• Published 14th Feb 2015
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Mass Effect: Gathering Storm - Meluch



When a Prothean Beacon is unearthed on Eden Prime and a rogue Spectre starts a galactic manhunt begins. When the Elements of Harmony are found to be missing, a coming storm threatens to destroy everything.

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Chapter Thirty-Seven - Warm, Considering

Chapter Thirty-Seven - Warm, Considering
Tuchanka Orbit, Aralakh System, Krogan DMZ
April 22, 2183

Tuchanka was not a pretty thing to look at. Most planets looked like jewels in space; emeralds, sapphires, rubies, glimmering in the starlight. Beacons of hope and fortune.

Tuchanka was none of those things.

It orbited its star Aralakh like a diseased piece of rotting flesh, sickly brown with great streaks of red like dried, flaking blood.

Twilight hated it from the moment she laid eyes on it. Her coat prickled irritatingly with the thought of having to step hoof onto the planet. She was already awaiting the moment she could leave, and she hadn’t even left Solar One yet.

Honey Dawn sighed for what must have been the tenth time in the last hour from her position in the captain’s chair on the bridge. Sitting next to the chair, Twilight figured that she probably looked as frustrated as Honey Dawn sounded. It hadn’t been a very good day so far, and it only promised to get worse from here on out. The first step was getting permission to land from the multitude of orbiting battle stations, placed there by the Council to keep the Krogan contained on their homeworld.

The fact that they were having to cut through the massive amounts of red tape that kept the vast majority of visitors ever landing on the planet certainly didn’t help matters. Bureaucrats were a nightmare no matter who you were. There were certainly advantages to an absolute diarchy, and this merely highlighted those points.

Honey Dawn and Twilight started as the door slid open with a hiss behind them. They both blushed rather sheepishly as they realized just how focused they had let themselves get on the planet before them. Looking back, they perked up at the sight of Gilda, a tray of drinks and snacks balanced carefully on her back.

“What now?” Seeing their look, Gilda shook her head, sensing the frustration emanating from them.

“They're waiting for a reply from their higher ups,” Twilight grumbled as she helped Gilda set the tray down on one of the low tables at the rear of the bridge.

“And they're probably waiting for a reply from their bosses, who are waiting to hear from Primarch.” Honey Dawn continued sarcastically, waving a hoof in small circles.

“You gotta love bureaucracy. You'd think the base commander in charge could just flag us through.” Gilda was rather proud of herself for not stumbled over the word bureaucracy, though she did her best not to let it show on her face.

“Turians do love their paperwork.” Twilight noticed of course, but spared Gilda embarrassment and didn’t say anything. Instead, she just agreed with Honey Dawn. She lifted a mug of hot chocolate with her magic from the tray, giving Gilda a quick nuzzle. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Gilda said, trying to be cool and failing rather adorably. Trying her best to keep her ‘coolness’ as Rainbow Dash would say, intact, she walked around the command consoles and stopped in front of the main display. Tuchanka hung in the distance, though the array of battle stations orbiting it weren’t visible to the naked eye from this distance. “That is the ugliest planet I've ever seen.”

Gilda wasn’t wrong. Tuchanka was a brown, scarred planet, the end result of total nuclear warfare that had only made its inhabitants angrier and more brutal than they had been before. Gilda was reminded of Khar'shan and she looked away, trying to force her memories away and back inside the box she'd shoved them in.

Honey Dawn sat up straight as the Turians finally made contact, her console beeping irritatingly at her.

Solar One, High Command has cleared you for landing. Sending coordinates now. Do not deviate from your approach.” The smooth tones of Turian came over the speakers on the bridge, the very model of military professionalism.

“Copy that, proceeding to route.” Honey Dawn rather admirably kept the frustration out of her voice, sounding as professional as the Turian did.

“I better go get ready.” Twilight said, more to herself than to anyone else on the bridge. She looked to Gilda, who was watching the planet like it might come alive and swallow her whole. “You coming, Gilda?”

“Huh?” Gilda managed to pull herself away from the view screen, looking at Twilight blankly for a long moment before comprehension came over her. “Oh, uh, yeah…”

She fell in step beside Twilight as the two of them left the bridge.

The ship was still in its early morning cycle, and the day shift was only just beginning to wake up and get ready for their day while the night shift wound down and counted every minute until they could retreat and get some sleep. Despite Solar One’s size, the crew was actually fairly small, nothing like what you might find on a monster such as the Destiny Ascension.

Twilight and Gilda made their way through the ship, stepping around tired ponies until they entered their bedroom. Twilight immediately started pulling out the crates of armor that Celestia had left for them. Gilda stares at her marefriend as she meticulously unpacked them with her magic, laying each individual piece out on the floor in such an orderly manner that it almost became an art form in and of itself.

Finishing, Twilight held out Gilda's helmet with her magic. Gilda hesitated for a moment before she took it, the memories of what caused them to have to wear such armor looming over her like a tidal wave. She ran a claw over the smooth, clean finish, trying not to think of just how much it had cost. Probably more than her father made in a year if looks were to go by.

“When did it come to this?” Gilda asked with a deep sigh.

Twilight began to undress from the plain outfit she had been wearing, then began to pull on the armors bodysuit. She couldn't think of anything to say in response. Gilda turned away, feeling somewhat embarrassed at seeing Twilight 'naked.'

“When the Elements were stolen,” Twilight finally said, sealing the body suit tightly around her neck. It would seal with the helmet to make an airtight deal, good enough to survive in the vacuum of space for nearly an hour.

Gilda followed her example, starting to undress, though she made a point of not looking Twilight in the eyes as she did so. The black body suit took some work, and she struggled with getting the remains of her wings into their proper place. Whoever had built their armor had somehow gotten her exact measurements, wings and all. The bodysuit had extensions for what remained of her wings. With a huff, she relented. “Twilight…”

“Need some help?”

“Please.” Burning embarrassment courses through her cheeks, even though Gilda tried her best not to show it.

Twilight's magic ignited and she helpfully finished getting the bodysuit on Gilda. She started to put the griffin’s armor on, but Gilda held up a claw, stopping her.

“I can finish it from here, Twi.”

“Oh... Right. Yes, of course.” Blushing, Twilight went back to putting on her own armor.

Running her claws over one of the smooth pauldrons, Gilda clacked her beak absent mindedly before looking back at Twilight. “Are you sure this is a wise idea?”

“Considering what happened the last time, the most expensive armor money can buy seems to be a prudent option.” Twilight’s magic certainly made attaching her armor into place an easy process.

“Not what I meant.” Gilda stared flatly at her marefriend.

“Oh.” Twilight blinked in surprise, pausing for a moment before continuing with putting on her armor. “Then what do you mean?”

“Tuchanka.” Gilda said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“What about it?” Frowning, Twilight tried to figure out what Gilda meant. She drew a blank, chewing on her lip in deep thought. “It's the next on the list after all.”

“But what's the point?” Gilda sat down, looking very tired. “We're going to go down there and find Fluttershy, all while trying to avoid being eaten by something big and/or grumpy, and then what? Dash is still with Shepard, and we're no closer to finding where the damn Elements actually are.”

Twilight found herself completely flummoxed by that question. She hadn’t been expecting that, and no answer came easily to her. “We'll... we'll figure it out. Celestia wouldn't have given me this task if she didn't think I could solve it.”

Gilda didn’t say anything, but she was unconvinced.

“We'll figure it out,” Twilight said, more to herself than to Gilda. Her voice had a manic quality about it. “This is a problem, and it's solvable. It has to be.”

“If you say so.” Gilda went back to putting on her armor.

###

Pinkie Pie didn’t quite know what to think about this entire situation, and she was deeply conflicted. Her family had used her, her innocence and happiness, to sow seeds of chaos across the galaxy all for monetary gain. It made her sick to the very pit of her stomach, and it was so different from the way she normally experienced reality. Everything seemed dull and lifeless, and Pinkie wasn’t sure if she would ever be who she once was.

She didn’t see how that was possible. If even her family would lie to her, how could she trust the rest of the galaxy?

Deep in her thoughts, Pinkie had not even noticed her surroundings. She had stayed in her room, thinking and thinking and thinking some more. Her room onboard Solar One wasn’t nearly as opulent as what she was used to from her time in Smile Inc, but she paid it no mind. She didn’t even really notice.

A knock at her door drew her out of her thoughts. It had to be somepony bringing her food, she realized, and at that point, she remembered that she hadn’t eaten for quite awhile.

“Come in,” she murmured, barely loud enough to be heard through the door.

As the door slid open, Tiny Berry stuck her head in hesitantly, eying Pinkie carefully with the eyes of a caring friend. Apparently satisfied with what she saw, Tiny Berry gave her a small smile. “Hey there.”

“Hello.” Pinkie surprised even herself with how quiet and morose her voice was.

“Your sister asked to see you.” Tiny Berry shuffled nervously on her hooves, uncomfortable with the sheer amount of tension and swirling emotions that surrounded the subject.

“I'm not interested in talking to her.” Whatever cheer Pinkie might have been feeling when Tiny Berry first showed up disappeared, her face falling into a stony mask.

“She was very insistent.” Tiny Berry glanced over her shoulder at something Pinkie couldn’t see, just out of her view.

Pinkie Pie chewed on her lip, feeling her mane deflating, falling limply down her back. She mulled it over in her mind, and she found that she didn’t really care what happened one way or another. Distantly, she felt that she should feel mad, angry, sad, or anything really, but all that greeted her when she turned her gaze inwards was an empty canyon where the wellspring of her happiness and all the rest of her emotions used to sit.

For a lack of anything else to say, Pinke simply responded, “Okay.”

Lifting herself up off the bed, Pinkie Pie followed Tiny Berry out of her room and to the elevator, all the way to the bottom of Solar One where Maud was kept locked in her room. Pinkie didn’t notice anything on their journey to the room, as if the entire ship was empty beside her and Tiny Berry.

“Ms. Pie,” Tiny Berry said, knocking on Maud's door, “Your sister is here to see you.”

There was simply silence for a long moment, before Maud responded through the door. “Come in.”

With a nervous glance back at Pinkie Pie, Tiny Berry unlocked the door and stepped aside to let her enter, murmuring to her, “Just knock when you're ready to leave and I'll let you out.”
Pinkie Pie just nodded and stepped inside.

Stopping just inside Maud's room, Pinkie Pie just stood there, taking in the room and her sister in front of her. The room itself wasn’t very large, one of only three holding cells on Solar One. The designers had certainly never believed that they’d need to keep any prisoners for a long duration, and that was reflected in the layout of the room. The bed was little more than a metal slab welded to the wall, with a thin layer of padding stitched down into it. Right across from the bed was a toilet and sink, plain metal, with nothing that could be broken off and used as a weapon. The entire room was built that way.

Pinkie Pie did nothing, refusing to meet eyes with Maud, who was standing right in front of her. Neither of them spoke. Pinkie Pie had nothing to say, and Maud had never been good with words. She had always relied on the fact that Pinkie could read her and what each of her little looks and twitches meant.

The whole effect was ruined with Pinkie refusing to play her old part in their relationship. They were at an impasse, and Maud would have to make the first move.

The silence stretched out into a minute, then five. Pinkie Pie grew more and more annoyed with each second that ticked by, snorting in frustration. Finally, she turned and raised her hoof to knock.

“Wait.” Maud spoke for the first time.

Pinkie froze, her hoof halfway to the door. Her ears swiveled to listen to Maud, but she didn’t bother to turn and look at her.

Maud hesitated, hoping that her sister could hear all the thoughts that were rushing through her mind, then pushed those silly thoughts from her mind and steeled herself for what had to be done, forcing herself to speak.

“You shouldn't go.” Maud said, her voice quiet.

Pinkie didn't respond, forcing Maud to continue. The entire burden of the conversation was on Maud, and she was completely uncomfortable with it. She said it anyway. “Tuchanka is dangerous. The Krogan death-rate is high, and they aren't even the apex species on their planet. It's not safe for you.”

“I don't care.” Pinkie finally spoke, her voice cold. She didn’t turn to look at her sister, staring at the door like she could burn it to the ground. “I'm going to support Twilight.”

“Then you shouldn't go alone.”

“I won't be alone.”

“Emissary Sparkle? She couldn't even protect herself, how will she protect you?”

“No thanks to you.” Pinkie turned at that, glaring at Maud, not forgetting for a moment that it was because of Maud that Twilight had suffered as she had.

“I should come with you.”

Pinkie stared at Maud, not sure of what to make of that. She couldn’t decide whether she wanted to laugh or break down in tears, and instead did neither.

Seeing that Pinkie wasn’t going to say anything, Maud forced herself to continue. “No matter what you think, no matter what you feel, I will always protect you. It is my job.”

Pinkie found she just didn't have the energy to argue. She turned, knocking on the door. It slid open and she started to walk out, only to pause in the doorway and speak over her shoulder. “Do what you want. I'm not going to stop you.”

As the door slid shut behind Pinkie, Maud began to get ready. Despite what Pinkie might think of her, she would fulfill her promise to her father and herself.

###

Very few ships ever came to Tuchanka. The homeworld of the Krogans, it was where the Salarians and the Turians had uplifted them to fight the Rachni wars, and where they brought them low afterwards with the genophage. The world was angry and cruel, and it had made a perfect crucible for the Krogans to forge themselves into the toughest warriors the galaxy had ever seen. The reason so few ships ever came to Tuchanka was because if you landed, there was very nearly a fifty-fifty chance of the entire crew ending up dead and in the stomachs of some creature or another.

Solar One descended through the atmosphere, bearing the brunt of the turbulent atmosphere with all of the ease of a salarian in math class. Its destination was the main city of Tuchanka, or what was left of it anyway. It had been the home of Clan Urdnot for a thousand years, and after long talks, they had all decided that it was their best chance of finding Fluttershy.

Big guns tracked them as the ship came in to land on the largest landing pad. It was just barely big enough, and if Honey Dawn had been any less of a pilot, they would have scratched the paint.

With a quiet whine, Solar One settled to the ground, its engines cycling down. An array of Krogan, all bearing large and overpowered weapons, stomped towards the ship's docking ramp, most of them having come from the main camp after hearing the word that an Equestrian ship was landing. Curiousity was a powerful motivator for even the Krogan. The landing crew working the docks pushed a set of stairs into place, built from scavenged metal, with rough weld seams.

Pushing their way out of the crowd, a trio of surly Krogan dressed in garishly painted armor shoved the dock crew out of the way, forcing them back with a snarl. Climbing the stairs they banged on the airlock.

“You're not welcome on Tuchanka.” The largest of the Krogan shouted, loud enough to be heard through the airlock, even without the microphone receivers that dotted the hull. “Open up or we shoot our way in.”

Inside the ship, Twilight and Gilda took a step back, hearing the Krogan's voice echoing through the thick metal of the airlock. Twilight blushed, trying to push away how foolish she felt. Solar One was built with the best armor that money could provide. The Krogan certainly wouldn’t have anything handy that could get through it, much less do more than scuff the paint.

“That doesn't sound promising…” Gilda sat back on her haunches, crossing her forelegs after smoothing down an errant feather on the top of her head. She rolled her shoulders, the stumps of her wings fluttering anxiously.

“They can't get through the armor... I hope.” Twilight knew how impossible that was, but after everything that had happened, she was learning not to take anything for granted.

As the Krogan kept shouting their threats, Applejack, Big Mac, Pinkie Pie, Maud, and Rarity joined them at the airlock.

‘Okay Twilight, you can do this. Fluttershy is out there somewhere and you need to find her.” Her eyes closed, Twilight tried to reassure herself, though it really wasn’t doing that much for her.

“It doesn't like they're going to want to let us do that, Twilight.” Applejack drawled from behind her, eying the airlock suspiciously, like she didn’t trust it. She didn’t trust much of anything that she didn’t build with her own hands.

“Indeed not, the brutes.” Rarity sniffed dismissively at them, having far more confidence in Equestrian shipbuilding than Applejack did.

Twilight frowned to herself before tapping the interface on the wall next to the airlock, activating the intercom. “This is the Celestial Emissary to Princess Celestia, and I have lawful reasons to conduct my business on this planet. Step aside.”

The interface widened, showing a holographic video of the view outside the airlock. They all watched as the Krogans hesitated, talking amongst themselves in deep, guttural whispers. Twilight studied them carefully, a deep frown on her muzzle.

Finally, the Krogan came to a decision and left the airlock, swaggering down the stairs and muttering grumpily to themselves.

“Well,” Rarity nodded proudly at Twilight’s assertiveness. “That was certainly effective.”

“Let's go.” Reaching down with her magic, Twilight plucked her helmet from the floor and sealed it tightly on her head. The reassuring hiss of the atmospheric seal greeted her ears a moment later. “I don't want to stay on this planet any longer than necessary.”

Though none of the others said anything, they were all in agreement, and they knew it. Tuchanka wasn’t any sane beings idea of a vacation spot. They stepped into the airlock together.

Spike walked by with a mug of hot chocolate just as the airlock door cycled closed behind them. He took a long, slurping sip, eying the airlock. “Do they even ask if I want to come along? No. No they do not.” He continued on, grumbling to himself. “Why not ask the fire breathing, armored dragon if he wants to come to the planet full of giant death creatures? That makes so much sense.”

Hot on his heels, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle trotted after Spike, their own mugs of hot chocolate balanced on their backs.

“Hey, wait up Spike.” Apple Bloom called after him.

Sweetie Belle managed to trip over herself and ended up rolling right into Apple Bloom, who crashed into Spike.

“That's probably why.” Sweetie grumbled from under the the other two, her cheeks squished right into the floor.

“Yeah…” Spike sighed, frustrated, cursing his bad luck and Twilight’s obliviousness.

###

The Krogan who had tried to drive them away from the planet were nowhere to be seen when Twilight and the rest of the Elements of Harmony stepped out from the airlock. The only Krogan that remained were the dock crew, going about their duties in such a way that seemed to indicate they definitely would rather be doing other things. Knowing the proclivity of most of their race, that probably meant they wished they could be out either fighting or killing something, Twilight couldn’t help but think.

Of course, Twilight’s thoughts were more than a little biased on such matters. Perspective and level-headedness was one of the first things to go when you struggled with your fears and emotions. She wasn’t exactly in a good place to evaluate any subtleties that might exist in a situation.

Whatever Twilight might have thought about the docking crew, she was drawn from her thoughts as a rather impressive Krogan stomped up towards her and the rest of her group.

“Never thought I'd ever see a pony on Tuchanka,” the Krogan grumbled, looking at them with deep orange eyes. When none of them responded, he didn’t get offended. “I’m Urdnot Dagg. The Clan Leader wants to speak with you. Best not to keep him waiting. Follow me.”

They glanced at each other nervously, but followed after Urdnot Dagg.

As they headed deeper into the complex, all around them Krogan stared at them, muttering and sending harsh glances their way.

“Friendly bunch, ain’t they?” Applejack murmured to Big Mac from the corner of her mouth.

“E'yup.” Big Mac nodded, trying his best to look tough and frightening, though the fact that as a pony, he was much more disposed to look huggable didn’t help matters. Of course, if there was ever a picture, or Celestia forbid, a video, of a Krogan hugging a pony, it was very likely that the extranet would crash.

In his throne room of crumbling stone and metal, Urdnot Wreav paced angrily in front of three kneeling Krogan, who were spending what were likely their last few moments alive glaring up at him with eyes full of hate, rage, and primal fury. None of them paid any attention as Dagg led Twilight and the rest of her group into the room.

“Did you really think that you wouldn't be caught? That you could defile our rites and rituals? I'll raze Clan Gatatog to the ground and use your bones to make a throne.” Wreav clenched his fists so hard that the bodysuit nearly cracked open from the strain.

They just growled up at Wreav, unaffected by his threats. He sneered at them, unimpressed. Before they could have their own chance to speak their minds, he pulled his shotgun, and without so much as flinching, blew the head off of one of the kneeling Krogan.

All of the ponies flinched backwards, unable to process what they just saw. Wreav ignored their utterly horrified and shaken faces, gesturing his own Krogan forward.

“Get them out of here.” He kicked the dead body as the two still living Krogan were led away. “Feed this trash to the varren.”

As the body was dragged away, leaving a long trail of thick, quickly congealing blood, Wreav turned to the ponies, acknowledging their presence for the first time. He stared them down, and it was very obvious that they were fighting the urge to run back to their ship and fly as far away as they could as fast as they possibly could.

“Emissary. You honor me with your presence.” His tone was as sarcastic as you could imagine. He dropped heavily down onto his large throne. Despite its haphazard construction, it didn’t so much as wobble. He stared at them, crouched heavily over, leaning against the side. “You're here for that damned yellow one, aren't you?”

“H-How'd you know?” Twilight managed to gather her courage together.

“Why the hell else would you come to a shithole like Tuchanka?” Wreav leaned back into his seat, and none of them knew how to respond to that. “Are you going to take her with you when you leave?”

“If s-she agrees to come with us…” Twilight put her mind to good use, running through a series of calculations in her mind. If she needed to teleport all of her friends back to Solar One, it would take half a second to charge her horn, a full second to actually cast the spell, and another half a second to transfer from the throne room to her ship. Too much time. She’d need a distraction if she was going to accomplish her escape successfully. If the krogan moved so much as an inch towards any of them with violence in her eyes, she wouldn’t hesitate to lash out.

A cutting charm might be considered basic magic, used mainly for trimming hedges and vegetables, and that’s what most unicorns believed. It was only after signing multiple lengthy and binding agreements that any unicorn was ever taught the full truth. With enough magical force applied, the cutting charm would slice through flesh and bone as easily as carrots and lettuce.

She’d never hesitate again.

“If you promise to take her off Tuchanka, I'll allow you to go and get your little friend. We don't need her trying to call Kalros. She's already causing enough problems with the Maws around camp.” Wreav rubbed his forehead, apparently annoyed at whatever Fluttershy had been getting up to on the planet. He laughed, shaking his head. “If she's even still alive.”

“If she's still alive?” Applejack asked, speaking up from the back of the group.

“No one's heard from her for almost six months now.” Wreav turned to a Krogan lounging against one of the walls. “Get them a Tomkah and take them out to where we last saw the yellow one.”

“Yes, Clan Leader.” The Krogan stood up straight and walked over to Twilight and the group, most of whom were still staring at the blood stain the dead krogan left behind. “Follow me.”

He stomped away, and as soon as they realized that he wasn't going to wait for them to keep up, galloped after him, eager to get as far away from Urdnot Wreav as possible.

“The Emissary, on Tuchanka. Heh.” Wreav laughs, kicking back comfortably in his seat. He laughed, amused. “Next they'll be telling me Wrex has returned.”

###

There wasn’t much room onboard the small ship that Kai Leng had stolen. There was barely enough room for one passenger, much less two. With only a small small cabin separate from the cockpit, Kai Leng and Hope had to switch their time between sleeping and flying.

At them moment, it was Kai Leng’s turn to be sleeping. He couldn’t though, and instead just lay on the small cot, hands folded over his chest, breathing slowly, meditating. In the cockpit, through the thin doorway, Kai Leng can hear Hope watching over the ship's flight plan, humming some tune he was only partly aware of.

Purposefully ignoring the soft murmur of the music she was humming along to, Kai Leng let his mind wander.

Where was Twilight going? What was the purpose of her journey. What made the Journal he had heard about so important? He didn’t know, but every bit of evidence that he'd gathered indicates that it was the journal that was pointing her way across the stars. Cerberus needed that journal if humanity was ever going to gain an advantage over Equestria.

He needed that journal.

Whatever was important enough for Celestia to send her most prized pupil out and away from her safety must be important. Important enough that Cerberus needed to involve itself.

The Illusive Man wasn't thinking clearly, Kai Leng knew this from the bottom of his heart. He'd get the journal, and whatever it was that Twilight was searching so desperately for, and then the Illusive Man would apologize. He was right.

He was right, and the Illusive Man was wrong.

###

The Illusive Man contemplated the view from his office, for once, neither drinking or smoking. He wa entirely focused on the sun, and his own thoughts.

Sir.” One of his many beautiful ‘assistants’ chimed his intercom.

The Illusive Man didn't respond, instead just turning his ear towards the nearest speaker to better hear her. She correctly assumed that she’d been ordered to continue.

Ethan Salitorian is on the line, like you requested.

“Thank you,” was all that the Illusive Man said.

Though he couldn’t see her, he knew that from her place behind her desk, she was giving him a bow of her head in acknowledgement. He’d spent enough time around her (and for that matter inside her) to know her way of acting.

Taking a moment to compose himself, the Illusive Man stood and turned to face his QEC. He activated it with the discrete press of a hidden button on the sleeve of his jacket, and with that, Ethan Salitorian shimmered into view, life-size, a crisp, nearly perfect holographic replica of the man himself.

It's been a while.” Ethan stared at the Illusive Man, more annoyed than anything else.

“I have a job for you, Salitorian.” With neither a cigarette or a glass in his hands, the Illusive Man settled instead for crossing his arms over his chest.

I thought I'd told you that I'd retired. Get your guard dog Leng to do your bidding.” Ethan and the Illusive Man had their differences, though they had parted on relatively peaceful terms. The large amount of cash that Ethan had received from Cerberus had certainly helped matters along.

“This job involves Kai Leng,” and with that, the Illusive Man knew that he had the man’s full attention, “And the actions that he's taken recently. He risks ruining everything.”

Ethan paused, halfway to pressing the button to end the connection, contemplating that, intrigued. “I'm listening…

“Kai Leng has decided to turn a one man vendetta into a war against the diarchy of Equestria, namely the new Celestial Emissary, against my direct orders.”

Why?” Ethan frowned. He’d never liked Leng, but the man had always been rational enough. Not exactly sane, but he’d always been firmly on the Illusive Man’s leash. “What possible reason could he have for doing that?

“If I knew that, I wouldn't need you, would I?”

At least you can admit your faults,” Ethan said, shrugging.

“He needs to be stopped. He's already crossed more lines than any sane man would.” This entire situation grated on the Illusive Man’s nerves, and he wanted it over with as quickly as possible.

Be straight with me. What are you asking?” Ethan tilted his head, studying every movement the Illusive Man made.

“Find Kai Leng. Subdue him. Bring him back to me for…” The Illusive Man paused, gritting his teeth. “Reeducation.”

“Yeah.” Ethan grinned, more than happy with what the Illusive Man was asking from him. “I can do that. Now, about my fee--

“Give my assistant the number, and it's yours.” The Illusive Man waved the entire matter away. “Bring him back, alive.”

You've got it, boss.” With that, Ethan's form on the QEC shimmered out of existence, and the Illusive Man was left alone.

“I really hate that man.” He sighed, wishing for a cigarette.

Author's Note:

This is by no means a requirement, but any support you can give to this story would be greatly appreciated. You can find my patreon here.

In case anyone is wondering, the title is a reference to Iain M. Bank's Culture series, a ship from Hydrogen Sonata.

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