AN: Nothing much besides wondering how time has been rushing past since I started my thesis. Has it really already been a year since I posted something? Oo

Chapter 12

An enemy as old as time itself, ruthlessly picking its targets. Every victory against this enemy only temporarily stemmed the tide as it relentlessly came back if even just the slightest chance presented itself. How anyone could even fathom to go against it was becoming more and more of a mystery to her as time progressed. By now, she could only put in a token effort to stave it off with copious amounts of senseless browsing through the Extranet.


Truly a frightening foe, thought Sedia. Her diplomatic "mission" had already entered the sixth unfruitful month after Humanity had skedaddled back behind their Relay. By now, only a skeleton crew had remained on the Ailura, leaving the poor sops like herself with even less opportunities to relieve the absolute, skull-numbing, soul-crushing boredom.

"Is there even a point in waiting anymore?" Sedia idly asked while tearing her eyes from the article on new head-crest care products to glance at the ship's sensory data.

"Who knows?" her colleague in the communication officer's seat, Rielse, replied halfheartedly without even looking up from the doodle she was drawing on her omnitool. "They might just have decided that their grudge against the Batarians isn't worth it and blocked their Relay for good. Or maybe they'll come around again soon?

Like right now..."

Bending her head over backwards, Rielse stared at Sedia and the holo-screens in front of her with eyes expecting nothing, yet also daring a blip to pop up and break the monotony.

Sedia also turned her attention back to her station. If this was like in all of the big space dramas then the universe would do everything in its might to reciprocate the dare of her colleague and a battle fleet with so many ships they'd blot out the stars behind them would appear through the relay. Then the Ailura would be the first tragic casualty of an epic war spanning the galaxy. They would either be destroyed, no utterly vaporized, by the unknown super-weapon of their enemies, or they would be caught by the aliens. Caught and made into test subjects to study their biology and figure out the best way to combat or brainwash them. And when all secrets of the Asari body have been revealed, the only fate that would await Sedia was living the rest of her life as a pet for her new overlords. She would get presented at parties as a trophy, be forced to dine on the finest delicacies of newly conquered planets, and at night the body of chiseled muscles she had seen on that male Human would would ravage her, gradually turning her feeble attempts at resistance into moan of-

With a dull thud a cup bounced of the Asari's head courtesy of the communication officer.

"Get your mind out of the gutter, it's starting to smell like a Vorcha den in here."

With a small whine Sedia threw a reproachful look at her colleague while rubbing the spot where the makeshift projectile had hit her.

"Is it too much to ask for the sweet release of daydreams?"

"If your hands start to move below your waistline then yes, yes it is."

In the following seconds of silence Sedia's rightful indignation at being the victim of tableware artillery gradually faded into a bashful smile under the half-lidded gaze aimed at her. She was only let off the hook when Rielse sighed heavily and returned to drawing. Sedia on the other hand decided to return her attention back to her station, queuing the next episode of her sitcom to download over what they called an Extranet connection here. She basically felt as though she was stranded on Tuchanka, and only had a rusty pipe that leaked a few drops every day for drinking water.

If captain Thalia hadn't loosened regulations she would have already instigated a mutiny!



If only they would get a replacement crew to take over after all these months. She didn't understand why the top brass still wanted to keep this entire Humanity business under wraps this badly. Disregarding their reeeeally big and scary ship, they hadn't really done all that much to justify this amount of caution.

Yes, they might have spirited away a couple of ships skirting the fringes of civilized space, but ships vanishing was basically business as usual around there. And considering how charming their First Contact with the Batarians seems to have been, the fact that the Ailura hadn't been shot to bits straight away was a good sign in her book.

Personally, she was all for the integration of Humanity into the wider galaxy. In particular the galactic dating scene.


Before her train of thought could proceed towards fantasizing about interspecies relations, diplomatic and otherwise, her terminal demanded her attention.

"Already? Is nobody else using our Extranet downlink right now?"

Looking at her screen, the progress bar of her download was still struggling to crawl beyond even a percent of its total length. More importantly, the machine was informing her of a new contact.

A new ship to be more precise.

And it had just appeared from the Relay.

After a short moment of stupefied disbelief, Sedia smashed the alarm button so hard it would have broken were it not only a combination of light and haptic feedback implants in her fingers. A siren started to sound on the entire ship and each crew member was unsubtly informed that they should get to their stations post haste. Displaying their discipline as elite Asari soldiers, the bridge personnel was fully assembled in less than two minutes, waiting with bated breaths for the objective of their mission to make their next move.

Captain Thalia was relieved that the Humans kept to their way of announcing their intent to send their envoys to the Ailura. As an Asari, she could appreciate consistency in all matters, especially those related to diplomacy.

Another nice surprise was the size of their vessel. While also slightly different in its style, the more significant change was that the Human ship was barely as big as the Ailura, meaning they weren't staring down figurative, or maybe literal, gun barrels half their diameter anymore.

In terms of negotiations, this put both parties on a much more even footing. Thalia would be enthusiastic about this if it were not for the simple fact that Matriarch Benezia couldn't afford to idle her time away out here in empty space, and had therefore returned to Thessia shortly after the last contact with Humanity.

More to the point: While there was a dedicated diplomatic delegation, she was the highest ranking Asari on this ship in terms of seniority, so she would be called upon for her counsel when things got ugly. Something that was to be expected when remembering the last time.

Sadly, or maybe luckily -Thalia couldn't really tell- the new species didn't notice nor care for her inner musings and steadily approached with their ship. Repeating the same space walk spectacle as before to enter their ship, the Asari captain had sent out her Commandos to escort the representatives to the same conference room as last time. In there, she and two members of the diplomatic delegation had already taken their positions. The duo which would essentially stem the negotiation were an experienced Matron nearing her transition to Matriarch named Halixna T'esus and the younger Matron Staetha Dalira who had specialized herself in the follow-up of First Contact scenarios.

The trio waited, standing behind the large conference desk, staring at the door their guests would enter through.

With a slight swoosh, the same duo of astonishingly Asari-looking aliens as last time appeared. Of course this was assuming that there was some difference between the members of their respective genders.

"Welcome ambassadors. It is nice to have you visit this vessel under the mantle of peace once again. My name is Halixna T'esus and I have the honor of representing the Citadel Council."

"I thank you for welcoming us. My name is Thosaka Rin and this is my companion Archer and we represent Humanity. We would like to restart the dialogue between our peoples."

"In that case I would very much like to offer you to take a seat." the wise Matron said while gesturing towards the empty chairs. Her proposition was accepted with a slight tilting of the female's head and both she and her companion sat down.

"I see that you have taken the time to study our language since last time." Halixna noted after everyone had taken their respective places. Thalia mused that the point just brought up was the only real difference, beside the size of their ship, compared to last time. The aliens had still come aboard their ship unarmed. Which in turn just made her question the attendance of the male. Last time he had appeared to serve as a technician for their translation device. Now that the language barrier didn't seem to need technical help to surpass anymore, what was his function?

"A translator will ultimately only ever be a crutch. And considering the importance of the topics to come, misunderstandings due to faulty software would only make things worse and leave a lasting mark of shame." the white furred Human replied in a sagely manner. It sounded slightly haughty and chiding, but only as an undertone and faint enough that you couldn't even overtly take offense. Reciprocating the secretly thrown glance by Halixna, captain Thalia agreed that caution would be necessary against an opponent that had, since their last interaction less than a year ago and with contact to at most a couple of captured Asari, already mastered the standardized form of the Asari tongue, as spoken on the core worlds of the Asari republics, to a degree where she could layer nuances into it on a level one would expect from a seasoned Matron.

"With regards to the unfortunate ways we parted ways last time, I agree that reducing the possibility of misunderstandings is an excellent idea. Although judging by the emphasis put on the importance of the upcoming matters I fathom that they will require it?"

"Most likely." to the faintly smiling Asari's slight dismay, her jab at the way the other side had cut off their conversation halfway through last time was ignored. Without a pause, the other woman continued.

"We want to take up official relations, of a nature yet to be determined, with the Citadel Council."

"That sounds wonderful." Halixna replied with a beaming expression on her face. Yet after a few calculated seconds, it merged into a questioning half-frown. "Although I would like to ask what has happened with regards to the issue that caused your forceful return last time."

Internally, the diplomatic Asari knew that, with the disintegration of the Batarian Hegemony and the beginning reformation of its remnants over the past months, they could symbolically offer up the surviving loyalists to this new species. Of course, only after they officially signed a statement that they would not mistreat prisoners. She was certain that the higher-ups would have no problem throwing the loyalists to the Varrens without a second thought as long as the media would see it in a favorable light, regardless of what really happened to them.

"That is indeed one of the important topics I would like to touch upon.

As a continuation of our declaration last time, Humanity now wants to officially claim our responsibility for the attack on the Batarian homeworld called Karshan." And with this, Halixna's smile became completely fake again.

The Ailura had observed the Relay the entire time since their last appearance. A Human fleet or even just a ship large enough to be a threat to the homeworld of an entire species couldn't have possibly passed them by without notice. Which left information gathering via hacking through the Relay the most probable solution. Still an unnerving one, considering the fact that the only ships around were the Ailura and the Shadow Watcher, and both ships are equipped with some of the best hard- and software in terms of security. To hack into their systems without notice implied a significant potential danger in cyber-warfare.

"As we understand that this could be a point that requires delicate handling on your part, considering what Lady Benezia told us last time about military protection of member states, we would like to settle this issue as peacefully as possible." the Human representative said.

"We are very happy to hear this. With your previous declaration we had already feared to have come upon a people fond of warmongering, but it is seems we have only suffered from a bad first impression of each other." Halixna replied. "Talks of peace are welcome at any time. Yet, most unfortunately, I must implore you to wait until Matriarch Benezia can arrive here as I have not been given the needed authority to formally accept or deny any statements." the Asari tried her best to look regretful as she fielded her delaying tactic. Physical travel always takes longer than communication, allowing for a fully prepared Benezia to make better use of the situation than herself who had just been thrown this bombshell. "Please do excuse my inability, but in the meantime I would be more than happy to exchange trivial bits of information about our races if you do not mind."

There was barely enough time for her opponent to reply before she started a glorified infomercial about the Citadel Council and it's advantages. As she didn't get interrupted like Matriarch Benezia had, Halixna judged that she had a chance to paint the Citadel in a favorable light while transmitting everything that had and will transpire to the Council and the Matriarch, and waiting for instructions on how to proceed.

All she had to do now was to never stop talking but not saying anything really important. Thankfully, as a seasoned diplomat, that was second nature to her.

"Today we mark the fifth month since the tragic massacre on the Batarian homeworld of Karshan, better known as the Karshan Tragedy. According to the most reliable reconstructions of events announced by the Citadel Council, a revolt on the planet threatened to overthrow the old regime which used a newly developed biological weapon in a last effort to cling onto the old order of the Hegemony. The untested weapon proved far to virulent for even its creators to handle, spreading around the planet like a wildfire, eradicating most of its population in a self-inflicted genocide before the Turian relief fleet could arrive on site.

Detailed information on the biological agent used on Karshan remains kept under tight wraps for security reasons. On orders of the Citadel Council, the Turian fleet stationed around Karshan is quarantining the entire system until the investigation of the pathogen has been concluded and a countermeasure has been devised.

On a more positive note, the rebuilding of social order in the former territories of the Batarian Hegemony has proceeded at an unprecedented pace due to abundant material and diplomatic support of the Asari Republics and the Salarian Union. Reformation of a unified government for the many worlds is expected to happen before the end of the year. Tentative speculations indicate a high possibility for a federal system with a high ability of each world to influence their own legislation. Experts say this is to be expected as a rebound of sorts with regards to the oppression suffered by the people under the previous regime.

A further development stemming from the Karshan Tragedy is that Saren Arterius, the Savior of Karshan, has been appointed as a Spectre, following his achievement of rescuing the only survivors from the now barren planet. In a miraculous feat of bravery, a unit under his command braved the dangers of the contaminated environment to save a group of civilians of several races, holding on inside an underground shelter.

For a recording of the inauguration ceremony just keep on watching after the end of this news report.

In any case, Galactic Network will continue to keep an eye on the situation surrounding the Karshan Tragedy for all our viewers in the galaxy to provide you with the latest information.

My name is Ilana Berena and this was Galactic Network News, see you next news."

"Pah!" a disgruntled Krogan in a faded red battle armor exhaled after having downed a glass of Ryncol in one gulp.

"Relief Fleet? Self-inflicted? I'd rather believe someone telling me his pink colored pet Thresher Maw shat a gold bar." Wrex grumbled. "Seems more like the four-eyes finally annoyed the Turians enough, or the Salarians developed something new they couldn't wait to test..."

Filling his emptied glass back to the brim, the aged Krogan continued while dispassionately watching the figure of a singular Turian standing in from of the Council members in a grand ceremony. "I'd bet my quads that there's more to this than they are willing to tell. And that whatever comes out of the ashes of the Hegemony will be a lapdog to them isn't even a question."

Nursing his glass with a melancholic air around him, Wrex mulled over the rage that hadn't stopped bubbling up inside him for the past millennium. Only the notification of a new target on his omnitool managed to move him away from his state of torpor and get his blood pumping.

Grabbing his trusty shotgun, a fleshy grin on his lips, the massive Krogan moved towards the bar's door. There was battle to be fought.

Their reaction, or rather overreaction, had slightly perplexed Rin.

After she and Archer had boarded the alien ship and exchanged some pleasantries with the blue ones that looked like something a certain starfleet captain would love to lay his hands on, the one called Halixna started to explain a lot about the Citadel Council.

Economy, military, bla, bla, bla...

To be honest, she couldn't have brought herself to care as the Asari basically recited the bastard child of a travel advertisement and an encyclopedia article. Even worse was the fact that she already knew all of this. She had reread some of it not even three hours ago, for God's sake...

Archer on the other hand was listening with rapt attention. Although his intentions were probably of a more practical nature, she would use it later on to needle him a little bit as revenge for having to suffer this droning.

Before that though, she had to deal with the overreaction of their opponent.

Different from what the blue lady had told her, the previous one called Benezia didn't come again.

Instead, the head honchos themselves expressed the wish for a human delegation to personally meet them. On the Citadel.

Were they crazy?

If one of her subordinates would spout nonsense like this she would shove a Gandr so far up their arses that the small ball of swirling curse would snugly fit next to the shriveled walnut in the emptiness of their cranium.

Inviting someone whom you don't know much about, who literally just claimed to have attacked you, right into the center of their most important node of politics and finance? Did they lack any kind of self-preservation instincts?

Even the current blue lady seemed to agree, judging by the fact that her navy blue face now leaned more towards sky blue.

Either way, both she and Archer were now aboard the alien ship, hopping through Mass Relay after Mass Relay, closing in on the space station called Citadel. The crew of Rin's ship hadn't sounded too enthusiastic about it -sending off someone of her position this deep into potentially hostile territory- but had conceded the point after she picked up the Abomination.

Archer had looked questioningly at the small suitcase covered with seals and heavy chains, which had been handed to him to carry, but she just ignored it. If all went well, there would be no need for That to see the light of the world ever again. Not if she could help it.

Where usually amber light coated the lavishly decorated room, now only dimmed lights illuminated the pedestal facing the balcony reserved for the highest triumvirate of decision makers on the Citadel. It was far outside of their usual operating hours and special care had been taken to ensure that the room had been cleared of any unwanted ears listening in.

Their guests had been brought here under a heavy veil of security and secrecy, funneled directly from a high priority dock to their audience room, avoiding contact with any inhabitants of the enormous space station.

This meeting was to be as clandestine as it could get. It had to.

Leaving aside special agents -trained to neither hear nor see- assigned to security, only five sentient beings were in the big room right now. Three figures looked upon the remaining two from their perch, the sparkling expanse of space visible behind them. A tense silence had continued for several seconds as the two sides gauged each other, only to be broken by Tevos.

"We are happy to welcome you to the Citadel, human ambassadors Thosaka Rin and Archer. We are the triumvirate governing the highest office in the galaxy, the Citadel Council. To my left you have Keel, the councilor representing the Salarian Union, while to my right is councilor Batius representing the Turian Hierarchy. Lastly, I am Tevos, assigned councilor for the Asari Republics."

Pausing for a moment, the Asari continued addressing the human ambassadors.

"Under normal circumstances we would have received you on the center of the galaxy with the highest honors, but the claims you have made to our delegation have priority."

Although it had been clear to Rin that the blue alien that had called itself Tevos wanted to continue, she used the slight lull in her monologue after she finished the last sentence to cut straight into a dialogue.

"Then allow me to repeat my statements.

An accord has been struck among humanity that peaceful interaction with the races covered by the Citadel Council would be favorable, and thus we want to take up diplomatic relations.

As a first act under this directive, we wish to claim responsibility for an attack we conducted on a planet called Karshan as retaliation for their unprovoked invasion of our homeworld. To clarify, this is not an apology, it is meant as a sign of goodwill and an offer to provide assistance with management of the unintended side-effects."

Tevos and Keel were taken back by the directness they had been slapped with. Batius on the other hand could not stop his ire from flaring up, as even though the rational part of him could understand the desire and need for revenge, the callousness shown at the attack of something that was, tentatively speaking, his ally, made his mandibles twitch. He was also the first to sort his thoughts and formulate a reply.

"While we do appreciate your sentiment for a dialogue between our races, there are serious doubts about the authenticity of your second claim.

The deterring effect you might hope for with such a claim is obvious, but neither have our investigations shown any evidence supporting it, nor do we wish for your introduction to the wider galaxy to be one marred by the largest tragedy in recent history."

"We can understand that the attack at the hands of Batarian pirates many years ago has most probably left a big scar on a young species such as you, and we offer our condolences for your losses. But building up a scary image of humanity will only hurt you in the long run." Tevos said, depicting herself to be the benign figure of their trio.

Rin's irritation on the other hand had just jumped up another notch. But no matter how much their patronizing attitudes irked her, lashing out at an opponent was a sign that you lost in the battle of words. And she had, by far, not lost yet.

"In that case, we will refrain from speaking about this topic any further."

"For that we are most grateful." Tevos happily replied. "A big upheaval such as the introduction of a new race is best not complicated further than necessary, wouldn't you say?"

"That might be so. But despite my previous statement, allow me to give you one last piece of advice. If you want to reclaim that planet, you would do well to do so swiftly and decisively lest it awakes completely."

The ominous warning spoken by the black haired magus derailed the flow of the conversation.

Despite being aware of the coaxing nature of the comment, Keel could not help but ask for clarification.

"Is this about the supposed side-effect you spoke of earlier?"

"Indeed. But to go into detail now would be ignoring your requests to keep quiet about the incident. And I am loath to put such a black mark at the beginnings of our relationship."

Only due to hard training could Rin keep the smirk from fully appearing on her face. Her aura though radiated smugness. Whether her opponents could or would pick up on it was an entirely different matter...

Apparently the frog-like alien didn't, or didn't care, as it asked for further clarification either way. And she would be nice enough to do her job and explain.

"Let me keep the explanation to a brief minimum.

The devices we used on Karshan were designed to draw on the power of the planet. Now the aforementioned, unforeseen side-effect was, that the resonance between our devices resuscitated the planet from a death-like state. When coupled with the intended casualties, this immediately tipped the scales from almost complete domination of the environment by civilization to a situation favorable for the planet's nature. And if nothing is done soon, the planet will start to bring forth protective entities, antibodies so to say.

Once that point has come to pass, there will only be one option for resettling on that planet:

Turning everything on it to ash."

"You speak of Karshan as if it was a person." Batius commented, astonished at the thought. "Do you expect us to believe that a rock floating in space has an agenda? And that it can intentionally produce creatures we couldn't easily decimate?"

"Why yes, Councilor of the Turian Hierarchy, I do expect you to believe my words. After all, you should have the first pieces of evidence. At least from what has come to our knowledge, haven't the ground troops you put that planet struggled quite a bit in the areas encroached by the planet's nature?"

"How do..."

Clenching down on his mandibles, the aged Turian stopped himself from asking the affirming question halfway through. Records of the happenings planet-side on Karshan should have been classified at close to the highest levels.

His guest didn't seem to mind that she as good as directly admitted a cyber attack and continued on undisturbed.

"What currently crawls around there is nothing but a slight taste of the things to come. The true incarnations of this agenda, as you termed it, will be conceptually made to slaughter. And don't expect anything but to await any soldier you send there.

Of course, that is only if you believe in what I have just told you. Please do take your time to think about it. If you do find yourselves inclined to believe us, our offer of help in solving this issue will remain valid, you only need to ask."

Rin finished with a gentle smile on her face, her hand extended in a simile to the offer she had made. Riling up others while making herself look good truly was half the figurative elixir of youth that kept her active in society at her advanced age. It was just too much fun, especially if the opponents were challenging. Yet, as all good things do, she needed to end the fun here and focus on the finer details.

"But I have gone on far too long about a topic you did not want make an issue off, so let us return to where we went astray:

diplomatic relations."

A rectangular ship lacking any kind of grace in its design, valuing practicality far above aesthetic, slowly slid into a parking position on one of the many docks of the Omega station. The bland, metallic gray, surface reflected the multitude of pulsating lights coming from the hub of bustling life that could very well be called the heart of the Terminus systems.

When the ship had finally come to a standstill, a welcoming committee had already assembled atop the landing pad. A wild mixture of Turians, Salarians, Asari, and Batarians in better than average gear for these parts were securing the area and surrounding a small group of equally diverse unarmed people.

With nary a sound, a big hatch on the spaceship's side opened up and a ramp extended towards the landing. Only moments later, a group of cloaked individuals descended from the opened hatch and moved in the direction of a Batarian standing prominently in front of the crowd.

As soon as they were only a few steps away, the Batarian addressed them. "I'm Garka. The merchandise is right behind me. Your people can start loading them, but Aria wants to speak with your leader." he said while pointing at their group.

After a short exchange of glances between the Cerberus agents, one of them stepped towards Garka.

Her height was slightly above his own, and the contrast of her glowing red visors to the pale gray of her combat armor gave her a ghastly feeling. But as one of Aria's right hand men, the Batarian had seen a good lot of scarier things. And he wouldn't judge them, whatever they were, as long as they kept their deal and their weapons holstered.

"I'm Io, lead the way." the figure replied brusquely.

Without any further conversation, Garka turned around and made off towards the Afterlife, signaling his coworkers that they should take care of helping their customers store the merchandise.

The duo walked through the bustling streets of Omega without a word spoken between them. Wherever they went, the crowd hurriedly opened the path for Garka in a demonstration of just how tightly the station was under Aria's thumb.

Garka and his companion passed by the Elcor bouncer, without even so much as a glance shared between both underlings of the Pirate Queen, before entering the big portal beneath the holographic letters marking the closest thing to a seat of government the Terminus systems had.

Invigorating music, stimulating substances and hypnotic lights were abundant inside the establishment itself, drawing a stark contrast to the grittier streets outside. And on her private balcony, towering over the entire dance floor like a throne, Aria was seated on the most comfortable couches Credits could buy, a fine Thessian spirit in her hand.

Both of her arms were spread out, resting comfortably on the top of her couch, a faint smile on her face as she welcomed her guest. A faint nod made Garka return to his usual position right around the corner, where he wouldn't interfere with the talks but could still put holes into ungrateful customers at a moments notice. Not that she couldn't turn most people into paste by herself just fine, but the visuals helped those of less wit to understand their situation better.

"Welcome to my humble abode, member of Cerberus. Sit down." the Asari ordered in a tone that allowed no defiance. The agent named Io followed suit, forgoing the token duel of stares Aria had half expected.

"I hope my services have met your expectations, exactly one hundred." the Matriarch more stated than asked.

Her opponent answered by first freezing for a small moment, as if checking something, and then replying in affirmation.

"Everything is according to the terms which have been laid down previously. A satisfactory transaction." the armored figure answered in an emotionless tone.

"That is good to hear, it would have been a real shame for you to make the sneaky and long journey here for nothing, wouldn't it, Human?" Aria started with a faux sincere expression on her face which gradually morphed into a wide grin.

With a slow and deliberate movement, Aria's guest moved her hands to the hem of her cloak, removing the hood, and triggering the release mechanism of the helmet beneath. The metallic mesh of fibers slowly slid apart, taking the shining red eye-lenses along, and finally came to a rest around the neck.

"Congratulations on finding it out this early." The dark skinned Cerberus agent applauded the Asari. "According to our estimations it should have taken you a little longer to figure out our identity."

Aria nonchalantly waved the other women off with her free hand. "Nothing a little bit of research paired with some educated guesses and a willingness to bluff can't solve. Appearing here with a ship of unknown design, looking for bodies right after the disappearances around Relay 299 had stopped was just a little too suspicious." She took a sip of her drink before changing to more upright seating position.

"I won't even ask how you made it to here undetected. But do tell, why would a newcomer on the galactic scene that has been skittish around the Council's welcoming committee immediately go for the really bad guys instead?"

"Good and evil are horribly subjective. Lawless would be the more fitting term." Io countered. "And laws as well as convoluted diplomacy and fancy morals at times complicate a simple business transaction."

A sincere smile blossomed on Aria's face. "It looks like we will get along well." With a clap of her hands, a Salarian waiter brought an exquisite looking bottle of alcohol and two glasses.

"To an uncomplicated, fruitful, and lawless relationship." Aria toasted. With the fine spirit from Surkesh that hadn't let her down so far in situations like this. She would find a way to get some juicy bits of information out of the woman in front of her. After all, knowledge is power.

And it can sell for quite a sum too.

"And you, you have been silent for quite a while now. Do you have nothing to say to this, Batius?" Tevos demanded. The contact with humanity's ambassadors had driven her out of her zone of elegant tranquility and into the slightly heated debating mindset she hadn't needed for a long time. With Batius refraining to contribute to the discussion in favor of thoughtfully nursing a drink, the Asari had thrown arguments forth and back with her Salarian counterpart, whose cold and objective mannerism gave Tevos the feeling of getting nowhere.

Without moving his head, the Turian raised just his eyes. After staring at Tevos standing form for a long moment, he turned back to his drink and started formulating his answer.

"Say what? At the moment this new race is an enigma. They either really possess the power to attack Karshan, bypassing the conventional Mass Relay routes completely, or their cyber warfare is advanced enough to leave us all but naked. So I can confidently say that they can pose some kind danger."

"You think they could be a threat to the citadel council?" Tevos asked surprised by the almost timid answer of her colleague.

"I don't know." Batius answered shortly before continuing on with a worried undertone. "And that is what worries me."

"The comparative lack of knowledge on our side might indeed be slightly disturbing. But if they really were able to launch a cyber attack after we had their Mass Relay under observation, their advances might profit us enormously." Keel held against the comment of the Turian.

"As we could if they had the technology to sneak up on Karshan." Tevos said. "But I must agree with Batius that they hold too many cards at the moment. We know next to nothing about them. The only two members of their species ever seen have been the two ambassadors. Their homeworld lays somewhere behind Mass Relay 299. They breath the same air as we do. And that sums it up quite well. In contrast, the two ambassadors were too calm and collected. As if they had known about the Citadel, about us, beforehand. In detail.

It feels as if we are playing with open cards while our opponent won't even let us see how many cards he holds."

"And the cards they played so far don't help in figuring them out in the slightest." Batius followed up. "They collect information by abducting ships, but completely shut themselves in behind their apparently impenetrable Relay after contact with us. And just shortly after that, the Karshan goes up in flames. Now they come and claim responsibility for it. A move that will only hurt them in the eyes of the public. To top it off, after saying that they wiped out a planet, they want to take up relations with us. I just can't read what their goals are."

The Salarian Councilor calmly started refuting the other two councilors. "Both of you should take your fears and turn them around. If we assume that they possess both the ability to attack Karshan and intrude into our information networks, why would they not have used the opportunity to strike such blows simultaneously on all our homeworlds too? Either they can not, or they do not want to. If they are unable to, it suggest a limitation of some kind on their side. In this case we should use learn as much as we can about them to devise a counter strategy, and to get past their Mass Relay, getting closer to them is the most promising way. If they do not want to attack us, getting closer might be even more important to reap the benefits of integrating them into the Citadel."

"To think that the Salarian would be the voice speaking for accepting a dangerous new species into the Citadel instead of the Asari" Batius snidely remarked. "But I think I have to agree with you Keel, sometimes it is best to hold your enemies close. At least it is better than ignoring them and hoping for the best."

"Did either one of you consider the political implications accepting them up front could have on the entire affair surrounding Karshan? If they really did attack, or even just reported it as such to their own populace, we can never hope to keep up our current explanation if there is widespread contact with humanity. This might very well lead to people calling for war." Tevos interjected.

"But have yot not said it yourself, Tevos? They are just a young race, scared by the Batarian attack on their homeworld decades ago. If we spread such rumors, nobody will find it strange if they try to claim responsibility as a deterrent. And hardly anyone will want to believe that they could sneak in and raze a planet, practically over night." Keel mused. "If the truth of the matter on that planet remains as shrouded to the populace of the galaxy as it right now, I don't see this issue turning into too big of a problem."

"Although I do agree with you, Keel, I do hope that future generations will not hold us in contempt for what you suggest." Batius replied while finishing the remainder of his drink he had been swirling around for the past minutes. "I say, let us play with open cards until we can force them to reveal theirs."

It didn't know where it was or why it had been strapped to a table. One day, fighters of the blue one you shouldn't attack were coming into their den and clubbed and brizzled them until they couldn't move anymore. The next thing it knew was a large metal room alongside its brethren. One by one they were taken away by armored figures and never came back. And now was its turn.

But it would not not come back!

It would fight!

But the things binding it down would not move, no matter how hard it tried.

With a swoosh a door to the side of it opened. A strange figure it had never seen before came through the door. Green clothes and white gloves. Strange fibers came from its head but were covered by a green hat.

Lights to strong for it to keep its eyes open came from above and then the figure started making noises it had never heard before.

"Operating scientist, Linwood Provence. Research specimen K-012, susceptibility test to mental intrusion. Commencing test."

Suddenly its head ached like never before. It thrashed harder against the binds than before but nothing changed. Until suddenly everything went black.

Taking the offer the ruler of Omega had offered him had been the best choice of his life, Bubann Berali thought.

Having worked his way up in the way of the media world as a successful free-lance journalist, he really thought he could change the world for the better with his investigations. He had sniffed out scandals no other Salarian had discovered and brought them to light through his perfectly researched articles.

What a fool he had been. For now he knew why no one else wanted to touch these scandals.

His latest and biggest story to date had laid bare the corruption of a prominent Dalatrass, causing significant repercussions for her and her entire clan.

He didn't imagine how big of a retribution they could still deliver onto him.

When the only thing saving him from a bomb strapped onto his air car was the chattiness of a Hanar bartender, Bubann had decided to pack lightly and catch the next shuttle leaving Mannovai. Yet he couldn't feel safe anywhere anymore. Between justified paranoia at each footstep behind him and a string of his apartments ending up in flames, he left behind the civilized regions of space, judging his chances to be better there.

To cut the story short, the Terminus Systems were not a nice place for a Salarian neither inclined to combat nor engineering nor hacking. And the attempts on his life did not really dwindle either, probably. Differentiating between assassins and pirates was outside of his area of expertise.

In that sense, the deal Aria had offered him had sounded good enough. She had promised him a clean break from all past entanglements for only half of his remaining funds. Of course, she didn't make any guarantees about his safety, but that in contrast made her more trustworthy to him.

Quite ironic in his opinion, that he came to view a notorious crime lord in a region ruled by outlaws as more trustworthy than a respected Dalatrass on one of the core worlds of the Salarian Union.

In any case, his choice to accept had worked out well enough for himself.

The transport had been somewhat frightening. What he had thought to be armored Asari had picked him up on Omega. Despite their scary appearance, they had been courteous enough, showing him the way to a comfortable seat inside the ship. Alongside himself, several other people also boarded the ship willingly, but he had seen quite a few shackled or caged individuals too, making him unsure of what he had to expect.

On the flight, he had been given a questionnaire about himself. Really simple stuff. His name, race, age, occupation, skills, etc…

A little bit like a job interview, he thought.

Bubann Berali had thought that he had signed up for an attempt to colonize a far away mining planet of some Terminus big shot like Aria or something similar to it. From his skill set he could expect something like ceaselessly writing status reports. More boring and mentally exhausting than truly dangerous, but nothing anyone with a choice would really like to do.

What had followed after that questionnaire though, had changed his world.

A figure had walked onto a small pedestal at the front of their passenger cabin, declaring that they were on a ship belonging to a race called Humanity. Many had either scoffed or just dumbly stared at the armored Asari. Until the figure took of its helmet, revealing pink skin and golden fur on the top of its head.

The features were indeed similar to an Asari, but the overall impression was quite different.

With short and concise words, they had been told that they would be brought to a world called Eden where they would be required to help with research. What kind of research would depend on the individual and the information they entered into the questionnaire. That their participation was not subject to discussion was of little surprise to the assembled mixture of outcasts. None of them had thought that they were going on a safe and peaceful pleasure cruise.

They were lectured on the details of what they would be allowed to do and what would be required of them. It boiled down to following orders of Cerberus -their organization's name- personnel without backtalk, not going beyond the areas they were allowed access to, and refraining from aggressive behavior. Disregarding either of these rules would lead to their reassignment away from whatever type of research they were tasked to help with. Upon questioning the destination of their reassignment, a Turian in a battered blue suns armor received a toothful smile in return.

"In-depth Anatomy."

The implied threat did not fall on deaf ears among the outcasts.

It also hammered down how much they were now cut off from any avenue of escape. If this was a new race, there would be no easy way off of their planets towards either the Terminus systems or Citadel space. They were truly and utterly at the mercy of their hosts.

But, well, none of them had had much choice but depending on someone's mercy when they had signed up for this.

And reflecting back on it from his workplace, beneath a couple of plants called palm trees, on the beach of the Cerberus facility they had been brought to, Bubann reasoned that he could have made a worse choice. He took a small sip of a beverage called cola, the caffeine and sugar boosting his productivity tenfold as he turned back to discussing Salarian political and cultural structures with Dr. Takanashi, his assigned researcher from Cerberus.

Life was good.

He couldn't forget it. The burning sky, the demons emerging from their towering landing pods, the horror that errupted, the fear as they were slowly wasting away in the dark. It was deeply burned into all of his four eyes. He knew that they would bring destruction. That they would wipe out everything.

But he could help in stopping them! He would not allow them to win!

He will make sure the cycle continues.

AN: I think I want to go on to the meat of the story in the near (laughs in self-deprecation) future, so I will probably do the bad thing and skip ahead a few years in the next chapter or so.