Warnings: Violence, some discussions of slavery, prostitution, and other facts of life on Omega
Summary: Kaidan teams up with a mysterious Alliance operative to continue the fight against the Reapers, but may have bitten off more than he can chew. Especially when that agent is Miranda and the Reapers have a plan of their own.
Prologue: The Citadel
Shepard had wanted to break every bone in Khalisah al-Jilani's face. I remembered because it was the last thing we talked about before Virmire and everything went to hell. I hadn't believed her. She'd been so unfailingly polite, even as she made al-Jilani look like a raving xenophobe. I'm a pretty calm guy, and I don't think even I could have pulled it off. I thought Shepard had some secret reserve of unflappability. I never would have guessed that she was barely restraining herself from punching a reporter on galactic television.
Shows what I know.
"Lieutenant Alenko? Excuse me, Lieutenant Alenko? Might I have a moment of your time?" The camera drone hovered beside her, bathing the walls of Zakera Ward in a harsh light. Shit. We were on the air. If I walked away, she'd edit the footage to turn me into a walking PR nightmare for the Alliance. I didn't mind looking bad, but a lot of people didn't like humanity very much right then. It wasn't undeserved, but I wasn't going to make it worse. Figured I owed Shepard that much.
I stopped and turned toward her. Clasped my hands behind my back and stood up straighter. The light was hot and almost blinding, like what police used in the old vids. My mouth was dry. "What can I do for you, Ms. al-Jilani?"
"He remembers my name. How charming." Her voice changed to something brisker and more businesslike. "I wanted to get your reaction to the Alliance officially declaring Commander Shepard to have been killed in action."
I relaxed a little. All she wanted was the usual pleasantries. I could give her those. I'd been spewing them for the last six months. "It was an honor to serve under the commander. The Alliance lost the best soldier I've ever known. The galaxy lost a committed Spectre. I hope all of us who knew her can find some closure." I was doing better. I didn't even gag on the words.
There was a calculating, malevolent glint in her eye that I didn't like. I was wrong. The pleasantries weren't going to be enough. "Some would say she wasn't a committed Spectre and that she betrayed the Council when she told the Fifth Fleet not to save the Destiny Ascension. That she deliberately engineered a situation where the old Council would be destroyed and humanity could seize power."
My teeth clenched. It wasn't the first time I'd heard that, but it still hurt. I took a deep breath. Getting angry wouldn't help anything. "Nobody was more committed to improving relations between humanity and the Council races than Shepard. If Sovereign hadn't been destroyed, the entire Citadel would have been lost. Shepard made a call."
"But you can't deny her actions have led to increased human-alien tension. There are those who say that her claims of a hereto unknown alien species known as 'Reapers' was merely a deluded attempt to create a threat that would force the other races to rally behind humanity."
I could feel a dull ache behind my eyes: my body's way of telling me to get out of there unless I wanted to be battling migraines for the rest of the day. But I couldn't lie either. Not when the politicians were busy forgetting what she did for them. "I saw what that thing did. Entire wards completely leveled. And Sovereign's silhouette doesn't match any other geth designs."
"But you weren't there, were you, Lieutenant? At the time that Shepard was supposedly communicating with this 'Sovereign' you were assisting a detachment of STG commandos. You held off geth reinforcements while Shepard fought Saren." She was speaking too quickly for me to get a word in edgewise, and I realized too late that ignoring her would've been better than what was coming. "I don't believe any of our viewers would think it was an exaggeration to say that you're taking the commander's words on faith. Does that have anything to do with your rumored romantic relationship with her? A relationship that occurred in flagrant violation of Alliance anti-fraternization regulations?"
"That's quite enough, Ms. Al-Jilani." The new voice was sharp and a little cold, the voice of someone who was accustomed to giving orders and having them followed without question. Al-Jilani and I both turned. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. I'm pretty sure that if Williams had been alive, she would've told me to put my tongue back in my mouth, too.
It wasn't every day that you saw a supermodel, even on the Citadel. The woman was wearing a dark business suit, but it seemed to accentuate her curves rather than hide them. Her hair was thick and dark, with a few strands falling in front of her face so artfully that it had to be deliberate. What struck me most were the eyes. Naturally blue eyes were all but extinct, and it was hard to pull off that mix of blue and gray even with tinting. I wondered how much it had cost her.
"Lieutenant Alenko has an urgent meeting to attend. Council business." And with that, she pulled me away from al-Jilani. I could see al-Jilani barely suppressing a smile. A gorgeous woman interrupting her interview? That was gold to people like her. I'd probably be engaged in a torrid affair with the mystery woman within twenty-four hours.
"So, is there really a meeting or are you just a good Samaritan?" I asked her when we were out of earshot. A gorgeous woman just happened to show up right when I needed rescuing from a reporter? My bullshit detector was going off.
She gave me a half-smile. She was enjoying knowing more than I did. "Oh, there's a meeting. Councilor Udina and Admiral Anderson want to speak with you. I'll let them tell you more."
"Can't you tell me?"
She shook her head. "Too risky. Every square centimeter of the wards is bugged. C-Sec can't actually catch anti-Council dissidents, but they've got to look like they're doing something."
I nodded. There was always the possibility that this was an elaborate set up, but I didn't think so. Whatever else you wanted to say about the new C-Sec—and I could say a lot of things—they were keeping petty crime under control. And, worse case scenario, I can do a pretty good job of taking care of myself. I was still running around blind."Can I get a name? ID would be great."
She sighed and pulled something from her pocket. The promised ID. Miranda Donovan. Alliance Intelligence Agency. Even her official picture looked good. I didn't know whether to relax or tense further. I was 98% sure that she was who she claimed to be. It was damn hard to fake official ID, and faking being AIA was a good way to end up dead. On the other hand, I wasn't really sure I wanted to know what Anderson and Udina wanted me for if AIA was involved. Most of what they did was vanilla analysis, but I'd heard rumors of presidents assassinated, civil wars started, and various other things that are supposed to be the province of the STG. Something told me I hadn't attracted the attention of the analysis branch.
"Satisfied?" she asked.
A mysterious, if stunning, woman who was a member of the closest thing we had to the STG was taking me to an impromptu meeting with the head of the Citadel Council. "I don't know if 'satisfied' is quite the word I'd be using, Agent Donovan."
She laughed a little at that, but the sound was harsh, like she wasn't used to doing it. "You're nervous. Good. Keeps you on your toes." She placed the ID back in her pocket. "You can call me Miranda." She looked at me out of the corner of her eye. "You would've been better off ignoring that reporter to begin with. Her kind is even less interested in the truth than most journalists and that's saying something."
"I, ah, figured that out a minute too late."
Miranda didn't respond. There was nothing left for me to do but enjoy the scenery, if you could call it enjoying. Zakera Ward had escaped major damage, but the rebuilding committee hadn't been able to resist a few changes. Gleaming new Avina and public extranet software. It was easier to install the monitoring software on the new machines. They said it was to help catch geth sympathizers, but you heard things, you know? There were a lot more C-Sec cops around than the first time I visited the Citadel. Mostly human. I counted a dozen uniformed officers on the way to the elevators, along with who knew how many plainclothes cops. Zakera Ward was heavily multicultural. It would've been smarter to hire turian and asari to feel more of the vacancies. I'd told Anderson as much, but Udina wanted to make a statement.
Not that anybody was doing anything. There'd been three riots since Shepard's death, but mostly people were just scared and angry. It'd boil over someday. We couldn't run the galaxy by ourselves, not forever. And that was if the Reapers didn't kill us first. We should have been building bridges not... whatever the hell we were doing. Before Shepard died, Anderson had talked about reforming the Council with a seat for every Citadel race. Then Shepard died, Udina got the Council seat, and nobody except for war heroes like me were allowed to say we believed in Reapers.
We stepped into the elevator. Something must have shown on my face because Miranda said, "Somehow I doubt this is quite how Commander Shepard planned for things to go. I don't mean the dying. If it had been up to her, we'd all be building a fleet to combat the Reapers, not playing petty power games. The destruction of the old Council gave us a unique opportunity to act, and we're squandering it." She looked at me. Her eyes burned with something that made her look more beautiful and scary as hell. At least I wasn't the only person pissed off about how things were going. "I sincerely hope that's about to change."
The Citadel Tower was almost unchanged. I guessed the new Council wanted some continuity with the old one. The same waterfall in the center. The same plants in the ersatz garden. Secretaries and a few low-level diplomats milled about in the halls. A few of them recognized me and nodded as we passed. Most of the men (and some of the women) stared at Miranda. I could almost feel her drawing into herself. She didn't smile, just kept her eyes straight ahead as she strode toward Udina's office. I made a mental note to at least try not to ogle her. Wasn't sure how successful I'd be, though.
Udina's office was a lot bigger than his old one at the human embassy. He'd taken the one that had traditionally belonged to the asari councilor. You could practically smell the money and power in the room. I thought I recognized some of the furniture from a special on the homes of the rich and famous. Hell, the chair Udina was sitting in probably cost more than I made in a month. Udina himself hadn't changed much. Unfortunately. Anderson stood at attention beside him. He looked years older than when I'd seen him last, with bags under his eyes and a faintly sick expression. Neither of them were looking at me. They kept their eyes trained on Miranda like she was a cobra that could strike them at any moment.
Anderson crossed the room in three brisk strides and gripped my hand. He might have looked a little worse for wear, but his handshake was as bone crushing as ever. It was all I could do not to wince. "Good to see you, Lieutenant."
My smile was genuine. "Likewise, Admiral." At least I had one friend in the room. Anderson shook Miranda's hand too, though I noticed he didn't linger any longer then was strictly necessary. Udina never took his eyes from her. I felt the skin on the back of my arms prickle. Something about this woman was making both a decorated war hero and a career diplomat uncomfortable.
"Now that we've gotten the pleasantries out of the way, maybe you could tell us what this is about Agent Donovan?" Udina's voice was almost a growl.
"All right." Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but I thought I saw a flicker of anger in her eyes. "Three weeks ago, we intercepted pirate radio chatter mentioning some kind of 'brainwashing device' they'd found on Virmire. Given the planet's connection to Saren and the studies on indoctrination that he performed there, we think it might be Reaper tech."
"There's no such thing as a Reaper!"
"Delude yourself if you must, Councilor." I couldn't believe it. Miranda was talking to Udina like he was a kid who was stubbornly arguing to stay up past his bedtime. I wanted to smile. "Sovereign's mind control capabilities nearly destroyed the galaxy. I've read the reports of Shepard's conversation with the VI on Ilos. Quite frankly, I don't find the alternate explanations of Sovereign's origin convincing. I'd rather prepare for war and be proven wrong than be caught unprepared and doom us all. Vigil spoke of how indoctrination ensured the Protheans downfall. We need to find some way to fight that."
Udina snorted. "You expect me to prepare for a war that existed only in the fevered delusions of a dead woman? That could send the former Council races into revolt. Humanity would lose everything it's gained."
Anderson slammed the edge of Udina's desk with his palm. "I won't let you talk about Shepard like that! I knew her, and I saw how much destruction that one ship caused. Play politics all you want, but it doesn't change the facts."
Miranda crossed her arms. "Listen to your advisor, just this once. Or, if you refuse to see what's right in front of your face, how about this: we sent a team to acquire the device from the pirates. They vanished. Four good men, all loyal to humanity. And we've received reports of a small mercenary band in the general vicinity of the operatives' last known location. They were making hard for Omega. We think they stole the tech and are looking for a buyer. Do you really want to take the chance of batarians or turians getting their hands on something like that?"
Udina stroked his chin. I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. "I suppose not. I'd hate to be blamed for geth technology falling into the wrong hands. Are you sure your intelligence is good?"
Miranda smiled. At least I thought it was supposed to be a smile. She looked more like a wolf baring its teeth. "Good enough that I was pulled from a very important assignment."
"I couldn't spare more than one or two men."
"One's enough." She turned to me. "How would you like to really do something about the Reapers? I want you to accompany me to Omega and help me find this device."
"What? Why me?" My head was spinning a little. I'd spent months walking the line between lying through my teeth and avoiding a court-martial because I believed in the Reapers. Now, the Alliance wanted me to investigate one. It was enough to make my head swim a little. "I never even saw Sovereign up close."
The smile turned genuine. I felt my heart rate double. Two thousand years ago, men would have fought wars for that smile. "I've read your file. Quite an impressive service record. More importantly, you have a personal stake in this." She touched my arm. "Shepard's gone, but somebody has to keep fighting. Don't you think she would have wanted it to be you?"
Yes. She would have. And Shepard had a way of making you do what she wanted. Even from beyond the grave. "I'm in."