A/N: So I seem to have contracted a bad case of the plots. I'll keep posting these as long as my writer's block on Enemy Returned persists, which hopefully won't be for much longer.
The terminator storms of Hagalaz were a perfect hiding place for a Reaper. If Osengi had the ability it would feel satisfied as it cruised along in the whirling hurricanes that chased themselves around the planet. All its plans were coming to fruition. There was but one obstacle that remained - Nazara. Soon the dormant watcher would awaken and when it saw the state of the galaxy the rest of its dark kin couldn't be far behind. Osengi would have taken steps to have the watcher smashed to pieces thousands of years ago but for one very important factor.
Osengi, for all his power, hadn't the first clue where the damnable thing was hiding. And now things were in motion that had to be stopped.
In amongst the myriad links petitioning the aid of the Shadow Broker came a spool of Reaper code, and after analysing it for any hidden sub routines accepted the comm request from Vambrake.
-Hail, Vambrake. Was your mission successful?-
-Of course. The Seven have no idea I substituted myself for their stealth frigate. I can only imagine their surprise should they discover.-
-I suppose it would be akin to a religious experience.-
-Indeed. I have deactivated the indoctrination field at your command. I do think the process would be much easier if I could simply control them.-
-I have high hopes for these people. I believe that when the Reapers return they will make for the finest generals in the galaxy, and for that we cannot have mindless gibbering slaves.-
-And remember, only reveal yourself if not doing so would cause the failure of your mission. Hunt down Nazara's puppet and ascertain the watcher's plans.-
-Good fortune, Vambrake.-
If Osengi had a mouth to smile with, it would have smiled. Everything was falling into place. When the Reapers came the Citadelites would fall, but in falling they would maul the Reapers badly, perhaps even thin their ranks. And when the Reapers had thought the worst was behind them the Seven Great Races and their fleets of Reaper replica warships would fall onto his dark kin and wipe them out forever. And then, finally, Osengi could sleep.
As Cass stepped into the ship she could almost feel the air of anticipation that pervaded the vessel. The interior was designed rather strangely, it occurred to her, almost reminding her of a strange fusion of Geth and Rachni design. As she entered the vessel proper she felt a presence behind her. The scent of warm leather and the silence of his step gave away his identity.
"Sere Krios. Your reputation precedes you."
She turned, catching the back end of a smile sliding off his face as he composed himself.
"Sera Shepard. I could say much the same."
"I must say I was somewhat surprised the Wraith of Illium was assigned to my command."
"Please, sera. The one thing I loathe more than Citadelite raiders is that handle."
"I apologise sere."
He smiled again, cracking his stoic demeanour.
"Do not concern yourself. Just know that if you do it again I will take an as yet unspecified form of revenge at some point."
He winked at her, making her raise an eyebrow. Was that a flirt?
"Walk with me, sere. I understand you suffer from Keprel's Syndrome?"
Thane nodded his assent.
"It will not affect my combat performance, I am in the early stages yet and have a few years left in me."
"There is a cure, is there not?"
"Indeed there is but it is a complex and resource intensive process, which is reflected in the price tag. It is to be my payment for when we capture the Traitor."
Cass frowned. Holding the cure over his head like that didn't sit right with her, but it wasn't her place to question.
"As I understand you have a wife?"
At that Thane looked wistful.
"Not for much longer, I'm afraid."
"I'm sorry. Is something wrong?"
He shook his head.
"We are on different paths, Irikah and I. I still love her, and she loves me, but we both agree it's better this way. My son is upset, but he will understand in time. But we are not here to discuss my problems."
Cass took the hint.
"Several crew have already complained to me that the life support core is drier than Gardner's chicken breast. Do you wish for me to have your things moved?"
"It's quite alright Champion. I am more than capable of carrying a suitcase across a corridor."
They halted at the elevator.
"This is where I bid you goodbye then. It was an honour meeting you, Sere Krios."
"Likewise, Sera Shepard."
As he disappeared into the elevator she turned and came face to chest with a very large Krogan. She looked up as the brutish alien swayed dangerously towards her.
She reflexively took a step back, eyes watering from the stench of Ryncol on the Krogan's breath as a much more welcome member of the species came around to prop the drunk up before he could topple and crush the Champion.
"Hah, Shepard. Been a while."
Her mouth split into a broad grin.
"Wrex! I haven't seen you since that fiasco on Omega."
Wrex put a hand on the other Krogan's chest to halt his latest endeavour, which seemed to be to put her head into his mouth.
"Fiasco? You mean you didn't have fun?"
Cass laughed as she subconsciously checked her old friend over for new injuries. There was a chip out of his crest she didn't remember and he was favouring his right leg, when the last time they had fought together he had been leaning on his left.
"I never said that now did I? Who's your friend?"
"This is Grunt, my youngest son."
To punctuate his introduction he shook the poor thing, making the silver crested Krogan momentarily go cross eyed.
"Whelp needs to learn when enough is enough. He just stumbled in from the bar two hours ago."
Cass chuckled again. She knew Wrex's own booze habits, and if his son was always this comedic when drunk and found himself inebriated as frequently as his father she might have to be more attentive to maintaining the stocks of the ship's bar.
"I think you mentioned the little bastard last time we met. How old is he?"
"Fourteen this month."
The conversation was briefly halted by the object of it emitting a belch that was glorious both in volume and duration.
"He must have been the size of a raisin when we were on Omega then."
Wrex sighed wistfully.
"That was a good fight. Now I need to get this idiot sobered up and put in a call to Bakara before she gets worried and sentences me to a blue quad for a year."
"See you later Wrex."
"Heh heh. Not if I see you first."
Letting the Krogan father and son pass, she watched the rest of the crew filtering in until she came upon the Raloi and Geth. They certainly made an odd pair, the bird-like alien flitting this way and that followed by the steady mechanical plodding of the synthetic.
To her surprise it was the Geth who spoke first when the two of them came to a halt before her.
Long experience dealing with the Geth kicked in and she assumed a ramrod straight pose, her feet together and her hands interlaced behind her back, a position that the Geth platform instantly copied.
To those inexperienced with the synthetic race the blunt word sounded like an insult. Shepard knew that it was merely a statement of fact to the synthetics themselves.
"This platform has been designated Legion-Leftenant to facilitate organic interaction. However we calculate you understand our nature and may find this unnecessary."
"Leftenant Legion will do quite nicely. It is somewhat apropos after all. And you are?"
The Raloi simply looked up at her.
"This is Bannis-Leftenant. She is incapable of vocalising due to a manufacturing error."
Cass turned to regard the Raloi once more. Being mute was a fairly common birth defect among the avian aliens, and among their own kind wasn't much of an issue since their voices were secondary to their chines - a strange fusion of feather and fur that could shift around, changing position and colour. Chines were actually the primary means of Raloi communication - the vocal component was more to give emotional context to their speech, much like body language or Turian subharmonics. When the Raloi flicked a chine message at her, she surprised both the alien and the synthetic by understanding.
"We do have a few roosts available for Raloi crew members. I know you guys don't really do beds."
"Shepard-Champion, we request to know how you learned to understand Raloi chines."
"My mother was a linguist. She taught me a lot growing up."
The faint rustle of keratin heralded Bannis flashing her another message. She nodded her head solemnly at the wise words.
"Parents do indeed make the best teachers. I won't hold you up any longer."
As the strange mismatched pair departed she saw her least favourite Turian approaching with his entourage. Sighing, she moved to intercept.
"Inquisitor, a word. Alone."
At Vakarian's nod his two cronies backed off just out of earshot. He did his best to tower over her, but she had deliberately pulled him into a short side corridor with a low ceiling, making it a somewhat futile endeavour.
"I make no secret of my disdain towards you, just as you to I, but for the sake of the mission we should come to some sort of accord, so here it is. As long as you respect the chain of command, I will consider your counsel and afford you the courtesy worthy of your position. Disobey me, subvert me, go round my back or over my head and I swear to you I will fall upon you and yours like the hammer of God. Do we have an agreement?"
Vakarian nodded curtly and stuck out his hand, which she shook.
"To hunt down and finish the Traitor I would happily go nude for the duration of the mission. I believe I can abide by your conditions. Good day, Champion."
It was only as his coat tails disappeared around the corner did she realise he had just cracked a joke.
The Quarian turned as Garrus entered the vessel's stockpile.
"Inquisitor. How may I help you?"
As second of the ship, one of Garrus's many responsibilities was to oversee the administrative aspect of command, and that meant checking all their resource bunkers were topped off prior to departure.
"I'm after a status report on the stockpile."
The material science of the Seven Great Races was based on various alloy forms derived from ten base elements - carbon, silicon, cobalt, titanium, palladium, platinum, iridium, nickel, tungsten and element zero. Every vessel contained enormous hoppers of these elements, from which a variety of alloys and fuels could be synthesised, which could in turn be assembled into anything the ship might need from a spare rivet to a replacement shuttlecraft. Although the materials could be topped off using remote mining probes it was always better to keep the stockpiles as full as possible.
"Yes sir. All stockpiles are full apart from number five. The last delivery of palladium is on its way as we speak."
"Very good, carry on."
His next port of call was the armoury. The armour tech was working on a rifle half disassembled on the table in front of him, so Garrus decided to leave him be, instead performing his own checks of the armoury. The first observation he made was that the majority of the weapon racks were empty, with only the heavy weapons left untouched. A quick check of the armoury computer revealed the vessel's marine complement had checked out their arms and armour to drill in the ship's hold, which was a perfect opportunity to assess the calibre of the men and women he was to be fighting beside for the duration of the mission.
He arrived on the gantry overlooking the hold, taking in the scene below. A single squad of twelve, half of the vessel's complement of Phalanxiers, had their shields locked together into a wall, absorbing strike after strike from four Krogan who were wailing on the shield wall with fists and hammers. Each of the enormous reptilians was wearing a red tabard over their armour, each one displaying a different offensive term for the Yahg. As Garrus watched, one of the Krogan managed to plow through the centre of the line, the linked kinetic barrier over the shields popping like a soap bubble as the squad leader, a gruff Batarian, hollered at them to fall in.
"What the hell was that! Call yourselves N4s, do you! In my day the bare minimum standard for N4s was to hold a shield wall against a Yahg shock team for three minutes. You idiots were broken in two minutes forty four. Second squad, I hope to hell you can do better."
The other group of Phalanxiers were shouted into a line by their own squad leader, a young Human female with her brown hair coiled into a bun.
"Come on, form a wall! Move it!"
The squad assembled themselves into the phalanx, locking their shields together and bracing behind them, the kinetic barriers joining together with a buzz and the acrid scent of ozone as the four 'Yahg' regrouped at the end of the room, their eyes sweeping over the shield wall and assessing it for weaknesses.
The Phalanxier was the base infantry unit of the armies of the Seven Great Races, tactically versatile and supremely capable. The signature weapon of the Phalanxier was of course the enormous polycrystalline shield they carried with them, usually slung on their back. The shield alone massed around sixty kilograms, but the eezo nodes that generated its powerful kinetic barrier could reduce its weight to a fraction of that for ease of carrying and the armour they wore had powerful servomotors and locking joints to facilitate its use in the field. The Phalanxiers could unsling their shields and slowly advance behind them, firing pistols or wielding their one handed axes as they moved, they could plant them into the ground for a portable cover element while they fired their rifles from relative safety and of course there was the shield wall, enabling the Phalanxiers to assemble themselves into redoubts on the battlefield.
With an almighty bellow the Krogan started to accelerate. The impact of four tonnes of angry alien on the shield wall made a couple of Phalanxiers stagger back a step despite their locking armour, but they recovered before the Krogan could press their advantage. Vakarian couldn't help but be impressed as the Phalanxiers held, his Omnitool's timer ticking upwards first through one minute, then two, then finally past three minutes. After three minutes and twenty seconds the wall buckled and fell in on itself, unable to withstand the Krogan throwing themselves at it.
"Excellent work, Second Squad. Fall in."
Garrus slipped out unnoticed, leaving the Phalanxiers to their training.
Justicar Samara stood straight, her hands clasped behind her back as the Citadel Council reviewed the evidence. She could clearly see the expressions of disbelief and shock on their faces as they processed how completely and utterly they had been hoodwinked by Arterius. It seemed the man the barbarous slavers of the Seven called the Traitor had been a traitor after all, but on the other side. Truly, to have a double agent at the head of their elite Special Tactics and Reconnaissance organisation was the greatest shame they had suffered in a long time.
"This evidence is irrefutable. Saren Arterius is to be named an enemy of the Council. Justicar Samara, you shall take responsibility for his capture and interrogation."
The Yahg councillor added in his two bits.
"It would be better if the matter was handled with subtlety. The easiest solution would be to arrest him as he leaves his vessel."
"I shall assemble a team immediately."
"Saren, get down!"
Reflexively responding, Saren hurled himself to the ground. Not a moment too soon as a trio of railgun bolts peppered the air above his head. That was closer than he usually liked - had the Sevener been using airburst rounds he would most likely be dead.
With a roar that seemed loud enough to shake a planet Kiltagh threw himself at the offending Sevener. Where their infantry railguns may be able to tear most Council soldiers apart in three rounds or less, the colossal Yahg could shrug off the bolts with relative impunity. The Sevener never stood a chance as Kiltagh brought his disruptor hammer down on the Batarian soldier's head, reducing it to a fine pulp.
The last of the Eden Archive stations was proving surprisingly tough to crack. The other four had all been easy in and outs, but had barely anything of value stored away, simply a few Prothean odds and ends neither faction had any use for. The last station was much better defended, as evidenced by the well orchestrated ambush of Sevener Phalanxiers that had claimed four of his six commandos before they were eliminated. He could only count himself lucky there were no Dawn Officers aboard the station. In the close confines of the corridors the heavily armoured juggernaut suits would be nigh unstoppable.
Saren bit back a curse as an all too familiar roar filled the station, making Kiltagh fall back around the corner with a furious growl.
"Phalanxiers ahead with heavy. We're not getting through that corridor."
Saren swore again. While the majority of the Sevener foot-soldiers lugged those ridiculous shields around with them a small number of them forwent the chunk of vehicle grade armour strapped to their arms in favour of a variety of colossal heavy weapons, usually fed from a back mounted magazine or reactor. Judging by the sound Saren had heard the particular Sevener blocking their passage was wielding an autorail, most likely the model known as the Gorgon. Autorails were effectively oversized rail rifles that could output their customary high caliber shells at a rate approaching six hundred rounds a minute. That rate may seem low when compared to Council automatic weapons - even Saren's Avenger rifle had a higher cyclical fire rate - but when each round was a hypersonic smart bomb a full two centimetres across, more akin to direct fire artillery than an infantry weapon, six hundred rounds per minute was overkill. Not even Kiltagh's thick powered armour, reverse engineered from Sevener miracle materials, could withstand that sort of punishment for long.
"Cheer up. It could be one of those damnable man portable plasma casters."
"Not exactly reassuring, Kiltagh. So what did you see?"
The colossal Yahg flexed his fingers briefly before returning them to the haft of his disruptor hammer. Although the Yahg as a whole, and Kiltagh in particular, were more than capable with the enormous grenade rifles and heavy weapons such as the Varrenbite model across Kiltagh's back, they always preferred killing when they were close enough to get covered in their enemy's internal organs. That and their enormous size were pretty much the only things his people shared with the degenerate Krogan savages the Seveners liked to tout.
"A team of four. Three of them have locked shields, the other is behind them with the autorail. They've essentially turned themselves into a gun nest."
The two of them were distracted as a third figure came crashing into the wall beside them.
"Sorry I'm late."
The Asari was in a sorry state. Flecks of violet blood coated her chest plate and there was a chunk of armour blown out of her side, blue flesh visible beneath the tattered remnants of her undersuit and the extensive damage done by what looked like a glancing shot from a Sevener railgun.
"Tela, you're hurt."
Spectre Vasir scowled and batted away Kiltagh's hand as it reached for her mangled side.
"It's fine. Frag shell took a scoop out my armour but it barely scratched me."
Despite her grousing, Tela held still and allowed Kiltagh to run his Omnitool over her, convincing himself the wound was purely superficial. Saren couldn't help but flutter his mandibles in amusement. The colossal Yahg and the petite Asari - the two Spectres would be the least likely candidates for a relationship if anyone who didn't know them was asked. Quite how they made it work was a source of morbid curiosity to Saren, although he had never found the courage to ask. There were very few things that would upset a Yahg quicker than intruding on his private business, especially the kind conducted between the sheets.
"Your armour's breached."
"Stop fussing. It's not like commando skinsuits give any real protection. I only wear it to stop things from bouncing at inconvenient times."
Kiltagh went slightly cross-eyed, the thought of his girlfriend going into combat without a stitch on her body simultaneously triggering two very different instincts within the enormous alien. Before they could get any more sidetracked, Saren clacked his mandibles together.
"If you two are quite done."
"Hmm, what? Ah yes, the Seveners down the hall. Any ideas?"
The three of them were interrupted by a fourth voice calling out from down the offending hallway. Judging by its lilting melodic cant Saren guessed the speaker to be a Quarian male.
"You do realise we can hear you?"
Tela snapped out an acid reply.
"I'll give you a gold star for figuring out how sound works."
Saren was the next to call out.
"I don't suppose I could convince you to put that autorail down and come work this out like a man?"
The Quarian heavy gunner chuckled.
"And that's the first time I've ever been mistaken for a Krogan."
"It was worth a shot."
"I have to say I'm somewhat disappointed. One would think the Great Traitor would put on a better show."
"So you know who I am?"
The Quarian chuckled.
"Naturally. Bringing your head back to Command should net me quite the raise."
"Then why don't you come and take it?"
There was another amused snort.
"Do you take me for one of your mentally stunted clones? You can't goad me away from a superior position."
"Perhaps not. But I can goad you for my own entertainment."
At his nod, Tela flowed all her biotic power into his barrier, boosting it to a degree bordering on the ridiculous. He smartly stepped out of cover, aiming a small pistol-type weapon at the fortified shield wall. As the airbursting rounds from the autorail peppered his barrier with hundreds of rippling impacts, he anxiously watched the meter filling on his weapon. As the device finished its work, Tela's barrier finally collapsed, sending him diving back into cover as a single hit dropped his hardsuit's top of the line Spectre grade shield to barely ten per cent in a single glancing hit.
"Hah! What was that tiny weapon supposed to accomplish, Citadelite?"
Saren let a grimace spread across his face.
"That tiny weapon, Sevener, is what we like to call a target painter."
The Phalanxiers barely had time to react as a quantum torpedo materialised in the corridor behind them. The weapon, fired from Saren's cruiser, the Windclaw, had used a very precisely calibrated mass effect field as well as a lot of other arcane science Saren didn't pretend to understand to manipulate the torpedo at the fundamental level, effectively tricking the universe into moving the weapon from one point to another without having to pass through any of the objects in its path. Of course the torpedo didn't have a warhead inside it, Saren wasn't stupid enough to blow up the station with his team still aboard, but its payload was just as deadly.
The torpedo's casing popped open, the monster within unfolding to its full height, a paltry four foot eleven. However the Bio-Salarians were living (although some would argue that point) validation of the age old cachetism 'Size matters not'. Encumbered by their heavy shields and weapons, the Phalanxiers had barely begun to turn by the time the Bio-Salarian Secutor had stood, shaken off the vestiges of cryo-containment, turned and engaged. Out of glands in the creature's forearms sprayed a fountain of pyroacidic compounds, coating the armoured shells of the Sevener troops and eating away at them as the Secutor reached up to its back, gripping the odd protrusion above its left shoulder and ripping the organic blade out of its own flesh without breaking stride. The curved sword darted out, biting through acid weakened armour and ending four lives before the Phalanxiers knew what hit them.
The Secutor had fulfilled its use. Its acid glands were empty, its skeleton was crumbling under the stresses of its artificially enhanced muscles and it was bleeding out from the wound in its back sustained when it had ripped the reinforced bone blade from where it had grown inside the thing's body. No longer necessary, the cloned assassin reversed its grip on the sword and drove the blade through its own gut, collapsing as the link to the controller aboard the Windclaw was severed. As Saren walked up the now uncontested corridor the Secutor limply raised an arm, reaching for him while making a sad mewling noise that put him in mind of that short period of time between an infant falling and realising it was supposed to start bawling. It was an apt analogy - disconnected from the controller, the Secutor had a mind that befitted its status as a newborn. Such was the fate of the Bio-Salarian's clones - to either go out in a mindless orgy of violence that encompassed their entire two minute lifespans, or to be discarded like a spent thermal clip when their mission was complete. Saren drew his pistol and shot the whimpering infant in the head as he strode past.
"I hate those things."