Awakening - Chapter one - Assignment
He had to admit: it was a fantastic view.
Soaked in blood, scattered with the debris of friend and foe alike; fires the size of continents raging below.
But it was still fantastic.
Five months since the war had been won. Five months away. Stranded in an unmarked system in the "local cluster" as the Humans called it. Five months of not knowing. But now, watching the Turian fleet drift across the expanse, battered but not beaten, he allowed himself a small measure of satisfaction. Garrus Vakarian, Second to the Primarch of Palaven, General of the 9th Company of Turian Volunteers, turned from the viewport and walked back towards the briefing room. It had been a shouting match and it still was. Accusations and ripostes; blame and recrimination - and the Reaper corpses not even cooled in the atmosphere. The peace was turning bitter and the infection was beginning to spread. Shepard would've known what to do, the words to put people in their place and remember.
The name caused a pang of regret; uncertainty and sadness. For nearly five months they'd clung to hope. He and Liara and kaidan had watched Tali like hawks; watched as she moved between feverish determination and raging, cold fury. They'd stood with her as she'd limped from the med-bay, Doctor Chakwas holding her weight as she sobbed. They'd sat with her as she wept when the message came through, finally:
John Shepard - MIA, presumed Killed in Action - Search terminated
The poor girl had nearly shattered Specialist Traynor's jaw when that announcement had flickered around the Normandy's PA system. He and Kaidan had sat down with the poor human on her hospital bed and explained that Tali was in a bad place. The Specialist had practically cried an apology to Tali.
But the Quarian girl had just soaked it up, quiet and calm and oh so cold; once the tears were dry, once the anger had burned up anything left to weep with.
The repairs had been done in days after that. They'd limped back to Sol barely a week later. And here they were now. The memorial had not gone well - Tali almost throwing the nameplate aside, before finally, shudderingly, placing it against the wall. She'd damn near stormed from the vessel then, grabbing her kit and disappearing back to the safety of the Quarian fleet.
Which meant he and Kaidan had led the debrief, Liara filling in and James Vega punting the odd helpful comment. No, they had only seen the Commander hit the beam; No they hadn't tried to follow; No they did not know where he was.
It sounded as if half the ad-hoc board of races wanted to try him with treason for abandoning the field. The other wanted to award him so many posthumous awards that the gravestone could never be big enough. And now they were sat here, listening to arguments over rationing, over crew compliments, over reparations.
The Asari delegate had recommended that the humans fund the reconstruction of the Relay in its entirety - Their system, which everyone had rushed to save - surely they should compensate the others. The meager Salarian representatives had sided with the humans, along with damn near everyone else. A couple of Turian generals were grumbling about tradition and duty and loyalty to allies: I.E the Original Council.
Standing to one side of the room, Garrus finally felt his patience snap. He slammed a fist down onto the conference table, startling the assembled officers. Except Kaidan of course, who just smirked from his lounging position near the door.
"Spirits be damned, the lot of you are acting like children. We're gone a few months and you haul us over the coals. Shepard's barely been declared dead for a few weeks and you're letting all this go to crap?" He heaved a sigh and leveled a finger around the room, "Why the hell did we bother, if all of you can barely speak civilly to each other. We still have civilians down there; surviving husks, fires. Not just humans, but wounded, soldiers from every world. And the longer you all spend bickering, the worse it will get. The Relay won't get fixed and who knows what will happen back home. As the humans would say: Suck. It. Up."
He inhaled and realised who he'd been talking to: Generals and Admirals from all the races. Han'Gerrel of the Quarians; Major Kirrahe, a man he counted as a friend; Aria, representing the mercs; Kriklus, one of his fellow Turians. The names whirred by in his head. But he steeled himself - he was a General. He had pushed through London with the best of Hammer, the strike team deployed to Earth. He had seen the enemy and made them blink.
And he'd be damned if he'd be cowed by a bunch of Armchair generals. Even if at least two of them he'd seen in close hand-to-hand on the ground as well. Fine, those two he could accept - the rest be damned.
"Well said, General," The voice came from the door; Garrus managed to control his legs so that he turned slowly. He froze and saluted, the figure of Adrien Victus, the Turian Primarch, framed in the doorway. The man did not look pleased. Behind him Garrus could make out the hulking form of Wrex and the grizzled face of Admiral Hackett. Garrus stood to one side to allow the trio to enter the room. The atmosphere had changed suddenly from one of irritation and recrimination to one of dread. The Primarch viewed the assembled commanders and frowned.
"So, you all decided to, quite of your own initiative, to open old wounds and start another war? Really?" The man sound weary. And that made it worse. Garrus suppressed a smile as he saw the Turian Generals try to avoid their Primarch's gaze. Wrex, looming behind Victus, didn't bother with subtlety. He full on chuckled ominously. Victus continued, "I see some of you were trying to keep the peace - Aria, Kirrahe, my thanks. You are dismissed. General Vakarian, Commander Alenko, you as well. This is going to be a very quick discussion. Wait outside, please."
Garrus saluted, as did Kaidan. They departed, Aria and Kirrahe in tow. in the corridor the four of them exchanged glances. Aria arched an eyebrow at Garrus, "Don't even think of thanking me. Shepard was a pain and frankly too honest for his own good. But I don't want to have survived the biggest genocide in history to get wiped out by a petulant Asari Commander with a grudge, or find a Turian cruiser chasing me around this damn backwater with guns at back back."
Kirrahe chuckled and leaned back, away from Aria's gaze. Still smiling, he spoke, "I don't think the Turian's would be focused on your back, Ms T'Loak."
The Asari narrowed her eyes, but there was the hint of humour in there. But only a hint. Kaidan took that moment to step in, "Understood Aria. Another debt notched up, we'll remember."
The Asari crime Queen eyed the the human Spectre carefully, then shook her head, "No, not so easy Alenko. I owe Shepard a fuck load more. A shame the bastard's dead and can't collect. This ranks low on that scale anyway. Consider it a… freebie. If it means I get back to Omega quicker, so much the better. Now beat it. I need to find a bar. Preferably with no fucking uniforms in it. There's gotta be a club on that dustbowl still standing."
She swivelled and stalked towards the shuttlebay. Garrus exhaled: he'd never realised quite how glad he was that Aria hadn't come after him during his time on Omega. They watched her go, then stood to one side as the briefing room door slid open again. All of the commanders filed out, eyes fixed straight ahead. They looked very cowed. The three men peered back through the door. Primarch Victus waved them back in, but it was Hackett who spoke.
"Gentlemen, we're going to be frank. It's going to hell out there. We predict the relay will be operational within the next four weeks, but it won't be working reliably for god knows how long. That means fleets won't be able to start moving for some damn time. Resources are tight, we have several billion mouths to feed, not all of them with the same bio-chem."
Wrex shifted on a too-small chair and huffed, "The Krogan are stood down and I've got the clans billeted in low-population areas, or close to what's left of the damn Reaper ground forces. Not many, but enough to keep my men busy. Keeps idle minds from picking fights. Salarians, Humans and Turians: Different matter. Asari, well, not too damn many of them and they're not too bad. The rest are going to stick with us - Elcor, Volus, the rest."
Victus nodded slowly, then looked back to Hackett. The Admiral removed his cap and ran a hand through his hair, "Alenko, we need you and the Normandy on Colony ops. No time for much shore leave: you've got two days. Once that Relay is back, we need you out in the Terminus. Major Kirrahe, going by the fragments we're getting from the Comm buoys, I think the STG will be needed near Sur'kesh. Some of the Dalatrass' are getting panicky. For now, we'd be grateful if you could assist Major Alenko with Sol ops, with support to the Terminus afterwards. Pirate gangs are already taking advantage. We have some Batarian volunteers who are willing to act as consultants on this," he saw their faces and cracked a rare smile, "Yeah, surprised us too."
Victus sighed and looked at Garrus, "I need you here General. We've got a lot of turians planetside. They need someone on the ground they can respect. We've had a few fights break out, men and women letting of steam. Lots of people wanting to go home. A bit of resentment building. I need you to nip it in the bud. I have to firefight up here. We're still trying to salvage the Citadel. Keep as many hands busy as possible."
Garrus nodded slowly, "Understood sir… where on... Earth?" not that it really mattered - one barracks was much like another and he didn't really know the planet.
"London… surrounding environs, I believe. Biggest concentration of troops. How you apportion their disposition across the planet I leave to you."
Hackett nodded glumly, "We're still fighting fires in North America, fallout and eezo spread from where ships detonated in the upper atmosphere. Africa is a no-go currently until we can get a good fit on the abandoned Reaper processing facilities - Asia is recovering. Europe's a mess, but mostly standing. Not as built up as the American western belt, more spread, target wise. I'll be your liaison for any support distribution. Handling the dextro-amino food supplies is the major factor."
Garrus goggled, "Admiral, it's been five months. Surely… surely someone's been handling this?"
Victus interrupted, "They were. But they were doing it badly. I just sacked them."
Garrus stared at him: that was tantamount to admitting the Primarch had been in error: Turians who failed… well, it was the responsibility of the officer who put them in that position. Victus shrugged, seeing Garrus' expression, "They were fine soldiers but poor peacemakers. I had told them this was important… and I made clear that their actions reflected on us as a species. I will step down as Primarch should people wish me to. But I will not accept the scorn of men who said to my face that they were capable," He gave faint smile, no real mirth there, "And we didn't have anyone better at the time, truth be told. You use the weapon to hand."
Vakarian nodded slowly, "True. I'd hate to see you being a bad Turian, Primarch."
"I think we could all do with perhaps aspiring less to perfection and maybe to just doing the job in front of us. Wouldn't you agree General?"
"Good. So, London. I need you down there asap. We've got a few liaison figures - local refugee reps, construction teams, medical teams. We know you and Major Alenko have been… searching. But it is time we moved onto the living."
Garrus could feel Kaidan tensing next to him and glanced at the human. He saw the Major set his jaw, then deflate. It had hit them all - the man they'd followed, the man who had united them: he was dead.
Another number on a casualty list numbering in the billions. Just one. And yet somehow, treacherously, it felt a more bitter loss. Garrus steeled himself and nodded, snapping a smart salute.
"By your command, Primarch."
But amid that sadness was a faint glimmer of something new: focus; purpose. They were going to go home. And the nightmare was now over. Yes, there was destruction and danger. But the Reapers were gone. That was a thought he clung to. They were all still alive. Shepard hadn't died in vain. That he had to believe. And it would be good to find old friends again.
Welcome to round two my friends. Or possibly round 0.5 as this is technically a prequel.
This one will likely update a little slower - probably once every two to three days, but I'll try to keep it regular and better edited!
As always, comments on a postcard and thank you for reading - a reminder, all Mass Effect characters and setting are property of EA and Bioware.