Chapter Twenty - One Last Bit
Tilican Towers, Bachjret Ward, Citadel
April 9, 2183
The shadow of Tilican Towers draped over the front of the tower’s entrance. It seemed as if at least half of C-SECs officers were surrounding the tower, keeping back the onlooking crowds as other officers escorted out the few surviving mercenaries left from Fist’s invasion of the tower, as well as the most injured of the residents.
Ignoring all of the C-SEC checkpoints and shouting reporters behind the cordon, Riley led her new team towards a waiting shuttle. Tali hung close to both Riley and Garrus, unable to hide her nervousness over having so many cameras pointed at her. She wished either Ashley or Kaidan were there to add a few extra bodies to her shields, but they had decided to stay behind and help C-SEC finish clearing the tower.
There was no way that she was going to try and hide behind Wrex. She had the feeling he’d push her out in front of him just for a chuckle.
“Commander Shepard.” A female voice managed to shout over the crowd, catching Riley’s ear.
Pausing, Riley turned to find a tall asari standing a few feet away behind the C-SEC police line. She was dressed in obviously expensive clothes, but they were understated and stood out far less than some of the cheaper outfits of others in the crowd. Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed that Garrus had straightened. He recognized the asari, Riley realized.
“You know her?” Riley asked, leaning over to speak with the turian.
“I know of her.” Garrus kept shifting his gaze between Riley and the asari, as if he was flustered to even have to explain who she was. He managed regardless. “That's Consort Sha'ira. She's well known on the Presidium. I'd see what she wants if I were you.”
Riley studied him for a moment, weighing her decision before nodding and turning to walk over to Sha’ira.
“Consort.” Riley greeted her, hoping she was using an appropriate honorific. None of her nervousness played out on her face though.
“Thank you, Commander,” Sha’ira said, gratefulness in her voice. She relaxed ever so slightly. “Thank you for speaking to me.”
“Was there something that you needed?” No matter how important this Sha’ira was, Riley didn’t really have the time to hang around and wait for her.
“I wish to thank you, Commander.” Sha’ira smiled, a dangerously welcoming thing that made Riley feel both at ease and ready to fight for her life. This was someone who knew how to wield power, and that made her even warier that she somehow knew her name. “You helped to save the lives of two ponies close to me.”
“Vinyl Scratch and her wife.” She didn’t even have to guess. There had been no other ponies that she had seen in the tower.
“Yes.” Sha’ira nodded, pleased that she wouldn’t have to explain anything. She clasped her hands at her waist, her shoulders held high and proud. “Octavia has worked for me for some time, and I would like to think that we're friends. She called me about this as soon as her omni-tool was returned.”
“Ah.” Riley couldn’t think of anything else to say, instead choosing to wait for Sha’ira to explain.
Sha'ira studied Riley for a moment, looking her over. It made Riley shift uncomfortably on her feet, not quite sure how to take that extended look.
“I wish to give you a gift, Commander.” Sha’ira finally said, thankfully meeting Riley’s eyes with her own.
“I was just doing my job.” Holding up a hand, Riley shook her head. “No gifts are necessary.”
“It's a gift of words, Commander.” Laughing softly, Sha’ira took a step forward. It was a sultry move, one only a predator or a seductress could pull off smoothly.
Riley met Sha'ira's gaze for a moment, before nodding. “Alright.”
“I wish to give you an affirmation of who you are, and who you will become.” Sha’ira’s voice was like silk, slipping through Riley’s mind. Something deep inside of her rang out, the words striking true. “I see the sadness behind your eyes, and it tells a story that makes me want to weep. Such pain and loss, but it drives you, makes you strong. You never hide your strength, and it serves you well, terrifies your foes. Few dare to stand against you. This may be who you are, but it is not who you will become. It only forms the basis for your future greatness. Remember these words when doubt descends, Commander.”
Riley was silent, taking the words in. It felt like her feet were held to the floor and she struggled to remember how to breathe, how to move, before finally she gave a thankful nod of her head.
“T-Thank you, Consort.” Her voice cracked for an instant, but she didn’t blush. How could she be embarrassed before someone who had seemingly glanced at her depths and been unafraid?
“No. Thank you, Commander.” Sha’ira broke her gaze from Riley’s, ending the moment. Instead, she looked up at the tower, smiling softly. “Those two have had difficult lives. They have many years ahead of them, and you have made it possible for them to spend them together.”
Riley nodded again, starting to step away. “Please, excuse me. I have to be going.”
“Thus is the life of a Spectre.” Sha’ira did not seem at all offended by Riley’s bowing out. “One more thing before you go, Commander.”
Riley paused mid-step.
“I believe that this would be worth more in your hands than mine.” Holding out her right hand, Sha’ira revealed that she had been holding a small trinket. She offered it out for Riley to take.
“What is it?” Riley eyed the trinket, wondering why it glinted so strangely in the light of the nebula. She took it, turning it over in her hand.
“A small mystery. I have never learned its use or purpose, but I sense that it is time for me to pass it on.”
Riley nodded a final thanks, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say to the Consort. Stepping backwards for a few feet, she finally turned on her heel and continued on towards the C-SEC shuttle, her crew following after her.
Private Council Chambers, Presidium Tower, Citadel
Tela met Riley outside of the Council chambers, and together with Tali, they entered.
The private Council chambers were a place that few people had ever set their eyes on. No cameras had ever been allowed inside, nor had any recordings ever escaped from within it. When the asari and the salarians had first founded the Council, they knew that the Councilors would need a space to speak privately and in comfort. To that end, the private chambers had been built beneath main chambers. A well-maintained garden, it was one of the few places that the Councilors could find peace on the Citadel.
Following the small, rocky path, Riley found the three Councilors waiting for them near a small bubbling pond filled with slow moving fish.
“Spectres.” Septum was the first to notice them, turning to speak with them. “You certainly have been busy.”
“Yes, well, people do just love to get in our ways.” Tela drawled, shifting her weight onto one foot and crossing her arms. “Foolish of them.”
“Yes…” Septimus did not sound anywhere near as enthused about violence as Tela did. “I hope that all the trouble you've caused was worth it.”
“I would say so.” Tela glanced at Riley, shifting her weight onto her other leg and rested a hand on her opposite hip. She smiled, looking back at the Council. “I can't speak for what Spectre Shepard has uncovered, but I found that the Shadow Broker was behind the assassination order on Spectre Kyrik.”
All three Councilor's eyes widened at that.
“He dares?” Her voice was ice, her eyes narrow, fingers twitching at the thought of the broker making such an ambitious move against the Council.
“So it would seem.” Tela’s face set into a frown, grim.
“I know that you have heavily relied on the Shadow Broker's information on your missions, and I can only imagine that this comes as a surprise.” Valern’s large eyes studied Tela, taking careful note of her reaction to his words. It was an entirely salarian gesture, and it tended to make other races feel nervous under such intense scrutiny.
“It's one betrayal that I'm going to make the Broker regret.” Tela growled, but she didn’t react in a negative way to Valern’s look.
“It looks like you've decided your next mission, Vasir.” Septimus nodded, pleased. “Please keep us apprised.”
“As always, Councilors.” After a respectful bow, Tela turned and left, stepping around Tali.
As soon as she was gone, the Councilors turned to Riley and Tali.
“Shepard. I thought we asked you to bring in Fist?” Septimus’ mandibles flare in a frown. He crossed his arms and tilted his head, eying her carefully. “Why am I hearing that he's listed among the casualties?”
“Fist was nothing but a pawn.” Gesturing over her shoulder at Tali, Riley grinned. “I found something better.”
Looking back at Tali, Riley motioned for her to come forward and put an arm around the quarian’s shoulder. “This is Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. Tell them what you told me, Tali.”
Tali gulped nervously, looking at the Councillors as she shuffled nervously on her feet, wringing her hands together. “I-I recovered a recording from a g-geth platform.”
At Tali’s proclamation, Valern looked like he wanted to inquire about it and pick Tali’s brain, but Tevos held up a hand to stop him.
“Later, Valern,” she said, shooting him a look.
He nodded, biting his tongue.
“Continue, Tali’Zorah,” Tevos said, turning back to Riley and the quarian.
“Tell them what you found, Tali.” Riley urged the quarian to continue on.
“Right. Yes.” Tali nodded to herself, gathering her courage before turning to look at the Councilors. For a moment, she wondered what it would feel like to kill the three of them with her shotgun. The Council was the source of so much of her people’s suffering, and to finally end them would see her name listed among the heroes of her people.
And it would also likely start a war that would end her people just as quickly. Right. Focus on other things Tali. Don’t daydream in front of the heads of all galactic government.
“During my travels, I began hearing reports of geth moving through space. Since they drove my people into exile, the geth have never ventured beyond the Veil. I was curious. I managed to track a patrol of geth to an uncharted world, and I waited for one to become separated from its unit. I disabled it and removed its memory core.”
“Impossible!” Valern shook his head, his eyes wider than normal in protest at what he was hearing. “The geth fry their memory cores when they are disabled. Its a defense mechanism that none of our agents have been able to get around.”
Instead of arguing with her fellow Councilor, Tevos instead asked, “How did you manage to preserve the memory core?”
“My people created the geth.” When she was growing up, her father had made sure that she had read every manual on the geth that their ancestors had brought with them so long ago. He had made equally sure that she kept up to date on every new report on the geth that trickled in from the exploration teams. “If you're quick, careful, and lucky, small caches of data can sometimes be saved. Most of the core was wiped clean, but I salvaged something from its audio banks.”
Tali opened her omni-tool and played the recording she managed to save.
“Eden Prime was a major victory! The beacon has brought us one step closer to finding the Conduit.” Saren’s voice came through loud and clear through Tali’s upgraded omni-tool speakers. It was instantly recognizable to all three of the Councilors.
“And one step closer to the return of the Reapers.” The second voice began to speak, feminine and stately.
Tevos paled instantly at the sound of the woman’s voice, staring at the omni-tool with terrible recognition. When she spoke, her voice was nearly a whisper. “I recognize the other voice.”
She turned to look at Valern, and then Sparatus before hanging her head, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “That was Matriarch Benezia.”
Tevos sighed, straightening. She took a breath before she began to explain. “She’s a High Priestess of the Athame Doctrine. For her to be working with Saren... it will be a major blow to our society. She is highly respected and millions look up to her. If she is truly working with Saren, she will be a formidable enemy.”
“I'm more interested in these Reapers.” Valern spoke, completely ignoring Tevos’ worry. “What do we know about them?”
“Only what I extracted from the geth's memory core.” Which wasn’t much. Still, it was enough to make her wonder just what had gone wrong with the geth’s programming in the three hundred years since their creation. “The Reapers were an ancient race of machines that wiped out the Protheans, and then they vanished.”
“The geth believe the Reapers are gods, and Saren is their prophet for their return.” Riley was careful not to reveal everything that she had seen in the beacon. There was absolutely no reason to let the Council believe she might be crazy. For all she knew, she might be. “Saren believes that the Conduit is the key to bringing them back, or at least he's made the geth believe that. Whatever his real goals are, only Saren knows.”
“Do we even know what this Conduit is?” Valern asked, tilting his head.
“It doesn’t appear on any database that I know about.” Riley shrugged. “It doesn’t matter anyway. Saren wants to use it for some purpose. He's shown that he is an enemy to Citadel space. That's bad enough.”
“Listen to what you're saying!” Septimus growled deep in his throat, looking back at the other two Councilors, hoping that they saw just how insane all of that sounded. “Saren wants to bring back the machines that wiped out all life in the galaxy? Impossible. It has to be. Where did these Reapers go? Why did they vanish? How come we've found no trace of their existence? If they were real, we'd have found something.”
“I don't have the answers, and it doesn't really matter.” Riley coasted right on past all of Septimus’ issues. He didn’t have to believe, as long as he supported stopping Saren. “Whether the Reapers exist or not isn't the issue. Saren is using them to rally the geth to his cause.”
Riley didn't mention that she had seen the Reapers. Riley didn’t mention that she had seen the destruction of the galaxy. Riley didn’t say that she believed.
“Saren is a rogue agent on the run for his life.” Thankfully, Septimus moved right on past the issue. He agreed, and that’s all that mattered. “He no longer has the rights or the resources of the Spectres. We've stripped him of that position. Our fleets cannot track down a single man.”
“You, however, can, Commander.” Tevos nodded to Riley. “He is a fugitive from justice, and you are authorized to use any means necessary to find and apprehend him.”
“I will find him.” Grinning, Riley nodded back, confident in her own abilities.
“Then this meeting of the Council is adjourned.” Tevos spoke.
Riley bowed, leaving the Councilors. Tali lingered for a moment before following after her.
Together, the two of them stepped out of the Council Chambers. Wrex and Garrus were waiting for them just outside, neither of them speaking to the other. They both were eying an Aide, obviously from the human embassy, a young woman standing across from the two of them. She shuffled her feet nervously, not at all doing well with the attention.
Riley couldn’t help but think that she obviously hadn’t been working at the embassy very long, to be so unsettled by just a krogan and turian who hadn’t even said a word.
It never even occurred to her that the Aide was nervous to meet her.
“Commander Shepard,” the woman said, stepping forward, wringing her hands together nervously. “Ambassador Udina would like to speak to you right away.”
“Of course.” Riley nodded, understanding.
Riley turned to look at Garrus, Wrex, and Tali. They straightened under her attention. “The three of you should get everything in order. We’re going to leave as soon as I get all of the details squared away.”
“Got it, Shepard.” Opening his omni-tool, he sent her his apartment’s address. “We can meet at my place.”
“Sounds like a plan, then.” Riley smiled at Garrus. “You’ve just volunteered yourself to be in charge, Vakarian.”
Garrus glanced at Wrex, who just grinned as widely as possible. Before he could protest what he had just offered, he found that Riley was already following after the Aide.
The trip to the Alliance Embassy was quick, taking only a few minutes. They didn’t bother to take a shuttle, instead walking the paltry five minutes from the bottom of the Presidium tower to the entrance of the Embassy. From there, the Aide peeled away and left Riley to head into the office on her own.
Riley entered Udina’s office without pausing to knock. She already knew that they were waiting for her. To make him wait any longer would be rude.
The door slid open and she found Udina and Anderson speaking quietly near the large desk the looked out towards the view of the Presidium lake. They both stopped talking, straightening up when they noticed her.
“I’ve got big news for you, Shepard.” Udina looked pleased in his own way. Riley had known him long enough to see that the perpetual frown on his face could be considered by some stretch of the imagination a smile. “Captain Anderson is stepping down as commanding officer of the Normandy. The ship is yours now, by order of Admiral Hackett.”
“She’s quick and quiet, and you’ve already met the crew.” Anderson spoke up before Riley could even think to protest, cutting off any problems she might bring up. “She’s the perfect ship for a Spectre. Treat her well, and she’ll do the same for you.”
“I…” Riley blinked, stunned. This wasn’t what she had been expecting when the Aide had told her that Udina wanted to speak to her. This wasn’t what she had expected when she had been given her orders back on Equestria. “I will, Captain.”
“I know you will, Commander.” Anderson smiled, a look with a dozen different meanings that Riley struggled to decipher, before it all too quickly disappeared from his face.
Riley stared at him for a moment, unsure of what to say or do, before she finally made up her mind. “I want the truth, sir. Why are you stepping down?”
“You need your own ship, and the Normandy is the best that we have.” It was a simple explanation, but it made sense, no matter how wrong it sounded to Riley. “A Spectre can’t answer to anyone but the Council, and, well, I’ve been thinking about moving on with my career.”
“Come clean with me, Anderson.” Squinting her eyes, Riley frowned and tilted her head. “You owe me that much.”
Anderson sighed, but he doesn’t disagree with her. It took him a moment, but he finally decided to elaborate. “I was in your shoes twenty years ago, Riley. They were considering me for recruitment into the Spectres.”
“You’ve… never mentioned that.” He hadn’t. In all the years that he had known her, Riley had only ever thought he was just the System Alliance’s most well decorated N7 Operative. She had no idea that he could have been more. He could have been in her shoes, but something had stopped him.
“What was I supposed to say? ‘I could’ve been a Spectre but I blew it?’ I failed, and it’s not something I’m particularly proud of.” Anderson shrugged, glancing down at the floor. It was one of the first times that Riley had ever seen the man even remotely uncomfortable. “I had my shot and it came and went. Now you have a chance to make up for my mistakes.”
“I won’t let you down, sir.” Even as Riley said it out loud, she made the promise to herself that no matter what it took, she would make his trust in her worth it.
“There’s no way you could do that, Riley.” He said her name, making sure she knew just how much he believed in her.
Udina coughed. They really did need to get this conversation moving along and the conversation that Anderson and Riley needed to have was one they could have later, in private.
“Right.” Anderson ducked his head, glancing down at the floor. It was time to move things along, and Riley had a mission to do. He straightened up. “Saren’s gone. Don’t even try to find him. He has too many connections, too many holes to hide in. Luckily, we know what he’s after.”
“The Conduit.” Noun. A person or organization that acts as a channel for the transmission of something.
“He’s got the geth scouring the Traverse looking for clues to its location.” Anderson leaned back against Udina’s desk, crossing his arms over his chest.
“We’ve been receiving reports of geth in the Feros system shortly before our colony there dropped out of contact, and there have been sightings around Noveria.” Holding a holopad, Udina flipped through several reports, sending them through a private channel to Riley’s omni-tool, her eyes only.
“Find out what Saren was after on Feros and Noveria. Maybe you can figure out where the “Conduit is before he does.” Find the Conduit. Find Saren. That was the plan.
Riley paused for a moment, looking at first Anderson, and then Udina. She knew that it sounded insane, but she knew it was the truth. “I don’t think Saren is the problem. I think he’s just a symptom. I think that the Reapers are the real threat.”
“I’m with the Council on this I’m afraid, Shepard. I’m not sure that they even exist.” Udina waved his hand, dismissing the thought. “It doesn’t matter anyway. If you stop Saren, you stop everything that he’s planning to unleash, including these ‘reapers,’ whatever they are.”
“You can count on me.” Riley nodded, before turning and saluting Anderson. “I’ll stop him.”
“Before you go, Shepard,” Udina said, stopping her. He transferred one last file to Riley, much larger than the rest. “We have one more lead, Shepard. Matriarch Benezia, the other voice on that recording? She has a daughter, an archeologist who specializes in the Protheans. We don’t know if she’s involved but it might be a good idea to try and find her. See what she knows. Her name is Dr. Liara T’Soni. Alliance Intelligence places her last location as an archeological dig in one of the uncharted worlds in the Artemis Tau cluster.”
“I’ll start there.” A feeling welled up inside her at the mention of the planet’s name. Something unknown, yet familiar at the same time. Familiar like the hug of her mother, or a sloppy kiss from her youngest sister. It felt right.
“You’re in charge here, Commander. You can run this mission your way. We have complete confidence in you.” Anderson smiled, proud and melancholic at the same time.
“Yes.” Udina agreed with Anderson, already looking like he was getting ready to move onto his next meeting. “There was a reason we put you forward for Spectrehood, Commander. You won’t let us down.”
“You’re dismissed, Commander.” Standing up straight, Anderson saluted her back, before holding out his hand for her to shake. “Good luck.”
Taking his well worn hand in her own, Riley smiled ever so briefly at the man she had known for what felt like her entire life.
Minutes later, though it felt like hours, Riley found herself entering the embassy bar, trying to process through all of her emotions. The Normandy was hers. She had been an Executive Officer of a ship for all of three days before suddenly finding herself in command.
That had to be a record of some kind.
Slumping down onto a stool at the bar a few feet away from an Indian man who has obviously been there for awhile, she rested her head in her hands.
“What's your poison?” The bartender, a human, asked her as he stepped up beside her.
“Scotch on the rocks,” she replied, barely even paying attention.
The Bartender nodded, going to make her drink.
A moment of silence fell upon her for a moment, but it didn’t last. It couldn’t. The sound of soft sobs broke through the silence and Riley glanced over at the Indian man, watching as he downed his glass, tears streaming down his face. He choked on the drink, breaking out in a coughing fit.
“Hey, are you okay?” She asked him, concerned.
The man struggled to bring his coughing under control, shaking his head. The coughing finally slowed and he managed to take a shuddering breath.
“Are you alright?” Riley asked again, moving several stools closer to the man.
“No…” The man sighed, his back arching as he huddled in on himself. His voice was quiet, pained. “No, I'm not.”
Riley watched him, concerned. She didn't say anything, waiting for him to continue on his own, if he was even going to.
“I…” The man sighed, confused, hurt, agitated, all at the same time. “I don't even know what I'm doing. I feel... numb.”
He turned and met Riley's gaze, a horrible look on his face, full of pain and regret. A look that spoke of searching for answers. “What are you supposed to do? There aren't any rules for something like this.”
“What happened?” Riley asked softly, watching the man, watching as his hands trembled as he gripped at his glass.
“My wife... She died.”
There. It was out there, and even with his pain, just saying it outlaid made him feel just a little bit better.
“I’m sorry.” Riley managed to say.
They fell silent, but Riley could see that Samesh had to talk about it. He’s said it for the first time, and now he can’t stop.
“What was her name?” Riley finally asked, moving closer.
“Nirali Bhatia. She was a marine with the 212 on Eden Prime.”
Riley froze, staring at Samesh with new understanding. Nirali. Gods, no wonder he was in such a state. “I’m sorry…”
Standing, she finally made the final step and took the stool right next to his. Placing a hand on his shoulder, she didn’t speak until she had his attention. “I’m Commander Shepard. I was on Eden Prime. I was with your wife when she… died.”
“Did she…” The man bit his lip, unsure, looking at her with new eyes. “Was she… No… I don’t think I want to know.”
“She only thought of getting back home to you.” Riley did her best to reassure him, to comfort him. “She loved you very much.”
The bartender arrived with Riley’s drink, placing it in front of her before going about his business. Samesh and Riley fell silent, subdued. Riley sipped at her glass.
“That’s not the only thing that’s wrong, is it?” Riley asked, staring at him, sensing that he still had more to say.
“No.” The man shook his head, frowning. “I’ve requested that Nirali’s body be returned to me for cremation, but the military has refused me.”
“Did they give you a reason?” The Alliance, for all of its advancement in every realm of humanity, still had flaws that had plagued its race since the beginning. Bureaucracy and a seemingly never ending need for secrecy was one of them.
“I don’t know.” The man shrugged, and Riley had never before seen someone so helpless. “All I know is that they’ve declared her body of the System’s Alliance Navy, and refuse to return her to me.”
“Nirali… there’s no reason for this.” Riley shook her head, leaning back and realizing at that moment she was still wearing her armor. She pushed that thought away, standing up and placing a hand on the man’s shoulder. “I’ll help you, Mr. Bhatia. Who have you been talking to?”
“The man in charge of my case is Mr. Bosker. When I last saw him, he was still at his office in the embassy.” The man sighed. “I just… I just want to give my wife a proper funeral and the respect she deserves.”
Riley finished off her drink and paid her tab. “Stay here. This shouldn’t take long. I’ll come back as soon as I’m done.”
Riley left the bar, and the man stayed behind, not so much as looking over his shoulder to watch her go.
Michael Bosker had graduated from college in Canada and moved to the Citadel as fast as he could buy a ticket. He had found a job at the embassy, and though he started out with so much enthusiasm, the years had taken their toll on him. He was never going to be able to change the galaxy, not with a low-level desk job with little room for improvement.
Michael sat in his office, eating lunch while half looking over a datapad, reading the latest novel from Drew Karpyshyn, his favorite. He had been reading his novels from the moment he stepped off the ship and onto the Citadel. Sometimes it felt like it was the only thing keeping him sane.
In the middle of his reading, a light flared on his desk and he looked up at his door. Someone was outside.
“Come in,” he called out, setting down his datapad.
The door slid open and the single most recognizable human in the galaxy, Commander Shepard, walked through his door.
Bosker scoffed, coughing and spitting chunks of his sandwich all over his desk. He scrambled out of his chair in surprise, trying to gather together what was left of his dignity, though he failed quite miserably.
“Commander Shepard!” Bosker was glad that his voice didn’t squeak, for what it was worth. Still, it was something. “My goodness. Is there something I can do to assist you? Your activities made for quite a briefing in the diplomatic corps.”
“I’m here about Nirali Bhatia’s body.” Shepard took a seat in front of Bosker’s desk, eying him like a wolf hunting a rabbit.
“Ah… Mr. Bhatia.” Bosker winced, taking his seat again, leaning back as if to get as far away from her as possible, suddenly aware of just what situation he was in. “A good man in an understandably frustrating position. I wish I could help him. Serviceman Nirali Bhatia died on Eden Prime, as Mr. Bhatia no doubt told you.”
“I know.” Shepard stared icily at him, making him gulp at the amount of attention that was being focused on him. “I was with her when she died.”
:H-Her wounds are inconsistent with any type of weapon damage we’ve seen before.” Bosker's throat felt dry, and he felt the sudden urge to cough, though he managed to push it down. “That is why her body is being held.”
“You think that her body might be dangerous? Is she contaminated?” There was a flicker of interest in her eyes, but Bosker had a feeling that she wasn’t truly interested.
“No, Commander. Nirali Bhatia is not dangerous.” There was no way he was getting out of this conversation following the orders the Alliance had given him. Still, he could at least try for all the good it would do. “Her body is, in fact, extremely valuable to the Alliance. The tests we are conducting may lead to better defenses against geth attacks. Respectfully, Serviceman Bhatia may save more lives in death than she did in life.”
Shepard stared at him silently for a long moment, making him shift even more. It felt like there were needles in his seat.
“I understand what you’re trying to do.” Shepard leaned forward, not at all impressed by his argument.
For a moment, Bosker thought he might have swayed her to understand him. “I’m glad to hear that, Commande—“
“I didn’t finish.”
Bosker snapped his mouth shut, paling.
“I understand what you’re trying to do,” Shepard continued, never raising her voice, but it sounded like she was booming from every corner of his office. “But holding her body goes against everything that the Alliance stands for.”
“Commander, you of all people should understand how far we must go to protect humanity.” Bosker was practically pleading, but he knew deep down that he had already lost this argument.
“Don’t try and lecture me about protecting humanity. I’m out there everyday fighting to stop shit like this.” Shepard stood, towering over Bosker’s desk.
“A-All right, Commander! You win.” Bosker gulped, wanting to get out from under Shepard’s icy glare. “It was hard enough refusing Mr. Bhatia. I’m not going to risk an incident by refusing you. Tell Samesh that he can have her body. I’ll go see to the arrangements myself.”
Normandy Infirmary, Alliance Docks, Citadel
Rainbow looked up at Chakwas, staring at her as the older woman slowly checked over her omni-tool. It was if the woman was deliberately taunting her.
“Well?” She asked when couldn’t wait anymore.
“Impatient, are we?” Chakras didn’t even so much as look at her.
Rainbow groaned, falling back into her bed.
Chakwas ignored her and kept looking over her omni-tool.
Rainbow groaned again, slamming a pillow over her face.
“And…” Chakwas closed her omni-tool with a flourish, finally looking at Rainbow. “You are free to go, Rainbow Dash.”
“Yes!” Rainbow punched her hoof into the air, leaping off the bed and to the floor.
She scampered towards the door, barely even remembering to put on her uniform first before rushing out into the public areas of the ship.
“Try not to get yourself shot again.” Chakras called after her, hoping that one of her charges would finally listen to her.
“Sure!” Rainbow shouted back over her shoulder as the door s were sliding shut behind her.
It wasn’t a very realistic hope.
Rainbow paused for a moment outside of the infirmary, taking a deep old breath of freedom. She had been lying still for far too long. She needed to move, to fly, and being cooped up in a bed was not good for her mental health.
“Hey there, Skittles.”
Hearing the male voice just to the side, Rainbow froze, her eyes narrowing. She snorted out a breath of hot air before turning to look. She found Joker and Spitfire sitting and eating what appeared to be lunch, Joker smiling and looking right at her.
“Finally free from the doc?” Joker asked, spooning a heap of noodles into his mouth.
Rainbow just glared at him. She really wasn’t not in the mood. She got shot saving someone who just ended up dying anyway. She didn’t really feel like joking.
Sniffing, Rainbow trotted away without saying anything. She’d make her annoyance known in subtler ways.
“Yeesh,” Joker said, looking at Spitfire. “Touchy much?”
“You can be an asshole sometimes, you know that?” Spitfire just rolled her eyes, focusing on her own meal.
“What?” Joker stared at her, but she didn’t elaborate any further. “What?!”
Riley found that Mr. Bhatia was still at the bar when she returned, though he was now picking at a small plate of an asari snack food. It didn’t actually look like he had eaten anything.
He looked up when Riley sat down next to him, easing onto the stool next to him.
“Hello, Commander,” he murmured.
“Please,” Riley said, her voice soft. “Call me Riley.”
“Any word?” He asked, not really believing that she could do anything, though he was grateful for the effort.
“I reminded Mr. Bosker what we’re fighting for.” Riley smiled and rubbed his arm encouragingly. “Your wife is coming home.”
Mr. Bhatia was silent for a long moment, staring at her as he struggled to comprehend her words. A sob broke itself free from his throat.
“Oh gods!” He slumped forward, spilling his plate of food, stress slipping away from his body and leaving him lighter than before. “Thank you, Comma— Riley.”
“Bosker should be contacting you to deal with all of the arrangements.” Riley wrote her number on a napkin and slid it over to him. “If he doesn’t… Give me a call. Nirali deserves a proper place to rest.”
“I…” Tears started to well in his eyes, and he carefully folded the napkin up and placed it in his pocket. “I need to begin my preparations.”
“If you need anything… I’m not going to be around, but my superior officer, Captain Anderson will be.” Riley knew David well enough to speak for him on the matter. The man had a heart large enough to encompass the galaxy. “If you need anything, get in contact with him at the Embassy. Tell him that I asked him to help you in anyway he could.”
“You are a wonderful woman, Riley. I’m not happy, but this brings me peace. Goodbye, Riley.” With those final words, Mr. Bhatia stood and left the bar.
Sometime later, Riley followed him out.
The last few days had been an absolute whirlwind for Garrus Vakarian. It had all started when the Executor himself had ordered him to open an investigation into Saren Arterius, bouncing up several levels of security clearances. That investigation turned out to be rather pointless as Saren himself had outed himself with his foolish attack on Eden Prime and attempted assassination of Nihlus. Life had seemingly fallen back into a routine for him, until he got a call from Doctor Michel.
Everything had become a blur after that. Somehow, it had ended up with him bringing everyone back to his apartment. He was still trying to figure out how that had happened.
A knock at the door drew him out of his thoughts. Standing from his stool next to Tali in the kitchen, Garrus answered it, finding Ashley and Kaidan standing on his doorstep.
“Lieutenant. Gunnery Chief.” He stepped aside, gesturing for the two to enter. “Please, come in.”
“Welcome to Casa de Vakarian,” Wrex said, emerging from Garrus’ poor bathroom. Garrus suddenly felt glad that he had a cleaning service and that he would be absent from his apartment for the next few weeks to months.
Ashley did a double take at Wrex, blinking in confusion. “Sabes español?”
“Un poco.” Wrex held his thumb and finger close together. Just a little.
“Huh.” She stared at the krogan, not at all sure how to take that. A krogan that spoke Spanish. That was a first.
Garrus closed the door behind the two of them and stepped further into his apartment. It wasn’t much, but it was a little nicer than he should have been able to afford with a simple detective’s salary. He had his younger sister, Solana, to thank for that. She had a knack for playing the stock market, and she tended to toss tips his way. It helped that he could afford actual art for his walls to impress anyone who might drop by and visit.
Not that that happened often.
“I uh, don’t have anything for Levo’s,” The single biggest problem in Citadel space boiled down at the end to be about food. If you looked deep enough, a lot of the biggest issues that affected society all came down to what food species could eat. It had tangled roots in colony development all the way to the yearly budget for the Citadel Defense Fleet. It wasn’t helpful that only turians and quarians were only able to eat dextro protein food. On the Citadel, accidentally eating from the wrong plate could mean a death sentence if you weren’t paying attention. “But I’ve got some delivery numbers if you’re hungry for anything. There’s a pizza place just down the street that caters for both.”
“Fine with me.” Wrex rumbled. Krogan were known to eat pretty much anything that had been once alive, or sometimes was even still squirming.
“I’m not hungry.” Ashley’s face screwed up a little, unable to completely hide her distaste at the thought of sharing a meal with a turian.
“I’m not a picky eater. I could go for pizza.” It had been awhile since Kaidan had been able to have a slice. Military rations were nutritious, but a tasty meal they were not.
“Tali. What about you?”
Turning around, they all looked into the kitchen to see Tali sitting on a stool, a straw sticking out of the front of her mask. She couldn’t speak, her speakers deactivated, but she gave a thumbs up as a response.
“Alright. Pizza it is then.”
Garrus made the call on his omni-tool while the rest of them all moved to his living room. They lingered around the couches, none of them taking seats except Wrex, who dropped down with a sigh of relief. Tali still couldn’t speak, busy drinking a sterilized sports drink through a complicated straw apparatus (which she would later argue emphatically that it wasn’t a ‘curly’ straw, whatever that was).
“How did an alien even manage to learn Spanish?” Ashley finally asked Wrex, staring at him with confusion.
“You pick things up when you’re a mercenary who’s smart enough to get well-paying, boring jobs for several decades at a time.” Wrex shrugged, not at all fazed by Ashley’s untrusting look. Opening a pouch on his belt, he pulled out a well-worn datapad, wiggling it in the air. “Lots of time for reading.”
“A well-read krogan.” Garrus joined them in the living room, easing down into his favorite seat. “That’s not something you see everyday.”
“All thanks to you turians.” The way that Wrex said that was without any anger, just simply stating a fact.
Garrus shifted in his seat, but before he could say anything in response, Kaidan stepped in.
“So, Tali, how are you finding the Citadel?”
Tali panicked, the straw still stopping her from speaking. She struggled for a moment, pulling it out of her mask and reactivating her speakers so fast that she started coughing.
“It’s… nice!” She managed to say, once again giving a thumbs up.
“Are you okay?” Kaidan asked, looking unsure as to whether he should help her, and confused about what such help would entail.
Tali waved him off, nodding, gathering herself together. Catching her breath, she managed to say, “It’s very nice. A little cold, but the amount of people that this station can support is simply mind-boggling. The entire Flotilla could live on this station and never run into another Quarian if they didn’t want to.”
“It’s certainly rather roomy.” Garrus acknowledged. It sometimes made his job hell when he had to track down a suspect. There were so many places to hide that it was easy to slip around the station almost completely unnoticed.
“I wouldn’t be able to live here.” Ashley crossed her arms, looking unhappy at the prospect.
“I don’t know, Chief.” Shrugging, Kaidan leaned back against one of the couches. “The food, the night life, the Citadel is the center of the all galactic life. I might move here when I retire.”
“Don’t know how you’d be able to stand it, sir.”
“Careful, Chief.” Kaidan frowned, catching the undertones of racism that Ashley was throwing off without even an attempt to disguise it.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.” Ashley put on her most innocent face, looking at Kaidan with wide eyes.
A knock at the door kept the two of them from going at it.
Standing, Garrus sauntered over to answer it. Opening it, he found Riley standing in the entrance, rocking back and forth on her heels.
“Commander!” Garrus straightened, looking like he was almost ready to salute in that strange turian way, only to think better of it and stop himself.
“Please, just call me Riley. None of that Commander or Shepard crap. I have a name my parents graced me with, and I think it’s perfectly nice.” She looked at Kaidan and Ashley, her eyes narrowing. “That doesn’t apply to you two.”
“Of course not, Commander.” They were in the military after all. Some propriety had to be observed.
“Yes, ma’am.” Kaidan nodded without complaint.
Riley looked around at them before clapping her hands and rubbing them together. “Are you all ready to go?”
“Just ordered pizza.” Wrex was looking forward to it.
“What type?” Intrigued, Riley leaned forward.
“Pepperoni for you Levos, Armali for Tali and I.” Garrus quickly offered.
“Right…” Riley stepped inside, kicking the door shut behind her. “We’ll leave after the pizza then.”
Being a pilot wasn’t all fun and games. Actually, most of it was preforming mind-boggling math problems in your head while under intense pressure and trying to jump halfway across the galaxy. Quite a lot of her time as a pilot was spent working on flight plans and practicing maneuvers. As she often was, Spitfire was working at her station, her head bouncing along in time to music that was playing on the speakers, just quietly enough not to bother anyone further back on the ship.
She hummed along with the latest album from Lady Sweat, tapping her back hooves against her seat.
“God, this again?”
Spitfire glanced over her shoulder to find Joker hobbling onto the bridge, using a hand on the back of his chair to help himself take his seat.
“What?” She turned her music off, swiveling her chair to face him. “I like them.”
“Yeah, well…” Joker eased himself into his seat, only to jump as a massive HORN sounded off.
With a shout, he fell right out of his chair and smacked onto the ground.
“Shit!” He cursed, wincing in pain.
“Joker!” Hopping out of her seat, Spitfire hovered over him, waiting to see how hurt he was. “Are you okay?”
Joker groaned, rolling over. Looking under his seat, he rolled his eyes when he found that there’ was an air horn taped around the base of his seat.
“I’m fine.” Glaring, he bit his lip. A prank then. Yeah, he could roll with that.
“Commanding Officer onboard. Executive Officer is relieved.” The Normandy’s VI chimed, speaking over every speaker on the ship.
Both Joker and Spitfire turned to look as the airlock cycled open.
The door slid open and Riley stepped inside, followed by Ashley and Kaidan, then a turian, and then a quarian (a quarian?), and the largest krogan that Joker had ever seen in his life.
Riley paused when she saw Joker lying on the ground, looking up at her. She opened her mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. “You alright there, Lieutenant?”
“Just peachy, ma’am.” He gave her a thumbs up, tightening his hat down on his head.
“Alright then…” She glanced up at Spitfire, to find her hoof firmly planted in her face. “Please inform Rainbow Dash to meet us in the briefing room.”
“Yes, Commander.” Spitfire nodded.
Turning away, Riley led everyone past the bridge and towards the briefing room.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Joker rested his head back on the floor. “That was fun.”
“Flying Officer Dash, to the briefing room.” Ignoring him, Spitfire activated her omni-tool and connected to the Normandy’s intercom system. “And don’t think I don’t know that you messed with the pilot’s chair.”
“I’m going to get her back.” Joker just moaned, frowning.
“Yeah…” Spitfire slid back into her seat, getting back to work. “I’ll help.”
Entering the briefing room, Riley was just in time for Rainbow to walk in with her.
“Did you have anything to do with my pilot being on the floor back there?” Pointing over her shoulder, Riley looked down at her little sister with an accusatory look.
“What?” Rainbow put on her most innocent expression. “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”
“I don’t believe you.” Riley shook her head.
“Well, I can’t help you with that.” Shrugging with her wings, Rainbow glanced back at the group following after Riley.
Eying Rainbow for a moment, Riley finally shook her head and gestured away. “Just take a seat.”
“Welcome to the Normandy.” Riley moved to stand in front of the console at the back of the room. She turned, watching as the rest of them took their seats, crossing her arms and leaning back. “Our mission is to bring the ex-Spectre Saren Arterius in for prosecution for the crimes he committed on Eden Prime.”
Everyone was listening to her, all of their attention on her.
“We have three leads,” Riley continued. “Alliance Intelligence has received reports of geth on the colony planet Feros, and we’ve received reports of the same from Noveria.”
“Noveria?” Wrex grunted, shaking his head. “That’ll be a bitch to get onto.”
“Glad I packed my wiener warmer.” He looked over at Ashley, a shit eating grin on his face.
Ashley rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, avoiding looking at the krogan.
“First though, we’re heading to Therum. Saren is in cahoots with an asari matriarch by the name of Benezia T’Soni. Her daughter is part of an archeological dig, and we’re going to see what she knows.”
“Commander, there’s a call for you.” Joker’s voice interrupted over the intercom.
“Take a message Joker, we’re in the middle of something.” Sighing, Riley made a note to have a talk with him about the appropriate times to give her messages. When she was giving a briefing was obviously not the correct time.
“Aye, aye, ma’a—“ Joker’s voice cut out for a moment, before coming right back. “Oh shit!”
The holodisplay behind Riley flickered to life, and a larger than life image of Firefly appeared.
“Riley? Rainbow?” Firefly leaned closer in the image, searching. “Are you there?”
“Mom?” Rainbow went pale, her voice squeaking.
Riley turned, finding her mother looking at everyone in the briefing room. She could only sigh in response, moving her mental note to talk to Joker much further up on her list.
“Riley, Rainbow?” Firefly asked again, before catching sight of her children, smiling and waving in greeting.
“We’ll talk about this later, Joker.” Riley face palmed
“Shit!” Joker swore. “Uh, I mean yes ma’am.”
He cut off his feed to the briefing room as quickly as he possibly could.
“Mom, we’re in the middle of something.” Looking up at her mother’s image on the display behind her, she smiled in greeting while hoping her blush wasn’t too obvious. “I can call you back in a few minutes.”
“Nonsense!” Firefly waved a hoof, pushing away her daughter’s concerns. “We haven’t heard from you since you left!”
“I’m not going to be able to stop you, am I?”
“Nope!” Firefly chirped before turning to look around at the rest of the room. “Now don’t be rude, introduce me.”
“Right.” Riley rolled her eyes but did as her mother said. “This is my mother, Firefly. Everyone, my mother. Mom, everyone else.”
“Hey.” Wrex was the only one to wave back in greeting.
“You look like a nice boy. What’s your name?”
“Urdnot Wrex, ma’am.”
“You take care of my daughters, you hear me, or else you’re going to have to talk with me.” Pointing her hoof at him, Firefly squinted, trying her best to look threatening. It didn't really work. It was incredibly difficult for ponies to pull of scary and threatening. It simply wasn't a part of their genetic makeup.
“Shouldn’t be a problem.” Wrex shrugged. He’d been through worse.
“Is that Riley and Rainbow?” A younger voice chirped from off camera.
“It is.” Firefly spoke to the voice, waving its owner over. “Come say hello.”
“Hello!” Scootaloo jumped in front of the camera, waving excitedly.
Ashley squirmed, realizing that Riley had one of the cutest little sisters she’d ever seen. None of her own little sisters would even be able to compete.
“Hello.” No one could resist not answering the little filly.
“Hey squirt.” Rainbow waved.
“Scoots.” Riley glanced at Rainbow, nodding her head towards the holodisplay. “You deal with this. I’m going to get us underway.”
"Why are you dropping all this on me?” Her head drooping ever so slightly, Rainbow scowled.
“Cause I’m older, and I’m the Commander, Flying Officer.”
“Right…” Rolling her eyes, Rainbow straightened up and saluted lazily. “Yes, ma’am.”
Before Rainbow could get any ideas, Riley left the briefing room, breathing a sigh of relief.
“That wasn’t so bad,” she muttered to herself. “Could’ve gone worse.”
Quickly walking the length of the Normandy’s neck, Riley stepped onto the bridge, and Joker glanced over his shoulder at her. He had managed to get himself back into his chair and some point and was now hard at work.
“I heard what happened to Captain Anderson.” He frowned, glancing at her one more time before turning back to his displays. “Guy survives a hundred battles and then gets taken down by backroom politics. Just… watch your back, Commander. Things go bad on this mission, you’re next on the chopping block.”
“Captain Anderson should be the one in charge. It’s like I’m stealing the ship from him.”
“Yeah, the Captain got screwed.” Joker shrugged. That was Alliance Navy politics for you. “But it’s not like you could’ve stopped it. Nobody’s blaming you. Everyone on this ship is behind you, Commander. One hundred percent.”
“The intercom’s open.” Spitfire spoke up. “If you’ve got anything you want to say to the crew, now’s the time.”
Riley opened up her omni-tool, connecting to the ship’s intercom. She cleared her throat before beginning to speak.
“This is Commander Shepard speaking. We have our orders: find Saren before he finds the Conduit. I won’t lie to you, crew. This mission isn’t going to be easy. For too long our species has stood apart from the others. Now it’s time for us to step up and do our part for the rest of the galaxy! Time to show them what humans are made of, and we won’t do it alone! It’s only together that we will succeed. Our enemy knows we’re coming. When we go into the traverse, Saren’s followers will be waiting for us, but we’ll be ready for them too. Humanity needs to do this. Not just for our own sake, but for the sake of every other species in Citadel Space. Saren must be stopped, and I promise you all, we will stop him!”
As she shut down her omni-tool, Joker nodded and closed the intercom. “Well said, Commander. The Captain would be proud.”
“Captain Anderson gave up everything so I could have this chance. We can’t fail.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Joker and Spitfire said emphatically.
“Take us to Therum.”