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Where Falcons Dared: Excellence in All We Do
Posted By: (ENS) Rabid_Gallagher and Jake Trommer<anthony.peter.davis@gmail.com>
Date: 3 March 2010, 2:47 am

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The vision of the blue field in front of him shimmered.

The Illusive Man watched with a crooked eye as he waved his hand over the three dimension image in front of his chair, expanding the view from the center of the Galaxy to the view of the whole Milky Way, sectors of space outlined in various colors to represent the fields of control that the various alien races held. The salarians were slowly making reach out into the Attican Transverse, while the humanity's reach into the Terminus Systems made them the second biggest galactic empire in the Galaxy. The Illusive Man waved his hand and brought the field of human control closer to him, shrinking the size of the holographic display. He waved his hand again and brought it closer together, watching the various fleet elements of the 2nd Fleet patrol at the outer reaches of human space. The 5th Fleet was drawing strength near holy Terra, a smirk crossing the billionaire's lips as he took a sip from his alcohol.

The taste lingered in his mouth as it descended into his throat.

He took his gaze to a series of purple arrows on the display, pointing outside of the sphere that the Illusive Man could see. He used both hands to expand his hands outward, seeing the whole of the Galaxy in his field of vision, squinting as he tried to ascertain the location of the series of purple dots. He sighed as he brought his hands together, making the holographic representation settle down on asari and salarian space; the purple circles represented two asari colonies and one salarian mining planet. Both were marked with communication severed, a common problem, but his intelligence groups in the systems marked it with purple.

The 'Covenant' struck again. The Illusive Man wasn't going to call them the Purifiers as they self-styled themselves in the small messages they left for late-as-always turian peacekeeping fleets.

The door behind him, leading into the chamber that he worked in, opened with a soft sound, but nonetheless heard through the room as the Illusive Man turned towards the door. A woman walked towards him, and he immediately recognized who it was. The slender form, perfect breasts, and legs to die for. It had to be Miranda. Genetically engineered to be perfect, she walked with a slow step in her feet, as if she was still not admitting the news of Shepard's disappearance was affecting her.


"Sir. I have the data." She said, standing slightly ahead of him and at his side as he looked up at her. She had a small data-chip, held in her fingers as she handed it to her superior. He took it from her hand gingerly, and placed it in a small slot in his chair. The holographic field in front of him disappeared in an instant, and the image of an alien took its place. This creature was small, with purple skin that looked like it was crackling or wrinkling from the quality of the picture that was given to him. He was wearing an orange suit, with a breathing mask on his face, with an odd weapon in his hands as it looked through the holographic display. He was hunched, and from what the Illusive Man could tell, it was small. It had a large hump on its back, likely its air supply.

"Jacob said the translation EDI gave us called this an 'Uggnoy'. Basic labor force, used for overwhelming rushes and basic troop support. One or two of them are not that strong, and alone they're very fearful. But we know when they have another alien commander and there's a bigger squad of them, they have a determination among them that's quite powerful." Miranda was leaning over his chair as she pointed out the details on a data slate that was already uploaded with the data. The Illusive Man dared not look directly, but he let his perhipial version take in her breasts, blinking a few times as he focused.

"Slave caste?"

"I don't think so. Neither does Jacob or the intelligence team, either."

"A willing bodyshield?"

"In the name of their gods, yes." Miranda responded right back, the data fresh in her mind as she waved her hand to the left, the image moving quickly and out of sight, being replaced by another. This alien was hunched as well, holding what looked like a rifle in his hands as he held the look of a growl. His mouth looked like a beak, oddly shaped still, wearing only some sort of pants that came to his cloven feet, his hands holding the rifle oddly. As if it wasn't made for his hands, but still usable. His skin was brown, and it looked leathery.

"This we identified as a Kig-yar, or a Jackal. They fill a sniper role, and from the data that EDI hacked, they also serve as raiders and small teams of commandos. They have great vision, and make for great snipers, but their aggressive nature apparently does the better of them."

"What do you mean by that?" The Illusive Man asked, turning his face from the data slate to look up at Miranda. She chilled for a moment; she was still not used to the blue hint in his eyes. More and more, Miranda was getting a nagging thought in her head that the Illusive Man was becoming more and more machine than man.

"From what EDI hacked, their texts are based on religious concepts and terminology. The time it takes to decrypt, decipher, and translate the text and language leaves a lot of room for errors, especially when you're dealing with religious context." She replied, looking away as she waved her hand again, bringing up a hulking menace. Blue armor covered its massive frame, large hand-cannon in its right arm, and the other having an even bigger shield to protect itself. From what the Illusive Man could see, the armor left open spots that he could see skin, and it looked like its skin was covered in worms.

"…I can't actually pronounce their name, but the intelligence team nicknamed them 'Tanks', but I prefer 'Hunters'. They're big, and they're made to destroy. That cannon took out one of our shuttles. Lost five commandos. But, they have weak spots. Right at the end, and in their back, here." She said, her fingers making trace marks into the data pad as she made the spots apparent for him. "They're actually made up of worms, believe it or not sir." She said, pointing to the orange spots on their armor that the Illusive Man himself had already made a note of.

"They only respect battle, from what our analysis have hy---"

"Miranda, I think you can stop there." He said, looking up at her, making eye contact again, watching the woman flinch again as she stared into his cybernetic enhanced vision. "I don't need an in-depth analysis of philosophy at this point that I can study later in full detail, alone. I need basics. I know this is only half of the races in this 'Holy Covenant' that these...Purifiers are a part of."

Miranda nodded, not even giving off a sigh of frustration as she moved her hand across the large display again, showing a large and ape-like creature, his face contorted in mid-snarl. The creature was covered in brown fur, its head tough-looking by appearance and its muscles very apparent from its stance, as if about to pounce.

"This is a Jiralhanae. Jacob called them Brutes. Very aggressive, very powerful, but prone to violent charges. They're special warriors, and from what EDI could give us from the hacked database, they are recent converts within the Covenant. They conflict a lot with…them." Miranda said, moving the image to bring forth another alien, this one standing upright and tall. Its helmet was golden, as well as its armor, and in its hands was an oddly-designed sword that still seemed to shimmer even in the still frame that the holographic display showed him. It had an upper jaw and head, but its lower jaw was quadrupled-hinged, and its legs gave it a look that the Illusive Man could only describe as 'bird like'.

"These are the Sangheili, the military commanders, the military shock troopers, and probably the most fervent of the Covenant. They show a sense of duty to their posts and honor that they command respect, except from the Brutes. Like I was trying to explain earlier, the Elites of the Covenant are the only ones who truly command the respect of the Hunters, compared to the rest of the races." She said, but the Illusive Man raised his hand, his index finger pointing to the sky.

"From now on, call them Elites. It will make it easier for me to keep track of. We have those Grunts, the Jackals, the Hunters, and the Brutes you showed me earlier, apart from the Elites here. Who are we missing?"

"The Prophets. That was the name the database gave us." She said, folding her hands over her chest. "Unfortunately, the team didn't make it that far before they were wiped out by a team of Elites." She said, turning her head towards the display in front of the two of them, as it decreased from view and replaced by the Milky Way again, now showing the sectors of control among the various alien races.

"We still don't have a motive, Miranda."

"Now we do." She said, placing another computing chip into another slot on the Illusive Man's chair, and this brought up a new picture that made the Illusive Man stop breathing for a moment, a fear rushing into his spine.

He could see the back expose of a Brute, what looked like an explosive round tore out a chunk of his back, but within the Brute's back was machinery, in an odd formation and colored blue and black, various wires and tubing throughout the creature. It was indoctrinated, or at least this alien was.

"Shepard was right again. The Reapers." The Illusive Man stood up and turned his head back towards the female Cerberus commando, the notion of her beauty and her seductiveness completely eradicated for the moment as he stood tall, as if he was the ruler of humanity.

"Get me a direct line to Admiral Hackett. I don't care if he's on his ship, if he's on Earth or if he's in some sort of classified meeting. Get him immediately." He ordered, his normal tone of calmness and a hint of flirty suggestion that he carried in his voice gone. It was replaced by a hardness as he watched her nod and walk away, leaving him to the display of the Brute. He moved his hand, and the Brute did as well, disappearing and replaced by the Galaxy. He would need to clamp down on the Covenant; no more would any race help the Reapers, not on his time. Not when they could be a true enemy of Humanity.

He turned around and grabbed his glass of alcohol, and he gulped all that was left.

      Arcturus Station was normally comparable to a particularly busy insect hive in levels of activity, but today, the activity had a particularly urgent overtone. Voices were raised in agitation, officers barked orders at enlisted personnel, and computers all beeped in the background with vaguely wheedling tones.
      Through it all, one man stood in the center of the command center like a blue-clad, cadaverous eye of calm at the center of a hurricane: Admiral Hackett, commander of the System Alliance Navy's 5th Fleet.
      At the moment, he was inhaling smoke from a somewhat cheaply made cigarette, shaking his head in disbelief. "Ops Chief, you're telling me that one of our patrols went dark over six hours ago after reporting an unidentified alien ship, and you waited until now to tell me?"
      The senior enlisted man winced at the tirade from the emaciated flag officer. "I'm sorry, Sir. The transmission was not via their FTL comm, it only just reached us---"
      Hackett waved the man down. "Alright, Ops, my apologies. Dammit, it's times like this I wish Shepard hadn't gone missing..."
      A mournful expression spread across the face of the other. "Too right, Sir. Orders?"
      "The Fleet's already massing near Earth, on my orders. I want a recon flotilla assembled here at Arcturus Station." Hackett paused to take a drag off of his cigarette. "And tell Yeoman Chambers to report to my quarters immediately."
      The Operations Chief's face had clouded at that last, but he saluted. "Aye aye, Sir."
      "Good. Dismissed."
      As the man left, Hackett turned to face the visual data that had been recovered from the wayward patrol: several sleek sheeps, all elegant rounded curves and spheres, no angles. "Analysis, do we have any data on their weapons?"
      "Coming up now, Admiral," replied the analysis section officer, flipping several buttons on his console. Before long, an image of the same ships had appeared, but with one difference. Massive beams of energy had erupted from several points amongst their hull, cutting into the Systems Alliance ships visible on the display.
      Hackett coughed up some smoke. "The hell is that? Thanix cannons? Collector tech?"
      "No Sir," replied the analysis officer. "Energy profiles match neither Turian nor Collector technology."
      "Shit," remarked Hackett, inhaling another lungful of carcinogens. "Alright, carry on. I'll be in my quarters."
      But when the Admiral had arrived in his spacious private quarters, the comforting presence of the ever-optimistic Kelly Chambers was absent, and the reason why wasn't hard to see: a hologram had blazed to life from the projector in the corner. A well-dressed man, clad in typical business attire set against a starfield, his eyes glowing blue---
      "Illusive Man," said Admiral Hackett. "I suppose I should consider myself honored."
      "You should," replied the leader of Cerberus. "Because I'm here to help you out."
      Hackett sighed, and opened the minibar next to his rack. "I think I'm gonna need some of this."
      The Illusive Man nodded. "I recommend getting some better cigarettes as well."
      The Admiral flinched as the cybernetic eyes sought him out. "Alright then, talk to me. What does the leader of the Galaxy-spanning Cerberus want with a lowly Fleet Admiral?"
      "This," said the Illusive Man.
      His image disappeared, only to be replaced by---
      "Those," rasped Hackett, "are classified images."
      "The same ones your analysts at Arcturus are currently struggling to comprehend, I imagine," replied the Illusive Man. "No need. They are indeed a new alien race, or rather a new alien coalition."
      Hackett poured himself a shot of vodka and downed it in one gulp. "Alright, then. I take it you have more than this?"
      "That is correct. I am sending you everything Cerberus has in our dossiers."
      "Sure that's a good idea? Last I remember, I still owe you for my friend Ronnie---"
      "The death of Admiral Kahoku was regrettable," interrupted the Illusive Man, "performed by renegade elements of Cerberus. Those members of the project not killed by Commander Shepard have been suitably punished."
      Hackett snorted. "I'll take your word for it. Now, why should we be concerned about these new guys? They don't seem too---"
      The Admiral abruptly stopped; the Illusive Man's image had been replaced by that of a simian creature, back torn open, exposing machinery and tubing much like that of...
      "Ah yes," murmured Hackett. "Reapers. Of course."
      The Illusive Man's face grew grim. "With technology like that, stopping the Reapers again could prove considerably harder."
      Hackett took another drag off of his cigarette, then turned to face the man he had sworn an oath to stop.
      "Ok. What can you give me?"

      Mere hours later, Alliance cruiser SSV Orizaba and her escorts blasted away from Arcturus, vectoring towards the nearby Mass Relay. On the bridge, a bearded man clad only in undress blues and ballcap bearing the serial number of the dreadnought danced his hands across the control console. "Coming up on the relay now. Course set. Ma'am?"
      Behind him, a rather severe woman in dress blues nodded. "Carry on, Mr. Moreau. I'll let Admiral Hackett know we're away."
      "Aye aye, Captain Shepard," replied the helmsman.
      "No need," rasped Hackett's voice from behind the pair. The Captain snapped to attention, the helmsman did not.
      "Admiral Hackett, Captain---"
      "Also no need for that, Hannah," said Hackett. "I know who you are. You've captained my flagship for some time now, I think we can avoid the formalities."
      A tight smile. "Yes Sir."
      "As for you, Joker, carry on. I know better than to ask a man with Vrolik's Syndrome to come to attention. Especially when he's the best damn helmsman I have."
      Lieutenant Jeff Moreau nodded. "Thanks, Admiral."
      Hackett turned to face the mother of the first human Spectre. "Captain Hannah Shepard, if you'll come aft with me..."
      "Right away, Admiral. Lieutenant Moreau, carry on."
      "Yes ma'am," replied Joker.
      The two senior officer stalked aft to the briefing room, where a man in the armor of an Alliance Marine bearing an urban camoflauge pattern waited; the N7 designator of a special forces man was emblazoned on his chest. A visor slung over his left eye provided a constant readout of data, the blue of the holographic readout making for a stark contrast with the pink scar tissue that sat where his eyebrow had once been.
      "Admiral," the man said, saluting.
      "At ease, Ops Chief," said Hackett. "Captain Shepard, this is Operations Chief Neil Daniels, my senior enlisted man."
      Daniels settled into the position, cocking his remaining eyebrow at the two officers. "Thank you, Sir."
      Hackett chuckled. "Not a problem, Ops Chief." He dug into his pocket for a cigar. "Both of you have a seat...you're probably going to want to."
      The briefing room's holoprojector flickered to life, displaying the image of the ships that had brutally attacked the patrol in the Terminus systems. Shepard sucked in a breath, and Daniels' face took on a grim expression.
      "I'm not recognizing those makes," said Shepard.
      "No reason you should," replied Hackett. "They're completely unknown...a source who wishes to stay anonymous has briefed us on the coalition of species aboard and the capabilities of those ships. They should be downloading to your omni-tools now."
      "Got it," said Shepard; Daniels merely nodded.
      The voice of Joker echoed over the briefing room's intercom: "Admiral, we're about to hit the relay."
      "Thank you, Joker. Carry on."
      "Yes Sir."
      Hackett turned to face the others. "We're hitting the relay, I'm heading up to the bridge. Captain, is my flagship ready?"
      Captain Shepard stiffened to attention. "The Orizaba is at your command, Admiral."
      The Admiral grinned. "Then let's go kick some alien ass."
      Operations Chief Daniels managed to hide a sarcastic grunt and accompanying eye-roll. Officers...
      Out loud, he said, "If you'll excuse me Admiral, I'll be prepping my Marines in case we need to do some boarding action."
      "Go ahead," said Hackett. "We'll be on the bridge."
      The three parted, the two officers stalking onto the bridge. Joker was, as always, at the helm, fingers dancing across the keyboard, grumbling. The blue-lit hulk of a mass relay loomed in the viewports.
      Hackett shot him a look. "Something wrong, son?"
      Joker shrugged. "I got used to having an AI to help me out. I miss EDI."
      "Get used to it, Joker," said Captain Shepard. "After what happened with the Hannibal program---"
      "I know, believe me. After all, it was my ship that was sent to clean it up."
      "Coming up on the relay," interrupted the navigation officer. "Lieutenant Moreau, nav is go."
      "Engines are green across the board," came the voice of the Orizaba's chief engineer, Normandy veteran Tim Adams.
      Joker nodded. "Understood. Hitting the relay in five...four...three...two...one..."
      A tendril of energy lept from the relay and snared the Orizaba, va her through infinity's door.
      Less than five seconds later, she vaulted back into realspace---practically on top of the mystery ships that Hackett had seen earlier.
      The Admiral acted quick. "Captain Shepard, sound general quarters! Gunnery, arm main guns and missile pods Alpha through November! All ships, break formation and engage at their discretion!"
      Joker's hands were once more dancing across his console, bringing the dreadnought about hard. "Admiral, enemy is charging their guns!"
      "Take evasive action as needed, Joker."
      "Aye aye, Sir!"
      The enemy flotilla hurled plasma rounds at the patrol, spearing a Fifth Fleet frigate. The frigate cut about to starboard, attempting to escape the merciless barrage, but the hostile fire somehow tracked the frigate, cutting her in half. Hackett swore. "Main guns and armed missile pods, fire!"
      Gunfire and missiles leapt from the human ships, slamming against the enemy ships, or rather---
      "Admiral! Enemy ships have some kind of shield up!" shouted the sensor officer. "Our guns are not, repeat are not penetrating!"
      "Shit," growled Hackett. "Missile pods Oscar through Zulu! Target and fire upon the enemy flagship! Lieutenant Moreau, bring us in for a run on their flag. Gunnery, standby with the main cannons!"
      Orizaba heeled about hard to port, hurtling towards the ship that appeared to be the enemy's flagship. Joker squinted at the control board, and nodded in satisfaction. "Coming up on her fast, Admiral!"
      "Gunnery, let 'em have it!"
      "All missiles fired, Admiral! Main gun firing now!"
      Thunder erupted from the Orizaba's hull, hurtling for the enemy cruiser. Fire blossomed along her hull, and cheers erupted on the Orizaba's bridge.
      Cheers that quickly stopped as the damage to the enemy crusier was made clear: none whatsoever.
      Fear had blossomed in the eyes of the bridge crew.
      Hackett swivelled on Joker. "Lieutenant Moreau, come about to two-seven-niner, set course for the mass relay."
      "Aye aye, Sir."
      Captain Shepard was the next target of Admiral Hackett, and a profound weariness had penetrated the man's voice. "Signal to all ships: retreat."
      The task force heeled about, hurtling for the relay. As the Orizaba was once more snared by blue energy, Hackett shook his head wearily. The Illusive Man had better compensate me for this.

The turian Varrian Hasker watched with a smirk as he saw his fellow Spectre on the verge of rage.

"What do you mean you're sending a team!? Two of us could do the job just fine!" The asari Spectre, Ni'alla, glared at the four Councilors of the Citadel Council, the governing body of almost all galactic races in the Galaxy. The turian Councilor glared right back at the blue-skinned alien with intensity in his eyes, the most conservative of the Councilors and the most fervent on custom and courtesy. The salarian councilor stared back with no emotion, calculating the next decision that the asari Spectre could take and how to respond in his mind. He, as Varrian say it, was the most liberal of the Council, and often sought solutions to problems that were of a peaceful nature.

Varrian knew that the most moderate, and therefore the most sought after, was the Matriarch asari Councilor who sat between the two, her steel-like eyes always accompanied by a smile more often than not. Unnerving for the turian commando, to say the least. Sitting in the office of the Spectre liaison, the Council could only communicate with them with holographic projectors than meeting them in person. They were halfway across the Citadel, and had various meetings to attend to after this little briefing.

"You said it yourself. The threat of the Purifiers is more prominent than anything else encountered, even the threat that the Collectors originally posed for us before Shepard ended that threat. That threat requires an immediate, and strong, reaction." The salarian said, speaking with the quickness that was common for the short-lived species. Varrian smiled again as he watched Ni'alla stare at the display panel, not daring to yell at the salarian councilor, the one who always showed the most interest in their team's activities.

"Now calm down, Ni'alla." The asari councilor spoke, standing upright but her smile was replaced by a neutral look as she took a glance at Varrian before looking back at the asari.

"This mission requires that you have a team. We're giving you access to a salarian STG commando, a turian shock trooper, and even a human."

This time Varrian spoke up, taking a step towards Ni'alla and the Council.

"With all due respect to the Systems Alliance, we can do just fine without a human on the team, let alone someone who isn't a Spectre."

"I agree. Surely there can be someone else." The turian councilor spoke up, his head turning towards the asari between himself and the salarian councilor. The asari instead turned her head back to the turian and spoke clearly, as if the decision had already been made and the turian was still griping about it.

"We discussed this earlier, and our decision is final. The human will accompany you. He is being evaluated for Spectre candidacy." She said, a tone that made it sound rather sorrowful than proud. Varrian understood why; Shepard was still MIA, and with the threat of the Purifiers, as they so called themselves, becoming bigger and bigger, it was getting to the point where even Varrian wished the human was still around.

He might have been crazy about the Reapers, but at least he got the job done.

"Remember, Varrian, even though Councilor Anderson is not here, he will still review this meeting. Like it or not, humanity is a Council Race, and they have an equal say in politics on the Citadel." The salarian quipped in the turian Spectre's way.

"Fine. But if the human prospect can't follow orders, I'll kick his ass." Ni'alla said, bringing a smirk, or something resembling it, to Varrian's face as he saw the asari lean over her com station and stare at each of the Councilors to make her point clear; her quick reaction stopped the turian from making another outburst at the salarian councilor.. Varrian looked over her body, smiling again as he viewed it over. She was like all asari; mono-gendered, feminine in appearance, with wavy folds of sculpted skin on her head. She had a blue tint to her skin, and with facial markings on her forehead that signified she was of a krogan and asari bonding. Her body was what made Varrian truly smiled.

Curves to die for. Typical of an asari commando.

"Good." The asari councilor said, before the turian picked up immediately.

"We'd expect no less from you, Ni'alla. Your information was sent to your private dataslates. This briefing's adjourned. " The three of them signed out at once, and left the two Spectres alone in the liaison office.

Varrian moved closer to Ni'alla and placed his hand on her shoulder, catching her attention as she looked up. That normal scowl she had seemingly adopted as a permanent facial feature was gone, replaced by a soft smile as she took her right hand and grasped it, a lover's gentle touch as she closed her eyes.

"Mmm, the one thing I like about you is how soft you are."

"Only when we're not on mission. Otherwise I'm like you. All glory, no stupidity."

"I meant your skin, but that's definitely true too." Ni'alla chuckled, turning around to look at her lover with a smile. Having one as a Spectre was dangerous because of potential information leaks, but with another Spectre, Ni'alla and Varrian found it much easier to have a relationship, especially since they worked together as a team.

It made the intra-system jumps much more interesting, to say the least.

The turian could only smile at Ni'alla's joke as he gripped her head with a soft grip, pulling her forehead towards his own, letting them touch as she brought her blue hands to his own, wrapping around them, both of them lost in the moment. Pressing foreheads together was a sign of great respect and love, usually reserved for turian family members and mates. The fact that Varrian was even spending romantic moments with her was something that she respected, let alone the degree of which he did.

A morbid thought popped into her head. She was going to miss the turian when he passed away.

"Well, we should get going." Varrian spoke with a little chuckle as he let go of her head, taking a look at the door before he turned his face back to her. She punched his chest with an even bigger grin.

"You owe me for getting me all worked up, Vee!"

"Don't worry, I plan for you to collect."The turian smirked.