Where Falcons Dared: Commitment
Posted By: (ENS) Rabid_Gallagher and Jake Trommer<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 17 March 2010, 10:26 pm
The Fleet of Holy Purification.
The mere mention of it would have brought a look of awe on any Prophet's face, for it was one of the highest military posts to be a part of. The Minister of High Rectitude and the Preceptor of Virtue, who referred to himself as the Prophet of Purity, was the highest authority in the fleet, sitting in his hover chair as his Ship Masters gathered around his body in the massive War Room. Unlike most Prophets who commanded a position of authority in Covenant fleet operations, the Prophet of Purity was a fiery being who commanded respect like he commanded the focus of the Great Journey. Were he on High Charity, he would have no doubt become the High Prophet of the Covenant.
His feverent belief in the Great Journey, however, forced him to forget politics early in his life.
"And with the advancement of our strike ships into the blue-skinned female space, I believe we have a greater opportunity to slip into other star systems." The Jiralhanae Ship Master Cassierus reported with a dry tone in his voice, staring up at the Minister of High Rectitude. The Brute would have never considered the thought that he could be operating a fleet with a Sangheili force, but he followed the Prophet's decree flawlessly, as did his Sangheili comrade; a fact that surprised the Brute commander.
Cohesion between the two races was never on good terms since the Great Conflict.
"I agree with Cassierus' assessment of the campaign. If we continue to push into asari controlled pace, we can
The Prophet raised his hand as he brought his hover chair into the middle of the briefing room, staring at the Sangheili commander who spoke up.
"The heretics have divided up their fleets in separate quadrants across this line here, Mavo'Vandumee." The Prophet spoke, the star field in front of them dropping out of view before quickly being replaced by a hologram of the Milky Way Galaxy. It quickly, acting on its own will by appearance, centered on the fleet's location, near the border of asari and salarian space.
"The forces of our Holy March can move right through both roads, rather than just one." Purity spoke with a robotic tone to his voice, something that unsettled all officers who knew him personally before their discovery in dark space led them to this crusade. Only the Elites and the Hunters have refused the technology that was found when they discovered the massive ship that Purity took as his flagship wholeheartedly, saying they would lose their effectiveness and purity if they did, while the Grunts and the Jackals eagerly accepted their new gifts and implants.
The Brutes themselves were mixed. Half of them supported Purity's ambition and upgraded their bodies with enhancements and implants, and the other half did not, taking the same stance as the Hunters and the Elites. The only reason, Purity conceded, that Ship Masters Vandumee and Cassierus were doing so well together was because of that very fact; they would dare not dissent, but they were allied by similar views, something that Purity tolerated, for now. He remembered six months ago that the Brute Captain threatened to toss the Elite out of the airlock numerous times, with the Elite always reminding him that he could easily kill off his blood brothers with a blood duel. To see them together in a room not threatening each other, let alone talking outside of meetings like these, was something of a miracle.
To look at them now, they put the old view of Sangheili and Jiralhanae relations out of the window with their rather cool alliance.
"The asari here present a formidable force here, here, and here." Purity rang out, pressing a finger to a specific spot across the asari border. "But, they have a weaker force here that they share with the salarians." He spoke with the authority of command, and already all of the commanders in the room were listening as he brought up the view closer, the section of space represented by a t-shaped border, its lines not straight as green and blue squares stood on the opposite lines, waiting for anything to go wrong.
"The salarians rely on the now-overstretched turian fleet for protection within their borders. This force at the gates to their own controlled space is not enough to stop a small squadron of our Holy Fleet. Vandumee, Cassierus, you will take your fleet elements and attack this force, while our other fleet commanders will force our campaign further into the Gaze of Infinity." Purity spoke dryly, as if the campaign in question was like flickering a dice across a table for no apparent reason. Mavo and Cassierus nodded with respect as they immediately left the campaign room on board their Holy Prophet's flagship.
Mavo walked close to the Jiralhanae, almost shoulder to shoulder as they walked close to the hallway, not saying a word to each other, or indeed anyone else as they then entered an elevator. Mavo pressed down on one button, the rudimentary keys odd for his thumb to press down on, but then again, so was this ship.
Mavo'Vandumee was one of the older Ship Masters, a venerable creature of destiny and war, the two ideals of a predetermined fate and glory among battle. He wore the armor of an Sangheili Zealot; the golden color reflective of his station as one of the higher leaders in the Fleet of Holy Purification. He was taller than most Sangheili by half a foot, and there were numerous scars across his face and body. His eyes, however, were not like the rest of his species' at all; they were cyan, a birth defect in his mind from radiation poisoning as a child from an accidental Slipspace rupture in the core of his first ship posting. Not only that, but they were bright, almost the color and the intensity of the sun around his colony world.
Cassierus, by contrast, was normal in every way for a Chieftain of the Jiralhanae. He was old, but the right age to be a Chieftain of his clan; white fur covered his body, the skin of his jowl was light and his eyes were nothing out of the ordinary. Cassierus, however, displayed a more understanding and rather 'intelligent' mind that Mavo respected. Every battle, Mavo was surprised on how Cassierus possessed tactics and understanding of battle. Too often, Mavo noted, the other Jiralhanae commanders would often resort to rush tactics and charges, but Cassierus would always find another way, not wanting to sacrifice his brood warriors.
" Cassierus spoke out loud, staring around the elevator, his massive hands flexing and releasing, his eyes searching the air around him. "It is unnerving. Unpure."
"If our Prophet wishes to use its mighty power against our enemies, then that is his prerogative. We are not worthy enough to question his position
" The Sangheili Zealot replied, staring straight before he slowly turned his head to look at his fellow Ship Master. "
openly. And to do so is heresy unless the Fleet Masters agree with that supposition."
"But don't you feel it? That feeling
at the back of my mind
it's telling me to obey, but it's too alien, too foreign
" Cassierus began to speak again, a hand going to the back of his head, as if touching it would remove the noise that was attempting to control his thoughts. The Zealot nodded.
"I feel it too. I noticed its presence after Purity became one with the central bridge of the vessel
He called it Absolution. And then when he melded his body to its ancient machines, I saw our Holy Prophet. He changed." The Brute noted, the elevator door opening right to the Hanger bay of the large vessel. They did not care to look at the ancient and often-unsuitable walkways and decks and walls that populated the ship; they concentrated purely on the vessels that would take them to their prospective vessels.
"I understand that we'll attempt another simple pressing attack then, Ship Master Vandumee?"
"Their ships and tactics of the salarian fleet suggest that a simple and straightforward approach will decimate their fleet with little to no losses."
The Jiralhanae laughed.
"We shall see. No battle plan ever holds up in the face of action." The Ship Master laughed and entered his vessel, allowing the Sangheili to fold his mandibles in something that resembled a smile. Maybe the Brute should have been an Sangheili.
The Ship Master entered his vessel and departed Absolution, and the thought of control and asserted loyalty wavered the farther away Mavo distanced himself from Purity's new toy.
He noted that. Information like that was key to his plan.
Admiral Hackett halted at the door to the human embassy on the Citadel, Ops Chief Daniels at his side. "Never thought I'd be coming here."
The brutally scarred Marine shot a glance at his commander. "How so, Sir?"
Hackett grinned. "Good as I may be at politics, I'm far more comfortable with deckplates under my feet."
Daniels nodded. "Copy that, Sir."
The door slid open, revealing a dark-skinned man looking somewhat uncomfortable in his Councilor's tunic. He looked at Hackett, making as if to salute, but stopped himself, a somewhat bemused smile sliding over his face. "I guess you have to salute me now, Hackett."
The Admiral grinned. "It's been a long time, David. Is this place still a no-smoking zone?"
Former Captain David Anderson chuckled. "Udina's been out for a while, Hackett. Consider the smoking lamp lit."
Grinning, Hackett removed a single cigarette from a tunic pocket. "Much appreciated...Councilor."
"Don't start that with me," said Anderson, motioning for Hackett to follow him into his office. "You know I wish that Shepard hadn't recommended me for this blasted office."
Ops Chief Daniels, lurking behind the flag officer and ex-Captain, abruptly spoke up. "Maybe so, but it's good to have a politician who knows what it is the military has to go through."
That brought a small smile to Anderson's face. "Point taken, Operations Chief. Now, Admiral Hackett, what can I do for you?"
"You've heard of the unknown ships we've run into?" asked Hackett.
Anderson's face clouded. "Yes, I have. Very unsettling ones, of invincible vessels with new weaponry the likes of which we've never seen."
"Consider the rumors true," replied Hackett, taking a drag off of his cigarette. "They annihilated my scout fleet and the recon patrol I took after them fared only slightly better. Also..."
"It gets worse, I take it?"
"Much worse. Ops Chief?"
Daniels stepped forward, activating his omni-tool. The most troubling image donated from the Illusive Man sprang to life, that of a simian alien with its back sliced open, revealing tubing and alien machinery within.
Anderson inhaled sharply. "That does not look good. I've never seen a species like that..."
"Nor does the tech inside it, Councilor," put in Hackett. "Take a look."
"Dammit," said Anderson. "Reapers."
"Now you know why the Council needs to know," Hacket rasped.
"They already know about these 'Purifiers'," said Anderson. "But this Reaper tech throws the problem into a whole new light."
Hackett nodded. "Agreed; it ought to galvanize them into---"
"They've already sent a Spectre team to deal with it," interrupted Anderson. "And throwing in the Reapers is going to damage humanity's credibility even further."
The flag officer stared in disbelief at his former subordinate. "Politics from you, David?"
"I like it as much as you do," bit out Anderson. "But the position Shepard has gained for us could be lost if we gain a reputation as the nutballs of the galaxy."
"And we could all lose our lives if a Reaper plot is allowed to come to fruition!" barked Hackett. "David, you know how important this is---"
Anderson waved down Hackett. "I know...I know...dammit. Alright. I'll get you an audience."
"Thank you, David."
Hackett stood at parade rest in front of the triple holoprojectors on the balcony of the human embassy overlooking the Presidium, wondering whether or not Anderson's request had been blown off. At his side, Anderson shot him a look. "You all right?"
"I don't much like it when the rulers of the galaxy see fit to blow me off," came the snide reply.
Anderson cocked an eyebrow. "I think they heard you."
Three holos had crackled to life from their projectors: a Turian, an Asari, and a Salarian, all three of whom had never seen fit to make their names known to humanity despite their supreme power. From the calm Asari to the angry Turian to the somewhat frenetic Salarian, each one radiated the aura of sheer, unadulterated power.
The Citadel Council.
Hackett stiffened to attention. "Councilors, it's an hono---"
The Turian waved him down. "Spare us the pleasantries, Admiral," he all but spat. "What do you have to bring to us?"
A glance at Anderson's showed Hackett that his former subordinate's face was grim; clearly this was standard operating procedure for the Turian.
"Very well, then, Councilor," rasped Hackett. "You want me to be blunt, very well. Ops Chief?"
From his position just off of the holo's pickup field, Daniels advanced up to Hackett's side. A brief nod to the council was his only greeting, then he activated his omni tool, displaying the image of the simian alien with Reaper technology implanted into it.
Hackett had expected at least a sharp intake of breath from the Salarian at least. He was unfortunately disappointed.
"We already have images of the Purifiers, Admiral, courtesy of the Salarian naval group annihilated by them," said the Turian. "If that's what you came here to show us, I'm afraid you're late to the game."
"Evidently, seeing as how you've named them without informing the Alliance," Hackett replied. "But that's not the important part. Take a look at its back."
"So it's a cyborg," sneered the Turian, waving his hadns dismissively. "If you're suggesting that just because an alien species has a bit of metal in it that it requires the full attention of the---"
"Look at the tech, Councilor. Doen't it look familiar?"
The Salarian, predictably, got it first. "That looks quite similar to the technology used in the creation of Husks."
"Yes," said Hackett.
"Which means," put in Anderson, speaking up for the first time. "That we might have another Reaper situation on our hands."
The Council remained silent, then:
"I give up!" exclaimed the Turian Councilor. "I just plain give up! Every time something happens with you humans, its Reapers," this last was punctuated by the somewhat human gesture of air quotes. The effect was slightly lost due to the fact the Turian could only use one finger. "Reapers this, Reapers that, Reapers Reapers Reapers. By the gods, I hear the words Reapers one more time---"
"Thank you, Councilor," interrupted the Asari Councilor. "Councilor Anderson, Admiral Hackett, do you have anything else that proves the involvement of the Reapers?"
Hackett gaped. "What more do you need? That's a Purifier who's been indoctrinated by Reaper nano-tech!"
"Or the Purifiers could be cyborgs," the Turian Councilor derisively replied. "I see no reason to suspect Reaper involvement."
"But I do," said the Salarian. "Admiral, I am going to request that a Special Tasks Group company be dispatched to aid the Fifth Fleet in confirming Reaper presence. Your Marines have worked with us before, yes?"
The other four members of the conference blinked at the unexpected support of the Salarian Councilor. "Well," began Hackett.
Operations Chief Daniels unexpectedly stepped forward. "Councilors, I've worked with members of the STGs in the past. I would be honored to have them aid my devil dogs."
"It is decided then!" said the Salarian. "Admiral, I will forward the unit's dossier to you immediately. This session is concluded."
And with that, the Salarian Councilor deactivated the holofeed; the surprise of the Turian and Asari before their images vanished was palpable.
Hackett shot a glance at his senior enlisted man. "You never told me you worked with the STGs, Ops."
That earned him a rare grim smile from Daniels. "This would've been a lot worse if I hadn't Sir," he said, pointing to his forehead. Hackett had to peer past the mismatched eyes and network of scars to see the one the veteran NCO was indicating. "That officer Commander Solus really saved my skin there."
Anderson nodded his approval. "An STG team helped Shepard on Virmire. I'm frankly just surprised the Council is helping us out to begin with."
"That Salarian seems to be the voice of reason," said Hackett, taking a drag off of his cigarette. "Good to hear he's on our side."
Daniels nodded. "Yes Sir. Shall we return to Orizaba?"
"Let's move Ops Chief. See to it we're ready to depart when I arrive---officer business here, I'm afraid."
The Marine saluted and departed, leaving Anderson alone with Hackett.
"I can't give you any guidance on this, Hackett," said Anderson. "Just try not to cause a diplomatic incident."
Hacket nodded. "I'll try, Dave. I'll try."
Ni'alla growled as she woke up.
The turian's warmth left her as she pushed herself off of the bed and stretched her arms, feeling a slight pain in her arms. Her eyes glanced to her forearms and legs, noticing the small claw marks and the occasional mark; she could only smile at them as she remembered the night of passion she and her turian lover had spent together before their mission. The ship they were on was heading for the salarian frontier, where elements of the salarian Home Fleet were gathered in an attempt to stop the Purifiers before they could get any further.
The troubling news was that they were attacking from multiple corridors now, with the Alliance and Turian Hegemony now engaging them near their own borders from dark space. Ni'alla read the reports before they departed on their small escort vessel Ulliar, an asari scout frigate, and the fact that even the turians were having trouble containing the threat made her worry
at least not until she was in Varrian's arms.
She took a nearby pair of combat utility fatigues and donned them quickly, underwear and all, before she donned her tight-fitting armor. She decided to remain close to the turian, opting to sit back on the bed next to the sleeping turian. She noticed how peaceful he looked when he was dreaming, the soft cooing sound he made when he was within the realm of fantasy. It made him vastly different from the asari Spectre; she hated to sleep, because every time she did she would remember all of the mates she took, all of the people she killed, and everyone that had died near or around her. It was a disease, she surmised as she gazed at the turian, something that had no cure other than death.
The turian's eyes slowly opened, and he smiled as he viewed the blue skin of his Spectre companion.
"Ugh, please don't tell me we're there already."
"No, we still have about half an hour according to the clock." She said, her hand pointing to the clock on the nearby work desk. The turian groaned as he slowly stretched his back, yawning almost as he stared up at the asari.
"Was it as good for you as it was for me?"
Ni'alla rolled her eyes and shoved the turian back down with her hand, smiling and chuckling. "Stop it. We both know it's great. You got fifteen minutes to get dressed before we head down to the cafeteria. I'm starving." Ni'alla almost laughed out, watching as the turian groaned some more as he stepped out of bed, naked and without a care in the Galaxy. He walked slowly, wincing, as if last night's foray tore muscles deep in his body as he gathered his under-suit clothing, putting the one-piece bodysuit on before gingerly attaching his armor on, the black and red colors bright and yet dangerous.
Just like Varrian himself.
Ni'alla stood up and walked out of the room with the turian, passing a few salarians and asari crewmembers as they busily went about their day. She made sure to not walk too close to the turian, but it was harder to keep that distance as they had to walk down increasingly busy hallways. As they walked, Varrian began to ask questions.
"How are we meeting our three support specialists?"
"On the salarian dreadnought Star of Sarlia. The asari commando and the turian shock trooper will be there to greet us, but the human will arrive by means of an Alliance frigate."
"Of course. You would expect the human to
Ni'alla turned around and stopped, the turian bumping into her and looking down.
"Varrian, why do you hate the human race? They have done nothing wrong to warrant this kind of open hostility from you, especially about Councilor Anderson
you know, it's your political views, not mine. Just give the human a chance and keep your anti-human thoughts to yourself for the mission. Can you do that?" She asked, folding her arms over her chest as she looked up at her closest friend in the galaxy. The turian opened his mouth to speak, but stopped himself, and instead only nodded in agreement.
Ni'alla turned around and took another step forward before the intercom blasted across the ship. "All hands, this is Captain Seralla, report to battle stations immediately! The Purifiers are attacking the fleet outside of the Mass Gate leading to salarian border space!" She said quickly, before Ni'alla and Varrian took off on a run towards an elevator nearby, the asari quickly pressing the button for the command bridge.
When the door opened, she gasped.
The frigate exited the Mass Gate and immediately had to engage its shields as debris floated around it. It arched up and over a large piece of starship that belonged to the Solus Quasar, one of the salarian carriers in the fleet, half of the painted name visible as the frigate dodged it like a bullet. It barrel-rolled over another large of debris as ships around them fought in combat. As Ni'alla gasped, she could see the giant vessels that the Purifiers used for their combat fleets.
They were huge, bigger than the dreadnoughts the Council Fleets employ, and they were much more elegant in design. They were shaped like odd tear-drops, but they were curves and the design of it looked seamless. They were a regal color, their purple hue shining bright in the realm of space. Ni'alla was easily entranced, right up until the point where she saw one of the smaller ships launch a bolt of blue light, enveloping a salarian cruiser before the ship exploded in a brilliant display of color and light.
The destructive power of one of the smaller ships in the Purifier fleet jolted her out of her entranced state.
"This is the Cruiser Ma----"
The voice of the Captain of the salarian crusier disappeared as his vessel exploded.
"Activate stealth drive." Seralla commanded, sitting uncomfortably in her command chair as the battle raged around their vessel. The frigate made a sharp arc as it went to hide against the wreckage of the massive dreadnought that they originally planned to dock with.
One of the crewmembers suddenly spoke up in fear.
"We're being painted by one of the larger ships! We're locked
I can probably keep the Star of Sarlia's wreckage between us and them for about three minutes."
"That settles it then. Spectres, get to the airlock and into your armor fit for zero-g activity."
"But Captain Seralla, you don't need to throw your lives away."
"Ni'alla, you might be a Spectre, but I'm the commander of this vessel. Your mission is too important for any of us to think about our own lives." She said, adjusting her chair and activating a few subsystems as she turned her head to the Spectre. "Get out of here, and kill a few for me." She said, before devoting her attention to the battle. "Keep our starboard side against the wreckage, let's give them
Ni'alla and Varrian had taken off in a sprint to get to the nearest airlock, rushing forward as they took a helmet from a secured rack near the airlock door. Varrian immediately activated the door control system and opened the outer airlock door. Ni'alla threw him a small thruster pack, donning one herself via the strap system it had on its frame. They both hustled into the chamber before Varrian activated the depressurization sequence.
"Hold on." Varrian said, grabbing the asari by the waist and holding onto her as she adjusted the two-person bar system that would keep her locked against the turian. After locking her body against him, she pulled his collapsible rocket launcher off of his magnetic seal on his back, pulling it out to its full length before the door to space opened in front of them, Varrian activating his booster pack and flying off into space.
The space around the frigate, and the two Spectres, was clouded with debris and dust, the two struggling to avoid obstacles as they entered zero-gee. The space around them began to shriek by them as Varrian's boosters activated, propelling them faster and faster through the debris-filled field of stars. All around them space shook with the far-off sight of battle, the Purifier fleet decimating the salarian's ships like a knife cutting through hot butter; their massive starships moved forward towards the salarian defenses and launching blue 'balls' of plasma against their ships, washing them in starfire before they violently exploded in bright flashes. In the far off-distance, they could see the gas of the Lagoon Nebula, adding to the light of space, making the whole scene somewhat dramatic.
Suddenly, Seralla's frigate exploded.
"There goes our ride
Pla'vet, we got a Purifier ship inbound." Varrian hissed, as a small dagger-like ship approached them from far away as the turian tried to activate his boosters and place him between wreckage of the dreadnaught. Ni'alla was trying to control her breathing as she realized she was inhaling air too fast; the last thing she needed to do was pass out or use up all of her air supply. Who knows how long they would be out here, she thought to herself as Varrian turned his body so Ni'alla could properly aim with her rocket launcher, the virtual intelligence in her suit constantly adapting and tracking the ship's movement.
"Take the shot at the last pos
" Varrian gasped as he watched the fighter-like vessel suddenly stop in its flight path and remain stationary, shaking violently before it began to crumble, imploding in on itself before it exploded outwards, pieces of the flower flying everywhere. Ni'alla, in a flash, projected a barrier around herself and Varrian, stopping huge and small pieces of the fighter from colliding with the pair. The blue bubble of element zero energy around them shimmered and threatened to fade before the barrage of fighter debris stopped, the shield now holding strong before it stopped, Ni'alla panting, trying to regain her energy.
"What happened?!" The turian Spectre asked, knowing that the asari did not have the answer to it before he saw a reflection in space, almost unnoticeable before a space suit floated into view, beckoning him forward. The turian noticed the profile; it could be an asari, a human, or even a batarian based on the size of the person who was waving them with him. The space suit turned around and activated his boosters, flying in the debris filled space with the space man.
He followed the man for fifteen minutes, making sharp turns and gasping with each close call, Ni'alla breathing along with him. Finally, they were coming to the massive hulk of the interior of the dreadnaught Star of Sarlia, before Varrian gasped as he watched the space man approach a shimmering, nearly invisible field before it deactivated, showing the profile of an Alliance frigate. He grunted as he felt himself being pulled towards it, Ni'alla looking around left and right before she looked forward at the space suit. The savoir of the Spectres was using his hands to bring them in, the energies of element zero revolving around his hands as he brought them in closer to the ship. Varrian now could see the name of the vessel, written on the side in black paint.
He chuckled. Is this what the humans call irony?
They were both about to board the SR2 Normandy.
"Admiral Hackett, the Salarian shuttle is coming alongside to dock."
On the bridge of the Orizaba, Admiral Hackett extinguished his last cigarette of the day. "Very good, Captain Shepard. You have the conn. Inform Operations Chief Daniels that he's to meet me at the airlock."
"Will do," replied Captain Hannah Shepard, saluting.
At the helm, Lieutenant "Joker" Moreau shook his head. "Third time now I've had those guys on my ship. Every time it's been connected to something bad."
Shepard shot him a look. "How so?"
"Let's see, those guys on Virmire? Only alive because Kaidan sacrificed himself. Mordin Solus? Came on board because of the frigging Collectors..."
Hackett, en route to the airlock, chuckled.
An honor guard of Marines, Operations Chief Daniels at their head, stood at order arms next to the airlock chamber. "Tench-hut!"
"At ease," said Hackett. "Save it for the Salarians."
Once the honor guard had been put at ease, the squad leader sidled up next to Hackett. "Just a heads-up Sir...these guys have two modes of talking, and neither one is pleasant."
Hackett cocked an eyebrow. "I've heard their Councilor."
A grim smile stretched the scar tissue. "He's nothing compared to these guys."
The airlock doors hissed as the Salarian shuttle's cofferdam connected, establishing airflow. They hissed open, revealing a group of six figures within, silouhuetted against the sharp light from the Salarian cruiser.
"Honor guard!" barked Daniels. "Tench-hut!"
"At ease, at ease," said the leading Salarian Clad in battle armor like the rest of his unit, albeit lacking a helmet, he projected an air of calm leadership that was quite at odds with the frenetic impression normally given off by Salarians.
"Are you the Task Group commander?" asked Hackett.
"Captain Kirrahe, commanding officer Jaeto Team, Special Tasks Group Regiment," was the reply.
Hackett extended a hand. "That name sounds familiar...you were on Virmire, right?"
The other chuckled; Hackett wasn't completely sure. "Yes, that was me and my team. Celebrity is rather unusual for a soldier like myself, accustomed to secrecy."
"Glad to have you with us, Captain. Shepard spoke rather highly of you."
"Indeed," replied Kirrahe, nodding. "If you could show us to the briefing room, we can show what we have for you..."
Lieutenant Commander Donald Hindley smiled as he took a step into the command deck of the Normandy SR2, the crew at full compliment and busy at their stations around them. The human turned around and took off his helmet, revealing his face to the asari and turian commando, the two of them removing their own helmets and breathing in recycled air, but abundant air nonetheless. They looked at the human with a neutral look, the both of them trying to remember as much details as possible. He had hair barely within Alliance regulations, kept in a laxed but formal style that suggested he did more than just standard combat operations, judging by the lack of facial scars normally accompanied with commandos. His eyes were nothing special; green, a dark color that didn't imply anything wrong.
"You must be Ni'alla and Varrian Hasker, of the Council." He spoke, his accent Earthside. To hear it spoken, it sounded as if he came from Earth's British Isles Protectorate, the lands that once were called Ireland and Scotland and Great Britain. As another crew member walked by the human commando, Ni'alla immediately noticed he was average in height as well. Completely average in appearance, but she remembered how effortlessly the human pulled her and Varrian into the airlock, just using his biotic powers. To pull something in from a mile away in a constant bubble was nothing too troubling, but it required a lot of concentration and effort just to maintain the connection, let alone do what the human did against the Purifier strike craft.
"You must be the human we were supposed to RV with. You're Lieutenant Commander Donald Hindley, correct?"
"One and the same, 'mam." He said, adding a hook into his small smirk as he nodded, putting his helmet under his arm as he looked at the two of them. "I apologize for not making contact sooner, but if we revealed our position to the Purifiers, we would have been lost too. Our Thanix cannon could maybe have taken out one of their frigates, nothing more."
"You still could have done something to help the salarian fleet." Varrian said coldly.
"We did. Something that will help us greatly." Donald added cryptically, gesturing with his head towards the Galaxy Map that all commanding officers of ships in the Alliance fleets operate and plan their ship movements from. As he walked, Ni'alla and Varrian took measures to understand the ship; they both recognized the logo on the panels and on the bulkheads.
"I have a question." Ni'alla said as she stared at lettering on Donald's armor.
"I have an answer." The human replied, turning his head over his shoulder and smiling. Immediately that set off a warning bell in Ni'alla's head; how could a man be so cheerful after watching a small alien fleet decimate the salarian Home Defense Fleet? She was going to ask him about what happened, why they couldn't help, but to further dwell on the battle would only make her more worried, more ancy. She looked at the N7 logo on his arm, and her mind shot a bell in her head.
"I've seen this before, but no one's ever explained what N7 stands for."
Donald looked over at his armor and made a sound that could be described as thinking. He stopped and turned around, his stance relaxed and at ease.
Another warning bell in the asari's head.
"The letter N is the designation for Alliance Special Forces, the number 7 being the level of proficiency in my profession. One being the lowest, seven being the highest. There is only six N7s in the entire Alliance; retired, missing, or active." He stated, giving her the information she requested like an encyclopedia.
"Myself, Shepard, the human Councilor, two other soldiers who I should not name, and Lieutenant Verena Waetcher, who is on this ship."
"Is that why you wear it then? Because it's some sort of badge of honor? I ask because, from what it seems like, you work for Cerberus."
"Of course I work for Cerberus." He said flatly, something that made Ni'alla's eyes open wider a bit, with the turian stiffening next to her as he stared at the human.
"Cerberus was the only group that took Shepard seriously. I believe in Shepard because I served with him before he became the first human Spectre; he doesn't make up lies, or does he believes in bullshit. Whatever drove Shepard to say the real threat were the Reapers, then I trust in his opinion that the entire Galaxy is at risk. Cerberus offered employment, and I accepted, on the grounds that I only am involved in operations like these."
"You work for a known terrorist group ---"
"No, I don't Mister Hasker. I work for an institution dedicating to fighting the real threat that the Reapers pose. That objective has been sidelined due to the threat the Covenant pose." Donald spoke with a hint of excitement in his voice before he turned back around and walked, the two Spectres giving each other glances as another soldier came up to them.
This soldier was a commando, like Donald, except the noticeable difference was that the soldier was a woman. She had red hair, a soft tone that looked pretty in the light of the ship, but it was obvious by the way it was styled that she did care for it to a point, not too much style or care into it. She kept her hands behind her back, her head straight up. From what Ni'alla could tell, she was noticeably taller than Donald; most likely someone rose on another world or in space. She had azure eyes, brighter than the male Cerberus commando but not as bright as Ni'alla's eyes. She kept her hair in a layered bob; not too liberal but not too conservative concerning regulations. She had a scar that Ni'alla could see, hidden somewhat by makeup under her chin.
"You're Lieutenant Verena Waetcher?" Ni'alla asked, noticing the N7 stenciled over her right breast.
"Yes." The female replied, nodding her forehead as she held out her hand, her stance much stiffer and rather worrisome. Compared to Donald, she was acting far more normal considering the circumstances. The asari nodded and shook it.
"You're an N7 too?" Varrian asked, stating the obvious, trying to gauge her reaction. She shook her head in the affirmative.
"I'm a N7, yes." She spoke with a tone in her voice that suggested surprise, nodding as Donald stood a little closer to the group, speaking immediately before she said anything else. Ni'alla, however, continued to analyze the human female. Her accent was definitely from Earth as well, the accent suggesting she was from Germany or Austria, a much rougher sounding tone than Donald's seemingly crafted accent.
"Forgive me, but my commanding officer wishes to speak with you."Donald said, motioning for the asari and the turian to follow him into another room, a little smile on his face.
The asari still didn't trust him, or where they were
but she didn't have a choice.
The Illusive Man relaxed as he watched the battle between the salarians and the Covenant unfold in front of him, the projector capturing all the detail that it could for him as he used his hand on a small ball on his chair. A simple flick towards him brought the image to zoom out, showing the green squares that represented the salarian fleet try to escape before the purple colored triangles that were the Covenant made numerous flanking movements, taking out the secondary and tertiary ships that were trying to serve as command ships and direct their ships to escape the battle.
In a few short minutes, the Covenant had completely obliterated all but a handful of frigates as they escaped.
"The technology that could wipe out a fleet of that size
" He whispered to himself, zooming back in with a flick of his fingers onto the dreadnought hulk, zooming in further before a shimmer field disappeared as the Covenant vessels disappeared into 'Slipspace', as they referred it to. Simply beautiful, he thought to himself as he took a small cigarette and placed it in his mouth, removing his lighter on his chair and activating the plasma flame, lighting his cigarette before placing it on the arm of the chair. He breathed in and then slowly exhaled, the wisps of smoke seemingly circling his chair as he turned his chair around.
He was preparing to leave and conduct a trip to his private quarters when the two-way quantum entanglement based communications array activated; the field coming online in front of him. He repositioned himself to look relaxed, blinking as he stifled a yawn that was attempting to pull his jaw down to his chest. In front of him, conducting communication via real time, was the image of Jacob Taylor, the commander of the Cerberus SR2 Normandy.
"Sir." He said, folding his hands behind his back. Normally, the Illusive Man would be more than happy to be cordial and respectful, but he needed to know the details of Jacob's mission immediately.
"Was a complete success, sir."
" He sighed, inhaling on his cigarette again before he looked at Jacob, locking eyes with the Cerberus commando.
"Is there anything else you wished to report, Captain Taylor?"
"Yes. After Commander Hindley completed the final phase of the operation, he picked up two survivors of the engagement. Two Spectres."
The Illusive Man's eyebrows arched. He had known about the team that had been assigned to somehow stop the Covenant's advance, but he had no warning of them being present at the salarian engagement. He would have to send more feelers into Council Intelligence, that much was certain.
"Are they there with you, Captain Taylor?"
"Yes." The dark-skinned Cerberus commando, who served with Commander Shepard on his mission to stop the Collectors, nodded over his shoulder before two new figures stepped alongside Jacob. One of them was an asari, and the other was a turian. Immediately, his mind began to work as they both tried to relax.
"I am N—"
"Ni'alla A'mine, daughter of Matriarch Neveria. And you are Varrian Hasker, of the colony world Lusk. Yes, I know who you two are."
"Then you have us at a disadvantage. You are
He chuckled, letting one hand rest on the comfortable arm of his chair, his other raised as smoke gently flowed to one side of the room, the silent air conditioners taking the smoke as he stared at the turian.
"You may call me the Illusive Man."
Ni'alla's shoulders tightened, the turian now becoming stiffer than a rock as Taylor stood tall, like a stone giant, just looking forward as he watched the man who could be considered one of the true leaders of the human race stand up in front of the two Spectres.
"You needn't bother telling me what your mission is. I already know it." He said, using his hand to activate a seemingly hidden omni-tool, the glowing virtual display overtaking his hand as he used his free fingers on his cigarette-wielding hand to press down on a few holographic keys. The image behind him, that of the rotating galaxy and the sectors of controlled space, disappeared and was replaced by the appearance of a Covenant vessel.
"What you call the Purifiers are actually a collection of alien races, called the Covenant. You know their religion is their priority, but curiously, for a religious minded coalition of aliens, their ships and armaments are surprisingly advanced. This is attributed to over one hundred thousand years of uninterrupted evolution and technological development."
"So they are a race from the Prothean era?" Ni'alla asked, not out of historical curiosity but rather to gauge the Illusive Man's reaction, to find out what he knows and how much. Maybe he didn't know about
"No. The archeological findings of the Council team you sent to the edge of Purifier space almost thirty years ago has no information on these. We found something better." He said, using his omni-tool to bring up another image, that of a planet that was covered in green and blue; it was a verdant garden world, but Ni'alla didn't recognize it.
"This is the planet Endless Harvest, a farm world. My specialists raided this planet's information archive. From what we pieced, we know that the original Covenant species were transplanted by a race of aliens, most likely early Protheans. This world, however, is about a year's distance from the closest Mass Gate, and this is the closet world the Covenant controlled before their expansion into the Milky Way." He said, letting that sink in before he moved back to his chair and sat down, taking a long drag of his cigarette.
A year's away?" Varrian asked, doubting any race could survive without the network of Mass Gates that made transportation across the Galaxy instantaneous.
"Yes." He spoke with an air of seriousness, taking another puff from his cigarette before he placed it in his ashtray, flicking the ashes away as he stared at the asari.
"Wait a minute." The turian spoke up, placing an open palm up into the air as he looked at the Illusive Man.
"Why are you telling this to us? Doesn't Cerberus hate non-humans? By that extension, don't you?" The turian folded his arms across his chest, now on the edge of anger and fear as he watched the Illusive Man sharply turn his head towards him, the man so far appearing fluid and calm.
"I don't hate aliens, Mister Hasker." He said, his words venom. "I have allied myself with xenophobic groups for the purpose of tools; their extremist actions have labeled Cerberus as xenophobic, but I am not. I do not hate, nor am I prejudice to aliens. And my views about xeno-politics is not the matter of this." He said, leaning forward, his cybernetic eyes giving him an almost machine look as he stared at Ni'alla.
Even the asari could feel the skin around her spine goosebump, the strange tone in the Illusive Man's voice was enough to make her suddenly worried that she made an enemy out of the most powerful human in the Galaxy.
"And the reason I'm giving you all of this information, Mister Hasker, is because you and I are working to the same goal. The Purifiers are a threat to all of Citadel space, even to humanity. I want them dealt with, just like the Council does, wherever that be by force or by negotiation. And the first step towards any victory has already been initiated." The Illusive Man spoke with harshness at first, but when he spoke of the plan he had conducted, his words turned to a neutral tone, allowing Ni'alla to listen in more carefully, trying to understand what he was saying.
There was no need for mental supposition, however, as the Illusive Man brought up another image, this time of a Covenant ship.
"This is the Covenant Command and Control Battlecruiser Judicator Upon High, the flagship of a Sangheili-led taskforce. When it
"Sangheili?" The turian asked.
"The data will be given to you when I'm done speaking, Mister Hasker. When it passes through the Casabah Nebula, a device will go off that will disable it and make it drop out of Slipspace, hopefully without the rest of the Covenant fleet knowing that it is missing. The Normandy will then insert the N7 commandos into the ship itself, but with you and Spectre Ni'alla, the plan could go much more smoothly. You get your intel, we get our intel and technology, and both sides are happy."
Ni'alla shook her head.
"I don't trust the words of a stranger to a hidden plan. Sorry, Illusive Man, but I don't think we're getting involved."
"Oh trust me, Miss A'mine, you will." He said before he brought up another image, this time a much smaller ship, sleek in design but undoubtly Covenant.
"This is the Harkening Virtue, a ship that we recently captured in the Hawking Eta cluster. I will give it to the Council."
Ni'alla kept her look of shock from showing on her face. They were going to just hand them a Covenant vessel?
"We already have documented the tech and appropriated all non-essential systems. This is one of three that we captured, with one other going directly to the Alliance. Consider it a
gift, for the lack of a better word." He had that crooked smile, something that made Ni'alla nervous as she looked at the turian, who was gazing into her eyes and after a moment of silence, he nodded.
fine. We will assist on this mission."
"Jacob will fill you in on all of the details. Once the mission is completed, the ship will be delivered to the Citadel." He said, turning his chair around before he cut the connection, tired of seeing the two Spectres in front of him, instead gazing at the holographic Galaxy, leaning forward. His mind was afire with information as he remembered what they did to the Harkening Virtue; numerous detectable listening devices, much more hidden, and one of its primary weapons removed and replaced by a low-grade faux plasma device.
The ship was still powerful in its own right, but the vessel that Cerberus kept was going to be much more powerful.
And if this operation succeeded, the Illusive Man thought as he stood up from his seat and took one more inhale from his cigarette, then he would have one of the most powerful vessels in the Galaxy at his command.
Orizaba's briefing room was built to hold a reigiment's worth of Marines and sailors, but right now it was only occupied by five people: Hackett, Shepard, Daniels, Kirrahe, and another STG trooper the captain had identified as one Commander Rentola. A holographic image hung in the air above the central table, that of a smooth-lined ship, listing badly, with several holes blasted through her side.
Hackett reached, reflexively, for a cigarette that wasn't there. "That's a Purifier ship."
Kirrahe nodded. "Indeed."
Captain Shepard peered curiously at the image. "How was it disabled?"
Commander Rentola stepped forward; his voice lent him a considerably more pessimistic air. "Turian battle group, all armed with Thanix cannons. Their numbers were enough to overwhelm the frigate's shields."
"This is our chance, Admiral," said Kirrahe. "Get me and my team aboard that ship, and we'll be able to vastly increase what we know what we know about the Purifiers."
"And how they're working with the Reapers..." growled Daniels, the light from the holo playing eerily against his mismatched eyes.
That last seemed to fluster the Salarians. "Yes," said Kirrahe. "While we do trust your judgement, I can't help but hope you're wrong."
"Can't say I blame you," said Hackett. "Where is this wreck?"
"The Kepler Verge."
"Captain Shepard, set course."
"Aye aye, Sir."
The command group dispersed from the briefing room, save for Hackett and Daniels. The senior enlisted man bore a curious look, one that on a man whose battle record didn't know could almost be called fear. "Sir, is our FTL comm open?"
"I believe so," replied the Admiral. "Why?"
"There's...a call...that I'd like to make, Sir."
Hackett regarded the other with curiosity. "Go right ahead, Daniels, but don't forget opsec. I'm sure your girlfriend wants you to know where you are..."
Daniels, who couldn't have been younger than forty, let out what might have been called a laugh. "Ha," he said, his lower-class English accent slightly thicker than normal. Emotional stress, Hackett assumed.
"Thank you, Sir," said Daniels. "If you'll excuse me..."
The Operations Chief left, leaving Hackett alone with the picture of the Purifier craft. To an outsider's eye, he was regarding it with the air of a man embracing the inevitable, but those who knew Hackett knew he was merely wishing he had saved his last cigarette.
The Illusive Man was furious.
How could something like this slip through his carefully connected web of feelers? How could the Council actually have information that he didn't know? Everything that he had made, all of the careful lines of intelligence, all of the numerous black operations that he had conducted, all of the assassinations and threats
he had a need to know everything in the Galaxy, or the capacity to know.
He cursed as he slammed his glass off of his chair, the simple drinking object exploding into fragments once it crashed onto the ground.
"A turian assault group did what the entire salarian Home Fleet couldn't do? I find that hard to believe, dammit! If you don't send me the coordinates in the next few minutes, you can consider your contact terminated!" He yelled before he angrily disconnected himself from his contact, pushing himself up off of his chair as he paced quickly, the need to drink almost too powerful as small little robots came from the corners of the large room he conducted the day-to-day operations of Cerberus from. His eyes had an edge to them as he stared at his wrist, activating his omni-tool as he turned his head behind him, the billionaire by day taking his eyes over at his loyal lieutenant.
Miranda looked at the leader of Cerberus with a blank look, having taking her eyes from reports, trying not to remind him of his recent fury.
I'm going to need you to assemble a team of our reservists and put a team in the before the salarians get their hands on data we don't have intelligence on." He said, making an move for the glass before realizing it wasn't there, cursing under his breath as he realized the need to drink was too much. He sighed as he rubbed his eyelids, his iris' hidden by the folds of skin as he groaned, standing upright as he shook his head.
He felt a soft gloved hand rest on his shoulder, jarring him as Miranda presented him with another glass of alcohol. By the smell and look of it, it was brandy, not the whiskey he was sipping at earlier, but it was a good enough replacement as he nodded. She had been a part of Cerberus since she was only eighteen; almost half of her life had been spent helping the Illusive Man attempt to achieve one of the biggest feats in the Galaxy, and she willingly gave her entire body and soul into it.
It was a quality that the Illusive Man respected. People with intense dedication like she displayed was something that could not be grown or bought.
" He said quietly, taking a sip of the brandy, licking his lips. Miranda had surprised him again; this was his favorite brandy, something of a rarity in the Galaxy as he took another sip. This even brought a crooked smile, a smile that Miranda caught.
"I know the asari crafted Tumbletwine Brandy is your favorite, sir." She said, her accent something of a rarity as well among the Galactic community, causing the Illusive Man to look over his shoulder.
I'm still looking, Miranda." He said, as she was walking away from him to conduct his operation, stopping her dead in her tracks as she looked over her shoulder, her waist twisting to give herself a better view of the man she had considered a father.
"Don't play dumb, Miranda. I know how much he meant to us, to you." He said, turning around to look at her himself, a honest look in his eyes as he sipped from his brandy, the robots now finally done cleaning up the glass from his earlier outburst as they scurried to their holding stations in the corner of the room.
She nodded, but the look on her face betrayed a lot more emotion, most obvious was shock.
"I thought you would be searching for assassins to find him." She spoke, the sound of venom in her voice. She remembered what Shepard told her about the Illusive Man, about how he threatened to find Shepard and make him pay for destroying the Collector Base. The Illusive Man turned his whole body around to look at his favorite commando, his cybernetic eyes glowing in the dark light of the room. His eyes always made Miranda feel uncomfortable, but somehow entranced.
"I was, and I still feel betrayed. After all we did for him, he decides to grow a conscious." He said, his voice hard as the rocks of an icy moon as he stared at her, taking steps towards her. He now stood in front of her, one hand gripping the glass a few inches from his stomach, while the other was folded under the other's elbow, looking down. "But the resources to even scrape the surface of the Collector base would be large enough where we would not be making any sort of progress on the Covenant threat." He took a sip of his alcohol as the female Cerberus officer stared, trying to keep her face neutral as the Illusive Man spoke.
"The ships we've captured were due to ships, resources, and men that would have been assigned to the Collector Base Retrieval operation. The weapons that were made were from research and development equipment and operatives who would have been assigned to the retrieval operation as well. The reason we're the foremost experts on Covenant technology, and the Covenant itself, is because we had so much resources dedicated to no specific project. In reality, the only way we're making progress against the Covenant is because of Shepard." The Illusive Man said his words with a dry, understanding tone as he took one more sip, placing his glass in Miranda's hand.
"In a way, Shepard completed his mission in a greater scope than he, or I, ever could have imagined." The Illusive Man watched as the Cerberus operative kept her neutral expression now, determined not to let her face slip again like it did moments prior, refilling the Illusive Man's glass and handing it to him. Her eyes looked back into his blue, shimmering eyes. It was too inhuman; the brightness of them and the cybernetic clues made him look more machine than man, but as far as she knew, he was merely the ultimate pinnacle of machine and man. Her continual updates from the doctors that operated on him showed he was always more human than machine, never wanting to cross the threshold.
"I'm sorry, sir."
"I know how close you two were. But I know how important this is, as well. That's why I accepted you back into Cerberus. Don't abuse my trust again, Miranda." He said, this time giving her a cold stare before he blinked, wiping the harsh look away as a soft smile appearing across his lip. "I have too much faith in you." He was standing so close to her, she could feel his warmth, and it was intoxicating. He seemingly caught himself, taking a step back before he turned his back to her and walked towards his chair, sitting down and placing his newly refilled glass on the arm of the chair.
"You have your orders, Miss Lawson. Make me proud." He said before his chair turned around, his back now to her.
"Yes, sir." She said with resolution, her tone now completely different. It was something that had loyalty stamped across the surface of her voice, before she turned around and walked out of the room, flooding the normally dark room with light before it closed, the Illusive Man now only illuminated by the holographic display of the Galaxy. He sat down in his comfortable seat and folded one leg over the other, staring at the Galaxy.
Perhaps, they just might win.
Perhaps, he just might win.