Disbelief radiating in his words, "The vessel identifies itself as the MSV Macchia, attached to Sales Department of Cord-Hisolp Aerofspace."
Flight Lieutenant Amelia Arakaki snorted and manoeuvred the Passchendaele so that the forward batteries were better aligned with the unknown ship's drive core. "Why do I get the feeling that trade negotiations didn't go as planned?"
But Alenko, despite having been grounded for nearly two months after the events of Horizon, had not been idle. He'd dug through everything the Alliance had on Cerberus (though, even with the G-Clearance the navy had been forced to issue him after Sovereign's attack two years ago, it wasn't much, and, if the Alliance knew anything more, only the shiniest of the brass was aware of it) and knew Cord-Hisolp was suspected to be a front for the terrorist group. He was about to tell Holmes and Arakaki this when the navigator corrected himself, "The ship is now identifying itself as the Normandy SR-2 and is asking for wfhoever is in charge of this operation. Cameron is pointing it your way, Commander."
"Open a channel."
The cannons continued to fire – uselessly, it would seem – at the Reaper ship. It did not fire back or appear to notice their hits at all. Instead, it moved as if to pass back through the Omega 4 Relay – the relay at which the Normandy had just begun to fire upon.
What the hell was going on?
The comm crackled to life. "Who the hell is in charge over there?"
It was not the voice he'd been expecting. "Joker?"
"Alenko? Didn't think you'd have the balls to show up. Don't want to know what kinda ass you had to kiss to do it, too – just get your guys to start firing on the relay. Shepherd wants that thing blown out of the sky."
A sea of relief flooded him as he released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Wants. Present tense. She was alive. She was still alive. It wasn't too late. But now was not the time to agonize over his personal issues; rather, it was time to be a solider, and do as ordered. She may not have been his CO anymore – hell, she wasn't even Alliance anymore, and, even if she had been, he technically outranked her now – but Anderson – who technically wasn't military either – had made his orders clear: follow hers. As if he could anything but. "Can do," he told the pilot as the channel closed, not even realizing until Holmes asked him what the hell it was she wanted him to.
Angrily, fiercely, disbelievingly, "You don't just go around blowing up mass relays," Holmes raged, his voice growing loud enough so that, though easily thirty meters away, Kaidan could hear him without the comm over the goings-on of a ship embattled. "Forget for the moment that it's tantamount to treason – its also impossible-"
"You saw the ship that just came out of it, Holmes. Can you honestly say you want more of those things coming through? All the damage done to the Citadel two years ago? That was done by one of those ships. For all we know, there's an entire fleet getting ready to come through that relay. If Shepherd says it needs to be destroyed, then, by God, we better find a way to destroy it." His own voice was quiet, though it carried as the servicemen ensconced in the banks of terminals on either side slowly realized something out of the ordinary was going on.
Their whole "tactical assignment" had been out of the ordinary from the start. The Passchendaele had been called back to Arcturus ten days ago for a refit (the frigate was an older, marauder-class ship that would probably have been regulated to being a support vessel in one of the larger flotillas in the Boötes system if not for the fact that so many ships had been destroyed during the Siege of the Citadel. The shipyards at Arcturus, Terra Nova, and Yandoa had been working not just to restore the Alliance Navy to pre-Sovereign size, but to expand it after humans became a full Council race; three dreadnoughts – the Aconcagua, Pancak Jaya, and Yushan – were in the works, as were a number of smaller ships. There had been some outcry over the cost of it all, but so far pride in becoming a Council race had outstripped the anger at new taxes on most human colonies) and so it's captain could be promoted and moved to command the 32nd (another side effect of the Siege: faster promotions as more ships were being built than had able hands to crew them). But, less than a week into their refit, Anderson had pulled some strings to get it – and the Heracula, Okinawa, and the two Turian ships whose names roughly translated to Promise of Justice and Red Star at Dawn – rushed to before its new CO could arrive from Earth.
Marines were not usually made COs of starships, at least, not if they weren't of flag rank.
Officers who'd never been XOs of starships were never given their own commands.
Vessels of the Council Fleet almost never went this deep into the Terminus Systems.
And yet here he was, a middle-ranking officer whose only postings had been land-side since the original Normandy, nominally in charge of a vaguely legal task force, clearly ordering his soldiers to do something that, if it wasn't illegal, it was only because no one had ever thought they'd need to make a law against it.
"You're not hearing me, sir: the relays are indestructible. Even if we had the fire-power of the entire Fifth Fleet, it can't be done."
"Has anyone ever tried to destroy a relay before?"
"In that case, we don't know that it can't be done," Kaidan said with what he hoped was great aplomb, now standing at the far end of the bridge, looking out over the CIC, "Start firing on the Omega 4 Relay; you can pull the Nuremberg defence at our courtmarshals later, if you don't get us killed questioning orders in the middle of a fire-fight."
No sooner had the first re-oriented torpedo launched then Arakaki, who'd been continually reorienting the ship throughout the entire discussion, interrupt, "Enemy ship is powering up its FTL – or whatever the hell that red thing is."
Striding the length of the terminal bays pack to the cockpit, "Into or out of the system?" If the ship was heading into Sahrabarik, there was a second relay less than three AU away. If it was leaving the system, though, there were three others in this cluster with known colonies...
Kaidan looked up at the scene outside the veiwports. The Omega 4 Relay loomed massively to port, close enough to wash the bridge in red light, and the writhing drive core of the Reaper ship was but a smaller, brighter spot of light that was visibly growing fainter as the sped at superluminal speeds towards...
Humans had not been the first species to discover the mass relays and would not be the last. The exact details of each species' transitions to space-flight varied wildly, but between them all two small things remained the same: each had discovered FTL travel before they found their first relay, and each had attempted, at various times, to use the relays while travelling faster-than-light. Each attempt, manned or unmanned, by each race had resulted in catastrophic failure. The relays were never harmed, but science vessels watching the experiments certainly had, the debris from the failed ships travelling at speeds greater than most starships could accelerate their munitions. Every now an then, someone would try anyway – with modified shield resonances, with modified drive cores, or very small one-man ships – and the disaster afterwards would make the news on the Citadel's slower news days.
Arakaki was turning the Passchendaele and firing its FTL engine in the opposite direction before the words were half out of his mouth. "Keep firing, and make sure Cameron and-"
"They're high-tailing it, Commander," she interrupted, hands flying across the control panels as she brought the frigate from safe, understandable relativistic speeds to something approaching the critical limit of the drive core and exceeding the recommended speed for travel in a populated system. "So's the Normandy – the pilot's pulled open an emergency comm channel and telling anything within an AU of the relay to get out within five minutes if they value their lives – not, of course, that anyone in the Terminus is stupid enough to get within a ten light-minutes of a malfunctioning relay. No, it's only our sorry asses out here. Not for long, though: we'll be halfway to Omega when that ship blows."
Rather hoping that was far enough, Alenko went to a series of holo-controls on the side wall and pulled up a visual.
"If you want to see something blow up, Commander, a holovid's going to give you better fireworks than what we'll be able to see from here."
The Reaper ship was hardly visible next to the mass relay, it was true. But he didn't think it would just be the ship that was exploding, and told the pilot this.
"Holmes was right, sir. All through flight school, they told us about all the ships that tried to go FTL through relays; showed us some graphic vids of a science vessel that tried once – not something you want to see right after mess, I assure you. And the mass relays always come out without a scratch. It's like lobbing popcorn to stop a volcano – impossible and stupid."
With conviction, "Shepherd has a way of making the impossible happen."
"Who the hell is this 'Shepherd' you keep on talking about?"
"The first human Spectre." Two minutes had gone by. Even the relay was starting to get small on the veiwscreen.
"The only human Spectre died right after the Siege, sir." A tone was slipping into her voice that he recognized as the one people took when they found out he was a biotic and thought he was liable to start rampaging through the streets at the slightest provocation. It didn't happen as much now that biotics were becoming more common and better understood, but it still happened. "Remember? Her funeral was all over the news vids for a while."
"I remember, Lieutenant." It was a state funeral, where they awarded her a second Star of Terra, though there was no one to present it to – all her family had been killed on Mindoir and not even an ex-spouse of a long-dead cousin could be shaken from the woodwork; they'd ended up presenting it to Anderson, who, in his speech, said he considered her the daughter he never had. Kaidan remembered wondering at the time if Shepherd had known this and how pleased it might've made her, - and made many long, grand speeches on her heroism at this, her outstanding service at that. They'd even promoted her – posthumously – and you could tell the handful of speakers who'd actually known her because they called her, simply, 'Commander Shepherd,' rather than 'The Saviour of the Citadel' or 'Hero of Elysium' or, as in the case of a pair of young granthi who'd preformed the actual funeral, 'Helene Sirivedya Kaur, Fille de Mindoir.' The whole thing had seemed little more than an elaborate charade and, afterwards, sitting in Anderson's apartment on the Praesidium, had told the newly-named Councillor so; he'd responded by reminiscing late into the Citadel night about the two years he and Shepherd had served together on the São Paulo. "I was there."
"I served with Commander Shepherd. I was with her when our ship was attacked over Alchera. I survived. She didn't."
The pilot didn't say anything for a long moment, and he couldn't decide, watching the Omega 4 relay shrink in the veiwscreen, if it was because she hadn't realized he was such a "decorated war hero" or some other such nonsense, rather than someone from Internal Affairs or the like, which had been the popular idea aboard the Passchendaele when he arrived, or because she thought he'd lost it and was about to unleash biotically-powered death on her and the rest of the crew. He didn't know which was better, though Arakaki was easily a decade his junior and, therefore, probably didn't remember the stretch of two or three years right after BAaT ended when a number of L2s (and, in one spectacular instance, one of the last L1s) had lost it and killed quite a number of people in the process; hopefully, this would mean she thought the former, though thinking about this fact made him feel quite tired. A part of his mind appended the thought, like how Shepherd must have felt every time someone mentioned Mindoir or the Blitz, but he quickly shook that away.
Slowly, "If she didn't survive, sir..." but her words quickly trailed off, as if afraid that speaking them would cause him to loose it, whatever else she might've thought.
"They brought her back."
"But that's impossible!"
Watching the Omega 4 Relay start to collapse in upon itself, he heard himself say rather solemnly, "The impossible is her speciality," and ask to have her set up a rendezvous with the Normandy before the task force returned to Council space.
The First Movement: A Nessuna Cosa