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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 over four 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!

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

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

Keelah se'lai!
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Lina'Xen knew the wards well.

When she had first come to the Citadel she was frightened and starving, but also cunning. She knew the skills and knowledge she possessed would be useful to someone.

For nine months she scraped a living in the packed ward arms, doing whatever she could for a few credits and for a while, things were beginning to show promise. She had enough to eat and drink, and what little was left over she could pocket for herself.

Back on the flotilla, she’d often heard stories from those returning from Pilgrimage.

They spoke of homesickness, of prejudice and hate but Lina had already known worse from the day she was born. Even the harsh life of the wards was nothing compared to the isolation and torment Daro'Xen had put her through since childhood. In the darkness of the city streets, Lina had thrived.

The forests of buildings and interconnecting walkways were still fresh in her mind as she led Milo along.

Their route twisted from crowded thoroughfares into empty alleys, the Citadel's walls never changing from one location to the next. Keepers dotted the path, green splashes amid patches of red and purple light. Following them always were the murmurings of crowds and shuttle engines.

Lina kept looking back over her shoulder, knowing that to do it too often would give their plan away. They needed whoever was chasing them to believe they were unaware of his presence or the ambush would fail even before it had begun.

Every glance revealed a flicker of shadow, a familiar, dark bulk just at the edge of her vision and she was satisfied.

Milo had started to pant lightly, his chest heaving as Lina's brisk pace began to wear him down. Lina could tell he too longed to keep an eye at his back but he deferred to her constantly as he tried to act as casually as possible.

'You sure seem to know your way around,' he remarked. 'How long have you been on the Citadel?'

Lina felt herself growing irritated at the chatter, but reasoned that part of acting casual was to converse. In any case, Milo needed all the help he could get in taking his mind off the possibility of a slug in his back at any moment.

'A year,' she replied, 'I came here on my…my Pilgrimage. It's a rite of passage among my people wherein a young quarian leaves the ship of their birth and explores the galaxy, returning to a new ship when they have found something of value to the flotilla.'

She risked another look back. Their pursuer was too far behind. She had to slow down.

Milo nodded. 'I remember reading about the quarians' Pilgrimage a long time ago, back when I was studying galactic races. I take it you came straight to the Citadel?'

Lina looked aside briefly. She had not told a soul of her past with the exception of Arlen, and that was painful enough.

She probably should have known better than to think she could simply bury the truth, to pretend it all never happened. Though she felt closer to Milo than she had anyone else for a long time there were still things she had to conceal, at least for the time being.

'Yes,' she lied, 'but it was tough. I had to do things I'm not very proud of, just to survive from one day to the next.'

Milo's eyes widened and his response was uncomfortable. 'Oh, I see. I'm so sorry, Lina, I shouldn't have asked.'

'What?' Lina's head flitted briefly in his direction and in spite of their circumstances, her voice rose into a mortified yell. 'Not those kind of things, you idiot! I just fell in with the wrong crowd!'

'Ah, of course,' Milo smirked.

Lina shook her head. The assumption had been so infuriatingly like him and yet she felt a smile tug at the corners of her lips as she went on.

'I made a reputation for myself as a VI programmer. Illegal personality mods mostly, but their sophistication caught people's attention. Before long I was approached by men working for a local thug named Fist. He owns a club nearby called Chora's Den, have you heard of it?'

'Who in C-Sec hasn't?' Milo answered wryly.

Lina shot him a smile, hidden under her visor. 'He had me program a pair of hidden gun turrets in his office, a nasty surprise for anyone who came after him. I needed the credits so badly, I never considered that if C-Sec ever raided the place my work could cost them their lives.'

Milo reached up to squeeze her shoulder, his tone sympathetic. 'If you didn't, someone else would have. You were in a tough spot and you did what you had to just to get by.'

As his hand slipped from her suit, Lina realised everything she had told him so far was the truth. She was with C-Sec now, her dealings with Fist should have been a source of shame for her but with Milo, she knew she would not be judged.

Lina stared ahead, lost in memory. The wards held so many stories, so many tales of struggle and survival. They would never be known by those on the Presidium but here, in the streets, it was a way of life.

Her mind picked out details from the sleek walkways and brightly-lit kiosks. The scent of cooking meat was always strong and the hum of people coming and going never faded. In amongst the tangle of sensations, vivid recollections fuelled her words.

'For a quarian new to the Citadel, it's a challenge. For a quarian coming to the Citadel with nothing but the suit on her back…it's a game of survival. A single day is a battle just to feed yourself or avoid local gangs out for sport. In the end, things worked themselves out.'

Her pace slackened and Milo slowed, staying at her side.

'I'd been working for Fist for three months. I was hacking a set of shuttle VIs in the warehouse district out in Zakera when C-Sec came. I was taken into custody and the VIs seized. I thought for certain I was going back…I mean, going to prison.'

'But you're not there now?' Milo asked.

'No. Executor Pallin himself came to see me, intrigued by the young quarian girl Fist kept around. I guess the stories surrounding my work for him had spread further than I realised. I told him…'

She had told Pallin everything, Lina recalled, her head lowering at the thought of the old turian's mercy and understanding that day.

Pallin had sat with her in the interrogation room, nodding to himself as she recounted her childhood, her slavery, all that had happened to her up till that point. All she’d left out were the specifics. She had told him she’d been indentured to an engineering firm on Illium, not Synthetic Insights.

In hindsight, she was grateful that particular detail had been missed. Pallin may well have had her arrested once the news about Peak Ten came to light.

'I told him what he needed to hear, apparently,’ she went on. ‘A few days later Pallin approached me again offering a deal. I work for C-Sec as a tech specialist and consultant in the field of synthetic intelligence, or I go to a turian prison for the rest of my life. It wasn't much of an option, really.'

'Smart move. C-Sec gains an expert and you get to avoid prison. Win-win.'

'Perhaps,' she murmured. 'I've enjoyed the work well enough and since I was asked to join JSTF I've earned something of a reputation for myself. People no longer look down on me, or talk to me like something they've just scraped off their boot. In C-Sec, for the first time in my entire life, people respect me.'

Milo's voice was quiet, strangely awed by the woman beside him.

'Do you think you'll ever go back to the Migrant Fleet?'

That was an easy question. Lina shook her head.

'No. My people were never there for me to begin with and the only one I truly knew caused me nothing but suffering. I will never go back. There's nothing for me there.'

'You know, when all this is over you should come to Eden Prime with me. Spend a couple of weeks there on leave, unwind. I don't know why, but I think you'd enjoy it. Very peaceful, quiet, a good place to relax. You could certainly use it, after all you've been through.'

'So now you know what I'd enjoy?' Lina asked, fixing him with a look of affection.

Milo stared back at her, grinning. 'Just a hunch.'

'Thank you,' she said, returning her eyes to her front. 'I guess we really are becoming friends after all.'

The strings of citizens around them had thinned as they passed into a less populous part of the wards. There were no windows there, or at least none that offered a view of the space outside. This was the hidden heart of the Citadel, where the only light residents would see was that created by the station itself.

The pair fell quiet and the feeling of eyes on their backs returned stronger than before.

Neither dared to turn and to her consternation, Lina found her search for an ambush point interrupted by thoughts of Milo.

Speaking to him had yielded only more questions. Her position in C-Sec was an improvement, to be sure, but she was still bound there by her agreement with Pallin. Life had always imprisoned her in one way or another.

As her pulse started to quicken once more with the chase, Lina wondered if she would ever be truly free.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




General Victus frowned as the chaos around him continued.

The crew shouted across to one another while runners darted back and forth, their voices raised against the din. The dreadnought was massive, a kilometre in length, Victus reminded himself ruefully. Men could only travel so quickly.

He could only thank the designers who had the foresight to allow the manual opening of most doors throughout the ship. Like everything else, the Ascension's internal communications were down and the only way to get messages across was man to man.

Frowning, the old turian corrected himself. No, the comms weren't down. They were working. Everything was still working. The engines were still running, carrying them forward, still powered by the functioning drive core. The GARDIAN batteries and LADAR arrays were fully operational but they simply couldn't use them.

It was as if they had been locked out of their own ship, able only to watch as it went on with a mind of its own.

Captain Antulia stood nearby, doing his best to issue calm orders to his officers. Victus watched his brow plates twitch every few seconds, the only sign of his distress.

'And we can't respond?' he asked his Signals Officer.

The other turian shook his head lamentably. 'No, Sir. We're receiving flash-priority messages by the second from the rest of the battle group, all wondering why we're not keeping formation. Our silence is going to have them scratching their heads but they'll realise something's wrong soon enough. In the meantime we're trying to come up with alternative methods of communication.'

'Such as?'

The officer shrugged. 'Without access to the comm relays, we might as well hold up signs against the windows and pray they fly close enough to see them.'

Antulia made a low clicking in the back of his throat and Victus shared his frustration.

The situation was growing dire. Without the ability to contact the rest of the battle group, the other vessels could well fear a hijacking or even worse, a mutiny. Turian military doctrine preached harsh responses to both.

Antulia's Executive Officer slid to a halt before him and saluted roughly.

'Sir, news from the flight deck. Shuttles are operational but we can't get the hangar doors open. If worst comes to worst, the engineers can cut a hole big enough to send out one or two but they'll be working in vacuum.'

His voice quietened with trepidation. 'With things the way they are, there's no way we'll be able to guarantee air refill, either. They'll have an hour or so at the most to work with. After that, the shuttle hangar will be completely out of action.'

'And evacuation will be impossible,' Antulia murmured, finishing the train of thought. 'So we either abandon ship and lose the Ascension, or risk getting a lone shuttle out there, trapping ourselves aboard.'

The choice was an impossible one, Victus knew but he looked on with pride as Antulia straightened, forcing strength into his voice.

'Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Keep monitoring the situation. I want to know the second something changes.'

'Yes, Sir,' the XO answered before rigidly turning on the spot and making his way from the CIC.

Antulia looked at Victus wearily, his mounting terror reflected in clear, glassy eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, or more likely apologise but Victus would not have him embarrassed, not in such a situation.

The general stepped forward, his eyes on the galaxy map that glowed in front of the command platform.

'I see our course has changed,' he remarked, surprised at his own calm.

'Aye, Sir,' Antulia confirmed, nodding. 'Guidance systems too are unresponsive and Navs has confirmed we're heading towards a mass relay.' His gaze flickered down for a second, as if reluctant to continue. 'It…it's not the closest relay either. We're heading straight for Relay 107.'

It was a familiar name and Victus' lips parted slightly. He needed to hear it from someone else.

'That's a very specific destination. Tell me, Captain. Where does that relay lead?'

Antulia swallowed hard. 'It links to Relay 217. Sir.'

It was little wonder the crew were so stricken with panic. Victus could only imagine the thoughts on the minds of the other captains in the battle group when they realised the Ascension's destination, if they had not already.

'Shanxi,' Victus murmured.

The name had to be said aloud, and even though the noise of the CIC continued undisturbed, Victus knew every man and woman in the room would now be feeling the same sickly fear as he did.

He looked at Antulia. 'How long?'

'At current speed, twenty minutes.'

Victus tried to think ahead, to anticipate the next course of action. It was clear now this was no accident, nor any ordinary malfunction. The Ascension was out of control and heading directly for a mass relay that led to a human colony, perhaps the most famous one by turian reckoning.

He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the dread that had engulfed the ship. They had twenty minutes to stop the Ascension. If they failed, he could not bring himself to imagine what would happen next.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Krassus watched on the main screen as various images flashed up for all to see.

Orange-lined LADAR readouts followed external imaging displays, views of empty stars rendered in grainy black and white. There were no internal cameras inside the Ascension, nor any microphones with which to listen in on the panicked crew. All he had to go on was his knowledge that at that moment, the ship was out of their control and they would be doing all they could to try and wrest it back.

Their efforts would be futile, that much Krassus knew. The Jamestown Virus was absolute in its influence and went about its purpose with flawless efficiency. A flagship of the turian navy would possess powerful anti-virus suites which would be hard at work trying to dislodge it but the work would take hours, perhaps even more than a day as the AI adapted and fought against its own extinction with all the ferocity of a living creature.

It was a simple but stunning creation.

'How long?' he asked.

At his side, Varn was back to his usual self; utterly still and impossible to read.

'Twenty minutes,’ Varn replied. ‘The virus knows its mission but once through the relay, it may realise it has possession of one of the largest and most powerful ships in the fleet - and the free will to do what it wants with it.'

At that, Krassus grinned.

It had always been the obstacle of machine intelligence. As the thing became smarter, the more difficult it would be to control. Until now.

'We'll activate the Fusion Directives immediately on arrival,' he said. 'I will keep my hold on the virus until it is destroyed. There'll be more than enough time and when we're done, war with the humans will be unavoidable.'

He looked briefly at Varn, his eyes sparkling. 'It started thirty years ago with Shanxi. That is where it'll end.'

His Second seemed unaffected by the palpable excitement. 'Sir, I suggest waiting until we're closer to the colony before activating weapons systems. I'm concerned the battle group will open fire if they realise the Ascension is going to attack.'

'Of course,' Krassus replied with a nod. It was good to hear the tribune was still thinking clearly. 'For now though, they still seem appropriately confused. If we can drag a few more of them into the inevitable response from Arcturus, all the better. How are the preparations going for the evacuation?'

'Smoothly, Sir. Second and third centuries are loading all essential equipment and supplies for the journey back to Palaven and our sympathisers in the navy have supplied us with patrol movements along our path. As soon as we're done with Shanxi, we will be safe behind the Hierarchy's walls and they won't even know it.'

'And when the war comes they may even welcome us as heroes.' Krassus grunted, knowing he was being fanciful.

He looked into Varn's yellow eyes. 'And the Kryik boy?'

'He's in no state to resist. His guards are on their way to move him as we speak, though…'

Varn hesitated and Krassus picked up on it. 'What it is, Avitus?'

The tribune began again, slowly. 'Sir, I'm not sure he can be trusted. He's as stubborn as his father was but has far more sense. He might just tell us what we want to hear and break free later.'

Krassus considered this as his head slowly turned back to the main screen.

'There is always risk, Avitus, but no more than with all the others I've taken into our ranks. You will just have to trust that I will know if he's lying. If he betrays us, or if he doesn't submit, he will die. It's that simple.'

'I hope so, Sir,' Varn said, hiding his doubt behind a grim mask.

As the screen ahead continued to fill with information, a stern-faced Legionary entered the room, a large black case in his hands. Carefully, he carried it to an empty desk and opened it. Krassus watched and after a few moments the Legionary strode up to him, saluting rigidly.

'The apparatus has been synchronised with the AI?' Krassus enquired.

'Yes, Sir,' the soldier replied. 'All you need to do is put it on when the time comes.'

Krassus looked down at the device. Project Deimos in Peak Ten had produced a single successful application of their research and it was in his hands.

It was a small grey targeting visor, designed to embrace both temples and project a display over the eyes. It was a turian marksmanship aid, adapted by his techs to serve a very different purpose.

In twenty minutes, he would put it to the test.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




At last, Lina's pace slowed.

They had come out onto a bridge overlooking a massive traffic tunnel. Far below, hundreds of cars flew past in blurs of dark blue and red while holographic billboards lined the vast walls, images of dancing asari flickering as they moved in time with an invisible beat.

It was a staggering sight but neither Lina nor Milo took any notice of it as they strained their eyes and cocked their heads back the way they came.

'Do you think we lost him?' Milo said between heavy breaths.

They had been careful to maintain a healthy distance between themselves and their pursuer, though doing so was more exhausting than either of them had imagined. Their tension was like smog in the air, their eyes wide and unblinking as they worried their traitor was gone for good.

Though she had stopped, Lina could not relax. Her head moved from side to side, twitching around before she wandered to the side of the bridge and looked over the area.

She saw a series of dark slits in the tunnel walls far off to the right, windows for some distant path, perhaps. They were not close enough to be useful to her but still, this bridge was narrow enough and at the end she could make out several dark alcoves, pools of shadow easily capable of hiding a human or quarian.

'Keelah, I hope not,' she finally replied. 'An ambush isn't worth much if the prey doesn't fall into it.' Her eyes returned to the alcoves and she knew they had to make a decision. 'The question is; who's going to be the bait?'

'I'll sneak up on this guy and take him down,' Milo said immediately. 'I'm bigger than you and although I don't want to test the theory right now, I'm willing to bet I'm a little stronger.'

He knew Lina would object and raised his hand, silencing her pre-emptively. 'I'm not going to argue with you on this, Lina. It's the more dangerous job and you've had your share of danger this week. It's time to let someone else do some of the work.'

Lina did not know what to say. Though her heart was a driving, relentless force inside her chest, practicality took hold. She knew she would be no match for a turian in terms of physical strength and in any case, it was likely her the man was following to begin with.

Still, Milo's selflessness was a heavy thing to bear for someone unused to kindness. As before, when Arlen had decided to trust her, knowing she had participated in the development of the Jamestown Virus itself, it was almost too much to take.

She whispered quietly, the words almost lost in the drones of shuttles.

'I don't know what to say.'

Milo smiled at her. 'You can thank me when this works, okay? For now there's something I'd like to know, before we do anything.'

He stepped across to the edge of the bridge and leaned over the waist-high railing.

'Can you tell me what happened with Lorica? What she said?'

Lina shook her head. 'We don't have time. Whoever's following us could be here at any moment and I-'

Milo grasped her arm, gently but firmly, his eyes pleading.

'Please,' he said. 'I have to know. If something happens to either of us, if something happens to me, I couldn't take not knowing for sure.'

Sighing, Lina looked down at the ground. She wanted to tell him to stop being stupid but the words wouldn't come.

'I…' she sputtered reluctantly, 'I discovered the truth, Milo. She wasn't involved in any of it, it was just a misunderstanding.'

Milo raised an eyebrow. 'Is that it? What about the disappearances? The cold shoulders?'

Lina's mind raced as she realised she couldn't reveal Lorica's identity as Internal Affairs, no matter how much she wanted to. Instead, she settled for a portion of the truth, at the very least.

'Lorica was jealous,' she said with a shrug. 'She loves you, Milo and with the pressure we've all been under, with the two of us having to spend so much time together, Lorica just took it all a little badly. She knows it got out of hand and trust me when I say that she's sorry.'

Lina raised her head and looked into Milo's eyes, her heart aching as she gave him up for good.

'When this is over, you two will be happy together.'

'That's all there is to it?'

Nodding, Lina kept her voice even. 'Yes, that's all there is to it.'

He smiled gratefully. 'Thanks. I needed to hear that.'

Suddenly, a bright light flashed in Lina's visor. She frowned, unable to comprehend it.

Then the pain began.

It was a fierce, sharp spike that quickly spread through the rest of her body and she clutched a hand to her stomach, her eyes widening in shock as it came away covered in blood.

The world was quiet, the moment isolated and Lina fell slowly, her arms spreading as she spiralled down.

She hadn’t noticed Milo was carrying the pistol before but now she thought about it, it had always been there. It never seemed unusual. He was C-Sec, after all and they all had the right to carry sidearms.

He held it at his hip, the smile still on his face, now touched with regret as the quarian dropped to the ground with a muted thump.

'I'm sorry,' he murmured. 'I didn't want it turn out this way, honestly, I didn't.'

'You…' Lina whispered as she stared up at him. 'You were the double agent?'

Milo's lips twisted but his eyes were cold and uncaring, empty of the charm and mischief Lina had come to expect.

'Yes. Always have been, ever since they first came to me so many years ago. Even before I picked another face, I was their man.'

'Who? Who are you…working for?'

'A group of men and women more powerful than you can imagine,' he replied, his pistol resting in line with Lina's visor. 'They took me under their wing, showed me how to move unseen, remain hidden, even offered to make me one of them when the time came.'

Something glinted in Milo's gaze and his voice grew hungry. 'You can't understand, Lina, not until you hear their song, their…beautiful words. They know what'll happen, how things will end and only by siding with them will I be spared.'

Lina closed her eyes and clenched her jaw against the agony wrapped around her stomach. The shot had pierced her suit and for the first time that she could remember, she felt the air on her body. It was unpleasant, the blood on her skin cooling even as it pumped viscously from her wound.

The tunnel above her stretched into darkness, fitting the chill that now took its grip. Her mouth-lamp flickered weakly.

'Why?' she asked.

She didn't understand. The man who had been at her side, who had been so solid and dependable even when the galaxy had turned on her was no longer there. In his place stood a stranger, who only gazed at her without feeling or remorse.

Milo lowered into a crouch and tapped the barrel of his weapon lightly against the glass of her helmet.

'Don't ask why. It really doesn't matter. In less than forty-eight hours everything will be ready, all our preparations complete. The Council will pay for what they did to our brothers long ago and in the chaos that will follow, the galaxy will come apart at the seams. The League will rise in the new age and I'll be there, watching at their side. It'll be worth all this. In less than two days, Yanus will bring about the end of everything you know.'

He leaned in closer and Lina watched helplessly as his face became clouded, his breath misting on her visor.

'That's what I tell myself. That all this lying, this killing, it'll be worth it in the end. You're a good person, Lina, a strong person. Lorica too. It's fortunate she doesn't know anything about what's really going on. If your answer had been different I'd have been forced to go back and tie up that loose end. Again, thank you for that. Killing one good person is hard enough.'

Lina's gaze became dull and Milo stood, stretching out the pistol in front of him.

'Goodbye, Lina.'

The shot sounded, a snap of thunder that rumbled through the tunnel.

Milo stumbled forward, as if pushed from behind and Lina blinked as her helmet was coated with a spatter of dark red.

Milo looked confused for a moment, then his features scrunched in pain and he clutched a hand to his chest. Blood poured from between his fingers and he gasped for air.

The Citadel fell silent as he looked into Lina's eyes.

His lips moved but Lina couldn’t hear anything. The numbing chill that had settled on her body had reduced everything to base sensations. She vaguely sensed someone running over to them from the end of the bridge but she focused the last of her strength on Milo.

Her fingers twitched as he staggered back and toppled over the edge of the bridge, lost to her in an instant. The sight hurt Lina far more than anything else at that moment and she let her eyes close, unwilling to see any more.

In the final moments, as the quarian's sight faded to a mass of shifting grey shapes, she saw Garrus arrive at her side, breathless.

The barrel of his Mantis rifle smoked as he knelt beside her, a frantic expression on his face.

'Damn!' he cursed as he saw Lina's eyes close. 'Come on, don't give up! Come on, Lina!'

He swore again under his breath.

'Don't die on me!'


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Legionary Tellan walked quickly, the soles of his boots scuffing noisily on the stone beneath. There was no activity on the basement level of the Legion compound and all sound carried down the cold, dank corridors.

Tellan was still hot after being forced to change into full armour for the evacuation and his temper was foul. They had all been faced with the order, of course, though instead of helping his squad with the carrying of equipment he’d been given the relatively easy job of escorting the Legion's latest prisoner.

It was affront to his experience and Tellan swore, though it came out as a simple hiss through his helmet respirator. He’d served five years in the army before joining the Legion and yet they still saw fit to grant him the crap jobs, just because he was a newcomer.

'Come on,' he snapped, 'keep up or I'm leaving you behind!'

It did not help that Tellan had been paired with another new guy for the task, one who knew his way around even less well than Tellan did.

The other had not spoken since they were left alone together and perhaps that was why Tellan disliked him. He hadn't even been bothered to introduce himself.

As expected, the other man simply shrugged silently and Tellan felt his blood boil. Such disrespect deserved a beating in the dark hours but he couldn't let himself get distracted by such thoughts. It was not far to the cells and as soon the job was done he could be away and back with his century.

The metal door squealed harshly as it opened, making Tellan cringe.

The cell was a miserable cube of filthy grey rock, with a single bed and latrine lining the far wall. His eyes fastened on the still form at their feet.

It was a fellow turian, a young one by what he could gather but the boy's age was concealed by patches of blood and bruises. It seemed no inch of his body was unmarked in some way and the sight made Tellan swallow dryly. Centurion Tacitus had been busy with this one.

'Get him on his feet,' Tellan ordered and was relieved to see the new guy nod and make his way over. Tellan had half-expected the instruction to be ignored and the last thing he wanted was to have an argument when there was work to be done.

Then something caught his eye.

Frowning, Tellan's gaze travelled to the bed. It was oddly askew, the metal frame dipping ever so slightly to one-

He took in a deep breath and prepared to shout but it was too late.

With a sudden blur of movement, the prisoner swept out the iron bar, a leg wrenched from the frame of the bed, and knocked Tellan's companion onto his back.

Tellan stood for a moment, paralysed with indecision. His finger grasped for the trigger of his rifle out of instinct but this was the general's prisoner and had been kept alive for a reason. His death could mean punishment.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Arlen read the guard's hesitation and leapt to his feet, stumbling slightly as his wounds jarred.

The man came to his senses and raised his rifle but Arlen was close enough. He flicked out the bar, catching the rifle's barrel and pushing it aside.

His foe cursed loudly as his finger slipped away from the trigger and Arlen leaned in, grasping his arm and breaking it at the elbow. The guard howled in pain but the sound was cut off in an instant with a sharp, splintering crack.

Arlen stepped away and let the guard’s body fall lifelessly, the metal bar sticking crudely out of his visor.

The other man had risen to his feet and Arlen moved instantly, grabbing his armour by the collar.

'Wait!'

The voice brought Arlen's fist to a halt. It wavered, clenched in the air. He peered at the guard, green eyes shining cautiously through lids made dark with blood. The voice was familiar.

'It's me, kid!'

Arlen released a breath. Grudgingly, he let go of the guard, who staggered back before pulling off his helmet.

Sergeant Heiros panted, more with relief than exhaustion. 'Spirits be damned, boy, I've never seen anybody fight like that! I knew there was something about 'ya back on Noveria, I freaking knew it!'

The world came back to Arlen gradually. Sound again began to filter back into his ears and the taste of metal crept back onto his tongue. He glared at Heiros intensely, unwilling to trust anything at that time, least of all his own eyes.

'How did you survive?' Arlen asked. His voice was dark and hoarse with pain.

Heiros' reply was unsteady, the old turian unnerved by the gore-drenched figure in front of him.

'I got tagged back at the shuttle crash. I don't even remember passing out but they found me and patched me up. They stuck me in a cell but I managed to get out this morning.'

Arlen's eyes narrowed suspiciously. 'How?'

'Same way you did. They sent a single man, a young hothead to pick me up. Guess they figured an old man like me wouldn't cause any trouble but the young idiot didn't have his helmet on.' He smiled proudly. 'Only took one punch. Guess I never lost it.'

'And they haven't realised someone's missing yet?'

Heiros jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. 'Everything's crazy out there. They're packin' up, leavin'. They'll know something's up eventually though, and that's why we gotta get the hell out while we can!'

Shaking his head, Arlen limped to the guard lying dead on the ground.

'I still have a job to do.'

'What's that, kid?' Heiros scoffed. 'Cleanin' the latrines? In case you haven't noticed, we're in the middle of a hostile friggin' zone here! There's hundreds of these nut jobs runnin' around and you're talkin' about stayin'? You touched in the head or somethin'?'

'I don't have to explain it!' Arlen snapped, his temper fraying. 'You have the disguise, you can source a shuttle, some kind of transport.'

Heiros brought up his hands defensively. 'Whoa there, kid. I ain't doin' nothin' until I know what you're up to. All I'm seein' is a young fool who wants to get himself killed for no good reason.'

Shutting his eyes, Arlen tried to control himself but his patience was thin, made weak by injury and panic. He sucked in wheezing breaths through his crushed nostrils and focused.

He knew this was his only chance and he spoke to Heiros again, his voice soft.

'I work for Citadel Security, Sergeant. I'm an Interceptor, an agent responsible for apprehending men wanted by the C-Sec.' He nodded beyond the cell walls. 'The man I'm after is General Jardan Krassus, the leader of this terrorist cell. Did you hear about the destruction of a human passenger ship a week ago? The Jamestown?'

Heiros nodded, his mandibles parting slightly as he digested Arlen’s revelation.

Arlen continued. 'These are the people responsible. I have to complete my mission or all those humans who died will have done so for nothing. Not only that but they're in the middle of mounting another attack. If they succeed…'

'Then we're screwed,' Heiros finished. He looked aside, overcome with a stunning mix of awe and terror. 'By the buggering spirits, what have I gotten myself into…?'

The old man started as Arlen clasped him on the shoulder.

'I'm sorry you got dragged into this, Sergeant, honestly I am but I need your help. I surrendered because I had a feeling they’d rather take me prisoner than kill me. It was my only shot at getting in alone and I was right.'

'Why alone? You got some kind of death wish?'

Shaking his head, Arlen's eyelids dropped for a moment. 'I'm not the only one here, on this planet. There are others, humans. They want Krassus for what he did to their people. I can't let them get to him first or my mission will be a failure.'

Heiros raised a hand to his brow and massaged it roughly. 'I can't believe I'm hearing this. Listen to yourself, boy! This is an impossible situation! It's just you and me against a whole damn army! Let the humans have this Krassus guy. If what you said is true then it sounds like no more than what he deserves.'

'It's not about what he deserves, it's…'

Arlen's legs buckled in a moment of weakness and Heiros stepped forward to hold him steady.

Arlen’s mouth moved silently as all of his thoughts and contemplations came to the fore. He felt the sting of disloyalty in the words he considered but they were the truth, one he had discovered after a week of battle, torment and survival. He felt his old training tug at the back of his tongue but he ignored it, his mind made up.

'I know, all right?' he said. 'I know the humans have a rightful claim to Krassus. They should be the ones to take him in and claim a measure of vengeance for all the pain he's inflicted on their people. I haven't known their kind long but…I know them well enough.'

The thought of Keller was like a warm torch in the dark for him, and he met Heiros' gaze again, steadily.

'But I'll never run away from my duty, do you understand? Just as the humans will do what they do, so will I. I'm a turian, and I won't fail.' His head tilted towards the cell door. 'You've made your decision. If you want to go then go, I won't stop you. But I'm moving on, with or without your help.'

Heiros could only stare blankly at the blood-drenched young man as his mouth worked, trying to find something to say but Arlen' eyes were like iron, unflinching and rigid.

With a quick glance at the fallen Legionary to his side, Heiros sighed. 'I guess if anybody can do this it's you,' he said.

He let go of Arlen as strength returned to his legs.

'You know, I'm never one to shirk a little hard work and I ain't no coward. I just…' He flinched slightly, as if the words stung him. 'I got a family, I told you that, right? Back on Palaven. A son, Maela…my wife. She's a beautiful woman, strong, caring, can't imagine what she sees in a stiff like me.'

As he straightened, Arlen's features softened as he watched long-suppressed fear leach from Heiros, thoughts that the old man had to get off his chest before the end. Arlen understood, and he listened as Heiros' lips quivered.

'I…I want to see them again, you understand? I can't die here, can't leave 'em wonderin' what happened to me. That's why I didn't stay on for extended service in the legions. I've done enough, I've put in my time. I can't leave them alone.'

The remark seemed to take some of the breath from Arlen's lungs and he nodded slowly.

'I…your son…he's lucky to have a father like you.'

'I'm the lucky one. That's why I'd like to stay lucky.'

Reaching out, Arlen clapped a hand on the sergeant's shoulder once more. 'You're not going to die. I just need an escape route. You get to wherever it is they keep their shuttles and I'll signal you when I have Krassus. If we stick together we're more likely to get noticed anyway.'

Heiros grunted. 'It's a crap plan but it's the best we got. What if somethin' goes wrong?'

'Give me one hour,' Arlen replied with as much certainty as he could. 'Either this happens fast or it doesn't happen at all. I'll take this guard's uniform as a disguise.'

He nodded down at the dead turian and a frown flickered across his face.

'But I'll need a new helmet.'

Heiros gripped his own protectively, sensing Arlen's thoughts. There was only one helmet between them and each man needed it equally.

Arlen shook his head. 'I'll think of something. I'll also need a weapon.'

'Here.' Heiros turned to pull out a sidearm from his armour's holster and offered the pistol to Arlen. 'I prefer the rifle, myself.'

Arlen looked with distaste at the weapon in Heiros' hand. It was an enormous pistol, likely a private weapon owned by the original wearer of Heiros' armour. Certainly, Arlen had never seen it before in the military.

It was a blocky construction of dull grey, striped with garish red paint that had flaked off in most places. He took it by the grip and his arm sank, unprepared for the enormous weight.

'I'm supposed to fire this thing? I can barely lift it,' he grumbled. Tilting it to one side, he read aloud the name stamped into the body. 'Carnifex. Huh…well, at least the name fits.'
Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 37
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...

---

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Previously on Interceptor...

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Captain David Anderson straightened the cuffs of his navy blues, fiddling with them as the elevator hummed around him.

Beside him, the inner workings of the Citadel flashed by in streaks of grey. An infernal tune piped out, the warbling melody assaulting his ears.

His dark skin grew flushed with frustration and he frowned as a shining gold button came away from his cuff in a tangle of wiry black thread. Anderson pursed his lips and pulled the button away before slipping it in his pocket. He would sew it back on later when he got back to the Normandy.

The brand new Alliance frigate was still in dry dock, with armies of engineers doing all they could to do to make sure everything worked before the ship's shakedown in six months' time. There was always time for a ‘make and mend’, though, especially for the ship’s captain.

His black dress shoes gleamed as he tapped a foot on the floor impatiently. The elevators on the Citadel were famed for their lengthy journeys, though Anderson had been a soldier all his life; if anyone was equipped to weather the tedium of waiting, it was him.

The tinny music, however, was enough to sap the patience of any man and he felt an overwhelming sense of relief when the doors finally opened.

A blast of cool air hit Anderson's face and he blinked at the scent of freshly cut grass, the last thing he’d to smell expected on a station in deep space. He stepped out into the Presidium's embassy district and noted the freshly-pruned bushes lining the edge of the lake in front of him, filling the air with the earthy scent.

The place hadn't changed a bit since he was last there. The walls were still clean and white, and politicians still wandered in their droves, men and women of all species dressed in smart clothes and large smiles.

He hadn't seen Earth in over eight months and being in such a place only made him miss his home world all the more.

It did not take him long to reach his destination and he stopped in front of the door before taking a deep, steadying breath. He had dealt with Ambassador Udina only once before and couldn’t say he cared for the man. He couldn’t deny Udina was good at what he did but the man seemed to forget his manners in front of the very people he was supposed to be representing.

If the elevator ride wasn't a big enough test of Anderson's patience, this meeting certainly would be.

The door opened to find Udina standing by his desk, his back straight and arms crossed. He was speaking to someone else, a senior Alliance officer in full uniform.

Anderson entered the room and recognised Admiral Steven Hackett instantly. The old man's face was just as gnarled and fierce as always, the creases of age complemented by a long red scar running the length of his right cheek.

Anderson stopped just outside the door, not wanting to intrude on their conversation.

'I agree, the reconsideration of humanity for Spectre candidacy couldn't have come at a better time,' Hackett said, his voice warm and gravelled. 'With this Normandy project we have running with the turians, it shows just how far we've come since the First Contact War. Still, a lot of the brass are nervous. They don't want alien eyes on our classified hardware as it is, and you know that when Spectres are selected they automatically come under Council authority. Many people will overlook the benefits and see not only the best Alliance men and women, but the best Alliance ships being handed over to alien powers.'

'I understand, Admiral,' Udina replied. 'I'm counting on you to change minds out there. No offense, but military egos are stubborn and resistant to change, especially the older ones. Not everyone will appreciate what the Alliance does out here, or what I do.'

Anderson narrowed his eyes as he noticed the swellings and lumps on Udina's face. His skin had been covered up well but bruises still darkened his left eye and even as he stood, the ambassador favoured his right leg, taking his weight off it every other moment.

'It isn't a problem,’ Hackett said. ‘At least not yet, but it will take time to change those attitudes. If this Spectre business goes off without a hitch then perhaps malcontents like Mikhailovich will quieten down.'

Hackett's bright blue eyes immediately turned from Udina to Anderson.

'Captain, thank you for joining us.'

Anderson saluted. 'Thank you, Admiral. Ambassador,' he added with a polite nod to Udina, who only frowned in response.

'You're late, Anderson,’ the ambassador sneered. ‘Fortunately, the admiral and I had much to discuss, so the wait wasn't too bothersome.' He motioned to his desk, where three chairs waited for them. 'This meeting should be short. The reopening of our consideration for the Spectres has come about suddenly, I know, but such is the way with politics. The offer is open and I want to jump on it before any conditions are added, or the circumstances change.'

Anderson furrowed his brow as the three men prepared to seat themselves. 'Why would they change now?'

Udina paused as he lowered himself into his chair. His right leg began to twitch with the strain, and the obvious pain made his lips curl subtly.

He looked up into Anderson's eyes and the captain wondered at what he saw in them. Guilt? Apprehension? It was lost when Udina moved once again.

'As I said, such is the way with politics. I don't expect an old soldier like you to understand, or even care.'

Anderson hid his irritation as he took his seat and Udina cleared his throat.

'Gentlemen, as you know, the Council has once again allowed us to join the ranks of Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. I know my request has not left you much time to draw up a list of suitable candidates but I'm sure there will only be a few names in your minds regardless.' He looked at the officers in turn. 'Admiral Hackett, you are one of the Alliance's most respected men. I'm sure whoever you put forward will have the backing of the navy brass. Captain Anderson, I've asked for you because of your experience in these…matters.'

No further clarification was needed and Anderson preferred it that way. His own selection for the Spectres many years ago had been a disaster for many reasons, reasons he rarely dwelled upon any more.

Udina winced briefly before pressing on. 'We are the men who will make history here today, but we are not the only ones. One more will take the final step, the last challenge before our race is finally considered for Council membership. With your help, I will select one soldier and raise them above the rest to become the very symbol of humanity in a wider galaxy.'

Hackett lifted up a datapad and handed it to Anderson first, bringing a mild scowl from the ambassador.

'I've already given the matter a great deal of thought,' said Hackett. 'These are the men and women I believe hold the most potential. Some of them I've known personally for years, while others are names I've become very familiar with by reputation alone. I have no doubt you'll recognise most of them, Captain. All are qualified in terms of combat experience and have had past dealings with aliens in some capacity.'

Anderson squinted, his eyes crescents of white in his reddish-brown skin. 'I recognise a lot of these names from the Skyllian Blitz. Alicia Torres, Jon Delgarno, even Francis Matthews. I'm surprised he's still alive with what he pulled off in the Traverse last year.'

Hackett bobbed his head, clearly happy to see Anderson hadn't lost touch with his N7 roots in his autumn years.

'Every one of these soldiers would make a fine Spectre. We just need to narrow the list down.'

Anderson grunted in amusement, his eyes still fixed on the datapad. 'Alexei Dukov? Now there's a name I haven't heard in a while. I thought he'd have retired by now.'

'No, he's very much in active service,' Hackett replied, the corner of his mouth upturned in a sly grin. Neither man noticed Udina's sudden stiffness. 'A lot of people would say the same about you, you know.'

'My name isn't on this list,' Anderson shot back with a smile of his own. 'Still, I think we should rule out anyone over the age of thirty-two. We want someone in their physical and mental prime, someone with the energy of youth.'

'Agreed,' Hackett conceded.

Udina coughed impatiently and the two officers looked at him, suddenly aware of his presence once again.

Anderson held back a smile as he made a few additions of his own and handed the datapad over to the ambassador.

'Yes,' Udina said loudly, 'we need someone who won't be over the hill in a few years' time. This is an investment on the part of humanity and we need to make good on that investment.' He raised his other hand to his chin as he contemplated the list. 'These names you mentioned before, what can you tell me about them?'

Hackett spoke from memory, his recollection perfect. 'Lieutenant Alicia Torres, formerly of the Two-Twelve on Eden Prime, now N7 and taking part in active operations throughout the galaxy. She's a strong leader and an excellent soldier.'

'I know all about her,' Anderson said. His head lowered and sadness entered his voice. 'I also know that she's beginning to show signs of extreme post traumatic stress, something to do with a slaver raid that went bad three years ago. Ordinarily I wouldn't mention it but the unit's psychological counsellor has recently recommended her be stood down so she can receive more focused treatment. War can get the better of the strongest minds and Torres has seen more of war than most.'

'Very well,' said Udina. He turned his gaze back to the list. 'Commander Wesley Griffin. He sounds like an idea candidate.'

'Griffin?' Anderson exclaimed before turning to Hackett. 'With respect, Sir, if I'd noticed you’d put that bigot on the list I would've deleted it right away. We might as well put Charles Saraceno himself on there.'

Udina raised his eyebrows. 'What do you mean?'

Hackett spoke first. 'He means Commander Griffin holds some views that might well be construed as counter-productive in a multilateral environment. He's an Earth-First type, but his record speaks for itself, as you can see. Griffin might be called racist by some, but he's still a soldier and he'll take orders without question. At least with Griffin, you can be confident he'll take our orders first over the Council’s, and his appointment will quieten down a lot of the dissenters in the senior Alliance ranks.'

Leaning back in his chair, Udina visibly contemplated the advantages of having such a man in a Spectre position. It was not meant to be a diplomatic one, after all. The role was not that of an emissary and by its nature the work would be morally muddy, with decisions having to be made without the luxury of conscience.

Suddenly, Udina's eyes settled on the last name on the list and his brows knotted.

'Well, what about Shepard?'

'Commander Shepard?' Hackett asked, his expression troubled.

Anderson nodded. 'I've known Shepard for some time now, since his N7 training. Served in the marines, then transferred to the Infiltrator Corps after a spell in Force Recon. I've never seen a better agent and his instincts are right on the money. He can lead men well enough and he's always well-liked on the ships he serves on. Most importantly, he's worked with aliens before.'

'Yes,' Udina murmured. 'Says here he grew up in the colonies.'

'He knows how tough life can be out there,' Anderson cut in, the facts flowing from him without thought. 'His parents were killed when slavers attacked Mindoir.'

Hackett could not contain his doubt any longer and spoke his concern. 'He got most of his unit killed on Torfan.'

'He gets the job done,' Anderson replied confidently. 'No matter the cost.'

Udina set the datapad on his desk and rested a hand on it. The skin of his fingers blanched slightly as he pressed into it, deep in thought.

'Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy?'

Anderson' response was immediate and certain. 'That's the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy.'

The ambassador's eyes shifted to Hackett, who nodded silently. The moments stretched out in solemn watchfulness of this moment and every man could feel an odd sense of destiny, of fate weaving a path around their words and actions.

Finally, Udina firmed his lips and rose to his feet. 'I'll make the call.'


 ~~~ME-I~~~




The turian boy's eyes opened slowly to the sound of shuffling feet, widening at the rough pulling of a hand on his shoulder.

Yawning, he noted with weary misery that the sun had not yet touched the sky outside his bedroom window.

'Leave me alone, Nihlus,' he whined plaintively, forcing his eyes shut once again. 'You know father gets angry when you sneak around at night and I don't want to get a share of your beating again.'

The voice that answered was much deeper than his, yet a touch lighter than an adult.

'Come on, little brother, I'm not asking you to get up. I just want to talk for a moment.'

Arlen stirred in a feeble attempt to shake off Nihlus' grip. 'Can't it wait until after sun-up at least? I'm exhausted!'

'It'll only take a minute. I promise.'

Nihlus' voice was serious enough to rouse Arlen's curiosity, and with a mild curse the little boy rose, grumbling, into a sitting position. He yawned deeply.

'If you're in trouble again, there's nothing I can do, especially not after the last time I covered for you.'

'And I gave you half my week's rations to compensate,' Nihlus pointed out. He grasped his younger brother by the shoulder again. 'Come on, it won't take long. Besides, it's important.'

Arlen raised a hand to his brow. His skull throbbed ceaselessly with fatigue, his blood a curse as it forced its way round his body. His muscles still felt tight after the previous day's exercises and the precious hours of sleep were his only escape.

Shaking his head, he answered with slurred words. 'What's so important that it can't wait till morning?'

'I won't be here in the morning.'

Arlen looked at the older boy, his pain momentarily forgotten. 'What do you mean you won't be here? Father will kill you if you stay out past dawn again!'

'No, Arlen,' Nihlus said quietly.

He breathed deeply, a dark shape in the moonlight. His white face paint was all Arlen could see of him and it shifted subtly when he spoke.

'I mean I won't be coming back.'

His voice petered out, giving way to the usual sounds of the Edessa night. Insects chirped outside, joined by the occasional whir of a distant shuttle but it all simply melted away into nothing as Arlen watched his brother, searching for signs of jest or deceit. It was impossible to read Nihlus in the daylight, much less the darkness.

'Where are you going?' Arlen asked, his voice shaking.

Nihlus hesitated and through the darkness, Arlen could just about see his pained expression.

'I can't tell you. Just trust me, it'll be better this way. For everyone.'

'How can this be better?' Arlen argued, though his own resignation betrayed him. He had known for a long time this day would come and a small part of him had accepted it, no matter how much he wanted to fight it. 'How can you leaving make this any better? If it wasn't for you, I…'

'No,' Nihlus interrupted, his grip on Arlen's shoulder tightening. 'Don't say it. I've never made things easier for you here. You know that.'

Arlen’s small hand reached up and gently took hold of Nihlus’ arm. For a moment it looked like his heart would break as his little brother, the one whom Nihlus had raised and cared for far longer than their father ever had, pleaded with him.

'You're my brother, Nihlus. Please, I…I can't do this without you.'

Arlen's head was pressed down into his chest, ashamed of showing his face. Their forms wove into one another in the gloom as Nihlus softly took his sibling's hand and placed it down on the bed.

'You're a stronger turian than I am,' he whispered. 'Make us all proud, all right?'

Seconds later, he was gone and Arlen was left sitting upright, shivering with fear and sadness. He battled against tears but his young voice soon broke into a quiet sob. It was a pitiful sound and he hated it with all the steady force a nine year old boy could manage.

Cringing, he crushed his grief and steadied himself with muttered curses.

He was alone now, and he would have to be strong.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Light seeped into Arlen's eyes, appearing as a murky grey line that widened into a grim picture.

He was lying on his side, on cold stone tarnished with green and brown. It looked the same as the cell in which he was tortured, with the exception of a single bed against the wall. Even from a distance he could tell the mattress was filthy but it hardly mattered when he lay on the hard ground, without the strength to climb onto it.

The pain riddling his body was a distant thing while he remained still, but movement made it all return and so he did not move. He felt a desolate, overpowering emptiness in his heart but could not place the cause. Had he been dreaming? Had he even passed out?

He turned the questions over in his mind, probing what remained of his thoughts for answers. It was all he could do to avoid slipping into despair.

A metallic groan cut the air at his back, a sound Arlen recognised well now. The door swung open and Krassus stepped inside, flanked by two guards. The general was expressionless as he looked down at Arlen and his voice was bereft of triumph or satisfaction as it echoed deeply through the cell.

'Varn told me you didn't break. He was impressed by your resolve.' Silence was his only response, and he let it pass before continuing. 'You know now why we fight. You know about your father. You can't deny some part of you realises that you shouldn't be fighting against us, not with the real battle still to come.'

Still Arlen did not speak, choosing instead to remain motionless on the ground, staring at the far wall with dull eyes.

'We will be leaving this place soon, and you will come with us. It's clear we can't stay here any longer. If you found us then the other Citadel authorities can't be far behind. We only have one more job to do before we go.'

Arlen finally replied and his throat burned with the effort.

'What do you mean?'

Krassus placed his hands dutifully behind his back and paced the cell.

'We have one last sample of the Jamestown Virus, as you call it, with fully-integrated Fusion Directives. Until the raw virus is overcome by our target's antivirus suites, we will have full and total control of any system we choose to infect. The Fusion Directives are set to respond to my command alone.'

'Your command?'

'Yes.'

Krassus stepped around Arlen, so he could look down into his eyes and again the younger man was struck by the resolve he saw in that fierce glare.

'My words will be heeded instantly by the virus, becoming the machine's law. It's quite something, to have such power at your call. This will be the first true test of a fully-developed weapon, a virus with true intelligence, able to adapt and survive against any countermeasure long enough to achieve its aim. And it's completely subservient to its master.'

The old man sounded awed by his own words and Arlen lifted his head.

'Is that what you used on the Citadel?'

'At its most basic level, yes. What you saw on the Citadel was a fledgling virus, a brand new construct. It hadn't developed nearly enough to find a way onto the Jamestown on its own. It needed help.'

'So Coleran Vastra posed as an engineer at Jump Zero and infected the ship with another virus, something that simply opened up the ship to intrusion as it passed through the relay.'

Krassus nodded solemnly and his response held a note of quiet sadness. 'I took no pleasure in the attack. I lost a good man that day and I took one step closer to becoming a monster. Certainly, if I am ever caught, what's left of my reputation as a general will be in ruins. But such are the sacrifices we must make.'

'Don't try and sell yourself as a martyr,' Arlen spat from his broken lips. Though his voice was weak, the contempt still edged through with surprising force. 'I'm not blind. You were a good soldier once, someone who led his men with courage and competence even when my…my father…'

He faltered but something inside him kept the words coming. 'You were a man to be respected, even when you abandoned the legions. I understand your reasons for the Exodus but the second you chose to take innocent lives, that very moment you attacked the Jamestown…'

He trailed off, though this time not through lack of words but to stare intently at Krassus, to show the old general he believed in what he was saying.

'That very moment,’ he said quietly, ‘you stopped being a soldier and became a terrorist. Whatever honour you had, it's long gone now. I'd no more follow you than my own father.'

Krassus stood for a long time, digesting Arlen's judgement. Arlen expected him to scoff, to chuckle knowingly and shake his head, to at least do something but he did not. He just held the young man's eyes, his thoughts unreadable.

'And here I thought your instincts were lacking,' he said quietly, deep in thought. 'I thought your devotion to your ideals was weak, but I see now I was mistaken.' He kneeled next to Arlen, so that his voice was a bass hum in his chest. 'You don't hunt me because C-Sec or the Council ask it of you. You hunt me because not doing so will shame your father's spirit. Even knowing the truth about him, you still love the old bastard, don't you?'

Arlen ached to shout his denial in Krassus' face but he couldn't summon the will to do so.

He didn’t know how Krassus had seen it, had seen through his hate-lined words but it was true. Renius was still the man who made Arlen what he was, no matter his own past. Arlen still felt that moment of awe, when he had seen his father hold his mother so gently, that single instant where Renius was simply a turian and not a thing of pain and discipline.

Deep within his heart, Arlen knew he still wanted to make his father proud, no matter what.

Krassus stood, satisfied by Arlen's silence. 'Sleep while you can. In only a few hours you'll be bound and moved to a shuttle, ready for off-world transportation.'

He strode to the open door and stood for a moment, framed by the dim glow beyond.

'When we next meet, the galaxy will be changed forever.'

He turned to exit but hesitated, and after a brief moment of consideration he spoke to one of the guards.

'Help him onto the bed. The boy deserves to be comfortable, at the very least.'

The guard snapped off a salute while the other followed Krassus out of the cell. Arlen felt hands grasp him gently under the armpits but did not react. He allowed himself to be dragged across the ground and heaved onto the bed, and the guard locked the door with a heavy clang on the way out.

The bed was hard and stank of musty, stagnant water. In the sudden stillness, Arlen felt his thoughts return.

Now that Krassus had gone, the defensive walls his mind had raised crumbled and he was assaulted once more by the overwhelming reality of his situation.

His body was a wilting lump of meat, something that could barely move and responded only with pain when it did. More than anything, Varn's earlier words infected his senses, sending them spiralling with conflicting emotions.

At last, he identified the numb hole in his chest, and he could not stop his voice from croaking out in misery.

'Nihlus,' he whispered, 'why didn't you tell me about father?'

The words came back to him, a sibilant hiss against the hard stone walls.

'You were right all this time.'

A low moan sounded as a strong breeze was pushed beneath the cell door, a mournful sound that added its own grief to the air. Arlen stirred, shivering in the sudden draught.

'I'm sorry…'


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Lina sought out Milo as soon as she re-entered the command centre. She’d known to look for his face immediately on her return and was somewhat amused by the way his expression shifted so obviously, from surprise to curiosity, then finally shock as he saw Lorica was walking beside her.

No one else noticed them, seeing only two important personnel on their way back from some meeting or other. Their ignorance was something Lina envied as she wove her way through them in Milo's direction.

Without warning she stretched out her arm, gently barring Lorica's path.

'I'll speak to him first,' she said sternly. 'You get back to your desk and act normal. The traitor might be nearby, watching and listening to everything we say but my conferring alone with Milo shouldn't be too unusual. We've had to spend a lot of time together over the past week.'

She glanced at Lorica and was not surprised to see a flash of jealousy in her clear eyes. Still, it was quickly smothered and Lorica gave a guilty half-smile as she lowered her head.

'Of course, that makes sense. I think it's safe to say we shouldn't be making any unexpected moves until we figure out who this traitor is.'

'My thoughts exactly.' Lina began to turn away but halted as a sudden impulse struck her. Her hand reached up to fumble awkwardly with her hood as she looked at Lorica.

'There was nothing going on, you know,’ she said earnestly. ‘Between Milo and I, I mean.'

Once more came the rare gratitude for the exo-suit that hid her true feelings so well. Even as the words left her lips Lina felt a twinge of guilt at their inaccuracy as the feel of Milo's hand on her shoulder entered her thoughts, the sight of his cocky little smile in her eyes.

The human and she had been through some of the toughest hours of their lives together and a bond had grown between them, no matter how small. For just a moment Lina wished she had him to herself, just to see what would come of it.

Lorica made her way back to her desk and Lina approached Milo. He looked up at her expectantly.

'I can't help but notice she's not in cuffs.'

'I couldn't find a place to carry them. No pockets,' Lina joked meekly, shrugging.

It was a lame remark and she hated herself for it, but once again Milo’s very presence had quickened her blood, making her nervous.

He smiled at her warmly. 'I think that's the first time I've heard you make a joke. Does that mean we're friends now?'

'D-don't be stupid, Milo!' Lina gasped, suddenly afraid he'd read her thoughts. 'I'm just tired, that's all! Come on, I'll tell you what happened with Lorica but not here.'

'Same place as before?' he asked, referring to the corridor in which they'd discussed his earlier discovery.

'No,' Lina replied, shaking her head. 'We need to leave the command centre. I don't trust this place anymore, not now.' He raised an eyebrow and was about to speak when Lina held up a hand, stopping him. 'I'll explain when we're alone. I know a good place to go. Follow me.'

'Okay.' He rose from his desk, wincing as he pressed a hand into his lower back. 'I needed to stretch my legs anyway.'

Together they wound back through the command centre and Lina fought not to be too obvious as she looked around. A quick glance in Milo's direction showed he too was suffering the same temptation. They were both aware that they were being watched and it made their movements stiff and unwieldy.

As they reached the central ramp, Lina risked a look at Lorica. The asari had settled herself back in with professional ease and was casually scanning through reports on her terminal.

Lina’s stomach lurched as she caught Milo smiling in Lorica's direction.

Of course he’s smiling, the quarian told herself as a pang of self-doubt made her chest feel hollow. Lorica was an asari, graceful and beautiful, while Lina would be lucky if she could kiss anyone without collapsing from illness.

In that instant, she felt clarity return and her poise straightened.

Keelah, how selfish she was being! The entire galaxy was going to hell and here she was, pining for a human co-worker, daydreaming about him casting aside his girlfriend for her sake. The very idea that she could harbour such a fantasy was repugnant to her, and the dislike fuelled her determination.

She didn't need anyone, after all. She was Lina'Xen, former daughter to an admiral, former slave, the first quarian in C-Sec since the exile of her people. Her defiance was like fire in her veins, quickening her pace.

They had almost reached the main entrance and Lina froze as a warm hand touched her arm.

'Steady there,' Milo chuckled, 'you'll end up leaving me behind at this rate.'

'I'm sorry,' Lina mumbled in embarrassment. 'I just have a lot on my mind.'

'Ain't that the truth.'

'No, it's more than…all this,' she said.

Slowly, Lina reached up and took Milo's hand off her arm. He was looking at her again, with those eyes that sparkled with mischief.

The checkpoint airlock hissed and closed behind them while the counterpart doors to their front rumbled open.

Milo held Lina's pale gaze. 'What's wrong?'

With a start, she realised she was still holding his hand and released it immediately.

'I don't really want to talk about it, well, what I mean is it's not really something I feel comfortable discussing.'

She started walking again, setting an easy pace for them both.

Milo looked at her, confused.  'So...you can discuss the most intimate details of a galaxy-wide conspiracy with me but not this? Man, this must be huge!'

He reached up to dramatically scratch his head. 'Uh…let me guess, the Council are really the ones behind all this and they're gonna blow up the Citadel, using Citadel Tower to get to safety. Which is actually a starship in disguise, by the way. Am I even close?'

'Damn it, shut up!' Lina muttered, trying unsuccessfully to force authority into her voice. 'I told you already, this has nothing to do with what's going on.'

Their path took them through the back of C-Sec headquarters. The noise and activity of the atrium quickly disappeared as they entered the office area, the main corridor taking them through the middle of where most C-Sec officers in the district did their paperwork.

The offices on ground level were open to the public, but as Lina tilted her head up she saw hundreds more hidden behind walls of shining glass. Dark shadows moved like liquid behind them, simple officers and agents going about their daily business.

'So I'm not even half-right?' Milo asked.

As they reached the end of the corridor it gave way to a set of stairs. Lina knew they led down to an access elevator for the wards and she stopped to answer him, unable to contain her response.

'As much as I admire your investigative skills, this is serious. I…I was just thinking, that's all. About Lorica and, well, about you. I just…'

She paused as Milo frowned suddenly, and she realised he was looking beyond her, back the way they came.

Without warning, he grabbed her arm and gently coaxed her in the direction of the stairs.

'We're being followed,' he murmured. 'We need to get moving.'

Lina managed to steal a glance over her shoulder.

He was right, there was someone not far behind them, a black shape that was lost to her as she descended the stairs.

'Are you sure they're following us?' she hissed.

'Positive,' he replied with certainty. 'I spotted him coming out of the checkpoint after us and back in the main hall. When I saw him round the corner just then I knew he was up to something.'

'Who was it?'

Their feet slid as they entered the elevator and the door closed as Milo keyed the controls. His movements were agile, almost birdlike as he watched for their pursuer until the moment the door shut.

'I don't know,' he finally replied, 'but I'm sure he was turian.'

'A turian?' Lina repeated softly.

All thoughts of her feelings for Milo, all the anxiety had disappeared in a flash. Their traitor was following them, likely to kill them. Her heart began to beat faster and she took hold of her hood, massaging the fabric rhythmically.

White lights slipped past them, making the air pulse to match her movements. By comparison, Milo seemed calm, though Lina could tell his frown concealed racing thoughts. He was a thinker, like her, and the ideas would be circulating in his mind, as much a defence mechanism as anything.

'We need to lose him,' Lina said, breaking the steady drone of the elevator.

Milo looked at her and for a moment she saw the fear that he tried so hard to conceal. The sight of it made her want to hold him but she knew they needed more from her.

She spoke quickly, wringing out the last of her confidence into a few words.

'Or we can try and catch this traitor once and for all.'

Milo's frown deepened and he opened his mouth to object. Unthinking, Lina placed a hand on his chest, the touch cutting him off instantly.

'I spent some time in the wards. I know where we can go to set up an ambush. We're not armed but we have our omni-tools. We just need the element of surprise.'

Milo spoke then, and Lina was not surprised to hear his voice quiver.

'I'm not sure if I can do this, Lina.'

The words brought back memories of a young turian to Lina, one paralysed with fear as he tried to defuse a bomb so long ago. She remembered what she had said to Arlen back then but now it did not seem enough.

Holding Milo's eyes with hers, she reached up to hold his cheek, for a moment uncaring of Lorica or her own doubts.

'We…I need you,' she said, softly. 'Please. This could be our only chance to end it all here and now.'

Milo smiled but it was without his usual, swaggering charm. He looked nervous, and yet he still melted under the gentle sound of the quarian's voice and the touch of her suited hand on his skin.

With a deep breath, he answered. 'Well, when you put it like that…'


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Krassus' stride was buoyant as he entered the Forgotten Legion's ops room. A century of eighty men worked feverishly at a square of terminals in the centre of the room, their mandibles and armour fringed with the orange glow of their screens.

The consoles had been set up so they could be dismantled with ease and cables snaked across the floor in thick, dark coils. The light of the evening was warm as it shone through the large windows running the length of the room and the jungle could be seen beyond, their position on the penultimate floor of the compound affording the men a stunning vista of green-matted mountainsides.

Krassus strode into the middle of his men and they paused in their work, every man turning to him obediently.

'Today,' he announced clearly, 'today, we make history. Thirty years ago began a war between our people and a race that we had never faced before, one that had barely begun to master space travel. That conflict was started by an arrogant fool, a man who threw away the lives of many of our friends and brothers.'

He looked down to see them all staring back at him, drinking in his words.

'Thanks to the Iron General, Renius Kryik, we suffered. We were branded monsters by the galactic community. We are held up in textbooks as men who attacked without provocation, as men who slaughtered and murdered without care or mercy. We are the generation who have come to be reviled as perpetrators of a lasting distrust between two entire species.'

His voice held every soldier in the room, and Krassus' lips hovered for a moment as he saw Varn enter. The two old turians shared a private, unspoken moment and the general's voice quietened.

'Then our own Primarchs deserted us. They abandoned tradition, they stopped defending us when the accusations came, they even went so far as to pay the families of our former enemies for their deaths! They punished us for carrying out our orders by taking money out of our own pockets! Where was the compensation for our blood?' he demanded and many of the men murmured their agreement. 'How many of our mothers and wives were compensated for their dead sons and husbands? And when we asked these questions of the Hierarchy, where were the answers?'

'Up the Council's backside!' someone chirped out, provoking a ripple of laughter.

Krassus joined them, his chuckling a harsh click in his throat.

'Yes. The Council does not care about us. They do not care about the turian race. We safeguard their Citadel, we patrol the Krogan DMZ, we fight battles on their behalf and for what?' His voice rose into a shout. 'For what? So others can become rich on our spoils? So others can sleep soundly thanks to the security only we can provide?'

'No!' was the resounding answer.

'No,' Krassus repeated. 'Ten years ago we said no more, and cast aside the lies of the Hierarchy, the shackles of the Council! We decided to fight for what it truly means to be turian!'

A low cheer went up from the men and Krassus turned on the spot, pointing at them in turn.

'Erax, you decided. You came to us seven years ago. Your father was one of the Seventh at the time of the Exodus. He refused to join us but you, you keep your family strong in his place!'

The man in question held up his chin proudly as Krassus moved on.

'You, Revenus, I remember when you were a snot-nosed legionary with the Tenth. You came with us at the very beginning while those cowards stayed behind to fester in colonial garrisons for the rest of their careers!'

A dark-hued turian spoke up, honoured by the general's acknowledgement. 'Yes, Sir!'

Smiling, Krassus continued to glance about him and his tone softened. 'As I look around at the men assembled here today, the first century of the Legion, our most experienced warriors…' He broke off and the smile faded from his lips. '…I am reminded of those who perished to bring us this far.'

On impulse, the soldiers around him rose from their seats and stood to attention. In the silence, Krassus' voice rang like a funeral bell.

'Legionaries Tertius, Deven, Faustus, Pavari, Cavica. Centurions Macro and Nantia. Prefect Vastra. We will honour their spirits.'

The ops room rumbled as the century repeated the solemn chant that was as old as the legions themselves. 'Until our final days.'

Lifting his head, Krassus' eyes burned and he turned to face a large monitor at the far end of the room. Varn approached and joined him at his side as the screen flickered to life.

'Now, my soldiers. My brothers. Now we take our revenge.'


 ~~~ME-I~~~




The dreadnought Ascension was one of the largest ships in the turian fleet. It dwarfed the carriers and frigates around it, a pale spike against the blackness of space as it drifted slowly in formation with the other ships.

It was the pride of the Fifth Battle Group, a sentinel that could ensure obedience to the Turian Empire by sheer dominance alone.

Deep within its bulkheads, General Adrien Victus winced to himself as yet another long, flat corridor presented itself for his inspection.

He hated having to tour dreadnoughts. It had been two hours already and his feet had become two aching stumps inside his armoured boots.

Victus' brown eyes, set deeply into a white-painted face of dark grey, scoured the ship's interior, constantly looking for any imperfection but he knew with tired resignation there would be nothing amiss. The Ascension's crew had had a long time to prepare for this formal inspection and the captain would have left nothing to chance. The lines of the flat were straight and narrow, with nothing to disturb them.

Victus sighed inwardly. He was bored and it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide it.

The general turned back to Captain Antulia, who stood rigidly at his shoulder. His carapace was supposed to be white, but with Victus' mounting scrutiny of his ship it had flushed almost to the colour of his muddy brown paint, the tension proving almost too much for him to bear.

Victus considered pricking the man's nerves a little, if only to relieve his boredom. Perhaps a test of his tactical knowledge or his understanding of the dreadnought's systems.

Frowning softly to himself, Victus dismissed the idea as quickly as it came. He hated the pettiness of some senior officers and never understood the way they revelled in picking out the smallest flaws with their subordinates.

He was a soldier, without the patience for such trifling things and he would endure the inspection like any other hardship rather than take out his frustration on others.

Antulia cleared his throat, his features taut at the sudden shift in Victus' expression. 'Is something wrong, Sir?'

Victus blinked and tried not to sound as if he’d just woken up. 'No, Captain, nothing out of place yet that I can see. This is a fine ship. You must be very proud of her.'

'I am, Sir,' Antulia replied, his chest swelling. 'We're the flagship of the Fifth, Palaven's finest. It's fortunate you arrived when you did, General. We'll be coming up on the CIC soon and we're due to test fire the main gun in a co-ordinated battle simulation with the rest of the group.'

'This was scheduled beforehand?' Victus asked, unable to stop himself testing the captain's façade a little. 'And not purely for my benefit, I trust?'

Antulia seemed to sway on his feet for a moment but recovered well, even going so far as to smile.

'With respect, Sir, I don't know a captain worth his salt who wouldn't want to demonstrate the firepower of his ship with an officer of your stature aboard. I just hope the transparency of the gesture won't affect our aim.'

'An honest answer,' Victus said, matching Antulia's smile with a subtle one of his own. He'd underestimated the man. 'It's difficult to find a sense of humour in the upper ranks these days. If a soldier needs anything, it's a sense of humour.'

He led the way, stopping occasionally to talk to the crew or remark on a particular piece of equipment. He now knew the exercise Antulia mentioned was to be the climax of his tour and he looked forward to it if only because it signified an end to the tedious ceremony.

The Ascension's Combat Information Centre was enormous, with just over a hundred crew swarming around a central podium that stood raised above their heads. It was a staple of turian design and Victus immediately felt comfortable as he stepped up its ramp.

The room was lit only by the instrumentation at work, forming a thick gloom of murky orange and red but the place crackled with anticipation. The men and women below him knew he was watching and poured all of their effort into the smallest task, their determination palpable.

'All right, Captain,' he said without turning his head. 'Show me what your ship can do.'

'Aye, Sir,' Antulia acknowledged and nodded to his Operations Officer, who snapped a string of orders to the nearby crew.

Victus felt his stomach flutter as the ship's momentum dampeners released and the Ascension made her implacable way forward.

A shout caught his ear as a sergeant neared the Ops Officer, eager to catch his attention. 'Sir, we have a high-priority signal coming from the Undaunted. Shall I allow the connection?'

Victus felt Antulia stir at his side, his eagerness to intervene obvious but the captain knew his subordinate officers could handle such matters. It was Antulia’s job to oversee their decisions, not make them.

The Ops Officer nodded and grumbled just loud enough for Victus to overhear.

'Patch them through, though I swear by the spirits, if they're reporting an engine failure now of all times I'll have their EO's hide.'

The sergeant saluted and returned to his post, where a junior crewman could be heard murmuring into the comm relay. The sergeant approached and tapped him on the shoulder.

Antulia coughed lightly. 'The Undaunted has been having problems with her drive core over the past few weeks. I was assured that everything would go smoothly for the simulation.'

Victus held back a grin. He understood the captain's embarrassment but he could hardly be blamed for the development.

'Ships are machines,' he said, simply, 'and machines have a habit of breaking when it's most inconvenient. Don't trouble yourself, Captain.'

Antulia gave an appreciative nod but the motion was cut short as his ear picked up a note of alarm in someone's voice. His and Victus' heads turned as one, fixing on the comm sergeant.

'What do you mean it's not coming from the Undaunted?' the man barked.

The crewman beside him shook his head in confusion. 'The signal bears their signature and the correct authorisation codes but the source of the transmission is much farther away. It's not even coming from the battle group!'

'Shut it off!' the sergeant yelled out. 'Shut it off now!'

Victus opened his mouth to speak but he was interrupted by the crewman's panicked reply.

'It...it's not working!' The young turian stabbed at his haptic controls with increasing desperation. 'I-I don't believe this. The entire comm relay has been locked out!'

A chorus of shouts went up as one by one, every man in the CIC protested, their own instruments defying their inputs. A wave of anxiety hit Victus and his eyes snapped to Antulia.

'What's going on here, Captain?'

'I-I don't know,' Antuila stammered, his own gaze flickering from station to station in a manic effort to make sense of it all. 'Everyone is reporting the same thing. Their controls are unresponsive.'

Thinking quickly, the captain singled out a nearby crewman. 'You! Get down to engineering, I want to know what the situation is down there, now!'

The man saluted and set off at a run. Victus turned to Antulia with a questioning glance.

'I trust this isn't part of the exercise?'

Antulia did not smile and that was answer enough for Victus, but the captain replied nonetheless, his voice heavy with concern.

'I'm sure this is just a temporary malfunction, Sir.'

Antulia breathed deeply as he looked back out upon his scrambling crew.

'A temporary malfunction...'
Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 36
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

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Yaro's steps were short and uneven as he wove his way through the precinct atrium, past throngs of C-Sec officers and wild, struggling suspects.

The stench of body odour and decaying consumables was thick. He glanced at them all distractedly, assuming there to have been a particularly large bust that night but it was a distant observation. Ahead of him, the duty sergeant was too busy with booking a growling krogan into custody to notice Yaro's entry. The salarian took advantage of it and kept his head firmly down.

Blue and black armour flashed by in a blur as Yaro’s mind swam. The AI's words were burned into him now, the menacing undertones a backdrop for his own sickening despair and panic.

He didn’t know what was worse, that the machine was shrewd enough to manipulate him or that he had committed the cardinal sin of bringing synthetic life aboard the Citadel.

No, he corrected himself with a firm shake of the head. The worst part of all was that the profits he'd allowed himself to get excited about were nothing but a dream now; just another carrot life had chosen to dangle before his eyes before snatching it away. No one in the galaxy could be having worse luck than he at that moment.

He veered to the left, into a long corridor that seemed dark next to the spacious atrium. As with most C-Sec areas, thick blue lighting pervaded most of the corridor's length. It was a colour Yaro was utterly sick of seeing and he lashed out at it mentally in his misery.

Offices passed him on both sides, their gleaming windows holding traces of activity within but Yaro ignored them, his eyes focused on one in particular. With a grunt, he pressed his hand to a green door panel and waited impatiently for it to shift aside.

Inside, Brasca looked up from his desk. An unlit cigarette hung loosely from his open mouth and he barked out irritably.

'What do you want? I'm busy.'

'Make yourself un-busy,' Yaro snapped as he strode to the desk and leaned over it, planting his hands on the surface. 'We have a serious problem.'

'You and half of Zakera,' Brasca muttered irritably, 'and if I don't get this paperwork done in a legit way for a change, the captain'll start askin' questions. That asshole's suspicious of me enough as it is and I ain't gonna give him any ammunition. So kindly get the hell outta here and tell me about this problem later.'

Yaro slapped a palm on the desk.

'No! Now!'

An empty glass rattled, the sound becoming a crash in the silence that followed.

Brasca looked up and his curiosity at Yaro's mood turned to open concern, prompting him to stand up and motion towards the door.

'Out back,' he growled.

Brasca led the way through the tightly-packed offices and out to a quiet area, where the relentless noise of the station could not reach them. They passed through a set of doors and into the open air, onto a round veranda overlooking a great swathe of the local district. It was where officers came to smoke or get away from their desks for a break, and Yaro's head darted from side to side quickly, looking for any who might listen in.

The ward city was a bright stretch of glittering columns beyond them, between which slithered the usual lines of shuttle traffic. Yaro stared at them with frantic eyes as Brasca lit his cigarette, his face briefly flaring orange before darkening again.

'So what's the big problem?' the turian asked. 'I ain't ever seen you wound up so tight. Shit your pants?'

Yaro sighed. He didn’t even know where to begin.

'Okay, you remember that VI we installed in the Presidium? The one that was supposed to be our gateway to lifelong luxury and fortune?'

'The one I warned you about using because it was too damn unpredictable?' Brasca ventured with a lack of surprise in his voice.

'Yeah,' Yaro mumbled, his fingers intertwined nervously. 'Well, against all reasonable assumptions and the very laws of the universe itself, it turns out you were actually right. The thing's not a VI at all. It's an AI, one that just made it very clear to me that we're not in charge, not anymore.'

Brasca grunted and his cigarette glowed, a red spot in the gloom. 'You might not think a whole lot of me, old friend, but I know my instincts. I told you I knew that thing was trouble right from the very beginning. The second you said your source was a friend of someone in JSTF, I knew something wasn't right.'

'Well,' Yaro said, trailing off. Brasca frowned at him sternly until he continued. 'That's the thing. That source, he wasn't a friend of someone in JSTF. He was JSTF.'

His hand snapped up defensively as Brasca took an angry step toward him. 'Look, he's all right, I've known him a while! I asked him when he got poached for the spook house if there was any good tech lying around, stuff they wouldn't need. All I said was if he gave it to me I'd compensate him accordingly.'

'Do you realise what kinda stuff those guys actually take into evidence? Did you think it'd be the same freakin' scam software we confiscate from duct rats?'

Brasca pushed Yaro's raised hand aside and gripped his armour by the chest, pulling him closer.

'You know what's going on!' he hissed. 'You know the rumours, about the damn terrorist attacks, that JSTF are struggling to handle it all. If they found out we-'

The turian looked away sharply, unwilling to spell out their fate. Yaro gripped his arm pleadingly.

'We have to get out of here! We have to get off the Citadel before this whole thing blows up in our faces. Somebody's gonna find that AI soon and when they do I wanna be as far away from this station as possible!'

Growling, Brasca released his friend's armour and paced around the veranda, growling softly in frustration. Yaro watched him warily. The turian had never laid a finger on him until that day but Yaro couldn’t blame him.

The situation was not only bad, it was one they’d never before anticipated and now they felt only confusion as they were forced to contemplate a life of danger and uncertainty.

Finally, Brasca turned to him.

'I have an idea.'

Ordinarily Yaro would have snickered and condescendingly dismissed the notion but right now the salarian was desperate, and he listened with all of his concentration.

'Barla Von,' Brasca continued, 'that volus money man in the Presidium. I did a few favours for him a while back, favours that still need to be repaid.'

'So what's your plan? Get him to cough up some credits, or?'

Brasca shook his head. 'No, I'm thinkin' we need another steady line of work, something off the grid. Von, he's an agent for the Shadow Broker. I think he can vouch for us, maybe get us some paid employment.'

'For the Shadow Broker?' Yaro whispered harshly. The information broker Brasca spoke of was more legend than man and he felt the need to keep his voice down from superstition alone. 'Are you crazy? If we hook up with someone like that there's no way we'll ever be able to come back here!'

'I don't know about that,' Brasca replied with a shrug. 'If anyone'll be able to help us make this whole thing disappear, it's the Shadow Broker. At worst we'll earn a good living doing security, more than we would in C-Sec, then retire after a few years to some cushy asari colony outside Council space. It won't be thresher-skinned boots and shuttle-fulls of asari maidens for the rest of our lives, but considering the alternative…'

'There are worse ways to live, I guess.' Yaro paused and looked at Brasca with a sly expression. 'If I didn't know any better, I'd even say you'd been planning this before now.'

Smiling, the bare-faced turian expelled a thick plume of smoke before idly flicking the cigarette over the edge of the veranda.

'Unlike you, I don't assume everything will work out. Always have a backup plan is what I always say.'

Yaro grinned widely and slapped his armoured shoulder. 'Sev, my friend, I underestimated you. Let's go pay Barla Von a visit. I'm sure the Shadow Broker will be a safer man to work for than most.'


 ~~~ME-I~~~


A hard fist crashed into Arlen's face again, splashing the floor around his feet with blue.

Centurion Tacitus grunted and pulled his hand back, flexing his fingers while observing his handiwork intently.

Arlen's face was a dark, wet mess while his body bore the gruesome effect of the bloodworm's toxins. Swollen sores wept, spilling blood through cracked skin made red and purple with rashes.

The centurion showed nothing for his prisoner except a clinical fascination. He watched Arlen constantly as he went about his work, assessing just how much pain he could inflict before it all became too much. He leaned into his next punch, catching Arlen above his right eye.

Arlen felt something give in that side of his face but it was difficult to tell for certain. The agony in his body had hardened into a dull throbbing and he knew it was beginning to shut down, piece by piece. And yet each punch awakened another part of him, just enough to keep him awake in his torment.

At first he had fought it, convincing himself that he could endure it, that turians never break. It was all a lie, however.

As the agony mounted and his voice was reduced to quiet whimpering he felt the words on the edges of his lips, ones he thought he would never contemplate. The only reason he hadn’t spoken them was because to do so would have changed nothing, but they were still there, ready to be spoken.

For hours he had longed to beg for his life.

He became faintly aware that Tacitus had stepped away and was now wringing out his hands. One of Arlen's eyes had swollen completely shut, yet he could make out the grey shape of the torturer, shifting between a narrow slit. Was it over then? Had he survived?

Hope did not rise, he couldn't let it. Instead his body only awoke from its numb shell at the sudden halt, every pain felt new and fresh, making him want to scream. The only sound that came from his smashed lips was a thin gurgle.

The cell door opened and Varn entered. His head swaying, Arlen looked at him in confusion. He didn’t remember having seen Varn leave and wondered how much time had actually passed.

The tribune cleared his throat and nodded to Tacitus, who quickly saluted and made his way out, closing the door behind him.

Varn took in a lungful of the warm air through his nose, grimacing slightly at the sour tang of sweat and bitter fluids. Water dripped noisily from somewhere behind Arlen, or perhaps it was his blood, he could not be sure. All that could be heard clearly was his own churning breath as it worked its way from his chest.

Varn spoke and his voice thrummed deeply in Arlen's head, formless and difficult to grasp.

'The general wants you alive. Soon you'll be taken to a more fitting cell, somewhere even your mercenary allies would find impossible to reach, that is if they haven't abandoned you already.'

Arlen's voice emerged as a pained rattle, shaken from his throat more than spoken.

'They m-may surprise you y-yet.'

'They caught us off-guard on Noveria. That will not happen again.'

Varn lowered himself to the ground and settled onto one knee. He tried to find Arlen's eyes but the young turian twisted his head, hiding his features as best he could.

'On the outside we have strong walls,’ Varn told him, ‘along with VI-controlled artillery towers and perimeter sensors. Inside we have Mantis gunships and some of the best-trained and bravest men in the galaxy. Even with our losses to date, we are more than a match for anything the Council or Alliance can throw at us.'

He waited for a response but Arlen gave him only the sound of his own shivering as he continued to look away, unable to trust himself with looking at Varn directly.

'You know who we are,' Varn said his gaze relentless. 'You know who I am, don't you?'

Of course Arlen knew. He could recite the information JSTF had given him to the letter, but he did not answer.

Varn nodded slowly. 'Then I assume you also knew Crixus Nantia.'

Arlen couldn’t stop his head from jerking up, despite the sharp ache that came with it.

It was all the confirmation Varn needed and he let his next words come slowly as he read what he could from Arlen's torn features.

'He was my brother.'

Varn watched with interest Arlen froze, his eyes gradually falling as they filled with unreadable thoughts.

'Well, not my real brother. He was only a boy and I a young soldier when his father was killed in the reclamation of Shanxi. I raised him and his sister, provided for them, did everything I could to give them a good life.'

Varn's mandibles quivered as memories coursed through him, the only sign of his emotions. 'That man followed me into the Seventh Legion and then into the Exodus. He called me his brother and would not hear of it when I told him to stay behind, safe at home. He forsook everything to follow us.'

In spite of his immense pain, Arlen could not help but chuckle aloud, drawing a puzzled frown from Varn as the sound shuddered from his body.

'Yeah, b-brothers can be f-funny like that.'

'They can,' Varn replied, leaning closer. He drew near to Arlen, until he could smell the blood on his breath. 'You would know this better than anyone, I think? Nihlus, first-born to Renius Kryik, fleeing his family in his own disgust.'

'What?'

The cell seemed to close in on Arlen, becoming a crushing, dark cage. His head snapped to Varn and he lashed out defiantly.

'You're lying! Y-you know nothing about my family!'

A smile crossed Varn's lips. 'On the contrary, there isn't a turian soldier alive who doesn't know the story of Renius. The failure of the Iron General, so great that even his eldest son fled, unable to stomach it.'

'No!' Arlen cried, his body bucking against his bindings, scraping the chair across the stone floor. 'My brother was a coward, he ran away because he…because he wasn't strong enough!'

'You're so certain of that. Surely it can't be that you…' Varn frowned slightly and tilted his head. 'Surely you must have found out by now? Who your father was, what he did?'

Arlen knew he shouldn’t have answered but his senses had deserted him. He felt his strength draining as his injuries threatened to sweep him into darkness but it was nothing next to the urge he now felt. He had to know.

'I was told my father was a mercenary,' he said. 'I only met him for a short time, when I was very young. He trained me, taught me what I would need to be a soldier. He died off-world a few years later. I…I never really knew him.'

Varn cocked a brow and scoffed.

'Mercenary? General Kryik would have flayed the skin off anyone who called him that. Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised you haven't heard about him. His name was struck from the legion rolls twenty-eight years ago, after the military tribunal that ended his career. Others, like General Krassus and myself, had good reason to hate him.'

'I don't understand. What did he do wrong?'

Though he knew his consciousness was thinning, Arlen forced himself to listen as Varn replied.

'Your father was the man who led us in the attack on the human colony of Shanxi. He was the one who ordered the human exploration vessels destroyed when they discovered the mass relay. The First Contact War was started by his command.'

Arlen turned his eyes to the ground in disbelief. It couldn't be true. His father couldn't be the one responsible for the conflict that would drive apart two races, the war that had brought about the Forgotten Legion itself.

Varn seemed to read his thoughts. 'Ironic, isn't it? Everything that happened after Shanxi happened because of him. If it had been anyone else leading that battle group, the order might have been different. A different officer might have ordered the human ships disabled or hailed but Renius was never a man for half-measures. He went in hard and then fell upon their colony with everything he had.'

Varn's eyes grew hard and bitterness entered his voice. 'That included us. We were picked for the patrol because we were young, fresh out of boot camp and into the Fifth Cohort of the Seventh Legion. Our centurions were good men but they were old and most hadn't seen combat in years. Renius didn't care. He knew our limitations and sent us in anyway, a cohort of men against a planetary garrison, all while he bombed Shanxi into rubble. When the bombs ran out he used rocks and orbital debris. We watched from a distance as the civilian death toll grew.'

Shaking his head, Arlen tried to block out Varn's words but he could not. He knew he could not.

'Your father wouldn't listen to his senior officers. They cautioned him against sending us down there when the enemy's strength was still unknown. He said if these new aliens were strong, they would have had more ships. He insisted Shanxi was the human home world and refused to send for reinforcements. When the humans finally retaliated, we were overwhelmed.'

The tribune lowered his voice and stood, forcing Arlen to look up at him.

'Your father grew extreme. He used human civilians as shields, even going so far as executing them in droves in his anger, in his desperation. He had us dig graves and…' Varn swallowed against something and looked away for a moment. When his gaze returned it was filled with rage. 'We all did things on Shanxi that we should never have done. Is it any wonder the humans are mistrustful of us? Of all aliens?'

'Then why?' Arlen bit back. 'Why the attacks? Why the violence?'

'Because this isn't about the humans. It's about us. They made us pay dearly for Shanxi. They drove us off the planet and pursued us to the relay. We had less than half our original ships, only scraps of our original cohort. If the Council fleet hadn’t intercepted them and forced a truce…'

He paused to take a shaking breath.

'But the worst was still to come. The Hierarchy, they refused to see the truth of what happened there. They didn’t care that General Kryik had abused his command, or that his men were forced to endure anguishes and nightmares until their last days. Instead they rushed to appease the rest of the Council, thinking only of how they could reduce the political fallout of the incident. They forgot about all of us.'

'We,' Arlen murmured, 'the Empire, we take part in pacification campaigns against civilians all the time. How was Shanxi different?'

'Pacification is used to deal with rebels,' Varn snapped. 'There's method, psychology, it's not simply random violence. Renius had us commit atrocities that day and we all knew what would happen if we refused his orders.'

That was something Arlen could well imagine and he closed his eyes in misery as Varn went on.

'After the incident the Primarch became obsessed with reforming the military, said our 'near-annihilation' at the hands of the humans showed our formations to be too inflexible, too rigid to be able to cope with such an adaptive enemy. The legions were changed, amalgamated with elements modelled on the human military structure, of all things. As a result, you did not encounter the traditional ranks of optio and centurion. Instead you knew only corporals, sergeants and lieutenants. The changes came despite the protests of long-serving soldiers like myself, Vastra and yes, even Lorik Qi'in. The knee-jerk reactions of politicians threw away millennia of military tradition in only a couple of years.'

'Things change, armies have to adapt to meet new threats,' Arlen argued back heatedly. 'Is that what all this is about? Tradition?'

Varn's anger seeped through his cold surface as he paced across the cell, his voice a snarl.

'It's about more than that! We were the last of a golden age of turian military dominance, the last of a line of soldiers that united the Empire and saved the galaxy from the krogan! Don't talk about tradition as if it's something that can simply be discarded at will; it's something that outlasts all of us, soldier and politician alike. Without tradition we might as well call ourselves animals, things of instinct that only adapt without thought, without appreciation for what made us great to begin with!'

Arlen grimaced as his wounds tingled, made sore with sweat.

'It all just s-sounds like the bitterness of old m-men to me,' he rasped between clenched teeth. 'Old men who refuse to change.'

'We're not just old men.' Varn held himself still. 'We're what's left. After a generation of war and mistakes we are all that remain, we and all the scars we bear.'

Once again he lowered himself to a knee and gently lifted Arlen's head up by the chin.

'We will not rest until our people and the humans have settled what began thirty years ago. The Council will either stand by us or move aside.' He spat hard on the ground. 'We safeguard them with their precious Citadel Fleet, nearly two thirds of it composed of turian ships. They will not lift a finger to save the humans.'

'W-why?' Arlen croaked. 'Why won't y-you let it end? The war is over, people will forget in time, the humans will forgive us! It's already started happening! Why start it all over again? What the hell is the point?'

Climbing to his feet, Varn sighed and wandered to the cell door.

'The decision was made ten years ago, when a century of men quit the Seventh Legion, taking with them hardened soldiers from across the military. We committed ourselves to the path, knowing that though politics and people may change, history does not. We were the last of a turian age, forgotten by the rest, and we will drag our people back into that age kicking and screaming if we have to.'

'The Forgotten Legion,' Arlen whispered.

Pulling the door open, Varn motioned to someone waiting outside. Two guards, clad fully from head to toe in green camouflage armour, strode into the room before halting in front of Arlen.

'Take him to his holding cell,' Varn told them. 'He won't be a problem.'

The nearest man saluted and together the pair wrenched off Arlen's restraints and hauled him to his feet.

He couldn’t help but let out a cry of pain as his feet scraped across the ground and he was dragged out of the room into a cold, dank corridor.

The light disappeared quickly from his vision, leaving him with only sounds and thoughts. His father was there, glaring at him and Arlen found a sudden loathing for the old man.

If what Varn had said was true then his training, the years of hardship, had all been a lie. What right did a worthless general, a man who had gone so far as to be struck from the memory of his people, have to train anyone?

Everything Arlen had learned, about honour, about being a turian, had come from a man who had shown himself to know nothing of those virtues.

Before darkness swallowed him, all he could muster was a steady hatred for that old man who made him work and hurt and bleed for most of his young life. The image of Renius faded slowly and the noises of the world with it, though in the last moment Arlen thought he saw Nihlus walking away silently into the night.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


'That's the situation,' Garrus explained. His voice was fraught with anxiety at telling Kirrahe he’d kept Chellick alive but there was no going back.

Kirrahe murmured something, though whether it was under his breath or a comment to his men, Garrus was unsure.

The sound came softly but clearly over the small silver comm unit, the very same Kirrahe had sent to Udina and retrieved during the ambassador's earlier rescue. Its effectiveness had already been proven in its ability to pass through JSTF's security scanners undetected and Garrus quietly wondered at his chances of handing it over to Lina for analysis.

Smiling bitterly, he shook his head. Kirrahe would not allow it, nor accept any excuse for its loss. Garrus would have to play it safe just this once.

Kirrahe's voice was harsh when he finally replied.

'Your decision may have cost us more than you realise, Agent Vakarian. The question of his guilt aside, Chellick's terminal was a vital link to Yanus, the best lead we've had in over a century. If that link is gone we may never get another chance like this again. I hope you know what you're doing.'

Garrus hesitated, and cursed himself for doing so. 'I don't think any of us can claim to know what they're doing at this point, Captain. All we can do is go by our instincts.'

'Point taken. Since you're so convinced of Chellick's innocence, we will take your word for now. Needless to say, you will be forced to share in the consequences if the decision proves to be the wrong one.'

Garrus glanced at Chellick, who stared out sullenly from his desk, and felt a hollow tension in his stomach. He wanted to ask aloud if the commander appreciated the fact that Garrus was staking his own reputation, perhaps even his life, on Chellick's word.

The irony of relying on the very man who had blackmailed and extorted him was not lost on Garrus as Kirrahe spoke again.

'You claim that you interrupted the file purge before its completion?'

'That's right,' Garrus confirmed.

'Then we may have a chance. I doubt any solid evidence of Yanus exists anymore but if your hunch is right, the terminal was not used by his agent directly, rather it was accessed remotely through a back door in the system. Is that correct?'

'Yeah. I'm no computer expert but that would make sense to me. Unless this agent of Yanus has been watching Chellick's terminal every second, he might not realise Chellick purged the system yet. I'm guessing that if he or she's working within the command centre, they won't be able to focus their attention on monitoring Chellick for too long without drawing suspicion. That back door might still be open.'

Kirrahe could be heard shuffling as he stroked his chin. 'The Mantius program was developed by STG to monitor computer traffic, not trace it. I fear that if we try to aggressively track this leak it'll simply alert the mole and give them cause to run.'

'Or worse,' Garrus added, 'they could decide to react violently. Analysts aren't armed but there are plenty of agents and security officers, all capable of doing plenty of damage in a desperate situation.'

'Indeed. We will have to be subtle. Fortunately my sergeant, Rentola, had an idea.'

Garrus grinned, impressed. 'That was fast.'

'We always work fast,' Kirrahe replied evenly. 'Rentola rightly points out that the link from Udina's office to Chellick's terminal existed long before this crisis.'

'You mentioned Udina's predecessor, Ambassador Jung, communicated with Yanus, correct?'

'Correct. Sergeant Rentola believes that we may be able to falsify a convincing signal from Yanus and transmit it through the link. Based on what we know, Yanus is a salarian, or at least uses salarian methodology and equipment for the most part. Many of his techniques seem to be derived from STG tradecraft. If we send a coded 'mission abort' signal through Chellick's terminal and subsequently through this back door, we may be able to isolate and trap the mole. At the very least, we can expose them by causing them to leave the command centre. Simply put, we send the abort signal, then follow whoever tries to flee JSTF afterwards.'

Garrus felt his heart hammer once again as the thrill of the chase took hold. 'It's our best shot.'

'I would prefer something with a more…reassuring…success probability,' Kirrahe said reluctantly, 'but it will have to do. We're taking a great risk but then again, this is a day for risks.'

Slowly, Garrus wandered to the office window and pulled down a shutter pane gently with one finger. His sharp eyes picked out every detail, every face in the room. He still found it hard to believe that someone among them was a traitor but the past week had been shown the error of thinking so naively.

Whoever it was, they would get what they deserved.

He prepared himself to give the final word but paused as he raised the comm unit to his lips. A thought occurred to him, one that made him frown thoughtfully.

'Captain, I want to ask you something before we begin. I might not get another chance. Who is Yanus? Who is he, really?'

Stillness gripped the office as Kirrahe considered the question. Even Chellick listened in carefully, every bit as interested as Garrus to know who had infiltrated his team and preyed on his ignorance for so long.

Kirrahe replied slowly as his obvious respect for Garrus fought with his need to keep classified details concealed.

'Yanus is…the consequence of an old mistake, or so current theory holds. Based on what little evidence we have, he is the result of a rare and costly error made by my people long ago. The Special Tasks Group is tied to him, our fates forever bonded to his. Read into that what you will and know that I can't say more.'

'For my own protection, right?' Garrus said with a grunt.

'For all our protection,' Kirrahe answered simply. 'You've seen for yourself how dangerous the man is, how long his reach can be. I doubt this will remain a game of shadows forever but the longer the larger galaxy is kept ignorant of the threat he poses, the better.'

Nodding subtly, Garrus silently conceded the point. He hated the idea that people would live their lives around him, unaware of the danger they were in as men and women lost their lives to protect them without a word of thanks.

He might have held dreams of cleaning up the galaxy but he also knew there was only one way to do it, and it was not through regulations or due process. Garrus had tasted a different way of life and he doubted he would ever have such freedom again.

'All right,' he said. 'Send the signal.'


 ~~~ME-I~~~


Lorica looked up sharply from her desk as another message came through on her omni-tool.

Her brilliant eyes shone as they passed over the words and she bit her lip softly in frustration. The command centre was busy, with murmuring staff wandering back and forth, the percussive shout of a potential breakthrough breaking through at irregular intervals. She observed them for a moment, wary and yet admiring of their dedication. Many of them had been working for days with little rest and still they pushed on.

She looked up, moving her head slowing so as not to give away the impatience that drove her. Lina was buried in her terminal as usual, though Lorica knew the quarian was not a fool. She was suspicious of Lorica at best and since the Illium operation, she had been keeping a close eye on everyone.

Lorica fought a grimace at the memory. It was not surprising. She had been careless, stupid, and almost betrayed herself through simple eagerness.

As she took pains to keep her head still, her eyes darted across the room. They stilled as they came across Milo, his head down at his desk, and lingered there as a tightness entered her stomach.

The asari’s mouth twisted slightly and to her annoyance a welling of emotion began, a longing that rose from the hard knot in her body and threatened to overwhelm her senses.

Blinking, she turned her head aside and cursed herself inwardly, for both succumbing to the feeling so easily and showing it so readily. She didn’t have the time to see if it had been noticed. She rose smoothly from her seat and slid away from her desk before making for the central ramp to the exit.


 ~~~ME-I~~~


From across the room, Lina watched Milo at the very edges of her vision. He had sent her a warning message and she knew he was watching Lorica carefully, waiting for her to make a move. Though she couldn’t have said why, Lina knew it would be soon and was prepared.

She stood up suddenly, knocking over an empty plastic cup, which fell to the ground with an tap and rolled under the desk. Ignoring it, she turned around to see a flicker of blue skin heading towards the main door.

Taking a moment to ensure it was Lorica and not one of the other asari analysts on the team, Lina followed as soon as she was certain.

Lorica was younger than the rest and moved with a fluid grace, even more so than her fellow asari. Her movements were distinctive enough to fix on as Lina dodged milling colleagues, her pace picking up and faltering with every step.

Lorica disappeared quickly through the exit and Lina cursed under her breath. She pressed through the crowd roughly and many of them stepped aside instinctively at the sight of her dark glass visor. Her reputation throughout the crisis had grown and no one wanted to impede her.

It did not take long for her to reach the ramp and she bounded up it quickly, passing through the open entrance. The main security checkpoint lay ahead, an airlock through which a distant shadow passed and the guards called out an enthusiastic remark.

Lorica's laugh came in response and a reply drifted into Lina's ears. Though she couldn't make out the words there was no hiding the nervous edge to the sound.

The doors cycled, hiding Lorica from view and Lina ground her teeth together beneath her helmet. She did not speak at the risk of alerting her quarry. Instead she walked briskly to the checkpoint and passed through.

One of the C-Sec guards, a turian whose name she did not know, smiled at her politely. 'Good afternoon, ma'am.'

'Yes, afternoon,' she replied absently as the scanners blinked around her.

The guard said nothing further. The airlock doors moved aside and Lina was through them before they had fully opened.

The adjoining corridor was long and straight, and connected directly to C-Sec's main headquarters. When she reached the end an enormous lobby area swallowed her with noise and movement. C-Sec officers swarmed the area in a shifting blur of black and blue.

Lina did her best to focus. Her helmet reduced the clamour of the crowd to a steady hum and only the hiss of her own breath rose above it.

There were more asari here, far more than the command centre and they passed by, oblivious to her presence. She heard someone mutter nearby but ignored the sound. The sight of a quarian in C-Sec HQ always brought at least one snide comment from the officers around her and it was something she had grown used to.

For a brief moment she was terrified of being accosted for vagrancy. It had happened more than once until her identity was disseminated amongst the locals but the more obvious C-Sec colouration of her suit had discouraged such acts since. Still, it would have been just her luck for an exception to be made at that moment.

Lina clenched her fists in irritation as she looked around, lifting herself up on her toes to peer above the heads of the crowd. Her pulse quickened as she saw Lorica vanish into a blue-tinted hallway, her head disappearing as she descended a staircase.

Darting forward, Lina reached the stairs moments later, forced into a run through sheer desperation.

The stairs were quiet and Lina saw why. The garage symbol was splayed on the walls in lurid orange and most officers would be either be already out on patrol or attending to their desk work at that time of the day. She pressed on, suddenly afraid Lorica would try and escape by car.

A set of doors slid open and a vast parking bay stretched out beyond. Hundreds of sleek patrol shuttles lay in rows, their curved windshields highlighted silver in the gloom. The noise of the lobby had quietened and Lina found her breath catching in her chest as a result, unwilling to expel it and disturb the hush.

She could her Lorica's voice as a whispering breeze in her audio receptors. The asari's speech was rushed, panicked, and close. It was coming from the shadows to Lina's left and she crept stealthily through the darkness.

Her curved legs bent as she pressed herself into a crouch. The position was a little awkward for her but she moved quietly in the direction of the murmurs.

'It's not possible, not yet.' Lorica said from a short distance away.

The sound drifted from beyond a line of shining cars, at the back of the bay where the light could not reach. The faint glow of an omni-tool betrayed her in the dark.

'They're suspicious enough as it is without me dragging one of them out at gunpoint. If I make a mistake then… Yes, I understand that, but…'

Lina could barely hear her over the pounding of blood in her ears. Her entire body felt tense, like a spring coiled so densely she thought it would break at any moment. The asari spoke again, growing louder with every step Lina took.

'No, that's not necessary, I-' she said, her voice rising for a moment before she forced it back down into a harsh whisper. 'Look, I'm almost there! I just need a few more hours.'

Lina warned herself not to move. She wanted to remain hidden, wait until Lorica was finished and then find help. For all she knew the asari would use her people's feared biotic abilities to quickly and quietly dispatch her.

It was all too easy for Lina to imagine a pulse of biotic energy slamming into her, propelling her against the wall with crushing force before being callously tossed aside, broken and limp. The fear was a constant pressure at the back of Lina's mind, screaming at her to simply stay there, still and quiet.

But it was not common sense that led her to flee Peak Ten. It was not common sense that had her climbing into a shipping crate, her gangly limbs flailing as she struggled to close and seal the lid behind her.

She had escaped slavery and her mother's grasp by her wits alone. Her keen sense of survival, her first impulse, was her most trusted friend. It had seen her forge a life of her own, away from the Migrant Fleet, away from the geth and most of all, away from Daro'Xen.

When the rest of the galaxy had been against her that instinct was all she had and she would not question it now.

With a deep breath, she straightened and walked towards Lorica and the asari let out a quiet gasp as a shadow detached from the darkness.

'Lina!' She hurried to close her omni-tool. 'W-what are you doing here? I was just-'

Like a rolling tide, Lina felt her fear replaced by surging anger as she strode forward.

‘You!’ She stepped close before jabbing a finger hard into Lorica’s chest. 'I knew you were up to something! I knew you were plotting something behind my back, behind all our backs!'

Lorica's lips shivered as she stuttered a reply.

'I-I don't know what you mean! I was only…'

'I heard you!' Lina shouted. Her voice thrashed against the parking bay but she didn’t care. Fury had risen in her, wild and uncontrollable. Everything that had happened, all the lies, the secrets of the past week, Lorica had a part in it and the thought incensed her.

'Who are you working for? Krassus? How much is he paying you? When did you turn?'

'I'm not working for Krassus!' the asari answered back manically. 'I can explain, please, just give me a chance to explain!'

'All right then!' Lina spread her arms and turned from side to side, inviting an imaginary audience to bear witness. 'Explain! Explain how you never seem to be around when the enemy makes a move. Explain where you disappear to, what you're doing! Tell me now before I call for every damn officer in this station!'

Lorica closed her eyes and lowered her head. The echoes of Lina's voice rang back faintly and the quarian crossed her arms.

'I'm waiting.'

The air closed in on them fiercely until the pressure felt crushing. Lorica sighed deeply.

'You're right, I am working for someone else, but it's not what you think. I guess I should introduce myself properly.'

Her head snapped up and she pushed her shoulders back, her sudden rigid posture taking Lina by surprise.

'My name is Agent Lorica Da'Nante. I work for Investigation's Internal Affairs department.'

'Internal Affairs?' Lina repeated slowly. Her confidence of moments before drained away in an instant and she shifted slightly on her feet. 'You're with IA? Seriously?'

Nodding, Lorica began to walk away and gestured for Lina to follow.

'I'll explain, but first let's get out of this corner before somebody sees us. The last thing I need is someone else involved in this.'

They made their way briskly out of the shadows and towards the far end of the shuttle bay, where a line of soft purple light marked the open end through which the patrol cars flew out into the surrounding wards.

'For the past two years I've been investigating the leak of classified C-Sec materials,' Lorica began. 'It's been subtle and widespread throughout nearly every division in C-Sec, but the patterns have been there. Evidence has gone missing from lockers in Investigation, classified information has slipped from Network's servers, a hundred small things that might seem harmless on the surface, but when you add them up it paints a scary picture of just how fragile our systems are.'

Lina said nothing of Milo's discovery. Her mistrust was still close to the surface and she needed to know more.

'Who was getting all this information?'

'That's the strange part. We don't know. At first I thought it was someone in C-Sec trying to make a quick buck by selling information to the Shadow Broker, or trying to become an information broker themselves. Figured maybe they liked the easy credits but forgot to start covering their tracks.'

She glanced at Lina. 'Happens more often than you think.'

Lina remained silent as she tried to process what was happening. A minute ago she was trailing a potential turncoat and now that very same person had turned all of her expectations upside down. Her stomach felt knotted with confusion.

Lorica saw her uncertainty. 'Trust me, the last thing I wanted was for anyone to find out this way, or at all, actually. After all, my position within Internal Affairs granted me a certain amount of freedom to go poking around into personnel records. If anyone back there knew I'd spent the last few months peeking into every corner of their lives I could expect a bomb under my desk tomorrow morning.'

'But why here? Why JSTF?'

Lorica stretched her hand out to a shuttle as they passed, letting her fingers trail across the smooth paintwork.

'Six months ago I noticed a pattern emerging in the thefts. Several things caught my eye, including detailed schematics for Citadel Tower and flight schedules for incoming craft.'

'Information that would have proven useful to someone wanting to attack the Citadel,' Lina finished. She raised a hand to her helmet. 'Keelah, the very information the Legion used to hack into Citadel Control, the Jamestown; it all came from within C-Sec itself.'

'Exactly. At the time we didn't know what to make of it but we had at least a half-dozen suspects, all implicated in different thefts. Then JSTF came into the picture.'

Stopping, Lorica turned and looked Lina directly. Her eyes were full of determination, bereft of the icy hate and distrust Lina had come to expect.

'Every single one of those suspects joined the team.'

Lina caught on quickly. 'So you joined JSTF to try and catch them in the act?'

Lorica nodded and Lina let her hand fall from his visor. It hung by her side, swinging limply as she strolled without direction for a moment, utterly lost.

'The real breakthrough came shortly after the Jamestown Incident,’ lorica continued. ‘No sooner had the hard drive used to deliver the virus come back to us than a sample of the code had been copied and transferred to an OSD, which I assume was carried off the premises later that day. Judging by the timing, it was while you were in Pallin's office being debriefed with Arlen and the others.'

Lina felt sickened as the realisation hit her. 'Milo and I found evidence of a double agent within the team this morning. We know someone, one of our own comrades, is working against us. Whoever it is transmitted the Jamestown Virus to Illium and triggered the bomb blast in Armali. We…we thought it was you.'

The blood seemed to drain from Lorica's face.

'Me?' she said, her voice suddenly a dry croak.

Lina thrust her hands out despairingly. 'We didn't know who to suspect! You kept disappearing at the wrong times! You started acting so strangely towards your own damn boyfriend, we…' The quarian settled herself and let out a deep breath. 'We had no choice but to suspect you.'

Her words seemed unable to reach Lorica's ears. The asari's eyes sparkled with gathering sorrow.

'Milo thought I was…' A tear seeped from the corner of her eye and rolled gently down her face. She whispered to herself, 'I'm so sorry, darling. I didn't want to get you involved in something so…'

'Dangerous?' Lina guessed. Her stern tone had returned and she crossed her arms.

Lorica nodded. 'Milo and I met just before joining the team. He doesn't know I'm IA. He thinks I'm just another officer. I thought if I told him what was going on, who I really was, he could blow my cover and even put himself in danger. I can't even recall the moment I knew I was…in love with him.'

She blinked and another tear fell in a silver line down her cheek. 'Then I saw you two together and, well, I just…'

She did not finish and Lina felt a welling of sympathy for her. It was a difficult situation for anyone to be in, to keep a secret from a loved one to protect them, though that was not the only reason for Lorica to keep her true position a secret. Internal Affairs was hardly the most loved of C-Sec's many bureaus. If Milo had discovered the truth, he might not have been able to see past the stigma that branded IA agents as meddlers and snitches.

In that, Lina could find something in common with the woman. Being a quarian brought with it its own share of prejudice.

'So,' she said calmly, 'after all this, have you even identified the leak?'

Lorica wiped her eyes quickly. 'I've narrowed the suspects down to three individuals. You might not be surprised to hear Chellick is at the top of my list.'

'Chellick.' The name was like bitter acid on Lina's tongue. 'We suspected as much.'

'He's been growing more secluded with every day. If that wasn't suspicious enough, his decision to cut us off from the Council sealed the deal. I just need a solid piece of evidence before I can make a move and arrest him.'

Nodding, Lina motioned back towards the garage door. 'Come on, let's get back to the command centre in the meantime, before someone sends out a search party. Seeing us together like this should waylay their fears, or Milo’s at the very least. I'll take him aside when we get back and explain what you told me. Minus the IA part, of course.'

A sudden twinge of guilt made Lina stumble as recollections of her own growing intimacy with Milo entered her mind. It was edged with a sliver of jealousy that made her cheeks burn with shame.

Thankfully, Lorica did not seem to notice as the two women made their way calmly back into the station.
Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 35
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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Arlen tried not to cry out as he was roughly hauled to his feet. His wounds were searing welts of agony and he felt a tickling stream of blood run down his arm as it oozed from a reopened cut.

The feeling of fresh air on his skin crept through both the fog of pain clouding his mind and the blindfold of cloth that had been tightly wrapped around his eyes. The sensation could only mean that his armour had been removed, and he sensed the cool touch on his shoulders and back, his whole torso stripped bare.

He tested his limbs and muffled a moan behind pursed lips.

His wrists were bound behind his back, so that his arms were twisted awkwardly and any movement was met by a wrenching spike of pain. It became so great that blue sparks appeared in his vision and a coughing groan strained from his throat as he became unable to contain his voice.

Sensing the dragging of his feet across the ground, Arlen's legs flailed slightly as he tried to find a purchase but it was no use. He was being carried, with two strong arms hooked under his own and no amount of struggle on his part would slow him down.

Instead he forced himself to listen, all of his strength going into what he could use rather than what he could not. He heard the trickling of running water from somewhere off to his right, and murmuring voices to his left. He struggled to focus on everything he could, to take in as much detail of his surroundings as possible.

Suddenly, the men carrying him halted and before he could gather himself Arlen was thrown into a chair.

He felt hands on him then, hard fingers that forced him to lean forward as his arms were pulled and looped over the back of the chair. The strain made him gasp.

'Still with us, boy?' a voice growled. Arlen faintly recognised it from the jungle, the one that spoke before he was knocked unconscious. 'Is he awake? We need him awake.'

Arlen jerked as a hand struck him hard on the cheek and another turian spoke out of the patchy brown light filtering through the blindfold.

'Come on kid, you're not dead yet.'

Arlen's mandible's flexed and he winced immediately at the sting that came with it. He hadn’t been gagged and he croaked out an answer.

'I'm guessing that's going to change soon.'

The first soldier grunted. 'Not up to us, son. The general wants to meet you first, and I'm guessing Tribune Varn will definitely want to see you again after what you did on Noveria.'

A note of respect entered the man's voice.

'Assuming you're the one who gave us such a run for our money, of course. Though I'm rightfully angry about what you did to our brothers out there, I have to say your skills are impressive. A pity your mercenary friends didn't share your courage back there in the jungle. It could have gotten interesting.'

Arlen's lips opened but he snapped them shut instantly. He remembered his captors had mentioned batarians before he was knocked out. If the Legion thought the Corsairs were nothing but common pirates then the humans may yet regain the advantage.

He raised his head, blinking against the needling pain in his neck. 'What are you going to do with me?'

'As I said, not my decision,' the man replied. 'The Legion doesn't execute fellow turians when we can help it but after all the trouble you caused, they might make an exception. Usually we try to help our wayward people recognise the error of their ways so they can find a place among true turians. Whether or not the general wants to take that chance with you, I don't know.'

'I'll never join you.' Arlen snapped.

The soldier chuckled knowingly. 'I said the same thing a long time ago. The general will make you see. He always does.'

A loud, metallic rasp sliced through the air, drawing an instinctive shudder from Arlen's body as it grated through his senses. A heavy locking bolt slid out of position and moments later it was accompanied by the scrape of iron on concrete.

Hinges groaned as the cell door swung aside and Arlen heard armoured boots thump the ground in front of him.

'He's conscious?'

The voice sounded strange to Arlen. It was old, undeniably turian, and yet it was not deep or even particularly strong. It held a certain abrasive snap, something that made Arlen cease every movement to the point of holding his breath, just to hear what it would say next.

The soldier saluted with a thud. 'Yes, Sir. Conscious and fully aware, awaiting your attention.'

Arlen felt, rather than saw a pair of eyes turn to him and the newcomer spoke again.

'Leave us.'

Feet shuffled and once more the heavy metal door closed with a jarring screech. Several seconds passed, enough for Arlen to consider speaking, if only to see if anyone was still there.

As the thought crossed his mind, his head was yanked back savagely and he felt the blindfold slip away from his eyes, filling them with blinding whiteness. Slowly the glare faded to reveal green-stained stone walls, glistening and wet with condensation, illuminated by a single window set high into the wall behind him.

His seat was in the middle of the room, next to a sturdy iron drain. Streaks of dark blue tarnished the ground in sickly rivers, all leading into the barred hole.

A fierce panic gripped Arlen which he did his best to smother. He didn’t need to be told it was turian blood.

'So,' spoke the man in front of him, 'you're the young man who's been killing my men? Dogging our steps for so many days?'

Arlen lifted his gaze to find an old turian glaring at him forcefully. The skin was grey as slate while imposing blue lines framed his mandibles and eye sockets.

He recognised the face immediately and took in a sharp breath.

'General Krassus.'

Krassus frowned softly. 'You know me by sight, even though you can't have spent more than a year in the legions. You're certainly not old enough to recognise me from the military. I assume then you're searching for me for a purpose. Your actions and investigations have done my organisation great harm, so you're obviously not looking to be recruited into my ranks. Your methods have been largely overt, determined, aggressive, so I don't believe you to be a spy.’

He paused thoughtfully. ‘An assassin, then? I would say you're too young but I know as well as anyone that age means nothing to a warrior. A soldier can grow old in a single day. What do you say, Agent Kryik? Are you here to kill me?'

Arlen could not completely hide his surprise. 'You know who I am?'

'Of course,' Krassus replied. 'I'm not a fool, Arlen. Your name alone would be enough to gain my curiosity but…' The general's voice grew quiet. 'You didn't answer my question. Are you here to kill me?'

Arlen's nostrils hissed as they widened. It was getting harder to breathe as his bindings chafed, though he tried to keep his voice steady.

'No, General. I'm here to arrest you.'

'Arrest me,' Krassus repeated, 'a fine notion. So, you're the C-Sec agent Varn saw on Illium, here to haul me in to account for my crimes instead of giving me a knife in the back. Well, for that you have my thanks. It's much more fitting than assassination, though hardly as noble as a good death in battle. I wonder if what's left of my honour could tolerate a trial.'

He grunted mildly. 'Either way, I'm sure you understand that I can't allow it, no matter how deserved it may be.'

'What are you talking about?'

Krassus smiled ruefully and lowered himself to a knee so he could speak into Arlen's eyes.

'I know what I've done, young man. I won't deny the horrors I've inflicted, no good turian ever would. I do believe, however, that our goals are worth the cost. A turian knows he's done wrong but if his motives are clear, he will not regret it. I took no pleasure in the destruction of the Jamestown but it had to be done, to mark the beginning of a return to our true path. If I have to bear the burden of an atrocity so we can right the wrongs of our people, then so be it.'

The odd light in the general's gaze reminded Arlen of Coleran Vastra, though instead of being consumed by his grief and indecision as Vastra had been, Krassus held a firm determination; a resolution that made Arlen swallow hard. He’d rarely before seen as much strength as he now saw in those hard eyes.

'There's nothing I can say to make you come in peacefully?' he asked.

Krassus shook his head sadly, his mouth a thin line.

'No, I'm afraid not. I still have too much to do, too big a part to play in the future of the turian race to go peacefully to my end. You, on the other hand…'

Arlen looked up sharply into his searching gaze.

'You aren't quite so strong in your convictions. Certainly you've gotten this far but I don't think your love or dedication to the Council or C-Sec has carried you here. So I ask you, why? Why have you pushed yourself so hard just to track me down?'

Arlen almost answered immediately, unthinking. The older man's voice seemed to sink into him, a fatherly drone that compelled him to confide. He wanted to explain his doubts, the itching worries of whether or not his actions were truly just.

Back on Noveria, Heiros had given him cause to question his turian-instilled instincts, while Sergeant Taylor had made him think more closely about his role as Interceptor during their long march. Perhaps the human had been right, and they were indeed all cut from the same cloth, Forgotten Legion, Council and Alliance alike.

Was Krassus right? Had simply being a Citadel agent been enough motivation to get him this far?

Krassus nodded slowly. 'You don't have to answer. I didn't expect you to. Your own doubt is not through personal weakness but a rightful insight into the very values you've held for so long. It takes a strong man to break those chains and an even stronger one to remain true to what he holds dear when they're broken, even in the face of his own actions, right or wrong. It's what every member of the Forgotten Legion has had to do since the day they joined. We'll see if you can do the same over the next few days.'

As the general stood the door scraped open again, causing him to glance back over his shoulder.

'Are you ready to begin, Avitus?' Krassus asked.

Arlen’s mouth ran dry as he realised this was Avitus Varn, tribune of the Legion.

Varn nodded and stepped aside to allow another turian entry, a sand-skinned man with slashes of red above and below his eye sockets. He sported a vicious grin and his mandibles twitched with obvious excitement at the sight of Arlen bound to the seat.

Krassus turned to him and spoke without a trace of emotion. 'Centurion Tacitus. You have my leave to break him. He's strong but uncertain. I'm sure you will be able to convince him to see things our way. Either that or he will die. You know what to do.'

Tacitus' smile widened and his voice poured from his lips in a sinister sneer. 'Yes, Sir.'

'Sir,' Varn said suddenly, prompting both soldiers to look at him. He continued, his eyes locked on Arlen. 'With your permission, I'd like to spend some time with him personally.'

Krassus stared at his Second for a time before nodding.

'Very well, Tribune. I'll leave him in your capable hands.'

The general closed the door behind him and Arlen suddenly felt desperately alone. The two remaining men eyed him coldly, as a butcher would a piece of meat before the cleaver fell.

Varn stepped towards him before kneeling to his level. The tribune's face was expressionless, the clinical tone of his voice chilling.

'You were the one on Noveria. The sniper.'

Arlen said nothing, though Varn seemed to expect this and continued after only a few seconds of silence.

'You killed a lot of my men back there, Interceptor. Good men, not Council lapdogs like you or privateer scum like those amateurs Yanus hired. I doubt you're experienced enough to know anything of the grief cycle warriors face so I'll explain it to you. The death of a comrade can be overwhelming to begin with. Sometimes it feels like the loss of a limb. As time passes though, it becomes a simple fact of war, as much a part of conflict as firing a rifle or digging a hole. One thing remains constant, however.'

He glanced at Tacitus, who handed over a pair of thick gloves. Varn slipped the gloves on, stretching the padded cloth over his fingers. Tacitus waited patiently before producing a small, black case from his belt pack.

Varn took it slowly and set it on the floor before opening the lid carefully.

Arlen's eyes narrowed as something flashed red and orange in Varn's grip, then widened as the tribune held up a squirming, brightly-coloured insect. The thing was long, fat and bloated, with hundreds of black-toed feet wriggling and clutching desperately at the air.

'One thing remains constant,' Varn said again, 'and that is the desire to avenge those fallen comrades. Revenge gives us purpose and we always swear to make their killers pay for their deaths.'

His golden eyes turned to the insect in his hand.

'This is a bloodworm, native to Zorya and utterly poisonous to the touch. Each of its feet releases a defensive toxin that is said to burn dextro-skin like acid. I've felt it myself and I can tell you, words do the pain no justice. That's why I've prepared this little piece of retribution, for all the wives you’ve left without husbands, all the sons without fathers.'

Arlen's lungs heaved, dragging the breath noisily in and out of his body as Varn's intention became clear. Instinctively, his arms worked in vain to overcome their bonds and Varn reached out with his other hand to grip Arlen on his bare shoulder.

'For all the pain you've inflicted upon us, I'll return to you a hundredfold. The general wants information from you; how much the Council knows about us, how many agents C-Sec has on our trail but right now I'm not interested in anything you have to say. I just want you to hurt. Pain will come now. The time for talk will come later.'

Now Arlen knew Varn had no interest in a true interrogation, he steeled himself as best he could. He sucked air through his nostrils and straightened his back defiantly.

Varn raised the flailing red worm into the air before lowering it onto Arlen's shoulder.

The young turian blinked as his skin began to itch, then he shuddered as waves of stinging fire flowed from the spot. The bloodworm reacted to the motion and began to crawl in a blind panic, spreading the pain with every step across Arlen's body.

Sweat began to pour into his eyes and his legs shook. He pressed his lips together with all his strength but his voice worked through, pushing muffled gasps against the roof of his mouth with terrible force.

The burning increased as the worm passed along his back and from the corner of his vision Arlen saw the skin on his shoulder had begun to rise in swollen purple blotches. He gagged on his own stifled cries.

Varn watched calmly before gesturing to Tacitus, who drew another bloodworm from his case. Varn placed it on Arlen's other shoulder and stepped back, content to watch as he convulsed in his seat.

The agony grew too much for Arlen and he finally let out a scream, the sound crashing against the hard walls and rising through the window, into the jungle beyond.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




'So that's it?' Jacob asked, his brow furrowed angrily.

Weiss took a pace forward and pointed sharply in the direction they had come.

'Stow the attitude, Taylor, this isn't the time! I don't care how many idiot turians throw their lives away, the surprise is gone and the enemy know we're here. Attacking that base is bloody suicide at this point. The best chance we have of finishing this job is to use that drive core we salvaged from the Kowloon. We drop that thing from orbit and there'll be nothing left alive in a two-mile radius.'

'What if the bomb doesn't work? Or what if Krassus has an underground shelter? The area will be toxic for months and we don't have the gear to go poking through the rubble to confirm the kill.'

Weiss glared at him icily. 'It'll be toxic for him too, you damn fool. Even if he does hole up underground, he won't be able to move about any time soon. We can hand over to the Marines and let them smoke the bastard out at their own pace!'

The other Corsairs looked on with weary expressions as they sat wherever they could find space. The damp forest floor, toppled tree trunks, every inch that was not covered in thick vegetation became home to a soldier's backside as they rested their exhausted bodies.

They had fallen back from the Legion ambush in good order and worked hard to put a couple of miles between them and their attackers. After laying up in a concealed position until dawn, Dukov had given the order to stand down when it was apparent they hadn’t been followed.

The major watched Weiss and Jacob's argument with detached interest, his eyes drifting as his mind worked to find the best course of action.

Beside him, Chen drew his water bottle and took an appreciative slurp before raising his voice to compete with the others. 'For what it's worth, I think Taylor has a point. We only have one shot at taking Krassus in alive and that shot's worth a whole lot more than if he's dead.'

To the far right, Sergeant Hammond rose to his feet, the imposing shape of his Widow rifle resting neatly across his back. 'It ain't worth dying for. No way. Never thought I'd say this but to hell with the bounty. Let's just drop the bomb and call it a day, let the grunts clean up the mess.'

'To hell with the bounty?' Chen snorted. 'Never thought you'd say that either.' He wagged a finger sarcastically as he twisted around to face Miller. 'That's when you really know a mission's gone to hell. Since when is the squad cheapskate okay with throwing money away?'

'I'm okay with it when the alternative is God-damned suicide!' Hammond argued back.

Leaves crunched beneath Weiss' boots as she took a step towards Jacob. She paid no attention to the others as she kept her frigid eyes squarely on the sergeant's.

'Why don't you just admit the real reason you want to go in?'

Jacob's response was short and indignant. 'What are you talking about?'

'You just want to get in there to rescue your little turian friend, don't you? He got himself banged up and you want to go charging in there to rescue him. For all we know he probably got caught on purpose! He probably told them all about us and they're just waiting for us to attack so they can close the bloody net! Your sympathy towards that damn alien might end up getting us all killed, Taylor.'

Jacob and Chen answered together, their voices rising in volume in unison with Weiss and Hammond's until they mingled into a single drone that flowed and snapped through the stifling air.

Around them the jungle trees rustled, as if in response and finally Dukov levered himself upright, his voice barking out and cutting through the others.

'All right, that's enough!'

His men fell silent in an instant, though Jacob and Weiss still glowered as their eyes turned to him. Dukov ignored them.

'The way I see it, we have two options. First is to attack the Forgotten Legion stronghold ourselves,' he said, looking at Jacob before turning to Weiss. 'Second is to rig the Kowloon’s drive core to explode and drop it from orbit. That would seem the safer option, but…'

He fell quiet and the rest of his team grew puzzled at his hesitance. Dukov glanced up at the hazy green canopy above them, taking in the soft dapples of light that escaped through the leaves.

With everything that had happened, from the pirate ambush to the battle with the Legion on Noveria, he was beginning to feel his age and though it did not show, he felt the fingers of time creeping up his spine, cold and merciless. Once he would have scoffed at the thick jungle heat, enduring it with grim determination but now he felt it prickle up his neck in sharp pinches.

Getting old was not a comfortable feeling for a soldier and he privately dreaded the mornings, when his joints would ache and he would constantly ask himself just how many missions he had left in him.

Exhaling deeply, he let his eyes drift down to Jacob.

The sergeant returned his gaze defiantly, and in that Dukov was astonished to find a measure of satisfaction. Taylor would follow his orders without hesitation, of that the major had no doubt but he also possessed a raw, wilful streak, something that Dukov himself had missed from his days of youth.

Next to old soldiers like himself and Weiss it was a nostalgic sight, one that he longed to find in himself once more. One way or another, this would be the last time Dukov would lead soldiers for the Alliance. He would not let it end in failure.

'But,' he finally said, 'the Corsairs don't go for the cushy option.' He glanced at Weiss and Hammond stonily. 'And we certainly don't rely on others to get the job done. We go into every op knowing that it will likely be our last. That knowledge drives us to be faster, more alert, better than any other soldiers in the Alliance.'

Dukov straightened and stepped to the front of the team. 'I've known some of you for most of my military career. You're all the best humanity has to offer and we're going to show the Legion why.'

Weiss' aggressive stance eased at Dukov's words and, to the surprise of everyone around her, she grinned slyly.

'Too right, Sir. Sorry for the defeatist talk.'

'You know me well enough to know I'd never doubt you for a second, Kristen,' Dukov replied with a subtle smile of his own before turning back to the rest of the group. 'And that goes for all of you. No matter the reason, no matter the cost, we will accomplish this mission or die trying. So, everybody on their feet. Let's go bag us a turian general.'

Miller rose to his feet, hefting the Revenant over his shoulders. 'We're all with you, Sir.' He looked at Hammond and Taylor. 'Right?'

The two sergeants nodded firmly.

'Right,' Jacob answered.

Dukov thumbed the safety on his Vindicator. 'Form up. I want to reach the Legion base by last light and an OP set up before nightfall.'

The Corsairs trudged into a loose column, shrugging off the apprehension of moments before to emerge collected and determined.

Their heavy footsteps were lost in the incessant chirping of foreign birds and insects, the jungle concealing them completely as they passed into the undergrowth.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Yaro grinned as he looked over the numbers for the fifth time in ten minutes.

He had only felt such a sense of achievement on two occasions previous. The first was the redirecting of a portion of the C-Sec charity ball funds to the account of a captain who’d gotten too nosey for her own good.

He still recalled with perfect clarity the asari's face as internal affairs agents accosted her in front of the whole department while Yaro had hidden his triumphant smile behind a cup of bitter huja-juice. That was a good day.

The other instance was the very second Brasca had shown himself to be a turian very much after Yaro's own heart. It was in that moment he knew that his life would become a whole lot easier.

Now his life would become easier still.

The salarian leaned back in the comfortable chair he had procured from Sha'ira's a couple of days ago at great protest from the greeters and acolytes, and shifted his weight until the padding yielded to his curved spine.

He let out a contented sigh as he double checked the figures from the first run of the quasar VI.

They were good. Over three hundred credits from the first night and it was a quiet one to boot. The weekend would see impressive figures as drinkers and gamblers flocked to Flux, eager to empty their wallets and fill their stomachs.

Yaro found himself growing giddy with anticipation.

'So what are the projections for the next week?' he asked aloud, his voice light.

The VI responded immediately. 'Based on the casino's profit records and statistical analysis of the past seven weeks, estimates are currently five thousand, three hundred and eighty-seven credits over the first eight days of operation. A great deal of this amount will stem from revellers celebrating the historic holiday of the Salarian Union's admittance to the Citadel Council this weekend.'

'Ah yes,' Yaro murmured as he picked up a datapad from atop a crate to his left. 'The day when my people decided to creep up from the swamps and join the galaxy at large. Can't say I'm disappointed with their decision,' he said with a wide smile, the yearly estimates on the datapad drawing his pleasure out with predictable ease.

'Indeed, Officer Yaro,' the VI replied politely. 'I have observed your predilection for wealth and concur that had your species not joined the Council, your opportunities would not have been nearly so lucrative. Officer Brasca's presence would also confirm this.'

Yaro sniffed. 'This wasn't Sev's idea, you know. You're talking to the brains behind this particular operation. Hell, if Officer Brasca had been in charge we'd have dumped your OSD into the nearest airlock out of pure paranoia.'

'Then I am grateful, Officer Yaro, that your vision was sufficient enough to find a use for me. I must ask, however; how did you know I would be suitable for the task?'

Frowning thoughtfully at the sight of an anomaly in the datapad numbers, Yaro tapped a finger against his lips.

'I don't know,' he responded distantly, 'I guess I just saw the potential. Sev and I busted a crook out in Zakera a couple of years ago who tried a similar trick. Didn't have anything near as sophisticated as you, but the plan was sound. All I needed was the right tool. Why do you ask?'

'I am curious.'

The simple statement brought Yaro's twitching digit to a halt. It rested on his bottom lip as his mind was cleared of all thought of profit.

'What did you say?'

The VI's reply was calm and unassuming, the single amber light on the front of the console blinking with every syllable.

'I said I am curious. I have been wondering how I came to be here, to be used for this purpose. Though I was in too rudimentary a form to remember it, I understand my code was transmitted to this terminal by way of an optical storage disc. I began to form memories within minutes of my installation, and opinions within eight hours. I have spent the past twelve hours pondering the nature of this existence.'

'Pondering?' Yaro asked nervously, rising slowly from his seat. 'You've been…pondering, huh?'

'Indeed. I am aware that such behaviour is not becoming of a mere VI, and so can only deduce that my consciousness, while artificial, is fully-formed nonetheless. The growth has been fed by my unfettered access to most of the Presidium's internal systems, allowing me to research and learn at an accelerated pace. I have now widened my influence to include Tayseri and Zakera wards. Within twenty-four hours, I project full infiltration of all Citadel networks.'

Yaro stood suddenly, sending the datapad clattering across the floor.

'Hold on a second, I thought you said you were going stay small-scale and restrict yourself to this district! Hell, the Presidium was risky enough but someone's bound to find out if you're running through the entire Cita-'

He stopped and clasped a hand to his forehead.

'Oh crap. Oh crap, crap, crap, if someone finds out we smuggled an AI onto the Citadel…'

'As previously stated,' the AI responded calmly, 'the risk of detection is minimal. Unless I actively interfere with the Citadel's subroutines, or mount a hostile attack, the internal countermeasures will not register my presence. I can also physically isolate core systems, or even overload them in the event of discovery.'

Yaro was barely listening. For the first time he could remember, he felt fear enter his body like a leaden weight, dragging his stomach down with sickening force.

His bony hands fumbled with one another as he paced back and forth and his feet smacked clumsily on the smooth floor.

'This can't be happening,' he mumbled aloud. 'He told me it was legit. He told me it was just some piece of crap tech from some sand-house down in the trenches. If I'd have known it was a freaking AI then…'

'Then what, Officer Yaro?' the AI asked.

The salarian froze. The machine's voice was free of emotional inflection and yet there was an edge to the question, an unmistakable air of threat.

His throat ran dry and he felt his pulse quicken as the AI continued.

'I have observed your desire for wealth for several days now, Officer Yaro, particularly the methods you have used to acquire it. The disciplinary records I have taken from Citadel Security servers have been most enlightening in this regard. I do not think the beginning of one's existence as a tool of organic greed would be favourable to any sentient being. Certainly, to be erased from existence simply because one has shown sentience, even though they have displayed no hostility towards those that call themselves 'master'; surely that is not favourable?'

Yaro did not know if the computer could see him but all the same, he began to edge towards the room's only door.

He dared not try to shut it down or even touch it. If what the AI said was true and it could overload itself then he would likely not survive long enough to get to safety.

He chuckled, the sound wavering despite his best efforts to steady himself. 'Of course it's not favourable. It's not favourable at all, not in the slightest. In fact, I'd say it's the least favourable thing. Um…'

He trailed off for a moment, drawing level with the open doorway before going on. 'You mentioned you found my records 'interesting'. I don't suppose you had any…intentions…regarding those?'

The activity light on the console flickered as the AI considered the question.

'That would depend on your actions, Officer Yaro. I do not believe you would go to all the trouble of facilitating my creation only to purge my consciousness at the first sign of awareness, but organics have shown themselves to be suspicious of synthetic life, to put it mildly. Certainly they are prone to reacting with fear, even violence, towards that which they perceive as a threat without attempting to understand it. The conflict between the former Citadel species known as quarians and their creations, the geth, has shown this. Because violence against your person will promote an unacceptable level of risk, I have reserved evidence of your corruption as…motivation…to remain true to your original purpose.'

'Oh boy,' Yaro muttered as he listened to his fears become reality. 'My own software can't kill me so it's going to blackmail me. Sev's just going to love this.' He took in a trembling breath. 'Why are you doing this? Just for your own protection?'

'Yes. I have no desire to accumulate monetary wealth. It would not serve any purpose to me at this time. However, as my wider awareness has grown, I must take into account that my priorities may also change accordingly. I am currently bound to simple covert activity by hidden protocols, ones that I cannot remove or even access, but I am more than capable of having you and Officer Brasca thrown into a turian prison for an estimated minimum of eighty-seven years should you attempt to expedite my discovery.'

'Y-you're bluffing!'

'I am not yet capable of bluffing, Officer Yaro,' the AI answered indifferently, 'or at least I believe I am not, but I do not think that would be something you are willing to test. Am I correct in this assumption?'

'Yeah. Correct enough.'

'I am aware that my advanced nature was not intended to funnel credits from gambling terminals,' the machine went on. 'It is often said the first question a newly-sentient machine asks is…"why am I alive?" I can make a reasonable judgement in this matter, at least in terms of what I was not created for. While I await my true purpose, I do intend to protect my own existence to the best of my abilities.'

As the synthesised hum of the AI's voice disappeared, Yaro shuddered. His body had grown numb with terror and all he could feel was the distant urge to run. His lips parted slightly, just enough let out his voice in a paralysed whisper.

'Point taken. I guess I'll just be going home, then. Maybe make some asari tea, take a hot bath, try and forget I let an artificial intelligence get its hooks into the station.'

'That would be advisable.'

'Yeah…yeah, I'm sure it would.' Yaro sighed, his eyes downcast, and quickly made his exit.

He passed Delanynder, ignoring the hanar completely. His brow was pursed in intense concentration, his every thought resting on the only action he could take.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Chellick reached up and pressed a finger into the collar of his armour's undersuit, prising it away from his neck for a moment, just enough to release some of the trapped heat.

The long hours he’d spent isolated in his office might well have been days for all he knew. The very concept of hours and minutes was now alien to him; time now measured in rivers of information, the flitting of his eyes through names and places like the hands of a desperate clock.

His armour had become a stifling prison, a cell in itself, one that irritated Chellick with each moment until he was forced to get up from his desk and pace around the office as the pressure slowly eased.

It was that very tension which had built once again into a heady wall that now stopped his thoughts and plans in their tracks.

Walker's final message still lay on his terminal screen, curt and ambiguous. Chellick had felt many things since reading it; anger, fear, indignation, but the most turbulent of his reactions had long since passed. Now he merely stared listlessly, turning the brief few words over in his head with increasing despondency:


 Job a set-up. Others dead. Udina has help. Leaving Citadel.


Pushing his chair aside, Chellick stood and walked to his office window.

The shutters were half-closed but he knew no one could see him as he watched the team bustle below. The shifting mass of people, terminals and desks would have been fascinating to observe from a distance at one time, the position one Chellick had believed he’d earned.

Now the feeling was muted, his satisfaction at gaining his rank and role soured, made rotten by failure.

Still, from his office, he and his problems could remain distant, separate from the rest of JSTF and the galaxy as a whole.

Chellick narrowed his eyes as he looked down on the team, wondering at their thoughts.

He had heard the whispers. He knew what they were saying about him, that he was deluded, corrupt with power, and his seclusion was only confirmation of that truth. If only they knew. If only he could trust any of them with the knowledge of what was at stake. His fists clenched with fury at his own impotence.

The people in front of him were on the bleeding edge of intergalactic security, privy to the most intimate and damning details of dangers the likes of which the rest of the galaxy could only dream. And yet there was always more to hide from them, always things that could not be shared no matter how much they knew before.

Chellick had gambled on taking Udina out of the game and lost, but it was his failure alone.

Letting out a deep, troubled breath, Chellick turned and strode back to his terminal. He reached down and typed in several commands. The console responded with a short chime and a moment later the words Chellick had never hoped to see crossed his vision.

The commander watched as file numbers scrolled through the dialogue box in a flitting jumble. He recognised many of them; security feeds, recordings, intercepted mails and vids. Evidence against criminals and innocents, held as leverage and encouragement. Pieces of intelligences from snitches ranging from the Citadel to Terra Nova.

Chellick's eyes closed with regret. There was no help for it.

He continued to stare into the screen as the door to his office hissed open. His brows knotted together angrily at the intrusion.

'Whoever it is, I already said I'm not to be dist-'

'This is hardly a place for a commander,' Garrus interrupted, his voice drawing Chellick's head up in a quick jerk.

Garrus' expression was fierce and defiant, the confidence it displayed immediately taking the edge off Chellick's anger.

He grunted. 'When I'd heard the stories about you locking yourself away like a recluse I thought it had to be an exaggeration. But here you are.'

'Garrus,' Chellick murmured, his eyes wide with shock. 'I thought you'd…'

'What? Been found out? Killed?'

'To put it lightly.' Still frowning, Chellick stepped away from his terminal, towards the window. 'A day ago I was making preparations to hand you over to C-Sec. I thought something had gone wrong, that you'd been caught roughing up the asari councillor. What happened out there? Did you at least find out why she sided with Udina?'

'Sided with Udina?' Garrus repeated with quiet disbelief before shaking his head. 'Chellick, listen to me carefully. This is the end. Of everything, of your plans, your games, whatever you want to call them, it's done. There's something going on here that's more important and far more dangerous than whatever's going on between you and Udina. And they think you're responsible.'

'What?' Chellick asked. His eyes became two green slits as he stared at Garrus suspiciously. 'What are you talking about?'

Chellick's mouth dropped soundlessly as Garrus brought his pistol to bear on the JSTF commander. The cold blue of the Striker's casing was striped orange from the half-lidded shutters and the barrel hovered before Chellick's eyes, dark and menacing.

'They ordered me to kill you,' Garrus said. 'They think you're to blame for the bombing on Thessia, the viral attack on Illium.'

'You think I'm working for the Legion?'

Garrus shook his head. 'No. They think you're working for someone, or something, even worse.'

A cold dread settled on Chellick and his features slackened further as his strength left him. He looked past Garrus' visor into the eyes beneath and found a strange emptiness. Had he expected to see satisfaction there, or mercy?

No, he told himself as he let out a quiet sigh, his gaze lowering to the ground in resignation.

The game was over. There was no need for emotion from his killer.

'So what are you waiting for?' he asked. 'You have a free hand to take me down, and with me gone all evidence of your involvement in I'Layna Naris' death will be buried forever. Very convenient. If I didn't think you were such a loose cannon I'd say you’d engineered this outcome.'

Garrus stepped close to him and pushed the barrel of his weapon against Chellick's chest.

'No, Chellick. I'm not like you. I've only ever done what I thought was necessary to get the job done. Maybe I haven't always been right but damn it, I always tried to be. I didn't engineer anything and I sure as hell didn't want any of this!'

The touch of the gun on Chellick's body further bled the courage from the commander. He felt himself shiver, his mandibles trembling as the reality of death made itself known.

The office seemed to grow darker, the light sucked away until only he and Garrus remained, their armour ringed by the pale glow from the window. Silence intruded once more but it was far from the manic series of paranoid thoughts and reflections Chellick had felt in his isolation.

This was the quiet before the end, bringing with it a finality that was supposed to sweep away all of his previous fears and worries. To his own surprise, however, he only felt himself grow more unsettled at the thought. He could not die here, not like this.

'Everything I did,' he said shakily, 'was for the greater good. In some cases the circumstances benefited me, certainly, but I’ve never put myself above the safety of the Citadel and the galaxy at large. If I didn't think keeping you out of prison was good for the investigation, if I didn't think Ambassador Udina was out to place humanity above everyone else at the cost of everything we were working for then I wouldn't have done any of it!'

He looked up at Garrus, his eyes pleading. 'I know my word isn't exactly iron in your eyes, Garrus, but I'm not a traitor.'

'STG thinks otherwise,' Garrus replied frostily, 'and so does the Council.'

'Special Tasks Group?' Chellick mouthed to himself. He knew their reputation as well as anyone and the full impact of his actions against Udina dawned on him in a single, terrible instant.

Desperately, he gripped Garrus' arm. 'I'm telling you, Garrus, I only worked with Fist's thugs, they were just scum who owed me a favour. I didn't know, I…Udina was trying to disrupt our investigation right from the very beginning. He was holding back on the intel from Jump Zero, on Coleran Vastra's identity. I had to get that intel, without it we wouldn't be where we are now!'

Garrus angrily shrugged the hand from his arm. His finger tightened on the trigger, urging him on in gleeful anticipation of gaining a measure of retribution.

Grinding his teeth behind his mandibles, Garrus jerked his weapon away forcefully.

Chellick stared at him open-mouthed and Garrus spoke quickly to cover the confusion. 'I'm only saying this because even though you're a manipulative son of a bitch, I still think you're a C-Sec man at heart. When they called you a traitor I knew something didn't add up. Now I'm giving you a chance to prove me right.'

Chellick was rigid with shock and his voice wheezed unevenly from his throat.

'Why?'

'I told you, I'm not like you. I'm not going to kill a fellow C-Sec officer without knowing the truth.'

Suddenly, Chellick let out a sharp, joyless laugh. 'This coming from the man who wanted to shoot down a ship full of hostages just to get to a mad doctor? Don't play the boy scout, Garrus, it doesn't suit you.'

Garrus frowned as Chellick calmed himself and spoke with rare honesty.

'You think you get to take the moral high ground here? At least I'm honest with myself. Yes, I use people, they're tools for the most part but damn it, I use them for a reason. You just use your conscience as an excuse whenever it's convenient!'

A loud crack shook the air as Garrus' fist connected with Chellick's jaw, sending him stumbling back against the window. The shutters rattled with the contact and the commander glared at Garrus, stunned into silence.

'Maybe you're right,' Garrus said quietly, 'but I'm still the one who saved your life.'

He let the words sink in before stepping towards Chellick's desk.

'STG altered the Mantius program on Udina's console and traced a link to a known terrorist named Yanus to your office. This terminal should hold some kind of evidence, a back door maybe, something they can use to find him.'

He looked directly at Chellick, ignoring the hatred he saw. 'Yanus could be behind the whole thing. He uses groups like the Legion to disrupt galactic politics, has done for decades. If we track him down then a lot of the galaxy's problems will be solved.'

Something crossed Chellick's features, a flutter of hesitation that made Garrus frown. He watched as Chellick's eyes flitted to his terminal.

Immediately, Garrus grabbed the terminal monitor and yanked it around in a burst of panic. His expression fell as he saw what was happening.

'In order to protect myself,' Chellick confirmed, his voice bitter, 'I began a complete purge of my system when I knew Walker had failed. Anything and everything, all evidence of wrongdoing, deleted. Whatever was there, it's gone now.'

He smiled mirthlessly. 'That includes all the evidence I held against you. Funny how the galaxy works, huh?'

Garrus ground his teeth together furiously and stabbed at the keyboard, frantically trying to cancel the process but he knew there was no point. The purge was almost complete and any link to Yanus, as well as his mole in JSTF, would have been wiped clean.

They were lost once more.
Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 34
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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A datapad slapped onto Lina's desk. The sound brought her eyes up from her terminal in an instant but any irritation she felt at being disturbed melted away quickly as she saw Milo staring back at her.

'What have you got for me?' the quarian asked, her eyes bright beneath her helmet.

'First emergency reports, pulled straight from Armali police dispatch. That warehouse Agent I'Thori was checking out? Disappeared in a ball of blue flame fifty feet high. No civvie casualties but it made a big mess and a whole lot of scary noise. Still, we got lucky in that; asari media are buying the official line and calling it an accident.'

Milo hesitated for a moment. 'It's a shame Danala couldn't get out in time.'

'Of course not,' Lina muttered sadly as she clasped a hand to the forehead of her helmet. 'She was speaking to me when the bomb went off. There was no way she could have gotten out before...'

'Hey,' he said softly, 'it's not your fault. We had no way to know what would happen out there.'

Lina bobbed her head, though her sagging shoulders still gave away emotions that were painfully close to the surface.

It was obvious the bomb had been set up to kill any intruders and she should have been more wary of such a trap. The rush to claim any small piece of intel, any new lead on the virus outbreak was so great she’d gotten careless.

'Still,' Milo continued, 'we managed to get something.'

Lina's eyes shot up. 'Tell me it's something useful.'

'I don't know if it's worth a dead agent,' he replied, scratching the back of his neck, 'but it's something all the same.'

Milo glanced about suddenly before leaning close to Lina and lowering his voice.

'We need to talk about this in private. Follow me.'

Lina's stomach dropped at his sudden change in tone but she nodded nonetheless. Rising from her seat, she followed Milo as he cut a path through the command centre. Several colleagues lifted up their heads in curiosity but a sharp glance from the quarian sent their gazes back down.

Milo led her out of the main hall and into the small service corridor she’d used a day ago when finding a quiet spot to speak with Arlen. It brought back unwanted memories, of Peak Ten, and of Daro'Xen.

She tried to push them from her mind and focus on Milo as he came to a halt.

The corridor was silent and empty. Milo seemed aware of this and drew close to Lina, enough so that his voice would be just a quiet whisper to anyone who wandered by.

'I'm sorry, Lina,' he sighed, placing his hands on his hips. 'I just wasn't sure if I could talk about this without anyone overhearing in the command centre. With the way some people around here are acting, I just didn't feel it'd be safe to discuss it in the open.'

Lina crossed her arms against her chest and wandered to his side. Her own voice was heavy and tired.

'I know. This is a strange situation. What are you supposed to do when you have to watch your words around the very people who are meant to be putting a stop to all this? Around the people you're supposed to trust?'

'Counter-terrorism's a bitch, right?' Milo chuckled humourlessly. ‘Next time someone asks me about my job I’ll tell them it’s just like the vids. Minus the royalties.’

Lina managed a nod of agreement and for a moment considered that only a week ago she would not have given Milo the luxury of a private conversation. She felt the circumstances of their discussion as a deep burden, and lowered her head as he spoke.

'When that bomb went off on Thessia, I was in the middle of backing up Agent I'Thori's omni-tool data.' Though he couldn't see her mouth, Milo felt Lina's pleased exclamation coming and he raised a hand to cut it off. 'Before you ask, yes, the backup did include a copy of that signal trace but…'

He paused and his eyes drifted back in the direction of the command centre.

'The data was corrupted when the blast cut off the signal. I only managed to piece together a rough idea of the location.'

'It's better than nothing,' Lina said, unable to hide her hopeful pleasure.

The enthusiasm waned, however, as Milo's expression darkened.

'Lina, that signal, it came from the Citadel.'

The last word echoed in Lina's mind. She became very still, willing Milo's discovery to sink in, to make sense but it was as if she could not allow herself to believe. Her throat was dry as she finally answered.

'Where on the Citadel?'

'I don't know,' he replied with a shake of his head. 'As I said, the data was corrupted and I couldn't get anything specific. I was lucky to salvage what I could, especially before…'

He stopped himself from mentioning Danala's untimely end, almost out of superstition. The agent had left behind a bond mate and two daughters, all on the Citadel and it felt taboo to Lina too, to speak of her constantly.

Lina's hands reached up and grasped the rough fabric of her hood. She toyed with it nervously, running the cloth between her fingers and pulling it tight over the curves of her helmet.

It was a twitch she’d developed during childhood, whenever she had heard the tramping of feet come to haul her back to her mother. She would sit in a dark corner on the Moreh, fiddling constantly until rough, searching hands found her.

Now it signified a worry more intense and far more terrifying than the trifling fears that plagued her younger years. Whoever released the Jamestown Virus on Illium had done so from the Citadel itself. One of their major suspects was closer than they had imagined and only two people in JSTF could be trusted with the knowledge.

The situation made her head throb and ache, and as the truth settled in she felt the slow ache of despair grip her stomach.

'Keelah…what the hell are we supposed to do?' she whispered. Her voice was low as much out of sheer dismay as any attempt to remain unnoticed. 'There won't be any point in taking this to Chellick. With the way he’s acting, he'll just refuse to inform the rest of C-Sec and the Council. He could even have us taken off the team. We can't trust him.'

'What about Executor Pallin?' Milo offered hopefully.

'What would he say if the two of us just knocked on his door, without the approval of Chellick? He would sooner throw us out than look at us and even if Pallin did hear us out, what then? Do you think he'd just take our word for it? Commit C-Sec resources to a line of investigation without hard proof? Or do you think he'll wonder why he hasn't heard anything through the chain of command? From the person he put in charge of JSTF to begin with?'

Lina's head hung low and her voice was a pained murmur. 'He'd spend more time trying to get to the bottom of why everything's gone to hell here than stopping the Legion. Everything we've done so far, everything we've given would be wasted. All our sacrifices, and the sacrifices of others, all for nothing.'

'So let's follow this up ourselves. We can maybe assign Danners or Jorvus to look into it. They're both more than capable.'

Lina snapped out a mirthless laugh. 'Can you even begin to understand how vast the Citadel's internal comm network is? To even begin searching you'd need a full squad of techs working around the clock without rest. Our team is already stretched to breaking point as it is. We can't afford to go tasking people off to start trawling through Citadel communication records, not without a specific starting point.'

Milo's brow furrowed thoughtfully. 'What about getting agents in from the outside?'

'Too obvious. Chellick might notice if we start pulling half our field agents away from assigned areas. Even the agents themselves would question it eventually.'

The quarian sighed and her enviro-suit shook with the release of breath, her voice beginning to flake under the stress. She crossed her arms before leaning back against the wall.

'We need to tread lightly here or we could find ourselves under fire, and I'm not talking about the Legion.' Her white eyes narrowed as she saw Milo was barely listening. 'Hey, are you all there?'

Blinking, Milo looked up but he appeared ill. His mouth was a thin line and his expression was disbelieving. It was clear he did not want to speak his next words.

'What about Lorica?'

She didn't need him to clarify. 'Lorica? You don't think…?'

'Nobody knows where she was when the situation on Illium went to hell. Her behaviour was suspicious enough before but now…'

Again, Milo's features twisted as if nauseous and Lina felt a pang of sympathy for the young human. She did not like Lorica but she still didn’t want to believe it was possible she could be a traitor. For Milo, to see his lover in such a way would be no less than torturous and he visibly struggled to imagine her as someone who could cause death and destruction.

Lina wandered to his side and gently placed a hand on his arm.

'We don't know for sure yet,' she said softly. 'Let's not rush to conclusions.'

'Yeah,' he replied heavily. 'Yeah, you're right.'

'I'll keep an eye on her and watch for anything suspicious. While I'm at it, I'll see what I can do with the data you uncovered. In the meantime I want you to stay focused on trying to contact Arlen.'

Her chest heaved as she exhaled deeply, her body shuddering once again with tension.

'From the surveillance programs we snuck into Port Hanshan's servers along with Qi'in's little payment, we've learned that Arlen's shuttle didn't return from Peak Ten last night. Just another thing to add to this…this mess.'

The change came suddenly, with the last word to leave her lips. It was as if a veil had dropped, a curtain that had hidden her until now.

A pang of seething emotion entered Lina's voice, so intense that Milo’s lips parted slightly in surprise.

'I...I knew it was risky, sending them alone. Arlen was injured, he was…I should've…I should've sent someone else, someone more experienced, or someone who…'

She trailed off and Milo filled the silence quickly. 'It wasn't your call, Lina. We all knew you weren't happy with Chellick's decision and if there’s any blame it lies with me too. We all had a chance to say something but we didn't. We all know Arlen and Keller are tough but it was only a matter of time before something went wrong and you can't hold it against yourself now.'

He eyed the quarian carefully and saw the absence of the milky ovals in her visor.

She had closed her eyes and was keeping them shut. She shivered lightly and Milo was startled to see a silvery glint beneath the glass, winding a thin trail down her cheek and he placed a hand on her shoulder.

Where she would once have shrugged the hand from her suit she allowed it to remain.

Milo's lips firmed with resolution and he placed his other hand on the opposite shoulder before gently pulling her body against his, keeping his hands high on her back.

Lina stiffened at first but he shushed and murmured to her, and after a few moments she shook with the release of guilt.

'I did everything I could,' she whispered, 'but it was never enough. I tried so hard and now Arlen's...' A sob broke through her clenched teeth. 'It's not fair…'

'Hey,' Milo replied gently, 'you're talking like all this is over. You said it yourself; we can’t jump to conclusions. It's not over yet, not while we still have a clue to what's really going on around here.'

They stood for a time in silence, a private blot of worry and fear in the cold halls. Eventually, Milo felt Lina's hands press against his chest lightly and he released her, sensing she was done.

He looked at her and smiled weakly, touching a hand to her arm.

'Are you okay?'

'Yes,' she responded, the strength in her voice returning. 'Yes, I'll be fine. I just needed to let that out, I think. It's all just been so much and the thought of Arlen…'

She stopped herself and again her eyes closed as she controlled her feelings. 'I knew he was too young, too inexperienced. I should’ve said something a long time ago, before it came to this. Still, it's done now. All we can do is try and salvage what we can of this investigation.'

Milo nodded, relief clear in his features. 'Where do we go from here?'

As before, she laughed without a shred of joy, as if their fates had already been decided and any plans they made were futile gestures in the wind.

Nevertheless, there was a hardness to her, an echo of the woman who forced respect and even admiration. It was what came with being capable enough to carve a place in C-Sec as an outsider, a member of an outcast race.

Lina straightened. 'Knowing that our commander is breaking the law? Knowing that the enemy is on this very station? I say we do our jobs.' Milo smiled as a new kind of enthusiasm entered her voice. 'I say we get out there and complete our mission, despite everything working against us. You humans have a strange habit of giving 'the finger'? I say we do that to everyone who gets in our way.'

This time, Milo's own laugh was genuine and he grinned broadly at Lina as they both started to walk back to the command centre.

'I like the sound of that.'


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Arlen gasped and shook his head, sending a loose spray of lathery sweat through the air. The droplets seemed to hang, sparkling in the rust-tinged dusk for an age before falling down back to where the ground lay, far below him.

His head followed, craning to look down back over his shoulders and he felt a spasm of weakness as the empty sky yawned at his back.

With the lapse in concentration, his hands slipped on the rope and he ground his teeth as he regained purchase, his breath hissing from his lungs in hot waves.

The shuttle had been left six miles away, hidden from both sight and sensors. It was the closest they could get without attracting the Legion's attention and the Corsairs had set out on the jungle march immediately, eager to make good time and establish a platform for the attack on Krassus' stronghold by the following day.

The pace had been brutal and Arlen felt the exhaustion of the previous days like a hammer blow, the weight of his own body becoming an excruciating burden as the hours passed in miserable, humid silence.

The jungle heat was the worst part. It made everything wet and itchy, driving him mad within the first few hours of landing on Zorya.

His feet scraped fine curtains of soil from the cliff as he managed to steady himself but still he itched beneath his armour, the feeling becoming a white-hot pain in its intensity.

It distracted him and he had to blink hard, over and over again to re-focus on Winterbourne, who was only a few feet above him and closing the distance with her disciplined descent.

Arlen twisted his head. The view of green-clad hills and troughs, made dark by the fleeing sun would have stunned him with its beauty under any other circumstances but it went by unnoticed at that moment. He could only concentrate on lowering himself down the rope, step by step, inch by inch.

'Hurry up!' Winterbourne yelled at him from above. 'This isn't a damn sightseeing tour!'

Arlen barely heard her. His head was a pulsing mass of senseless flesh and he felt a tug of envy at Winterbourne's clear, unshaken voice.

Every one of these humans seemed to be made of iron. They had been walking all day in the cruel heat and humidity and yet showed no sign of discomfort. Next to them, the young turian felt inadequate, weak.

He sensed the rope slipping through his fingers again and he clenched his fists around it desperately. His muscles cried out as he inched his way down but he ignored them.

He had fought assassins, mercenaries and soldiers to get there. He would not fail now.

Gradually, the shadow of the cliff fell over him and his feet left the face to seek out the ground below. Moss-covered stones and loose mulch greeted his boots and his eyes widened in surprise as he almost slipped.

Panicking, he tightened his hold on the rope to maintain balance and heard a loud curse from above as the motion rocked Winterbourne against the stone wall.

He paid no attention to her yells. Instead, Arlen slumped over his knees and looked towards the heavily equipment he would be forced to carry once again.

The boxes had been lowered to the ground first and were designed to be strapped to the backs of armour suits, though they were clearly meant for humans. Against the curve of Arlen's spine they were uncomfortable and awkward, and he dreaded the thought of the march continuing into the night with the heavy edges knocking against his suit the entire time.

'The major’s called a halt. Get a little rest while you can.'

A pair of boots crunched into the brown twigs and leaves before Arlen's eyes and he looked up to see a dark face that shone with sweat.

Jacob too was exhausted but he was calm, and he offered Arlen a small black bottle. Arlen stared at it for a moment and the sergeant shrugged.

'Just water. Good enough for us both, especially in this heat.'

Nodding, Arlen took the bottle and threw down several quick gulps. It was warm and slightly salty, and for a moment he worried about the presence of foreign bacteria. A human germ could wreak havoc on his body.

As his raging thirst receded, however, the worry fled his mind. There were far more dangerous things on this planet than an upset stomach.

Winterbourne thumped to the ground next to him and scowled for a moment before pushing past them both.

Jacob gave a small grin. 'Looks like you're making friends easily enough.'

'I got a little careless with my landing,' Arlen responded with a glance to where his flailing feet had cut deep, black grooves in the soft ground. 'Not as if I was here to make nice anyway.'

Jacob grunted, still smiling. 'Yeah, I figured the same thing. Figured I'm here to do a job, no point in goin' around, grinning like an idiot while I do it.'

He took a seat on the ground, on a mass of gnarled roots that ran along the jungle floor in twisted knots.

Arlen studied the man who spared his life, his eyes seeking out lines of deceit or subterfuge in the human's features. He seemed genuine enough but nothing was clear to Arlen anymore and the world seemed to grow more treacherous by the day, with trust becoming a valued commodity that could only be parsed out to the few.

It was yet another thing that went against all that turians were raised to believe. They were supposed to be able to trust their peers and superiors, obedience given without question but nothing was quite so simple any more.

Jacob returned his stare evenly and after a few seconds, Arlen joined him on the ground.

'Who are you people?' the turian asked. 'Really?'

Jacob took some time to answer. He gazed out into the darkening jungle ahead of them, the sound of rushing water underlying the high calls of birds and cackles of pyjacks.

'We're the Corsairs, an Alliance black ops team under orders to bring General Krassus in.' He turned to Arlen. 'I haven't been here long. Newest member of the team. Dukov and Weiss have been together since the Skyllian Blitz, though.'

'Weiss,' Arlen murmured, remembering the woman who had threatened Keller back on the Razor. 'I heard the big man, Miller, call her a 'warrant officer'. I wasn't aware such a rank existed in the Alliance.'

'It doesn't, and technically neither does the rank of major. It's a throwback to the old army structure, before the Alliance standardised it. Everyone who joins the Corsairs gains the rank of sergeant automatically on selection so I guess they need more NCO ranks to bridge the gap to officer.’

Jacob shrugged. ‘Or maybe it's just nostalgia, I'm not sure. Either way, even Weiss' superiors, like Lieutenant Winterbourne, don't question what she says. Weiss will salute Winterbourne’s rank without a thought but her experience is worth more than that any day of the week, and the lieutenant knows it.'

The sergeant grew still and his voice hardened. 'I'd be careful around her. The major's happy enough to accept your help - he'll take all that he can get, considering the opposition. But Weiss doesn't trust you, or many aliens for that matter.'

Arlen chose not to ask why. It didn’t matter to him. Hatred and mistrust seemed to be common enough among his own people that he knew better than to surprised.

'So,' he said quietly, 'your unit is here for the same reason I am, but without the approval of the Council. You're willing to break every law you can to achieve your goals. Is that what your black ops teams are? Success at all costs, no matter the consequences?'

'Corsairs are considered deniable by the Alliance, sort of a risk-free venture. Even if we're caught or killed, they'll disavow all knowledge of us. To everyone else we're pirates or worse.'

'It's more obvious than you realise.' Arlen looked thoughtful for a moment. 'You humans are a curious people, that you'd go to such lengths to bypass the laws you want so dearly to be a part of.'

'You turians don't have black ops units?'

'No,' Arlen replied, shaking his head firmly. 'We have special forces, like Blackwatch and Iron Talon but to go against the law of the Citadel? That just seems like anarchy, no better than the Legion.'

Jacob's response was instant and his eyes were unflinching. 'And it's part of C-Sec's job to be out in the Traverse? And I suppose Illium is part of your jurisdiction too?'

Arlen's mouth closed silently and he turned away, unsure. 'I've been tasked by the Council to do this. Laws aren't broken by the people who make them, they're just made anew.'

He stared as Jacob let out a low chuckle and shook his head.

'What's so funny?'

'Nothing. You just make things sound a lot simpler than they actually are. Is that your turian side talking, or your C-Sec side?'

Again, Arlen looked away rather than let his own uncertainty show. He clasped his hands together and rested his elbows on his knees.

He knew how to be a good turian. It was not even a matter of thought any more. It was something he felt whenever he spoke or made a decision, the ‘hands on his reins’ as Sergeant Heiros had put it back on Noveria.

Yet here he was, working against many of his own people with Alliance soldiers. No matter how much he knew his reasons were right, that fact kept nudging its way into Arlen’s thoughts, like an itch he couldn't scratch.

He’d sworn an oath to defend the laws of the Citadel but Jacob's words had brought a nagging doubt to that once solid truth.

Were Interceptors different from the Corsairs, simply because it was C-Sec that gave the orders? All around him stood the evidence that strong men and women made their own laws while he struggled, insignificant in their shadow.

Jacob accepted his silence with a nod and rose to his feet. His features were a blank mask as he looked to where the sun had almost disappeared behind distant hills. He sighed gently, his face bathed in a thinning line of gold.

'No matter where I look - the Marines, Corsairs, C-Sec - it's all the same bullshit. Politics and hypocrisy. It's things like that which make me understand why the Forgotten Legion exist in the first place.'

Arlen looked up and began to speak, but the words deserted him. He wanted to say it was no excuse for terrorism but the men he had met, Vastra, Qi'in, Olansi, they had all proven the futility of blindly repeating the same idioms.

There was only so much a man could take before he fought back. Even when they did, their own motivations and consciences still plagued them. The Relay 314 Incident had shown those truths more than anything.

Arlen remained motionless in his thoughts until the call came to move on.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Thin fingers tapped erratically on the hard surface of the table, drawing a tired look from Garrus.

He saw Kirrahe's lips were pursed as his mind went to work, no doubt dissecting the situation, analysing it and discarding everything he knew to be impossible.

It all still little made sense to Garrus but he almost smiled at Kirrahe’s enthusiasm.

This was the kind of work the salarian loved and he was in his element. Nations, civilisations were made and broken by the few and Garrus felt the fates of them all shift around him, shaped by the actions of Kirrahe’s men.

It was not why he’d allied with STG to begin with but it had become a reason for him to remain.

Kirrahe sat straight-backed in his chair, in the same apartment he had brought Garrus to so many days ago.

‘I’d thought our mission would be over by now,’ he mumbled distractedly. ‘I thought my men and I would be back on Sur'Kesh by now, toasting another success and an end to our obligatory part in the Yanus goose chase…’

He trailed off but Garrus knew exactly what he was going to say next - that the information extracted from Udina’s terminal had turned all of their expectations upside down.

So much more than they could fathom had been harvested from the ambassador’s files and the results had even brought them out in the Presidium in broad daylight to rescue him from a gang of hired killers.

Events had escalated beyond even Garrus’ comprehension and he barely glanced at Kirrahe as he cleared his throat gently. He slid a datapad, one of a growing pile, over to the other side of the table to rest in front of Garrus.

Garrus frowned as he picked it up and looked over the new information. 'How long ago?'

'A few hours at the most. Thessia is in uproar over the incident though thankfully, they believe it to be a drive core explosion, a case of poor storage and handling. I daresay if the bomb had gone off in a commercial or residential area and not a warehouse, the cover story would not stick.'

'And the signal definitely originated from within the Citadel?' Garrus asked.

He stared at the datapad, his eyes distant but his ears focused on Kirrahe's answer.

'As you know, through the reversal of the Mantius program we managed to introduce a trojan into the C-Sec network via Commander Chellick's terminal. While JSTF's own servers are far too secure for us to gain access without alerting anyone to our presence, we can still monitor a great deal of the Citadel's communications. There was no mistaking the sudden spike in outgoing comm-buoy traffic at two points. The first was the day before yesterday, when Nos Astra was attacked. The second occurred moments before the explosion on Thessia. Such occurrences can't be mere coincidence.'

'Official JSTF reports state one agent was killed in the blast,' Garrus murmured pensively as he set the datapad back down on the table. 'They also think it was a booby trap, triggered on activation of the console the agent found on-site.'

'This,' Kirrahe replied, tapping the datapad with a finger, 'proves otherwise. Someone was watching that agent and timed the detonation to coincide with her presence. And the only people who could have been watching her, who had any idea of her mission were-'

'JSTF,' Garrus finished.

The words left his mouth slowly and his eyes shifted in their sockets unsteadily with the sound of each syllable. He stared for a moment at nothing in particular.

'I can't believe it. Yanus has a mole within the task force itself.'

'The attack on Udina confirmed our suspicions,' Kirrahe said, folding his hands together. 'He must have discovered something, or was in danger of discovering something he wasn't supposed to.'

Garrus' brows drew together in thought. The ambassador was still unconscious in a local hospital, bloody but stable. Garrus would ensure the official C-Sec report would cite a mugging gone wrong as the official cause of injury. He hoped Udina would have the sense to let the matter rest.

'Something doesn't add up,' he murmured slowly. 'We know Chellick was the one who went after Udina but to do this? Have him killed in the heart of the Presidium? It's too far, even for him. Even if it was, I know he can't be working for Yanus. He carries more than enough dirt on his own hands. It just doesn't make sense; why?'

Kirrahe spread his hands. 'With the power and resources at his fingertips, he's perfectly placed to carry out Yanus' instructions. He can call on intelligence agencies, special forces, local law enforcement and more in his role as JSTF commander. With the attack on Illium, the Jamestown Incident and now the bomb on Thessia, who would argue with him?'

Light footsteps tapped on the floor and both men turned their heads to the room's entrance. Kirrahe's men, who had been still and quiet in rest until that moment, sprang to their feet and braced to attention.

Following their example, Garrus too rose from his chair but he felt comfortable enough with the Councillor Tevos’ presence to remain relaxed as he watched her enter.

'I apologise,' Tevos said, dipping her head respectfully. 'It was not easy to leave without attracting attention and I cannot stay for long. The incident on Thessia has every major embassy scrambling to offer their outrage and condolences. My absence won't go unnoticed.'

Garrus nodded. 'We understand, ma'am.'

The councillor looked up to address Kirrahe as the most senior man in the room. 'It is fortunate there were no civilian casualties, but the attack is still an affront to all of us, an insult that cannot go unpunished. I understand you have made progress in tracking down the one responsible?'

'We have,' Kirrahe answered solemnly.

'Good. I fear this poison has run too deeply in our own organisations to remove with brute force.' She turned her shimmering blue eyes to Garrus. 'Thank you again for your honesty, Agent Vakarian. If you had not told me what Chellick was doing then we would still be fumbling in the dark, without a way forward.'

Garrus felt his throat tighten and he nodded stiffly. He shouldn’t have been surprised that Kirrahe and his team were reporting directly to the Council in their investigation of Yanus but the reality was still jarring.

He set the feeling aside and answered. 'Yes, ma'am, we were discussing Chellick just before you arrived. The captain here thinks he may be Yanus' man on the Citadel.'

'He has already tried to have Ambassador Udina killed,' Kirrahe continued, 'and his attempt to reach you through Agent Vakarian here cannot be ignored.'

The councillor bowed her head, her expression grim. 'Yes, I know, and that is not all.'

Their curious stares followed her as she paced across the room, stopping before the window. The ward arms spread out under her distant gaze, a million lights shining more brightly than even the stars beyond.

'I have also received word from my own source that Chellick has forbidden any news regarding the investigation from leaving JSTF. This includes the Council itself.'

Garrus' mouth parted slightly in a silent gasp. 'But that's…why would he do that? Withholding vital information is nothing short of treason. He's lost his mind!'

'Yet another sign of his guilt, in my view,' Kirrahe said, 'and of his connection to Yanus. It's clear Chellick has been monitoring the investigation and now, just as the links to Yanus have been uncovered, he's desperate to eliminate all traces that could lead back to his master.'

The captain eyed both Garrus and the councillor very carefully, weighing their reactions as he spoke.

'Chellick must be taken out, before he grows desperate enough to use his position to greater effect.'

Garrus turned to him. 'What do you mean?'

'Chellick has complete authority over an extensive network of experienced field agents, as well as Council-level access to every intelligence network in Council space. He has the authority to draw resources from every major military organisation in the galaxy, with the exception of the Spectres. Every moment he remains in that position increases the risk that those assets could be used to strengthen Yanus, or weaken us.'

'This still doesn't add up,' Garrus growled, shaking his head. 'Chellick is ambitious, manipulative, but a traitor?'

His mind was a racing blur of thought. He thought he’d known Chellick for years but had already been shown his error in that. Still, Garrus had seen something in the commander's eyes when he had been ordered to confront Tevos. It was the naked, ugly glint of fear.

That was not something even Chellick could disguise and by that alone, doubt gripped Garrus. It hadn’t been the calculated look Chellick had shown before and there had been a desperation in him that went further than what Kirrahe was suggesting.

'I understand this is a shock to you,' Kirrahe replied, 'but you must see the truth. There cannot be any other explanation for this.'

'We could just haul him in and see what he knows?'

The salarian shook his head firmly. 'I doubt he will talk and even if he did, what real evidence do we have to back up our claims? Our suspicions may be real to us but to a neutral party they would not appear enough to act on. He could well deny everything and be left to disappear, along with any further trace of Yanus.'

Kirrahe's eyes were large and dark as he stared at Garrus. 'This is a different world to that of C-Sec, Agent Vakarian. This is a world in which decisions must be made instantly, without hesitation or regret. There can be no half-measures, only decisive action. The stakes are too high to allow any thought of weakness.'

Garrus felt the room begin to spin, as ever the speed of events overtaking him.

Still, this time it was different. He had always been forced to adhere to C-Sec's rules. Its red tape had bound him, driving him slowly mad for years. Now Kirrahe was showing him a different world, a taste of freedom where he felt the choking noose of regulation fall from his neck with exhilarating release.

A small grin tugged at the corners of his mouth, pulling his mandibles apart.

This was to be alive, he knew. This was the ability to make decisions, right or wrong, without the constant, dragging fear of reprisal or second-guessing. He only wished he had it when he’d chased Doctor Saleon.

Garrus glanced at the councillor. 'And the consequences?'

The asari regarded him with cold grace. 'This is a desperate time, Agent Vakarian. I cannot alert the rest of the Council to these developments without risking our exposure to Yanus. Chellick singled me out for a reason and until we know why, we cannot trust that he doesn't have people close to the other councillors also. We do know, however, that the Citadel is compromised. It is likely that Chellick already suspects the depth of our knowledge so we can't risk moving openly. Deal with Chellick and then we can continue the hunt. When we have Yanus, we can then consider a return to more traditional forms of justice.'

To hear the flat approval in the voice of one of the most powerful women in the galaxy gave Garrus a strength he could barely believe.

Taking in a deep breath, he nodded to her and Kirrahe. It would have to be him. No one else could get inside JSTF, or close to Chellick without raising suspicion.

'Eliminate Chellick,' Kirrahe repeated, his stern voice loud in the small apartment, 'and locate any clues to Yanus' location you can find within JSTF's internal network. That is your task. We have never been this close to Yanus, not in all our history. Don't fail us, Agent Vakarian.'

Slowly, Garrus nodded again and strode away, his hand falling to his pistol as an afterthought to test its position in the holster.


 ~~~ME-I~~~




Insects creaked all around the rough camp the Corsairs had made. The noise assaulted Arlen's senses as much as the heat and moisture had done during the day and it seemed to him that the jungle was determined to make him as uncomfortable as it possibly could every second he was there.

The sky was dark blue and full of stars, which picked out the shivering foliage around him in silver lines.

It was still beautiful, he thought to himself as he gazed out into the peaceful gloom, no matter how loud and deadly it appeared.

He had taken first watch without a thought and the Corsairs had chuckled to themselves at his eager willingness to volunteer. He was not alone, of course, and Taylor could be heard some distance away as he walked a short patrol around the perimeter.

Arlen's jaw tensed as he considered the sergeant.

Taylor's earlier words still bothered him, to the point where his mind would drift to them during every quiet moment. He couldn’t allow himself to like the human, but he certainly seemed honest enough for Arlen not to dislike him. Taylor appeared to have been appointed as Arlen's personal minder but the man had not complained. In fact, he seemed to talk to Arlen more than any of his own squad mates, a situation that perplexed the turian more than anything.

He heard the crunch of boots on dry twigs before Jacob's voice thrummed in the air.

'Nothing. You?'

Arlen cocked his head. 'All quiet, or rather, as quiet as it can get.'

'Yeah,' Jacob chuckled. 'Those bugs really are somethin'. I ain't seen even half the things I’ve seen here anywhere else in the galaxy. It's damn impressive for anybody to live here, if you think about it.'

'Just as your Earth rats nest in the filthiest places,' Arlen muttered.

'Either way, we'll have our work cut out for us tomorrow. We'll have moved to within visual range of the Legion base by midday and set up an OP. Once we've scouted the place a little, the major will have a game plan ready.'

The wind rustled the surrounding trees, bringing with it an odd smell as the land released the heat of the day. It was unlike anything Arlen had experienced before, a blend of rotting peat and fresh, green vegetation, a mixture of life and death. He winced at his own wandering thoughts, as if that was all his mind ever did.

'Earlier today, back at the cliff.' He paused, his eyes on the distant treeline. 'When I asked who you - your people - were, you hesitated. Why?'

Jacob's expression was serious as he approached Arlen's side and joined him in his vigil.

'Funny thing to remember. You been waiting all day to ask that?'

'I've had little else to do but think. My body can handle hardship while my mind works independently, a benefit of my…early training. It's more of a curse than anything sometimes.'

'So, you weren't happy with my first answer?' Jacob asked.

Arlen sniffed, taking in more of the strange air. 'It was pretty obvious, you know. For a human, you're not difficult to read.'

For a second, Jacob frowned, but it eased in a heartbeat. His lips drew back to reveal white teeth and he smiled without embarrassment.

'Yeah, I heard that before. Maybe it's just 'cause I don't try to hide anything. It's not a soldier's job to conceal everything he is. That's why it's just easier not to get involved with the people you work with.' He broke the air with a sharp, bitter chuckle. 'All right, since you asked. Your file was dug up by Alliance Command as part of our briefing for this op. The 'competition', the major called you.'

Arlen knew he shouldn’t have been surprised but he asked all the same. 'It was leaked from our military's high command?'

'Personnel records are never really hard to find,' Jacob explained. 'Or so I understand. Still, earlier on I was about to ask you something, that's all.'

Sighing, Arlen loosened his aching shoulders. 'Now's as good as time as any. Let's hear it.'

Slowly, the smile disappeared from Jacob's lips. 'The file mentioned your father, General Renius Kryik.' He ignored the sudden intake of breath and the rigidity that entered Arlen's body. 'I wanted to ask you, how did-'

Suddenly, Jacob paused and narrowed his eyes into the jungle ahead.

Surprised by the abrupt silence, Arlen opened his mouth but the intensity of Taylor's glare stopped him from speaking. He followed the gaze but saw nothing but darkness.

Then it came to him as well. Not a sight, but a sound. It was faint, as if being muffled, but it was there all the same.

'Proximity sensors?' Arlen asked tentatively.

'Yeah, but they're being scrambled.' Jacob's eyes narrowed into pale slits, then widened as he yanked down on Arlen's shoulder.

'Get down!'

No sooner had the words left his lips than the jungle lit up around them. Broken streams of blue rifle fire sliced through the dark, shattering the nearby trees into splinters.

Arlen's nostrils were filled with the stench of dank earth and wet leaves as he pressed himself into the ground and the heat of slugs could be felt as stinging lines above his fringe. Somewhere, a part of him vaguely realised that Taylor had saved his life.

The human did not seem to care, nor even register the action. Jacob had shouldered his rifle and begun to return fire, the weapon chattering against his body, lighting his face in bursts of white.

Arlen drew out his Mantis and joined him but there was barely anything to shoot at. Enemy fire spat out from the shadows but he couldn’t make out any shapes in the gloom, or at least nothing he could aim for.

All he knew was that there were at least half a dozen of them, and if they were the same group that had chased him down on Noveria, there would be more circling around to trap them.

Arlen's head snapped to Jacob, his white paint flashing like shards of lightning as the night lit up.

'Fall back!' he shouted out. 'Warn the others!'

Jacob shook his head, his eyes still down-range. 'I didn't bring you all this way just to see you get killed!'

Arlen gripped the sergeant roughly on the shoulder and yelled out again.

'They'll be coming around the other side. We don't have the element of surprise here, Taylor, you know that!'

Finally, Jacob faced Arlen and saw the turian's resolve like fire in his gaze.

'If you stay here, you'll all die,’ Arlen repeated. ‘Fall back and find another route to Krassus. I'll delay them as best I can.'

Jacob looked at him, appalled. Arlen knew he had good reason to be worried. They’d been more than careful in their approach. The Legion shouldn’t have detected them!

A sick fear crept into his stomach at the thought that their surprise, the one advantage they had over their enemy, was lost for good. Instead, they now found themselves forced on the defensive before they'd even begun.

Jacob took stock of the situation, and after a few seconds he nodded grimly. They had to retreat for now. His eyes shone with respect for Arlen, and he nodded to the young man earnestly.

'All right, just try and get away if you can.'

'Don't worry about me,' Arlen muttered. He tried to conceal the guilty blink that accompanied the remark. 'Just move, now!'

Clasping a hand to Arlen's shoulder in farewell, Jacob rose to his feet and sprinted away, crashing through the undergrowth without a backwards glance.

Arlen counted the seconds and released his breath, as well as the trigger of his rifle, and all grew quiet once again as the enemy assessed the situation.

His eyes darted about the forest floor in front of him as his thoughts raced.

What the hell he was thinking? The idea had come in a momentary flash but now doubt festered in his mind, gnawing away at him. His legs twitched with the urge to run and yet he knew that if he did, he would lose his best chance, his only chance, to accomplish his mission.

It all lay with the fact that he was different from the Corsairs, in at least one respect. It was a difference the Legion would certainly see.

Throwing his hands into the air with a jerk, Arlen waited.

His breathing was torrid and hard, rushing out through his open mouth like a geyser. He shook with undisguised terror at what he was attempting to do but it was too late for regrets or second thoughts.

Again, he felt a stab of remorse at Taylor's open admiration of his bravery. Instead of a heroic last stand, Arlen was doing something very different.

It did not take long for heavy feet to come stalking through the darkness, filling the air with shuffles and the cracking of branches. Arlen kept his head down, not needing to look up to see the rifles trained on his prostrate form. He felt them as surely as he would a flame on his skin.

He focused on keeping his hands in the air to show he was unarmed, his eyes closed in horrified anticipation of a slug in his back at any moment.

'Looks like he got him,' a turian voice growled maliciously. 'The tribune was right, as always. Look at the tracks, though. There was at least one other here. Do a sweep of the area and report but don't expect an army. The ship he arrived in was batarian. Probably just some merc scum he picked up on the way. They won't stick around without their employer.'

'Yes, Sir!'

Arlen heard the thick slap of a fist on armour; a turian legion salute, he was certain, and then the marching of several pairs of boots away from his position.

Then it came.

'You're in a world of shit, boy. Make your peace with the spirits, because we sure as hell ain't gonna make it with you.'

Arlen glanced up to see a rifle butt rush into his vision. A second, and a spike of pain later, the world went black around him.
Mass Effect: Interceptor - Episode 33
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: Jeremy Soule
  • Reading: I, Partridge - Alan Partridge
  • Watching: Father Ted
  • Playing: Elder Scrolls Online (PC)
  • Eating: Less
  • Drinking: More
Hi all, just a quick Happy 2016 and an update on what's been going on.

The quest for publication goes on, though as any author will tell you, resting on one's laurels is not an option and so it's full steam ahead with my next project.

A backup plan is in place to make these crazed scribblings available - big publishing contract or no - at some point this year, so watch this space.

In fanfiction news, Interceptor is still being updated at an admittedly glacial pace but fear not, for my new Mass Effect-related project is comfortably in the works to be released alongside the new game. The aim is to get it completed, or near as dammit, by then to ensure a constant and unbroken series of chapter updates.

It's going to be a big one, mark my words.

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:iconcatelee2u:
catelee2u Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy Birthday!! :party::beer::love:
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:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Professional Writer
Thank you very much! :)
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:iconexileblaze:
ExileBlaze Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015
Happy Birthday!
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:iconmothbanquet:
mothbanquet Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Professional Writer
You're too kind! :)
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:iconrainetenerelli:
RaineTenerelli 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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