoman, a position previously held by Kelly Chambers.

The Commander simply nodded at the two Marine's manning the security checkpoint to the War Room, and upon opening the door to the QEC was surprised to see Dr. Margaret Woods there as well.

"Doctor Woods," he acknowledged, straightening his Dress Blues in anticipation for his conversation with the Admirals.

"Commander Shepard," she said back.

"The Admirals are ready for you two," relayed EDI.

Shepard reached over to the QEC console and palmed the glowing button, and within seconds the two static-blue figures of Admiral Hackett and Admiral Lasky came into form.

"Admirals," Shepard said, saluting.

"Commander," replied Hackett, returning the salute, "Doctor Woods. EDI told me that you don't have much time until you get to the Citadel, so we'll just get right to the point. There's been a change in plans."

"Okay, in what?" asked Shepard, crossing his arms.

"In how we're introduced to your galactic stage," answered Admiral Lasky.

"Please, elaborate," said Doctor Woods, motioning towards Lasky with a hand.

"Well, previously both Admiral Hackett and I wanted to keep our presence a sort of secret, mostly to try to avoid the surprise and unknown reaction of who we are and how we got here to the other races of this galaxy. However, after further discussion with Admiral Hackett we have decided to change how we approach the situation," said Lasky.

Admiral Hackett cleared his throat before continuing, "Commander we want you and Doctor Woods to announce the UNSC and our alliance with them to the Council at the very beginning of their meeting."

Shepard rose his eyebrows in surprise. "Sir, that's almost a complete one-eighty from the plan we all agreed on earlier. Why the change?"

"It's simply really, and it should have been what we agreed to do in the first place," said Hackett, "This is a threat that the Council can't ignore. They're going to be running scared, scrambling to solidify their defenses. Even though the Reapers took Earth, if we can show that we still have strength…"

"Admiral Lasky and the UNSC," guessed Shepard.

Hackett nodded. "Exactly. There's a very small chance that any of the Council species have developed an effective weapon against the Reapers, especially considering that most of them have ignored the severity of their threat. Admiral Lasky and his ship's incredible effectiveness against the Reapers, combined with our mutual alliance, we hope will make Humanity a very desirable ally. That's where you come in Shepard. You need to sell this Alliance, make it the preferred option for the Council to take rather than them burying their heads in the sand until nothing's left."

"Hmmm…," muttered Shepard, rubbing his chin, "Admiral Lasky, you're okay with this? Being used as our sort of 'trump card'?"

Lasky nodded as well. "It's our best option. Currently the Reapers pose the largest threat to both your galaxy and the UNSC, whether we wanted it or not. Believe me, we know all too well what happens when faced against an enemy who will not see reason and will not be deterred. Working together against the Reapers here and now is going to improve everyone's chances at survival, and if UNSC firepower can help solidify an alliance between the Council species that that's what we'll have to do."

Lasky looked to Dr. Woods now, saying, "Now Doctor, we're still in the Shanxi system regrouping so you're going to be the only UNSC representative to the Council. I know you already knew this, but I just wanted to reassure that I know you'll do fine. Captain Skyheit recommended you for a reason, and I trust him. Work with Commander Shepard anyway he needs, but keep in mind that our primary objective is to get all three Councilors on our side. Be open and honest, but of course don't give away anything classified."

"Thank you sir, I won't let you down," answered Woods, standing just a little bit straighter.

"I know you won't," reassured Lasky.

"Any other questions?" asked Hackett.

"There is actually something else sir," said Shepard.

"Well let's hear it," replied Hackett.

"You know that Cerberus mech that we captured at the Mars Prothean Research Base?"

"You mentioned it in your debriefing report. It was impersonating an Alliance Doctor and was what allowed Cerberus to attack the base."

"Yes, well with the help of EDI and Cortana we managed to decrypt the files that the mech was able to capture from the Prothean beacon before we disabled it."

"Did you find anything useful?"

"Yes Admiral, something that could turn the tide of this entire war."

Hackett's gaze hardened, and his grizzled expression became more serious. "Explain."

"Located in the files were schematics for a Prothean device, one that Dr. T'soni and EDI think was a weapon that the Protheans were developing to combat the Reapers," said Shepard.

"A weapon? Of what kind?" asked Hackett cautiously but with a hint of interest.

"We're not sure yet, but we do know that it was supposed to be enormous in scale. Nearly a third the size of the Citadel."

"Sixteen kilometers?" muttered Hackett, scratching his chin, "A weapon of that size… based on what I know about the Protheans, it must have contained a massive amount of firepower."

"Liara mentioned that she didn't believe that the Protheans ever finished the device, as she has never heard of anything related to this in her time as a Prothean researcher and archeologist."

"The Protheans were the race that came before you, correct?" asked Dr. Woods.

"Yes," answered Shepard, "But we believe that they were wiped out by the Reapers nearly 50,000 years ago."

"If that was the case, then this weapon might have been the Prothean's endgame. One final effort to stop the Reapers before they were destroyed. But if they were never able to finish it and use it, then there's no way of knowing exactly how effective it would have been."

"Send me the schematics Shepard," said Hackett, "With the kind of numbers we're up against, we're going to be hard pressed to win this fight conventionally. Any kind leg up or edge we can get on the Reapers, we're taking it. If this thing even has a chance of being effective, we're damn well going to try and build it."

Admiral Lasky clearly looked skeptical but held his tongue. Beyond his small task force he didn't exactly have any alternatives for other options against the Reapers.

"I'll have EDI send them right away Admiral," said Shepard.

"Good. Now, is there anything else?"

"Just one small thing," began Shepard, "How exactly is Admiral Lasky transmitting through the QEC? Unless you installed one on the Infinity of course…"

Lasky chuckled, explaining, "Don't worry Commander, Hackett isn't doling out Alliance tech to us left and right if that's what you're worrying about. I'll spare you the techno-babble of the process because even I had a hard time understanding it. All I know is that our AI's were able to adapt the algorithmic communications code used in your Quantum Entanglement Communicators and adapt it to our own holo-transmitters with a rough software patch."

"Just curious, that's all," said Shepard.

Lasky nodded in understanding. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have another obligation to attend."

The UNSC Admiral's image faded out of existence, and when it was entirely gone Hackett said,

"Councilor Udina has been briefed on the situation, so there shouldn't be any conflicting issues there."

Shepard had to restrain himself from rolling his eyes which Hackett definitely noticed, saying, "I know what you're thinking Shepard, and I don't like Udina either. But this isn't the time for disagreements, right now Humanity needs to look unified and strong, especially considering what kind of reaction the other Councilors will have when they see that the UNSC are Human too. Udina is on board with the plan, and you will be too."

"Yes Admiral," responded Shepard, knowing the tone of an unstated order when he heard one.

"Good. Get the Council on board Shepard, it's the only way we'll have a chance. For now, I wouldn't mention this Prothean device unless you absolutely have to. There's just too many unknowns about it, and right now we need to focus on our main goal of uniting the Council species against the Reapers. In the meantime, I'll see what I can do to start preliminary research and logistic work on the device. If it's feasible to build we'll try it, but I'm going to need more intel other than educated guesses onto what it is. Contact me after the meeting as soon as you're able. Hackett out."

With that, Admiral Hackett's image started to fade, then disappeared completely as he stepped out of the QEC's transmission field.


Normandy Cockpit

"Nearly there Commander," relayed Joker to Shepard, who stood a bit behind the pilot's chair, arms crossed.

Just as the Normandy's pilot stopped speaking the door to the cockpit slid open and four figures walked through, Doctor Woods, the Master Chief, and the gunship pilots Dolton and Cehack. Chief, Dolton, and Cehack were dressed in Alliance fatigues that they had been given recently for Shepard's reason that they would 'draw less attention' and 'hopefully prevent any unwanted questioning.

But now that he was able to first see the Master Chief outside of his armor, Shepard was having second thoughts on if the uniform change would matter at all. The UNSC Spartan was simply massive; Shepard had told Traynor to give him the largest fatigue size they had but it seemed that he was still straining against the seams. The Chief had his sleeves rolled up like all of the other Normandy crew which gave everyone a clear view at his chiseled forearms, large biceps, and wide, muscular looking hands.

But what the Commander most noticed about the Chief wasn't his impressive physique, but rather his extremely pale skin coupled with the myriad of scars criss-crossing every visible part of his body except his bald head. His skin was so pale that his hard blueeyes nearly shone like piercing beacons in a snow storm, and if every scar Shepard saw represented a different battle, then Chief must have been through one hell of a war.

The Master Chief certainly looked intimidating though, not just because of his physical stature but also just the way he carried himself. He looked extremely alert eyes constantly surveying the scene around him and body coiled like a spring, ready to jump into action at a seconds notice. Some part of Shepard's mind told him that the Chief would probably be left alone, and that it would be a bad idea if one were to try and start something with him.

Doctor Woods however was wearing some very professional looking sort of business skirt and blouse combination, the deep blues and golds of the outfit bringing out nicely the dark brown of her skin and eyes. She clutched a datapad in her hands, and on the lapel of her blouse just above her left breast was a small golden eagle pin which below the outspread wings displayed the letters 'UNSC.'

"We're about to come into sight of the Citadel, I thought you all might like to see it for the first time from the cockpit, it offers the best view," said Shepard, anticipating the question of why he called the USNC personnel to the cockpit.

Suddenly, the brilliant blue-green nebula that had been obscuring the cockpit viewports dissipated, giving the Normandy's new crewmembers their first glimpse at the center of galactic civilization. To most, it was truly a sight to behold. The five long 'petals' of the station that contained the Wards, countless sprawls of urban buildup, branching outwards from the hollow 'ring' of the high-class presidium. The running lights and slight silhouettes of tens of dozens of ships could be seen either travelling to and fro the Citadel in the case of civilian freighters, transports, or trade ships, or in the case of the Turian task force guarding the station, holding fast and looking menacing.

"Impressive isn't it?" boasted Joker, knowing that nearly everyone who saw the Citadel for the first time just gazed in amazement.

The Master Chief was heavily underwhelmed. "No."

"I know, I still get shivers whenever I see it," continued Joker, not yet registering the Chief's blunt response, "The largest artificial construct in the galaxy, forty-eight kilometers of cooperation and – wait, what? Did you say, 'No'?

"Yes."

"Seriously? Care to explain?" Joker asked sounding slightly indignant.

When the Master Chief didn't start to explain after a few seconds Doctor Woods spoke up. "There are… larger constructs that were built by the race that inhabited the galaxy long before us. Rings."

"Oooh, rings. How fascinating," said Joker sarcastically, "How big were they?"

"Ten thousand kilometers in diameter, which would translate into a thirty-thousand plus kilometer circumference," revealed Woods.

Joker choked on the air he was inhaling and even Commander Shepard's jaw dropped. "Ten thousand kilometers?" they both said at nearly the same time with tones of both disbelief and amazement in their voices.

"Yes. They built seven," said Woods, a small, smug smile forming on her lips for some reason as she witnessed the surprise shown by the two men. And the Halo Arrays weren't even the largest Forerunner constructs Humanity had stumbled upon. She wondered how the two would react if they were shown records of The Ark, or the Dyson Sphere turned ONI Research Facility Trevelyn.

"Well Jesus Christ, what were these massive rings for? Don't tell the things that built them used them as hula-hoops, did they?" asked Joker.

Woods smiled for a brief second at the Normandy pilot's joke, but it quickly fell into a frown as she thought about the history behind the rings, the Halo Arrays. "They were used as weapons to end a galactic war."

"Judging by your use of past-tense, something tells me that the race that came before you, the ones who built these weapons, didn't end up too well at the end of the war," observed Shepard.

"No they did not. They were wiped out," said Woods.

"Hmm," said Shepard quietly, eyes shifting towards the deck as the Prothean's extinction at the hands of the Reapers came forward into his mind, "Sounds familiar."

"Citadel Docking Control, this is SSV Normandy, requesting docking assistance," said Joker into the comm.

"SSV Normandy this is Control, we are transferring you to an Alliance Docking Officer, standby."

"Pshh, figures," started Joker, "We're barely back in action and Alliance Command already wants us back on a leash."

"And it's our pleasure to have you back Flight Lieutenant Moreau. It's been ever so long since we've heard from you. Please proceed to Docking Bay D24 in Presidium Ring, C-Sec personnel will be present to escort Commander Shepard to the Council meeting."

"Oh – um – uh – yes ma'am, my sincerest apologies ma'am. D24, we'll be right there," stammered out Joker, obviously not expecting the docking officer to hear his opinionated dissent of her authority.

While Shepard chuckled lightly at the pilot's antics, the Master Chief's thin lips pursed into a small frown at the unprofessionalism. Such behavior would not have been tolerated in the UNSC, at least not anywhere that he had served. Woods, Cehack, and Dolton must have felt the same way as they're faces remained tight-lipped and neutral.

Joker steadily brought the Normandy into dock and when the docking clamps secured the ship to the dock with an audible thud, he announced with a fake celebratory tone, "We're here."

Shepard motioned for the group to exit the cockpit, and when the doorway slid open they found Liara, Ashley, Kaiden, and James waiting for them just outside the airlock to the outside.

Shepard immediately started assigning duties. "Alright, Liara, Doctor Woods, you two are coming with me to the Council meeting. Ash, you're in charge of Cehack, Dolton, and the Master Chief. Show them around the Presidium, get something to eat, check out some of the various weapons and armor dealers, whatever you want to do. If you see something you really want that's more than that, let me know and I'll get you the funds. Here's a thousand hundred credits, knock yourselves out."

Shepard tossed Williams a credit chit, which she caught out of the air and put into one of her pockets.

"Vega, you can do whatever you want to do. Join up with Ash and our UNSC friends or go off on your own, just be ready to come back to the Normandy ASAP if I need you too. Kaiden, you have the ship while I'm away. Keep the crew alert and the ship ready to depart at a moment's notice."

"What, no credit chit for me Commander?" asked Vega.

"Fraid not Vega, sorry," responded Shepard.

"Aw man…" grumbled Vega. Just then, the Master Chief turned his back to Vega in order to face the airlock and the Alliance Marine was able to see the nearly two inch long, extremely thin cut near the base of his head.

"Hey Chief? How'd you get that cut on the back of your head if you've been inside your armor this whole time? Did ya get yourself shaving?" asked the curious Marine. "You know, now that I look at it some more, that's an awfully clean cut, surgical almost…"

"Not a cut," said Chief, looking back over his shoulder at Vega, "UNSC neural lace."

"A neural lace huh? What does that do?" asked Vega.

"That's classified," answered the Master Chief.

"Oh sure, okay," said Vega. Not letting Chief's answer deter his curiosity, he continued with, "Is your uh… AI friend in there? Cortala?"

"Cortana," corrected Chief, "And yes, part of her."

"Oh. Like, inside? Your brain?"

The Master Chief nodded.

"Sure. Okay. Well, um. Can she, you know…" stuttered Vega, "Control you?"

"No, she can't control me. But she can see what I see, hear what I hear, the like."

"Wow. That's... cool? Can she talk to you? Like, through your brain matter or whatever?"

"Yes."

"Huh. Fascinating. Don't get me wrong, creepy as hell, but fascinating."

With a loud hiss of air, the Normandy's inner airlock slid open at the beckoning of Shepard's input code.

"Alright," said the Commander, looking over the assembly of Normandy crewmembers, "Let's go."


Docking Bay D24 Waiting Area

Sitting in the waiting area with her legs crossed, face hidden behind a holozine, a woman sat watching as the crew of the Normandy disembarked. She was wearing simple tan pants and a modest blouse, along with a navy blue jacket to both complete the outfit and protect against the slight chill that the Citadel atmosphere was often kept at.

Twirling a stylus in one hand, the woman shifted her positioning slightly so that the barrel of the compacted M-9x pistol hidden away in a holster behind her jacket wasn't poking her in the ribs.

As a C-Sec officer walked up to greet Commander Shepard the contact lenses which changed the woman's eye color from its natural brown to a new light blue recorded everything she was looking at and streamed it through a dozen encrypted connections back to a Cerberus data dump.

Lifting a well-manicured finger, a nearly invisible drone smaller than the size of a pinhead lifted off from her fingernail and flew its way over to the Commander where it settled into one of the folds on his dress uniform. The Cerberus bug would record every second of the Council meeting Shepard was going to, and was so technologically advanced that there was no chance C-Sec screening would detect it.

But what was of more interest to this women in particular, rather than her main mission of audio bugging the Council meeting, was the sighting of unfamiliar faces stepping off of the Normandy into the Presidium dock. Contact lens cameras recording everything, she saw four individuals she didn't recognize. One brown-skinned, dark haired woman was wearing some form of professional attire and sticking close to Shepard, while another tall sandy-blonde haired man along with a shorter Asian looking man dressed in Alliance fatigues were both looking around with the same wide-eyed stare that always gave away first-time visitors to the Citadel, especially the Presidium.

However, the person that caught most of the woman's attention was the veritable giant of a man near the back of the group. Standing more than a head taller than everyone else with a body frame that was nearly bursting out of his Alliance fatigues, dark eyes narrow, darting all around the docking bay.

It seemed that he was carefully examining every being he could, and when his eyes settled on her, she made herself busy with her holozine.

After a couple of seconds, the hairs on the back of the woman's neck stood up and she looked back up only to see that the large man was still staring right at her. Suddenly she decided that she should go, deactivating her holozine and standing up out of her chair.

With a quick, purposeful stride, Miranda Lawson tried to lose herself in the crowd as she headed for the elevators.

"Well, this is new."

The Master Chief nodded his head ever so slightly in a response to Cortana's observation, taken through his eyes. Stepping off of the Normandy onto the Citadel certainly revealed a… different situation than he was used too.

All throughout the docking bay aliens of all the kinds he had recently learned about mixed and mingled together. Humans, Turians, Salarians, Asari, a couple of four-eyed Batarians, and even one of those jellyfish-looking Hanar creatures.

For nearly the past four decades if Chief had seen such a grouping of aliens together he wouldn't know what to think. On one hand emptying a full magazine into them would have seemed the safer and wiser course of action, even though he was acutely aware of the fact that none of these aliens had ever been associated with the Covenant. Now though he was a more a 'tourist' than anything, being led along sightseeing by Lieutenant Williams as Shepard and the two Doctors attended their Council meeting.

As the Chief observed every being that he could see in the bay, he took special note to try and identify how each species differed in appearance. For the humans it was obvious, different genders, colors of skin, color and style of hair, facial features, dress, the list went on.

Asari were a bit more difficult being that their entire race looked female, which left only differences in skin color, height, dress, and in a couple of instances colored facial decorations to tell them apart from a distance.

Turians, Salarians, and Batarians were harder still. Most of the Turians that he saw in the bay looked remarkably similar in body and head shape, save for some minor height differences. However the Chief did manage to notice some skin color variation, as well as what was most obvious to the eye, the stark differences in what appeared to be facial paint on each one of their faces.

Salarians he noticed differed in skin color as well as scale pattern variation, but aside from those and dress that was about all he could tell. As for Batarians, the two he saw talking together looked exactly similar save for their different color jumpsuits.

He wasn't the only one doing the observing however. Despite the fact that he wasn't familiar with alien facial expressions it seemed that the look of surprise was similar across all humanoid species. The Chief certainly seemed to be getting it a lot from the various beings in the docking bay. They all seemed to have something better to look at it seemed whenever he looked back at them.

As the group walked forwards and a middle aged looking man wearing a uniform with the letters 'C-SEC' on it greeted Shepard, the Master Chief's eyes fell upon a human woman sitting cross-legged on a chair in what appeared to be a waiting area.

Without any kind of warning, as soon as he looked at this woman the hairs on the back of Chief's neck stood up and he got the same buzzing feeling deep in the pit of his stomach that usually appeared in combat situations whenever something just wasn't right.

Chief immediately memorized every detail of the woman. Blond hair in a tight bun, pants and blouse with a jacket that was loose enough to possibly conceal a weapon, a datapad in one hand and a pen in the other. She was slender, with light blue eyes that met his for a split second, then returned to the datapad

"I see her Chief," said Cortana, "I'm trying to access the Citadel's systems… hmm… it appears that Citadel Security has compiled a database of nearly every one of its inhabitant's biometric scans. Huh. You'd think something like this would have more layers of security, give me a second while I hack into it."

As Shepard, Dr. T'soni, and Dr. Woods got into some kind of vehicle along with the C-Sec officer that had greeted them, the woman stood up out of her chair quickly and set off at a brisk pace towards what looked to be a pair of elevators at the far end of the bay.

As the vehicle which Shepard and the two Doctors got into lifted off with a whine and flew away, Lieutenant Williams turned to the remaining Normandy crewmembers and said, "C'mon boys, let's start by going down to the Presidium Commons. Elevators are this way."

Williams, Vega, Dolton, and Cehack started making their way towards the elevators and the Chief followed behind, never taking his eyes off of the woman who had been sitting in the chair. By now the woman had reached the elevators and walked through the open doors of one of the two, joining a few other Humans and a couple of Turians. She turned around to face the insides of the docking bay, but when she saw the Chief was still looking at her she reached and pressed the door close button.

Right when her elevator started ascending the Normandy group reached the other elevator, the door sliding open at the press of William's finger.

"I'm tracking her elevator, it's only triggered stop is the Presidium Commons, the same level that we're going to," said Cortana as they stepped into the elevator. Ashley pressed the button for the Presidium Commons and as the elevator ascended Cortana added, "Get this Chief, I've just filtered through C-Sec's databanks for a human woman matching that description, and nothing comes up. But that's not the interesting thing. C-Sec has matching biometric scans of fifty-eight people that were present in the docking bay when we arrived. Chief, there were fifty-nine that you saw by my count. Guess who the missing person was?"

Chief already knew the answer.

The elevator halted and when its doors opened up the small Normandy contingent stepped out into the Presidium Commons for the first time.

The Chief looked around quickly, taking in his surroundings. According to what he'd been told the Presidium represented the 'high-class' portion of the Citadel and it certainly looked as such.

Pristine white, grooved walls highlighted by small green shrubs or trees comprised the borders of the level that they seemed to have stepped out onto. Looking out across the way it was revealed that the gleaming Presidium buildings seemed to be built into the curvature of the ring itself. A sparkling blue river ran along the 'ground' of the ring, bordered by larger trees and sitting areas and spanned by wide bridges every so often. Chief felt a slight breeze and sunshine on his face, which probably signified an artificial atmosphere.

The whole scene reminded him of Halo.

Aerial vehicles zipped to and forth in the airspace between the two sides of the ring, and he saw Humans, Turians, Asari, Salarians, even a couple of the round Volus creatures along with a hulking Elcor meandering around both on their level and across the river. Nearly all, he noticed, in nice clothing.

Looking to the left he saw stairs that led upwards to a few counters and terminals, but no sign of the woman. When he looked right however, he saw that same blonde bun bouncing up and down in the middle of a crowd of people about fifteen meters away.

He was about to alert the Lieutenant to the woman when she excitedly exclaimed, "Man it's been almost two years since I've been to the Presidium. C'mon, let's go see what kind of food we can get. The Commander's buying after all."

Williams started walking to the right towards an enclosed hallway with walls comprised of holographic advertisements, which was thankfully the same direction the mystery woman was going.

Chief was about to try and alert Williams again when she suddenly turned left, dragging Dolton by the elbow and saying, "Ooh, Apollo's Café. I like the sound of that."

Cehack and Vega followed the Lieutenant down the stairs and to the left, but instead of turning with the rest of the group the Master Chief continued walking forwards, trying his best to use a passing group of Turians to cover his movement from the others. Not that it would have made much difference if anyone had had looked back, as the strange looks that the Turians were giving him probably would have given him away.

Luckily he got away unnoticed and continued to trail the blonde-bunned woman. After walking another few meters the woman turned right suddenly into another corridor, and when Chief reached it he saw that it was a stairway which led up and branched out into a 'T'.

He reached the top of the staircase and first looked right, seeing nothing, but saw the woman running down the hallway when he looked left. That caught his attention, and he quickly took off after her, accelerating faster than nearly any human in existence. He was quickly closing the distance, shooting past what appeared to be apartment doors when the woman stopped and slammed her fist into something on a wall, darting into an opening that hadn't been there before.

He slid to a stop in front of the small passageway that had just been opened hands raised, ready for anything.

"Chief!" cried Cortana in warning.

A few meters inside the narrow passageway the woman stood facing him, pistol aimed squarely at his chest.

He saw two muzzle flashes, and he probably would have been killed were it not for the hardlight emitter attached to his belt, the barrier flaring to life and deflecting the two projectiles.

With the introduction into a combat scenario, physiological triggers sent adrenaline along with a variety of other artificial chemicals that his body had been altered to produce coursing throughout his blood vessels. The picture his eyes could see sharpened and he felt an increase of feeling and control in his limbs. The analytical functions and motor capabilities of his brain and body sped up by a factor so immense that it resulted in a phenomenon where it seemed that time all around Chief slowed down.

Throughout the Spartan Corps, this phenomenon was simply referred to as 'Spartan Time.'

His first priority was to separate the weapon from the woman's hand. The hallway was narrow, maybe half a meter wider than his body width, which meant that he would have to rely on short, quick jabs and chops to do the job rather than more powerful sweeping strikes.

The Chief leapt forward quick as lightning chopping the pistol with the side of his left hand, which forced the woman's hands against the side of the hallway.

The enclosed space also meant he had little room for error, and as the woman began to separate her right hand from the grip of the pistol the muzzle flashed again, Chief feeling the whiz of a projectile passing mere inches away from his head. He did not hear a sound however which meant that it must have been suppressed, even though the pistol didn't display a pronounced silencer.

The Chief grasped the pistol with the left hand that had chopped it against the wall and yanked downwards hard, ripping the weapon from the woman's grasp. Right as he did that the woman's left hand began to glow blue as a whirling field encompassed it, then started to slowly move in Chief's direction from his 'slowed-time' perspective.

With that one action, Chief knew that this fight had gotten a lot more dangerous. In milliseconds his mind recalled every fact he had read about biotics and those who wielded them from his studying earlier, and knew he had to end this quick lest he get disintegrated by unstable dark energy.

He knew that one of the first things he had to do was cripple her hands, as that was where most biotic techniques were formed and launched from.

Chief immediately dropped the taken pistol in his left hand and shot it out, gripping hold of the woman's right hand and fingers before the weapon even hit the floor. He saw the beginnings of a biotic projectile form in the woman's left hand and as it was launched he turned his body sideways, the blue mass passing harmlessly by him and hitting the wall, disintegrating part of it.

At that same time he squeezed the woman's with his left hand with his own, feeling the fingers and hand bones being crushed under the massive power of his grip. The woman's face contorted as she cried out in pain, but the Chief wasn't don't yet. He lashed out with his leg and delivered a vicious kick to the woman's left knee with the sole of his boot, the joint giving way under his foot and snapping backwards.

During the Covenant War a strike of similar power delivered to a Sangheili while he was in his Mjolnir would have completely destroyed the joint, so he had no doubt that the strike he had just given had at least shattered the woman's kneecap along with severely tearing the various tendons and ligaments critical to supporting the leg.

Overwhelmed by pain the biotic field swirling around her left hand started to dissipate.

The Chief saw his chance to incapacitate her remaining hand and was about to strike forwards when the woman opened her palm and…

Suddenly, the Chief couldn't move. He was frozen into place mid-jab, none of his muscles were responding to his brains commands to contract or relax, not even his eyes. The woman collapsed to her good knee, muffling screams of agony by biting into her unbroken hand. She eyed her dropped pistol lying on the floor about half a meter behind the Master Chief, but must have decided against trying to go for it for some reason. She looked up to Chief, and he could see that past the pain-triggered tears streaming down her face were eyes full of both hate, and complete terror.

The woman tried to get up and nearly collapsed again, bracing herself with her good hand on the wall. Taking one last look at Chief in his frozen state, she turned around and quickly limped away down the hall, disappearing down another corner about ten meters down.

It was nearly thirty seconds later by Chief's count when whatever was causing him to be unable to move wore off. He stood back straight again, flexing his various muscles to make sure he had full control.

"Cortana, what just happened?" he asked.

"She seemed to put you into a stasis field. A biotic technique that completely immobilizes a target for a set period of time, but also makes them nearly invulnerable to any other damage."

"That must have been why she didn't try and kill me when she had the chance."

"Perhaps… though I just did some more digging and it seems that there are two versions of the technique. One like what you were just in, and another which allows for the target in the field to take damage, yet at the cost of the target being suspended for a much shorter period of time."

The Chief thought back to the Mars mission where he had seen Commander Shepard utilize the second version of the stasis field technique.

"Can you track her?" he asked.

"I was, but there was an aircar waiting for her at the end of this maintenance hallway. If this was a UNSC installation she wouldn't have stood a chance, but the Citadel's systems are just too unfamiliar to me right now. I lost her, sorry John."

"It's alright," he answered, bending over to pick up the woman's pistol, "We still have this."

He looked over it for a couple of seconds, turning it over in his hands. It was jet black, very light, and quite small, gradual curves taking the place of the hard lines that the outside of weapons usually possessed. There didn't seem to be any sort of scope, although he did see a trio of familiar notches that comprised the pistol's iron sights. He managed to make out the faint edges of a button near the top of the grip, and thinking that it might be a mag release he pressed it. Instead of depositing a magazine however, the gun whirred and compacted even more, part of the middle compressing inwards while the front and back slid together.

"Do you want me to alert Commander Shepard?" asked Cortana.

"No, not yet. I'll approach him after his Council meeting."

Now compacted to its smallest state, the pistol was small enough to fit unobtrusively into a fatigue pocket. The Master Chief stepped out of maintenance hallway and back into the main apartment hallway, pressing the button to close the door as he did so.

Not a second later Vega appeared around the corner at the top of the stairs, and when he spotted Chief he called, "Hey! There you are big man, we were looking all over for you."

Vega took a few steps towards him but stopped when he saw the holo-ad on the wall the Chief was facing.

"Blasto 6 huh? Yeah, I agree that it looks pretty interesting but honestly, I don't think they can top Blasto 3. I mean, when Blasto took out an entire merc company wielding a Carnifex in each tentacle? Completely loco."

The Chief just nodded, and Vega took that as a sign that they should head back.

"C'mon, the Commander's buying Apollo's and I'm starving," he said, walking back down the stairs as Chief followed. "You know, you wouldn't expect a guy as big as you to be able to disappear so easy…"


Citadel Tower

Private Council Meeting Room

March 3rd, 2186

"This Council meeting will now officially come to order." Looking around the circular table the Salarian Councilor Valern observed each of his fellow Councilor's faces, all tight-lipped and grim due to the nature of their gathering. Only Commander Shepard seemed to keep a neutral expression, although to Valern's trained eye he suspected that it was a little forced. "We are here today to address the newly emerged Reaper threat, and to discuss what possible actions we are to take to ensure our survival as a civilization."

"I just got word from Palaven not long ago," started Sparatus, obviously not wanting to waste time. "Approximately four hundred Reapers came through the Mass Relay and started assaulting the planet and the Turian forces there."

Sparatus looked down at the table and paused, as if he was dreading what he was about to say. "We're being decimated. Of the three fleets called to defend Palaven, one has been completely destroyed and the other two are taking horrendous losses, approaching fifty percent casualties. It's not much better on the ground. Turian discipline is holding the line in most areas, but at heavy costs. The Reapers also have aerial and orbital supremacy and they are using it heavily to their advantage. Casualty estimates are… enormous. Six-hundred thousand military… eight million civilians."

"Eight million?" gasped Tevos quietly.

Sparatus nodded gravely. "Those are just the early reports as well, eight hours ago or so. The numbers now are likely far higher…"

"The situation at Earth is much worse," said Shepard. "Two hundred Reapers initially assaulted the Sol system, and the Alliance Fifth and Second Fleets have both sustained upwards of forty percent casualties defending before being forced to abandon the system when six hundred more arrived in system."

"You had to abandon Earth? Spirits…" said Sparatus, shaking his head in dismay at what that could signify for Palaven.

"Yes. It was unfortunate… but necessary," said Councilor Udina. "However we have managed to buy some time for the remaining Human colonies by disabling the Charon Relay, which will force the Reapers to use conventional FTL to reach their next target."

"You disabled the Charon Relay?" asked Tevos, "You didn't…"

"No, we did not destroy the Relay. It was just shut off," corrected Udina.

"That's impossible," Tevos accused with a glare, "No one has ever been able to figure out how to shut off a Mass Relay safely. Unless there is something you're not telling us Udina."

Udina and Shepard shared a look, and Shepard nodded at the Human Councilor.

"Actually, we, the Alliance, didn't do anything."

"And what do you mean by that?" questioned Sparatus.

From his seat at the table Valern blinked twice in quick succession. So, it seemed that the Humans would come out and reveal their new friends right out of the gate. This would certainly be interesting to see.

"About two hours before the first wave of Reapers arrived, two unknown vessels suddenly appeared a few hundred thousand kilometers above Earth," began Shepard.

"Appeared?" questioned Tevos. "Through the Mass Relay? Or through conventional FTL?"

"Neither," answered Shepard. "They just… appeared."

"I'm not quite sure I believe you Commander. Two ships just magically appeared above Earth out of thin air?" questioned Tevos skeptically.

"Here is footage from an Alliance reconnaissance satellite observing local space at that time. See for yourself." Shepard withdrew a datapad from inside his uniform, pressed it a couple of times, and slid it over to Tevos.

Valern studied Tevos' face as she read what the datapad had to offer. At first she furrowed her eyebrows when she saw that the Commander had indeed been telling the truth. Then, when she discovered another piece of information her face changed into one of unmistakable surprise.

"This… this can't be right. Commander, your reading say that these two ships are each over five kilometers long?"

"The numbers are correct," clarified Shepard.

"Spirits, five kilometers? What did you do after they arrived?" asked Sparatus.

"By Hackett's reports we nearly got into a shootout," said Udina, "But he was able to diffuse the situation enough to establish communications and agree upon the Normandy as a first contact meeting point."

"We haven't quite been having the greatest luck with first contacts lately," said Tevos, "The Rachni, the Krogan eventually, the first contact with your species Commander, and now the Reapers."

"Well this one went significantly better. The two new factions agreed to a temporary truce with the Systems Alliance and actually helped us fight the Reapers," said Shepard.

"Two factions?" asked Sparatus.

"Yes. We found out during our first contact negotiations that each ship was commanded by a different species. Note the stark differences in ship design," said Shepard.

"They fought alongside you? But they must have barely even known you!" said Tevos.

"The Reapers have a way of… bringing people together," said Shepard.

"I must admit I am extremely curious to see how these five kilometer ships performed against the Reapers," said Sparatus.

Shepard motioned for the datapad and Tevos returned it to him. He pressed a few times and suddenly one of the walls of the room transformed into a vid screen. Shepard pressed on the datapad one more time and combat footage from the battles above Earth and the assault on the Charon Relay began to play.

Valern crossed his arms to watch what he had already seen, three times before this now actually. However, the differing viewpoints of footage from the Alliance ships rather than from the STG spy satellite was certainly interesting.

When the playback halted, the Council room was silent following the reveal of the absolutely massive firepower and untold of defensive capabilities possessed by these two new factions.

"And those two ships weren't it either, they both received reinforcements. But by the Spirits themselves, I've never seen more deadly weaponry in my lifetime," said Sparatus. The wonder and apprehension was evident in his tone of voice. "Who are these people?"

"How about you see for yourselves?" said Shepard, getting up and going to the door. He pressed the intercom that would transmit to the two guards outside and said, "Send in Dr. Woods please."

When Dr. Woods walked in a tad meekly Sparatus, Tevos, and even Valern were shocked into silence. Valern had known about the existence and actions of the new factions allied with the Systems Alliance, but he didn't know that they were –

"Human?" blurted out Tevos in a tone of surprised dismay.

"Um, yes I am Human," said Woods. "I am Doctor Margaret Woods and I represent the United Nations Space Command."

"United Nations Space Command," parroted Sparatus.

"Yes, or UNSC for short. Currently I am serving with Commander Shepard aboard the Normandy as the UNSC's liaison to the Systems Alliance."

"Which ships are your factions'?" asked Sparatus right off of the bat, pointing towards the video display.

Obviously caught off-guard by the question, Woods stuttered for a second, looking at the display. "Um, the angled, blocky ones it would seem."

"And what's your strength? How many ships does the UNSC have here?" continued Sparatus.

"Twenty-four ships," answered Woods, anticipating that specific question.

"Twenty-four ships…" said Sparatus, "Twenty-four ships that can each take down a Reaper faster than five of my own."

The Turian Councilor took a moment, looking deeply at each Doctor Woods, Shepard, and Udina. "Doctor Woods, Udina, Commander… The Turian Hierarchy needs that kind of firepower on its side. We'll do whatever it takes, whatever demands you have – "

"Hold on a moment Sparatus," interrupted Tevos, holding up a hand, "I think you are rushing too quickly into this decision, letting your desperation for an effective weapon against the Reapers cloud your judgmental abilities."

"I know exactly how desperate I am being Tevos," snapped Sparatus. "The time for 'judgment' is long past. We ignored Shepard and the Human's warnings about the Reapers for the longest time. Now they are here in force and good Turians are dying because we were too arrogant to listen. These humans, this 'UNSC', they can help us!"

"Are you mad!" cried Tevos, "You can't rush into negotiations and treaties like this! Don't you have any questions? I mean, she's Human for Goddess' sake! How did this UNSC get here? Where did they come from? How have we never heard of them before? How is it possible to have ships as large as they do? Where is this other 'faction' that was mentioned and what kind of agenda do they have?"

"The only 'question' I have right now is what can the Turians do to ensure UNSC support in our fight against the Reapers?"

Shepard and Udina shared another look. Secretly this is exactly what they had both wanted, the promise of devastating UNSC firepower swaying the Council leaders to agree to a mutual defensive alliance between them all, and the Turians had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.

"The Systems Alliance only has one request," started Udina. "The Reapers… this is a threat the likes of which we have never faced before. Alone we will be destroyed one by one until there is nothing left. Only together will we have any sort of chance. I propose a full defensive alliance between the Council races. Militarily, economically, politically, the works. Complete and unopposed cooperation in every field. If we can agree to that, then the UNSC will agree to assist us in all aspects of this war."

There was no hesitation from Sparatus. "Done. The Turian Hierarchy agrees to this proposal. Alone we have no hope, Palaven has shown me that clearly enough."

Despite her hundreds of years of political experience, Tevos swallowed nervously in the face of the stares of all the others in the room. "Though the Turians might be misguided and desperate enough to rush into such an alliance, the Asari will not. The striking fact remains that as effective as this 'United Nations Space Command' is against the Reapers, imagine how devastating their weapons would be if turned on us. We simply do not know enough about them to agree to such a proposal."

"The UNSC fully recognizes that it is the Reapers who are the real threat here," assured Woods. "My people are tired of war, but we recognize that the Reapers won't stop until either they take out us, or we take out them. They must be opposed, but to oppose them effectively we must work together. Anything less and our chances are much, much lower. If and when we have won this war we can discuss matters of more intricate relations between our separate factions. However, I can guarantee that those races who recognize working together is our only option will look just that much more attractive as potential allies to my leadership. The UNSC doesn't want to be involved in another galactic genocide if there was something that we could have done to help prevent it."

Shepard took a moment to glance at Dr. Woods. He really didn't know much about the UNSC or its people but something about her statement caught in his throat. 'Genocide?' The UNSC had all the hallmarks of coming out of a big war, and fairly recently too. Their extremely powerful ships and weapons, the stark professionalism of all of their soldiers, but also the obvious fatigue he was able to see, not entirely physical, but mostly mental.

Shepard decided he would get the answers from Dr Woods when they were back on the Normandy.

"Despite that reassurance, my doubts still remain. The Asari know nearly nothing about your faction other than that they are Human, which itself is extremely alarming, and we are expected to just accept your presence and risk our lives against the Reapers alongside you? For Goddess' sake we still don't even know how you got here!"

"An ancient artifact we were investigating reacted to our presence and sent us into Alliance space," responded Woods.

"You mean to tell me that an artifact randomly teleported you to, of all places in this entire galaxy, right above the home world of the Systems Alliance? Who happen to be Human as well? Can you see the reasons for which I am being cautious? The possibilities for an ulterior motive or a play against us just seems too high," Tevos spoke in a voice bleeding apprehension.

"Are you serious Tevos? An ulterior motive?" questioned Udina. "The only motive we have here is trying to survive against the Reapers!"

"Why should the Asari put any trust in this UNSC?"

"You should trust them because the Systems Alliance trusts them," answered Udina.

"Please," scoffed Tevos. The Alliance only trusts them because they shouldered the brunt of the Reaper attack, albeit I imagine unwillingly. Is that correct? If you truly came from somewhere else, you can't expect me to believe that the UNSC wanted to fight against the Reapers alongside the Systems Alliance?"

"Well, no," said Woods, "At first we were more concerned with figuring out what exactly had happened and where we were. But like Commander Shepard said, the Reapers didn't leave us much of a choice. However, the decision to ally with and assist the Systems Alliance was entirely our own."

"And what about this second faction? Where are they now? Where is their representative?" hounded Tevos.

"We… we do not know," admitted Woods.

"And what is meant by that? That you don't know?"

"This other faction, the Sangheili as they are called, took their ships after the assault on the Charon Relay and jumped to an unknown location," said Woods.

"See? The UNSC might be tame now, but what if they decide that they no longer want to help us and disappear into the depths of our galaxy like these Sag-Nelly? What if they decide that we have something they want and start using their vastly superior weapons against us? The Asari cannot take that risk."

"You're being ridiculous Tevos," accused Udina. "The Reapers are at your doorstep and you want to just turn away the most effective weapons we have against them?"

"It will take the Asari government some time before – "

"Time? It will take time!? We're out of time Tevos! This isn't a problem you can't debate over a couple of decades before finally acting, not like you're used too!" nearly shouted Sparatus.

"I am not ignoring anything! The Asari will not be strong-armed into such a drastic alliance by two Council races which are so desperate to find others to help shoulder their burden!"

"Don't you understand Councilor?" started Shepard, "The time for action is not later, it is now. The Reapers are here now. Humans and Turians are dying by the millions right now."

"Which I agree is tragic but – "

"But what? Tragic, but not tragic enough? Tell me Tevos, will it be tragic enough for you when the Reapers steamroll over you sorry excuse for a military and set fire to Thessia? When millions of Asari start dying in the same way that Turians and Humans are now?"

"Enough!"

Councilor Valern, who had been silent for nearly the entire meeting save for the opening formalities cleared his throat after bellowing the command which had stopped the raising voices of the Council in its tracks.

"This bickering is getting us nowhere. There will be no more dancing around this issue," said Valern, looking severely at everyone present. "Councilor Tevos, will the Asari or will they not join the total alliance proposed by Udina."

Tevos paused for a moment, biting her lip before answering. "…No."

"No? What do you mean, 'No'?" asked Sparatus, the biting tone of his two-toned voice now approaching a growl.

"The sad truth, is that while the Reapers are busy in Human and Turian territory, the Asari will have time to fortify and prepare."

"I don't know why I expected anything different from you Tevos. Only the Asari could be selfish enough to sacrifice others just to try and get an advantage at a later time," growled Sparatus lowly.

"You're a goddamn coward Councilor," said Shepard angrily, "Using us as shields to buy time for yourself. Answer this, how do the Asari expect to fare any better against the Reapers than we are?"

"I don't have to take insults from you. I am simply doing what is best for the Asari," said Tevos firmly.

"No, you're absolutely right," said Valern, looking at Sparatus and seeing the Turian narrow his eyes at him. The Salarian then looked to Tevos, who was starting to smugly smile at what she thought was the Salarian's approval of her strategy. "You are a coward Tevos."

The Asari Councilor's expression suddenly changed from one to open-mouthed astonishment. "You too Valern? But Salarian space is the furthest away from any of this conflict, you of all people should understand – "

"Understand what? That to cower and hide while the Humans and the Turians take the brunt of the Reaper invasion? Salarian space is the most protected distance-wise from the Reaper threat, which is also why we can afford to offer our total support to the war effort without having to worry about civilian safety."

Sparatus nodded at Valern from across the table, but the Salarian could tell that this was no ordinary nod. His was a nod of appreciation, of understanding, and of thankfulness.

"The Salarian Union will agree to enter into this alliance along with the Turian Hierarchy and the Human Systems Alliance. Only by standing together will we be able to raise a significant defense against the Reapers," solidified Valern.

Looking to Councilor Tevos, Valern continued, "Councilor Tevos, since it is evident that the Asari have no interest in participating in this galaxy-wide alliance against the Reapers, you are excused from this meeting. There is nothing else that we could require you for."

Though each Council member possessed the same political 'rank', it was extremely obvious that Valern's request – Valern's command had the weight of an order behind it. That, coupled with the daggers that were being stared into her by Sparatus, Udina, and Shepard, and the unabashed shock from Dr. Woods caused Tevos to stand up out of her chair and with all of the dignity she could muster, walk quickly out the door.

As the door slid shut Udina let out a heavy sigh and rubbed his face in his hands. "And with that, we just lost the largest economy in the galaxy."

"If the Asari are going to be so blind as too deny the crosshairs pointed at their head, then I say that we are better off without them," growled Sparatus. "Besides, we still have the weight of the Volus banking clans on our side."

"Yes, I just hope that will be enough," pondered Udina.

"I will admit Valern I had passed judgment on you too soon," said Sparatus, looking at the Salarian Councilor. "I would have fully expected you to have acted the same way that Tevos did."

"Waiting isn't going to help anyone," said Valern. "The Salarians are prepared for this, and we're ready to help in any way we can."

"Well we are very gracious to be able to count on Salarian support," said Shepard.

"Of course Commander. It was actually you who prompted such action, your words convinced my brother Tol Kirrahe of the potential threat of the Reapers, who subsequently convinced me to begin preparing for them." Valern looked to Sparatus, continuing, "All of that 'increasing militarization' that you and Tevos noticed and questioned me on for the past two years, that wasn't in preparation for a war. It was in preparation for the Reapers."

"I see," said Sparatus, nodding his head again. "Now that Tevos is gone we can finally talk some real strategy. You say that you're prepared, but what does 'prepared' mean?"

"Every Salarian world has been fortified with additional defenses, bombing resistant infrastructure, deep underground shelters, standardized evacuation plans and routes, the like. Already we have ordered every capable male not in a critical civilian position to report for military service. We also possess stealth-capable vessels that can engage in combat operations or assist in military or civilian evacuation."

"Stealth-capable vessels? Like the Normandy?" asked Shepard.

"Correct."

"How many?" questioned Sparatus.

"An entire fleet's worth. Frigates, Destroyers, Cruisers, a few Carriers, even a Dreadnought. No expense was spared."

The Turian Councilor's jaw dropped, mandibles twitching. "An entire fleet? A stealthed Dreadnought? By the Spirits how much did that cost?"

"Like I said Councilor, no expense was spared," answered Valern. What he didn't say however was just how close the Salarian Union was to complete bankruptcy.

"Is this stealth fleet completely knew? What about your other two fleets?"

"We commissioned the Special Warfare and Tactics fleet in addition to completely retrofitting our other two mainline fleets with other top of the line technology."

"Any other surprises we should know about?" wondered Udina, shaking his head in complete disbelief.

"One final thing. The STG has planted stealthed observation satellites in nearly every system with a primary Mass Relay, along with a number of more important systems connected via a secondary Relay."

"Spy satellites? In every system?" repeated Sparatus incredulously. "Valern, if I had found out about this a day ago I would have heavily considered it to be an act of war. Now though, this might be one of our greatest assets. Can they be detected by the Reapers? Do they transmit in real time?"

"Based on the fact that we were able to observe the entireties of the battles of Earth and the one going on above Palaven, it appears that the Reapers cannot detect them. Which is good, considering that our ships use the same stealth technology. And yes, they transmit as close to real time as is allowed."

Sparatus shook his head in disbelief. "I'll be damned if I ever think badly of a Salarian again."

"So you knew about the UNSC for the entire meeting?" asked Shepard.

"For much longer than that. The STG knew as soon as the UNSC 'appeared' above Earth, and I knew not long after that. But what I want to know," began Valern, shifting his eyes towards Dr. Woods, "Was how you managed to shut off a Mass Relay."

All eyes fell to Doctor Woods. "Well, I haven't been told of the exact details of how it was done, but what I do know is that one of our Artificial Intelligences managed to access the Relay's internal systems and get it to deactivate."

"Artificial Intelligence?" said Sparatus, "A fully aware Artificial Intelligence?"

"Yes."

"You're glad that you didn't mention that when Tevos was still here," said Sparatus, clicking his mandibles.

"Yes, I was warned that there is some 'animosity' towards AI's amongst this Council, is that correct?" asked Woods.

"Normally, I would say yes. But these are drastic times," said Sparatus. "If the UNSC needs AI's to use their Reaper-killer weapons systems, I won't protest a word."

"Do you think that you could replicate it? Turning off a Mass Relay? The tactical and strategic implications of being able to block vast sections of space from the Reapers is too immense to ignore," asked Shepard, quick to pounce on this idea.

"Could it be done Doctor Woods?" asked Valern.

"I'm not sure," answered Woods truthfully, "I'll have to further discuss the matter with my higher-ups."

"Even so, disabling the Charon Relay has by our calculations bought the rest of Alliance space nearly two weeks of time to fortify and evacuate," said Udina. "However the problem is going to be finding adequate space for all of the evacuees, plus Human refugees that flee from other non-Alliance worlds."

"Any and all Human evacuees are welcome to take refuge in the Salarian Union. That is another event that we prepared for, we have plenty of space. The same goes for Turian evacuees as well. That way all of our civilian populations will be as far away from the fighting as possible."

"Thank you Valern. Salarian generosity and commitment will not be forgotten."

"We should call a War Summit amongst the military leaders of our different governments," suggested Sparatus. "As much power as we all seem to have, we just represent the political spectrum of things. We can formalize this Alliance between our different species but our military heads will have to be the ones to actually develop a strategy to combating the Reapers."

"Sparatus is right, we should do this soon. Top STG officers and the heads of the Salarian Navy and Army will be in attendance," said Valern.

"With Arcturus Station destroyed, the command of the remaining Alliance Military falls to Admiral Hackett, the highest fleet officer," said Udina. "He will attend this Summit as well."

"I will alert Admiral Lasky and the other heads of the UNSC to the occurrence of this Summit as soon as I can."

"What of the Turian Primarch?" asked Valern.

Sparatus inhaled sharply. "That… might be a problem. Primarch Fedorian was conducting an inspection of one of the military bases on Palaven's moon Menae when the Reapers attacked. Communications with the moon were cut shortly after the attack and neither I nor Palaven Command know of the Primarch's current status. But with the Trebia system being as hot as it is, sending a contingent of men to try and figure out if he's even still alive would be extremely risky."

There was silence for a couple of seconds, then Commander Shepard spoke up. "The Normandy could go to Menae and attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of the Primarch."

"Are you sure?" asked Sparatus.

"Yes. It would still be risky, but our stealth systems will give us an edge that a typical Turian ship-of-the-line wouldn't have."

"Very well Commander. I'll send you everything we know about the situation on Menae so far and what you can expect. Thank you."

"Of course. I will leave as soon as I can, but before I go, there is one more thing," said Shepard. Shepard stood up again and walked to the door, calling in Dr. T'soni through the intercom.

T'soni came in shortly after, still dressed in her blue-white labcoat and hugging a datapad to her chest with both arms crossed.

"Dr. T'soni, pleasure to see you again," said Sparatus. "Please forgive me if I sound gruff or rude towards you, that is not my intention at all. It's just that my patience with certain Asari has reached its end. What do you have for us?"

Liara looked towards Shepard with a confused expression on her face, to which the Commander answered by mouthing 'later'. Clearing her throat she began, "Before we were forced to flee the Sol system we managed to recover the data contained in a Prothean Beacon at the Mars Prothean Research Station. Cerberus troops attacked the base in an attempt to stop us, but they were unsuccessful."

"Cerberus?" questioned Valern, "I'm guessing that they were interested in the same data?"

"Yes, but they were most likely interested in this particular piece of data right here." Liara put the datapad down in the middle of the table facing up, and from it sprang a large hologram of the plans that comprised the Prothean device.

"What is it?" asked Sparatus after looking at it for a couple of seconds.

"Based on empirical evidence and speculation from translated schematics we believe that it was a Prothean weapon, conceptualized but never completed."

"Whatever kind of weapon it was, it's massive in size," observed Valern, noting how the translated schematics showed it was at least a third the size of the Citadel.

"A weapon of this size, it has to have been for one thing," reasoned Sparatus, "A weapon to combat the Reapers."

"That is the conclusion that we came to as well," said Liara.

"And what are you proposing we do with these… schematics?" questioned Udina, to which Liara nodded in confirmation. "Are you saying that we should try to build this construct?"

"If it is a weapon that we could use against the Reapers, wouldn't it at least be worth trying?" asked T'soni.

"A weapon that big has to have some serious firepower behind it," reasoned Sparatus. "It would be a massive undertaking, but I believe that it could be done. Forward us the schematics Doctor, we'll see what we can do."

"Thank you," said Liara.

Valern looked over the schematics with a clinical eye before turning to Shepard.

"I can't help but worry exactly how your former compatriots knew when and where to find this information Commander."

"Cerberus funded my mission to stop the Collectors. They are not my compatriots," responded Shepard hotly.

Valern held up a hand to forestall a rant, "I meant no offense Commander. But it still stands that Cerberus clearly knew what they were looking for. Even if they didn't get the data they wanted, how did they know where to find it?"

Shepard slumped in his chair somewhat. "I don't know. During our 'brief' association my sole focus had been to stop the Collectors. Once that was done our association came to abrupt end." Shepard frowned and regarded Valern with grave concern. "Are you suggesting they might be working with the Reapers?"

Valern shook his head. "Cerberus's motivations aren't something that we can be certain of right now, especially based on this one action alone. It has been proven though that they have emerged as another enemy with this attack. The last thing we need is to spend is to focus all of our attention on the obvious threat while simultaneously ignoring the smaller knife at our back."

"What are suggesting?"

"Caution." Valern sighed, "I understand you turned quite a few Cerberus agents during your brief association with them. Such individuals could prove invaluable into providing insight in what Cerberus' goals are now."

Shepard nodded in understanding Many of the Normandy's Cerberus crewmembers were experts in their field, and with Earth cut off the Alliance would soon start facing a manpower shortage. In fact he could think of quite a few members of his former crew that would be real handy either on the Normandy or working in the War effort. Miranda Lawson or the two brilliant engineers Kenneth Donnelly and Gabriella Daniels came to his mind first and foremost.

"I'll certainly keep an eye out for them or any intel I can dig up." Shepard affirmed.

Sparatus looked around the room, and when no one said anything after a few seconds he stood up. "I believe we've covered all that we can. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get to my office and contact Palaven Command. Shepard, I'll forward you everything I have on Menae as soon as I find it out."

The rest of the room's occupants stood up as well, Udina saying, "I have a number of things I need to put in motion as well, one of them being a draft."

As everyone filed out of the meeting room Valern remained behind, clasping his hands behind his back and looking over the table. They had made history today, deciding that instead of panicking and cowering in the face of the enormous threat of the Reapers, the Humans, Turians, and Salarians would work alongside each other towards the mutual goal that bonded them most: survival.

Together, they would hold the line. They had too.


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