The Last Harvest

Chapter One

"We're fighting on three fronts, basically." The Primarch was saying. "That's not a good situation to be in!"

"I'd have thought you'd be relishing the challenge!" Replied the Dalatrass.

"That would be us." Remarked Urdnot Wrex. "But even we see the seriousness of the situation, Dalatrass."

"Nobody doubts that." The Prime Minister put in. "But if we lose our sense of humour, we lose our sense of proportion, do we not?"

"A viewpoint unique to the human psyche." The Matriarch noted. "You should send missionaries out to teach the rest of us to laugh at ourselves, sometimes, Ethan. Especially at times like this"

"We should at least thank Primarch Saderus for pointing out the elephant in the room." Earth Councillor Alenko noted. "The Reaper War was complicated by the interference of Cerberus, which was unexpected and caught us off-balance. The continuing threat from HYDRA cannot be ignored, much as we would like to sweep it under the rug."

"I saw an elephant on my last trip to Earth." Primarch Saderus noted. "You'd need one Hell of a rug!"

The laughter cleared the air. The meeting had become tense, and started to go round in circles. It didn't help that the only ones actually physically present were the six members of the Galactic Council: Kaidan Alenko, Garrus Vakarian, Matriarch Ashiara Galina, Urdnot Grunt, Tali'Vakarian vas Normandy and the new salarian Councillor Meeran Talbus. All the others were linked in via QEC from their homeworlds.

Now Ethan Akasisi, Prime Minister of the Human Alliance, a tall thin man with chocolate skin and wiry grey hair, spoke again. "It was a pity, but sadly no great surprise, to find many humans involved with HYDRA. Governing my race is akin to herding cats; we're an independent-minded bunch and most of us are at best tolerant of authority. Many outright resent it and choose every opportunity to rebel. I was more surprised at the extent to which a human-based organisation had managed to infiltrate other races."

"Their ideas are not racially-based." Matriarch Jeleana S'Dorta was one of half-a-dozen Matriarchs who took turns to represent the Asari Culture. "I'm afraid that in our case, tolerance of different ideas and the freedom of debate did not serve us so well. HYDRA speaks to a conceit of the Superior Person which too many of our people find attractive."

"You did get out here first." Primarch Felix Saderus noted. "Nobody really blames any asari for acting a bit superior, given what we all owe you. Our hierarchical meritocracy has similar weaknesses. HYDRA preyed on those who thought they should have risen further, faster."

"We all have chinks that can be exploited." President Zaal'Koris vas Qwib-Qwib, of the Quarian Republic, noted. "Breast-beating is not why we're here. What are we dealing with?"

"Three threats." Urdnot Wrex, Chief of Chiefs of the United Krogan Clans, took it upon himself to lay it out for them.

"We have the vorlons. A massive fleet backed by unknown resources, escorting planet-wrecker ships. They're attacking and wiping out krogan, turian and human colonies, as well as any and all geth installations. Their ships seem to be organic. Powerful beam weapons and heavy shields, but weak hulls. Once you get through the shields, they go down quick, but it's not easy to get through. Ship classes seem to run from corvette up to dreadnought. Don't know how their command systems, sensors or comms work yet, but it seems that what one knows, they all know, straight away.

"Then there's the shadows. We know they have only the one fleet, since the Leviathan and rachni destroyed their homeworld. But it's a big one, and they have a planet-wrecker of their own. Their weapons are designed to slice rather than hit straight on, and can be evaded by smaller ships. They're more effective against a dreadnought than a frigate. Shields are medium, but those crystal hulls are tough, they don't go down easy. But they can't replace what they lose. Their sensors and comms are wholly telepathic, but we got some specs from the Warsworn that allow us to counter that. They're targeting asari, hanar, human and minbari worlds. They have a problem with the geth, in that it seems our synthetic friends are entirely invisible to them.

"Finally, HYDRA, a subversive organisation spread across all species. Their aim is apparently to rebuild every society from the ground up in accordance with an ideology whereby the 'superior' individuals rule the 'inferior' for what they call the 'greater good' of the Galaxy. This involves indoctrination, eugenics and culling through controlled wars, among other things. They were the driving force behind the Night Watch and other species-separatist groups, and had also infiltrated the Unity Movement. They seem to have been working with both the shadows and the vorlons. But the separatist organisations went down when the shadow central command was taken out, and Colonel Sinclair and his people have purged the Unity Movement. That just leaves subversion and occasional terrorism."

"Thank you, Wrex." Prime Minster Akasisi said. "What are our assets, and how are we using them?"

Primarch Saderus called up a display on the holo projector. "Our four biggest fleets are the human, turian, quarian and geth." He said. "The Alliance and quarian fleets are concentrating on the vorlon threat, which comes from Coreward, while the Hierarchy and the Consensus are deployed Rimward to counter the shadows. Their objectives are to defend colonies, cover evacuations if necessary, but primarily to cripple or destroy the planet-wreckers. We don't know if the vorlons have more than one of the big ships, but since there's only one with their fleet, we hope that putting it out of action will at least gain us some time.

"The minbari fleet is providing transport and fleet support to various Special Forces units from all races. They're dealing with HYDRA bases and installations. Since the war effort is being coordinated from Babylon Five, the asari fleet is deployed to protect the Serpent Nebula. Meanwhile, the salarian fleet is doing what it does best – gathering intel."

"The Unions' scientists are working at full capacity to find ways to counter the various enemies." The Dalatrass put in. "And also to duplicate the matter-transport and ship-cloaking tech clearly possessed by HYDRA."

"And in the meantime, the Council will assemble a team of Spectres to seek out and apprehend this man Hugo Schmidt." Alenko said. "The legendary hydra was supposed to grow more heads, the more you cut off. In the real world, things should be different!"

Under-Leader Michaels was becoming more worried about the Leader. Sirdar Mons, the lystheni salarian doctor who had applied the amended serum to Schmidt, had warned Michaels that the effects were not predictable. At first, all had seemed well, but the Leader was becoming more withdrawn, where before he had taken an active interest in the detail of plans and the status of the movement, he was leaving more and more to Michaels and his other subordinates With HYDRA fighting for its very existence, this was not good. Perhaps the time was coming for a change?

"Leader, Hail HYDRA!" He barked as he entered the Observation Deck. This was where the Leader spent most of his time, now, looking out onto the barren landscape of the world where HYDRA now had its' last redoubt. Michaels noted that the Leader had abandoned his uniform for a grey coverall such as the techs wore.

Schmidt did not look at him. He was staring at his hand, which he flexed and turned in front of his face. "It is a puzzle." He said in a faraway voice. "But one I am sure is capable of solution. Which came first? The hand that enables us to manipulate the world? Or the mind that makes us wish to? Dolphins and whales are intelligent without hands, but is it the same type of intelligence? We make things because we have hands. But did the hand come first and drive the growth of our intelligence, or did we have to wait until our thumbs turned to be able to use our minds?"

"It is not something I have considered, Leader." Michaels said cautiously.

"Of course not." The Leader said, turning. "You have too many things in the way."

There was a portrait in the room that showed what the imperfect serum had done to Schmidts' ancestor. Why Johann Schmidt had been called the Red Skull – near-fleshless features covered with a glistening red skin. Hugo Schmidt had also become different. He was hairless now, and his features were becoming daily more bland and lacking in individuality, the lines and marks of experience gone. He was blue. Not asari blue, but the deep blue-black of Element Zero, of dark energy, the same dark energy that flared and flowed around him as he moved.

"What did you wish to say?" He asked.

"Leader, the last of our agents have been removed from the Babylon Five command structure." Michaels reported. "The Unity Movement is lost. A Spectre-led coup on Nova Roma has cost us our base there. All the Council races are purging our people. Our bases are being hunted out -our training camp at Hawking Eta has been raided and destroyed by krogan and asari commandos.

"What are your orders, Leader?"

"What would you have me do?" Schmidt asked.

"There is a war on, Leader!" Michaels said. "We should be taking advantage of peoples' fear of the shadows and vorlons to force the governments to hand over to our agents. Then when the war has ended, we can begin our work at last!"

"Surely the war will do this for us?" Schmidt mused. "Many of those who lead the Galaxy now were made in the Reaper War. Another generation of superior types will arise from this one to rule afterwards."

"But they cannot be allowed to do so without our guidance!" Michaels protested. "They will not know the proper way to use their power, to rule their people!"

"Is there a proper use for power?" Schmidt wondered. "As for the people: give them King Log or King Heron, the frogs will still complain. Let it be."

This was too much. Michaels drew and fired in the same motion. Schmidt lifted his hand in a blurred motion and caught the projectile before it reached his body. He looked at the tiny thing in his hand.

"No bigger than a grain of sand." He said. "The first firearms used chemical explosives to throw heavy lead balls a few yards. The explosives became more powerful, and the slugs smaller. It wasn't until we discovered the Mass Effect that we could make such tiny projectiles deadly. But not as deadly as you wished, Under-Leader."

Schmidt smiled a little, and suddenly Michaels no longer existed. Torn apart at the quantum level, he never had existed. His 'new' Under-Leader -a turian named Alexis Segundus -stood before him.

"Do as you think best." Schmidt told him.

"Hail, HYDRA!" Segundus responded, and left with a swing in his stride.

Schmidt nodded. The fool would destroy this entire meaningless apparatus. He could not comprehend the forces ranged against him. Then Schmidt would finally be free of entanglements, to do as he pleased.

Matriarch Tulina would not raise her head. "I was deluded, a fool." She said bitterly. "I have brought shame upon my family, my faith and my people. How has it come to this? I intended only good when I began."

"We humans have a saying." Sinclair told her. "It goes 'the road to Hell is paved with good intentions'. Nobody ever starts out with the idea of doing bad things. Everyone, even HYDRA, believes that what they are doing is right and good."

"You were not deluded, Tulina." Ashiara pointed out. "You were deceived and manipulated by a being whose abilities we can barely guess at. But now you are free and we need you!"

Now Tulina looked up. "Need me?" She asked.

"As far as millions of loyal followers are concerned, you're still the leader of the Unity Movement." Sinclair explained. "Oraka and I were very careful to make sure people knew we were acting on your behalf when we cleaned HYDRA out.

"Now we have a war, one potentially as bad as the Reaper War. We need to stay united like never before. The Movement can help with that. We need more than a military alliance, we need to understand and share more, something the Movement has been encouraging."

"But you have to stop pushing for uniformity." Ashiara said. "Sharing, understanding and communication are great things, but it is vital that each race retains its own character and individuality. Asking a krogan and an asari to behave in the same way is wrong, even if it were possible."

"There are asari living on Tuchanka right now, part of krogan society." Tulina pointed out.

"Of course there are." Ashiara replied. "Just as krogan live on Thessia. During the days of the genophage, many krogan married asari. Some merely saw it as the only way they could have children, but most of them were genuine marriages between people who loved each other. We both know that millions of asari have married into other races, but only the krogan live as long as we do, which is why those marriages have lasted. But the asari on Tuchanka, and their daughters, remain asari, even though they live among, and are accepted by, the krogan. Both cultures have learned and even borrowed from each other, but they remain distinct."

"Diversity is no barrier to unity." Sinclair noted. "Providing all parties respect each other. That's where the Movement can help. Will you work with us, Matriarch?"

Tulina nodded. "I will. I need to make up for past mistakes, and my people, my followers, deserve better from me!"

"They've done it to us again, haven't they?" Garrus said. "You're a hero, but you're also a maverick who bends the rules. So they give you a fancy-sounding job that takes up your time, but keeps you out of their crests. Then it all hits the fan again, and suddenly they put you in charge!"

Tali shrugged. "It does make a lot of sense, my love. Babylon Five has the most sophisticated communications array in the Galaxy, and it's smack in the middle of Council space. It's the ideal Command Centre for a war like this. One of the reasons it was built."

"You're right, of course." Garrus admitted. "I'm just getting cranky with age, I suppose."

"Getting cranky?" Tali asked.

Garrus let that pass, he knew better than to get into a battle of wits with his wife. "Are we all here?" He asked.

"Guess so." Kaidan said. "Ashiara is handling civilian affairs, and Meeran is coordinating the science people. We're the ones handling the combat. We're the ones with military experience."

"That's not all we have in common." Tali noted.

"True, and we sure could use Shepard now." Garrus allowed.

"Well, we all learned a lot from him." Kaidan observed.

"Then let's put it into practice!" Grunt said.

Under-Leader Segundus had finished briefing his officers. With the Leaders' new mandate, the time for supine defence was past.

We begin where we should have begun, with Palaven. He mused. Most of the turian fleet is deployed against these shadows. That's good, we need to defend against them. But it also means that a strike force can get past the defences and cut the head off the Hierarchy. My people will follow their Primarch regardless of who he or she is, and when I am Primarch of Palaven, then the Hierarchy will belong to HYDRA!

Assembling the necessary force would take time, some weeks, but there was no rush, the shadows weren't gong anywhere and neither was Palaven. But it would be better if he could equip the force with some new weapons. That meant seeing the Engineer. The salarian supervisor in the lab had said she was with the Artefact and didn't want to be disturbed. Segundus was having none of that, and was cleared for all areas, so he went to speak with her.

He'd never been in here before. The place was lined with workstations and benches, all with odd contraptions in various stages of construction. Nothing ordered, nothing prioritised. It offended him.

"Hail, HYDRA!" He snapped. "Progress report, Engineer!"

The figure standing at the large installation at the far end of the room turned. A female quarian, wearing the old-style enviro-suit of the Fleet-Born, with its full mask and hood, rather than the simple breath-filter of the Rannoch-Born. The way she moved revealed that she was no longer young, but her voice was strong and carried a whipcrack of authority.

"I am not one of your underlings, Segundus! I am an ally, not a servant. I am Admiral Daro'Xen vas Moreh, of the Quarian Migrant Fleet. You will address me as 'Admiral' and with due respect!"

Segundus snorted and moved closer. "So this is the wondrous Artefact!" He said. "What is it?"

"If I knew that, my work would be easier!" Xen told him. She pointed to the object to which all the tech around it was connected. A skull, made of silvery metal where it was not scorched and scarred. The teeth were white and even. One socket was empty, the other contained an eye with a yellow iris that flicked around, apparently at random. Segundus realised that the thing was in some way alive or at least active.

"A synthetic?" He asked.

"Clearly." Xen answered. "One modelled after a human, quarian or asari, by the shape of the skull. I lack the knowledge of forensic anthropology to be more precise, nor does it matter. Before the War, one of my science vessels detected a temporary wormhole opening. By the time they arrived, it had closed, but various pieces of wreckage had come through it. Most was simply junk, but this was among it. They brought it back to me and I have worked on it, on and off, for years.

"When the new government retired me because they didn't like my attitude to the geth, I went back to one of the old liveships and concentrated on this. Nobody was interested in what I found until the Leader contacted me.

"This is, or was, an AI synthetic of some kind. Any personality it might have had is either dead or dormant, possibly through the trauma of whatever destroyed its body or some kind of failsafe. But I have managed to get into its memory banks. Their capacity is immense, and much of it is unknown kinds of tech.

"It was from this that I managed to develop the cloaking device and the matter transporter."

"Devices which have served us well." Segundus noted. "But which would serve us better if we had more. Why are you not working on that?"

"Because I don't need to!" She snapped. "The prototypes the Leader has been using were difficult to build. The tech operates on different principles to most of ours, I had to go back to basics, start from scratch. But now I have the blueprints and have trained your techs to build them. Six more cloaking devices and two more transporters will be ready in days.

"There is also this, based on the transporter tech. They – whoever 'they' were – called it a 'replicator'. It can take raw matter and change it into almost anything. Get me a device, a weapon, and it can scan its' molecular structure and produce exact copies from raw metal. Give me food or drink, and it can do the same from organic matter."

"Useful, perhaps, we need modern weapons and don't have the credits to purchase them." Segundus allowed. "But didn't the Artefact hold plans for any weapons at all?"

"Two." Xen admitted. "A phased plasma projector, we have a prototype under test. That one is easier to manufacture, even with the limited resources we can obtain, and we could build ten or fifteen of them in days. The other is called a 'photon torpedo', and has two parts. The engine we cannot duplicate as yet. But the warhead could be fitted onto a standard kinetic missile. However, the warhead is based on anti-matter, which is difficult and dangerous to synthesise.

"That is the biggest barrier. There are designs in there for an engine that would make us independent of the Mass Relays. An engine of massive speed and almost infinite range. But the core is anti-matter, in large amounts, and the power-flow is controlled by crystals of an element which is extremely rare.

"I am prioritising work on the replicator, in the hope that it will overcome these problems by allowing us to make the anti-matter and dilithium we need."

"Not anymore!" Segundus said. "HYDRA is not a manufacturing company. The Leader has given me a free hand, which means you no longer have one, Admiral. You will personally supervise the installation of a cloaking device, a transporter, and one of the phased plasma projectors onto my shuttle at once. Over the next weeks, six more shuttles will arrive. You will oversee the installation of cloaks and projectors into them.

"Then you will prioritise the synthesis of anti-matter for these photon warheads. Your other projects will remain on hold until that is done, and if I do not find any other work for you in the meantime. Should you fall short of my expectations, I will hand over all your data, and the Artefact, to Professor Mons -who is loyal to HYDRA – and ship you back to Rannoch in a crate! Perhaps several crates!"

He turned on his heel and left. Xen watched him go with contempt. She had surveillance of the whole base, of course she did. She knew he planned to attack Palaven and usurp the government there. With cloaked shuttles and phased plasma weapons he might even succeed.

But Xen would not work under threat. Her agreement had been with Schmidt, who had clearly lost his grip. Time to move on. She had what she needed now. She could return to the liveships and build the vinculum there. That device would strip the geth of their damned independence and make them the servants of the people again. Everything would be put right, and anyone who complained would answer to Xens' synthetic army!

But she must deal with Segundus first. A discreet message to the Shadow Broker should be enough.

"Hey, there, Shorty!" Commander Vega greeted Captain Draal. Vega was a big man, but the tall minbari still topped him by two or three inches. Given the veteran Spectre's penchant for nicknames, and the peculiarities of the human sense of humour, Draal was hardly surprised at being so addressed.

"James." He said. "I appear to be in even more distinguished company than I thought!"

"Goes for all of us." The quarian Spectre Lorn'Reegar vas Tirimon noted.

"You here too, Deuces?" Vega said. "And the Probie, too!"

"I suppose," Commander Susan Ivanova remarked wryly, "that I'll be 'Probie' to you the rest of my life. 'Shorty' I understand, but where does 'Deuces' come from?"

"Don't ever play poker with this guy!" Vega warned her. "I only fell for it once. He bluffed me into folding on a full house when all he had was a pair of deuces! Lost my shirt."

Lorn chuckled. "My grandmother paid her way on her Pilgrimage by gambling." He explained. "She taught me a few tricks!"

"More than a few!" Vega replied. "Who's your friend?" He asked, indicating the massive krogan sitting at Lorns' side.

"Name's Urdnot Mordin." The krogan replied. "You I know, Commander. You were with Shepard when he got my Mom off Sur'kesh despite everything Cerberus could do."

"You're Wrex and Bakaras' eldest?" Vega said. "The writer? Good to finally meet you, buddy. I should've looked in on your family more when you were growing up, but they kept me too busy. So what you doing hanging around with Lorn?"

"Apparently I'm his krantt." Lorn explained. "We lost a friend to HYDRA a few months back, and Mordins' sticking with me until we get the guy who shot her!"

There was something about the way those two interacted that put James in mind of Shepard and Garrus. That legendary friendship had been instrumental in saving the Galaxy, and this one was liable to be just as successful.

The someone else entered the room. A tall stately asari who carried an air of unmistakable authority. She went straight over to Vega. "James!" She said, taking his proffered hand in both of hers. "It has been too long, my friend!"

"Samara?" James replied. "Figured you'd have retired by now!"

"Alas, no." She responded. "There is always one last duty. In this case, justice for my last daughter."

"Falere was the friend we lost." Lorn supplied. "She was helping us out and caught a bullet, but not before she saved our asses!"

"Yes, and it is good to see you again, my young friends." Samara said. "But why have we all been called here?"

"Because I've got a job for you!" Councillor Kaidan Alenko entered the room briskly and set at the head of the table.

"Sorry I'm late." He said as the others took seats. "War business, you remember, James? You have to take time out to breathe sometimes!

"Anyway, for our sins, four of the Council – Garrus, Tali, Grunt and myself – have been put in charge of running this war -the operational bit, anyway."

"Shepard's' Gang." Vega said.

"Of which you, James, are an honorary member, as is Samara." Kaidan pointed out.

Vega grinned, but Samara' smile seemed more to be at a private joke.

Kaidan carried on. "Now the shadows and vorlons are a straightforward deal. Fleet on fleet battles. But HYDRA is different. We're not even sure they have a fleet, all we've seen or guessed at is shuttles and one cloaked frigate. It's a matter of Special Forces raids and intel.

"That's where we caught a break. The Shadow Broker came by the location of HYDRAs' HQ, the Redoubt. Apparently, even HYDRA has disgruntled employees, as the Brokers' contact only asked for transport off the planet once it's over.

"Right at this moment, we've got a spanking new minbari WhiteStar class stealth frigate loaded with Aralakh Company, elite krogan commandos, and a squad of asari commandos, ready to go."

"So why are we here?" Vega asked.

"Because this is HYDRA." Kaidan said. "Because you and I, James, remember what Cerberus was like. This could be a trap, that base could contain almost anything, even the informer might be a double.

"You guys are the best we have available right now, and some of you have already gone up against HYDRA and won. You know how they fight, what they can and will do to win, and how to counter it. James, Draal, Lorn, you're all Spectres, so I'm ordering you. Mordin, you're your fathers' son if I'm reading Lorns' reports right, so I'm guessing you'll want in. Samara, I'm not even going to try giving orders to a Justicar, but I'm asking for your help."

"Do we have any idea of what we're getting into?" Vega asked.

"Not yet, but the STG have boots on the ground." Kaidan said. "For once, the salarians aren't being cagey. Not all lystheni hate the Union, and HYDRA has recruited a lot of them. Some of them work for STG."

"Oh, well in that case, by the time we get there, we'll know everything including that days' lunch menu!" Lorn remarked.

"Let's hope so." Kaidan said. "James, as senior Spectre, you have mission command. Samara, please make sure he doesn't blow the whole planet up!"

"Who am I, Shepard?" James protested. "OK, people, grab your gear, meet at the docks in thirty!"

"Hoorah!" Lorn said, not without a touch of sarcasm.

The Warsworn fleet was mostly composed of troop transports, escorted by several squadrons of corvettes, but there were a handful of warships. Four frigates: Imogene, Hispaniola, Arabella and Fancy. Two destroyers: Dead Mans' Chest and Jolly Roger. Two cruisers named Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman and a single dreadnought, the Queen Annes' Revenge. All names of pirate ships historical or fictional,, except Flying Dutchman, which had been the Grey Wardens' personal flagship before the acquisition of the dreadnought. The Wardens' occasional moments of whimsy were well-known and served as much as anything to seal his popularity with his people.

Now, though, the time for whimsy was past. The fleet waited in position around Kronos Station. In the Overlook, the Warden stood with the Commander and the Ancient of War.

"We don't now how fast this thing will develop." The Warden was saying. "We do know that all the fleets are being coordinated from Babylon Five. We have to assume that both the shadows and the vorlons will figure that out, sooner or later. If their planet-wreckers go down – and they probably will, since the Council fleets will be targeting them – then the station will be the next target. It can't defend itself against both enemy fleets, even with the asari fleet on station. It'll go down before the other fleets can get there."

"Out little fleet won't be much help in that case." Miranda pointed out.

"That's not what it's for." The Warden told her. "You go to the coordinates I've given you, and then open your orders. Then all you need to do is wait for my signal.

"I understand the necessity for sealed orders." Javik said. "My people used them often in our war against the Reapers, for fear of the indoctrinated. But it has not been your usual custom, Warden."

"I know, and it goes against the grain." The Warden admitted. "I've seen too many good people die because somebody felt they had to keep something secret.

"But we don't fully understand what we're up against here. I trust my people, but the shadows and the vorlons may have ways of watching and listening that we don't know about and can't counter. So I'm making sure that even if we are being watched, they won't know what we're doing until it's too late to stop it!"

"Now it's time for you to go. Good luck, both of you, and I'll see you soon!"

Benezia and her team had used the downtime to get used to their new tech specialist. Feneris was a drell, and like most drell, was soft-spoken, courteous and deeply religious in a non-pushy way. He was also kind, and possessed of a quiet humour that made him well-liked.

"Don't see too many drell around here." Larsus had said on the first day. "You usually work for the hanar, don't you?"

"I am one of those who has forsworn the Compact." Feneris said. "I was not born on Kahje, but on Tuchanka, where my parents served in the hanar embassy. My mother died from Keprals' Syndrome when I was sixteen, and my father is also suffering from it. When we were ordered back to Kahje two years later, I refused. The krogan granted asylum, and in the end, I obtained Alliance citizenship through their Embassy. The hanar did not protest beyond a formal letter to me. They understand my reasons."

So did the team. Born on arid Tuchanka, Feneris was unlikely to develop Keprals' Syndrome, which was neither contagious nor genetic, but environmental. But had he returned to Kahje, where his parents had been born and spent their early lives, then he would have been likely to become ill himself, sooner rather than later. The hanar needed the drell, but were compassionate by nature, so his release had been easily accomplished.

Now, however, the team were anxious. They had been expecting to be assigned berths on one of the troopships which were now heading out. Instead, they had been ordered to come, fully-equipped, to this docking area and await further orders.

"Either it's VIP escort, or a suicide mission." Seera had decided.

"Well, aren't you the cheerful one!" Drokk told her.

"Past conversations indicate that Seera is not usually given to optimism." Hawkeye commented.

"Is he always like that?" Feneris asked.

"Geth humour tends to the deadpan." Larsus informed him. "Comes of not actually having a face, I think.

"Uh, oh! Benezia, here comes your Pop!"

"Then it's VIP escort and a suicide mission!" Seera concluded.

"How did you…?" Benezia was floored.

"Not hard." Drokk told her. "Your Mom is Liara T'soni, right? So it doesn't take a genius to guess who your Dad had to be! Most people here figured out you were Shepards' daughter a long time ago. But it took our pet geth here to figure out that he was the Warden!"

"You made errors." Hawkeye said. "You told us your father was dead, but on a minimum forty-five percent of occasions, especially under stress or when especially relaxed, you refer to him in the present tense. You are far more relaxed than most organics in the presence of the Warden, and he has taken more than the usual interest in your progress, to the point of actively making things more difficult for you – overcompensation.

"The deduction was not a difficult one, but only we had access to all the necessary data. Your secret is safe."

"I don't think that's going to matter for much longer!" Shepard came up and gave his daughter a brief hug. "You've got some good, smart friends here, Benezia, and that's great! I wouldn't have got anywhere without my friends, remember that!

"Now, this isn't a suicide mission, I hope! But it is going to be a tough one. I can't say more for now, except that we're going somewhere to meet someone. After that, it gets complicated!"

"How are we getting there?" Benezia asked. "The ships already left."

Legion answered for him. "Warden, I have the Normandy requesting docking clearance!"