0800 hours, January 16th, 2543 (UNSC military calendar)
Reach Senate Complex, New Alexandria, Planet Reach.

Tevos sipped a glass of the so-called 'Absinthe' she'd been offered, swirling it around in her mouth, before opening the data slate with the information she had prepared for the Conference. She placed her glass down on the table and looked at the datapad her aides had placed down for her. In it, was a comprehensive plan for the incorporation of the Human economy into the Galactic Community, a series of treaties about sapient rights, and talks of allowing Smart AI to be used in Citadel Space, in exchange for restrictions on creation and import. All very generic and boring stuff, all things considered.

The room was silent as the final attendees of the Reach Conference took their seats. What had once been the Senate room for Reach's planetary government had now become the meeting place for the leaders of the struggle against the Covenant. Members of all governments involved with the Coalition and all involved militaries had arrived to decide the future of the war. The leaders of the polities were sitting at a great round table on the floor, while the rest sat in the seats overlooking the conference.

The Citadel Council had come themselves for the historic meeting, representing the Citadel and its economic power. As well as the C-SEC and Citadel defensive fleets which were on the table for being tapped to provide additional troops to the front.

There were Volus representatives of the major clans and business conglomerates, each ready and eager to tap into humanity's untapped markets now that the human economy was beginning to restart. As well as plans to increase industrial output and production for the Citadel's shipyards.

The Primarch of Palavan, with an entourage of lesser Primarchs, Generals, and Admirals had all come from across the Turian Hierarchy, primarily to speak about the next steps of the military campaign.

Matriarch Benezia, Matriarch Aethyta, and a plethora of lesser Matriarchs had come at Tevos's behest, arriving to represent the Asari Republics. They had taken their own section of the former senate room and were the second-largest group next to the Humans.

There was a feeling of tangible excitement in the air as the Conference began. It had taken Tevos months of slowly easing the UEG and the Citadel into fully coming together like this. She was almost thankful for the actions of the humans and Batarians in causing the Turian Primarch to call for a conference. It allowed her to look far less opportunistic.

As the final attendants filed into the grand hardwood senate halls, Tevos rose to her feet and walked to the lectern that had been prepared for her. The most powerful people in the galaxy would look down at her, and be hanging off her ever lip. She barely restrained a smirk.

Tevos folded her hands and used her most diplomatic voice. "I want to thank you all for attending the Reach Conference on such short notice. This war is entering a new phase, and preparations for this have to be taken as soon as possible."

"This next week, we will be finalizing and cementing our plans for the future of the war upon the Covenant."

Tevos eyed the human representatives she'd set her sights on. Today would be the day she cemented her name in the history books by bringing humanity into the Citadel. And she already knew just how to do it. Everything had been put into position. She'd organized the banquets, the lunches, the seminars and meetings. All of them meant to facilitate gradual warming of human-citadel relations and to speed up their entry into the Citadel.

"Today will be without any official meeting, and will primarily be so those attending can properly introduce each other, and acquaint ourselves. Each of you has been provided with an agenda detailing the limited schedule for today, your sleeping quarters, and the local facilities and amenities that you might wish to visit."

She had no intentions of blackmailing or manipulating humans. But she did have to make sure that the right message came across to the humans. First impressions would be important.

Fine food and drink moved freely in the lobby of the Senate, as Tevos's first meeting of the day started over breakfast. Lord Hood sat opposite of her, enjoying a well-made sandwich, as well as a heavy cup of black coffee. The man had been hesitant to join a private meeting with Tevos but had come around to it. Tevos meanwhile enjoyed her herbal tea and something that the humans called 'Sushi'.

Elegant music played in the grand dining hall, as the mighty and influential of human and citadel society began to mingle, and properly introduce each other. Tevos glanced at the Asari waitresses she'd brought in, marking out the ones who also served as bodyguards.

"Councillor Tevos. I wasn't expecting a private invitation. Not that I am opposed to such a meeting. What did you wish to talk about?" Hood took a large sip from his steaming hot coffee. "I take it you wish to discuss naval matters."

"Not quite, Lord Hood. I wished for your point of view for civilian matters. Mostly, about an initiative to restore humanity's economy to its pre-war level. And your opinion could be important for this."

Hood looked incredulous, but not opposed. Tevos immediately knew she'd got her hooks in the human. He was talking about a subject he was marginally less knowledgeable in, while Tevos knew most information.

"The first matter I want to discuss is the economic and industrial revitalization of humanity, as well as an ability to let you partially demobilize to prevent a larger economic collapse," Tevos said, sounding as sympathetic as possible, without also sounding vacillating.

Hood nodded. "I read your proposal in the data packets you sent out before the Conference. While I agree that major reform is needed. I do not agree with your opinion about the need for demobilization. This is humanity's war, and it should remain that way." Hood took another sip of his coffee.

When he feels ill at ease, he takes a sip from his coffee. Tevos made a mental note.

"While I agree with the importance of this war to humanity. Surely you can agree about the base reality of this conflict? Most of your planetary economies have been reduced to what is effectively an I.O.U. Your interplanetary private sector is gone, and most of your industry has been cannibalized to feed your war machine. Half your planets can barely feed themselves due to the refugees, and the ones that can, are unable to get the food where it's needed."

Hood took another sip of his coffee. He looked annoyed, but not at Tevos. "The people demand war. The soldiers too. They will riot if they're told they can't be at the front." Hood said, standing up. "I do agree that we need to take advantage of this lull in the fighting to rebuild humanity. So. What do you have to propose?"

"I am glad you asked, Lord." Tevos said, smiling at the man, and giving him her most demure look. She liked the human. Perhaps when the meeting was over, she'd try to bed him. She slid over a datapad, offering it to the human.

"This is something I have been drafting up. I believe you might find it interesting. I call it, The Tevos Initiative. It is a comprehensive plan to completely revive the UEG's economy and infrastructure." Tevos said with a heartfelt smile. "It is a comprehensive system of loans, grants, agricultural and industrial subsidies, and debt annulment that we believe is capable of fully restoring humanity's economy to a pre-war level."

Lord Hood began to read the datapad, and as he did, Tevos continued her explanation.

"First. We need to discuss the main problem with regards to economic aid to the UNSC. The worlds where we have been allowed to operate have seen a full restoration of pre-war economic activity and infrastructure, with an average Gross Planetary Product increase of 15%. But the keyword here is, 'allowed'. Citadel presence upon most of your inner, and most economically productive worlds, has been extremely limited."

Hood stopped reading and fixed her with a very stern glare. His hand twitched slightly as if he refused a desire to drink coffee.

Be careful Tevos. He might react badly to anything suspicious. She told herself.

"I think the time has come, to discuss the rescinding of the Cole Protocol, to facilitate the complete economical and diplomatic joining of humanity with the Citadel. I understand the Cole Protocol has been vital for humanity's continued survival. But it was in a time where humanity did not have allies or a way to retreat from the Covenant."

Hood was quiet for a moment, then nodded. "That is a very steep demand. The risk of humanity's destruction is still imminent." He paused. "But what do you mean with, 'a way to retreat', Tevos?" Hood's annoyance and curiosity mingled, an easy sign for Tevos to begin making Hood think that he was actually using her.

Time to see if the STG is right about Eden Prime. She pressed a button on the datapad and changed it to a map of Citadel Space, with several planets being marked.

"I want to offer to organize the mass-resettlement of human refugees and colonies within Citadel space. Two billion humans, to be precise. Specifically to Eden Prime, and the rest of the Attican Traverse. Fortified holdouts were humanity can, and will, endure as long as the Citadel does. Then, with human survival guaranteed, we can unleash the full economic power of the Citadel on the Covenant. I am speaking of nothing less than turning every human world, than bringing each human world to the same living standards as early expansion phase Asari worlds."

Hood nodded. "Moving a large population into Citadel Space to survive if the Orion Arm is lost, does sound very prudent." He paused for a moment, deep in thought, then nodded again. "It could become an ark for humanity. A true second UNSC, one without the baggage of the old. I think the idea is a good one. We could even start moving certain industries and universities to safety. We already moved our reverse engineering to Tellanis. But that still doesn't justify rescinding the Cole Protocol. Not without something to improve our odds of defending our worlds."

Tevos finished her Sushi, and a waitress quickly came to remove the plate. Hood finally noted his sandwich and began eating it. Following it up with calm sips of his coffee. Tevos held up one of the waitresses. "Mineral water, please. And a sandwich like he has." The Waitress nodded and went about her business.

She turned back to Hood, who seemed to be very much enjoying the sandwich. "I understand concerns about a new Covenant offensive. But the truth of the matter is this. The Citadel can be ten times as effective in providing assistance to humanity if we can more freely travel and provide support. Fully integrating into the Citadel means being able to completely harness our industrial prowess." She tapped the datapad. "There are statistics for the rate at which UNSC naval production could increase if border inspections are less extensive. And if we allow Volus mining concerns to supplement your own."

Lord Hood read the statistics Tevos had brought up, and he looked very much interested. He stopped sipping his coffee and instead finished his sandwich. He hailed a waitress and ordered another one. He nodded, then gave Tevos a very small grin. "We have lost a massive part of our fleet. Surely you must see that we are not in a position to consider changing the Cole Protocol. The new Superheavy fleet that we have been constructing is nearly done, yes, but it only refills most of the damage that the Covenant has done to us."

Tevos smiled. She definitely wanted to lay with the human now. She loved herself a committed general. "I have seen the reports of your new fleet, and once outfitted with barriers and our new weaponry, it will be capable of going up against the best the Covenant has to offer. With human super capital ships upgraded with Barriers, Silaris-based ablative armor, and mass-effect compressed hulls. You will be able to meet the Covenant in a one to one fight, and most likely win."

"That is true." Hood conceded. "Projections for the first UNSC ships fully equipped with Barriers and your advances in fusion technology, are very impressive. But that still does not fill in every weakness in our defences." He eyed her almost menacingly as if he wanted something from her. "Perhaps if the Citadel agreed to finance the construction of a new deployment of Super MAC guns in orbit of the worlds closest to the front."

"How many do you need?" Tevos asked.

Hood stopped, looking like a varren in the headlights. "Excuse me?"

"How many Super MACs would you need on your frontier worlds to be relatively secure? If we slightly modify the design, I believe we can deploy Volus contractors to construct a new line of them. There are enough companies of this nature in Citadel Space, that a full deployment around your frontier worlds should be possible."

Tevos grinned. Sometimes it was good to be the shadow ruler of the Asari. She would have little difficulty getting the finances for this arranged. Thank you Shadow Broker. She thought mischievously. It would strain the Asari budget set aside for supporting humanity. But if that's what it took to fully bring them into the Citadel, then that's what would happen.

Hood looked lost in thought, then agreed. "There are twenty worlds in the path of any Covenant advance. We'd need between ten and twenty for each world. Just a single Super MAC costs fifteen billion of your credits. Our production has been hampered by a lack of Titanium A. "

"Done," Tevos said. "I will have it taken from my discretionary budget."

Hood damn near coughed up his coffee. Tevos couldn't help but enjoy the sight. Humanity's industry and fleet was certainly incredibly impressive for its size. But its financial economy was nothing compared to one that had enjoyed over more than a thousand years of peace and prosperity. Tevos couldn't help but look forward to seeing the Asari Republics fully transitioning to a wartime economy. If the humans thought her previous offer was insane, they had seen nothing yet. "Just how many credits have the Asari stockpiled in the event of war?" Hood asked.

"Enough to cover for the current war expenses of the entire Coalition, twice over, for two hundred years," Tevos said smugly. "Don't mistake our love of peace, for an unwillingness to wage war. We have been stockpiling finances and resources for war since the Krogan Rebellions. If you agree to rescind the Cole Protocol. -that- is but a drop in the bucket in what we are capable of. The biggest restriction to our capacity to assist, is, and has, been the bottleneck at the New Ghent relay."

It was true. Citadel Space was rich and prosperous in a way that the UEG had never been. And with the continuing transition to a full war footing, the sheer economic and industrial power of the Citadel was being brought to bear against the Covenant. Tevos had no doubts that, given the time, the Citadel could drown the Covenant in ships alone.

Hood sat down and began reading through the projected proceeds of the Tevos Initiative. She subtly eyed him hungrily. His body like a mighty oak. The weathered skin. The raw force of personality he exuded. Tevos knew that it was the stimulants that she used in her work, but played with the idea regardless.

"These projections." Lord Hood said, returning the subject to the Tevos Initiative. "They project a tripling of pre-war economic output. This is... " Hood rubbed his left temple. "It is very complicated. I will have our economists look it over. But it does look very feasible." Hood continued down the page. "But what about our debts? The last thing we want is to be in economic servitude to another power."

Tevos thought it over. She'd been preparing multiple responses to how the humans might approach her offer. She merely gave Hood a kind smile. "If humanity agrees to join the Citadel and sign our sophont right's charter as well as the Citadel Conventions. Then the Tevos Initiative will be provided gratis."

Hood's eyes very subtly went a bit wider, barely enough for Tevos to make out. "What about the Treaty of Farixen? Will it be revised? Your dreadnoughts are no longer the be all end all of naval warfare. You will surely need to renegotiate it."

"In light of how Slipspace-equipped ships change the balance of power. The Treaty of Farixen is outdated. I agree, Lord Hood." Tevos said, smiling. "And humanity with an embassy on the Citadel would be in a prime position to influence the drafting of a replacement treaty. It might even put you on a fast track for a seat on the Citadel Council. After your economic reconstruction, naturally."

Hood crossed his hands in front of him, looked consumed in thought, then nodded. "I will propose we accept this deal, to the Security Council."

Four hours later

Tevos enjoyed a bite of the steak that the human cooks had provided. The dining halls and cafe's in and around Reach's former senate building was quickly becoming a hub for negotiators from across the galaxy, all eager to make use of the opportunity to make allies and connections. With her talk with Hood done, it was time to talk to the other powerbroker in the UNSC.

Across from her sat Rear-Admiral Parangosky of ONI, and the most dangerous human alive. She had a bowl of soup before her, still on the previous course.

"I do not agree with your assessment, Tevos." The older woman said, her voice utterly unkind, and filled with spite towards the world. "Humanity doesn't need to be committed to an alien polity. It would be too much to ask of the people. The re-democratisation of the UEG is only barely beginning."

"I read about that," Tevos said. "I am very impressed with the way you have worked tirelessly to restore democratic rule to humanity, after the transition to martial law." She lied through her teeth. She didn't believe for even a moment the new planetary governments were loyal to anyone other than ONI. "And I think that it is, in fact, and an excellent time to discuss joining the Citadel."

Tevos took a sip of Absinthe, then continued as before. She noted that Parangosky wasn't eating any of her food. Was she just that paranoid about poisoning? Tevos shrugged it off. She'd butter up Parangosky by appealing to her ego first. "The new weapons technology being developed by humanity has been very impressive, to say the least. Partially powered ODST's. There are even shoulder-mounted laser weapons. Barrier-equipped mechanized forces. Improved mass effect compressed alloys. This could very well become the best orbital-assault force in the galaxy."

Parangosky's face looked like it was about to split in half to smile. "We are very proud of it. I agree with your assessment about humanity needing to demobilize, in case you were wondering. I believe the future of war for humanity is a smaller, but fully mechanized and heavily equipped force."

Tevos saw the opportunity and took it. "Like the metal tip of a Turian spear?" Parangosky's sudden look of introspective thought made Tevos think she'd planted the idea about humanity as a defender of galactic order in Parangosky's head.

"That is not a bad idea," Parangosky said. "If we were to join the Citadel as this proverbial 'tip of the spear' would that involve certain… benefits?"

Why am I not surprised you need to be bribed, you frigid old hag. Tevos thought.

"If humanity joins the Citadel with an embassy, it would undoubtedly be fast-tracked for a seat upon the Council. When your economy isn't crashing and burning, and you can spare forces for peacekeeping deployments." Tevos said, finishing her steak. "Naturally, you would gain dispensation for Synthetics and the treaty of Farixen. In fact, when these laws are rewritten, being on the Citadel would give you a voice in said rewriting."

"Speaking of synthetics," Parangosky said. "How are the Citadel's results in creating Smart AI going so far? I wonder when they'll receive full adoption in your society."

The unspoken question of 'When are you going to let me send some into Citadel Space.' went unspoken.

"Very promising. The Salarians will deploy their first war Smart AI within this year, and begin utilizing them in wider society shortly afterwards. The Turians are planning to begin installing them into their warships as well. Speaking of artificial intelligence. How has humanity decided on how to treat quantum-computing based artificial intelligence?"

Parangosky grinned in annoyance. Tevos guessed the old woman was annoyed that any attempt to get an AI into Citadel Space was being stonewalled until that particular advantage was lost. "I am pushing for a ban on any AI without a natural lifespan. It seems the safest course of action."

"Then I am happy we agree, Parangosky. You banning quantum-computing based AI will make it much easier for me to push through laws fully legalizing Smart AI in Citadel Space."

Parangosky nodded. "Joining the Citadel does sound more… plausible than I thought. But I still have reservations. We'd need a better position in the war. Our current ships aren't able to match the Covenant. When they do, then we can talk about fully joining the Citadel." She eyed Tevos up and down. "Although I suspect you have already found a way to convince me otherwise." Parangosky's face one again strained to not explode when she gave Tevos a false smile.

Tevos gave an equally false smile back. "I do. Right now is the perfect time to begin a crash-modernization program for our fleets. Since this war has started, the Citadel has been working tirelessly upon new ship designs. And we believe that our latest design is a true gamechanger. And, even better, it will soon be ready for mass production. "

Parangosky nodded. "The variant of the Halberd-Class Destroyer. I signed off on letting you produce it under license. What have you designed."

Tevos slid forward a small holographic emitter and activated it, showing a blueprint of a Halberd-class destroyer. But one that had been heavily modified. The fruits of our collaboration, technological exchanges, and reverse engineering. The Karandis-Class Cruiser. A design of warship, which will according to our estimations, be the first ship able to take on a Covenant ship of equal weight classes."

Parangosky raised an eyebrow, as she began to read the specifications. "Twin Eezo-enhanced MAC cannons. Sixteen missile pods, with either antimatter, fusion, warp, kinetic bombardment, and plasma interceptor payloads." She almost sounded impressed. Or close to death. "Not bad."

Tevos expanded the hologram, pointing at the engines. "And that's just the start of it. Four Irene Energy Corporation and Turian Hierarchy Naval Research, Avian-72K Anti-Proton Drives. Two secondary Sinoviet Karman 52k Fusion Drives, using Covenant plasma containment principles. This ship will match the Covenant in speed."

Parangosky nodded. "Impressive. If you replaced your current cruisers with these ships, you might not lose a hundred ships to destroy a single Carrier." She said without a hint of empathy. "But what about FTL. Does it use one of your FTL drives, or is still equipped with a Slipspace drive? Both?"

Tevos avoided the barbed remark the human had made and continued the explanation. "The ship is equipped with an XRS-ME SPIRIT Series III Mass Effect FTL Drive Core, the standard core used by Turian Cruisers. There is also a secondary FTL drive in the form of a Shaw-Fujikawa Starwrex Series IV, to make use of slipspace routes that are faster than realspace travel."

Parangosky continued on from where Tevos stopped. "Palaven Bulwark KB-MG08 Barrier Emitter Belt. Compressed Titanium A structure. With the ablative plating being Silaris-derived Ablative layers. Not bad at all. That's as well armored as a cruiser, and that's before the barrier and plasma torpedo interceptors."

"And when we discover how to create Energy Shielding, we can quickly start plans to begin retrofitting." Tevos added.

Parangosky grinned wickedly. "If we integrate these new technologies you've mentioned into the ships the UNSC is currently producing, while you expand your cruiser fleets with more ships like these. Then we will be able to fight the Covenant on equal terms." She took a very small spoonful of soup. "Are there Dreadnought and frigate-sized ships under production?"

Tevos nodded. "Our Dreadnoughts are being refitted as dedicated carriers. But we are designing modified frigates based on Turian designs with these technologies. Your Prowler stealth systems are being used to create a new line of Turian stealth-frigates. Ones meant for harassing Covenant shipping and secretly deploying strike forces."

"What's the state of your naval buildup. When will these ships start being produced?" Parangosky asked. "I can't agree on joining the Citadel until there are fleets of these cruisers defending our worlds. And those ODP's you promised Hood are constructed."

Tevos didn't even bother to feign surprise as Parangosky having listened in on her. "The first of the new cruisers will be deployed before the end of the month. When we reach full production capacity and begin retrofitting, we can replace our current fleet within three years. The true factor restraining additional ship production will be a shortage of trained crews. But I believe that we will have completely replaced and replenished the Citadel's naval losses within five years. And our full war economy is still only ramping up."

Parangosky looked deep in thought, then nodded with a fierce grimace. "Sounds impressive. If you focus on those ships, the UNSC can prioritize creating capital class ships. Perhaps we might even use a few of these Cole-Class cruisers ourselves."

Tevos had suspected something along these lines, but not from Parangosky. She shifted her 'pitch' and began selling the Rear-Admiral on the concept. "Citadel-built ships to UNSC designs? That should be feasible. Yes."

"Then I think this meeting has been satisfying. Although I will need to hear from the rest of the Security Council about joining the Citadel."

Tevos went for the kill.

"If you agree on joining the Citadel. I will provide you with hooks in the Shadow Broker's organisation," Tevos said softly, with a smile. "As well as the names of some humans providing intel to the Broker."

Parangosky grinned like a she-devil, and Tevos for the first time in decades, felt genuine fear. "You've got yourself a deal. Councillor."

"How long do you expect this war to last?" Hood asked Tevos as they walked through the quiet hallway of the five star hotel that now hosted the Citadel's envoys. She wasn't looking forward to a complicated question like this one, not when she was trying to bed herself a war hero. They were on the top floor, the windows at the end of the hallways providing a beautiful view of the sea below.

Tevos turned around to face the old human, trying to think of a response that while truthful, would lighten the blow. She took a moment to think of the right thing to say, waiting for when Hood's posture showed the slighted hint of impatience. Tevos sighed and spoke the harsh truth. "Our economy will be able to survive a war for three hundred years, four hundred if we throw out all our environmental protections and begin cutting into Sapient Rights legislation."

The Human Admiral briefly looked to be taken aback by the statement, then seemed to steel himself before nodding firmly. "That's within your lifetime, is it?"

Tevos avoided eye contact and just looked out towards the majestic view of the ocean. "Perhaps. I might make eleven-hundred." She left the fact that Hood would most likely not see the end of the war unspoken. The human admiral didn't need to say anything. He just quietly sat down and examined the view in the distance.

Hood reached into the pocket of his dress uniform and took out a small but ornate bottle. "I've got a bottle of Cognac I saved for when the Covenant wiped us out. I thought now would be as good a time as any. Want to share it with me?" Hood asked. "Humanity will survive on Eden Prime and in Citadel Space. And I have you to thank for that." Tevos could practically smell the mental and emotional exhaustion in the man, as well as his incredibly well-disguised lust for her. Or at least, what she thought was lust. She still wasnt satisfied in how well she could read human emotions.

"If you are trying to flirt with me, just say so," Tevos said. "I've been working myself to the bone for months now, and I wouldn't say no to lying with you." Tevos gave Hood a kind smile. "All the ONI bugs in my room and the hallway got removed by the STG."

"What kind of diplomat are you?" Hood said in surprise.

Tevos chuckled. "An Asari one. A night of passion with someone you're negotiating with is quite... acceptable." She winked demurely.

The Human froze in place, his eyes locked on Tevos, and his expression stuck in a mixture of befuddlement and calculating. He glanced around the terrace, noting there was nobody else. His face changed to one of deep thought. He took a swig from the bottle and put it down. "I can't say no to my duty as a diplomat."

Tevos called forth her Biotics and lifted Hood up, pulling him closer towards him. She jumped up and wrapped her legs around his waist, ravenously kissing the human so intensely that she
almost drew blood. She guided him into her bedroom, and used her biotics to close the door.