The First Movement
At his most cynical, he likened his time with her to a virus. Shepherd could get inside your head and leave a seed there that never quite left that made you think and want things that had seemed impossible before. It was this part of him that told him he was a madman, that no one ever came out of the Omega 4 Relay, and that pacing the bridge of the SSV Passchendaele was going to do no one any good.
That he was here at all was another sign of Shepherd's - for lack of a better word - infection.
Three days before, he'd been in Councillor Anderson's office on the Citadel, playing more or less the glorified assistant until they could convince the Alliance that while, yes, the Collectors may have attacked Horizon because he was on it, they weren't likely to pull that stunt again, especially not if they knew how things had gone with his and Shepherd's reunion.
Their reunion. He knew he should've handled it better, but it was just, just such a shock to see that, this time, the rumours were true, and that she was alive, and on Horizon, doing what she did best while the world fell to pieces around her (though, to her benefit, only half the colony had been destroyed), with two Cerberus operatives. To see her alive again but working for Cerberus-
He couldn't help but wonder if he should've gone with her, because, in away, she was right, because at least Cerberus was doing something while the Council pretended that the Reaper threat never existed, but that was just another symptom of Shepherd's intoxicating effects on people. He'd never thought of leaving the Alliance, especially not then, with the dark-haired woman at her side all but spouting the wonders of the terrorist group. But the idea had lingered. It may have been vigilante justice, but at least it was justice...
He'd been thinking just that in Anderson's office when his omni-tool had made a plaintive beep. He hadn't even spared it a thought when Councillor Anderson, working at his private terminal, quietly cursed. This was nothing strange, though his comment, "Alenko, you should see this," a moment later was.
On Anderson's screen was what was obviously a security feed, a time stamp no more than two hours old in thin, hard-to-read numerals across the bottom, showing what appeared to be the cockpit of a smaller military vessel. As the footage played, a synthesized voice spoke, "I have finished packaging the mission data, Jeff," from off-camera.
The pilot's chair turned towards the camera, Joker unmistakably at the helm of this unknown ship. "You're getting sloppy in your old age, EDI. Shepherd wanted that stuff, not me."
"I am not, as you say, Jeff, 'getting sloppy'. Commander Shepherd has asked that you send the message to the Alliance. She seems to think that its contents would go over better if someone less controversial passed them along."
Joker snorted. "Fine, EDI. Send it under my name. Whatever. I'm sure you do things like that all the time without asking permission.
"Would you like to include a personal message?"
"A personal message? EDI, what am I supposed to say? 'Here, I don't know why Shepherd wants to do this, 'cause you covered it all up last time, but here's everything we have on the Collectors; we're about to get ourselves killed going through the Omega 4 Relay, so we thought you'd like to know'?"
"Perhaps, Jeff. I am not salient on all aspects of human interaction."
Turning back to his controls, Joker sighed. "Just send it, alright?"
"Understood, Jeff." As the camera footage ended, a series of files had opened. The long and short of them was that Shepherd was trying to save the galaxy again and, this time, he wasn't with her. The idea of it had unsettled him.
That was three days ago. The feeling had grown insurmountably since then, as orders had been faked, and a pair of Turian cruisers and three Alliance frigates - the Okinawa, Heraclea, and Passchendaele - had been sent out to the Sahrabarik system, ostensibly for the dual purposes of reminding the Terminus systems that the Council wasn't as far away as they liked to believe and to protect a Salarian science ship that was coming to study the Omega 4 Relay. It wouldn't be too long before someone remembered that displays of force in the Terminus usually involved more ships and that the Salarian expedition was taking quite a while to get here. He knew he should be working on it instead of pacing the length of the Passchendaele, growing more and more worried and, with it, irritable, with each passing hour.
Three days. The Normandy SR-2 had passed through the relay nearly sixty hours ago. Various "authorities" from Omega had all confirmed this, many more concerned that the relay had continued to remain active after Shepherd and her crew had passed through then that there were five rather well-armed ships from a government none of them recognized as their own hanging about near that same relay.
She could be dead. Again. She could have gone through the relay and destroyed whatever lay beyond and been destroyed in the process. She could have failed utterly (no, that was a traitorous, impossible thought that the the mere consideration of caused a knife of raw emotion to fester in his chest). She could be on her way back now. He could never know. And the fact that he didn't couldn't know was killing him.
No, that was wrong. It was the things he knew that were killing him, and he knew all too well the extent of the danger the galaxy was facing... And Shepherd knew best of all, the memories of the Prothean's destruction haunting her dreams. If she still had those memories. If he was still the woman he thought she was.
For the fifth time that hour, Staff Commander Alenko told himself that she had to be. She wouldn't be Shepherd if she wasn't risking her life on this suicide mission. She wouldn't be Shepherd if she couldn't do the impossible. Therefore, because she was gone, she was the same and, because she was the same, she'd be back.
But still he wondered and still he paced, the soldiers on deck did their best to pretend they didn't see.
He was near explaining this to himself for the sixth time when, suddenly, the relay they were circling began to glow brighter, spin faster-
Alenko stopped his pacing. "Ready the cannons," he ordered, coming to rest behind the pilot.
"Do it, Holmes," he repeated, bracing himself as the call went out to man battle stations, not just in the Passchendaele, but all five ships. If it was the Collectors, five ships would not be enough. Five hundred ships wouldn't be enough.
"What's going on, Alenko?" came the voice of Captain Cameron, CO of the Heraclea, her voice sounding high-pitched and childish over the comm though the woman was tough-as-nails. She'd served on the SVV Medina during the First Contact War and was one of those officers who was uncannily good at her job but had such a screwed-up personal life that she'd never been promoted above captain. Naturally, he thought, she'd be the first one to figure out that something wasn't quite right. "Unless the Salarians are coming through the relay-"
The relay suddenly pulsed, and from its sickly red depths came an explosion of light and flame as something, large and dark and ominous, begins to claw it's way across unknown light years-
A voice crackled over the comms, "Ship, inbound, five o'clock."
"Is it Collector?" Shepherd asked, hands going reflexively for the shotgun at her side before she remembered where she was as headed for the nearest access shaft instead and started climbing; it was a tight fit in full armour, but she wasn't waiting for the elevator to get to the CIC, and she'd hardly taken the armour off while they'd been conducting repairs enough in Collector territory to get the Normandy to a friendly dock. "Tali, Daniels, Donnelly, get that CBT shielding fixed I don't care what systems you have to take power from to do it."
She came out hear the elevators and, after evading the tangle of people, limbs, and machinery that abounded in the CIC fixing critical systems, and she came to stand behind Joker, who was cursing. "No idea what the thing is. Doesn't look like any of the Collector ships we've seen so far, or anything Reaper, but odds are it's nothing friendly."
"How fast can you get us out of here?"
"Not fast enough for them not to see us, even if they couldn't see through our stealth systems."
"Then we better hope we can outrun them."
"ETA to the relay, five minutes."
"EDI, tell me we have good news."
"Tali reports that repairs to the shields should hold as long as we are not engaged in direct combat. As the majority of my weaponry remains inoperable-"
"Faster it is, then."
The First Movement: Velocissimo