Something wasn't right. Aethyta seemed even grumpier than usual, which Benezia knew was saying something. Her former bondmate could be... prickly on her best days, but she seemed upset more so than usual.
Better to address the subject now before Aethyta's temper had a chance to fester. "Is there something you want to speak to me about?"
Honestly, she wasn't sure why Aethyta was even here right now. She had yet to actually speak to Benezia and she'd been here for some time now. Pacing and grunting when Benezia had asked her how she was. She at least knew that Aethyta was apparently getting ready for something. She was back in her armor.
Aethyta huffed and finally spun to face her. "Shepard gave the okay for me to go down to Virmire. I'm going to be looking for some evidence on the shit that's been messing with you. Kid's going down too, but she's going with Shepard to investigate the turian."
Really? Benezia could feel her eyebrows rise. "I don't know why you would be upset about that. I would think that would be what you've been wanting."
"I'm not upset about that," Aethyta clarified. "I'm upset that you're hiding something from me and Liara. We're not stupid, Nezzy, we both know you're not telling us something."
Ah, so it would seem her efforts to mislead Aethyta and Liara had failed. Benezia wasn't sure how she felt about that. On the one hand, she had known she could probably not have hoped to keep this secret with her forever. On the other, she had never intended for either of them to suspect anything was wrong. Aside from her failed bonding, that is. Benezia had hoped that Aethyta would believe that it was Benezia herself who had been the main cause behind their separation. Anything else could spell certain danger.
"I'm not sure what you're talking about," she said quickly. Too quickly and Benezia knew that her last ditch effort to hide the fact that she was keeping something had backfired spectacularly.
Aethyta scoffed loudly and angrily. "Cut the crap. We both know that if you were really concerned about hurting your career, you would never have bonded with me. My ideas were already causing shit to fly long before we split. Liara was a problem too. I'm sure you would have heard something about the pureblood shit even if she hadn't."
"I thought I could handle your effect on my platform. Unfortunately your opinions only caused more harm over time," Benezia stubbornly insisted.
"Yeah. Sure. Look, as pissed as I am at you right now, that's not why I'm down here. I would have dragged the kid down with me if I was, cause I think she could use a real explanation as much as I do. You get to keep your damned secrets just a little longer, but trust me, we're talking about this once we get the chance."
For someone who constantly claimed she was not talented at spotting that which wasn't said, Aethyta was surprisingly good at it. Though it wasn't exactly a surprise to Benezia. She had always known Aethyta could be far better at politics if only she was better at keeping her temper and presenting her ideas in a more logical manner. That which was obvious to them both wasn't always so to others. Liara, too, was talented at spotting patterns and missing information. This mission they were all dragged on was becoming more dangerous than she had anticipated. Benezia wasn't sure if she could keep the truth to herself for much longer. The real truth, not the fact that she was hiding something. But she would certainly try. She owed them both that much.
"Why are you here then? I would hope you are not wasting the lieutenant's time pacing in front of my cell," she said evenly.
Benezia was disappointed that Liara had not come down again. She was seeing far less of her daughter than she thought she would. Benezia wasn't sure why she had thought she'd be able to convince Liara to abandon her desire to aid Commander Shepard. She had been failing at convincing Little Wing to do anything as of late. Part of it she knew was her daughter's desire for more independence. It was only natural to rebel against her mother's wishes as she got older. Liara had certainly avoided doing anything Benezia didn't approve of when she was younger. Now though, Benezia was starting to wonder if she had taken her disapproval too far. Perhaps she was being too foolish to think Liara would abandon something she has always been enamored with on her word alone. It was that disapproval that had sown the seeds of the rebellion she and Aethyta were dealing with now. Perhaps if she had not been so hard on Liara before, her daughter would not be so set on putting herself in danger now.
"I want to know what exactly caused this whole shit to begin with. Gotta admit that I don't really know what to look for once I'm down there," Aethyta told her.
Benezia grimaced at the thought of having to recall that horrible time. She honestly would rather forget everything about her time with Saren. However, not only would that be an exercise in futility, it would also be a disrespect of all those she had doomed on her foolhardy mission. "Sovereign was responsible for the change. I am not sure if you will find anything that will explain the phenomenon outside of the ship itself. Though, I thought that I would find something on the ship to explain my acolytes increasingly odd behavior while I was on it. There was nothing."
"Yeah, but what the hell is that thing? A geth invention?"
"Shepard thought the same while on Noveria. The truth is that I am not sure what it is. Saren had already found it by the time I had joined him. He would not tell me where it came from or what it was," Benezia sighed. Saren had told her near nothing of his plans. She was a simple tool to him and nothing more.
"You've been working with the geth, Nezzy. I mean, does it look like anything they build?" Aethyta asked in frustrated confusion. Benezia could relate. It was so, so frustrating to see her acolytes and commandos change as much as they had, and have absolutely no answers of what was behind the change. No answers until Benezia had begun to succumb to the indoctrination herself, and by then, it had been far, far too late to help anyone. Including herself.
"I am... not certain," Benezia admitted with an exhausted huff. "The geth revered it, however. I believe that is why they followed Saren beyond learning that he wanted to help the Reapers return. The geth believe that the Reapers were gods."
"So you think these Reapers, that may not even be real, had something to do with the ship? Great. Looking for evidence that probably doesn't exist," Aethyta snapped as she crossed her arms.
Benezia couldn't help her wince. Aethyta did not believe the Reapers existed. She thought them a myth perpetuated by the geth and Saren. She obviously figured that Benezia believed in them because of the indoctrination, and Benezia would hope that was so; however, Shepard believed in them as well. Perhaps she should not put so much stock in that fact, but the human commander did not learn of them through the indoctrination, but through a Prothean beacon. Benezia was not particularly interested in the Protheans, but what were the odds of them putting information about the Reapers in their beacons for others to find? She did not think those odds spoke well of the chances.
"I am sorry that I cannot give you more. I was merely a pawn to Saren. He did not explain his reasoning or his plans to me in any detail," Benezia said morosely.
"Yeah, I know this shit wasn't your fault, Nezzy. I just wish this hadn't happened to begin with. Which is fucking useless, I know," Aethyta grounded out.
The lieutenant spoke up then, his voice as calm as always. "The commander has told us all to keep our eyes open, if that makes you feel any better, Matriarch."
"Aethyta. Sorry to say it doesn't really," Aethyta huffed. Lt. Alenko's voice was hardly going to calm Aethyta, she knew. Aethyta was near immune to such things, her bondmate was notoriously emotional. "I know you're all concerned about Saren. There's no guarantee that any of you will remember keep watch for any evidence."
"We're all concerned about this. If not for Matriarch Benezia's sake, then Dr. T'Soni's," the lieutenant insisted.
Benezia heard the snort Aethyta gave to Lieutenant Alenko's words. To be honest, she wasn't sure why a ship of humans would be concerned for her well being either. She had been responsible for the attack on Eden Prime along with Saren. In their eyes, as well her own, they had to believe she was a war criminal. Whether the cared about what her daughter thought or not.
"Yeah, and I'm guessing Williams is just jumping to help us out," Aethyta snapped back sarcastically.
Lt. Alenko frowned in concern. "Has she been giving you any problems? Commander Shepard or I can talk to her."
Her ex-bondmate only laughed at the very thought of Chief Williams bothering her. Benezia knew that Aethyta was never going to admit that anyone could even so much as hurt her feelings. She had no doubt that not a single human could cause Aethyta any desire to go to Commander Shepard for help. She didn't care nearly enough about what the humans thought of her for that to happen. "Alenko, trust me, one human giving me the stink eye across the mess hall isn't going to make me cry. Besides, she's the only one that seems to have any brains in her head."
"Chief Williams does care about family, Matriarch," the lieutenant insisted. "She cares about helping Dr. T'Soni more than she'll admit."
"How sweet of her," she laughed sardonically in response. "And it's Aethyta. Alenko, I've been alive too long to care about formal titles and shit."
Benezia rolled her eyes. She had never been successful at attempting to convince Aethyta that customs were important. Like it or not, becoming a Matriarch was critical for their culture and was a heavy responsibility at times. She certainly knew that. What she could never figure out was whether Aethyta really knew that. Yes, her former bondmate had made a valiant effort in getting her ideas into the Forum, but after she failed, Aethyta seemed much more happy in a bar of all things rather than returning to spying or doing something productive like writing. Though Benezia would not be overly surprised if her explosive ex-bondmate did not have the patience for writing.
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Benezia interrupted before Aethyta could move on to insulting the man, if not on purpose then certainly inadvertently, "for anything you can do to help us. We are appreciative of anything that you can do."
Better to try to interject before Aethyta could ruin any goodwill the man had towards them. She was constantly speaking of needing all the help she could get, but her former bondmate had a foolish habit of pushing people away with her crass attitude. Besides, Lieutenant Alenko seemed to be a good man, Benezia saw no reason to allow Aethyta to bully him overmuch.
"Yeah, yeah," Aethyta waved off with an eye roll, "I'll thank you when we actually get something, Alenko."
"That is all I can tell you, Aethyta. I am sure you and the lieutenant have much to prepare," Benezia reminded her. She certainly didn't think Aethyta needed to waste her time looking for evidence to exonerate her, but she didn't particularly want to encourage Aethyta's habits of instigating others.
"Yeah," she agreed, but then snapped suddenly. "Hey, Shepard was nice enough to give you a limited omni-tool. The kid put some Dilinaga's crap on it. I told her you seem to like her ramblings. I wanted her to give it to you herself. How many chances does she get to say 'I told you so,' about her job? She didn't seem too eager to do that though. Guess she feels bad about something. Wasn't too excited about talking to you again. Kid's really twitchy about talking to people she has problems with. Goddess knows you both have shit to go through," she snorted irritably.
Benezia was not certain what Aethyta was talking about. However, she was almost sure that Aethyta had caught on to her disagreement with Liara. Benezia knew that they could both read each other easily to begin with and it was typically easy to know what Liara was thinking. Unfortunately, her daughter had a tendency to reveal what she was feeling when she was upset. Something that she was going to need to learn to hide if she knew what was good for her.
"Yes, there is something I have been meaning to speak with her about," Benezia conceded. "Something that would be easier to achieve if I was not a danger to others in my present state."
"No, it would be easier if the kid came down here herself," Aethyta scoffed. More than likely believing that Liara was being far too timid. "I told you that you coddled her too much. I'm going to have to give her a good kick in the rear, Nezzy. Don't get how the kid doesn't flinch at fighting rachni, geth and whatever shit she comes across with Shepard but she's scared to come down here to talk to you."
Benezia couldn't help but chuckle at the thought. Maybe, if Aethyta had the opportunity to raise Liara with her, Liara would be more likely to respond well to such tactics. As it was, Liara was far more likely to push back against such measures. Especially given her new found confidence and temper. No, Benezia had long since tried to cure Liara of her shyness on her own, and her daughter had never responded well to such efforts. The girl was terribly timid when it came to dealing with people.
"Well, I wish you good luck with that. Despite what you believe, I have tried on multiple occasions to get Liara out of her shell. Unfortunately this appears to be a personality quirk of her own. Combined with her own brand of stubbornness and my efforts to teach her to be more sociable have been unsuccessful," Benezia said with a small measure of humor. Before this, and their argument, Liara had always been very agreeable to deal with. Eager to please her mother, no doubt, because Benezia had not always managed to find as much time as she should have for her daughter. Any time the two spent together during her busier political years were precious. Liara had never responded well to the speech classes, or sending her to camps, or even putting her in team sports. Oh, that last one had been a disaster. Liara was simply not coordinated enough for sports, and Benezia had lamented that she had probably made her poor daughter's social skills even worse during that particular year.
"Yeah, probably because you've been trying to groom her to jump right in with the fucking Matriarchy. Shit, Nezzy, you know ruthless they can get. The kid isn't stupid, she can probably pick up on that crap. I just want her to be able to actually talk to the people that matter. Kid's not made for politics, Nezzy. Why are you so focused on it?" Aethyta asked insistently and with an odd emotional determination.
Benezia did not know why Aethyta was so insistent that Liara not even try politics. Certainly, her bondmate had been run out of the Forum, however that was more due to Benezia's efforts than anything else. Goddess, Benezia had ruthlessly shut down Aethyta's political career, but before that particular incident she had not done badly. If only she would separate her own bad experiences and look at this issue logically. Liara had the talents, all she needed now was the attitude.
"Why do you believe she cannot succeed? Liara is certainly intelligent enough to navigate her way through politics if she would only focus her attention on what is happening now or what is going to happen in the future instead of the past," Benezia insisted herself. Goddess, if only the Protheans would fade from her mind, if only she would grow out of her childish fascination.
"I know the kid is smart. I told you that any kid of yours would be brilliant. And she is, Nezzy. Yeah, I don't get the Prothean thing, but it's what she wants to do and she's pretty damn good at it. She's not good at politics and she knows it. You promised me she'd be able to do what she wanted to do with her life. Everyone deserves that, Liara most of all. She's too damn bright to be stuffed into a job that she's going to hate for the rest of her damn life. You promised that you let her follow her own path. You're doing a pretty half-assed job at that," Aethyta snapped angrily.
"That is an easy thing to say. It is not so easy while I watch as my only daughter seems to be wasting her potential to be something far greater than she is right now," Benezia shot back. Far greater than an underappreciated archaeologist. Scorned at every turn for her theories and any evidence she uncovered. Why Liara insisted on staying with a field that did not appreciate her intelligence in any way was beyond her. Benezia could easily set the stage for her daughter. The early decades could be spent following Benezia's own platform, gaining reputation and connections with others before branching out on her own. By the time that happened, Liara should have enough of a solid base to break past any stigma that could possibly be held against her.
"And she's only a hundred and six, Nezzy!" Aethyta's shout shattering her idle planning. "Shit, what exactly are you expecting from her?"
"Are you to tell me that you have never expected more from your own daughters, Aethyta?" Benezia asked sharply. She knew that Aethyta had. She had never wanted for her daughters the hard life that she had lived as a maiden. Benezia knew of her bondmate's tragic background, and how much Aethyta hated it. She had made certain that her daughters would aspire to something far greater than Aethyta herself had ever dreamed of when she had been young. "You have always been of the mind that our people's daughters should be doing far more than dancing in bars or becoming mercenaries."
"And last time I checked getting a doctorate and becoming an archaeologist is definitely not dancing in a damn bar or getting shot at over drugs and crap," Aethyta threw her arms up in frustration. "Liara is doing far more with her life than I was doing at her age, so I'm pretty damn happy with her choices aside from the whole chasing a rogue Spectre across the galaxy with her girlfriend and shit."
"Girlfriend?" Lt. Alenko asked in surprised confusion.
"Alenko, not now. Nezzy, you need to think long and hard about what's actually important here. Namely surviving this crap so you can come to your damn senses about what would actually make the kid happy," her bondmate growled.
"And I suppose I should ignore that studying the Protheans is more dangerous than it appears on the surface. I am not begrudging her choice of study purely for my own desires, Aethyta," Benezia reminded her. It seemed that Aethyta had forgotten the fact that studying the Protheans could prove to be far more dangerous than it than it was first apparent. There were many in this galaxy that would do anything to keep the secrets of the extinct race in control of their own forces and motivations. "I happen to care about what makes our daughter happy." And what would make her happier would be gaining employment in a meaningful career that took her ideas and vast intelligence seriously. "Why do you think I cultivated her interest in them in the first place? Do you think Liara funded her own tuition or any digs the university would not sponsor?"
Aethyta had grown very still at her words, and Benezia knew that she had said too much. Goddess, Aethyta was never going to leave this be now. She did not respond well to threats in general, let alone towards anyone she cared about, especially her daughters. "What are you talking about? Has someone threatened the kid? Shit, why the fuck haven't you said anything?"
Benezia could never understand just what it was about Aethyta that always caused her to reveal more than she wanted to on just about anything. The last thing that Liara needed was for Aethyta to go on a war path about a very sensitive topic. She had been doing just fine preventing her daughter from stumbling on that which she shouldn't. Benezia had been trying very hard indeed to convince Liara to abandon her obsession of her own accord. It would be the safest course of action.
"It is nothing that you need to concern yourself with. I have it under control," Benezia said primly.
"Yeah, Nezzy. Just look at where your latest scheme has gotten you. You're not exactly in control of anything at the moment, least of all the kid. Do I have to knock some heads together for you?"
The very thought caused an old feeling of panic to stir in her chest. Goddess, that could easily spell disaster for Liara by drawing attention to her that she did not previously have. "Absolutely not. That is the last thing that would help Liara."
"'Help Liara?'" Aethyta repeated through a tightened jaw, her eyes narrowed in anger. "Just what exactly are you talking about, Nezzy? Fuck, you're talking like the kid's gonna get offed or something. Is this about the Matriarchy? What the hell have they been telling you? I mean it, spill or I'll get Aellis and the rest on call now and get to the bottom of this shit."
Yes, it certainly was irritating how she could not control herself as she normally would around her former bondmate. Something that Aethyta previously took advantage of at every opportunity while they were still together. An advantage that ultimately destroyed them. However, this was not about the more pleasant aspects of their bonding. Now she was going to have to give Aethyta some explanation or risk her doing something especially rash.
"No one has ever made any threats explicitly. Aethyta, you know the price for divulging any secrets that the Matriarchy considers of the utmost importance. I was very fortunate that they did not take any action against you the last time I let something slip and I am certain they are regretting that choice now with your recent actions. Liara's field of study is a risk that the others are aware of," she explained, pinching the bridge of her nose. Goddess, she could feel a headache coming on, one that had nothing to do with the ever present other in her mind.
"Wait a second, they didn't know that I knew about that, Nezzy. Tevos about had a stroke when I told her I knew," Aethyta said with a frown.
Benezia pursed her lips. If only they had not known, indeed. "The councilor is not always privy to what we know."
"Then that means that you told them I knew. Why the hell did you do that?" Aethyta demanded angrily.
"And risk that you may speak of it during a meet? Aethyta, I was never supposed to have let you know of it. I had to do damage control and convince the others that you could be trusted with the information and that you were not as impulsive as they thought. It was not an easy thing and I would not be surprised if they would not let me get away with it a second time. I know that they others are watching Liara and her career. Perhaps not too closely, but if they believe that I may have told her too much, then they will take action this time. Especially in the light of your blackmail." Benezia had to repress a shudder at the thought. No, there were those in the Forum who would not hesitate this time in protecting secrets they considered critical to the asari way of life.
"Nothing's ever fucking easy is it? So, the plan was to pester her until she gave up on the Protheans? Nezzy, that's a terrible plan," Aethyta huffed.
The lieutenant had been frowning as he watched their back and forth this entire time, but he seemed to find his voice now. "I'm starting to feel like I'm out of the loop on something. Is this something the commander needs to be let in on?"
"Mind your own fucking business, Alenko."
They had snapped at him in unison and Benezia tried not to feel guilty about it. The lieutenant thought he was trying to help, he did not realize that he would only harm Liara rather than help her if he said anything about this to anyone. Goddess, they needed to convince him to keep this topic to himself.
"It sounds to me like Dr. T'Soni is in some kind of trouble, I'd think she'd probably like to know about it," Alenko said with a raised brow. Goddess, that was the last thing Liara needed. Her daughter has been finding her stubborn and rebellious streak. Benezia certainly did not want her daughter knowing about this matter with those traits currently dominating her thinking at the moment. It would only be Benezia's continued misfortune if Liara ended up insisting that she needed to find the people watching her and dealing with them immediately. Oh, Benezia shuddered at the very idea.
"Figures you're here for the whole damn conversation but manage to ignore all the important bits. Human, I would think you would get that sometimes the government can be a fucking problem. Humans aren't exactly innocent in conspiracies and shit. The kid does not need to know about this, you hear me? She'd too fucking idealistic to see things like they really are," Aethyta was encroaching into the lieutenant's space and Benezia could not find the desire to reprimand her. They certainly agreed on this matter. Liara was not to know that she was being watched, even casually. "She'd probably think she could reason with the Matriarchy or worse, find out exactly why they're watching her. That would be a damn disaster."
"Well, at least we're able to agree on that," Benezia drawled.
Aethyta was rubbing her crest. "Shit. Liara was just freaking out that we're apparently unable to keep our business to ourselves."
"Yes, it seems you cause me to forget myself with your irritating behavior."
"Me?" Aethyta exploded, and Benezia suddenly realized that this was to be an actual argument between them, rather than what had been a debate. Aethyta was glaring at her in a near rage, and Benezia had realized too late that this vague threat against Liara's wellbeing was too much for her. Her overprotective streak had been completely triggered and it was going to be quite the feat to convince Aethyta that no action needed to be taken. "What about you? Goddess, do you think it's easy having to deal with your damn secrets? They're a pain the ass. This shit wouldn't take me by surprise if you would let me know about it, Nezzy! Is it that hard to think that maybe you should let me on that the kid could have a damn target painted on her back?"
"She is not currently in danger, Aethyta," she tried to soothe with a gentle voice. No, it would be for the best to curb back her own irritation with Aethyta. There was no shame in being worried for their daughter and Benezia, in a way, admired it; however she needed to mitigate Aethyta's reaction now. "You and Lieutenant Alenko need to calm down. I am simply being careful. As you well know, our people are in the habit of making decisions years in advance. I have made this one just in case something should happen. It has not yet, and I still have time to change Liara's mind."
"Assuming that you can. Nezzy, we need to go after the problem directly. Hoping that the kid can read your damn mind is stupid. Why waste all that time if we can take care of the problem today?" Aethyta predictably asked.
"And you are assuming that some of the other Matriarchs are capable of being reasonable. You know as well as I do that there are those that will not see things as we do," Benezia said as certain faces flashed within her mind. They would be the same faces who had called Aethyta's trustworthiness into question those many years ago.
"Yeah, fucking Aellis. Give me a chance to fuck with her, Nezzy, I can do it," Aethyta said eagerly, fists clenching.
"You sound more eager to mess with her than you should be. Have you started something with her? What exactly did you say to the others when you blackmailed them on my behalf?"
Aethyta looked guilty at her questioning. Something that did nothing to put her at ease at all whatsoever.
"Aethyta, what have you done?"
"Look, I didn't say anything to the others about the kid. I might have hinted to Tevos that I might be willing to let Liara in on what we know, though," Aethyta said with a wince.
This was a disaster. The councilor had no reason not to tell the others of what Aethyta had implied. After all, she had never told Tevos of what the other Matriarchs had told her a century ago. The others saw no reason to inform her either. This is exactly what they had feared, wasn't it? That Aethyta could not be trusted with the information and that she would be willing to divulge it to someone. And that someone might their idealistic, sheltered and innocent daughter. She could practically feel the blood drain from her face at the thought of the consequences.
However, the sight of Benezia's anger and horror seemed to spur on Aethyta's own temper, erasing her previous guilt. "This is what I fucking mean about all the damn secrets, Nezzy! How the hell am I supposed to know what I can and can't say if you don't throw me a damn hint at least?"
"I told you never to speak of it over one hundred years ago!" Benezia found herself shouting. When was the last time that had happened? "And now we must hope that the councilor has far more sense than you seem to possess!"
"Yeah, this is sounding more and more like something Commander Shepard should know," Lt. Alenko said firmly. "I know you both probably want to take care of this yourselves, but Shepard has Spectre status. She might be able to help."
Aethyta let out a large, angry breath. "The fucking Matriarchy doesn't give a shit about Spectres, Alenko. Especially when Tevos can and has let out a Spectre or two to deal with one that has gotten a little too nosy for their own good."
"We'll talk about it with her once we're done on Virmire," Alenko pressed. "Dr. T'Soni is part of our crew. Like it or not, we don't want anything to happen to her either."
Disaster was the only word for it. Involving any humans would only make things far worse. Benezia was not going to speak of this any further, whether Shepard or Aethyta wanted her to or not. Liara could not afford any more slips of the tongue.