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Well, well, not too much to say here. Solidly-written all the way, the scenes gel nicely and it all reads as smoothly as you like. The ...


Well, this chapter certainly lived up to its name! Some stunning developments here, delivered one after another in short order, with so...


Another great piece of work, filled with some intriguing elements. The dream sequence was suitably disturbing and intense, with just th...


And as the new year begins, I kick it off in just the right fashion - by plunging into one of the best ME fics around. Right away, I'm ...


An interesting take on the Blitz. I must admit, the way the games spoke of Elysium they made it sound like a one-man (or woman) Alamo, ...


You know, a few months ago I never would've thought I'd say this, but I have to say now that reading James Vega is simply a joy. You've...

The boy also reads! I try to offer support and critical advice to fellow writers whenever I can (and yet not as often as I would like...). If you would really like an unbiased and honest opinion on your work, please don't hesitate to send me a note. If I have the time I'll be more than happy to help!

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'Sir, I strongly urge you to reconsider,' Chellick said, his even tone masking his increasing exasperation as he glared at Executor Pallin’s projection.

His small office overlooked the rest of the JSTF command centre, though it was secluded enough to afford the privacy Chellick needed for his more confidential communications. He was glad of it as he stood rigidly in front of Pallin, the image shimmering as it hung in the air.

'What you're urging me to do is postpone this summit,’ the executor replied, ‘A summit months in the planning and one that could be instrumental to the territorial makeup of the galaxy, and all for little more than guesswork on your part.’

Stiff with irritation, Chellick lowered his head and tried not to let his temper get the better of him. ‘We have one dead terrorist and confirmation of a suspect device planted in Citadel Tower. Surely that goes beyond mere guesswork?’

Pallin’s gravelled voice was given a synthesised edge by the terminal's speakers but Chellick suspected the response would have been no less robotic had he been there in person, ‘You’re assuming what the asari told you was accurate. She was obviously scared, afraid for her life and those maintenance tunnels are always dark. Who's to say what she did or didn’t see?’

‘That’s exactly why we need to postpone the talks,’ Chellick argued, ‘Until we know exactly what Crixus planted, we can’t leave anything to chance.’

Pallin’s tone was grim. 'You know I can't do that, Chellick. I've been given strict instructions not to let anything disrupt these talks unless absolutely necessary, unless there’s not even a shred of doubt in my mind. To do so would be to invite criticism, of C-Sec and of you. The Joint Security Task Force was formed to neutralise these situations before they can cause any damage. That damage includes the cancellation of Council hearings that could change the face of galactic politics. If we evacuate the Tower now, people will ask why JSTF is being funded to do what C-Sec can do on its own.'

'You know as well as I do that if Enforcement or Investigation had handled this, the local district captains would still be arguing over who has clearance to enter the Tower, let alone put a stop to Crixus,' Chellick bit back, unable to stop his voice from rising, 'Even now, they’d be sitting on their thumbs, wading through red tape while some extremist plotted to blow the Council sky-high!'

'An exaggeration,' Pallin said, cutting him off, 'I read your report. Crixus Nantia was a soldier, not a mass murderer. I don't believe the device he planted was truly a bomb, nor do I believe the Forgotten Legion would carry out such an indiscriminate act of violence. It wouldn't suit their goals and would only harm their claims of legitimacy in turian political circles. If the threat does exist it's likely to be a fake, something to simply scare us into calling off the summit.'

Chellick closed his eyes. He could not believe what he was hearing and as the reality of Pallin's denial sank in he spoke again, the air hissing from his nostrils as he struggled to remain composed, 'We have an eye witness, one who saw Crixus plant what she believed to be an explosive device. From the description she gave at the time, her judgement sounded credible, certainly credible enough to warrant our immediate attention. Not to mention that if it hadn't been for our agents on the ground then Crixus would have killed her. That goes far beyond simple scare-tactics. Sir, we can't just turn a blind eye to this!'

'You have a witness who was terrified beyond any rational thought, Chellick,' Pallin replied dourly, 'Besides, I'Layna Naris works directly for the asari councillor as an assistant, a damned secretary. I don't think her opinion on what constitutes an explosive device holds much water. Keep that in mind before you're tempted to rush out on any wild goose chases.'

Swallowing his resentment, Chellick ran the arguments through his mind. He tried to think of something that could turn the executor to his side, to make him see how real the danger was.

In return, Pallin gave him a stern glare and ceased all movement, as if to enforce his words through the simple act of stillness.

'I'm not here to second guess you, Chellick, nor am I here to tell you how to run your team. I understand that you believe there is a serious threat to the Council but you have to look at this from my perspective. You've headed undercover ops long enough to know the score. If you went chasing down every single lead that presented itself, you'd tie yourself in knots following them all. I firmly believe the threat died with Crixus Nantia and unless I receive concrete evidence to the contrary then the summit will go ahead on schedule.'

His final words were heavy with emphasis and Chellick held back a scowl only by the strength of his understanding. The executor answered to the most powerful men and women in galactic politics and he trod a fine line between appeasing those he worked for whilst protecting their lives. One wrong decision would see not only Pallin's job in peril but an investigation that would hurt all they had built in JSTF.

Chellick finally relented, with poorer grace than intended. 'By your word, Sir. If we receive any further intel I'll be sure to let you know immediately.'

He reached down to cut the transmission when Pallin added, 'It goes without saying that if you find the terrorist device, make an assessment based on its destructive potential and time needed to disarm before making your call, but you don't need me to tell you how vital these talks with the Alliance are.' Pallin’s eyes drifted to the side for a moment, almost guiltily. 'If the humans get wind of this then it'll make the Council, and by extension the whole of C-Sec look like a joke. In negotiations like these, every weakness is seized upon and the last thing we need is for humanity's position to get any stronger. This summit is about more than territory or trade rights. It's about sending a message to the Alliance that humanity will not have everything handed to them on a silver platter.'

The remark brought a twitch of distaste to Chellick's features and he nodded slowly. 'Well, we wouldn’t want that, would we, Sir?’ he muttered bitterly, ‘I'll make sure you're informed as and when the situation changes.'

'Good,' Pallin responded distantly as he became lost in his work once again. He said nothing further and waited for Chellick to hang up, his image disappearing with a grainy flicker.

Chellick grimaced angrily. A terrorist had been caught trying to carry out an attack on Citadel Tower itself and the executor had flatly refused to evacuate the area unless the bomb had been found and there was no possibility of disarming it.

Foolish beyond belief, Chellick thought to himself with a snort, By then it’ll be too late.

'Chellick?' a soft voice behind him asked cautiously.

Starting mildly, he glanced over his shoulder to find Lorica standing with her hands laced together. The usually confident woman seemed reluctant to disturb him, her brow knotted in concern.

'What is it, Lorica? Have the Special Response teams reported in?'

'No,' she replied, her disappointment as palpable as his own, 'but Captain T'Rana from Network is here. She's waiting in the briefing room, whenever you have a moment.'

With a weary sigh, Chellick led Lorica out of the office. ‘As if I had nothing better to do, now I have to personally brief other divisions. What happened to ‘streamlining the chain of command’?’

‘Comes with the job, boss,’ Lorica replied, forcing an uneasy smile, ‘I don’t think the executor would want me or even Lina doing it.’

‘Pressures of command, huh? Well, let’s hope Captain T’Rana has grown more receptive over time. I worked under the woman when I was fresh out the academy, a real ball-breaker.’ He paused and a sly smile spread his mandibles. ‘Come to think of it, I outrank her now. Interesting.’

Their path took them down a wide staircase perched on the command centre's highest tier and together they descended into the mass of bustling analysts. They seemed to redouble their efforts as Chellick passed, acutely aware their leader was amongst them.

'We've also had confirmation from Garrus that he and Arlen are en route to Morlan,' Lorica continued, 'We have two Special Response tactical teams standing by to intercept if he bolts, and we also have a gunship fuelled and ready to go if his intel leads to a Legion cell on the Citadel. However you look at it, I'd like to think we're ready for anything.'

'So long as the go-order comes from no one but myself,' Chellick muttered in reply, his mood soured by his exchange with Pallin, 'We can't risk open war in the streets.'

Lorica did not respond immediately and looked away for a moment, a slight gesture Chellick did not miss.

‘All right,’ he said, coming to a stop. Dipping his head, he lowered his voice so only she could hear, ‘How much of what Pallin said did you overhear?’

Lorica’s lips twisted gently, her worry clear to see. ‘Only that he’s refusing to clear Citadel Tower, despite a confirmed threat to the Council. Does that seem stupid to anyone other than me?’

Chellick answered slowly, measuring her reaction as he went on, 'It’s not that simple. The Alliance talks have to go ahead unless the danger is immediate. It might seem risky but a lot's riding on this summit and the consequences of calling it off could be just as destructive as any bomb.'

The asari frowned. It was clear she did not accept the logic any more than Chellick did.

'So they're just going to wait until the last damn minute?' she asked incredulously.

Chellick folded his arms and turned to the main screen. The face of General Krassus and his men still filled it, staring at them all as if silently, ruthlessly willing them to fail.

'That's not even my biggest concern,' he sighed lightly as he watched the screen shift into thick walls of text.

Lorica bristled at the pessimism in his voice. 'What do you mean?'

'Although none of this fits the Legion's profile,' he said carefully, 'we can't rule out that this weapon may be something far deadlier than your typical IED. With Krassus' connections to the turian military, we may be looking at a potential weapon of mass destruction.'

The statement sent an icy chill through Lorica and her breathing slowed to a whisper. Chellick didn't blame her for being frightened. Even a low-yield nuclear device, if detonated in the right place, could do terrible, even irreparable damage to the Citadel. It could destroy vital life support systems, send debris tearing through the wards, even do catastrophic harm to the essential water and power lines that ran through the station. Such damage could even be beyond the keepers' ability to repair.

She did not reply and merely cast her eyes down to the ground, their azure hues glistening.

Chellick cleared his throat gently to bring her back to her senses.

'Of course, I'm probably wrong,' he said, though the reassurance seemed hollow even to him.

Lorica looked up at him, meeting his jade-green gaze.

'I pray to the Goddess you are.'


 ~~~ME-I~~~


The human orderly barred Garrus' path, his arms outstretched protectively as he glowered and issued his warning again, more forcefully than before, 'It's out of the question! You heard the doctor, the patient is not to be disturbed!'

'I'm telling you,' Garrus growled as he jabbed a finger into the man's chest, 'We have to wake her! You don't realise what's at stake here. That asari has information that can save the lives of thousands of people!'

The orderly merely narrowed his eyes and raised his voice, 'And I'm telling you, this woman has suffered severe trauma! The shock of forcibly inducing consciousness at this point could cause anything from amnesia to permanent brain damage! I'm sorry officer, I really am but I won't risk the life of this patient for you or anyone!'

Enraged, Garrus turned sharply and paced impotently around the room. Every moment wasted was one less until the bomb went off and Garrus chafed under the choking pressure of his situation. Nothing mattered to him but the single, immovable desire to find the terrorist device and again he stormed forward, stopping just short of the medic's face.

'What's your name?'

Blinking in confusion, the orderly answered as his arms retreated to his sides, 'Daniel.'

'Listen to me, Daniel,' Garrus said, the intensity of his voice bringing an unsteady shudder from the young man, 'Right now you have the chance to help me save more than one life. I understand you're only doing your job but you need to let me do mine. By stopping me from reviving that woman you're endangering more people than you can imagine, even the Citadel Council itself!'

Hesitation washed over Daniel and his eyes shifted uncertainly, scanning Garrus for a moment before hardening once more.

'I'm sorry,' he said resolutely, 'It's not that I don't believe you but what you're talking about is potentially murdering that woman. The doctor was very clear, the patient needs to rest and any shocks to her system could send her into arrest. Waking her at this point is entirely out of the question.'

Garrus pursed his lips as the moans of distant wounded began to press in and the seconds passed with neither man willing to give any ground.

Finally, the tension seemed to get the better of Daniel and he shook his head. 'I have work to do,' he announced firmly, 'Do us all a favour and stay out of our way. You have my assurances that if Miss Naris wakes up and providing she is stable, you'll be permitted to speak to her. If you insist on waiting here then please don't interrupt us, all right?'

Garrus did not respond and simply stared past him at the unconscious asari. The knowledge that she could end the threat of attack once and for all tore at his nerves and he turned from Daniel to lean back against a nearby wall, folding his arms across his chest.

'You made your point. If it's all the same with you, though, I'd like to keep an eye on her. Just in case she comes to.'

'That won't be necessary,' Daniel replied warily, 'She's being closely monitored by our local VI. If she regains consciousness we will be notified and we can make sure she's in a suitable state to answer your questions.'

Garrus scowled and his gaze seemed to bore through Daniel, causing the young man to shift uncomfortably on the spot. Perhaps it was the baleful expression or his own impatience, but after a brief time Daniel shook his head again and departed, his footsteps lightly echoing through the corridors.

Garrus flexed his fingers, curling them into a fist before releasing them. The action sent a tingle of pain through his hands as the armour gripped his flesh tightly and his mandibles pulsed gently while he seethed and fretted, unable to relax.

It sickened him to know that I'Layna's information was so close at hand, yet could cost her her life. She’d been caught up in events that were too terrible for one such as her, that were far beyond her comprehension. Unfortunately, he also knew from bitter experience that the galaxy offered little in the way of justice. No matter how good or innocent a person was, they were all equally susceptible to the universe's cruelty.

It was during this quiet moment, when the only sound that accompanied him was the dull murmur of the sick and infirm, that the victims of Doctor Saleon forced their way into Garrus' mind.

He still recalled the horror and revulsion as a turian he'd interviewed all those years ago, an employee of Saleon, began to bleed during questioning. He remembered how deep blue fluid began to trickle from the man's side, alerting them to its presence with a faint patter. The turian had panicked and the stream of blood thickened into a river as he’d shot up from his seat, sending a dark flood across the interrogation room floor.

The turian's screams grew into crazed, delirious shrieks as dozens of poorly-sealed incisions opened all over his body and his clothes became slick with gore. Garrus had tried to restrain him but his hands quickly gummed up with blood and he couldn't find a grip. After what seemed an eternity, help arrived and the turian was anaesthetised.

As the limp body was dragged out, Garrus had looked down at his dark, sticky fingers and felt the blood cooling on his lips. The metallic taste was still strong on his tongue, even after all this time.

The experience had been the beginning of a harrowing road for Garrus and he trod it once more in the gentle hush of the clinic. As the memories coursed through his mind he once again turned to I'Layna. He could not, would not let another chance for justice slip from his grasp.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Detective Keller strode confidently over flooring that had been polished until it reflected the rich lighting of the surrounding markets in stark detail.

Her dress had been replaced with a dark blue C-Sec uniform and her flimsy, impractical shoes with a pair of sturdy boots that lent themselves more to her brisk pace.

Arlen walked alongside her, almost struggling to keep up. Around them the market kiosks wrapped around the twisting boulevard that straddled the outer edge of the wards. To their left, the concourse gave way to a balcony and beyond that a vast window that bathed them all in the lurid violet of the Serpent Nebula, the great cloud of gas that encased the Citadel.

Again Arlen marvelled at how different Keller was to the creature that had thrown herself upon him less than an hour ago. He recalled how their transit shuttle had shook as she scrambled into her fresh set of clothes and how her elbow almost caught his cheek as she tied her blonde hair into a high ponytail, which now bounced energetically as she walked.

'So, you already know this Morlan character?' Arlen asked, cringing slightly between breaths. His head had ached mercilessly since the fight with Crixus and every footfall sent a dull throb through his skull.

'Yeah, everybody around here knows Morlan. He's just a guy with too much love of making a quick sale and too little sense to keep track of what he sells. Usually it's only small. An illegal mod here, an amp there, mostly harmless and he usually coughs up the dirt on the more dangerous perps, so we tend to leave him alone for the most part.'

'So he's an informant?' Arlen asked, glancing at her curiously.

Keller chuckled and shook her head. 'No, it's more a case of he either tells us what we need to know or we run him in for shifting illegal goods. That's the kind of guy he is - put a little pressure on him and the little scumbag bends over backwards for you like an asari stripper. Like most salarians when you back them into a corner, come to think of it. Not to say they're all soft,' she quickly added, 'but it's certainly a lot easier than getting a krogan to spill his guts. To even get into the same interrogation room as one of those guys takes a quad, as they'd say.'

The thought of the slim human wrangling a confession from such a beast brought a smile to Arlen's lips and he looked at Keller with a renewed spark of interest.

'You sound like you have a good handle on the different species out here,' he said, 'Better than I have at least, though that isn't saying much. You must've worked on the Citadel for a long time.'

'Too long, some might say,' she answered with a knowing wink, 'Hell, I've lived here since I was two and a half; I had to learn how to get along with others or I wouldn't have made it anywhere near C-Sec.'

'You've been here since you were two and a half?' Arlen gasped, 'Then that would make you?'

Keller smiled and tilted her head coyly. 'A tip for 'ya kid, never talk about a woman's age. It's not our favourite subject.'

Arlen's eyes widened momentarily and his mouth hung open as embarrassment gushed through him. 'I'm sorry, Detective, I didn't realise and I didn't mean to cause offence.'

Laughing, Keller raised her hands. 'Relax, I'm only kidding! Jeez, you've got to be the most apologetic turian I've ever met, and that's saying something.'

'I'm sorry,' Arlen said before bringing a palm to his face, realising he had apologised again.

Keller smiled warmly. 'It's nothing to be ashamed of, you know. C-Sec could always use people with good manners. You'd be surprised how many officers tend to treat the badge as an excuse to be a complete asshole to everyone they meet.'

The turian scratched the back of his neck anxiously. After meeting Harkin earlier that morning, he was inclined to agree.

He opened his mouth to respond but was cut short as Keller interrupted, 'Morlan should be just down these stairs.'

Arlen glanced to his right as the floor gave way to a broad, brightly-lit staircase that descended further into the markets. As he kept an eye out for possible avenues of escape, he became aware of how many people flooded the small area. Turians of many markings mixed with asari while elcor lumbered past, their heavy speech giving the air a deep thrum which clashed with the much higher pitches of salarians.

The stairs were wide and shallow but it did not stop Arlen from pressing to the side instinctively as a pair of krogan pushed their way up, the notches on their dark crests glistening as they moved.

'And there he is,' said Keller with a nod as they cleared the final few steps.

Arlen peered across at a kiosk on the far edge of the area, flanked by turian-run stalls that glowed with strips of red neon. The noise was far greater on this lower floor, he noted, the murmur of business punctuated by a cry of anger as a human was denied a refund by a nearby merchant.

His eyes drifted around Morlan's small store, taking in every detail.

'You think he'll try and run?' he asked.

Keller smiled and turned to him. 'Not a chance. Just follow my lead, listen carefully to what he tells us and if you hear anything strange then press him on it. Don't underestimate him, though. He's a salarian, which means he thinks fast and talks fast. He might be a gutless idiot for one of his kind but he's still a cut above the usual thugs.'

His mouth suddenly dry at the prospect of questioning his first suspect, Arlen followed Keller, desperately trying to push from his mind the knowledge that the lives of the Citadel Council depended on the results.

Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 6
Six months before the events of Mass Effect, a crucial summit is due to be held between the Citadel Council and the human Systems Alliance. On this important day, a young turian named Arlen Kryik is recruited into an elite C-Sec unit known as the Interceptors, a small cadre of agents responsible for hunting wanted fugitives throughout the galaxy.

Partnered with veteran agent Garrus Vakarian as part of the summit's security detail, Arlen quickly becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot to destroy the Council and reignite tensions between the turian and human races.

Nothing is as it seems, however, and as Arlen and his C-Sec comrades race to uncover the truth one of the Council's oldest enemies watches from the shadows...

---

Next Episode

Previously on Interceptor...

Back to the Start
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(Contains: violence/gore and strong language)

Lina'Gerrel's slender fingers drummed against her desk in a tense, rapid rhythm as she waved aside screen after screen on her terminal.

The warm light thrown onto the glass of her helmet blinked and warped as she worked to sift through various security feeds and reports. Around her, the command centre had lost its frantic edge and with Garrus' confirmation that their terrorist had been killed, they had settled into a steady and productive pace. New intel was still being received by the second but now they had a clear point of focus, the team knew immediately what they could or could not discard and worked more efficiently as a result.

Sitting upright at her desk, Lorica grinned with the pleasure of success and raised her voice to Chellick as he paced around the command centre's main dais.

'Crixus Nantia,' the asari beamed, her words accompanied by a picture of the red-painted turian on the enormous monitor at the far end of the room. Bodies of text fell into place alongside the image, detailing Crixus' vital statistics, family and known aliases. 'Thirty-seven years of age, nineteen of them spent in the turian navy. Service rated as exemplary, a lot of medals, citations, long-service awards, even a recommendation for the Spec Ops outfit Blackwatch. He did several years as a warfare operative before transferring to special operations and recon, spending most of his career as a dedicated sniper in the Seventh Legion.'

Chellick's eyes narrowed. 'Sounds like a model turian citizen. What went wrong?'

Lorica brought up a set of surveillance photos. 'Applied for voluntary discharge out of the blue one day. Ordinarily it wouldn't have been a big deal, soldiers decide they've had enough all the time, after all. What makes Crixus special is he just so happened to apply for resignation on the very same day as fifty other members of his legion, and over a hundred others spread throughout the turian military.'

'The Seventh Exodus,' Chellick grunted in recognition, 'At least that's what the media called it. It was the biggest mass resignation the legions had faced in over twelve-hundred years, and the first since joining the Council. It was a humiliation for the Hierarchy and the general populace were none too happy about it either.'

'That's nothing compared to what happened next,' Lorica continued and Chellick's mandibles twitched with interest as his eyes flickered across several frames of security footage. 'Next thing we know, Crixus and his former comrades form an extremist group dedicated to, get this; stopping the relentless and unchecked spread of humanity throughout the galaxy and paving the way for a return to the true turian path. Their words, not mine.'

Raising his head above his workstation, Milo let out a small laugh. 'Wow, and I thought the batarians were good at coming up with terrorist dogma bullshit.'

The quality of the footage was terrible but it was easy to spot Crixus' unique markings as he loitered with five other turians.

They each stood rigidly, their backs straight and their shoulders pushed aside, all former soldiers, of that there could be no doubt. Their dominating posture was the work of hundreds of hours of precise, demanding drill and was not something that could be undone by a few years of civilian life.

Chellick raised a gloved hand to his chin, giving it a contemplative rub as he remained fixated on the monitor. 'So, we're dealing with the Forgotten Legion after all.'

'Certainly looks like it,' Lorica confirmed, and Milo threw her a questioning glance.

'How about a little briefing for the guys who don't read 'terrorist monthly'?' he asked, leaning back in his seat idly. Catching Chellick's severe glare however, he quickly straightened before adding, 'Naming no names.'

With a sly grin, Lorica promptly tapped her keypad and another file appeared on the main screen. Reams of information slowly scrolled down accompanied by surveillance vids, most containing Crixus meeting with several others of his kind.

'These files have been pulled from the archives of over a dozen intelligence agencies spread throughout the galaxy,' Lorica explained, 'From the ruling hanar bureaucracy to the Salarian Union, you're seeing everything we have on the Forgotten Legion.'

'JSTF's Council connections are good for more than just dealing with the embassies,' Chellick added, 'What can you tell us, Lorica?'

Lorica cleared her throat loudly enough to bring up the heads of most of the team to hear what she had to say.

'Not much you won't find on the extranet, and I quote; "the Seventh Exodus, named for the legion hardest hit by the disaster, was the result of the decision by the Turian Hierarchy to award reparations to the families of human victims of the Relay 314 Incident". Turns out a lot of turian veterans took exception to the idea of paying compensation to their former enemies and so around a hundred and fifty soldiers left the military to form a hard line anti-human group. They called themselves the Forgotten Legion, though nobody really knows why they picked the name. It's assumed they believe themselves to be forgotten by their superiors, an island of true turian values in a sea of change.'

Milo cocked an eyebrow. 'Sounds like your standard pretentious, self-righteous martyr crap to me. Weird though, I thought the last race that'd stomach a mutiny would be the turians.'

'That's because it wasn't a mutiny,' Lorica rebuffed, giving her lover a playful smile, 'They all left in accordance with the rules and broke no laws when they resigned.'

'Still,' Chellick growled, 'it was an embarrassment for the Hierarchy and the Primarch. At a time when turians were expected to be examples to all, the incident reflected badly on us and the idea that some of our people were no better than batarian malcontents was a bitter pill to swallow. The move wasn't looked kindly upon by the mainstream.'

'So why haven't the Hierarchy shut them down by now?' Milo asked, thoughtfully stroking his beard.

‘A fair question,’ the commander replied, ‘but not one easily answered. Every turian respects the laws that bind them, without exception. No one quits. The Exodus and the Forgotten Legion were more than just a black eye for the Hierarchy and their proud turian values. They were impossibilities, things that no right-minded turian could conceive. You might call it a case of ‘cultural denial’.’

He paused and wandered to a nearby console, and after a few keystrokes one of the images on the main monitor expanded, filling the eyes of everyone in the room with a face they did not recognise. Judging by Chellick's grim expression, they knew it was time they learned it.

‘Or it might well be because of this man.’

The face was that of another turian, his thick shell the colour of ash. Dark lines were etched into his skin, old wounds scoring the surface of his carapace while cold, blue eyes glared at them with an intensity everyone could feel beneath their skin. Blocky patterns the same shade of icy blue as his eyes were daubed across his features, closely hugging the sharp lines of his fringe and mandibles.

'General Jardan Krassus, former commanding officer of the Seventh Legion,' Chellick announced, 'He's the reason the Forgotten Legion have remained operational to this day. Highly decorated and respected, General Krassus was a very young corporal, or optio as the rank was known at the time, when the Relay 314 Incident occurred. He fought in the conflict, from the very first skirmish to the Alliance's eventual retaliation. His Centurion was killed in action and he took command of his century early on, holding them together as the humans counter-attacked. He led with distinction, earning a medal for bravery as well as a commendation for exceptional leadership. Throughout a career built on leading from the frontline, he worked his way up to general - a rare and admirable feat - and was involved in some of the most prolific actions this side of the Krogan Rebellions.'

Lorica nodded along, though she could not help but frown at Lina. Her quarian superior was deeply entrenched in whatever task she was carrying out and was still prodding and waving at her display, seemingly not listening to a word they were saying.

Feeling a sharp prickle of irritation, Lorica let out an annoyed huff.

'Who'd have imagined someone like that turning traitor, huh, Lina?' she asked pointedly.

No one but Milo seemed to recognise the spiteful note in her voice and the young man ran a hand down his face wearily.

'On the contrary,' Lina retorted immediately, her eyes still locked on her terminal, 'General Krassus is the perfect man to run such an organisation. His unit lost many men when the humans reclaimed Shanxi and it has often been assumed that he was responsible for orchestrating the Seventh Exodus itself.'

The unruffled response drew a look of mild fury from her asari counterpart.

Bowing his head, Chellick placed his hands behind his back. It was unclear whether or not he noticed the subtle exchange between the two women as he went on, 'General Krassus was a hero to a lot of people and a model turian to many more. He garnered a lot of sympathy in the military and in the upper political echelons, enough to prevent his organisation from being declared terrorists in the true sense. In Hierarchy space, the Forgotten Legion are recognised as a political reformist group, borderline but tolerated nonetheless.'

'That's all changed now,' Milo mumbled, 'They're responsible for an attack on the Citadel and the Council itself. They've gone right over the fringe.'

Lorica turned to face him, laying an arm over the edge of her seat. 'It's obvious they're here to disrupt the Alliance summit. It's the perfect target; new expansion rights being granted to humanity, some even on the border of turian space, it's like a red flag to your…bull?'

Chellick's throat clicked. 'It's too early to jump to conclusions, but yes, it would certainly seem that way. As to where we stand now, there's still some kind of weapon planted somewhere in Citadel Tower, most likely explosive but also a potential delivery system for a chemical or biological agent. We have Special Response on site sweeping the area as we speak but it'll take a day, maybe more to search every potential spot. We need the precise location of that bomb before it's too late.'

'What about the witness, Sir?' asked Milo.

'She's alive but in a critical condition,' Chellick replied, shaking his head, 'Garrus and Arlen managed to get her out and are en-route to a local medical facility in the upper wards. All we can do is hope either they or Special Response can turn something up in time.'

It was not an optimistic estimation of their chances and Milo swallowed hard at the thought of the Legion’s device actually detonating.

He was not alone. The entire command centre seemed gripped by a fog of uncertainty as the same dire consequences played on all their minds.

The sudden hush was broken as Lina stood, her chair scraping across the ground with a shrill screech.

'Chellick! I've found something!'

The commander's mouth firmed into a cautious grin and he turned to face the main screen. His eyes were instantly filled by a security vid, the time stamp dated barely two hours ago. Through the swirling static and blurred edges he could recognise Crixus easily enough, though it was the presence of another figure that interested him.

Standing before Crixus was the much frailer, slighter frame of a salarian. His long, thin face was a darkened grey while his eyes and forehead were crusted with dull, slate-coloured scales.

Were it not for Crixus, Chellick would have deemed the salarian unremarkable save for the fact that he stood behind a counter. It was one that Chellick knew well as one of the many thousands of shopping kiosks found in the market sectors of the wards.

'This footage was taken about an hour before I'Layna Naris contacted us,' Lina explained, 'Using the Citadel's internal surveillance network, I traced Nantia's movements all the way back to when he first checked into customs less than an hour ago. This was the only stop he made between landing on the station and travelling to Citadel Tower.'

'So what?' Lorica sneered, 'So the guy did some shopping, this doesn't get us anywhere!'

Ignoring the barb, Lina continued, zooming in on the counter, 'The salarian's name is Morlan. He runs a shop in the upper wards, not far from Garrus and Arlen's current position. I think we might need to have a word with him.'

Chellick's face lit up as he watched Crixus place a large case on the counter and after a shifty glance, Morlan opened it. Though they couldn’t see exactly what the salarian was doing, no one missed the distinctive circuit board that flashed in Morlan's hands as he retrieved it from under the counter.

‘Hold,’ Chellick ordered without taking his eyes from the screen, ‘Reverse two.’ The circuit board was clearly visible now and he nodded to it. ‘Any ideas?’

‘Were I to guess,’ Lina responded, ‘I would say it’s a vital component of the bomb itself, something integral to its activation. It could even explained how Crixus managed to smuggle the device past the customs scanners when he first entered the Citadel. Without a known profile for the scanners to pick up on, the case may have simply looked like a box of mechanical parts.’

'Good work, Lina,' Chellick said, his voice ringing with satisfaction, 'Get Garrus on the line. We need to pay Morlan a little visit.'


 ~~~ME-I~~~



The clinic was awhirl with chaos, barely giving Arlen time to gather his thoughts. He struggled to remain close to the unconscious I’Layna as paramedics pushed her through the medical centre's emergency unit on a wheeled casualty bed, staff and patients alike forced aside by the flurry of noise and urgency.

Guilt had weighed heavily on his mind since leaving the Tower, growing into a constant presence that ceaselessly chewed at his thoughts.

He had been too slow, had arrived too late to help her. If he'd at least taken Crixus alive then JSTF would've had someone to interrogate. As it stood they had little to go on and their only hope lay with a woman who'd done nothing more than simply walk down the wrong corridor one morning.

He shuffled back as the on-call asari doctor pressed in, barking orders at a nearby orderly who responded with well-rehearsed speed and precision. Garrus removed himself from the small group and stood to one side, speaking quietly into his suit radio.

Arlen's eyes lingered on him for a time before placing his head into his hands in misery. He leaned back against a wall, ignorant of the buzzing medigel dispenser that responded to his proximity.

He had missed a real chance to end the whole ordeal there and then. If he'd only trusted in his training when fighting Crixus, they could have the bomb's location by now. Instead Arlen faced the knowledge that he'd forsaken everything he had been taught, almost losing his life in the process. His gut churned as he imagined what his father would say.

'You're quiet,' Garrus murmured, startling Arlen from his stupor. The veteran agent's fingers were curled around a thin cup of sterile water and he looked at Arlen with genuine concern. 'Is something wrong?'

Arlen let out a deep sigh and let his hands fall to hang by his sides. 'I panicked back there,' he said sullenly, 'I tried to think but he came at me so fast, I just-' The words came more quickly than Arlen intended, falling from his mouth as if he had no control over them, 'I just reacted! I forgot my training and allowed fear to dictate my thoughts and actions. I brought disgrace to myself, my father, my-'

'You're still alive,' Garrus interrupted with a shrug, 'That's 'gotta count for something, right? Crixus Nantia was a highly trained soldier, someone picked for his mission because he had no problem killing whoever stood in his way. From what I saw, you did plenty of damage yourself.'

With a grunt, Arlen pushed himself from the wall and his eyes grew hard as he cut the air with a dismissive gesture. 'You think that matters to me? I'd rather have died and actually done something to stop this than fail completely! Because no matter what you say, that's exactly what happened - I failed, Garrus!'

Garrus frowned and raised a palm. 'Calm down, we got what we needed - the witness. There's no sense in beating yourself up over this. Just let it go.'

'I can't just let this go! I could have stopped all of this, I...'

Arlen's voice faded into the mass of noise, lost amid the chiming of medical equipment and the intense murmurs of the doctors and clinic staff as they went about their work.

After a few long seconds, Garrus tilted his head. 'Are you done?' he asked quietly, his tone laced with disdain, 'If you're not then I don't mind letting you finish your little speech back in my office.'

Arlen opened his mouth to respond but Garrus cut him off, 'You can have your doubts, Arlen, I can't deny you that but you've got more important things to worry about than your own guilt. Part of this job is knowing that you won't always get the results you want, that you always could've done more. But right now there's something bigger going on, something that needs you to keep your mind sharp. Can you do that?'

Arlen blinked at the question. He realised he was breathing heavily and his hands were clenched into tight, aching fists. His teeth throbbed with a distant pain and he relaxed his jaw, unaware until then of how hard he had been grinding them together.

He inhaled slowly, shutting his eyes as he collected his senses. Garrus was correct, he knew. He would be no good to the investigation if he allowed himself to become drawn into mindless brooding.

Nodding once, he raised his head, forcing himself into a steadier frame of mind.

'I'm sorry, you're right,' he said earnestly, 'I…I'll be okay.'

Garrus looked at him warily for a moment, appraising him with a steady eye. When the reply finally came, its tone was one of understanding, 'I know you will. Today was your first taste of real danger and the experience can shake you up in ways you can't prepare for. You have to learn from it, take strength from it. By doing that you'll be able to deal with it next time - and in your line of work there will be a next time.'

Arlen reached up to scratch the back of his neck. Though his conscience still burned, he knew Garrus' words were more than just sound advice. They were the truths of combat. The training of one's body and mind went far beyond simulations and routines. It encompassed everything, even small hardships and seemingly menial tasks that coalesced into a hardened shell of experience that could withstand anything. He would grow stronger, as Garrus said.

'So, what's our next move?' he asked, eager to continue the search for whatever their terrorist had planted in Citadel Tower.

'I just spoke to Lina. Apparently the perp visited a salarian trader not far from here by name of Morlan, proprietor of uh…' Garrus paused to scratch his head. 'Morlan's Famous Shop.'

The name raised Arlen's brow. 'I've…never heard of it.'

'Yeah, surprising, huh?' Garrus smirked, 'In any case, this Morlan character provided Crixus with a component of his bomb. We don't know what it is yet but I have a feeling Morlan's going to tell us all we need to know.'

'He'll at least be able to tell us where he got the part from, maybe even who shipped it to the Citadel,' Arlen realised, 'It could be the key to tracking down whoever's carrying out this attack.'

'Exactly,' Garrus agreed.

In an instant, Arlen became animated with new determination. He brought up his omni-tool to find the directions to Morlan's shop already forwarded by JSTF, and smiled as he felt a surge of motivation.

'Well, what are we waiting for?' he asked, turning to make his way out. He paused when he saw Garrus was not following and he looked at his partner, puzzled.

'I'm not going,' Garrus said, his voice hard, 'Someone needs to stay here with the witness in case she comes to. If she wakes up then we could have the bomb's location immediately, without the need to search half the Citadel. I'll wait here in the clinic while you go and question Morlan.'

'W-what?' Arlen stuttered. He felt his easy confidence of only moments before disappear and a pang of self-doubt filled him. 'Garrus, I…I can't do this by myself!'

'I know,' Garrus conceded, his expression thoughtful beneath his combat visor, 'After what happened with Crixus I'd be crazy to send you anywhere without backup. With that in mind, I arranged a meeting for you in a bar called Dark Star, out in Zakera ward.'

'A meeting? With who?'

Garrus smiled knowingly. 'Just an old friend of mine, one who owes me a favour. They're in C-Sec but it's kinda…off the books, so to speak. Still, they should be able to help you get answers from Morlan. Just go to Dark Star and order a drink. They'll find you.'

The cryptic instruction sent a shiver of suspicion through Arlen but he had no time to argue. Nodding his understanding, he left without another word.

Garrus' eyes remaining on Arlen's back until the recruit disappeared from sight, after which he took a seat and watched impassively as I'Layna's body shuddered with the medics' desperate efforts to keep her alive.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Dark Star was one of Zakera ward's small number of 'clean' clubs, a place that did not - or appeared not to - sully its reputation by succumbing to the allure of organised crime like so many of its ilk.

The difference was clear from the very instant Arlen set foot inside. Though he was a newcomer to the Citadel, he knew enough to spot the small signs that told him Dark Star was not a place in which he needed to relentlessly look over his shoulder.

The music, while not exactly peaceful, was soothing, the flowing melodies chosen to ease clubbers into a serene state of mind. That it actually seemed to work was what surprised Arlen as he watched the men and women on a nearby dance floor. They swayed and bobbed like objects atop ocean waves, some pressing closer to one another and enjoying the steadily pulsing beat as one.

Arlen shifted on the uncomfortable bar stool. He'd been sitting there for what felt like an eternity and constantly had to adjust his armour lest he slide off.

His fidgeting attracted an unsavoury glance from the turian bartender and the man's chalky markings flashed as he made his way over.

'A little young to be in here, aren't you, boy?' he asked gruffly.

Infuriated with the challenge of simply remaining in his seat, Arlen held his temper, knowing it would be unwise to cause any trouble.

'I'm meeting someone here,' he replied, 'Though I wouldn't mind a glass of water, if that's ok?'

The older man offered him nothing but a flat stare for several moments before giving him a grudging response, 'Just so long as you hide yourself in one of the booths. We don't need you taking the bar seats away from people old enough to get wasted.'

Arlen's dark mandibles flexed angrily but a sudden, high-pitched squeal of delight tore his attention away from the bartender. Looking to his right, he was surprised to find a human woman at his shoulder, her eyes narrowed lazily as her voice fell from her lips in a drunken rush.

'Oh come on, Tez!' she said to the bartender with a rough laugh, 'Leave the poor kid alone. He said he only wants to wait for someone, right?'

The turian shrugged. 'I get paid to serve drinks, Christina, I don't care what the hell he wants to do but if he ain't drinkin' then he's no use to me.'

The woman tittered and a shock of long, bright blonde hair fell across her eyes, sticking to her damp skin.

Arlen did not know what to say. Part of him wanted to just push the intoxicated human away and yell at her to stop annoying him. Instead, he grasped the glass of water thrust onto the counter in front of him and looked into the rippling liquid, silently willing her to lose interest and go away.

He almost gasped as something wrapped itself around his right arm and he looked with a mixture of bemusement and horror as the woman attached herself to him, hugging his arm with a force he could feel through his armour. Her body was barely covered with a tight red dress and her exposed flesh pressed against him.

'W-what are you doing?' he stuttered.

'Aww,' the woman cooed, pressing her face into the smooth surface of his armour, 'Turians are so cute when they're shy!'

The bartender shook his head. The expression he bore was not of disgust but rather of pity. Evidently he had seen this happen before.

'Come on, Christina,' he growled, 'I think you've had enough to drink and it's time you went home. You've been here all night and you ain't a salarian. I know you humans need to sleep now and again. Leave the boy be and let him take a nice, quiet seat alone.'

'No way!' she cried out, garnering a few amused looks from the other patrons as she tugged at Arlen, prizing him from the stool. 'I'm 'gonna have to steal this one away from you, Tez!'

The absurdity of it all made Arlen's temper flare. ‘What are you doing?’ he demanded, ‘Let go of me!’

They waded through the sea of club goers, cutting a path through the twisting crowd and churning up the fine mist of vapour that hung in the air.

Arlen glanced at the woman once more as she staggered toward the male restroom, laughing as she pulled him along with her.

'Don't worry, cutie,' she giggled, pressing herself close to his ear, 'We'll be all alone in here.'

With a dawning sense of dread, Arlen could only watch as she opened the restroom door and roughly pushed him in.

The music could still be heard as a soft thrum through the walls and the light seemed dim, almost gloomy after the garish colours of the dance floor. The gentle glow made the woman's body, slick with sweat after hours of dancing, shine as if made of plastic. To Arlen's left, a salarian emptied his bowels, trying to ignore their behaviour with increasing exasperation.

'Look,' growled Arlen, resisting the temptation to scream at her, 'I'm supposed to be meeting someone here and you're wasting my time! I'm flattered and all but you're clearly not in your right mind so I'm leaving right n-'

His words were stolen as a pair of hot, soft lips pressed against his. Stunned beyond all thought, Arlen felt himself being pushed back against the wall as the woman curled a hand around the back of his neck. Her hair, almost white in the muted lighting, fell in long strands to tickle his face and she smiled at him mischievously.

The salarian muttered some vague, disgusted comment before rapidly finishing his business and speeding from the restroom. Arlen watched him go enviously.

The woman squashed her body against his as the door hissed shut, then without warning the pressure against Arlen's suit receded.

The human backed away and swept her hair cleanly behind her ears.

When she spoke again her voice had lost all of its former sluggishness, becoming a sharp, commanding snap, 'Man, Garrus wasn't kidding when he said you were green. A glass of water? Seriously?'

Arlen's lips moved soundlessly, his eyes wide in their sockets.

Someone completely different stood before him now, her poise straight and eyes focused where they had been listless with drink only moments ago. The transformation was extraordinary and he could not find the words to express his shock.

'I take it you're Arlen?' she asked testily, placing a hand on her hip, 'Well? Are you going to answer me or are we 'gonna hang around the men's room all day?'

Arlen blinked and after a moment's hesitation his features twisted angrily. 'What- You're who I'm supposed to be meeting? I was told to meet a C-Sec officer, not a damn hooker!'

She shrugged, meeting his eyes without a flinch. 'Unfortunately, when you've been working undercover in the wards for the past six months you don’t get the luxury of making proper introductions, especially when someone calls in a favour while you’re on the job. I had to make sure neither of us were being followed.'

His expression softening, Arlen glanced around at his location. They were completely alone and with the only entrance to the room mere feet away, there would be no chance of eavesdropping.

The woman gave a thin smile as she offered her hand in a more formal greeting. 'Detective Amanda Keller, senior lieutenant in C-Sec's Investigation Division.'

Warily, Arlen grasped her hand and gave it a slight tug. 'Arlen Kryik, I'm training under Garrus at the moment. Things are a little more hectic than I'd anticipated, though.'

Keller gave a low chuckle. 'Yeah, I'd say so. If I didn’t know Garrus so well, I’d say he was out of his mind. A dead terrorist and a bomb in Citadel Tower? Not exactly an ideal first day on the job. Garrus gave me most of the details but I've still got some blanks that need filling in.'

A voice rose from outside the door and Keller paused, her eyes drawn to it instantly. They waited, the thumping of the music their only companion before the voice shouted a drunken obscenity and moved away at last.

Keller released her breath and shook her head. 'I tell 'ya, if it was anyone else but Garrus asking me to do this I'd tell them to go to hell. I'm supposed to be investigating red sand traffickers, not terror suspects. If I get caught, the captain'll have my badge and rank, even if we do save the Citadel.’

Her voice was thick with reluctance and Arlen understood it immediately. He wouldn’t have blamed her for refusing to help but instead she smiled at him.

‘Still, I think I can risk tagging along with you until you get what you need. Not one second longer though, all right?'

Arlen nodded gratefully. Despite the risks, Morlan still had to be interrogated and if the salarian had an ounce of sense he would have gone into hiding by then. The trader was their vital link between the weapon and the terrorists.

'It's a deal,' Arlen replied, 'Hopefully Morlan will still be around by the time we get there.'

Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 5
Six months before the events of Mass Effect, a crucial summit is due to be held between the Citadel Council and the human Systems Alliance. On this important day, a young turian named Arlen Kryik is recruited into an elite C-Sec unit known as the Interceptors, a small cadre of agents responsible for hunting wanted fugitives throughout the galaxy.

Partnered with veteran agent Garrus Vakarian as part of the summit's security detail, Arlen quickly becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot to destroy the Council and reignite tensions between the turian and human races.

Nothing is as it seems, however, and as Arlen and his C-Sec comrades race to uncover the truth one of the Council's oldest enemies watches from the shadows...

---

Next Episode

Previously on Interceptor...

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(Contains: violence/gore and strong language)

Citadel Tower rose up ahead like a gleaming white tree, dwarfing everything around it. It reached into the sky, the distance unfathomable by Arlen as he craned his neck to find the top.

'It's amazing,' he murmured in astonishment as he jogged lightly alongside Garrus, his arms swinging rhythmically with each stride, 'Citadel Tower. Seat of the Council and the heart of Citadel Control. I've heard stories about this place but none of them could have done it justice. It's simply incredible.'

Garrus shrugged. ‘Make the most of it while you can. It gets a little less special every time you see it.’

The response took Arlen aback until he reminded himself that Garrus had likely seen more of the Presidium and the Tower during his time with C-Sec than anyone could stomach. Even so, Arlen couldn’t help but stand in awe at the majesty of it. The giant structure loomed over them as they drew closer, mocking their insignificance as they padded along the pristine walkways that led to it. At their sides, a large lake shimmered peacefully, jets of water occasionally breaking the surface to send glittering showers through the air.

Arlen enjoyed the fountains, as well as the feeling of air refined by dozens of fresh green parks in his lungs. It invigorated him as he ran, giving him something to take his mind from the way from the nervousness he felt at heading into his first assignment.

Their C-Sec patrol shuttle lay behind them, and with all traffic access to the Tower blocked they had been forced to approach their destination on foot. Arlen could only hope their suspects didn’t have an escape vehicle hidden nearby.

'How many?' he asked.

'Only one that we know of, possibly armed and dangerous,' Garrus replied tersely, 'Still, we can't be too careful. Expect the worst and you'll be prepared for anything.'

'Makes sense,' Arlen agreed, 'Any word on the location of our witness?'

Garrus shook his head. 'Nothing concrete. Lina managed to trace the signal and narrow the source down to a single floor but that's about as precise as we're ‘gonna get. I've seen those maintenance corridors, they're like a maze. It won't be easy finding her with just the two of us and there's no way to tell where to even start. That's not even the worst part. Before Lina lost the signal, the witness mentioned something about having to run away from the suspect. That means they could have been anywhere when she saw him plant the bomb.'

'So,' Arlen began, a cold horror seeping into his flesh, 'this is the real thing, isn't it?'

'We don't know anything yet,' Garrus reminded him, 'As Chellick said, it could be a hoax, a bunch of anarchists or protesters wanting to spread chaos and interrupt this Alliance summit. She called herself I’Layna Naris, aide to the asari Councillor. That part checked out but we’ve got no way of knowing if it’s really her who made the call. That's not an excuse to let your guard down but let's just say there's a reason Chellick's only sending two of us in there. Until the threat's been verified they don't want anything to delay these Council talks and putting too many field agents on it will leave too large a gap in the security net.'

Falling silent again, Arlen cast his gaze over the Tower's entrance elevators. Already a throng of reporters had gathered like carrion birds, each keen to gather any scrap of information they could on the summit, their shouts swelling and mingling into one voice. Some tried their luck, attempting to push past the hefty cordon that held them at bay only to be pushed back by vigilant C-Sec officers.

'Damn press,' Garrus muttered under his breath, 'Just keep your eyes forward and ignore them as best you can.'

Arlen simply stared at the gaggle of shouting men and women and felt a shiver of excitement as bright spots of light blinked in his face. He’d never come close to a press event before and it all felt surreal to him as dozens of cam-bots clicked and whirred, each one bearing the logos of news stations he recognised. He allowed himself the indulgence of feeling like a celebrity for just a moment and grinned slightly as he passed through the cordon.

Representatives of nearly every Citadel race jostled for attention as the turians were checked by waiting C-Sec officers, who ignored of the outstretched arms and desperate questions called out to them while they directed Arlen and Garrus to the elevators.

The din was cut off in an instant as the elevator doors slid up, shielding Arlen and Garrus behind thick glass. The quiet was blissful and they both gave their ear holes an appreciative scratch, glad to be away from the hungry crowd.

Arlen peered down at them as the elevator rose. 'These Council talks must be pretty big to garner this kind of attention. I didn't even know they were happening. Odd really, since back home the big Council events are usually broadcasted on all channels, as well as the extranet.'

'This one won't be too popular back on Palaven,' said Garrus, 'The Hierarchy doesn't like to publicise anything that seems to show the Alliance being treated too favourably. It's not exactly censorship and I don't think it's malicious or anything, but it still goes on. I think it might even be for the best. There's still a lot of bad feeling out there over the Relay 314 Incident and a lot of the older generation still think we should've pressured the Council more, imposed harsher penalties on humanity after the ceasefire.'

'The First Contact War, isn't that what they called it?’ Arlen asked, ‘I remember the drill instructors talking about it all the time back at boot camp. Some wished we'd put the humans in their place, as they said. Most of the hostility came from the older guys, though to be honest, I don't see what the big deal is. From what I read it was all a big misunderstanding that got out of hand.'

Garrus clearly wanted to laugh at the simplicity of the statement but settled for a quiet grunt. 'Yeah, I guess it was, though that misunderstanding had pretty harsh consequences. I guess we shouldn't be surprised the humans came back to hit us with everything they had, nor that we responded in kind. That's something every race in the galaxy has in common, I think. If someone shoots at you, you blindly shoot back until someone takes the guns away from both of you. Revenge is one of the first things to cross the species barrier. It doesn't die easily.'

Arlen found the notion foolish. All around him stood proof that together, the galaxy could achieve anything. The grudges of a few crusted old men would do nothing but harm his people's standing in this greater community and he felt a small pinch of frustration at their selfishness.

'What do you think?' he asked suddenly, 'Of the Relay 314 Incident, I mean?'

Garrus hefted his shoulders. 'I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with the way the humans handled themselves out there. They were attacked by an unknown enemy and adapted quickly, displaying remarkable small unit tactics while showing us the weaknesses in our own formations at the same time. They're more flexible than we are and less cautious than the salarians, and that's an impressive combination. I don't blame anyone back home for getting nervous about their capabilities.' He folded his arms and his mandibles flexed slightly as he mulled the matter over. 'The thing is, if Relay 314 had been activated and brought on another rachni invasion then this 'First Contact War' of theirs could've been a whole lot worse. I can't say we were wrong to attack those ships that were trying to activate the relay. That was a preventative action which could have saved billions of lives in the long run. But laying siege to a whole colony...that was something else.'

Shanxi was the first and only human colony to fall to his people, Arlen recalled. It was not long before the Alliance took it back and the counter attack was where the turians took the majority of their casualties. The civilian population suffered the worst of it, however. During the initial siege the turians dropped bombs on defensive positions in the capital city from orbit and after that, rocks and other debris that smashed their settlements into oblivion. The casualties had been horrendous.

It had been a sort but ugly conflict, one which Arlen had been taught the humans brought upon themselves. By fielding their forces among civilians, the defenders had expected weakness from their enemy. It had not come, and no one had been safe from the bombardment or the assault that followed.

Arlen looked at Garrus warily. 'What do you mean 'that was something else'?'

'What we did to that colony went beyond preventative action,' Garrus muttered darkly, 'Civilians, soldiers, all bombed without thought or mercy. There was no skill involved, no finesse.' He caught Arlen's surprise and smiled weakly. 'I know it's not what you're used to hearing. I suppose you could say I've got sympathy for humans. Some would say I have too much, but more than anything I respect them. That's why I say we should only look at the whole thing from a certain perspective. More than anything, we need to learn from it. We've already got plenty of problems in the galaxy without being at each other's throats. If the rachni and the krogan have shown us anything, it's that we might need to work together against a common enemy one day. For all we know, that time could be sooner than we think.'

That was something Arlen could agree with and he nodded silently in thought. The chiming of the elevator brought an abrupt end to their conversation and with a cursory glance at their surroundings, the pair stepped out into the sprawling maintenance corridors.

'You weren't kidding,' Arlen said, his mouth agape as he looked around, 'This could take hours, days even!'

Garrus nodded his agreement. In all directions yawned several hallways, each with countless others branching off like the roots of a plant. The doors were marked by bright green control panels that illuminated spots on the adjacent walls while strips of dim white ran their length, their soft glow barely able to light up anything at all.

Garrus sighed in anticipation of their task. 'I'll take the left, you take right. Radio in if you find anything. If it looks too risky, just wait for me and we'll take the suspect down together, all right?'

'All right,' Arlen replied with more confidence than he felt, 'Let's do this.'

To his surprise, a smile crossed Garrus' lips. 'Don't do anything stupid. It's only your first day on the job.'

Arlen smiled back nervously and he kept his eyes on Garrus as he thundered down the corridor.

Now that he was alone, the silence pressed in on Arlen like a shroud. He realised there was a branching corridor immediately on his flank and his head moved from side to side as he tried to decide which path to take. It was like some kind of twisted dream, where everywhere he turned he found himself facing the direction from which he'd just come.

Drawing a deep breath, he took the hallway to his right. He strained his senses, watching for anything out of place and listening for anything unusual. It was not easy however, as the stench of ages-old dust interfered with his concentration.

Before long the similarity of the corridors began to grate on his nerves.Turians never break, he reminded himself as he pushed on. They endured every challenge thrust before them, no matter what.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Crixus turned the small explosive charge over in his hand, staring at the grey metal disc in quiet contemplation.

He didn't want to do this. He didn't want to take the life of someone who had nothing to do with his cause, who was not a sworn enemy of the Legion.

Hell, he thought to himself with a grunt, the bitch only got herself into this because she'd been so damn friendly. If she'd just picked herself off the ground and carried on walking it wouldn't have come to this.

He heard her through the door, sobbing in despair. The true irony was that had she just given herself up to begin with, he would have settled for binding and gagging her, ready for C-Sec to find in a dark corner somewhere. Witnesses would do them no good once the device was active. There was no choice now, no way back.

He listened to the gentle, sorrowful sound and again looked at the breaching charge. It was meant to be used in an emergency, if some wall or barrier blocked the path to his target. Now it would have to serve a much darker purpose.

Shaking his head in disgust, Crixus slapped the charge on the door and the tiny keypad lit up, inviting him to arm the fuse. His finger hovered over the buttons and his crimson markings twisted as he winced in frustration.

'Damn it,' he whispered. His thoughts swirled, forming quiet words he couldn't stop spilling out, 'What? Do you think I wanted this? You think I wanted to leave my brother and sister behind?'

Again he tried but again his finger stopped just above the keypad, as if there were a kinetic barrier over it. The weakness was infuriating but his honour demanded that he try again to reach her. He was a soldier and she was not his enemy.

Crixus' breath hissed noisily through his nostrils and he lowered his hand before slowly pressing his body to the door. Steadying himself, he lowered his voice and spoke, 'I'Layna, wasn't it? I'Layna Naris?'


 ~~~ME-I~~~


I'Layna looked up sharply at the sound of her own name. The asari sat in a mournful heap, slumped against the far wall as she kept a wavering watch on the door.

The C-Sec officers she'd spoken to earlier had guided her through the cutting of the door's power but then all had gone silent as the connection broke. All she could do was wait and pray they would send someone to help her soon.

I'Layna's eyes stung as they threatened another wave of tears.

Why is this happening to me? she asked herself in disbelief, muffling another loud sob.

She had been due to share a special, romantic dinner with her bond mate that night. She had planned the occasion to the last detail throughout the day, growing more excited with every passing moment but now the time she'd set aside was being spent in a cold, dark room, waiting for someone to kill her.

This is only a nightmare, she kept telling herself, It can't be real. Soon you'll wake up and everything will be the way it was.

And yet the pain of her own heart pounding in her chest brought the reality crashing down around her.

'I'Layna,' the turian said again, making her flinch, 'Listen to me. It doesn't have to end like this.'

'Please!' she moaned softly, 'Please, just let me go. C-Sec are on their way, they know exactly where you are and they're coming for me!'

It was a lie and her quivering voice could not hide it.

The turian carried on, unfazed, 'I don't want to kill you, I'Layna but I can't let you go. One way or another you won't be telling them anything and you know this door won't stop me. Just…' There was a pause followed by a slight creaking, as he were leaning against the door. 'Please, just come out and I give you my word that you will live through this.'

Only an incredulous, desperate scoff greeted his proposal. I'Layna wanted to believe him. She longed to accept his offer and the possibility that she would escape but she felt deep in her heart that he could not be trusted. It was a stab of cold terror, like a blade thrust into her chest that she could not pull out.

'You expect me to believe the word of a terrorist?' I'Layna said aloud as she buried her face in her hands, 'I'd have to be insane to trust you!'

'Don't be stupid, woman!' he hissed, 'This is your last chance. Give yourself up or I will kill you!'

Outside, Crixus waited, straining to hear anything more than his own breath. The silence was all the answer he needed and grudgingly, he raised a hand to the breaching charge. 'So be it,' he said, stiff with regret.

The charge blinked red as the timer began to cycle. Crixus stepped away from the door but did not hurry. The powerful explosive would do its job effectively enough and once it did, all his efforts could be focused on ensuring the safety of the package.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Arlen's head snapped up at the sound of an explosion; an ear-splitting crack with a ground shock he felt even through the armour of his boots.

His mouth went dry as he realised it was close. Very close.

He broke into a trot, his white face paint strobing red and green as he passed one control panel after another. His path took him along corridors he was certain he'd already checked and desperation welled up in his chest. With only the vague direction of the explosion to guide him and little else beyond that, he could only run and ask the Spirits for luck.

He almost missed the faint wisp of smoke curling around a distant corner, beckoning him. He slid to a halt and followed the trail, the smoke thickening as he neared the source.

On impulse he drew his pistol and felt reassured by the familiar clacks and clicks as the Striker locked into a firing position. Thumbing off the safety, Arlen held the weapon in a firm two-handed grip and stretched it out before his eyes.

The smoke was now a choking cloud that grew more aggressive with each cautious step, attacking him fiercely. It seeped into his eyes and lungs, a stinging mist that brought muffled coughs from deep within his throat.

Through it all he could just about make out the shredded remains of a doorway to his right.

Arlen entered and his eyes immediately fixed on two limp, motionless forms at the far end of the room. Though the figures were obscured by the blinding smoke he could easily discern the distinct outlines of a dead keeper and an asari. It could only be their witness, he was certain of it.

His heart slowed as horror took hold. She did not appear to be breathing.

Arlen shuffled closer, his every thought bent on checking her for signs of life. He did not see the flicker of shadow to his left until it was too late.

A hand shot out, taking the barrel of his pistol in a strong grip while another brought itself down on his wrists. Before he could even process what had happened, Arlen felt the Striker slip from his fingers.

The weapon clattered and slid away, spinning across the floor. An arm came up, aiming a swipe at Arlen's face but met only air as the young turian ducked instinctively, pushing his attacker away with all his strength.

Another turian stood scowling before him, tall and muscular with red face markings that made him look like a demon in the swirling smoke. He seemed calm and relaxed, and he flexed his fingers as he took a few tentative steps toward the door, blocking any hope of escape.

Arlen moved back, putting a couple of feet between them. He tried to think but everything seemed distant and sluggish. He knew his pistol lay somewhere on the ground but he dared not take his eyes from his opponent.

‘You’re the one this asari was running from?’ asked Arlen, his throat raw from the fumes.

The other turian cocked his head slightly. ‘Not any more.’

The reply was confident, far more confident than Arlen felt himself and his voice croaked as he responded, ‘You’re under arrest. Surrender now and tell us where you planted the bomb.’

‘You have no weapon,’ the red-painted turian pointed out with a derisive snort, ‘How are planning on making your arrest, boy?’

Arlen held the man’s eyes resolutely through the shifting grey haze. ‘Any way I can.’

‘Brave, kid. Brave but foolhardy. What’s your name?’

Arlen was reluctant to answer. He tried to remain silent as he sized up his opponent but something about the suspect’s calm made him waver. In those brief seconds as they stared at each other like circling pit varren, he felt the chill of fear enter his heart.

‘Officer Kryik,’ he finally answered, ‘Arlen Kryik.’

‘Crixus Nantia,’ the turian said with a slow nod, ‘See now? Even though one of us has to die, there’s nothing to say we can’t conduct ourselves with honour.’

Honour?’ Arlen narrowed his eyes at Crixus, baring his teeth in anger as he pointed to the fallen asari behind him. ‘You call this honour? You’re nothing but a murderer, a terrorist!’

Crixus stared at him for a few moments before letting out a low chuckle. ‘You know nothing about me, boy.’ He took a step forward, his hands balled into fists at his sides. ‘Neither you or C-Sec are going to take me, not while I still hold breath, you hear? As a fellow turian, you should know that already.’

Knowing what was to come made little difference for Arlen. He'd been trained in personal combat but the reality of fighting for his life was a merciless, crushing weight on his nerves.

No, he assured himself quickly, shaking his head free of doubt, Turians never break.

Arlen surged forward, his feet light on the ground. The air was filled with thuds and scrapes as Crixus blocked a flurry of blows, each hammering uselessly against his forearms. The older turian wore no armour but he turned the punches with expert precision and they slid roughly off bones hardened through decades of conditioning.

Arlen became desperate and clumsy, and Crixus countered, sending a jab into his jaw that echoed through the small room with a sickening crack.

Staggering, Arlen blinked past the pain, risking a furtive glance at his enemy as he dropped back. The smoke danced around Crixus and he eyed Arlen with the steady gaze of a hunter, his expression betraying no emotion. His intentions were impossible to read.

With manic urgency, Arlen's mind rushed to recall those countless hours spent training with his father, to bring forth the preternatural actions that were supposed to simply happen. Panic flared as nothing came. He couldn't think.

Crixus moved in and Arlen took an automatic step back, his stomach heavy with sickly terror. His back hit the wall and tools rustled as shelving and lockers were disturbed. Still Crixus came, his expression pitiless.

The training could not pierce the fear and confusion. It wasn't working. Arlen scarcely had the time to defend himself as Crixus' fist snapped out with terrifying speed. He felt his right arm jar painfully with the block but he did not try to parry it.

Raw, furious panic consumed him and without thought to technique, Arlen launched himself at his foe, slipping under another swing to grasp at Crixus' clothing. It was easy to find a purchase and Arlen acted instantly to close his fingers blindly on the cloth, gripping it with animal ferocity.

Lost somewhere in his roiling senses, he heard Crixus grunt in surprise and felt fingers trying to break his grip.

A single, unbending urge pushed it all from Arlen’s mind. He reared his head back and with a bestial roar, rammed it into Crixus' face as hard as he could.

He felt a measure of feral joy as something broke and the terrorist growled in pain. Arlen sensed the hands questing at his armour, frantically hammering away at his protected stomach.

Filled with panicked aggression, he pulled his head back and thrust again and again, each impact sending a ripple of weakness through his enemy. It was not long before Arlen felt a cool wetness on his face, though whether the blood belonged to Crixus or himself he couldn’t tell.

Buoyed by the advantage, Arlen turned on the spot and with all the strength he could muster, threw Crixus into the wall, sending boxes tumbling as shelves splintered and broke.

Lockers crashed down around Crixus and he winced as he carefully brought a hand to his face. Dark, oozing blood poured from his nostrils and his left mandible had snapped completely, no doubt filling his head with a pain that Arlen could scarcely imagine.

Arlen sank back several paces, his mind blank on what to do next as Crixus rose slowly to his feet, glaring at him with palpable fury.

Snorting angrily, Crixus spat out a thick glob of blood and let out a low mutter, ‘It’s been a long time since I’ve killed a man with my bare hands. Looks like I’ve gotten rusty. You should’ve picked up that gun of yours while you had the chance, boy, because you won’t get another.’

The pistol. Arlen couldn’t help but glance down in search for it, only to freeze in panic as he instantly realised his mistake.

Crixus sprang at him immediately with savage attacks fed by pain and rage. He leaned in with a sharp hook that rocked Arlen's head back and lashed out again, catching him above the eye.

Pain exploded through Arlen's face as more blows found his cheeks and crest. He slipped under one strike only for another to find his mandible and he felt his strength ebb with every passing moment.

Snarling furiously, Crixus pressed against him, forcing him back and Arlen felt a spike of terror as his legs buckled under him. The terrorist sensed his weakness and burst forward, wedging his arm beneath the Arlen's chin to pin him against the wall by his throat.

Arlen grasped feebly at his neck, spluttering against the crushing force that sent his breath choking out, covering his mouth in flecks of bloody spittle. He felt the heat of Crixus' wounds like lickings of fire on his skin. He smelt the thick, stale odour of his sweat and his ears were filled with their frenzied grunts of exertion.

His fear reached its height as darkness crept in at the edges of his vision. He knew at that moment he was going to die.

Suddenly, his hands reached out around him, probing for something, anything he could use. The movement was instinctive, his training coming to him as an impulse he could not stop, shifting his arms and forcing them to search his surroundings.

Crixus did not notice his fingers curl around a thin, sharp maintenance tool on a nearby shelf and the terrorist roared in pain as Arlen stabbed at his arms, lining the sleeves of his garment with spreading blots of dark blood. The sibilant, wet thuds of steel entering flesh resounded, and it wasn’t long before Crixus released his grip and stumbled back, clutching at his bleeding limbs.

Arlen raised the weapon again in a lunge but in spite of his injuries, Crixus had awareness enough to shift his weight to the side, bringing an elbow to the side of Arlen’s face with a loud smack.

The room spun in a nauseating whirl. Arlen felt his body grow sluggish, then his legs go numb. He screamed at them to keep moving but they did not respond. Instead they crumpled as Crixus swept out with his shin, knocking Arlen onto his back in a daze.

The patter of dribbling blood seemed to overpower all of Arlen's senses, even his own ragged breathing. He could only watch helpless as Crixus picked up his Striker, the barrel shining with dark, wet spots.

Crixus’ nose had been shattered and it streamed blood in gleaming ribbons. His snapped mandile twitched convulsively and his punctured arm hung limp at his side as he brought the pistol to bear.

'You almost pulled that one out of the bag, kid,' he said, his voice gurgling as bitter fluid slid down the back of his throat, 'I knew I recognised your name. You’re kin of Renius, aren’t you?’

Arlen said nothing. Even if he’d known whether his voice still worked, he still wouldn't have dignified the terrorist with a response.

Crixus let out a wet, curdled grunt and moved closer, stretching out the pistol until the black hole of the barrel rested over Arlen’s forehead. 'You don’t have to answer. I can see it in your eyes, your skin, your very instincts. But you ain’t him. General Renius wouldn't have let the moment get to him like that. It made you sloppy, weak.'

His finger reached around the trigger. 'This is nothing personal.'

The shot rang out and Arlen's eyes snapped shut. Seconds passed and only the heavy thump of a falling body on the floor brought him back reluctantly to his senses.

It was Garrus. A thin trail of vapour rose from his pistol and his eyes flickered across the scene from beneath his blue targeting visor. If he was shocked at what he saw, his calm exterior hid it well.

'Looks like you found our witness,' he said casually as he helped Arlen to his feet.

'I was too late,' Arlen replied breathlessly before doubling over to hack a mouthful of bloody phlegm from his throat, 'By the time I got here she was down and….'

He didn't need to finish the sentence. Instead he stared despondently at the man who had come so close to killing him.

Crixus lay dead, with nothing more than a dark blue bowl where the back of his head used to be and still it felt like he could spring back to life and finish his work.

Garrus knelt and scanned I'Layna's body with his omni-tool, frowning worriedly as the readout flashed up brightly.

'This isn't good,' he muttered, 'She's alive but it looks like she's suffered a serious concussion. I don't have any medigel so we need to get her to the nearest clinic as quickly as possible.'

Arlen staggered slightly as he wandered to Crixus' corpse and with some effort, pried his Striker from the terrorist's grip. 'Should I send for help?'

‘I’ll call for an evac,’ Garrus said as he brought up his omni-tool again, ‘You report in and tell Chellick everything that happened. Your suit radio’s signal will have to be boosted to cope with the interference here but don’t wander off. I might need you to help me move her.’

Arlen glanced at the fallen asari, who still lay unmoving and unresponsive, covered in a sheen of dust and debris. Crixus may have been dealt with but his bomb was still somewhere within Citadel Tower and the information Naris held was their only chance of finding it in time.

The thought remained in Arlen’s mind as he prepared to contact JSTF.

Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 4
Six months before the events of Mass Effect, a crucial summit is due to be held between the Citadel Council and the human Systems Alliance. On this important day, a young turian named Arlen Kryik is recruited into an elite C-Sec unit known as the Interceptors, a small cadre of agents responsible for hunting wanted fugitives throughout the galaxy.

Partnered with veteran agent Garrus Vakarian as part of the summit's security detail, Arlen quickly becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot to destroy the Council and reignite tensions between the turian and human races.

Nothing is as it seems, however, and as Arlen and his C-Sec comrades race to uncover the truth one of the Council's oldest enemies watches from the shadows...

---

Next Episode

Previously on Interceptor...

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(Contains: violence/gore and strong language)

Chellick's jaw moved slowly as he methodically chewed a piece of seasoned meat. Time was always short and he'd recently taken to breakfast in the form of the strips of cured jerky, though as it was he could barely taste anything at all. All of his senses were focused solely on the enormous monitor that swallowed the far wall of the command centre.

'Camera one-two-two. Reverse eighteen, hold,' he said with his mouth full, squinted as the picture sharpened. He swallowed his food and nodded at the screen. 'Right there.'

'Holding,' Milo replied from his desk in the middle tiers as he manipulated his terminal with honed precision, 'Two tags, one marked as blue.'

Chellick looked on as the main monitor filled with security footage of a densely knotted group of civilians milling near the main elevator to Citadel Tower. The identity markers in question referred to a pair of humans, appearing as two brightly coloured triangles laid over the footage.

Their positioning had looked conspicuous to Chellick's practised eye, though the identification of one as a plainclothes C-Sec officer eased his suspicions.

'Good,' he finally remarked, 'Send out a general notice to everyone in the area. They're there to be our eyes on the ground, not stand around chatting with their friends.'

'Roger, Sir,' Milo acknowledged with a smirk, 'I'll let them know the sewing circle is officially broken up.'

Chellick nodded, satisfied. He left the constant monitoring of security staff to his subordinates for the most part but he found it useful to take the occasional hand in the more mundane proceedings.

The command centre's main dais was designed as such, inspired as it was by the bridges of turian warships, with the captains occupying a raised platform to overlook their personnel. Even so, it was impossible for any one person to supervise all that went on in JSTF. The task force had access to every surveillance system on the Citadel and reports were fed into the centre by the second. Omni-tools would beep in alarm every minute as new pieces of high-level intel were received, piercing the constant hum of voices as analysts conversed with their peers or agents on the ground.

Chellick found comfort in the buzzing ambience. After working in a confined office hidden away in the filth of the wards for so many years, the opportunity to lead such a team was a refreshing challenge. Since he'd taken the assignment the feeling had only grown, and now he found himself hungry with an ambition he’d forgotten he possessed.

He took a deep draught of air through his nostrils and grimaced immediately as the smell of coffee entered his senses. He didn't know what humans saw in the stuff, especially if it tasted as rotten as it smelled.

'Chellick!' Lorica shouted.

He looked over his shoulder to find the asari standing over her desk with a worried expression. She held two fingers clamped over her communicator earpiece, pressing it into her flesh.

'We've got a priority transmission coming through from central,' she said, 'Get this - it's on a closed channel from inside Citadel Tower itself!'

'What? Are you sure?' Chellick asked, frowning. It was odd enough the transmission was coming from Citadel Tower but that it had been transferred to them by C-Sec's central control sent a pang of worry through him. It must have been deemed important enough to warrant their immediate attention. 'Who is it? The Council? One of the ground teams?'

'No,' she replied, 'The signal's weak but it's definitely coming from the tower's sub-levels, in the maintenance tunnels. There's a lot of interference, though. I can't get a fix on the location and I don't know how long they'll be able to transmit.'

'Establish a connection and put them on speaker,' Chellick ordered as he descended from the middle platform and briskly made his way to Lorica's desk.

The analyst worked fast, her fingers a blur as she tapped rapidly on the terminal's amber keypad. A moment later the air was filled with a harsh crackle and she worked furiously to refine the signal into something audible.

'Channel's open,' she said as Chellick drew alongside her, leaning over her desk.

'Attention, whoever this is,' he said sternly, 'This is the commander of C-Sec's Joint Security Task Force. Identify yourself immediately.'

A female voice, tinny and heavy with static, burst across the command centre and many looked up instantly as they were hit by her delirious panic, 'Hello? Can you hear me? Oh, thank the Goddess, I can't believe it! You can really hear me?'

'Yes, we can hear you,' Chellick replied, his impatience checked by the unmistakable terror in the woman's voice, 'Please, calm down and tell us who you are.'

'I'm sorry,' she said between deep, ragged breaths, 'My name is I'Layna Naris, I work for the Citadel Council. You have to help me, I'm in danger. He's right outside the door!'

'Who's outside the door?' asked Chellick, 'Who's after you?'

The room grew quiet in anticipation as I'Layna took a moment to try and compose. 'I'm...I'm not sure who he is. I only know he's a turian. I ran into him in the residence halls but something about him seemed odd so I followed him down here. I watched as he…he did something… He started cutting into the walls and…and…'

Chellick tensed. 'And what, I'Layna? What did the turian do?'

'He…' she stammered, fear and disbelief stalling her as she tried to explain, 'He…put something in the wall, a box of some kind. I think it might have been a bomb or something because it suddenly started beeping. Then he saw me so I ran away, but now I'm trapped in here.'

Lorica and Chellick exchanged a look of terrified shock and the entire command centre grew silent. This was the real thing, they realised, a true terrorist threat - and the suspect had almost succeeded in carrying it out unnoticed.

Chellick closed his eyes. This witness was now their only lead on a confirmed attack and he needed as much information as possible.

'All right, I'Layna,' he said as calmly as he could, 'I need details. Where is this man now? Can you identify exactly where you are, where he planted the bomb?'

'I'm not sure,' she responded, 'When he chased me I just ran, I didn't pay attention to where I was going. I only know I'm in some kind of room, a maintenance storage bay by the looks of it. There are tools, lockers, nothing remarkable. As for the turian, I think he's still outside, he's…wait-'

The air stalled in Chellick's lungs as she hesitated and her voice plunged into fear once again, 'I hear something on the other side of the door, some kind of scratching! Is that an omni-tool?'

The noise could be heard faintly over the speakers and Lina immediately bounded across the room, taking position at Lorica's other shoulder.

'It sounds like the suspect's trying to hack the door,' the quarian said quietly, not wanting to alarm I'Layna, 'She needs to cut the power manually to stop him.'

Nodding his head, Chellick stepped away from the desk to allow Lina to speak.

'I'Layna, my name is Lina'Gerrel Nar Korshan, I'm here to help you. Listen to me very carefully. The turian is attempting to bypass the lock on the door but you can stop him.'

'By the Goddess,' I'Layna sobbed, 'He's going to kill me, isn't he? I'm going to die in here!'

Lina slammed the palm of her hand on Lorica's desk in desperation. 'I'Layna, get a hold of yourself! I can help you keep the door closed but you need to think clearly and follow my every instruction, do you understand?' A faint sobbing crackled through the air and Lina raised her voice, 'Tell me you understand!'

'Yes!' I'Layna cried out, 'Yes, I understand! I'm sorry, just please tell me what to do!'

'Okay, do you see the small panel just to the right of the door's centre? There should be a red arrow printed on it.'

'Yes, I see it,' the asari said, her voice strengthening, 'I'm opening it now.'

'Good. You should see several wires leading into the main power board - that's the big circuit on the left. One of those wires will be red. Disconnect that one from its socket.'

Chellick could only observe in mute suspense as Lina continued to guide I’Layna, her firm tone ringing out as the rest of the team went about their work with renewed purpose.

Their options were few, he realised. It would take hours to fully evacuate Citadel Tower and even longer to find the bomb, let alone defuse it. They had to keep this woman alive at all costs. If she perished then the identity of the terrorist, as well as the location of the bomb, would die with her.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


'Did I make an idiot of myself?' Arlen asked, 'With Lina, I mean?'

His head lay nestled firmly in the palm of his hand, his elbow propped against the window of the shuttle's passenger seat.

Garrus glanced at Arlen’s embarrassed expression and a smile crept onto his lips. 'Yeah, but don't worry,' he said wistfully, 'The Citadel's a big place. We'll be meeting plenty more aliens for you to stutter and mumble at soon enough.'

'Oh. Wonderful.'

Shaking his head, Arlen turned his gaze to the sweeping view of the Presidium outside his window. The shuttle coasted along in a slow, loose trail of traffic that wound its way along the inner edge of the colossal ringed structure which housed the district. It was an amazing sight, one that not many in the galaxy ever had the chance to see.

'I always thought I'd enjoy the opportunity to meet new races,' Arlen murmured as his eyes flitted back and forth, taking in the distant scenery, 'So far though, it's just been plain awkward. Did you have that problem when you first started?'

Garrus chuckled softly. 'Man, I can't even remember back that far. Maybe all that paperwork degraded my memory in some way, or it's slowly sending me crazy, but I don't recall those early years too well.'

'It can't be that bad,' Arlen replied but the comment brought only a subtle, knowing laugh from his partner.

'They all say that until they've filed their hundredth DUI. No, you'll see what I mean. The red tape tends to cloud things, make all those months and years blur together into one. In fact, all I do remember from those days is my father saying how proud he was and how glad he was to see me following in his footsteps. To be honest, I don't think there was anything else on my mind at the time.'

'You were close to him?' Arlen asked tentatively, not wanting to overstep his bounds.

'As close as a rebellious young man could be,' Garrus replied with a shrug, 'I can't say I justified the old man’s pride in me by the end, though. He was always a C-Sec man through and through and he never approved of the way I went about the job.'

Arlen did not want to say it but he knew exactly what Garrus meant. His new partner was the mirror opposite of the example of service and honour that was drummed into every turian since childhood. To Arlen it felt odd to be simply permitted to relax without being chastised and he wondered if it was something particular to Garrus or if he would find it the same in the Interceptors.

'I can see why your father would object,' he said without malice, 'Your methods aren't exactly what I'd call orthodox. That stunt you pulled in your office with the pistol would have gotten any academy instructor removed from their position in a heartbeat.'

Garrus grinned ironically. 'You're not the first one to say that by any stretch. I've been pulled into Pallin's office more times than I can remember for all kinds of infractions. Most of them harmless. Still, sometimes the only way to learn is the hard way. You'll be grateful for it one day. I know I am.'

Arlen did not reply and simply stared out the window, observing as the Presidium drifted by. He still did not agree with Garrus' logic and chose that moment to take his new weapon from its holster, hefting it in one hand as he looked it over.

The Striker II really was vastly different from his old Kessler and his eyes followed its faded blue lines with a look of quiet disappointment. It was like everything else in the Citadel; new, unfamiliar and requiring of a great effort to get used to. Already he could sense the greater weight at the end of the barrel and he winced uncomfortably at the feel of it.

With a gentle huff of annoyance, he turned to the Presidium once more.

The place had an almost hypnotic effect on him. Everything, from the sweeping white arches to the smatterings of trees and reservoirs brought a sense of peace he’d never known before. It was a far gentler beauty than Palaven and the virtual opposite of his home colony of Edessa, with its tumultuous winds that constantly churned with ash tossed up by the planet's many volcanoes.

The Presidium's artificial sky, sunless though it was, gleamed with crisp clouds that wandered lazily across the clear blue expanse. Truly, he thought to himself in wonderment, the Citadel is a miracle.

A question crossed his thoughts and his gaze drifted back to Garrus. He hesitated, as if asking would earn him a reprimand, 'What...was that between you and Chellick? Back in the command centre, I mean? It almost sounded like he was making fun of you.'

He expected a backlash or a look of fierce disapproval at the very least but what he saw instead was just as unnerving.

Garrus smiled, his eyes growing distant with a lingering, burning anger and several moments passed before he replied, 'I guess it wouldn’t hurt to tell you. No doubt you’ll hear it from someone else soon enough, and with more drama than I’d care to add.'

Although his tone was casual, the deeper meaning of Garrus’ statement was not lost on Arlen he nodded slowly, understanding the trust being placed in him.

'It was about a year ago,' Garrus began, 'Chellick and I were working a case together investigating a salarian geneticist named Doctor Saleon. I'll spare you the details, but to cut a long story short he was growing organs inside living hosts for sale on the black market.'

'Living hosts?' Arlen asked, gaping in disgust, 'That's…that's sick!'

'You don't know the half of it,' Garrus muttered grimly, 'After a long investigation we finally caught a break and had the evidence we needed to arrest the bastard. Only problem was he escaped in an old freighter with his lab equipment and enough test subjects to start all over again.'

'What? Didn't they track him?'

Garrus dipped his head and his tone grew cold. 'No, at least not for long. By the time he got away, Patrol said it was outside their jurisdiction and Pallin refused to send Interceptors after him, said the fugitive wasn't important enough to justify that kind of response. To them Saleon was just another small-time crook who wasn't worth their effort.'

Arlen's mouth hung open. To think that C-Sec would let such a dangerous individual roam free was unconscionable.

'Didn't they at least try to stop the ship?' he asked.

'Well, they would have if it wasn't for Chellick,' Garrus said bitterly, 'I advised a patrolling frigate that Saleon was making his escape and they were all set to fire until Chellick cut in, ordering them to stand down. His authority superseded mine and so the frigate backed off, allowing Saleon to get away.'

A chill fluttered down Arlen's spine. He could not have imagined there would be such division, such clashing of personalities and priorities among people who were meant to be working together. It was the antithesis of what turians were supposed to stand for.

'He made his patronising little speech,’ Garrus went on, ‘He told me how they couldn't risk the lives of the hostages on board. I argued that those people were already dead, that Saleon would murder a lot more if we allowed him to escape but no, Chellick had already gotten Pallin on his side. I was taken off the investigation after that and Saleon disappeared. Nobody's even bothered looking for him since.'

Many questions jostled for space in Arlen's mind but his thoughts were interrupted as Garrus' suit radio chimed insistently.

'Lina? What's wrong?' Garrus asked as he slipped into a professionalism that completely masked the anger of moments before. His expression was severe and humourless, and he frowned at what he heard before turning the shuttle away sharply from the snaking traffic lane. 'Copy that, we're on our way.'

'Is something wrong?' Arlen asked as the car's siren blared out, sending nearby shuttles veering out of their way in a panic.

'There's a situation over at Citadel Tower and we're closest to the scene,' Garrus answered before turning to Arlen and throwing a glance at the recruit's new pistol. 'Looks like you could be using that thing sooner than we expected.'


 ~~~ME-I~~~


General Jardan Krassus' eyes were filled with the rich, warm glow of the Zorya sunset as the golden orb descended over distant peaks. The mountains were carpeted in bright green jungles while low valleys swept below them, already dark as the day's final light disappeared.

The old turian watched his breath mist on the window glass, though the planet's heat quickly stole the film of water and it vanished instantly, leaving only a reflection of silver skin and rigid patterns of blue paint.

The savage beauty of Zorya never ceased to leave Krassus breathless yet beneath its gorgeous vistas and lush foliage lurked some of the fiercest and most ferocious creatures he had ever seen in his thirty-five years of service. It was a wonder that any form of civilization could be kept on such a hostile world, though his own presence there had been bought and paid for with blood and vigilance.

His eyes wandered down to the compound's high walls. The thick construction bristled with grids of deadly lasers and large guard towers, silent sentinels that could unleash torrents of artillery fire within seconds.

The door to his quarters opened behind him and he didn't need to turn around to know who it was.

'Yes, Avitus?'

Avitus Varn drew a hand along his light brown mandibles, wiping off the excess moisture that had a tendency to gather in Zorya's humid climate. After a twitch of displeasure he quickly straightened and strode over to Krassus.

'Sir,' he announced coldly, 'We have an urgent communication coming in from the Citadel.'

'Crixus?' asked Krassus, his voice touched with concern. He knew it could only be his most trusted centurion and yet he had to ask, if only to confirm his fears. Crixus was not supposed to report in for at least three more days and the prematurity of the contact brought a hard knot to the general's stomach.

'Yes, Sir,' Varn said grimly. The tribune dipped his head morosely, his body exuding a moment of sadness in spite of his best efforts to combat it. 'Comms have transferred the signal to your private terminal. Would you prefer me to leave?'

Krassus grunted and turned to face his second in command. 'You’re the only one who has known Crixus longer than I have, Avitus. All things considered, I think you have every right to hear what he has to say.'

Varn looked relieved, an odd thing for one who does not readily display his emotions, and he nodded gratefully. 'Thank you, Sir. I appreciate it.'

Giving a brief, humourless smile, Krassus crossed the sparsely furnished room to where a terminal lay. The orange display flickered into existence as he neared and he noticed the small, flashing icon at the bottom of the screen. After a few button commands, he heard a faint hiss as the line connected, an amazing achievement in itself considering how many comm buoys it had been illegally routed through.

'Centurion Nantia?'

The General's fingertips drummed on his desk; the only sign of his anxiety.

'Yes Sir,' the operative replied, his voice garbled and distorted, 'I apologise for contacting you in this manner but I had no choice. There is little time left for me so I must report quickly.'

Krassus lowered his head, expecting the worst. 'What happened, Centurion?'

Crixus took a deep breath before answering, his disappointment clear, 'The package has been delivered but there was a witness, an asari. I almost had her but she's locked herself in a room and I can hear her in there, talking to someone. There was no one with her when I went after her and this place is deserted. It's unlikely anyone was in the room to begin with.'

Krassus shook his head, his eyes closed as he reeled from the news. He’d hoped the mission would be carried out with no complications and for that he berated himself inwardly for his naivety. No plan survived first contact with the enemy.

'Has she alerted C-Sec?' he questioned sternly.

'It's a strong possibility, Sir,' Crixus responded. His voice was growing heavier with static by the second and he spoke hurriedly in case the signal was lost, 'When I tried to bypass the door lock she cut the power on me. You'd have to be a competent tech to carry out something like that and she looked like anything but. There's no doubt about it, Sir, she's getting help.'

The general's brow pulsed as he mentally assessed the situation. 'I see. If that's the case then we have little option. I'm calling an abort on the mission. You are to pull out immediately and go to ground in one of our Citadel safe houses. When the heat has died down, you are to RTB at the next opportunity.'

'Negative, Sir, it's likely she knows the location of the package and could lead C-Sec to it. I’m staying.'

'What are you thinking, Centurion?' Krassus growled, the force of his voice booming in the small chamber, 'The mission may already be compromised and I won't have you throw your life away! You are to pull back, that’s an order!'

Silence stretched out the scant few moments as they waited for their man's reply. Avitus was little more than a statue, and merely blinked when Crixus finally answered.

'I'm sorry, Sir, I must ensure our mission is completed. I still have a breaching charge. I didn't want to use it for fear of drawing attention to myself but that doesn’t seem to matter now. I knew when making this transmission that it would be my last.'

Krassus inhaled deeply and again shut his eyes in frustration. 'Damn it, Crixus,' he said sadly, 'You don't have to do this.'

'Yes I do, General, for the glory of the Legion and the Empire,' Crixus replied, his voice now resolute, 'Please, Sir, know that I do this without regret. I’m disappointed that I won't see our goals fulfilled but I give my life gladly, knowing that I've helped achieve that end.'

Krassus’ cyan facial patterns shifted as he grimaced. It was a cold truth of command, knowing that your men could die at any moment and yet it was something he’d never grown used to, especially when that death could have been avoided. In just a brief moment his mind went through familiar cycles, tormenting him with things he could have done differently, adjustments to the plan that might have spared Crixus' life.

His eyes wandered to Avitus, who remained motionless. The tribune had seemed troubled enough when first entering Krassus' quarters but now he said nothing, his expression unreadable. Perhaps Avitus expected the general to persist, to convince Crixus to return?

No, Krassus told himself firmly, He would not shame Crixus' sacrifice by displaying weakness.

'Very well. If that is what you feel must be done,' the general finally said.

'Is…my brother there, Sir?' Crixus asked uneasily.

'Of course.' Krassus answered and looked at Avitus.

The tribune continued to show no sign of what he was feeling as Crixus spoke again, weary with the knowledge that they were to be his final words to his sibling, 'Avitus. Take care of our sister. Make the galaxy a better place for her. Honour the spirits of our brothers.'

A few moments passed with only the occasional chirping of Zorya's native birds to fill the empty air. Finally, with the last vestiges of its strength, the weakening signal allowed one final statement.

'General...it's been an honour.'

Krassus bowed his head respectfully. 'No, Crixus. The honour has been mine.'

A click echoed through the room as the connection was severed and the terminal blinked its objection, an error symbol flashing repeatedly on the display.

Both men visibly sagged with the weight of grief and bitter regret as they digested what had happened. Once the witness had been dealt with, Crixus would doggedly remain with his device to ensure its activation. Now that there was a chance C-Sec knew something was wrong it was only a matter of time until they found him, and Crixus would die before allowing himself to be captured.

With that in mind, Avitus sighed softly. 'I suppose that's that.'

'Indeed,' Krassus murmured, nodding slowly.

Casting aside his sorrow, he slipped into the frame of mind in which he needed to be; the solid and dependable role of a leader. It was not only necessary for him but the men under his command also needed their general to be cool-headed and unflustered by the deaths of his soldiers. Mourning would come later but for now, his men needed orders.

'I want reports every fifteen minutes until the device is activated,' he said as he sat down at his desk, 'If it’s discovered and deactivated prematurely I want to hear about it immediately. Once the mission has been accomplished I’ll announce Crixus' death and a full service will be held as soon as we have the time.'

'Yes, Sir,' Avitus responded. Smartly, he saluted and marched from the room. His silvery armour glowed in the rich dusk light that poured through the window and it shimmered as he halted, his feet stayed by Krassus' voice.

'Will you be alright, Tribune?'

Avitus turned. The creamy brown ridges of his face were edged with black ink that grew from his eye sockets in menacing curves, perfectly framing his baleful yellow eyes.

'I'll live, Sir,' he said flatly before saluting once more and exiting the room, the door sliding shut behind him with a hiss.

Krassus sighed. Crixus’ death would be tough on Avitus but if anyone could endure such a hardship, it was his most skilled and experienced warrior.

Stabbing at the terminal's keypad irritably, Krassus removed the error notification and began to sift through his messages, five of which had accrued during Crixus’ transmission. Contemptuously, he deleted them all with a single, frustrated keystroke. Soon he would find out whether or not his centurion’s sacrifice was in vain. Little else mattered until then.

Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 3
Six months before the events of Mass Effect, a crucial summit is due to be held between the Citadel Council and the human Systems Alliance. On this important day, a young turian named Arlen Kryik is recruited into an elite C-Sec unit known as the Interceptors, a small cadre of agents responsible for hunting wanted fugitives throughout the galaxy.

Partnered with veteran agent Garrus Vakarian as part of the summit's security detail, Arlen quickly becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot to destroy the Council and reignite tensions between the turian and human races.

Nothing is as it seems, however, and as Arlen and his C-Sec comrades race to uncover the truth one of the Council's oldest enemies watches from the shadows...

---

Next Episode

Previously on Interceptor...

Back to the Start
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  • Mood: Zeal
  • Listening to: Metallica
  • Reading: Assorted
  • Watching: King of the Hill
  • Playing: Civilization V
  • Eating: Healthily
  • Drinking: Unhealthily
Two years is a long time. It's a mad amount of time, really, when you look back on those days as if they were only yesterday. It was only just over two years ago I submitted the last chapter of Mass: Effect Interceptor to unwary audiences and good lord, how things have changed since then.

I've mentioned a few times that it's been my ambition to bring Interceptor up to speed, to do away with the old flaws in my technique and iron out the plot inconsistencies. Well, that process has been going on long enough that I've lost patience and started posting.

The first two chapters of Interceptor have been re-released, revised and wonderfully refined into an experience that should prove much easier and more enjoyable to read. It's the definitive version of a story that still holds a very special place in my heart. More chapters will follow in a steady stream until the whole thing is done once and for all.

What else is there to say? Well, the second draft of my novel is complete and undergoing fine-tuning before I toss it out upon the publishing waves. Details and shameless self-promotion will follow and come what may, I'll be here to share any advice I can with my fellow aspiring authors.

Till then, a happy and productive 2015 to you all and keelah se'lai!

deviantID

mothbanquet's Profile Picture
mothbanquet
Moth/Moff/Grand Moff/Moffles
Artist | Professional | Literature
United Kingdom
My name is Mothbanquet, author and creator of Mass Effect fan fiction for nearly three years. I pride myself on writing good quality Mass Effect fiction, both original and canon, as well as offering advice and critique to other writers in the community. I have released two full-length stories so far, Mass Effect 2: Dark Rendition, a gritty and emotionally complex retelling of Shepard and Tali's romance, and Interceptor, a riveting espionage thriller set months before the first game. There are two more projects in the works, the details of which will continue to be posted in my journal entries.

I believe in a few simple things; quality writing, deep characters and well-constructed plot lines. I do not write fluff or fan-pleasers. Instead, I try to bring something new and fresh to the Mass Effect audience, something they will enjoy and always remember.

Thank you for visiting my page and remember to check in often - content is updated on a regular basis!

If you like my Mass Effect stories, please feel free to check out my original work under pen name J J Grimshaw.

Finally, these are some of my favourite DA peeps, so please check them out and give them lots of love and support:

:icondementedassassin::icondeliriumgothique::iconriocyan::iconripleynox::iconopheliabell::iconezri-krios::icongodzilla2003:

Keelah se'lai!
Interests
  • Mood: Zeal
  • Listening to: Metallica
  • Reading: Assorted
  • Watching: King of the Hill
  • Playing: Civilization V
  • Eating: Healthily
  • Drinking: Unhealthily
Two years is a long time. It's a mad amount of time, really, when you look back on those days as if they were only yesterday. It was only just over two years ago I submitted the last chapter of Mass: Effect Interceptor to unwary audiences and good lord, how things have changed since then.

I've mentioned a few times that it's been my ambition to bring Interceptor up to speed, to do away with the old flaws in my technique and iron out the plot inconsistencies. Well, that process has been going on long enough that I've lost patience and started posting.

The first two chapters of Interceptor have been re-released, revised and wonderfully refined into an experience that should prove much easier and more enjoyable to read. It's the definitive version of a story that still holds a very special place in my heart. More chapters will follow in a steady stream until the whole thing is done once and for all.

What else is there to say? Well, the second draft of my novel is complete and undergoing fine-tuning before I toss it out upon the publishing waves. Details and shameless self-promotion will follow and come what may, I'll be here to share any advice I can with my fellow aspiring authors.

Till then, a happy and productive 2015 to you all and keelah se'lai!

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:iconlifesonebigadventure:
lifesonebigadventure Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the watch!
Reply
:icongodzilla2003:
Godzilla2003 Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh, bollocks.
I forgot to wish you a happy Halloween. :B
Ah, bugger it!
Happy belated Halloween, moth! Hope you had a good one! :D
Reply
:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014  Professional Writer
And a belated thanks! I did bugger all for a whole week save attend a party dressed as a Payday character. Hope you too had a good 'un!
Reply
:icongodzilla2003:
Godzilla2003 Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I did indeed, thanks!
Nothing for a whole week besides a single party?

Sounds like my kind of shindig!
Reply
:iconopheliabell:
OpheliaBell Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2014  Professional Writer
Warning... I've tagged you. I hope it doesn't hurt too much.
Reply
:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2014  Professional Writer
Ouch...
Reply
:iconaillin1:
aillin1 Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2014   Writer
Happy Birthday, mate!
Reply
:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2014  Professional Writer
Thanks, it was a great day.
Reply
:iconcci545:
CCI545 Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Happy Birthday!
Reply
:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2014  Professional Writer
Thank you, that's very kind! :)
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