The Widow Overture
The Council Theme
"Shit. Loose a bet?"
"You could say that."
Jack snorted and leaned against the airlock doors. "Damn. And here I thought you were supposed to be just another perfect little can-do-no-wrong goody-two-shoes like Shelia the Ice-Bitch. I was kinda counting on that as backup, in case C-Sec got smarter since the last time you dragged us to the Citadel, 'cause I meant what I said: they try sending me back to Purgatory after our little trip to Hell-and-back, they've got another thing coming to them...
"But whatever. What you loose at to force you into this getup, 'cause it's gotta be a good story."
Shepherd shrugged and picked at the hem of the white kurti. She was running with the theory that, if she didn't think about it, she could pretend it wasn't annoying her. "If only there was a story. I'm meeting with Anderson and the rest the Council as soon as we dock, and he's made it clear that, until they figure out whether to give us medals or lock us up, I have to make it clear I was acting as a private citizen – the upshot of which means that," since her armour was rather obviously N7 (and therefore Alliance military) and what little else she had was emblazoned with Cerberus' white-and-gold insignia, "it was either this or borrow something from Miranda."
The other woman winced. Loudly. "Before, in a fight, I wasn't sure if I could take you. But seeing you now, in a dress, it's making me think I defiantly can."
"You think so, do you?"
"Of course. The mere fact you own anything so girly means you can't be half as tough as you look, and you never looked that bad-ass to begin with. Well, 'cept when you head-butted that Krogan. That was pretty hard core."
"In my defence, this was Chambers' doing." For which she must think up suitable retribution. "Apparently, Cerberus dredged up every vid of me they could find when they were rebuilding me. They must've found some old ones, since I've not worn a churidar kameez since Mindoir. It got put in my personnel file and Chambers, for some reason or another, decided that I might enjoy having an ethnic costume I've not worn in fifteen years as one of the few personal items I've managed to acquire since being dead. My only guess is I must have seriously screwed her over in a past life, as I can't think of anything I could've done to her deserve this."
"She's gotta be doing Red Sand or Black Lotus or something to be so God-damn happy all the time," Jack agreed. "Still think I could take you, though."
"What do you mean, only 'maybe'? Take away that shotgun I know you got hidden on you, and it'd take four years for Princess to rebuild you, guaranteed."
Growing irritated, "What kinda stupid answer is that, 'maybe'? You honestly think you could take me?"
A faint corona started to flicker around Jack, and Shepherd could feel the slight shift of gravitational pull that came with. Still, knowing this, she couldn't help but smirk as she answered, "Maybe."
She felt the dark energy flex right before Jack released it, and that gave her just the time she needed to duck as the convict sent a gravitational distortion her way. It was aimed high, near where Shepherd's head had been, and ripped off the bronze plaque listing that listed the name and make of the starship instead, sending it flying towards Jack at enough speed where the woman had to consciously change the direction of the projectile before it flew into her with enough inertia to, at the very least, make the rest of her day unpleasant. All this took just a moment, but that was all Shepherd needed. She wasn't an assassin or even a skilled hand-to-hand fighter, but she didn't need to be, not for this, and with Jack already backed against one wall of the narrow passageway, it was all Shepherd needed to do to stay down long enough to avoid the attack and come up again – and pull the kukri knife from its hidden sheath, - bringing the edge of her blade to bear against Jack's throat, not even needing to be circumspect about it. A second passed, then two, before Jack allowed her corona to sputter out. "You keep a knife on you – I'll have to remember that for next time."
"You do that." Shepherd placed the kukri back into its sheath in the small of her back and retook her own position, standing at the airlock, waiting for Joker to go through the final docking procedures so she could get off this ship (which, while she loved the Normandy, was driving her stir-crazy, even it meant having to deal with the political b.s. she'd rather hoped dying would rid her of, as it had mission reports and most other paperwork) and get her meeting with Anderson over and done with (and not simply because being in churidar kameez made her feel all of sixteen years old again, which was not the sort of thing one generally wanted when going to meet the Council that effectively presided over half the settled galaxy).
"Yeah. And you see about getting that stick surgically removed from your ass."
"I've no idea what you mean."
"We just saved the whole God-damn universe and you told The Illusive Man to screw himself in a way that nobody's lived to tell about. And, seeing as how you stop to help every fucker we stumble across, I figure you should be rolling in the warm fuzzies right about now, even in that stupid dress. Instead, you look like you were the one who got screwed over. So either you're on the down of a major Bliss high, or... Well, I'm not gonna shit you, I really don't care what's going on , only that it looks like you need a night of hard alcohol – which I want in on."
"In on what?" The clicking of her heels against the metal flooring gave Miranda away even before she'd traversed the length of the (thankfully empty) terminal bays. Thank God. Miranda showing up had to mean that the docking procedures were nearly finished and she would be land-side – or close enough – soon.
"You're not invited, Princess, so shove off."
Ignoring Jack's outburst, Shepherd turned to Miranda. "You have the files I asked for?"
"Yes – not that they'll do much good. The Illusive Man would have known the moment we severed ties with Cerberus that you'd turn over any information you had to the Alliance. He'll have moved his resources by now, making everything we have on him next to worthless."
"The Illusive Man doesn't know about EDI's safeguards being removed; that alone might give us the advantage. Even if it doesn't, it makes for one hell of a reconciliation gesture."
"Shepherd, you're a Spectre. However they feel about your actions, the Council themselves gave you leeway to pursue them in your own manner. If that means having worked for-"
"-worked with," Miranda continued in a way that in other, 'lesser' creatures would have been accompanied by an eye-roll, "Cerberus, so be it. You accomplished your mission. They cannot fault you for that."
The problem with Miranda, Shepherd had discovered, was that she was idealist. Considered with her perfection in nearly every other department, it made her a very hard person to like. Especially when she chose go around dressed, well, like she was. As petty as it was, it made Shepherd overly fond of upsetting Miranda, for all she knew that the woman had striven to be more than her father had designed her to be. "That they can and will, Miranda."
Wisely, in Shepherd's opinion, Miranda dropped the matter. Less wisely, she picked up another. "I was under the impression you didn't like to be reminded of your childhood," gesturing at the churidar kameez.
As always, it took a moment for Shepherd to recall that this conversation was not one she'd had with the Cerberus operative, but something Miranda had read somewhere in the organization's rather lengthy (and troubling) dossier on her. "Blame your psychologist."
"I was only placed in charge of rebuilding you, Commander. The reconstruction and crewing of this vessel was tasked to another cell."
Mentally, Shepherd started to recite the words, "Un, deux, trois," and took a breath. She thought she could hear the airlock cycling, a sure sign docking was almost complete. "Garrus and Tali I know don't want to leave their repairs, but I had thought some of the others were coming along too."
"Me?" Jack snorted. "I'm finding the closest bar; you can have your shitty tea party."
Miranda didn't even pretend not to look relieved. "I believe Justicar Samara is already engaged in finding transport Thessia, while Professor Solus is running simulations in his lab that he does not wish to leave. As for the others, I do not know."
There was no way in hell that Shepherd was stepping foot into the Citadel Tower with only Miranda as backup in case things went wrong. Not that she expected them to, but she hadn't made it this far in life – in either life – by expecting only the expected. While it probably was best that Jack and Samara – and, for that matter, Grunt – didn't come, that still left Thane and... "EDI? Do you mind asking Legion if he feels like stretching his legs?"
"...leaving aside the matter of how obtained your information, Commander," the Turian Councillor stated, judiciously ignoring the fact that their human fellow freely admitted to receiving the same information from the same source, "the fact remains that it was not merely three Alliance vessels you... appropriated for your reconnaissance and retrieval mission, but two C-Sec cruisers that were supposed to be on route to Taetrus. Not only did you potentially endanger a heavily populated, strategic Turian colony, you did so in effort to aide and abet a dangerous human terrorist group parsecs from even the vaguest fringes of Council space."
After speaking with Shepherd over Imorkan, Kaidan had ordered the Heraclea and Okinawa to escort the damaged Normandy back to the Citadel while he took the Passchendaele and the Turian cruisers in question ahead to inform the Council of what had happened, naively thinking that it would be better to inform them in ahead of time of the destruction of the Omega 4 Relay – which even they admitted was about as far out of their jurisdiction as it was possible to get before hitting dark space – than wait for them to find out from Shepherd. In the long run, it probably would be, as they seemed to think Shepherd had enough to answer for without the added stigma of being the first person in galactic history to damage, let alone destroy, a mass relay. Being the only available target for their wrath, they'd spent the last six hours declaring him just that. Considering that the Passchendaele had docked six-and-a-half ago, Kaidan believed that this – the facile idea that he alone was to blame for the destruction of the relay – was the fastest thing the three alien members of the Council had agreed upon in the last two years.
The Council wasn't made up of idiots, though. Idiots did not make it so far in politics, and, in the case of the Asari, Trevos, for so long. They knew full well that if, in the nearly three thousand years of space-faring, not one mass relay had ever been damaged, that one human couldn't manage it, even if they decided to make him out as yet another deranged L2. There hadn't been one of those in a while; then again, there weren't all that many L2s in service any more. But, however the Council chose to spin it, pinning the Omega 4 incident on a human would serve all their purposes: the existence of Reapers could be denied yet again, humanity could be knocked down a few pegs in galactic reckoning, and things could go on as they had been.
Kaidan would be the first that things had not, in fact, been going on as well as the Council would have liked the rest of the galaxy to believe. The Siege had decimated the various forces stationed at the Citadel at the time and, while the Turians, Asari, and even the Salarians were far better equipped to rebuild than the Alliance had been, it had been Alliance ships securing the Serpent Nebula during the reconstruction and human soldiers on the news-vids. Even those who thought the worst of humans couldn't deny that they had been the ones to save the Council when the Council itself could not, and no politician liked to be thought of as weak.
He had not, however, done all of this to become their scapegoat. "Actually, Councillors," he interrupted, thinking as he did that he'd been standing at attention for so long blood had ceased to make it to his brain, "I believe I went to aide a fellow solider – not to mention Spectre – returning from a dangerous and potentially deadly assignment. I consider sending a retrieval team capable of providing basic medical care and ship repairs in such a situation the very least that the Council could have done."
"And yet," the Salarian points out – Petra, he thinks the Councillor's name is, or maybe Petri; the news-vids had been saying for some time now that he would retire soon because of his age, but they'd been saying that for the last three years - "the Council chose not to send one."
"Which is why, Councillor, I did so."
"Do not be ridiculous, Commander Alenko. We know that you could not have ordered the Passchendaele, let alone the Turian cruisers, to the Sahrabarik system by yourself. All that we need from you now is the name of the officer who..."
Trevos, who had been speaking, trailed off as another figure stepped onto the petitioner's platform and, without waiting for formalities, started speaking. "I see you started without me." It took Kaidan a moment longer than it should have to realize it was Shepherd, and the Councillors seemed to be having the same problem. She looked very different outside of her armour – or, at least, in whatever she was wearing, which wasn't like anything he'd seen since, oh, he'd lived in Johor Bahru, and was perhaps the last thing he might have imagined his former CO would willingly wear. Though, judging by her expression (and the muttered, "again," he could just make out, though she'd moved to stand about two feet in front and slightly to the right of him) it might not have been so willing – and it surprised him that she'd come onto the Citadel without it. Shepherd – or, at least, the Shepherd he'd known – normally wouldn't have left her ship without it. A quick look back showed that at least two of her new crew had come with her, but that didn't- and he must have the start of a migraine coming on, because he could have sworn that her third companion was a Geth wearing N7 armour.
He looked back again. The Cerberus agent who'd been on Horizon saw his glance and followed it, giving him a small shrug of the shoulders as if to say, "Shepherd's idea." Which, if it was, would explain a lot of things. The other, a Drell, seemed to be studying the chamber's architecture, uninterested in the goings-on of the people inside it.
"You destroyed a mass relay, Shepherd; we have had much to discuss."
Slipping into parade stance, she looked across the room at her accuser. "The destruction of the Omega 4 Relay was necessary. It served as a gateway to the Reaper nursery near the galactic core. Had it remained open, the Collectors would have used it to harvest more humans to build a new generation of Reapers."
"Ah, yes, the Reapers. We had assumed that fantasy of yours had something to do with this."
Kaidan felt his fists clench at his side. After all the proof-
"After all the proof I've given you, you still don't believe me, Velarn? How else do you explain the near complete and instantaneous destruction of an entire galactic empire? Haven't you sent teams to Ilos, studied its data banks; spoken with the Prothean VI there? Hasn't everything I've ever told this Council, from Saren's betrayal to the existence of the Conduit – which I am disturbed to find still stands on the Praesidium – been true? You saw Sovereign. You saw what it did to this station, which has lasted for millennia unscathed, in a matter of hours. What more do you need? Another Reaper knocking on your doorstep? That's what you're going to get if you don't let me get on with my job and stop these things before they find another way to commit their genocide."
"All the proof I have seen, human," Velarn's mandibles flared dangerously, "are your theories – theories that have not been substantiated."
"Teams sent to Ilos have been unable to activate the VI you claim to have spoken to, and nearly all the information in the data banks is corrupted beyond our ability to salvage," explained the Salarian, "where the data banks themselves are not broken, corroded, or destroyed."
"As for Sovereign," Trevos continued patiently, "it has been determined to have been nothing more than an Geth flagship – hardly an ancient or highly-advanced AI."
"Do you honestly think that if the Geth had that kind of technology that they'd be content to lurk behind the Perseus Veil?"
"The Geth are machines; we cannot expect to understand their motivations-"
"Machines they may be," the Commander interrupted, and, by the looks on the alien Councillors faces, it may have been the first time anyone had done so in a long, long time, "but they are intelligent-"
"So now you've added synthetic rights to your mad crusade-"
"What I am trying to say," she said with a note of forced restrain in her voice, half-turning to point at the Geth behind her, "is that this machine you speak of may be a machine, but it's motivations are no different for coming from a silicon-based mind than a carbon one. If you listen to this Geth – this machine – it will not only tell you how his race does not have the technology required to build a ship such as Sovereign, but how, even if they did, they would not wish to do so."
Waving aside the matter, "This robot is no more than another of your deceptions, a tool designed to try to fool this Council into believing your mad story, just as you are no more than a tool for Cerberus."
"I," she said icily, and Kaidan, who'd remained in his place on the platform, found himself unconsciously taking a step back, "am no one's tool. Not yours, and certainly not Cerberus'." She paused, taking a deep breath, and continued more evenly, "You may not have chosen to see the Reaper threat, but Cerberus did, and I took what aide they would give me. It is a Spectre's prerogative to make use of any resources that may come her way, and, when you, the Council, failed to heed my warnings, that is what I did and, when Cerberus wanted more than I was willing to provide in exchange, I severed ties.
"Not once have I endorsed their ideals – as you would think would be more than evident by the fact that the majority of my ground team is non-human, and the fact that you yourselves were not five minutes ago naming me a proponent of synthetic rights. If you need more proof than that, my XO, Miranda Lawson, is willing to provide you with a copy of all the data we have on Cerberus' actions, as well as all the data we have collected since entering the Omega 4 Relay."
"The fact," Velarn said testily, "is that you were the one to severe your ties with the Council in exchange for whatever 'aide' this terrorist group may have provided you."
Kaidan could see Shepherd's hand start to move towards where – had she been wearing armour – her shotgun would have been; he took a step forward, to stop her if necessary, but she paused mid-action and, closing her eyes, whispered something he couldn't quite catch under her breath as Anderson, at last, spoke up. "Holding Shepherd responsible for her death is not only absurd, but infantile."
"What is absurd, Councillor, is expecting us to believe that this terrorist cell actually succeeded in waking the dead. The only explanation is either Shepherd faked her death two years ago or that she is some sort of clone, and the sight of your protégée has blinded you to reason."
"As you are blinded about the truth of the Reapers by your dislike?" Anderson shot back.
"There is no proof-"
"There is plenty of proof – or do you not believe your own men, Velarn, or your the word and sensor readings of three separate Alliance vessels?"
Shepherd opened her eyes again and focused on the Turian Councillor, the set of her shoulders telling him that she'd resigned herself to something, something she most likely didn't want to have to do. Even after two years, that too was exactly the same. Everything was, minus a few scars. "There are two ways we can do this, Councillor: either you admit to what's in front of your eyes and allow me to try to stop the Reapers, or you stay blind and I go about my mission by any means necessary."
"Yes, Councillor," she said calmly, "it is a threat. Because, you see, staying blind will only make things worse for you. Un," she raised her trigger finger, "I stopped Saren, which makes me some kind of hero to the people who rather think you screwed them over by not noticing he was handing over all organic life – to whomever you like, for the moment – sooner. Deux," she raised a second finger, "I went through the Omega 4 Relay and lived to tell the tale, which just makes me that much bigger of a figure in people's eyes. Trois, I destroyed a young human-Reaper hybrid in the making, not to mention, quatre, taking out Sovereign before that, saving you and this station in the process. Cinq," she stuck out her thumb, "I am the only living person to ever have used the Prothean beacons, let alone, six, spoken with an actual Prothean," her fist closed and turned sideways, so only her thumb was held up. "Add this to, sept, the fact that I was, in fact, dead for two years and now, quite clearly, am not, and I can see a whole bunch of reasons why people would want to listen to what I have to say – as illustrated by," two more fingers, "huit, the reporter and, neuf, the C-Sec officials I rather publicly spoke to on my way to this meeting about points deux, cinq et sept, all of which is probably already hitting the news-vids and, if we are lucky, the extranet – and I can be very persuasive when I want to be. Believe me, when it comes to the Reapers and the threat of galactic extinction, I have strong feelings on the matter. And now for dix – the coup de grâce: – if you try silence or detain me on points un à sept – or anyone else who believes me, I happen to know quite a few people who might take offence to such a thing and might lay the blame – personally – at the Council's feet.
"So, the way I see it, Councillors, you have a lot of work to do, deciding how best to use the information Miss Lawson," she dropped her hand, making a vague motion in the process towards her human companion, "is now sending you. I'll leave you to it."
Turning heel, Shepherd's attempt at a dramatic exit was almost ruined as, clearly, she'd not been expecting Kaidan to be still be standing there. She recovered quickly as he stepped out of her way and continued straight down the walkway towards the elevators, collecting her team on the go.
Kaidan looked from her retreated form, to the Council, than back to Shepherd. Knowing this, atop the rest of his recent actions, might well cost him his job, he paused just long enough to send a parting nod in Anderson's direction, and hurried after the two women, the Drell, and their Geth companion, unable to find a worthwhile reason to stay.
The Widow Overture: Rallentando