It felt strange, leaving the Tower after all this time; leaving Uldren. There were things that needed doing, though, and there was only one person who could do them.
She was called the Shadow of Shadows, Guardian of Guardians, and a whole slew of other pretentious titles she shrugged off like oil. Like oil, however, they always found a way to get caught on her somewhere, leaving slick residue in places she could not easily clean. There was a time when she felt empowered by the titles, like they were a badge of honor, or even a mask that hid her identity. Now she felt as if they were tearing her apart. She had no idea how Calus had managed to maintain his masks for thousands of years.
Fortunately, she knew that she was not Calus, and that he knew that too. She was not meant to take his place; no one ever would be. He was the first, and he would be the last. So she could afford to shrug off her titles when they were inconvenient to her, take off her mask, stop acting. It almost made it more difficult, balancing two separate entities within herself. One, the Shadow of Shadows. The other? Shepherd.
It's funny how even her name, or what she remembered of it from her past life, was a title. She knows she wasn't a Shepherd of sheep, or of any kind of animals. In her old life, she was a Shepherd of humans. From what she had pieced together of her past life, with the help of Ana Bray, her name was actually Isis Shepard, and she had been head of research at Clovis Bray's Life Extension and Exo Science divisions.
Unfortunately for her actual name, the Guardian Osiris had already made quite the name for himself by the time she was risen, and she didn't want to step on his whole "Egyptian God and also Pretentious Asshole" thing he had going on. Now, she was the Shepherd of all Sapients, corralling and directing the herd under the auspices of the Emperor. Fuck, how pretentious is that?
Whatever the end result of all her titles and masks, whatever it did to her sense of self, she had a job to do. Shit was going down in Citadel and Terminus Space, Taken-y shit, and that could mean only one thing: The Drifter was back. Well, either that or Savathun had arrived, but if that was the case they were probably all fucked anyway and it's all over but the crying, so for the time being this would be treated as related to the Drifter.
Calus had given her a fancy new ship, completely new design that integrated a powerful Mass Effect core with the best the Empire could bring to bear. It was in the profile of a light frigate, but in the weight class of a heavy cruiser, with four roto-engines plus a semi-articulated main drive in the back, and an array of manoeuvering thrusters on every face.
It was equipped with deadly array of short-range flak PDCs, and a three-layered shield consisting of traditional interlocking projections over the hull, a state-of-the-art Kinetic Barrier array above that, and finally a prototype "Shadow Shield" that is capable of actually shunting incoming projectiles into the ship's Shadow Realm. Oh yes, the ship of course has its own Shadow Realm, maintained by her very own personal Psion Councilors.
The most important piece of its defense, however, was its prototype stealth drive; a combination of Eliksni and Guardian tech, the stealth drive rendered the ship completely invisible from all sensors. The system drained power like nothing else, and the only way to make the ship completely invisible was to store all the heat produced while in stealth, so it had an effective operational span of three weeks before it would start to cook the crew. With sealed environment suits, the ship could make four weeks under stealth before it started frying its own electronics, but that's why it was still a prototype, wasn't it?
As for offensive weapons? The ship came equipped with torpedoes. Lots. The entire midsection of the ship, nearly all the way from stern to aft, port to starboard, was packed tight with stealth torpedoes that utilized the same technology as the ship itself. There was a complex system to feed torpedoes into the central firing chambers, a set of seven coaxial railguns whose only purpose was launching torpedoes as quickly and stealthily as possible. The idea was that the ship would orient itself in stealth, fire an array of up to seven torpedoes at the enemy much like a Dreadnought would with its main weapon, and once the torpedoes were inside effective range, they'd fire up their solid state engines and accelerate at upwards of 20 G's while also making use of a simple Mass Effect drive to lower weight to near-zero.
It was the most dangerous vessel in the known universe, designed for long term engagement behind enemy lines without resupply. As such, it was equipped with hydroponics bays, two bays of mining drones, and a limited mineral refinery and manufactory.
According to classified OXA3 predictive analysis, it was capable of single-handedly ending the military threat of the entire Turian Hierarchy over a span of a single month, through precision strikes on command and control ships and dreadnoughts.
The Era of Stealth Submarines had returned, and no one else knew. Calus wanted it kept that way, and so it was. Covered in Point-Defense Weapons, armed with what seemed like seven coaxial Mass Accelerators, and clocking in at 800 meters, who could think this was anything other than a very heavily armed dreadnought?
All the ship needed now was a name, a duty which fell to Shepard herself. Thinking hard, her mind kept settling on one of her own personal ships, a stealth ship designed by Elsie Bray, called the Shadow Trespass. This new ship was big and gold, sure, but at its heart it was just another stealth ship. A big, golden Shadow Trespass? Gilded Trespass it was, then.
Ships arrived at the Citadel by the hundreds every day, and rarely did they warrant any fanfare at all. Those that did warrant fanfare? They got fanfare. That was just how things worked, she guessed. The procession waiting for her at the Citadel Navy's dreadnought docks was the normal military deal, all rigidity and posturing. Almost entirely composed of Turians, an entire cohort all in shiny armor and shiny weapons, it was actually rather impressive. Off to the right were some Asari, trying to match some semblance of the order the Turians had. Then there were the Salarians. Or rather, the Salarian. A single Salarian stood off to the left of the Turian cohort, frantically fiddling with his omnitool.
As she reached the bottom of the embarkation ramp, the two other members of her fireteam trailing slightly behind her, and her honor guard of two Psions and two Cabal taking the flanks, she snappily saluted to the massed soldiers with the traditional human salute of an open hand off-canted and perpendicular to the brow. The Turian Cohort saluted as one with the traditional Turian salute of their right fist on their heart. The Asari bowed low, maintaining eye contact. The Salarian typed on his omnitool and mumbled something to himself.
As Shepard looked around, trying to find her guide, the Salarian closed his omnitool and made his way toward her, fast-walking as if he was late for his train but too self-conscious to break into a run.
"Mordin Solus, Salarian Special Tasks Group. Welcome to the Citadel, Shadow of Shadows! Sorry for rudeness on my behalf, but am working on the thesis for sixth PhD. Xenopology, if you were wondering."
"The study of alien species, with a focus on their history and culture. Interesting. I've some idea why you picked that one so recently. To my left is Akira, to my right is Aniruddh. That said, I was actually wondering what the other five were, to be honest" replied Shepard.
"Medicine, Chemistry, Xenobiology, Physics, and Statistical Analysis. We are going to be friends."
"Seems likely. So, you're my guide?"
"Indeed! Also have been assigned to your team for the upcoming mission. The Council felt more than purely military expertise would be necessary for this endeavor, Salarian Councilor nominated myself. First destination is SPECTRE headquarters. Will pick up assigned team there. Then, to Presidium to meet Council, publically initiate joint Citadel-Empire cooperation agreement. Hope your diplomat hat is safe, will need it."
Mordin paused very deliberately for an entire second, an eternity it seemed by the rate he was speaking. Shepard smiled before Mordin continued.
"Thank you. Finally, will return here to board your dreadnought and make way. SPECTRE team's equipment will be transferred aboard in the meantime. This way," he said, before walking off toward the elevator at a slightly slower pace than before.
The trip to the SPECTRE headquarters was rather brief and uneventful, filled with stares and muttering, even the occasional gasp, the latter normally directed at the Cabal in her honor guard.
The headquarters itself was a rather modest, understated affair compared to what she was used to. It seemed more like a meeting place and lounge than the headquarters of the most powerful secret police force in Citadel space. Maybe there were hidden backdoors somewhere that led to the actual headquarters, that this was just a facade, but somehow she doubted it.
Mordin led her group into one of the few but luxurious meeting rooms, where two Turians and an Asari sat apparently making small talk around a coffee table.
"Meet your new assets, Shadow of Shadows. Alaria T'vora, infiltration and espionage specialist. Jarro Crepitus, demolitions expert. Pango Procursus, combat engineer," announced Mordin, gesturing to each in turn.
"Yeah, whatever. You'll all be staying on the ship."
"Excuse me?" said Alaria with indignity.
"You're gonna be my guides, not my soldiers. I've already got soldiers, and they're very good at what they do. Anything that they can't do, my Fireteam and I can, and we can do it better than you. No offense intended. Plus, if you were to die it'd look real bad for the Citadel Council. Again, no offense. Now, I believe we have a photoshoot to get to."
A/N: I've been trying forever to get over writers block, as evidenced by how long it's taken me to update this. It's literally been forever. That's infinity. A small infinity, but still an infinity.
Anyway, I decided to finally just publish what I've written, even though it doesn't even reach my own personal threshold of 5k words per chapter for the story proper. I just want you guys to know that this story isn't dead.
Also, HUGE NOTE, if anyone wants to help out with writing this story and actually publishing chapters on a schedule, having a co-writer would be immensely helpful. If anyone's interested, please send me a PM.