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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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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:

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Keelah se'lai!
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(Contains: violence/gore and strong language)

A merchant in the wards required many traits, the most vital of which was cleverness. With so many millions of citizens crammed into every corner of the Citadel, competition was fierce and only the clever survived.

Morlan smiled approvingly at his earnings for the day as he rifled through a few credit receipts. It was not yet noon and already he had more in his hands than he would usually have made in a week.

Indeed, amongst the packed throng of traders littering the market he'd proven himself more clever than most that day and he beamed down eagerly at the fruits of his mercantile prowess.

His fingers traced the authorisation code flashing across one of the unprocessed credit chits. That one stood out to Morlan, if only because of the red-painted turian who had delivered it. For a moment he wondered if the code could have been forged, perhaps by one of the many programs he himself had acquired from one of his fellow salarians.

Shaking his head, he purged the thought.

That turian had been dangerous, Morlan had sensed it in his every word and action, but turians did not cheat. No matter their lack of imagination and penchant for violence, they brought their silly notions of honour into everything they did and Morlan knew the credits would be there waiting for him.

So focused was Morlan that he didn't notice the approaching C-Sec officers until it was too late.

They emerged from the crowd like a pair of blue shadows and Morlan's instincts prickled at the familiar face of Detective Keller. That one was nosey and pushy, always had been.

With a heavy sinking feeling in his stomach, Morlan hid his valuable credit chits from view. It was required that all consumer transactions on the Citadel be carried out by omni-tool, a model of transparency and fiscal responsibility. The older, less traceable methods were generally frowned upon by many and no one frowned harder than C-Sec. Morlan had discovered this the hard way, and he always ensured the chits were kept out of sight whenever the dogs came sniffing.

The officers drew near and Morlan's gaze was drawn to Keller's associate, a new face. He was young for a turian and Morlan hid a derisive smirk. A recruit, obviously, there to study and absorb. No doubt he was only just learning how to write tickets and file reports.

Morlan did not care. Whatever C-Sec wanted, he would demonstrate his cleverness once again and leave them empty-handed.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Arlen saw the salarian merchant steel himself visibly and became very aware of the people that flowed across the market in a constant, unbroken stream.

Murmuring voices swelled, threatening to distract him from his purpose and he looked at Keller to find her gaze fixed resolutely on their suspect. He mimicked the action, taking a measure of confidence from her cold expression.

Morlan smiled widely at them, spreading his arms in greeting. 'Hello there! Welcome to Morlan's famous shop! You want many g-'

'Can it, Morlan,' Keller snapped as she drew to a halt, 'You know I'm not interested in your crappy merchandise. I'm here to ask you a few questions.'

Immediately, the hard tone brought a shocked stillness to Morlan. Arlen watched as the salarian's grey scales picked up the light of the market, edging them with white as his head rocked from side to side in agitation. His eyes were a pair of dark orbs that flitted about nervously and when it came, his reply was a rush of jumbled words that sounded as if they'd been learned by watching too many commercials.

'Officer Keller, yes, I know you! You want information? Of course but nothing I have, no, not of any interest to you!' He was jittery, almost comically so and the harder Morlan tried to hide it, the worse it became. 'Please, look at my fine stock! See human marital endowment aids, very popular right now!'

For a moment Arlen thought he was merely putting on an act, a charade to fool them into letting their guards down. As the seconds passed however, the merchant only grew more anxious and Keller took advantage of it without hesitation.

'Stow it, slimeball. A few hours ago you sold something to a turian named Crixus Nantia. We've got footage of you handing over some kind of circuit board to this turian. I want to know exactly what you gave him and how you got it.'

'It was a navigation unit for old freighter,' Morlan replied quickly, 'Very rare indeed, I was lucky to find! He was lucky also, nice for him to get at low, low price! Did special discount, old friend you see-'

'What kind of freighter?' Keller interrupted.

Morlan answered, though more ponderously than before and he rubbed the back of his neck nervously, 'Kowloon modular freighter. Very common, but older ships need Black Sun nav boards for VIs to function properly. Black Sun components difficult to find but not for me!'

'What series nav board?' asked Keller.

'Thirteen-A.'

'Age?'

'Um...four years, I think?' Morlan replied, a ripple of fear playing across his features.

Keller leaned intently over the merchant's counter, her golden ponytail falling across her shoulder. She spoke slowly, her eyes boring into Morlan, 'You think? A wrong nav card in one of those things could send a ship like that into the middle of a sun or a black hole. Even a two-bit junk shifter like you should know that.'

Morlan thought on it a moment, then answered again, though his voice wavered with uncertainty, ‘Yes. Yes, certain it was four years.’

Keller narrowed her eyes. 'And this turian was the captain of this ship? Navigator?'

The noise of the passing crowd had become distant and muted to Arlen as he listened to the exchange with all his concentration. He saw Morlan swallow nervously, clearly unused to this kind of persistence.

'I don't know,' the salarian mumbled, 'Stops in on occasion but not often, don't know him personally. Part was special order, had it sourced from off-station.'

That was it. Arlen cleared his throat and his warm, flanging tone rose over the clamour of the nearby shoppers. Even Keller seemed surprised to hear him speak.

'I thought you said he was an old friend of yours?' he asked calmly.

'No!' Morlan shouted, waving his hands in panic, 'No, not old friend, figure of speech, you see! I uh…'

The words died in his throat as Keller reached across the counter, gripping Morlan by the collar of his suit.

'I think it's time you told us the truth, Morlan,' the detective growled, 'What did you sell to that turian?'

Squirming in her grasp, Morlan forced the voice from his throat, 'I don't know!' he said despairingly, 'They told me to hand it over when he came! Paid well, couldn't turn down an offer for so much, couldn't afford to!'

'Who's 'they'?'

'Can't tell you! They'll kill me!' Morlan wailed. His eyes shone with genuine terror and Arlen almost felt a pang of regret for the fool. It was obvious he had become embroiled in events much larger than he'd imagined but with so many lives at stake, it was difficult to find much sympathy.

Keller pulled him closer with a sharp jerk.  'Let me tell you something, Morlan. The turian you sold that part to was a terrorist, a man who only an hour ago planted a bomb in Citadel Tower. You sold him a part of that bomb, didn't you?'

'Wha...' Morlan began, horror bleeding the word from his lips. His face slackened in shame and humiliation, the expression growing so sickened that Arlen thought he could very well vomit in front of them all.

'Now let us make this clear to you,' Keller continued, 'If something bad happens, we won't be bringing you in on contraband or smuggling charges. You'll be an accomplice to a terrorist action. Any resulting deaths will be on your hands and you will be charged accordingly. Do you understand me?'

'I swear, wasn't told what it was,' Morlan replied, his head lowered in sullen disgrace.

'All right,' said Keller. Her tone softened slightly and she released her grip on his suit, but her eyes were still as if made of steel. 'I believe you, but only because I’ve been busting your slimy balls for years now and I know you're stupid enough to do something like this. Now, I want the records of where you got that part from and I want them now.'

Morlan mumbled incoherently, eyes downcast and hands fumbling, smoothing out the unsightly wrinkles in his clothes. 'Only have an alias. Came from off-station, as I said, Omega to be exact. Don't usually take orders from there, normally too much risk.'

Arlen turned to Keller. ‘I've heard of Omega, somewhere to avoid if memory serves me right. A real cesspool.'

Nodding, Keller's unflinching gaze fell upon Morlan once more and he quailed under those cold blue eyes.

'Give me everything you have,’ she ordered, ‘Invoices, receipts, shipping manifests, I want it all. If you leave anything out then I'll be back here in an hour with a Special Response unit, do I make myself clear?'

Morlan bobbed his head and set about rifling through stacks of files and OSDs under the counter, ignoring the inquisitive glances from passing shoppers and neighbouring merchants. It was not long before he set down several datapads on the counter, their frames caked with old dust.

Immediately, Arlen began to link them to his omni-tool. The curves of his face were lined with amber as the instrument did its work, passing a thin layer of light over each in turn before sending out an acknowledging chime. He quickly got through them all and his brow furrowed as the analysis results came up.

'The name Bithcon Dynamics appears several times in these records. The shipping dates and descriptions are a solid match.’ He looked up at Morlan. ‘This was the company who supplied you the part?'

'Yes. That is the alias I spoke of, don't know anything else. No need to ask questions if the credits are good.'

'Well, it's a start,' said Keller, 'Stay out of trouble, Morlan. If you receive anything else from this company, this Bithcon Dynamics, you let us know right away.'

The merchant nodded his agreement with a force that could have snapped his thin neck.

Keller turned away, catching Arlen by surprise. After a final glance at Morlan he followed, voicing his doubt as they walked, ‘We’re letting him go? Just like that?’

The detective wove through the crowd expertly, leaving Arlen to dodge whoever had stepped aside for her.

‘As you can see,’ she called over her shoulder, ‘Morlan’s worth more on the street than inside. Besides, you’ve got bigger fish to fry, right?’

The question brought some clarity to Arlen’s thoughts. Though he loathed the idea of letting a criminal go free, there was no denying their priorities or their purpose. One Morlan was not worth the hundreds of lives Crixus’ bomb would claim.

With that in mind he followed Keller, eager to follow up on Bithcon Dynamics and uncover the next piece of the puzzle.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Lina sighed wearily and placed a hand on her visor, languidly resting her head as she continued to prod the terminal keyboard. The action was now automatic, the monotony of sifting through vast collections of security reports making itself felt as the task wore on. People and places flashed by before her trained eyes, which moved smoothly behind dark glass as they scanned, watching for anything suspicious.

There was depressingly little to catch her attention. Though the scant few districts Crixus had visited were saturated with surveillance devices, Lina had long lost count of how many vids she'd watched with nothing to show for it. A single customs gate had responded to the description passed around Council departments but aside from his meeting with Morlan, Crixus' movements were still unknown.

Lina started as a hand rested on her shoulder and she looked up to see Milo smiling down at her.

Her temper flared instantly at the interruption but she controlled herself enough to bite down on an angry response.

'Are you okay?' he asked.

'Of course, why wouldn't I be?' she lied.

He stared at her for a moment, evidently gauging how best to continue before giving her a cautious smile. 'Okay, fair enough. If you need any help though, all you have to do is ask.'

As he turned away, Milo gently squeezed Lina’s shoulder, making her flinch. The habit of physical contact was not uncommon among humans but it did not stop the unpleasant tension that gripped her stomach, an instinctive feeling of distaste that she could not suppress.

'N-no,' she stuttered, the awkward sound surprising her, 'I appreciate the offer but you've got your own job to do. In any case, I doubt you'd be able get through these files as quickly as I can.'

'Is that a fact?' Milo chuckled playfully, 'I think I'd like to take that bet.'

'Well I wouldn't. Now stop wasting time and get back to work.'

'All right, all right!' he said lightly, backing away with his hands raised in mock surrender, 'I'm just saying, you look a little tired. At least let me get you a drink or something to perk you up, okay?'

Lina narrowed her eyes, confused by a strange mixture of frustration and nervousness. She knew Milo was only trying to be friendly but the best she could muster was a huff of irritation.

'Fine, then. If you insist on it then I guess I could do with a glass of water.'

Milo's lips curled into a knowing grin and Lina frowned beneath her helmet, wondering if he sensed her true thoughts. He nodded and turned, striding smoothly between the rows of desks.

Humans were an odd bunch, Lina thought with a shake of her head. They were the most unpredictable race she had ever come across, indefinable from one to the next and always contradicting the behaviour of the last.

Nestling a hand firmly under her chin, she resumed her listless stare into the orange glow of her terminal. She could not deny the look in Milo's eyes had disturbed her, even though their exchange was both brief and uncomfortable, at least on her part. Moreover, her discomfort was an unfamiliar one, an odd sense of vertigo that gripped her whenever he smiled in that infuriating way he seemed to have perfected.

It was a strange feeling that she'd never known before and one she couldn’t help but try and analyse.

Her terminal seemed distant, even more so than moments before, when it had threatened to overwhelm her patience with insurmountable boredom. The murmurs of those around her became an indiscernible flow of sound, swimming through her helmet receptors without form or meaning.

Why did he have to disturb me? Lina cursed inwardly. She'd made such good progress despite her burgeoning lethargy but now she could not concentrate no matter how hard she tried. Even the lingering warmth of Milo's hand on her shoulder, felt so keenly even beneath her suit, distracted her.

Blinking, Lina abruptly sat upright. Simply by realising she was thinking too much of the encounter, her nervousness had grown, leaping up her spine in an icy chill.

It was then she noticed Lorica.

The asari had not risen from her seat but she did not need to. Her pale eyes were locked on Lina in a fierce glare, her mouth twisting bitterly as a subordinate spoke to her, the words unheeded.

The hostility in the gaze was as much a warning as any amount of words and it took all of Lina's will to force her mind away from Milo and back to her work.

Losing herself once more in the security feeds, Lina relaxed. As a quarian, she was used to the prejudice and anger of others and had learned long ago how to put it all aside. Though she wanted nothing more than to answer Lorica with a harsh reprimand or an even stonier look of her own, they did not have the time for petty spite.

The race to find Crixus once again took over her body and mind, reassuring her as her fingers began to flicker across the keyboard.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


The clinic had grown silent. All Garrus could hear was his own heart hammering against the walls of his chest.

Part of him recoiled in horror at what he was doing but he’d learned long ago how to silence that dissenting voice, how to lock it away and focus on what needed to be done. He couldn't let anything get in his way, not now, not when everything hinged on his next action.

I'Lyana still lay in bed, wreathed in a perfect white sheet that sank deeply into every nuance of her body. It would have been a beautiful sight were it not for the dark, sickly bruising that stained almost half of her face.

Her cheeks were swollen, giving her mouth an irregular slant while a bloody gash had been ripped across her brow, disfiguring the flesh around her right eye.

Garrus shook his head slowly. Even if she lived, she would never be the same again.

He paced carefully towards her, his stomach weak and legs numb, as if someone else were controlling them. The armour of his left hand shone under the sterile light as he tenderly brushed his fingers over I'Layna's cheek.

'I'm sorry,' he whispered, 'Please, forgive me.'

The hand moved down to I'Layna's shoulder and after a final, cautious glance around the room, Garrus began to shake her. The motion was gentle at first but quickly grew in strength as she failed to respond.

'Come on, I'Layna,' he murmured, 'I need you to wake up now.'

He tried to keep his voice low but as the seconds passed without so much as a flicker of movement, he began to grow impatient.

I'Layna's body shuddered and jerked as Garrus brought his other hand to bear, taking hold of her other shoulder in a firm grip.

'I'Layna, can you hear me? Wake up!'

Nearby instruments began to beep rapidly, doing their best to alert the medical staff to I’Layna's rising heart rate. Garrus swore and quickly reached over to shut off the equipment, closing his eyes in relief as it fell silent. He did not stop trying to rouse her and almost missed the first quiet gasps as consciousness took hold.

'That's it,' he whispered gratefully before taking a nervous look over his shoulder. I’Layna would likely be mired in pain and confusion when her senses returned and he wouldn't have long until she shouted for help.

Even as the thought crossed Garrus' mind, I'Layna's eyes widened in shock at the sight of his fringe and mandibles. She tried to scream but her voice was barely more than a hiss, and her arms reached out to feebly bat him away.

'Calm down,' he said firmly as he took hold of her frantic limbs, 'I'm a C-Sec officer. Take it easy now, you're safe. You're safe.'

He repeated the words like a mantra, desperately trying to keep his voice as low and soothing as possible. I’Layna continued to struggle against him for a few more seconds but gradually, she calmed. Her blue eyes settled on Garrus, sharpened for a moment, then began to shine with tears.

Garrus relaxed his grip on her arms and took her hands in his, doing his best to comfort her.

'I'Layna, I know you're in pain right now but we don't have any time,' he pleaded, 'I need you to tell me what you saw earlier. I need you to tell me about the bomb.'

A hoarse rasp came from I'Layna's lips as tears trickled down her cheeks, leaving silvery trails. Faint traces of words formed but her voice did not come and the harsh sound seemed to agitate her further, her chest heaving as silent sobs stole her breath.

'Take it easy, your voice should come back,' Garrus said, his calm belying the cold dread he felt, having seen before what fusion-based explosives could do to living flesh. I'Layna would be lucky if she could speak again.

The realisation brought a sickening lump into Garrus' stomach. If she could not talk then his efforts would all be for nothing.

At that moment, an idea formed in his mind and his eyes snapped to a datapad resting on a nearby table.

He spoke again, willing her to understand what was at stake, 'Please, I'Layna, I need you to listen to me very carefully. My name is Garrus Vakarian, I'm an agent with C-Sec. The man who tried to kill you is dead, he can't hurt you any more but there's still a possibility he’ll murder a lot of innocent people.'

He paused to see how his words were received and he could not have missed the relief that washed over her at the mention of Crixus' death. Garrus continued slowly, knowing I'Layna could only take in so much at once in her state.

'You saw him plant what we believe to be a bomb in Citadel Tower. Right now C-Sec are searching the area but it could take them a long time to find it. I doubt we have more than a couple of hours at the most. You can save those people, I'Layna. You can save everyone. All we need is the location of that bomb.'

I'Layna sagged visibly and Garrus could not imagine how much willpower it took for the asari to simply keep herself conscious. Her breath came in ragged wisps and her glistening eyes lacked focus, constantly wandering after no more than a few seconds.

They grew glassy as Garrus picked up the datapad and taking a knee, he settled beside I’Layna and took her hand. The other offered the datapad to her and he was glad his voice did not tremble with the anxiety that wracked him.

'I know you can't speak right now but I want you to describe, as best you can, where you saw him plant that bomb. Anything, even the floor you were on, any small detail will be useful.'

He didn’t know whether she was nodding or if her head was simply lolling with exhaustion but in spite of her agony, I'Layna's fingers reached out to delicately touch the datapad. Each keystroke was like a hammerfall in that quiet place, yet Garrus grinned subtly as she handed the datapad back to him in a trembling grip.

His heart soared at the simple direction; Floor 232, Service Tunnel 14d.

This was it. This was the information they needed.

Garrus looked up and opened his mouth to thank I’Layna but the words did not come as her body started to twitch, her eyes raised to the ceiling.

'No!' he cried out as he seized her hands, trying to hold them steady. 'Stay with me, I'Layna! Somebody, get in here! Get in here now!'

His shouts echoed cleanly against the bare walls and an instrument panel began to chime a loud warning. The tone was high and pulsed quickly, matching his rising panic.

Garrus did not need to look at the readings flashing across the panel's display to know I'Layna was dying. Her body convulsed and she squeezed Garrus' hands, the pressure unnaturally strong.

'Damn it!' Garrus yelled desperately.

He heard the thumping of running feet behind him but did not take his eyes from I'Layna's, even when he felt a violent pull from behind. An arm wrenched him backwards and though he was aware of several bodies packing themselves into the space around I'Layna, he barely noticed them. Instead he simply stared blankly as her eyes grew dull, the life leeching from them with frightening speed.

'We're losing her!' a voice yelled out, 'Who the hell shut off life support?'

'Heart rate's rising too quickly,' someone said in reply, 'We need to get her stable!'

Garrus looked on, lost in the sudden rush of noise and activity. He held the datapad with loose fingers, his arms hanging limply by his sides. His head felt light with dawning regret and his whole body felt tired to the point of exhaustion.

Once again he saw the victim of Doctor Saleon he’d interviewed so long ago, the one he had watched bleed out across the interrogation room floor. Again he caught the odour of hot, rushing blood and heard the shouts of those around him. That turian had died in agony on the cold ground. Now I'Layna too was suffering the same fate.

Garrus breathed heavily and became acutely of the armour that pushed against his chest. It felt constricting, as if it wanted to crush him. The sensation dulled his thoughts and it took several moments to register the long, droning beep that pierced the clinic air. The medical staff hung their heads, their sadness and frustration palpable.

Daniel, the orderly who had accosted Garrus earlier, looked at him accusingly. The human’s face had coloured with something more than grief and Garrus quickly came to his senses under that hard glare. He pushed aside thoughts of consequence and turned his mind to what needed to be done. He would contact Arlen with the bomb's location and after that he would face whatever he had brought upon himself.

Garrus looked again at I'Layna, his mandibles flexing as he followed the gentle curves of her body, now forever motionless. Her eyes were closed, her peaceful expression hiding the pain she had felt only moments ago. The monitoring equipment continued its long, mournful note and no one moved to turn it off as they respectfully pulled I'Layna's sheets up to cover her face.

For that, Garrus was thankful. He did not know if he could bear to look at her a moment longer.

Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 7
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)

'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...

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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...

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!

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:iconcatelee2u:
catelee2u Featured By Owner 3 days ago  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy Birthday!! :party::beer::love:
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:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner 2 days ago  Professional Writer
Thank you very much! :)
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:iconexileblaze:
ExileBlaze Featured By Owner 3 days ago
Happy Birthday!
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:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner 2 days ago  Professional Writer
You're too kind! :)
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:iconlifesonebigadventure:
lifesonebigadventure Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the watch!
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: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
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: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!
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: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!
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:iconopheliabell:
OpheliaBell Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2014  Professional Writer
Warning... I've tagged you. I hope it doesn't hurt too much.
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:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2014  Professional Writer
Ouch...
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