• 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 Forty-One - Fortune and Glory, Kid

Chapter Forty-One - Fortune and Glory, Kid
Feros, Theseus System
April 24, 2183 CE

Feros was, in many ways, more of a tomb than a planet. It was an old planet, and it had been old when the first Protheans set foot on its soil before they built their planet covering city. It had already been filled with ghosts when other planets were just being formed from cosmic dust. To live on Feros, you either had to grow used to the ghosts or stay away. The air was thick with them, after all, and with every breath taken it’s said you can feel them pulsing through your veins.

Despite the rumors and the fear that Feros brought up in a not insubstantial portion of the galactic population, it was still a prime candidate for recolonization. There could be a wealth of artifacts in the still largely unexplored Prothean megalopolis, any of which could advance nearly every aspect of life. At least that was the way ExoGeni saw it. A human company, and rather new at that, they had still managed to amass a rather impressive amount of capital, which they used to fund colonies across the Traverse. Zhu’s Hope was the name of one of their newer colonies, located on Feros. Unlike the others it counted, Zhu’s Hope was different in the fact that it was never meant to be a self-sustaining population. ExoGeni was pouring obscene amounts of credits into the colony, and all the colonists worked for the company to methodically explore the Prothean ruins and catalog and retrieve everything they found.

It had proved to be the most lucrative colony they had ever funded. The most expensive by far as well.

Not that you could see any of this from space. From space, Feros hung in the stars, a grey orb, covered in dark clouds and lightning, the result of an atmosphere struggling to return to its once golden world status. Scientists estimated the world would need at least another 100,000 years before any trace of the Prothean colonization effort was wiped away and the planet could heal. For now, and for the foreseeable future, however, it would stay as the husk of its former self, and a world of ghosts.

Ghosts and the Geth, as it turned out. The planet was swarming with Geth ships in the upper atmosphere, flitting about to some unseen end.

It was into this mess that the SSV Normandy decelerated from FTL, cloaking already active, and invisible to all sensors. While normally a good thing, it wasn’t always the best idea to run silent when in a system heavy with ship traffic. Collisions were likely to occur, and the pair of Geth dropships almost directly in the Normandy’s way never even had a glimmer of an idea of how close they came to a fatal collision, as the Normandy dropped gracefully under their bulk.

Inside and on the bridge, Joker and Spitfire were a flurry of motion, the Normandy moving under their control with a grace that exemplified the exact reason why the pair of them had been picked as her pilots.

“Hoh-Kay…” Joker laughed nervously, watching the scanners to make sure one-hundred percent that the Geth hadn’t noticed them. They didn’t stray from their course, and he breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, flight space is a little crowded.”

“That garbled distress call makes more sense now.” Spitfire took stock of what the various scans Normandy was tossing her way meant. Nearly 100 Geth ships were currently in orbit around Feros, though 12 were making their way out of the system.

The footsteps coming up behind them could belong to no one else but the Commander, and the small alert light on both of their consoles confirmed that there was an officer on deck. Though they sat a little straighter, neither stood and acknowledged her. That would be foolish with just how crowded space was in front of them.

“What's happening, Joker?” The twinge of annoyance in Shepard’s voice made Joker wince. “What’s with the unannounced maneuvers?”

“Sorry, Shepard, we've-“

“Watch it!” As Joker started to turn to look at Shepard, Spitfire shouted out, pointing at the lidar map of the surrounding space, and the trio of Geth ships in front of them.

“I see it, I see it.” Joker waved her off. Behind him, he could feel the pressure as Shepard grabbed onto one of the handles on the panels above his seat, trying to keep her balance as Joker slid the Normandy sideways between the three Geth ships.

“Quit showing off for the Commander. An inch off and you'd have taken off one of the dorsal fins, and then they'd know we were here.” Spitfire growled under her breath. Joker knew that if it weren’t for his condition, she’d have punched him. She still might, once they weren’t in a potential combat zone. He wasn’t looking forward to finding out.

“But I didn't and they don't.” He shot her a smug look, which she did not return. In fact, he’d say her look was downright un-smug. It was actually more frustrated than smug. No matter. “I Think the proper thing to say is: Thank you, Joker. Your incredible flight skills have saved us from detection and we looked awesome doing it.”

“You can look awesome on your own time, Joker.” Shepard’s voice was more than a little reprimanding, and the pressure on the back of his seat disappeared as she let go of the handle. “I'd prefer to not lose a frigate worth half as much as a dreadnought. Now, status report.”

Joker blanched, and Spitfire finally gave him the smug look he was searching for just a moment ago.

“We're just entering orbit around Feros, and as you just saw, it's swarming with Geth.” Spitfire spoke up before Joker had a chance, keeping her eyes on the screens.

“It's what we call in the biz a target rich environment.” Joker was a little sad they hadn’t had a chance to use the Normandy’s weapons outside of live-fire exercises, and unless things went terribly wrong in the next few hours, they wouldn't get a chance here.

“Quiet you.” Spitfire waved a hoof at him dismissively. “You're not out of the doghouse yet.”

With a shit-eating grin, Joker turned too her. “Don't you mean ponyho-”

“If you finish that sentence, I honestly won't stop her from whatever she does to you,” Shepard said, her voice as dry as dry could be, and Joker could picture her expression perfectly. Half-lidded eyes, with a slight flaring of her nostrils. “I'll even put in a commendation recommendation to the Wonderbolts for her.”

“Fine, fine.” Joker held up his hands in surrender, his grin not leaving his face for a moment. “I see when I'm not wanted here.”

Both Spitfire and Shepard stared at him, and he didn't so much as flinch. That was impressive in its own right, as Spitfire’s glare had been known to occasionally light things on fire, but that only happened on Equestria, thanks to all the latent magic in the atmosphere… he hoped… Alright, maybe that wasn’t the best idea of a joke.

“You know, most people leave after saying that.” The venom in Spitfire’s voice would have been enough to make a lesser man flinch, but Joker was no lesser man.

Or perhaps he was just being deliberately dense.

“Okay, one,” Joker held up his pointer finger towards her, “I'm flying and we're in a potential combat zone. Two,” he held up a second finger. “I don't feel like trying my luck on whether or not I break anything while getting out of my chair.”

“Coward,” Spitfire grumbled under her breath. That promised nothing good for him in the future, and Joker made a note to check his sheets before getting into bed for the next few days.

Shepard just shook her head, rolled her eyes, and coughed to remind them she was still there. SHe decided the best course of action would be to just move the conversation right along and let them sort out their issues on their own time. “So we know what that communication was about, don't we.”

“Well, sure there are Geth ships all over the place and I'm picking up nothing but static from the colony, but you know there's nothing to say it's the Geth they were worried about. Who knows, it could be anything.” Joker shrugged, taking a moment to take a look at Feros ahead of them through the view screens covering the bridge.

“Yes, well, until it's proven otherwise, we'll operate on the assumption that the Geth are the problem.” Shepard opened her omni-tool and with a few quick commands, connected to the Normandy's battle-net. She flipped through sensor readings that the ship was picking up and shooting her in real time. “So the colony is still there, and we're picking up life-signs, so the Geth must be jamming them.”

“What's the plan, Commander?” Joker asked, turning his head slightly in her direction.

“We need to know what Saren was doing here, and it looks like the only way to do that is to get boots on the ground.” Shepard didn’t sound at all happy about that, and the tone of resigned acceptance was heavy in her voice.

“Just say the word, Commander. We can do it,” Joker said, with no small amount of pride.

“I know you can.” Shepard patted the back of his chair, realizing it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to misjudge how much his skeleton could take and breaking his shoulder while he was flying. “Just don't get cocky. You're an amazing pilot, you both are. Don't let it get to your head, and don't get in any unnecessary risks.”

“Copy that, Shepard.” Joker gave a thumbs up. “On the straight and narrow from here on out.”

“I'll believe it when I see it, Joker. Take us in, nice and quiet. I don't want the Geth to have even a whisper of our passing. Quiet as a mouse fart.”

Before either Joker or Spitfire could respond, Shepard was already halfway down the bridge and walking with a purpose.

“Quiet as a mouse fart? Who says that?” Joker stared after her. “God, she walks fast.”

“Not as fast as you can stick your foot in your mouth,” Spitfire said as she activated the Normandy’s intercom. “Ground team, report to hanger bay and gear up. We're thirty minutes out from a potential Geth held colony. Prepare accordingly.”

Joker just made faces at her as he started the process of atmospheric entry while stealthed, taking the Normandy down towards Zhu's Hope on Feros, the sole colony on the entire planet.

###

Entering any planetary atmosphere was a risky procedure. There was always the risk that if you didn’t enter just right, you could bounce off and burn off parts of your hull. Back when humans were just beginning to explore out into space, whole teams of mathematicians and scientists would prepare the calculations needed for the little crafts to return to Earth. That was almost 200 years ago though, and the galaxy had moved onward. Most ships now had a computer that did all those calculations nearly instantly. That wasn’t to say that entry was easy, but it wasn’t something that made passengers hold their breath in fear anymore.

Now, attempting this while stealthed was not something that many people in the galaxy had a chance to practice. The fact that the Normandy was the first of her line and in many ways still a prototype didn’t help matters. The way that she was stealthed was to hide any heat that most ships emitted into space, by instead hiding it away in massive heatsinks that took up the vast majority of the interior of the ship. While not a perfect system, it did more than enough to mask her from most sensors, and that was even before the Equestrian magitech had been added midway through her construction.

That was all fine normally, but entering an atmosphere made things a bit difficult. It was a high-friction activity that generated temperatures hot enough vaporize most anything that attempted it. Most ships were able to bleed that friction off back into the atmosphere, but the fact that the Normandy needed to maintain her stealth complicated matters extremely.

The best way to maintain stealth would be to use the Normandy’s heatsinks to collect the heat that reentry caused. The original engineers had planned for this, and their best suggestion was to make sure that the Normandy had dumped her heatsinks before attempting any such maneuver, which was a whole process on its own that involved finding a nearby gas giant. That was before Equestria had joined the prototype team, adding the cooling crystals to the Internal Emissions Sink, the IES. Theoretically, the ship could run in stealth mode forever.

Theoretically, it also meant that she could enter the atmosphere completely stealthed without generating any heat blooms that would show up across an entire hemisphere of the planet. From there, the more traditional stealth technologies on the Normandy would have to take over, hiding them from radar, infrared, and the like.

It was to everyone’s great relief that it worked without a hitch, and the Normandy slipped into Feros’ atmosphere as easily as you could please.

With all the grace of a bird of prey, the Normandy zoomed through the sky, past the hulking skyscraper wrecks of the former Prothean megalopolis. Her engines flared as it came to a near halt just outside a large pair of dock doors. When looking at the skyscraper as a whole, these were obviously a much more recent addition to the Prothean ruins. Human in make, unmistakable in the design, a moment passed before the doors started to open, the Alliance codes the Normandy transmitted more than enough to pass the security.

The Normandy slipped inside quickly and easily, and the doors immediately started to shut as soon as the last bit of the ship had entered.

Inside, the docking bay was a mix of old Prothean ruin and human tech bolted and welded on to make it all function. Some effort had been made in trying to make it look nice and pleasant, to varying degrees of success. Some of the weld seams had been buffered to a shine, and in others, boxes had been stacked to hide a bigger mess.

As the Normandy settled and the engines started their shut off cycle, docking clamps extended, locking the Normandy in place and keeping her suspended in the air, a bridge extending to the forward airlock.

As the Normandy settled into its new berth, her airlock cycled open and the ground team exited, led by Shepard, followed by Liara, Rainbow, Garrus, Tali, Wrex, Ashley, and Kaidan. Their weapons were at the ready as they laid down overlapping fields of fire and moved forward on the bridge to the main docking area.

“Movement,” Garrus whispered into the comms, settling down on one knee and gently cradling his rifle, ready to fire at the first sign of trouble.

Following Garrus’ lead, they all snapped their rifles toward the end of the bridge, waiting for whatever it was that caught Garrus’ eye.

A long moment passed, and the tension grew thick in the air. Ashley shuffled her feet, a shiver passing up her spine, and then-

A rough man tumbled around the bend, hand on his head to try and keep his wide-brimmed fedora from flying away. Dressed in various shades of brown, he wore a light button up shirt on top of darker pants, and even darker boots. As he sprung up from the ground, he spotted the lot of them and waved wildly at them, part in warning, part in an order to retreat.

“Go! Go!” He shouted, half out of breath. He rushed past them, leaping over a pile of crates and tumbling to the ground end over end. He sat up, paying no mind to the new scrapes on the side of his face starting to well with blood, taking deep gulping breaths, adjusting his hat as he pulled a large pistol from the holster on his belt.

That got them moving. Shepard was the quickest on the draw, aiming her rifle towards him, and the rest of the ground team started to follow her lead when the man shook his head and stood on shaky legs, firing three rounds at a Geth platform that come speeding around the corner.

Ducking back behind cover, he looked at the lot of them incredulously, a frown on his face, which was covered in five o'clock shadow.

“What are you waiting for? An engraved Invitation? It'd be great for a little help here!” He snarked, before standing and firing five more shots into the Geth.

They all hesitated for just a moment, trying to work out in their head what was happening, but when another twenty Geth joined the first, they quickly put aside all questioning thoughts, they opened fire.

The next minute was filled with nearly solid gunfire. Now, Geth were quite good at small unit tactics, and with twenty platforms nearby, their processing speed was remarkably high. Despite that, they were stuck on a bridge, with no need or desire to retreat, without any cover.

It was not a winning combination for them.

“Hold fire!” Shepard called out, holding up a hand as the last of the shattered wrecks of the Geth died.

The ground team listened, lowering their guns, but they were all ready at a moments notice to start firing again.
Shepard joined the man as he stood up, the ground crew surrounding both of them in a loose semicircle, not exactly trusting, but not threatening either.

“Nice shooting.” Shepard said, watching as the man holstered his gun with practiced on his belt. “You run into this type of trouble often.”

“You'd be surprised.” He chuckled to himself, eyes distant in memories.

“With a piece like that, no, not really.” Shepard shrugged. She gestured at his gun, and he followed her gaze. It was indeed a nice gun, a clearly custom piece modeled more like a revolver than a handgun.

“It was my fathers.” The man said, his voice lazy with a core of iron. “I've made some... modifications.”

“Who are you? Why were the Geth after you?” Shepard watched him carefully as he straightened his hat and ran a hand along the brim.

“You can call me Dr. Jones.” He extended a hand, which Shepard shook. “I'm an archaeologist-“

Before either Shepard or Dr. Jones could continue, Liara butted in, her eyes wide, a trembling excitement coursing through her body.

“Dr. Jones?” Liara almost pushed Shepard out of the way, staring at the man with an uncomfortable amount of scrutiny, and then recognition. “Indiana Jones?”

“Do I know you?” Dr. Jones squinted at her right back, and he looked like he couldn’t quite place whether she was someone he recognized or not.

“No, no!” Liara shook her head and held out her own hand to him, which he took. “I’m Dr. Liara T’Soni. I've followed your work since I started digging holes in my mother's garden. You're one of the reasons I went into archaeology.”

“You're an archaeologist?” He asked, though there wasn’t any disbelief in his voice.

“Yes!” Liara sounded out of breath, and Riley couldn’t make up her mind over whether she should feel jealous or not. “I spent the last thirty years on Therum, digging in-“

“I've heard of the Therum dig. An old Prothean prison station.” Dr. Jones said. “A lot of interesting finds there.”

“Yes-“ Liara started to continue, but Riley elbowed her in the side before she could.

“Okay, as much as I love watching you geek out, Liara, we do have other things to focus on.” Shepard put a hand on her shoulder to show there were no hard feelings.

“Yes, of course.” Liara blushed. “Please, continue.”

“Dr. Jones-“ Shepard started, but he held up a hand to interrupt her.

“Please, it’s just Indy.”

“Indy, then.” Shepard continued without missing another beat. “What can you tell me about the situation in the colony?”

“The locals are not exactly in a friendly mood.” Indy said, wiping dust from his shirt. It fell in big clouds. “I would avoid them if at all possible.”

“We're here to save them from the Geth. Why would that make them unfriendly.” Shepard kept one eye on the hall the Geth had stormed through.

“Well,” Indy shrugged. “They're not exactly friends to the Geth either. You've stumbled into a three way war, and you're on the side that barely even understands that there is a war going on. The colonists are working towards... some end that I haven't been able to figure out. The Geth are just machines, so who knows what they want. It's a big mess, and I need to get right back in the middle of it.”

“Sounds like another Tuesday.” Okay, Riley figured she might have been exaggerating a little, but considering how everything had gone since she and Rainbow had joined the crew of the Normandy, when Anderson had still been the captain.

“He.” Rainbow nodded, sniggering into a hoof. “You do have the worst luck.”

“Don't make me call mom.” Riley pointed at her with a glare.

“Do it. She'll side with me.” Rainbow called her bluff, smug.

“I've got pictures of you on your last date.” Riley had to admit that Rainbow was right, not that she would ever say it outloud.

“Right. Shutting up now.” Rainbow ducked behind Garrus a little, trying to get out of Riley’s line of sight. Her last date had… not been the best.

“Let me guess.” Indy pointed between the two of them with a lazy grin. “Twins.”

“You're funny.” Riley said, before turning to face her team. If Indy tried to do anything to them, her team would be more than enough to make sure he couldn’t even make a move. “Alright, this is serious than, people. Let's be on our guard. No shooting the scientists, but keep them at arm's length. If they become violent, non-lethal takedowns only.”

“Take all my fun why don't you.” Wrex grumbled, only half-serious. He grumbled in disappointment, but he’d follow the commands.

“Don’t be a bosh’tet,” Tali pointed at him. “You can't just kill innocent people.”

“It's cleaner that way.” Wrex shrugged, not at all affected by a Quarian just barely out of her teens being offended by him.

“And I thought that my friends were hard to work with,” Indy murmured to Riley.

“You learn to live with them. They listen to me, mostly.” Riley side-eyed Rainbow, who avoided her eye.

“And who exactly are you people?” Indy asked.

“Right, forgive me. I'm Commander Riley Shepard, Citadel Spectre. This is my team. We're here on Council business.”

“Huh.” Indy laughed, shaking his head. “Well, good luck with that.”

“And what is it that brought you to Feros?” Riley asked, watching him curiously.

“Rumors of an artifact I've spent the last twenty years looking for,” Indy said as nonchalantly as someone might say that they were searching for a novel they’d lost and had seen on their night stand just last night.

“Yeah,” Riley studied him, grinning. He had an air of actual competency that seemed to be hard to find out in the Traverse, and she was more than a little impressed. “I can see why Liara likes you. You can stick with us if you want to. It'll be safer that way, with the Geth swarming over this place.”

“Fine by me.” Indy.

Shepard nodded in acknowledgment, before looking at Rainbow. “Scout ahead, Dash. Stay unseen. If you're spotted, fall back and get to safety, got it?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Rainbow saluted before shutting her helmet and allowing the camouflage to cover her completely. With a flap of her wings, she shot up into the air and slipped through a tiny gap in the outside wall of the dock, disappearing from view.

###

Zipping out of the skyscraper, Rainbow immediately darted up into the sky with a single flap of her wings, sticking close to the tower to avoid any scanning the colony might have running. She dug up into the first cloud she could find, carving herself off a chunk just a little larger than a pony, using it cover herself and hide from view.

It was practically the best form of cover she could use without one of those fancy stealth suits that some of the Princesses’ elite guards used.

Secure in the fact that anyone looking in her direction would now only see an errant little cloud, she looked down at the trio of colony ships that had made their home in a once gargantuan room in the skyscraper, now open to the elements. The colonists were just there, milling out in the elements. They didn't particularly look like they're doing anything, just standing, staring off into space, wandering around and never meeting eyes with each other.

It was at that point that the cloud Rainbow had just hidden in vaporized into non-existence. Stifling a yelp, Rainbow righted herself in the air and darted out of the way of a Geth ship that came out of nowhere, nearly running her over. It shrugged off the automated fire from the colony, and a quick glance from Rainbow revealed that none of the colonists were at all bothered by it. They didn’t deviate from their little routines or even look up.

“What in the name of Celestia,” Rainbow murmured to herself, raising an eyebrow. She activated her radio. “Things are hinky up here, ma’am.”

“Hinky?” Shepard (and when they were working and on the clock, Rainbow could only think of her as Shepard, not Riley, her big sister) asked. “Mind bring any clearer?”

“A Geth dropship nearly ran me over, right above the colony, and the colonists didn't even look. They're just wandering around, kinda like zombies.” Rainbow explained, finding another cloud to hide in before someone spotted her, not that any of the colonists were likely to do that.

“Zombies.” Shepard’s tone was unenthusiastic, and Rainbow wondered if that was at all because of the time during her first year with their family when they stayed up late and watched Princesses of the Dead, Equestria’s first zombie movie. Neither of them had slept for a week, and they were grounded for another. “Wonderful. Are you still safe?”

“I'm fine. No one noticed me.” Rainbow had to keep a snigger from her voice, failing a little at separating Riley the big sister from Shepard the commander.

###

“Copy that, Rainbow.” Shepard motioned for her team to move forward, and for Indy to stick close to her side. “We're moving forward. Let us know if anything changes.”

“You got it, Commander,” Rainbow said before cutting the connection.

“What's happening?” Indy asked. He joined Shepard at her side as they started forward, weapons at the ready. He had no idea what was happening, as their radios were on a private channel routed through the Normandy’s communication systems first, and encrypted to the point not even the Salarian STG could crack them, or so Riley had heard.

“Rainbow has eyes on the colony,” Riley explained, her voice soft, though he had no trouble hearing her. “Says they're acting like zombies.”

“They were acting strange,” Indy confirmed, nodding, not at all skeptical, a grimace on his face. “I've seen weirder, but, still…”

“Weirder than zombie colonists?” Riley asked.

“You wouldn't believe the things I've seen.” His tone was full of mystery, hinting at strange history.

“I could say the same to you.”

“I just want to say,” Liara said, popping between the two of them, practically vibrating in excitement as she looked up at him. “You're something of a hero to me.”

“Yeah, I got that. If you'll excuse me.” Indy sped up and walked ahead a few feet away from Liara and Riley, who slumped ever so slightly in disappointed and embarrassment. She didn't try to follow him.

“Never meet your heroes, huh.” Riley allowed herself a quick little half-hug with Liara in comfort before getting back to business.

“I read everything I could about him when I was going through university. He's something of a legend, though it's something of a toss-up whether that's as a researcher trying to preserve history, or as a grave robber plundering tombs before real archaeologists can get to the site all depends on who you ask.” Liara ignored Riley’s statement, staring after the man with an inscrutable look in her eyes.

“And what do you think?” Riley asked her.

“I don't know. I'm not a child blindly believing any tale I hear anymore. I will need to see his actions with my own eyes before I make a decision.”

“That's a very mature outlook.”

“Well,” Liara met Riley’s gaze, smiling a little forlornly. “I had to grow up very quickly after leaving my mother's estate, and that doesn't even begin to touch on what we've seen since you rescued me.”

“Yeah. Not exactly something people are going to easily believe.”

“No, not exactly,” Liara admitted. Events were quickly spiraling out of the realm of believability and more into the domain of faith with each passing day.

“Movement up ahead.” Wrex triggered the radio this time, having taken the lead.

The group slowed, again taking up overlapping positions of fire. Riley pushed her way to the front, her rifle confidently held in her hands.

They settled down to wait.

They didn't have to wait long.

Instead of the Geth, a man dressed in loose colonist clothing ambled around the corner, a vacant sort of smile on his face, unusual, and unsettling. He strolled directly towards them, unconcerned by the number of guns pointed in his direction.

“Dr. Jones, do you know this man?” Riley asked, voice a little louder as he wasn’t part of their comms channel.

“Yeah,” Indy spoke up from the middle of the group. “He's the governor’s aide. Harmless.”

“On your toes people. I don't have a good feeling about this.” Riley murmured into the team’s battle-net. “Hold your fire unless he's hostile.”

“Fai Dan has heard of your arrival.” The man pushed forward, through the mass of heavily armed beings eying his every movement, completely unconcerned. “He would like to speak with you.”

“Fai Dan?” Riley just stared at him blankly.

“Yes.” The man’s expression didn’t change. Other than his mouth moving as he talked, the rest of his face didn’t move a millimeter. “He is the colonial governor here on Feros.”

“And you are?” Riley asked, studying the colony patch on his right shoulder. Zhu’s Hope.

The man stared at her for a moment, almost like he didn't hear, or possibly didn’t comprehend, but before Shepard had to speak again, he answered.

“David Al Talaqani.” There was just a hint of passion in his voice when he said his name, but it could have just been a trick of Riley’s imagination.

“Excuse me?” Riley asked.

“My name is David Al Talaqani.” He said again, though there wasn’t a single waver in his voice this time. “Please, this way. Fai Dan wishes to speak with you.”

He turned and started walking back the way he came.
Shepard and Liara shared a look that neither needed the translators that made galactic communication possible to understand.

What the hell?

With nothing else for it, they followed after David Al Talaqani.

It wasn’t a long journey, and in less than a minute, David had led them through the skyscrapers paths with an ease that could only come from having spent a long time living in the tower itself. Passing through a door slightly larger than the rest, they found themselves standing in the entrance to the colony of Zhu’s Hope.

They entered the colony, ready for anything, but not for what they saw.

“Any danger, Rainbow?” Riley asked, resisting the urge to take a step back when she saw the colonists.

“None that I can see,” Rainbow answered, and Riley resisted the urge to try and pick her out of the sky. No need to break her cover after all. “They just keep walking in circles. It's really bucking creepy.”

“Get ready to be a wrecking ball if they so much as twitch wrong.” Riley hoped that a Rainbow shaped surprise would be enough to let them gain the upper hand if all the colonists turned on them. Even a special ops team was nothing when an entire colony was out to kill you.

“Got it. This is making me all twitchy. I don't like it.” Rainbow responded, before going radio silent again.

Ahead of them, David paused, gesturing past a line of colony ships that had become the semi-permanent homes of the colonists. There was no sign of more long-term structures being constructed, but that could mean nearly anything.

“Fai Dan is just beyond the freighter. He needs your help to prepare for the Geth. They're making another push.” David said then wandering away before Riley could object.

“Right.” Taking a deep breath, Riley turned to her team. “Kaidan, Ashley, and Wrex, I want you to set up a perimeter and keep an eye out for any strange behavior. Help the colonists out if they need it, but don't let your guard down.”

“Copy that, Commander,” Kaidan said with a nod. The three of them peeled away, leaving Liara, Tali, Indy, and Garrus standing with Riley.

“You three, and you too, Dr. Jones, with me.”

Together, they headed around the freighter were David had indicated. Coming around where the cockpit of the ship used to be (as it had been removed to make room for what looked like storage), they found an older man and a middle-aged woman speaking near some blocks of crumbling stone that appeared to have fallen from the skyscraper's structure somewhere above them.

As they approached, the two stopped speaking and turned in unison to stare at Riley as she approached

“Ah.” The man said, expressionless and monotone. “I'm glad the Alliance finally sent someone to help us.”

“You're a bit late, aren't you?” The woman asked, though how she had managed to make it a question with ut her pitch moving an inch was a little impressive.

“Arcelia, don't be rude to our guests.” The man who Riley assumed was Fai Dan admonished, though it lacked any sort of bite. He bowed apologetically to Shepard. “Apologies. We have all been on edge since the Geth arrived.”

“That's why we're here.” Riley gestured for the rest of her team to keep an eye out for anyone approaching them. “Help us find out what the Geth are after, and you'll all get out of here alive.”

“We don't know what they're after.” Fai Dan said, not sounding at all frustrated or scared or any emotion at all about the Geth. “They came, and they attacked us. That's all we know. Their main base is at the ExoGeni headquarters across the skyway. It's a good place to start looking if you want answers.”

ExoGeni, the company that funded Feros' colony efforts. They specialized in colonization. In return for bankrolling the colony, they got a large percentage of the profits from all exports and business that the colony undertakes. Their main goal was the retrieval of valuable artifacts and resources. Most of the colonists worked for ExoGeni in some capacity before the attacks. With a population of nearly one-thousand, it was quickly growing.

“The Geth landed at least one of their ships at ExoGeni, and there's been a lot of movement on their side of the skyway. It won't be easy getting there.” Arcelia said.

“The Normandy is just a frigate, but we'd be able to evacuate the whole colony.” Riley wasn’t at all surprised that they didn’t have strong opinions on anything or any desires at all, but she still had to offer.

“The Geth fighters are too dangerous, and I won't be driven off this world. It is... our home. There is a chance for growth here that is simply not available on other worlds. Unless the Geth leave quickly though, we may have no other choice,” Fai Dan said.

“What do you need done to get the colony back on its feet?” If they weren’t going to leave, maybe Riley could help them in whatever little way she could.

“We need the Geth destroyed,” Arcelia said.

“Arcelia is right. There are still Geth in the tunnels. We also have more mundane problems, like food, water, and power.” Fai Dan sounded about as worried about those problems as someone might be to learn that the price of beans was fluctuating halfway across the galaxy.

Translation: not at all.

“Thank you for your time,” Riley said respectfully.

“We thank you for your help.” Fai Dan didn’t sound at all thankful. He didn’t sound much of anything.

Riley left Fai Dan and Arcelia as quickly as she could, making a b-line to her team where they were waiting for her a few feet away. She led them even a little further away, just in case the governor wanted to listen in. Not likely, but it never hurt to be sure.

“Kaidan.” Riley activated the battle-net, her voice low. “I want you to look into helping the colony with food, water, and power. I spoke with the governor and it appears they're in need of a little help.”

“Got it, Commander,” Kaidan replied quickly.

“Alright, Dr. Jones.” Riley turned her attention to her squad. “What’s this artifact you’re looking for? Fai Dan said that they haven’t found anything. That’s kind of the whole reason that ExoGeni built the colony here.”

“That’s definitely a lie.” Indy sounded more amused than alarmed by that. “I was there when they uncovered it. It was at the base of the tower across the skyway. It was about this big,” He mimed out the general size of the object with his fingers, about a four inch by four-inch cube. “and ancient Asari in origin.”

“Ancient Asari?” Liara piped up, unable to keep the bouncing excitement away any longer. “That’s incredible! There aren’t any records of Matriarchs venturing out this far.”

“None except Matriarch Dilinaga.” Indy sound more than a little smug at that.

“She never left any indication of where she went after she departed from the Citadel.” Liara countered, looking at Indy with narrowed eyes.

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Indy pulled a journal out of his knapsack, holding it up. “This is the personal journal of one of Dilinaga’s consorts. Well, an exact copy of it actually, but that’s not important.”

“Not important? How can you say it’s not important? No one has any artifacts from the Dilinaga expedition after they left the Citadel. She just disappeared.” Liara was sounding more skeptical by the moment.

“It was more like an exile than an expedition, and I got lucky. I found this journal on a dig in the Terminus Systems. It nearly cost me my life getting it back to Council Space. Everything in here has been leading to Feros. The artifact it mentions is close by.” Indy explained.

“And what exactly is this artifact?” Riley asked.

“A map.”

“A map? A map to what?”

“Dilinaga is rumored to have created a weapon so great and terrible that the other Matriarchs we’re moving to execute her for high treason,” Indy explained, flipping open the journal to a double page drawing, holding it out for them to see.

All of them stepped closer, examining the drawing.

It was intricate and whoever had drawn had more than a little amount of skill with art. It depicted six beings, surrounding a seventh, floating in the air with a mechanical device suspended above them. Even with just the medium of pen and paper, it was more than evident to all of them there was a vast amount of energy pulsing through all of the beings, flowing into the object above the seventh.

“I’ve heard of no such thing,” Liara said, sounding extremely skeptical. She wasn’t at all impressed with the drawing.

“You wouldn’t have.” Indy wasn’t dissuaded or disappointed with her disbelief. “When she escaped, they buried the truth under mountains of lies about why she left. They let her keep her image in return for never nearing Asari space. It would never have caught my attention were it not for this journal. Dilinaga was very free with the information she shared with her consorts.”

“You’re placing a lot of trust in a journal that could have come from anywhere, been written by anyone.” Liara was growing more skeptical by the moment.

“I do know where it comes from.” Indy shut the book and slipped it back into the bag at his side. “My wife’s grandmother wrote the original, after all.”

“You’re married?” Riley looked him up and down. He certainly didn’t seem the type, though who was she to say.

“Grandmother…” Liara blinked at that, before looking at him accusatorily. “Impossible! There isn’t any clue to what happened to the expedition.”

“They didn’t exactly advertise.” He wasn’t phased by her.

Garrus and Tali glanced at each other before Garrus spoke up. “I have to agree with Dr. Jones. It would be pretty easy to just skip into the population of any planet in the Terminus Systems and make your way back to Council Space. I can think of a few criminals who’ve done just that.”

“It is how I ended up on the Citadel,” Tali said, crossing her arms uncomfortably.

“But that is still impossible.” Liara shook her head. “Dilinaga was extremely well known. For her to have just reappeared would have left signs.”

“She never did,” Indy admitted.

“But you just said—”

“What I just said was that her handmaidens and consorts quietly slipped back into life in the Terminus. Dilinaga and her personal guard never did. They continued on and hid the weapon, though they left a map of their planned journey behind.”

“You don’t have any proof that they never returned.”

“I have to admit, you lot seem much more interested in old stories than most military types I’ve met.” Indy sounded amused, completely unconcerned with whether they believed him or not.

“Met a lot?” Riley asked.

“Here and there.”

“From what you’re telling us, it sounds like it could be pertinent to our investigation.” Riley was willing to believe just about anything at this point, especially after what she’d seen.

“And what exactly is that?” It was there that Indy’s curiosity was peaked.

“You wouldn’t believe us if I told you,” Riley said.

“Try me.” He challenged.

“An ancient race known as the Reapers has been culling the galactic population every fifty-thousand years to an unknown end. A rogue SPECTRE named Saren Arterius is seeking to bring about their return, and he’s allied with the Geth to do it. He was seen on Feros recently, hence why we're here.”

Indy stared at her for a long moment, inscrutable.

“Okay, no, I don't believe you. That's far-fetched, even for me.”

Riley just smirked. Liara quirked an eyebrow, clearly skeptical, but she didn't argue the point.

“Luckily, belief or non-belief is irrelevant.” Riley crossed her arms. “It's what Saren believes, and he has the influence and connections to cause serious problems on a galactic scale.”

“I've seen those types of people before. Stopped more than a few of them myself.” Indy smirked.

“If Saren believes that there's some type of map to an ancient super weapon, then we know why Saren was here. He's most likely left already, which could point to the fact that he's already found and retrieved it.” Garrus reasoned.

“Doubtful.” Indy shook his head, his hand resting on the coils of his whip at his belt.

“Do you have anything to add?” Riley asked.

“No.” Indy shrugs. “It just doesn't feel right.”

“It doesn't feel right?” Tali asked incredulously.

“I'm rarely wrong about these types of things,” Indy explained.

“Right, well, until we learn otherwise, let's operate on the assumption that Saren has found or is after Dr. Jones' artifact,” Riley said.

“Hey, Riley... that weird feeling is getting worse,” Rainbow spoke up over the battle-net.
“Nothing about this colony feels right.”

“What do you mean?” Riley asked.

“I've been watching for the last thirty minutes,” Rainbow explained, “and they're all just repeating the same looks. Just the same things, over and over again.”

“Yeah, that's a little strange. Are you good? You're not going to snap on me are you?”

“Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. I just want to get out of here. It's really bucking weird. Makes my wings itch.”

Riley cut the communication. She glanced back at Fai Dan and Arcelia. They were still standing in the same place. In fact, they didn't look like they'd moved an inch.

Taking a deep breath, Riley approached them.

“Some of the colonists are acting strange,” Riley mentioned, more to try and gauge Fai Dan’s reaction than out of any hope for an actual answer.

“We're a close-knit community.” Fai Dan said in that same monotone voice. “Most of us have lost loved ones, friends…”

“We aren't trained soldiers like you,” Arcelia continued. “Nobody taught us how to deal with the horror of war.”

“This is our home. We've watched the Geth destroy everything important to us. Don't judge us too harshly.” Despite how heartfelt his words were, they were ruined by his tone.

“Sorry.” Riley wasn’t sorry. “I'll be back if I learn more.”

“Good luck, Commander.” Fai Dan bade them goodbye.

Retreating, Shepard motioned for her team to follow her, activating the battle-net. “Rainbow, you're with us. Meet up the moment you can and there aren't any colonists around to see you.”

“Got it,” Rainbow answered.

"The sooner we get off this damn planet, the better," Riley muttered to herself, though Liara smirked, standing close enough to hear it.

Author's Note:

Believe it or not, this is a chapter that I've had planned since writing Shattered Record, Broken Wings. The character reveal this chapter is actually a part of understanding the entire backstory of the series.

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