You're going to see a certain four letter word in this chapter. You'll know it when you see it, and it doesn't mean what you think. Word of God.


He pounded his fists into the table. "What do you mean, 'control the Reapers'? Are you deluded?"

The other in front of him gave a smile, broad and toothy, his eyes half-lidded. "You worry too much, Avatar. With your assistance in this endeavor, our success is guaranteed. Just imagine it, Sajuuk; all of that power, ours to control. It will ensure the eternal existence of our empire! We will rule the stars until the stars burn out!"

"By selling our souls, and making a mockery of everybody who has died fighting them," the Avatar answered the charge. "You have been deluded by the machines. Lied to! That is all the machines ever do! Synthetic life will destroy organic life. Have you forgotten the Metacon? The Zha'Til? Are you so dense?"

"But this won't be like those petty conflicts," his counterpart said, his form flickering briefly as the projection caught up to the transmission delay. It didn't strike the Avatar by surprise that that man would be so cowardly as to offer this plan from half-way across the galaxy. "We will have absolute control of the Reapers. Their technology will become our technology. We will have the power to retake the Citadel! Our proudest symbol will be ours again!"

"You are not simply deluded, you are insane," the Avatar said, turning away in disgust, arms crossed before the red panels of armor. "There can be no quarter with the machine. Only death, for one side or the other. And there can be no slavery. The Zha'Til taught that lesson clearly. Our technology becomes their flesh. Be thankful you are not here, Stranger; if you were, I would shoot out all of your eyes twice, once for being a traitor, and twice for being stupid."

The Stranger sighed, his grin fading into an expression of dismay and disappointment. "If you cannot be made to see sense, then perhaps your replacement could be more amenable."

"My replacement?" the Avatar asked.

The projection of The Stranger vanished, and the projector sphere which had been floating in the air emitting it dropped to the ground. It fizzled once, and then popped open, defunct. The Avatar looked to the soldiers who had sworn to die before allowing the unstoppable horde of the Reaper to lay a single corrupted tendril upon him. "What is this madness?"

"I cannot say, Avatar. We must complete our plans before..."

"Warning!" the voice of one of their own announced. Folding out of the Avatar's arm came a virtual presence, standing as proudly as any soldier ever would. "Indoctrinated presence detected! Thralls have surrounded this area. Recommend immediate egress."

"We are surrounded?" the soldier asked. And was answered when a wall was smashed down by the hulking mass of a Oravore Kingslayer, smearing half of the Avatar's contingent into paste under its unnaturally bloated girth. It turned, its six eyes staring deadly at the Avatar, as the latter brought up a rifle to fire upon it. But as the others scrambled back, away from the deadly form of the Kingslayer, dozens of others flooded in around it, each of them a mockery of the Avatar's form.

"ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL!" a voice reverberated from the very stone of the bunker, and the eyes of the Kingslayer now glowed with golden light, so bright and shining from within the enemy of their empire that it seemed almost ready to burst of it. It raised one of its four arms, and pointed at the Avatar. "KILL EVERYONE BUT THE AVATAR. THAT ONE IS REQUIRED ALIVE."

Shepard's eyes flit open, and she could almost hear the thud as consciousness snatched her away from the strangest dream she'd ever had in her life. She rubbed at her face, relieved that she could both move her arms and had a face to rub. It felt like somebody had slammed a metal pole through her brain and then set it on fire, but she'd had worse. Like that time she tried Ryncol with Adeks.

"Shepard is awake!" Alenko's voice cut into the confusion, as Shepard levered her legs over the side of the bed. And it was a bed she was on. She looked down, her vision clearing enough that she could now make out that she was in the med-bay of the Normandy. How she got here, she hadn't the first clue.

"You should take it easy, Shepard," Doctor Chakwas' voice came to her. It was a smooth and regal tone, somebody of high education and high standards. Shepard had intended to speak to her before hitting Eden Prime, but Nihlus got in the way. "You had a lot of people worried up here."

"I feel like I just got headbutted by a krogan," Shepard said, rubbing her brow.

"That's it? Then I'll tell the Captain that you'll be ready for the debrief in five minutes and a cup of coffee," Chakwas said with easy sarcasm. Shepard instantly knew that she and the doctor were going to get along just fine.

"I didn't say it was going to kill me, just that I felt like hell," Shepard said. She gave a glance to Alenko, then back to Chakwas. "How long was I out?"

"About fifteen hours. Something happened down there with that Beacon."

Alenko sighed. "This is all my fault. If I hadn't gotten so close to that thing, none of this would have happened."

"I'm still not sure exactly what did happen," Shepard said. "Where's Nilsdottir? And al'Wahim?"

"They were the ones that brought you in when the Beacon exploded," Chakwas said. Shepard scowled, leaning forward.

"I don't suppose it occurred to somebody that Eden Prime has working hospitals," Shepard asked.

"You're better off here than in any colonial hospital, that I can guarantee," Chakwas said, with a tone of mild insult. "Besides, the Captain wanted to report to the Citadel immediately. I defer to his judgment."

"If I'm not needed here, I'm going to tell the Captain that she's awake," Alenko said, casting a thumb over his shoulder. Chakwas nodded, and he departed.

"Shepard, while you were unconscious I did a brain scan, and detected some things I did not expect."

"Oh, here we go," Shepard muttered.

"Besides the massive increase in REM-type brainwaves, I also found a great deal of encapsulated element zero in your cerebellum and brainstem. I was about to send the scans to Captain Anderson, but I felt I should ask you why you didn't join the Vanguard program while you were in N7. This much eezo, and encapsulated as this is, can only mean that you'd be a..."

"I don't want to hear it," Shepard said.

"I'm not sure I understand. Most young people would give away their very bending to have this kind of biotic potential."

"Yeah, and why would they give away their bending again?" Shepard asked in fine snarking form. "I'm the Avatar. I don't have time for space-magic, and even if I did, it'd just get in the way of the important things. If I'm a biotic, I can't bend. That kinda defeats the purpose of the Avatar. Now by all means, be a good doctor and let this die."

Chakwas shook her head slowly but shrugged. "As you wish, Commander, but..."

"No buts. I'm not a biotic. If anybody asks, you didn't find a thing," Shepard said.

"I will not lie to the Captain," Chakwas said, standing her ground, even against the Avatar's glare.

"Then don't offer it," Shepard said. Chakwas' next protest was cut off by the sound of the door opening behind the two of them. Shepard quickly slid to her feet, almost losing her balance for a moment, as she turned to see that Anderson had joined the two of them in the med bay.

"How's our XO holding up?" Anderson asked.

"Besides what had to be some intense dreams and some..." a warning glare from the Avatar, "other minor abnormalities, I'd say the Commander is going to be just fine."

"Then I'd like an opportunity to speak with the Avatar. In private," Anderson said. Chakwas nodded gracefully, and left them to their conversation. Far be it to say she was a nosy one. Probably the best thing about her. Anderson looked the Avatar up and down. "I hear the Beacon knocked you around pretty hard. How are you holding up? Really?"

"I'm..." Shepard shook her head. The dream was fading, but there were flickers of images, words, that stuck in her mind. "Not sure. This is frustrating. The Beacon is apparently defunct, Nihlus is dead, and this Saren is the one who did all of it. Geth outside the Veil... The Council's going to be on us like stink on a hogmonkey."

"So we're going to have to give them something to prove that this wasn't a complete disaster to the Council."

Shepard scowled. "The Council can kiss my pink ass. I didn't do anything wrong!"

Anderson stared at her. "I give you a lot of leeway because of your unique status, Shepard, but we're entering a new arena, where nobody's going to care that you're the Avatar. If you go out there with this sort of attitude, you're going to only make enemies. And the enemies you make will be the kind who I have no way of protecting you from. So as our collective grandmothers have informed us for a thousand years running, if you don't have something constructive to say, it might be better to not say anything at all."

Shepard sighed. He was right. "Aye, Captain."

"For what it's worth, I'll stand with your report, Shepard. You're a damned hero in my books. You saved the colony, and you dispatched the geth. But it's Saren who is our biggest problem. He's a Spectre, a living legend at that. Nobody is going to be willing to believe that he's working with the geth, let alone that he's gone rogue. He's dangerous, and his anti-human sentiment is a known. He thinks we're growing too quickly, and I don't doubt he'll do whatever he can to stop us."

"And he'll have the Council eating out of his hand," Shepard continued. "He'll spin this that it was our fault we lost the Beacon, and like the Dai Li used to say 'there are no geth on Eden Prime'."

"That Beacon was without a doubt the reason why Saren was on Eden Prime. Do you have any idea what he wanted from it? You were in direct contact with it," Anderson pressed.

Shepard sighed, rubbing her temple and flicking red hair over her shoulder. "I had... a vision, maybe?" now that she tried to remember, everything was so indistinct, so blurry. Like she was trying to remember something somebody else saw, through a different set of eyes. "I saw synthetics. Geth, maybe. They were slaughtering people. Butchering them."

Anderson nodded, not even questioning the strangeness of it. But then again, Anderson was probably well aware that he was dealing with an Avatar, and as was often said of her august predecessors, 'weird stuff just tended to happen around the Avatar'. "We need to report this to the Council," Anderson said.

"And tell them what? The super-special human who you all despise anyway had a bad dream after getting hit in the head? They'll never believe it," Shepard said. "We should just go after Saren directly."

"That isn't an option," Anderson said. "You've been sheltered from politics for a long time. Not every assignment is going to be like Torfan. Sometimes, you have to be a scalpel, not a sledgehammer. Being Avatar means you have to be the Great Mediator, as well as the bender of the four elements and the Great Bridge. I would have thought the last four years would have made that clear."

"Yeah, four years spent learning new ways to fight. That's useful."

"It will be the least of your weapons going forward. Your mind and your words will be far more valuable, I think," Anderson said. "But whatever the case, if the doctor says you're cleared, then you're free to go. But don't stray too far. We're going to need to report to Ambassador Udina soon."

"He's on the Citadel," Shepard pointed out.

"And in about an hour, so will we be," Anderson said, before giving the Avatar a final nod, and departing the med-bay, leaving the Avatar to her splitting headache and the questions about what in the hell just happened to her.


Chapter 2:

The Warning


The Citadel. Center of galactic culture. Seat of the Council, which was itself the most extensive political body in existence. Hub of technology and communication for dozens of species. Last and greatest relic of the Prothean Civilization, left behind in silence after their disappearance, only to be rediscovered thousands of years later by the asari and the salarians. And it was rather very large.

There exist few constructs which stand even comparable to the Citadel; in terms of engineering, it remains a mystery to most who try to unlock its secrets, which still happened on a decade-ly basis even with the thousands of years of asari stewardship. Something so monumentally massive should, by most understanding of even mass-effect related engineering, torn itself apart by the slightest shudder of movement across the five great arms which extended forward like drab petals of a neophyte flower-bud. But it didn't. So those 'petals' were now home to more than fourteen million people and aliens. The most absurd part of the whole structure was the hub which held it together. Less than a few hundred meters thick, it spun slower than the rest of the station, resulting in lower gravity, which had to be compensated for by mass generators. That alone should have torn the station to bits. And at the very heart of that hub, like a stamen reaching up from the center of a flower, was the Citadel Tower, from which the Council pulled the strings of a galaxy, and watched how it danced.

"This is an outrage!" Udina's voice took to the sky within the Council's chambers. He was quivering with indignation. In other words, business as usual for the ambassador.

"We admit that the geth attack on Eden Prime is a matter of some concern. It's proximity to Outer Council Space gives one pause," the asari Councilor, one Ophala Tavos, said. Of course, the asari weren't women, per se; their species only had one gender, and they played fast and loose with naming conventions as a result of that. "We simply have no proof that our Spectre operative was involved in any way."

"Especially since our investigation by Citadel Security showed no evidence to support your charge of treason," remarked the turian at her side. That would be Arasthaes Speratus, his own species' Councilor. His tone was, as usual, snide and dismissive.

"An eyewitness saw Saren Arterius murder Agend Nihlus in cold blood," Udina stressed.

"We've all looked over the Eden Prime reports," the salarian Councilor placated. Shepard didn't even bother trying to remember his name, only that most simply called him Valern. "We cannot accept the testimony of a traumatized dock-worker, given the circumstances. That was a terrifying situation. Much could have been misunderstood, or misremembered."

"And we should not be surprised that the human Anderson is bringing these charges forward," the projection of Saren, the last bugbear in the room, said with the smooth, effortless arrogance of somebody who was half-way across the galaxy from where people wanted to shoot him. "As I recall correctly, your last attempt at sabotaging my good name did not end so well. And it appears that... you have brought a protege? Who would this be? The woman who allowed the Beacon to be destroyed?"

"The Avatar is none of your concern," Anderson piped up, as Shepard tried to hold her tongue.

And failed. "The mission to Eden Prime was top secret. The only way you could know about it was if you were there," she snapped.

"When Nihlus died, his files defaulted to me," Saren said with a wave of his claw. Hand. Whatever. "I read the reports. I was not impressed. But what can you really expect coming from a human?"

Shepard's fist clenched tight.

"Your species needs to learn its place, 'Avatar'. You are deluded if you think you're ready for the responsibilities you're asking for. No human is worthy of entering the Spectres, let alone having a seat on the Citadel Council."

"That is not his place to decide!" Udina snapped.

"In this, the human ambassador is correct," Tavos said, glancing to her fellows. "This session is not interested in the pending Spectre status of Commander Shepard. It is regarding the charges levied against Agent Arterius."

"This meeting is pointless and slanderous," Saren said. "End this before it becomes a... what do you humans call it? Ah, yes, a 'circus'."

"There's still one outstanding issue," Anderson said.

"Don't," Shepard warned.

"Shepard's vision may have been caused by the Beacon!" Anderson finished anyway. Shepard palmed her head, and could predict Saren's response, word for word.

"Are we allowing dreams into evidence against me, now?" Saren asked incredulously. He waved with disgust. "I refuse to even acknowledge this kind of charlatanism with a response."

Sparatus nodded. "I agree. Our decision must be made upon hard facts and evidence, not wild speculation and an alien's purported," he raised two of those fingers, "'Avatar vision'."

And the worst part was, Sparatus was right. Shepard shot a glare at her commanding officer. He should have known better than to bring that into this. She certainly'd had no intention of bringing it up. But no, now humanity has to be the terrified pig-duck running around like the sky was falling, because of one purported bad dream. She made a mental note to never let Anderson get into a position of real political power. He might be a damned good military officer, but even Shepard knew that the man was too easy to outfox in this battleground.

"We have reached a level of consensus," Velern said. He tilted his head toward the human. "Unless you have something else to add?"

Shepard shook her head bitterly. "You've already made your decision. I won't waste my breath."

"Very well," Tevos said. "We find no reason to pursue the charges of treason against Special Tactics and Reconnaissance agent Saren Arterius. This meeting of the Council is adjourned."

In bitter silence, the Councilors filed away from their dais, and the projection of Saren vanished from sight.

"Brilliant," Shepard said. "My vision? Did you really think that was going to fly with them?"

"I had to try something," Anderson said. "Still, I don't think that this is over. Saren must have made a mistake somewhere. If we can find out what it is, we can bring him down, and destroy his protection within the Council."

"His mistake was simply being there," Udina countered. "There is too much history between you and Saren. You colored the Council's perspective with your presence alone."

"I know that man," Anderson said grimly. "He'll stop at nothing to exterminate humanity. If we don't stop him, then no place humanity has set foot will be safe. Not even Earth."

"Regardless of your feelings about him, he does need to be contained," Udina said. "You'll need to find a way to expose his connection to the geth. That will show he's gone rogue better than anything else!"

Shepard sighed, and turned, to where the others of her little party were clustered near an extranet terminal. "I take it you all heard that?" Shepard asked.

"Couldn't help but," Alenko said. He scratched at his chin. "It occurs to me, were you paying attention as we were coming in?"

"Not really, why?"

"I overheard an argument between the C-Sec executor and one of his detectives. Garrus, I think it was. This Garrus said he wanted more time to find something on Saren. Maybe he might know something we don't," Alenko said. "And if he doesn't, then at least he would be handy to have on our side."

"Man, remind me not to get laid while you're on the same ship as me," Nilsdottir said.

"I'll be sure to put my headphones on if the need strikes you," Alenko said with a smirk. Nilsdottir made a gagging noise at that, to which al'Wahim chuckled richly.

"Not bad, LT," she said.

"I have my moments," he answered calmly.

"I will destroy you," Nilsdottir promised.

"Whatever you decide, it will be up to you to track it down," Udina said. "Anderson has muddied the waters enough as it is. They need a fresh face next time something comes to the fore, and that means it must be on no hands but your own. Is that clear."

"Crystal," Shepard answered.

"Good. There is a man in C-Sec who should be able to direct you. Zho, one of the first human C-Sec officers. And if there is nothing else, I have tasks that require my attention. Please try not to create a diplomatic episode while you're on the Citadel; my job is already difficult enough," Udina said, before striding away.

"Stick up his ass must be the size of the Citadel," Nilsdottir noted quietly.

"Button it, Nilsdottir. That man deserves your respect," Anderson said.

"Sorry, sir," Nilsdottir answered, instantly a model of respect. Anderson had that effect on people.

"Zho is an Ostrich-horse's ass," Anderson said. "He's a disgrace to the uniform. Hell, I'd say he's a disgrace to all uniforms. I might have someone else you could contact. He's a krogan, probably down in the wards. He might come off the brute, but he's got a cunning mind. And he owes me a few favors."

"A krogan solution is a good solution," Shepard said. "Where?"

"He'll probably be in Korra's Den. Named after one of your predecessors, I'm told," Anderson said. "She probably would have liked it."

"Seedy bars and krogan? This day's starting to look up," Nilsdottir opined.

"Are we sure this is a wise choice?" al'Wahim asked.

"How could it not?" Nilsdottir answered.

"Hardly seedy. Just don't pull a gun and they won't call the bouncers," Anderson offered. He took a moment to adjust his uniform, then nodded as they all passed by another Alliance officer who was arguing at length with a turian. "Now, I need to be very publicly and obviously seen in a place very far away from whatever it is you chose to do. You know how it is."

"This is still bullshit," she said. "You deserve better than that."

"I had my shot. I blew it. This is yours," Anderson said, which caused Shepard a moment's confusion. "I'll see you when you get something connecting Saren to the geth or Eden Prime."

He moved aside, into one of the many rooms which flanked the lead-in to the council chambers. She didn't know at that point that it was a green-room connected to a private transit hub. A pity, that she didn't figure it out until so long later.

"Elevators. I can't believe this shit. Weren't we supposed to have teleporters by now?" Nilsdottir asked as the lift's doors opened, and the gaggle of humans, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial, piled in.

"You can't believe everything you see in Sci-Fi, Nilsdottir," Alenko said.

"We move shit with our minds. That's total Sci-Fi," Nilsdottir answered back.

"I had been meaning to ask you about that," Alenko said, leaning against the wall and giving the younger woman a professional inspection. "I overheard Doctor Chakwas talking..."

"Is there anything you don't overhear?" al'Wahim asked.

"Not much. I noticed the biotics you were throwing out there on Eden Prime, and Chakwas said that you were running with an experimental Amp architecture. Where did you get that?"

"None of your damned business," she said, rubbing at the back of her neck where the implant was situated.

"Hey, I'm in the same boat but on the opposite side," he said. "I'm one of the last people wired up with the old L2 configurations. And I was one of the lucky ones. Most of ALMA's early attempts at isolating biotics either misclassified them as airbenders or ended up giving kids life-long seizure disorders. I just get migraines. But you seem a bit young to be one of the L3 test-bed subjects."

"Drop it, LT," Nilsdottir snapped.

"It's a sore subject," Shepard pointed out. "Nobody's making you say anything."

"Fuckin' reverse-psychology," Nilsdottir complained. "Fine. I've had this thing in my skull for as long as I can remember. Don't remember getting it, and I ain't touched it from the time I was adopted until I joined the Corps."

"So... you're running with a decades-old Biotic Amp which is somehow better than the cutting edge out of the Serrice Council?" Alenko summed up.

"You want answers, go read the back of a math-book. All I know is that it's in there, and I got no damn idea why," she said crossing her arms before her chest. Of the lot of them, only she was wearing something resembling civilian clothing. Mostly because any armor was a waste of time in her case, and while there was no useful reason to having a squad of Alliance Marines in their armors, there was likewise no reason not to cut an impressive swath.

She was the Avatar. She had to put up appearances.

"That's all you're getting out of her, Lieutenant. Best leave it there before Jackie makes you a smear on the glass," Shepard said.

"Thanks, Shepard," Nilsdottir said, her tone distracted and distant. Nilsdottir was one of three humans who survived the butchery of Torfan, and the only one besides they two ended up scrubbing out of service on a Category Six. Her 'discovery' as Avatar was likely the only thing which kept the lot of them from the stockade.

"I feel something of an outsider to this," al'Wahim said with her hand raised. "I take it that the lieutenant is almost as new an addition as I?"

"Who said you were an addition?" Shepard asked, as the doors finally opened. Those elevators were going to be the death of her.

"Captain Anderson had her transferred to the Normandy's marine division," Alenko offered.

"What? Why?"

"You wound my pride," al'Wahim said sarcastically.

"You'd need to ask him," Alenko said. "This happened while you were out. One woman can't hold a garrison, after all."

"Not if she tries hard enough," Shepard said. She moved out first, past where one of the floating pink jellyfish things was arguing serenely with a turian in the black and blue armor of C-Sec. She shook her head at the absurdity of it, and kept walking. The Presidium was, according to virtually everybody, the crown jewel of the galaxy. Its horizon swept up, as it was all built into the outermost surface of the ring upon which the entire station turned. Running the length of its belly was a lake, broken by stretches of parkland where it transformed into rivers, before vanishing up under the horizon. Aliens of many description moved about their daily business.

"Big place," Alenko noted.

"That your professional opinion?" Nilsdottir asked.

"Imagine how many others have stood in this place," al'Wahim said with a tone of quiet contemplation. "Three thousand years of asari and salarians, and how many more thousand of the Protheans before they?"

"We're the little fish in a big pond, I get that," Shepard said. "That doesn't mean we've got to just sit back and let the turians push us around."

"It's not the turians that are the problem here," Alenko said. "It's the image we're making for humanity. The first aliens we meet were hated by almost everybody, and we have a substantial enclave set aside for them on our homeworld. Sure, it's the most dangerous place on Earth, but that point is lost on the salarians. The second aliens we encounter, we immediately go to war with. The third set of aliens we meet, we drive off of the Citadel within a year. Even if it's not intentional, we're disruptive."

Shepard had to see Alenko's logic. They all took a left, crossing a bridge over that 'river' an moving to cab terminal. Shepard did a quick head-count. Yeah, she should be able to fit them all inside a taxi. And that, at least, would spare them from another godsdamned elevator.


"We have word from our agents within the Alliance government," the asari said, as Saren meditated in the heart of his servant and master, the greatest force this galaxy had ever seen. "We have done more research into this... Avatar."

Saren turned to the Matriarch at his side. She hadn't always been. When they began, she had tried to sabotage him, to direct his actions with the subtlety of a razor in the dark. But he'd broken her down, piece by piece, until he had something he could build back into something useful to him. It had taken time. He had all the time in the world.

Sovereign had promised that much.

"Do tell," Saren said. Benezia rounded the 'table' that Saren looked over, and kneeled herself. She was once a beautiful woman of the asari, but time, and in particular these last few months, had given a severe and austere edge to her appearance. Her face, once rounded in good health even despite her near millennium of life, now fell gaunt, and her eyes were somewhat sunken into her head. She was running out of time. Soon, he'd need to find somebody else as useful to him.

"The Avatar is considered akin to a demigod amongst the humans. It is an entity which they claim returns once per generation amongst their warrior class."

"Their... benders..." Saren said, investing scorn into the word.

"Indeed. The Avatar, unlike everybody else, can utilize all four elements at once. As well, they are purportedly shamans, and were once the pivotal humans in their history. In recent days, they've become essentially celebrities, when they're discovered at all."

"So an Avatar is just as vulnerable as anybody else," Saren concluded.

"Not quite," she continued. "They can summon a force to themselves; some say they summon the strength and knowledge of every Avatar before them. They call it the Avatar State..."

AVATAR STATE

THE AVATAR LIVES

Saren felt his existence lurch to one side, and a rage rip through him, so outside of his ability to comprehend it, so beyond his capacity to control it, that he could only let it flow, and ride it as it overwhelmed him, his hand hurling the 'table' aside and causing it to smash against the wall. With a snarl which didn't even sound turian, he heaved Benezia up by her throat and slammed her against the wall. She didn't even try to resist. His hand squeezed...

And then he stopped. He loosened his hand, but leaned in towards the blue skinned alien. "We must find and kill the Avatar. No matter the cost," he stepped away from her. "My experiments on Noveria are beginning to show fruit. Ensure that the process continues apace."

"As you wish, Saren," she said, not meekly, but definitely obediently. Saren moved back to his place, and crouched back down, opting to meditate once more. He had to stay in control, ignore those whispers in the back of his mind.

Sovereign was depending on him. The galaxy was depending on him.


She'd expected a vile hive of scum and villainy. She got a jazz-club.

"I expected more... filth," al'Wahim offered. The truth was anything but. The sign near the door was about the most provocative thing around; the silhouette of a powerfully built human woman, if one not wearing any obvious clothing. But as soon as the doors opened, contrary to the pulsing, throbbing beats which came out of clubs like Purgatory or Flux, this one was the smooth crooning of a tsungi-horn and a gravely-voiced woman singing songs about loss and love. Shepard was so surprised at her breach of expectations that she paused outright in the door.

"Is that a quarian singing?" Alenko asked.

"I have never seen such a thing," al'Wahim said.

"You want weird? Try listening to that elcor, Kolmare. Even the other aliens don't know what to make of him," Nilsdottir said with a laugh, then sauntered up to the bar and ordered something usually used to strip paint. Alenko gave a glance to Shepard.

"She does know that she's still on duty, right?"

"Nilsdottir works just as well with drunk as most soldiers do sober," Shepard said. The whole structure was arranged in a ring, the bar parked in the center of it, and the stage sat above it all, its four piece ensemble pointing outward, and the quarian woman slowly circling above the bartender's heads as she produced what Shepard had to assume was quarian jazz.

Not bad.

"Is that Adeks?" Alenko asked, leaving behind the biotic at the bar and moving to a booth to one side. The old establishment must have been a 'dance-hall', because the seating was obviously crammed into a space usually reserved for 'private dances', and barely had enough room for the inhabitant of the table alone. Thus, the two human women had to borrow chairs from other tables and turn them in in order to speak to the krogan at the table. "I didn't peg you as a jazz kind of person," Alenko said.

Raik Adeks was a familiar face to most of humanity, but his hearty laugh was much more homely to the crew of the Normandy. "And I didn't expect you'd allow yourself to have enough fun to come down here," the krogan countered. His eyes were large, blue, and shifted toward the side of his head. On Earth, that would indicate that he was a prey species. Then again, the krogan evolved on Tuchanka, a planet where the closest thing to a herbivore they have was called a nathak, and those things could tear a human limb from limb in a second if provoked. The fact that it needed provoking was probably why it was so far down the food chain. As for the rest of him, his skin was slightly orange, and his skull-plate a much darker hue. And of course, like all krogan, he had the face of a constipated wolfbat."What brings you down to this wonderful little drinking hole?"

"We're looking for some people," Shepard said. "One of them's Zho, a human C-Sec officer. The other's a krogan from Urdnot."

Adeks leaned back. "You don't want to deal with Urdnot. That clan's about as hateful as you'll find on the blasted earth. Pretty much every Urdnot alive is about as hateful as their clan-leader, Wreav. My advice? Find somebody else to deal with."

"Tell us how you really feel," Alenko chuckled.

Adeks rolled his shoulders, and shook his head. "I've been around a long time, human. I've gotten to know what the krogan are like. We're not all fun and cuddly like me."

"I shall take your word toward that," al'Wahim said suspiciously. She glanced around the bar, trying not to be too conspicuous. Then again, three humans in combat armor in a jazz-club wasn't exactly the height of either couture or discretion. "How will we even know this Urdnot Wrex to see him?"

Her question was answered when the doors leading in opened, and two and a half meters, and more than three hundred kilos of particularly irate looking krogan entered Korra's Den. He stomped past the people queued up for the bar, knocking one of them into a table, which caused Shepard to focus on him over the shouted recriminations and slurs.

That krogan was wearing red; the armor looked old and worn, but she didn't doubt that even if she busted down its kinetic barriers, it'd still take time to pound through that much plating. Red was very much that krogan's color. He shared it with his eyes and skullplate, and the flesh that ran in scar furrows up his face was a reddish sort of orange.

"What are you doin' here, Wrex?" the bouncer at the back of the bar demanded, staring his fellow krogan in the eye.

"Out of my way, sterile whelp," Wrex's voice turned out to be very deep, and it resonated with anger. "Unless you want to become an orange smear when I kill Fist."

The other bouncer, a turian, took a stand beside his krogan coworker. "We've talked about this, Wrex; if you bother Fist again, we're bringing in C-Sec," the turian said.

"C-Sec will be here in twelve minutes. I'll be through and gone in three," Wrex pointed out. Shepard had to say, she liked his style. But sadly, she was denied seeing if the krogan's capabilities lived up to his bravado, because the door opened once again, and fully a dozen blue and black armored C-Sec entered the bar, mostly turians with a few salarians for flavor. Wrex gave a half-amused glance back at them.

"We've been over this, Urdnot Wrex," the turian in charge said. "You can't make threats and not expect consequences. Are you going to drop this, or are we going to have to bring you in?"

"What do you think, rent-a-cop?" Wrex asked, a smirk on his very wide mouth. That question was answered by twelve automatic rifles being shouldered and pointed at him. Wrex offered them a chuckle, then turned back to the two bouncers. "You can tell your boss that I'm comin' for him. I'll just have to make a stop off, first."

Shepard got to her feet, and edged a bit closer to the angry red krogan. "Hey, scar-face," she said. His big red eye flicked toward her. "I was told to talk to you."

"Well, I'm not in a conversant mood," Wrex answered. She tried to catch his arm as he shouldered past her, but when she did, she could feel what was once considered eight hundred pounds of muscle tensing. So when his other fist twisted and slammed right into the the gut of her armor with enough sheer force to bend a steel beam, she had a fraction of a moment to roll with it. Still, it sent her flying onto Adeks' table, the wind knocked thoroughly out of her. "I said, I don't feel like talking, human. Don't try that again."

"Shepard!" Alenko said, pulling her off the table. Adeks just shook his head, and nobody got in Wrex's way as the contingent of C-Sec escorted him out of the Den. "Shepard, are you alright?"

"Oh... don't get into a fist fight with a krogan, even if you're the Avatar," Shepard recommended.

"I could have told you that," Adeks said peevishly. "That was Urdnot Wrex. He tried to shape things up on Tuchanka about three centuries back, and got shot in the quad for his trouble. If there's a bigger ball of anger and hate in the galaxy, I don't want to meet it."

"I think we might have to move on to plan B," Alenko said. "Are you sure you're up for this, Commander?"

"Please, Hong took harder hits than that to the head during the Relay 314 Incident," Adeks pointed out.

"And how could you possibly know that?" al'Wahim asked.

"I was there. Humans might be squishier than a salarian, but Avatars are made of rocks and wrath," Adeks said with an approving nod.

"We have to be," Shepard said, her voice somewhat ragged from the diaphragm pounding she'd taken. "So many people try to kill us."

"We can do this another time," Alenko offered.

"We're here, and I'm not letting Saren get any advantage over us," Shepard said, shaking her head violently. "For all we know, he's got agents cleaning up his loose ends as we speak. Which one is Zho?"

"Are you sure, Commander?" Alenko asked.

"You're my soldier, not my nursemaid. Where is he?" Shepard snapped. Alenko sighed, and nodded toward a booth near the back, which was flanked by four lovely ladies. Well, three humans and an asari. The center of that table, though, grinning like he owned the world, was a man with a long strand of beard, a fancy suit that nobody with C-Sec pay should be able to afford, and a haircut that probably cost as much as Shepard's rifle. Not that it was an expensive haircut, of course. She took a deep breath, making sure that there was no quaver to her voice. That'd just be embarrassing.

She stepped up to the foot of that table, where the lone male at its center turned away from where the woman was whispering something to him. Such a bevy of different people – and asari – eating out of one greasy bastard's hand. "You're Officer Zho Shr-Shr of Citadel Security?"

"Between ten and four, yeah. What's it to you, Army?" the man asked, his tone entirely too confident, entirely too smooth. He had the complexion of an easterner, but his eyes were blue. He could have been from literally anywhere. So she just decided to take the easiest path and ignore trying to 'talk nice' and appeal to his hometown.

"As I understand it, you've got a low-down on a turian I need to speak to."

"Lady, I've got the low-down on a enough turians. Not much point to them. They can't even eat the same food as we do. And isn't that a terrible shame, ladies?"

"Yeah, that's half the fun, Zho," the Si Wongi woman said with a grin. Well, she didn't have the accent, so she probably was a colony kid. Shepard shook her head.

"I'm not here about food, Zho. Where is Garrus Vakarian?"

"How about you sit down at my table, and maybe I'll whisper it over my pillow in the morning?" Zho asked. Shepard felt her blood pressure start to rise.

"I'd rather hump a salarian," she said. "I'm not going to ask politely again, Zho."

"Look, you've got something I want, and I've got something you need," Zho said confidently, pulling the red-haired, freckly girl to his left a bit closer. "And honestly, I gotta say, I've got a bit of a thing for redheads. They've always got such nice... skin."

Shepard gave a glance back, to where Nilsdottir was drinking. The biotic mimed a gun to her head with a smirk. Well, the devil on her shoulder had spoken.

With a hiss and a click, followed by screaming, Shepard leveled her pistol at Zho's face. His confident smirk vanished quite satisfyingly. The girls all tried to stream away, but trapped between the booth, the seat, and Shepard, they had nowhere to go, so just kept screaming. The Jazz continued, but if with a more concerned quarian, who was now trying to keep a pillar between herself and Shepard.

"Here's the thing. My skin's under four centimeters of ablative armor protection, with layered kinetic barriers. Your business suit's a bolt of silk over flop sweat and gutless bastard," Shepard said. "So you're going to tell me where Garrus is, or I'm going to ruin that suit so badly that you can't even get cremated in it."

"You're insane," Zho said. Shepard smirked, but felt a very large, very strong hand slam down on her upper arm, squeezing hard enough to almost break the bone. That krogan bouncer was not looking very happy with her.

"Put that gun away, Army," the bouncer demanded. "No bullets or bending in Fist's club; break that rule, and I break what's responsible for it."

"Yeah, that's what I figured," Zho said, as the women fell silent. Shepard glared at the krogan, then back to Zho. Shepard ground her teeth, but put her gun back against its 'holster', a portion of her armor specifically created to make a mass-effect field to hold the weapon in place. With a nod, the krogan let her go to rub her bicep and glare. "You must be one of Anderson's boys," Zho said. He waved his hands, and the ladies, to their credit, didn't return to his side, merely staying where they were in the booth. He gave a scowl at them, but shook his head. She figured that his head was finally in a place where it could think about something besides what ass feels like. "You hear his big secret?"

"You're wasting my time, Zho. I'm strongly considering breaking rules."

"That Tribesman used to be a Spectre," Zho continued. Shepard leaned back in confusion. "Yeah, I get that a lot. He managed to fail so spectacularly that they not only kicked him out, but expunged the record of his ever being one of 'em. So it's no surprise that his lackey is as incompetent as he was."

Shepard glared down, and looked to the Si Wongi. Her cup was steaming and black. Coffee? She must be an Enneadist. She looked back at Zho, then cracked her knuckles.

"So, feel like hearing about Garrus? Well, you can pay in ass or cash, and as you can tell, I've got plenty of cash," Zho offered.

So she swiftly leaned across the table, grabbing his beard, and pulled straight down. She then grabbed the coffee and held the very-hot mug to the side of his now pinned face, letting the heat build up through the ceramic. "I've had about enough of this," Shepard said with remarkable calm to her voice. "Now you can either tell me where Garrus is, or I give you a burn that medigel can't fix."

"Ow! Damn it! Security!"

"She ain't bending or shooting," the krogan said, content where he was standing.

"AUGH! ALRIGHT!" Zho said, as the woman now bolted away from the two of them, fleeing the club with all possible haste. Good for them. Shepard released his beard and drank the coffee. It was black and bitter. He glared at her, but she just stared back, stone faced, at him. "Garrus was nosing around the med-center just above the Zakara Wards access to C-Sec. Don't know why. Now will you stop trying to kill me?"

"I make no such promises," she said, finishing the coffee in a second great swig. "You're corrupt as hell, probably taking bribes from anybody who offers. Sooner or later C-Sec is going to give you the boot, but until then, just remember; sooner or later, you're going to piss somebody off enough that they're going to want to shoot you. And when they do, they won't have a krogan bouncer stopping them. So long, Zho."

She turned on her heel and moved toward her crew. "We've got a location," she said. "Nilsdottir! Form up!"

The biotic knocked back her drink with one pull, and had the barkeep put it onto the N7 tab, before joining up with the humans. "Alright, I'm feeling a bit looser. Where are we heading?"

"A med-center, a couple of stairways from here," Shepard said.

"I know that place," Adeks said. All eyes turned to him. "What am I? Mister exposition? It's a med-center, and I know about it. Big whoop."

"Garrus Vakarian is supposed to be there," Shepard said. She turned to Alenko. "Any chatter?"

Alenko's omnitool flicked on, and he shook his head. "Whatever's going on there, it's going on quietly."

"Then we'd better not waste any time," Shepard said. She gave a chuckle. "At least there aren't any elevators."

"Small mercy," al'Wahim said.


Dreams.

Death, in dreams. Screaming. So many dead. So much failure.

Vengeance. Blood.

Alone. Slow. Cold.

No. Not alone.

Another.

Shouldn't be.

Hard to think.

Too cold.

Death, in dreams, an empire falling. Eyes glowing white in the darkness.

Dreams.


"So instead of elevators, we get stairs," Alenko asked.

"If I wanted to get sober, I'd hit up Murtock in engineering," Nilsdottir muttered.

"Oh, so that was you trying to become sober?" al'Wahim asked.

"What, you're listening too?" Nilsdottir demanded.

"I'm pretty sure everybody on the Normandy heard you," Alenko said gently. Nilsdottir growled like the barely domesticated animal that she portrayed herself to be. Shepard, on the other hand, had more immediate and aggravating concerns. They stood a bit under two meters tall, had straw-colored hair, and were entirely too eager.

"Commander Shepard! Is that you?" the eager man asked.

"Who's asking," Shepard asked, taking the immediate turn at the top of the stairs. Vexingly, that fire-ferret of a man walked with them.

"They say you were the Butcher of Torfan, but I know better," he said. "But where are my manners? My name's Conrad Verner. I'm your biggest fan!"

"Great. I have groupies," Shepard said. "What do you want, Verner?"

"They said you killed a hundred geth on Eden Prime!" Verner gushed.

"More like two. Is there something you want, or are you just going to pester me until you make a mess of yourself?" Shepard asked.

"Well, I would like an autograph! It'd make my wife so happy to have something from the Hero of Eden Prime to show off to the neighbors, you know?" Verner offered. Shepard sighed, then pulled out a grease-pencil from one of her pockets and idly scrawled her initials on his shirt.

"Will that do? It will? Wonderful. Go away," Shepard ordered.

"This is fantastic! Thank you so much, Commander!" Verner said with the glee of a girl getting her first Satomobile. With a 'squee' which frankly hurt Shepard's ears a little, he bolted back down the stairs they had come up. Alenko, though, was shaking his head.

"That was a bit harsh, Commander," he pointed out.

"He was being annoying," al'Wahim admitted.

"Hell, he should be happy Shepard didn't punt him into the nebula," Nilsdottir said.

"And speaking of," Alenko said, taking a moment to turn and face out the great windows which flanked the landing of the Wards Access. There was no doubt that they offered the best views on the Citadel. From this spot, and this spot only, you could see the the whole stretch of the arms, even though the tips were almost fifty kilometers away. The sheer scale of the Citadel made the turian dreadnoughts which floated in the gaps, each of them three quarters of a kilometer in length, seem tiny specks. "You can't see sights like this back on Earth."

"Of course not. We have better shit to do all day," Nilsdottir answered.

"The lieutenant is not wrong," al'Wahim agreed, leaning toward the distant star, burning coldly against the mass of gas in which the Citadel spun. "We stand overlooking millions of aliens. We have known that we stood amongst many for less than fifty years, and had contact with them for thirty. There is no surprise in that they see us as... how did he put it? Ah, yes; FNG's. We are quite young, to their aged, aged society."

"Ah, man, I thought you'd be on my side on this one," Nilsdottir muttered.

"I can understand why the Council wants humanity to step up or shut up," Alenko said. "We're a drop in the bucket out here. The melting pot of Republic City kinda pales against this, am I right?"

"You are not wrong," al'Wahim agreed.

Shepard felt a smirk come to her face. "What's not to like about humanity? The old vids say that we've got plentiful water, beautiful women, this emotion called love..."

"Gag me with a spoon, Shepard," Nilsdottir complained.

"They want us to scratch for every inch? Then we'll scratch deeper than they think is possible," Shepard said. She turned away from the window for a second, then second-took, staring out again. "What the hell is that?"

It was big. For a fraction of a second, before her mind kicked itself for considering something stupid, she'd thought that Saren's ship had come to lounge in space between the Citadel's wings. After that moment of stupidity passed, the differences were obvious. For one thing, it was smaller. Roughly half the length, which still made it the biggest ship in the vicinity by a heady margin. Second, it was blue. Third, it had a huge hole through the middle of it.

"That would be the Destiny Ascension. Crew of ten thousand, and has cannons which could tear through any ship in the Alliance fleet with one shot, and kill the ship hiding behind it, too. Biggest ship in the Citadel Fleet. If I hadn't been on Eden Prime, I'd say it was the biggest ship in the galaxy," Alenko offered.

"Shit, man, is there anything you don't know?" Nilsdottir demanded testily.

Alenko gave a shrug. "I read a lot. You should try it some time."

"Fuck off."

"Nilsdottir," Shepard said sharply.

"Right. Fuck off, sir," Nilsdottir corrected herself.

"That's better," Shepard said. "The clinic's just ahead. Can you jar-heads keep yourselves out of trouble for a few minutes while I talk to the administrator?"

"I can make no promises while that one is present," al'Wahim offered, casting a thumb toward Nilsdottir.

"Smart girl," Shepard said, idly punching the door control. The door opened with a chime, and she sauntered inside at a ready mosey. So much of a mosey, in fact, that she got an earful of what was around the corner rather than charging blindly into it.

"I didn't tell anyone, I swear," a woman's desperate voice came.

"That was smart. And if Garrus comes around, you'd better stay smart and keep your mouth shut. 'Cause if you don't..."

Shepard walked 'round that corner, and took in what was before her. Three thugs, all of them armed. Her gun was still on her hip. Her face was emotionless. The leader of that group of thugs turned from the doctor, as red haired as Shepard – and was there something about the Citadel which attracted the Whalesh or was it simple chance that all of the copper-haired landed here? – to Shepard herself.

"Have you got a problem, lady?"

"I'm looking at it," she answered. The man flashed forward with an arm, hauling the doctor to his chest, and thrusting his gun out toward Shepard. "That wasn't smart."

"Back off or the doctor here gets a new hole in here head," the thug said, as the other two brought up shotguns. Shotguns in a clinic? That was just untidy.

"Do you know who I am?" Shepard asked, taking her gun and setting it onto the counter which separated the front, where she'd entered, from the back, where the thugs had bunkered down. The thugs gave a look between themselves.

"Some army bitch," one of them piped up.

"So you haven't been paying attention to the news back on Earth for the last four years. Typical," she said. "Well, I was hoping that you'd do the smart thing, piss yourself in terror, and then slink away. But since my reputation doesn't seem to be preceding me..."

"Back of, bitch! I'm warning you!"

It was a mistake to warn her. Shepard's eyes flicked past the man, to a IV drip of saline which had been set and forgotten. With a twist of her hand, the long strands lashed out, coiling around the man's neck, and then constricting very tight, very fast. His eyes bugged, as he dropped his firearm to claw at his own neck, bound as it was by waterbent surgical tubing.

"She's a bender!" the goon who'd been silent 'till now offered. He raised his weapon and fired a blast, which bounced harmlessly off of her barriers. Not that that'd last long. She lashed forward with a kick, one which lit with fire, blasting that thug aside. The last backed off a step, as he fumbled with the safety on his shotgun. She vaulted the counter, one hand still clenched as she choked out the first of the goons, while focusing on a second. Finally, the last of them dropped his shotgun and grabbed the metal lid of a container, holding it before him like a shield.

"Really?" Shepard asked. And then, she punched straight through it, catching the man by the lapels. With a back heave, she sent the man face first into the plate he was trying to defend himself behind, dropping him senseless to the floor. The first stopped thrashing, so she relaxed her other grasp, and the pipes went loose, but he was still unconscious. "I'm the Avatar. You guys are below my pay-grade."

She turned, to see a shotgun in her face. Oh, she thought to herself, I hope my shields stop this, otherwise that would have been the most ironic thing anybody ever said before dying.

That worry turned out to be moot, because the side of the man's head jerked, and erupted in pink spray which coated the wall, the gun dropping from dead hands. Shepard traced that shot back, expecting al'Wahim, but instead of dark brown skin, she found grey. She backed up a step, from where a turian was calmly turning Shepard's gun around and handing it back to her. He was quite a bit taller than she was, and his mandibles weren't nearly as severe as some turians she'd seen. His face also bore blue markings, and a visor hung before his left eye. "Thanks for the distraction. I was worried that I might have had to do something drastic if I took them all on at once," the turian's voice had a bit of a vibrating tone to it. Not unpleasant, but indeed strange to Shepard's human ears. At around that point, the others piled into the clinic, weapons drawn. So they were paying attention? And also, the fight was that short? Sokka's Theory of Relativity did seem to hold some truth after all...

"Garrus Vakarian?" Shepard asked. The turian nodded, before turning to the Walesh doctor.

"Doctor Mikhayhu, are you alright?" the turian immediately asked. The woman nodded. "Who sent those men?"

"They were sent by Fist," she answered, the lilting tone of the southern archipelago clear in her voice. "They wanted the quarian who came here."

"Wait, what quarian?" Shepard asked.

"Is everything alright in here?" Alenko asked.

"Not now, Alenko. What quarian?"

"A quarian came in, bleeding from a bullet wound," Mikhayhu said, her voice quivering from the adrenaline of being involved in a gunfight. "She said that she was being hunted by a turian because of something she found. Somebody shot her to keep her quiet, with a polonium round. Somebody wanted her to die in agony..." she shook her head, tears in her eyes. "This is my fault. I put her in contact with Fist! He's an agent of the Shadow Broker, so I thought..."

"He isn't anymore," Garrus cut in, shaking his head. "He's working for Saren now. I tracked his financials; He's gotten a sizable 'gift' from Binary Helix. Two guesses who owns Binary Helix? Saren's trying to kill this quarian. I say we find out why."

"What about Wrex, Commander?" Alenko asked.

"Urdnot Wrex?" Garrus asked. "He's probably down in C-Sec right now. It's just around the corner."

"We should probably scoop him up," Nilsdottir pointed out.

"Are you forgetting that he might have broken one of the Commander's ribs?"

"She was out of line," Nilsdottir pointed out. "Plus, she tells him that she's after Fist, he'll probably jump at the chance."

"You're probably not wrong, there," Shepard admitted. "We're taking the stairs."

"The elevator's right this way," Garrus offered.

"Stairs," Shepard stressed. The turian gave a confused glance toward the others, as the Avatar made her way out of the med-clinic. The scarred biotic, who had known her longer than anybody else, could only give a confused shrug, and beckon him along, as they all filed out after her.


Date: 12/13/312

Priority: Dark Purple, Admiralty Line, Rayya

If you're reading this, Father, then I'm probably dead. I swear, I tried to make you proud, but I think I might be involved in something a lot bigger than me, and a lot bigger than I know how to handle. I'm so sorry. I wanted to return with something special, something which would change our people forever. But I'm not sure if I'll be returning at all.

I don't know if the file is going through. It keeps giving me a message, some 'incompatable file' warning that any bosh'tet worth his suit would know how to send; it's just geth programming, and it's inactive. But I promise, this was important. I'm going to make this right, somehow.

Keelah, my hands won't stop shaking. My leg hurts more than you'd believe. There was something in that bullet. Oh, right, somebody shot me. No, Father, don't give me that face. I know you're making it even though I'm probably dead by now. I don't know why I'm typing this it doesn't ma

Right. Focus. I don't know if I can leave this anywhere. You know how important this is to our people, so promise me you'll send somebody to get it. I'm trying to find a way to talk to the Shadow Broker, but I'm not sure if he's going to listen. Or if he's even real. It's the Spectres. One of them is

She stopped typing, three fingered hands pausing on her omnitool as bright eyes glanced around her under her purple-tinted helmet. Between the pain in her leg and the terror which coursed through her, she was trapped between being hyper and wanting to sleep. She was fairly sure either was a bad idea. One of the turians nearby was watching her. Her glances toward him were probably alerting his attention.

"Are you alright, little lady?" the turian asked, moving closer. She retracted from him.

"I'm... fine. I think this is my stop," she said.

"No stops for another couple of minutes," the turian said, draping an arm across the back of the seat, as though he was trying to grab her and pull her closer. She leaned away. "You know, there are a lot of quarians on the Citadel these days. I can't say I'm complaining."

"That's... nice," she said nervously.

"You sound cute," the turian said, inching closer. His mandibles twitched into what a turian would call an easy smile. "I figure you'd be a lot of fun on the dance-floor."

She almost wilted with relief. He wasn't trying to kill her.

Then, she went rock solid again. He was hitting on her.

She wasn't sure what to do about this.

"Um... I'm not sure if... I'm not a very good dancer, and..." she hemmed and hawed.

"What's to know? You just let your body move," he said, moving that hand to her knee, which caused her eyes to bulge, before having that hand migrate upwardly, "and it can take you to some remarkable places..."

Right about then, he applied pressure to a bullet wound, which caused her to shriek, twist away, and fall onto the floor, clutching at her still very tender wound. Even though the suit had been patched and resealed, it still burned like nothing she'd ever experienced any time something touched it. All eyes turned to her, on the ground. Then, they turned to the turian on the seat.

"You pervert!" a salarian voice shouted.

"I didn't do anything!" the turian raised his hands.

"You should be ashamed of yourself!"

"I barely touched her..."

"So you did touch her!"

She didn't even try to get involved in the lynch mob which was quickly forming. She simply pulled herself to her feet, and ducked through the crowd to the doors. As soon as the transit tram came to a halt, she was limping through the doors, leaving the bewildered and indicted turian to capture people's attention. She opened her omnitool again, and looked over the message she'd been composing.

"Stupid, stupid," she shook her head, feeling her hair shifting under her helmet. She flicked a few keys, and deleted the whole thing. "I am not a coward. I am not a child. I can do this... I can do this..."

And with a hitch in her step, Tali'Zorah nar Rayya began to move through Zakera Ward.


"We've talked before about you making threats, Wrex," the human in front of him said. Wrex just folded his arms before his chest. "If you keep disrupting the peace like this, there will be consequences."

"The only consequences are going to be for Fist. I will kill him," Wrex said with the sort of ease and comfort of violence that only came with nine hundred years of life, most of which spent in turning killing into a damned art form. The human sighed, rubbing his head.

"Do you want us to arrest you?" the C-Sec officer asked.

Wrex chuckled darkly. "I want you to try," he offered. "Better than you have attempted."

"Can we all dial back the testosterone, gentlemen?" a turian voice, sarcastic and smooth asked. Wrex didn't need to turn to see the alien in question approaching. "Wrex."

"Vakarian," Wrex answered. "What do you want now, turian?"

"Gongzhu, I think we've got this," Garrus said, waving off the various aliens who thought they were going to restrain Urdnot Wrex. Wrex turned to face Garrus square. And more tellingly, he faced the gaggle of well armored humans who were assembled behind him. "Wrex, Wrex, always making threats your fists can't keep."

"You obviously haven't seen what my fists are capable of. Unless you're giving me permission to kill Fist, then you'd better get out of my way."

"Actually, we're doing exactly that," one of the human females offered. Wrex's wide mouth twisted into a scowl.

"Is this some sort of joke, Army? Still sore that I put you onto your own table?" Wrex demanded.

Garrus looked back at her, and she shook her head. The turian then shrugged, probably thinking it none of his business. This was all something Wrex would have to plumb in greater detail in the future. "Look, you're going after Fist. Turns out, so am I," the human female said. "You want him dead? No problem, as long as I get what I need from him first."

Wrex stared at her, then turned slightly to Garrus. "And you've got no problem with this arrangement, C-Sec?"

Garrus shrugged. "If a small time scum gets painted onto a wall to take down somebody a lot bigger, I think the rules can bend a bit to accommodate things."

Wrex gave a dry laugh. "That's my kind of thinking, Vakarian. You'd almost make a good krogan."

Garrus chuckled. "We both know I don't have nearly enough scars."

The lone human male among that group caught the most verbose female's arm, and leaned in. "Are you sure this is a good arrangement, Shepard? Isn't this against the law?"

"Saren tried to destroy a human colony. The law can sit down and shut up," Shepard answered.

Wrex's opinion of her raised a little bit.

"Fine. If you're going after Fist, then I'm coming with you. I will not have that sniveling, back-stabbing pyjack jumping ship to Omega, is that clear?"

"Crystal," Shepard answered.

"Good. Now can you get these monkeys off of me?" Wrex shot a glare at the other humans who warily observed him. "I'm tired of being watched by things which I can kill without even intending to."

"You heard the large, ancient, angry krogan," Garrus said easily. "Give him some space, and this won't be on anybody's head but mine."

"Hey, you wanna take the wrap for this one, Garrus, be my guest," that human said, waving him away.

Garrus smirked at the krogan. "That better?"

Wrex shoved him aside and moved to the elevator, pounding the open button hard enough that it gave a grinding sound he was fairly sure it wasn't supposed to. Still, the doors opened and he stepped in. Then the rest of those humans followed him, arraying in the tube like a drop squad. The red haired one, Shepard, turned to face him more directly.

"What is it, human?" Wrex demanded.

"What's your business with Fist, anyway. Yeah, you want to kill him, but you didn't say why."

"He works for a turian named Saren Arterius. That pissed off me, because I wouldn't much mind to see that turian's head on a stick. More lucratively, that pissed off the Shadow Broker, and he's offering a pretty decent reward for putting a fresh hole in a former agent. So, money and revenge. What other reasons are there in the galaxy?"

"I like this guy," the shortest female said with a grin.

Wrex tapped his fingers along the armored plating of his suit. It was old armor, as scarred and pitted as the krogan inside it. That was just a way things went with krogan. They tended to use something until it fell to dust. Almost like they couldn't bear to part with it. And Wrex was no better; he used a century-old suit of armor, shot a thirty year-old gun, and nursed three hundred year-old grudges. The speakers crackled hideously upbeat muzak which set the krogan's blunt teeth to a steady grind. Until the music stopped.

"News from Biotech firm Sirta Corporation; a long-standing financial dispute between krogan investors and the genetics firm have seen hitherto unexpected advances, now that the human group Samsara has stepped in as a mediator in the dispute. While analysts believe this is a token gesture, and will see no advancement to either a cure for their genetic sterility nor a return of their cash, the human involvement has caused a rise in Sirta stock prices of almost nine percent."

"Man, that's gotta suck," the small female muttered.

"What? That every krogan alive has an irreparable illness embedded in every cell in our bodies? One which makes it so that only one in a hundred eggs hatch, with most pregnancies not even reach that far? No, that's just a joy, human."

"They couldn't have hit every krogan," Shepard said.

"If they didn't, the ones they missed have been staying very, very quiet for the last thousand years," Wrex said testily.

"Forgive Nilsdottir. She doesn't tend to think before speaking," the male human offered.

"She does not tend to think," the dark-skinned female countered, which drew what Wrex had to assume was a rude gesture from the female in question.

"This is why I hate elevators," Shepard muttered.

"Well, if you want to use the stairs again, it's only fourty seven levels between C-Sec and Zakera Ward Access," Garrus offered sardonically.

The music started up again, which caused Wrex to studiously ignore everything, so that at least he wouldn't be subjected to bad music. One might not be able to tell, but bad music to a krogan was the rough equivalent of dead-sober garage dentistry to a salarian. About as unpleasant a thing to be visited upon them as one could manage. There was a reason they never talked about it, even after their uplift. The turians would probably have weaponized it.

The doors slid open. "About damned time," Wrex declared pushing the two other males in the elevator out of his way so that he could traverse the dingy corridors of the Wards. Even as he moved, forcing the humans and the turian to keep up or fall behind, his lips twisted into something like a grin. There was a joy to violence in the old krogan. It could be as precise as a scalpel, or as brutal as an orbital strike, but in the end, it was all the same thing; something was getting done for a change. No standing around and talking, no arguments like those idiots and their money and their researchers. Concrete actions, with concrete effects.

"Another person would think you were trying to leave us behind," Shepard's voice came at Wrex's right. The turian soon appeared at the krogan's left.

"They'd think right," Wrex said. "If you're going to do this, don't get in my way."

"I don't think you know who you're dealing with," Shepard said.

"A squishy human, just like the other eleven billion squishy humans out there," he said. He rounded the turn first, and thus, was the one who took a hypersonic slug in the chest.

"Snipers!" Shepard shouted, pulling her side-arm and glancing around, while the turian produced a rifle seemingly from his own rectum. Wrex just gave a scowl, ignoring the crackling of the armor and the sting of orange blood where the slug had bit through armor, and looked up. He could see two of them. One of them was reloading, and thus not worth his effort. The other, though, was looking to take a shot at the human. While he did for a split second consider allowing the shot, if only to see what this arrogant human would do, he decided against it.

With a grunt of effort, he focused his effort onto his fist. There were a few things he could do with that effort, but tellingly for any, say, asari or salarian, there was no glow of blue energy, no hum of a biotic field coming to life. Because he didn't use one, not for this. So when he slammed his fist into the dividing wall between two shuttered stores, it didn't do so with directed gravity, but something else.

He forced his will through the metal, and the metal bent.

It shot up in a swift wave, mostly doing little visible past where he'd embedded his fist in the titanium mesh, but its every propogation sent tremors back to its source, and with those tremors, Wrex could 'see' his target every bit as well as he could with his eyes. And he knew the very character of the hidey-hole he'd secreted himself into, trying to duck behind a sign. With a twist of Wrex's fist, the metal of that sign bowed away, sparking as the lights were sundered, and the floor under the sniper bucked upward, dumping him into naked air.

Everybody knew that Thunderwalkers could twist the stone to their wills. Few knew that Thunderwalkers could do the same with metal. Wrex stomped to where the sniper, a turian, had fallen, still trying to bring that rifle back around, even as he was stunned on the ground. Wrex disabused that notion by introducing one bony head-plate to another. Sadly, the turian's was much, much thinner than Wrex's was, and gave with a crunch. Still, Wrex reared back with a fist, which he pounded straight through the compromised structure into the blue-black brain.

He looked up just in time to see Shepard hurling something at the first sniper, who was staked out on the roof of a small green-grocer. That sniper didn't have much of a chance to shoot again, instead voluntarily bounding down to the street. Lucky he did, since Shepard's grenade would have probably made paste of him. And kudos to Shepard on thinking ahead to bring grenades into a city-fight. Most people wouldn't have the quad for that kind of over-kill.

The human gunman landed with a roll, and when he came up, it was to spray a burst of fire at the two who were still behind the krogan. Shepard ducked against a landed air-car, but the burst caught Garrus pretty squarely, fizzing away his shields and drawing a streamer of dark blue from his shoulder. He answered by flicking forward an omnitool, and causing the would-be assassin's kinetic barriers to shit themselves with lightning.

"Stop playing with them, Shepard," Wrex demanded, and charged across that distance with a wordless roar, his path forming a brutal arc which ran parallel to the street, and toward the human. But when the human tried to bring his gun back toward the krogan, there was neither the time nor the distance. So when a tonne of armored krogan hit, the lighter of two bodies tended to get a lot of momentum imparted to it. The crunch of liquifying bones was the least of that human's worries as Wrex's charging back-hand lifted him off of his feet and sent him flying dozens of meters through the air. The much more present one was the fact that the street only went ten yards, before ending abruptly to surging air-car traffic in the lanes beyond in open space.

The splat the human made as one of the hapless air-cars intercepted him brought a grin to the centuries-old krogan's face.

"That's how you fight like a krogan," Wrex said. "Now stop cowering and let's go kill Fist."

Shepard laughed at that, which was telling of her character. As they moved ahead, Korra's Den finally coming into view, they left behind a slightly-exploded green-grocer, which finally dropped part of its roof into its displays. The grey-haired and frazzled owner stuck his head up, then looked back at his wares, before letting out a despondent wail. "MY CABBAGES!"

"Was that necessary, Commander?" Garrus asked.

"They tried to kill us. They probably would have succeeded if Wrex hadn't been here," she pointed out.

"You're welcome," Wrex said bluntly.

"That wasn't a thank-you," Garrus pointed out.

"Sounded like one to me," Wrex said. "Now. Let's see what Fist has in store inside his club."

Shepard cut in front of him, a devious smirk on her face. "How about you let me handle this one?"

Wrex stared at her for a moment. "If this starts to look like it's going wrong, I'm going to start shooting, even if you're in the way," he said, plugging the bullet hole in his armor for a few seconds. His body needed only that to stop bleeding.

She kept smirking as she holstered her gun and walked ahead of them, into Korra's Den. The Den was silent, for a change. But it was not empty. Even from behind Shepard, Wrex could count at least two dozen gunmen scattered throughout the club. Most of them were human, with a krogan and two turians making up the difference. And every single one of them had guns leveled on Shepard.

There was a moment of pristine silence.

"What was that brilliant plan, Commander?" Garrus asked.

"Gentlemen," Shepard said loudly. "Do any of you keep track of the news back on Earth?"

"I do!" a voice came from the back.

"Shut up, Wei!"

"So you know who I am, then?" Shepard asked, folding her hands behind her back, standing straight and proud.

Another moment of silence. No, not silence, Wrex knew the difference. This was dread.

"Agni help us... That's the Avatar!"

"The Avatar? She's alive?"

"The Avatar's come to kill us all!"

"OH GODS I DON'T WANNA DIE!"

Without a gun drawn, or another word said, and without that smirk on Shepard's face altering one whit, every human in the club threw their guns aside and made a break for any exit, even if it ment running past Garrus and Wrex. The krogan, in this instance, was too amused to do anything to stop them. That left three guards, facing three interlopers. The krogan took a look at them, then at Wrex in particular.

"Hell with this, I ain't paid nearly enough," he said, putting his shotgun away and moving to the bar to steal liquor. That left the two turians.

"Last chance to avoid death or incarceration," Garrus offered in a sardonic sing-song. The two turians exchanged a glance, then split out the back door. "I have to say, Shepard, you really know how to clear a room."

Shepard gave him a glance, but didn't offer the quip that Wrex was certain she was going to expel. In that, his opinion of her rose a bit. They circled the bar quickly enough, and came to the door leading into the back. Wrex smirked, then stomped the ground, heaving at the metal to tear the thing out of its mooring.

Nothing happened. That smirk twisted into a scowl, and then Wrex remembered a salient little tidbit about the skills of a Thunderwalker. "Lead? Who the hell puts led inside a door?"

"Somebody who doesn't want a metalbender opening it 'remotely'," Shepard answered. "Damn it, where's Alenko when you need him?"

"Got it," Garrus answered, his omnitool glowing. The krogan and the alien turned to face him. "These things have a lot more uses than people realize; even a commercial one can hold... surprises."

Shepard gave a shrug, then pounded on the green haptic tile, causing the door to open with a hiss. And then a second hiss, as a pistol expanded in the hand of a desperate looking salarian. Wrex had his shotgun out and in front of him before he could even second-think, but Shepard just looked annoyed. Black eyes flit wildly amongst the three invaders.

"Everybody stay back! I don't want to hurt anybody, but I will, unless–"

Shepard haymakered the salarian into the wall, where he crumpled to the floor in a more-or-less boneless heap. She leaned back up, shaking her fist. "Hurt me? I barely felt a thing," she answered.

"Please don't punch me! My helmet couldn't take it!" a quarian voice answered. Wrex sighed, and put up his shotgun.

"It's the band, Shepard," Wrex said.

"Fist said that somebody was going to be shooting their way in," the turian bassist said, scooping up the woozy salarian. "Remnes here thought it'd be a good idea to keep a gun, 'just in case'."

"Well, your friend is an idiot," Garrus said. "Pulling a gun on somebody's the best way to get yourself shot."

"Yeah, but... Oh, thank the spirits, C-Sec is here," the turian said, turning to his fellow. "Did you run off the criminals?"

"Something like that," Shepard said. "Where's Fist?"

"The human who runs this place? He's still in back," the quarian said. "I mean, I didn't see him leave."

"He's there. Stop chatting with the band, Shepard. We've got a job to do," Wrex said, pushing the turian and the door behind them. This one opened up without anybody needing to fiddle with its circuits, which suited the krogan quite well. He stomped into the room, and immediately raised a brow under his skull-plate when his foot stopped clanging against metal and instead 'gooshed' into damp shag carpeting. He didn't pause long.

The human he was looking for had his back to the door, furiously typing on a console. With the carpet managing to muffle the stomps of a tonne of angry Urdnot, he took the opportunity presented to 'sneak' behind the no-good, two-bit traitor. The only warning that Fist got was when Wrex's shotgun hissed upon its opening.

Fist turned to him. He was the kind of red that humans got when somebody pale spent too much time under the sun. Or any amount of time under Aralakh. His face was criss-crossed with thin scars, and his eyes were a watery color. "Trying to leave the Citadel without saying goodbye, Fist? That's just inconsiderate."

"Wrex, think about this. You don't have to kill me," Fist began.

"He certainly believes he does," Shepard added, entering the room with rifle out and pointed at the criminal. "You're working for Saren, and Saren wants a quarian dead. Where is she?"

"She's not here," Fist said quickly.

"Then you're useless to us," Wrex began, raising that shotgun for the head-popping shot.

"Give him a second, Wrex. He's probably getting to the important part," Garrus said impatiently as he entered on their heel.

"C-Sec! You can't just stand here and let these people intimidate me, threaten me!"

Garrus shrugged. "I'm here on a non-official capacity at the moment," he said.

"You've got five seconds before I rip your balls off and feed them to a krogan," Shepard said. And then she paused, and turned to Wrex. "How do you like your human testicles, anyway?"

"Raw. Preserves the vigor," Wrex answered.

"Alright alright!" Fist blurted out. "I sent her to where Saren's commandos are waiting, it's in the Wards Access, just outside one of the Keeper Tunnels. If you hurry, you can get there before the kill goes down!"

"That's probably the best news I've heard all day," Shepard said. She clapped her rifle to her back once again. She glanced back behind her. "Who's the next of kin on this bar, anyway?"

"...the bartender, why?" Fist asked.

Shepard and Wrex shared a look, and something like an understanding. And with that, the krogan offered a grin, before idly turning, holding out his shotgun at human-face level, and erasing that part of Fist's anatomy.

Garrus leaned back, mostly trying to keep the chunks from landing on him. Wrex turned to the turian next. "I suppose you're going to have to arrest me now, for this act of cold-blooded murder?"

"Fist was scum, earning his money off of sexual slavery in the Wards. You've just saved me a lot of paperwork," Garrus said easily. "How about we agree that I didn't even get here until the body was cold. I have no idea who could have done this heinous, heinous, appropriate crime."

"I like the way you think, turian," Wrex muttered. "Now, where did he hide that damned thing..."

As Wrex stooped to start rifling through the former Fist's pockets, Shepard was working on her omnitool. Her eyes grew wide.

"Gods damn it, that's... far," she muttered. "I've got to go. Whatever you're doing, good luck with it."

"Yeah, I'll be in touch," Wrex said. He continued his rooting, while the turian idly tried to make sense of shag carpeting, as the Commander bolted from the club. Fist would know where Actus was. Wrex staked his three remaining testicles on it.


There was quite a bit of running, all told. So much that only the fact that she was an N7 marine, on top of an Avatar with some degree of airbending, allowed her to maintain the murderous pace she pushed herself on. However, that pace made it so that after about a minute, she intercepted the humans she'd left behind in her headlong advance toward Korra's Den.

Alenko raised a hand toward her. "Shepard, why are you running..."

"No time to explain pull a weapon and keep up!" Shepard shouted as she sprinted past. And to their credit, they did exactly that. It was bad enough that she had to reach a distant location in the Wards Access, but she didn't wager lightly that Saren was sending more than a few incompetent flunkies to deal with a threat to his plan's integrity. So that meant a side-track to group up with the humans who'd been left a couple minutes behind by the krogan's fairly ruthless advance.

"You mind... explaining... now...?" Alenko asked, as he drove his pace to keep up with his commander.

"The quarian is about to be assassinated," Shepard offered. That was going to have to do, since she didn't feel like explaining further. The crowds began to grow more thick, more obscuring and curtailing. And Shepard was running out of time. With a growl pulling at her lips, she pulled her side arm, pointed it at an electrical transformer, and squeezed off several shots. "Get out of my way!" she roared, and with the explosion of electricity, on top of the gunfire in the Wards, the people parted like a swimming pool before a hydrophobic waterbender.

"Was such extremity necessary?" al'Wahim asked.

"Maybe not. Fun though," Nilsdottir chuckled.

They moved forward, a small band of humanity cutting through the heart of an alien culture, a place which, given the choice, would rather have none of them. The streets got dingy, then dirty, as they escaped the oversight of the branch of C-Sec, and the air-cars turned from decent models to old beaters, and then, to frames with most of their workings removed and left sitting atop cinderblocks. While Teyseri Ward had a worse reputation, it was hard to see why.

Of course, the reason was obvious; if a dead quarian turned up in a place like this, who would even notice?

Shepard skidded to a halt at the mouth of an alleyway between tall, smutty buildings. A glance into it showed somebody within, pacing with hitched step. "That must be her," Shepard said.

Shepard moved quickly, storming into the alley. The Quarian, a woman from the presence of breasts on the armor, recoiled slightly. "Hello? Are you the Shadow Broker?"

Her voice had a very synthetic quality to it, but then again; quarian. They spent their entire lives locked in those things. It was obviously not something a claustrophobic would enjoy. That voice also sounded very, very young. Shepard gave the quarian a confused glance, up and down. "You're the one with the information on Saren?"

"I'm only giving it to the Shadow Broker," the quarian said.

"Well, Fist lied to you. The Shadow Broker never meets with people in person and he's..."

"You're here to kill me, aren't you?" She recoiled back. Shepard palmed her face.

"No, but we are," came another voice, over another rifle. Shepard's own weapon was still on her back. Reaching for it would take too long. "I would gloat about how easy this turned out to be, but I've got another appointment."

Shepard's eyes flicked aside, to the Keeper tunnels. Instead of green-plated, four legged bug-things, there were black armored, blue skinned women with various implements of ballistic death. A glance up, showed that there were the bulging helmets of salarians in full armor, preparing to drop. Shepard looked back down. Outnumbered, surrounded, and because of the terrible equipment the Normandy had shipped out with, outgunned.

Needless to say, Shepard smirked. This was going to be fun.

Without a word, Shepard kicked wide, her armored toes scraping along the wall. A ripple traveled through that wall in a spare moment, before erupting in a block of rebar-laced concrete, which smashed the turian in the side of the face. Instantly, Shepard hit the floor, because she knew that her biotic companion would be advancing immediately. The asari tried to blast the quarian at point blank, but after a second, and a rush of displaced air, there was an angry, half-drunk biotic in the way, and that asari was being blasted into the wall from the advance.

One of the other asari gestured broadly at Shepard as she tried to get back to her feet, now that Nilsdottir had joined the fray. Rather than pushing to her feet, she found herself being dragged up off of the ground. Her eyes bugged wide, and all the wider when her shields began to crackle as bullets pinged off of them. Damn it! She couldn't get any traction! But her salvation came in the form of a biotic kick from Alenko, which smashed the asari aside and down over the rail of the Keeper tunnel. She'd heard that it was rather a long fall. Shepard immediately dropped to the floor, and rolled aside as the salarian tried to put a slug through her. That attempt was answered by al'Wahim instantly putting one through the salarian's helmet.

She pushed to her feet, and was greeted by a sight she didn't expect. The quarian wasn't running, fleeing, hiding; she had quickly grabbed the shotgun from Nilsdottir's back, and was laying about her with surprising capability. When that turian sprayed her with bullets – which bounded off of her own shields – she answered him with a pair of shotgun blasts to the face. Shepard looked up, then down. Pipes. Lots and lots of pipes. That smirk returned.

With a heave and a stomp, a motion exactly half-way between metalbending and waterbending, she tore the water which flowed through the utility area to her command. With a twist, it was forming into a broad ring, which she lashed out with with ease and aplomb belying the many difficult years it had taken her to even get a grasp on the element. Once she had, though, the possibilities became endless. So when she flicked out her hand, and with it, razor-sharp ice, it was with the brutal efficiency of a woman who would take anything and turn it into a weapon, the hate of somebody who almost forgot how to be happy.

By the end, she was screaming like Nilsdottir.

By the end, only the humans and a quarian were left standing. Blood, of light and dark blues and greens, was slowly mingling on the ground, until Shepard let the water drop from her control, and spill as it would. Alenko gave a glance around. "Udina's not going to be happy about this," he noted.

"Udina's never happy," Nilsdottir said. She then turned to the quarian. "Gimme back my gun, you stupid bucket-head..."

"I can't believe I was so stupid!" the quarian exclaimed. "I honestly thought that Fist was going to help me!"

"Help is contingent on having what I need," Shepard said. "I hear you have data which implicates Saren."

The quarian turned to Shepard. The helmet was very concealing, and only the barest hints of a nose, the sparking shine of gold colored eyes could be seen through it. "Oh, right," she opened her omnitool, and a wave-form appeared above it. "I was digging through a geth platform I found scuttled in the Armstrong Cluster. They usually self destruct to keep any programming or information inside them from getting stolen, but if you're careful, and quick, you can sometimes..."

"Out with it, quarian!" Shepard snapped.

"I have a name!" the quarian answered, with annoyance. "I am Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. Who are you?"

Tali.

Shepard shuddered a moment, then shook her head. That was the past. She faced the quarian again. "I'm Commander Shepard, Systems Alliance," she answered, with a forced politeness. "So what did you find?"

Tali flicked a few commands, and when she did, there was a sound of deep clicking and grinding, the sound that geth made. But then, a voice.

"Eden Prime was a great victory; the Beacon will surely show the way to the Conduit."

Saren. She'd made a point to know that voice very, very well. But Tali didn't switch off the recording. Instead, a feminine voice appeared, cool and authoritative.

"And that is one step closer to the return of the Reapers."

There was a buzzing in her head, a crackling behind her eyes. Reapers. Why did that seem so familiar to her?

"I came with this to the Citadel as soon as I found out what it was," Tali explained, showing that the vocal spectrometry showed a positive match to Agent Saren Arterius of Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. "It was obvious that any Spectre who was working with the geth was somebody who needed to be stopped."

"Of that, we are in perfect agreement," Shepard said, shaking away that sense of... deja-vu. She gave a smirk to Alenko. "I think Udina's going to forgive a little property damage when he sees what we'rea bout to bring him."

"I certainly hope so," Alenko said idly, glancing around. Just then, a section of the wall crumbled, leaving a bewildered looking salarian in a towel standing facing them, toothbrush in his mouth.

They stared back at him.

"I'm... going to go now," the salarian said, before carefully backing away from the heavily armed humans. Shepard amended her chances. At least, with this information, Udina wouldn't be quite as furious.


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