Mass Effect: Gathering Storm

by Meluch


Interlude Four - Interrogations

Interlude 4 - Investigations
Deep Space, Silentium Armoris
April 31, 2183

Compared to the other races, Equestria had been spacefaring for less than thirty years. Most of their technological superiority came from the Dyson Sphere that had kept them in stasis for longer than some galaxies had even existed. Once their prison, it had now become their source of power and strength. Where the other races had backwards engineered their capabilities from the remnants of Prothean technology, scattered pieces of tech left behind, decaying away to near unintelligible levels, Equestria was different.

The sphere was a gift, and they had barely even scratched the surface of the secrets it could offer. What it had yielded however, had made Equestria the most advanced power in the entire galaxy. Even the Salarian science groups couldn’t make head or tails of some of the technology coming from Equestria, much less the fact that the ponies had decided to share much of what was learned and created.

They didn’t share everything, however.

Despite their history of peace, and some would even say exploitable kindness, Equestria, and more importantly Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, knew the importance of keeping the upper hoof for themselves. They may have led Equus through an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity for a thousand years, but the rest of the galaxy did not have the same advantage. The galaxy was cold, dark, and uncaring.

Equestria, and all of Equus, needed a shield against that. Ponies willing to stand between the darkness and the light of Equestria to do whatever it took to push it back.

Ponies like Tempest Shadow and the rest of the Crystal Guard.

And their Princess.

And her husband.

As it turned out, there were quite a few ponies willing to hold the line.

At thirty years old, Tempest Shadow was the second youngest captain of the guard in all of Equestrian history, in this case the Crystal guard. The first had been Shining Armor as the head of the Solar guard. He had only lasted five years in the position before he married Princess Cadenza and left that same prestigious position.

Tempest planned on keeping her position for the foreseeable future. As a unicorn with a disability such as hers, it was nothing short of a miracle that she had risen as far as she had. She had more medals than she could ever reasonably wear on her dress uniform, and had commanded more operations than any single pony, ever. It was a record she had no intention of giving up, and she planned to retire so far ahead that nopony would ever be able to catch up.

Of course, more than half of those missions would never become public knowledge, ever.

The last one, even more so than the others. Tempest also knew that it was the one she would never have trouble sleeping over. She had done good, and she felt good. If she was any less disciplined of a mare than she normally was, she might even start humming. But she was, so she didn’t.

Tempest had an image to maintain after all.

Instead of humming, or maybe even a little dance (at least a more shimmy in her hips than normal), Tempest was in the armory, checking her battle saddle for a third and final time. Faulty equipment was unacceptable, and she would not be pleased until her kit was in better condition than when it rolled off the production line. After Khar’shan and the amount of filth, grime, and utter shit in the air, she was debating just starting over from scratch and going for another three cleanings. That planet was rotten to its core, and Tempest could feel it even through her armor and the filters in her helmet.

As she locked the final pin of the battle saddle in place, Tempest decided that she could finish those final deep cleans later. Her stomach was rumbling, and the military mess hall would be getting emptier as her soldiers finished their meals and headed to the barracks to catch some sleep.

Hefting the battle saddle into place in her locker, she hung her helmet up next to it before closing the door. Hearing the lock cycle shut, she took a breath and turned, pausing when she found the Spectre standing in the entrance, staring at her with her arms crossed. Tempest didn’t let any of her surprise show on her face, instead blinking coolly and giving her a look up and down.

“Is there something I can help you with, Spectre?” Tempest asked, standing just on the very edge of attention.

“You're the captain of Princess Cadenza's guard?” The Spectre asked. Tela Vasir, if Tempest was remembering correctly (and her memory was like a trap, so she was sure she was correct).

“Yes.”

“I must admit,” Tela said, standing straight. She walked a little circle around the armory, staring at the lockers, and the weaponry and armor in the back with a practiced, familiar eye. “I was not expecting such precision from your soldiers.”

“We've gone to great lengths to propagate the image of peace loving ponies.” Tempest felt a little pride at the surprise that shot across Tela’s face for just a moment. There was no way that she was expecting her to speak the truth. “We like it that way.”

“I'm sure that the Councilors would love to learn just how effective Equestria's special forces are, especially when they are led by one of the Princesses.” There was both a hint of a threat, and perhaps even a promise in her tone.

“Tell them what you wish.” Tempest was completely unconcerned. Many talks and plans had occurred over the past three decades on Equestria over how such a conversation as she was having now might go, and what might be revealed in turn. “We are little more than a strike force. We do what is needed, the same as any other soldier.”

“Did you have to rehearse that line, or did you come up with it on the spot?” Tela asked, tilting her head and staring at Tempest’s eyes with no small amount of experience.

Tempest's simply kept her expression inscrutable, evenly meeting Tela’s gaze.

“Cute.” Tela looked away first, snorting.

“Is there something you need?” Tempest asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, I think I’m good.” Tela hesitated for a moment, like she was debating whether or not she wanted to pat Tempest on the top of her head. She wisely decided not to. “Take care of yourself.”

With that, Tela turned and strutted away, leaving Tempest alone in the armory, a grimace on her face.

“Spectres…” Tempest shook her head and rolled her eyes. She wasn’t really in the mood for food anymore.

Wonderful.

###

Both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna (not to mention their diplomatic staffs and the Equestrian Press Corps) had spent a vast amount of time and money on cultivating an image of helpful and kind Equestrians across the entire galaxy. They had been one-hundred percent successful in those efforts, and it would come to the shock of nearly everyone, everywhere, that the ships of the Equestrian Navy had interrogation rooms.

Interrogation rooms like the one that Princess Cadance and Prince Consort Shining Armor were standing in at that very moment. They watched the holo-display that was projecting the interior of the small room next door. Inside that room sat Icobius Dhargerk, the Batarian they had kidnapped from Khar'shan with extreme prejudice.

The door slid open, and they both turned to look as Tela walked in. She looked far too relaxed for what she knew she was about to do. Shining Armor was actually pretty sure she was wearing Asari, perhaps Human, exercise clothes. She looked like she was about to go on a jog, not perform a high-level interrogation.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” Shining asked.

“Yes.” Tela said, rolling on the balls of her feet and stretching her arms over her head. “Feeling squeamish?”

“Not particularly, no.” Shining shook his head. There was no universe where he would ever be concerned about the man in the interrogation room, not after what he’d done.

“Good.” Tela nodded, satisfied. She turned, meeting eyes with Cadance. “No matter what happens, don’t interfere. I need this information more than that man needs to be alive.”

“His life is of no concern to us.” There was an amount of venom in Cadance’s voice that Shining had never heard before. Were it over any other being than the one next door, Shining would be worried, but as things stood, he felt the exact same way.

“I thought you ponies were all about friendship and peace and happiness.” Tela didn’t look like she expected an answer, but she wasn’t exactly surprised when Cadance gave her one.

“There is a price to be paid for such luxuries.” Cadance turned away from Tela, looking at Icobius with an amount of hate and vitriol that would have made a lesser soul take a step back away from her. Neither Shining or Tela moved at all. “He is responsible for the deaths and torture of more of our kind than anyone in centuries. What we found in the kitchens... We want to know who he worked with as much as you do. Details, names, dates, concrete evidence and leads.”

Neither Shining or Cadance had to say it, but what they had seen in the compound would haunt them for a long time to come. Icobius Dhargerk was responsible for all of it. They had found ponies in the process of being butchered for a meal that night, in honor of Icobius’s arrival. That didn’t even mention the breeding pens and the state most of the ponies were found in.

“You know what, I think I like you, Princess.” Tela pointed a finger at her, smiling lackadaisically.

“The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can continue onwards.” Cadance said in return, not bothering to reply to what Tela said.

“So impatient.” Tela tsked, chuckling under her breath.

“It’s been far too long for these monsters to go unpunished.” Cadance stared down at Icobius. If she was before him, and not just a hologram, Shining was sure that his wife would have lit the man on fire. “I don’t want to leave them waiting for Justice a minute longer than they have to.”

“Fair enough.” Without any further fanfare, Tela walked into the interrogation room.

###

Icobius hadn’t been able to see or hear anything since the attack on his compound… who knew how long ago. He had lost all sense of time, and he could honestly say that he had no idea where he was anymore. He had long since given up struggling, and he had no other choice but to just sit there and wait for whatever was going to happen next. He could feel that his once expensive robes were ripped and torn beyond any hope of repair, and he tried to ignore the wet squelching whenever he so much as twitched, but he couldn’t escape knowing that he was sitting in his own filth.

A burst of sound and a heavy ringing in his ears announced the return of Icobius’s hearing and he could hear his own whimpering. A door slid shut somewhere to his left.

“Icobius Dhargerk,” a female voice asked, as smooth as velvet and as cold as the void between the stars. “I’ve been wanting to speak to you.”

“Who are you?” Icobius grimaced at the weakness of his own voice. He was a man of power after all, and who was she to put him in this situation! “Do you know who you are dealing with?”

“I just said your name.” The woman laughed, and Icobius did feel like a fool, but he tried not to let it show. She continued, “Yes, I know who you are. CEO of the BSA, businessman, profiteer, warmonger. You have many titles, but they don’t mean anything in here. The only thing that matters is you and me. I am the goddess here.”

“You’re an Asari.” Icobius guessed. Her voice could be mistaken for nothing else.

“Yes, and I’m someone you’re not going to want to anger.” The Asari said, confidence oozing from her voice.

“If you so much as touch me—” Icobius tried to warn her, but a strong hand on the back of his own put a stop to that. She grabbed his first finger and pulled it all the way back until it cracked! Icobius screamed.

“If I so much as touch you, what?” The asari said over the sound of Icobius’s pain. “You’ll stop me? You’ll be rescued? No, I don’t think you understand the situation you’re in. Let me introduce myself.”

There was an electronic beep, a sound anyone who had ever used an omni-tool was more than familiar with, and then Icobius could see. The asari was tall, lean, and incredibly muscled, wearing a loose tank top, light pink in color, with a loose pair of pants that stopped just at her knees. She smirked at him, amused by his pain and frustration.

“I am Tela Vasir, Council Spectre.” She introduced herself with a little bow of her head. “I was killing men like you before your ancestors were even a glimmer in their parent’s eyes. I have broken men and women stronger than you could ever dream, and now I’ve set my sights on you.”

Icobius tried to catch his breath, his four nostrils flaring, panic in his eyes. The room was completely empty, save for the chair he was sitting in, and the Spectre.

“You’ve got some expensive tastes, Icobius,” Tela said, stalking around him in a slow circle like a predator playing with wounded prey. “Brutal and definitely evil. No one is going to save you. Your only hope is to tell me everything.”

“You don’t know the lengths the man I work for will go to protect his assets.” Icobius realized he’d never get anywhere with trying to scare her, but perhaps she could be reasoned with.

“The Shadow Broker?” Tela laughed, pulling a knife out from seemingly nowhere. Icobius felt his stomach drop. “Yes, I’m quite familiar with them. I used to work with them, until they decided that the best thing to do was to kill my mate. You think that they will protect you? I hope that they’ll try. It’ll just be another opportunity to tear their organization apart.”

She leaned in close, resting the knife tip against his groin. “Now, tell me everything you know about the Shadow Broker.”

“I can’t—” He started, but Tela dug the knife in, twisting as she did. He could do nothing else but scream.

“Now, let’s try that again.” Tela left the knife in. “Tell me everything you know about the Shadow Broker.”

Icobius could not stop weeping.

###

Neither Cadance or Shining Armor so much as twitched as Tela began properly torturing the man. They watched as she worked, noting the skill, dispassionate about the pain she was causing. Neither turned as Tempest entered the room, recognizing her light hoof steps behind them. They were far too focused on the proceedings in the interrogation room.

“We lost three more survivors. The doctors are doing everything they can, but…” Tempest trailed off, not letting the scene in the interrogation room bother her.

“At least they died free.” Cadance, for the first time in several hours, let her emotions show through. There was a sort of cold relief there that both Shining Armor and Tempest could understand.

“Yes.” Tempest said, and there was nothing else she could add. They were not fast enough to save them all. She tried not to dwell on that.

“How many remain?” Shining asked.

“1,000 Equestrians, 221 Asari, 352 humans, and a hoof full of the others. 1,723 in total.” Tempest recited without having to look up the numbers. She knew them by heart now.

“So many.” Cadance let out a shuddering breath.

“Most are just foals and adolescents pulled from the breeding pens. They are the children of the kidnapped ponies from the Ponyville incident.” For once, Tempest could not keep the emotions from her voice, disgust boiling inside her.

The three gave a moment of silence for those that had not made it. Nearly as many Equestrians as they had saved had been victim to the horrible conditions inside the compound. All of the bodies had been recovered for proper burial and respect back on Equestria.

“And how many are still in critical condition?” Cadance asked.

“287, Princess.” Again, Tempest did not have to look up the numbers.

Tempest glanced at Tela on the holo-display as the Asari started to deglove Icobius's right hand, pulling the skin of his hand back from his muscle.

“She could be a problem.” Tempest noted, unconcerned for Icobius’s safety.

“Or an ally,” Shining offered.

“She has a direct ear from the Council.” Tempest argued. “If they learn of what we are doing—”

“She won't tell.” Turning away from the holo-display, Shining Armor met Tempest’s gaze. “She has too much at stake to risk losing our help. No matter how strong or brutal she is, she is still just one mare. We are an ally she can't afford to lose.”

“She's unpredictable.”

“Then we'll just have to be careful and play it by ear.” Cadance joined her husband at his side, and Tempest saw she looked far more tired than she had ever seen before. Whether this was truly a unique circumstance, or if she was just being let in on a secret side of the Princess she had never seen before, she couldn’t say. “All of us have alibis after all. Nothing she says can be proven. Sugar Dusk has already erased anything that even hints at our involvement from Vanir's omni-tool. All she has is her word.”

“The word of a Spectre is a pretty strong thing.” Tempest frowned, not happy with the state of affairs but seeing no other real options.

“And I don't think we have anything to worry about. All of this is just a precaution. I have a feeling she will be a very committed ally. She truly loved the turian she lost, and that drives her. We can trust that.” As the Princess of Love, Cadance spoke with finality on that matter.

“Very well.” Tempest drew herself to attention. “Princess Cadenza, our destination?”

“Take us back to Canterlot. We can plan our next steps from there.”

“Aye-aye, ma'am.”

With a picture-perfect salute, Tempest turned and left the room. As the door slid shut, Shining turned to Cadance, amused.

“She's certainly worked that stick further up her—”

“Don't finish that sentence, Shiny.” Cadance slapped him upside the head with her wing. They both watched as Tela played with the flaps of skin flayed from Icobius's hand, and he howled.