Chapter 73

Normandy command deck, en route Arcturus – fifteen hours after the explosion on the station

Shepard had been awake from her operation for less than ten minutes.

Miranda had done what Shepard had asked and patched up the worst of her injuries. And she was cloning lungs, liver, a kidney and an eye ready for when the Commander would sit still for the much bigger operation.

In the mean time she had done some outstanding work ably assisted by Karin Chakwas to restructure one lung, patched the liver and not only re-programmed the nanites to focus on respiratory support but introduced new ones to aid the skeletal damage.

“Shepard you are in no state to do anything physical. Your nanites are still repairing your damaged skeleton and some of the minor crush injuries which should take place while you have complete bed rest,” Miranda was trying her best to impress on Shepard just how fragile she was.

“Bring my dress uniform,” Shepard had difficulty breathing and talking. She was working on it but her voice was not much more than a hoarse whisper.

“Is everything ready for the conference call,” Shepard directed this comment at Tash.

“Yes, they’re all waiting for you to hop on.”

When her uniform arrived both Tash and Miranda had to help her into it as movement was not only difficult but painful.

“The pain meds won’t dull my senses?” Shepard asked both doctors.

“No Commander but it does mean you will still be in considerable pain. I do wish you would reconsider… this is madness,” Doctor Chakwas had already had this argument with Tash and lost.

Once dressed Shepard began to walk under own steam out of the med bay but stopped before she reached the door and flicking a finger to her empty eye socket currently covered by a dressing said, “Get rid of this and give me a patch.”

A painful and, for Shepard, slow walk to the comms room allowed her crew to see her standing and moving under own steam. They had no idea how broken she was or how much pain she was in.

Shepard needed to project authority, confidence and strength. This was the image she would need to show to the officers she was about to talk to.

The entire wall of the comms room lit up with multiple screens showing the ranking officers on every ship in Hackett’s fifth fleet.

She stood before them and began speaking.

“The attack on Arcturus, on our military command, is part of a coordinated plan to take control of the Systems Alliance government and our Navy.” Shepard didn’t have the breath to beat about the bush and there was no time to have a discussion.

“The latest information we have is that Admiral Hackett is critically wounded but still alive,” the tension on the officers faces seemed to her eye to ease a little, “but he was one of the primary targets of the assassination and they will not leave their work undone.

“We are fighting forces that have corrupted our own ranks; we do not know who we can trust yet. But one thing is painfully obvious,” she paused gathering as much strength as she could, “we need to act now to protect our Fleet Admiral and the Vice President or they will not last another twenty four hours.”

“I am asking you to follow me, follow my lead; to secure our government and Admiral Hackett… this was an attempted coup, no doubt about it. We are the final line of defence. I am asking you to commit what some will perceive as treasonable acts to protect those things we have sworn to defend.”

That was all she could do, ask them. And each officer knew what she had just asked of them. There were plenty of Admirals left in the other fleets, on Earth and one in particular on Arcturus who had already made his move.

“We have orders from Admiral Mikhailovich to deploy to the Batarian frontier,” Rear Admiral Chi’Peng spoke and Shepard was mindful he was now the most senior officer within the fifth fleet.

“You know this wasn’t the Batarian’s and Mikhailovich is one of the co-conspirators of this coup.”

Shepard felt the sweat soaking in to her jacket. The pain was so intense she wasn’t sure how much longer she could remain standing and a feint tremor started in her legs under the strain. She also felt the sensation of drowning as fluid accumulated in her lungs and fought back the urge to start coughing.

She left the silence hang between them.

“What are your orders Commander,” Tillitson the Captain of one of the fleets’ dreadnoughts asked the question and she noted nods of agreement from the rest including Chi’Peng.

“Set up a defensive perimeter around Arcturus, no ships in and no ships out. Send all available marines to secure the docking ring and to guard the medical centre where Admiral Hackett and the Vice President are being treated.”

She squared her shoulders and gave voice to her anger for the first time, “defend our fallen leaders, do not let any further harm come to them. And await my arrival.”

The transmission was cut and her knees buckled but Tash and Miranda moved in quickly to keep her on her feet.

Once sitting down Shepard loosened the shirt and jacket from around her neck and finally gave in to the excruciatingly painful hacking cough in an attempt to clear her airways.

Miranda gave Shepard an injection, “the second treatment of nanites should start helping a little with your lungs but there is nothing more I can do for the pain Commander… not if you don’t want anything that will affect your cognitive function.”

Shepard nodded her thanks then turned to Tash, “put a call into Admiral Singh on the Logan we need the third fleet to stand on the side lines and not get involved. First get me Anderson.”

Normandy command deck, on approach to Arcturus station

Five hours after calling for the fifth fleet to effectively mutiny Shepard stood at her tactical station and admired the effective blockade of the station by the forces now under her control.

The third fleet under the command to Admiral Nitesh Singh had agreed to passively support the defence of Arcturus from any external threat.

This was good enough for Shepard she had all the force she required for her objectives and there was no need to compromise any more loyal naval officers in case this all went sideways.

If Hackett dies she would be a criminal. But then, she reasoned, if Hackett died they were all fucked and there would be no point in continuing to prepare to defeat the Reapers.

She listened to the docking protocols passing back and forth between Arcturus and the Normandy. Then feeling the ship settle into the docking bay Shepard made her way to the forward air lock, Tash, Doctor Chakwas and the Normandy’s marines in her wake.

Her orders were clear. Only Alliance crew would set foot on the station Shepard did not want even a shadow of suspicion that this was an aggressive act by one of the other Council races.

This had to be all Alliance Navy action on behalf of the rightful Systems Alliance Government.

Shepard, like her marines, were wearing full armour but no helmets. She needed the movement assist the armours motor systems could give her.

Once she stepped onto the dock her marines were supplemented by a detachment from the fifth fleet’s flagship. Hackett’s flagship, her mother’s ship; Shepard pushed away the feelings that started to leak into her mind and focussed on the next step.

Shepard had got this far by taking one step at a time, making one decision at a time and this was how she would get through it.

To his credit Rear Admiral Chi’Peng was waiting for her on the dock. He would not hide on his ship.

“What first?” Chi’Peng was all business.

Shepard opened up her omnitool and sent a list to him, “this is Admiral Hackett’s highly confidential list of tainted and compromised officers, at least the ones currently on Arcturus. We need them arrested now,” she turned to the commander of the station’s military police who was also ready to step up for Hackett.

“Did you prepare a holding area?”

“Yes Commander, we’ve organised an empty docking bay.”

“Good, let me know when you have them all,” Shepard looked at Chi’Peng, “where did you say Mikhailovich is meeting with his team?”

“The bastard is using Hackett’s office,” Chi’Peng almost spat out the words.

“Send a detachment of your marines to hold everyone there we have to secure the Admiral and the VP first.”

Less than ten minutes later Shepard walked into the station’s main medical centre.

“Check on the Admiral please,” Shepard said to Karin Chakwas who had accompanied her with two Normandy medics, “which room is the vice president in?”

The medical officer Shepard asked snarled in her direction, “you’ll need to speak up Commander but this will not go unreported you have absolutely no jurisdiction on this station or in the medical facility.”

Shepard moved so that she was face to face with what looked like the ranking medical officer, “the only authority I need is the fleet outside this station and marines under my orders on this station,” she had no choice about her voice it was a hoarse whisper but this time he clearly heard her.

“This is mutiny and I will not cooperate… I have to say I am disappointed in you Shepard I expected more. But you will remove Admiral Hackett from the safety of this facility over my dead body.”

She studied his face, looked him in the eyes and sensed his fear, “what do you think I’m doing here doctor?”

“Here to finish the job… well I told Admiral Mikhailovich and I’m telling you if you want to take my patients you will have to get past me first.”

Shepard gave him what she hoped would be a reassuring smile but given her facial injuries it felt to her more like a grimace, “Colonel we are here to protect the Admiral and the rest of the survivors, my marines are at your disposal and Doctor Chakwas is here because I trust her and I need to know the Admiral will not be harmed by any treatment he receives.”

The medical officer in front of her visibly relaxed, “that is very good to know Commander and I’m… I’m sorry to have thought the worst of you… it’s been a little…”

She nodded, “I can imagine. I need to speak to the Vice President.”

A few minutes later Shepard was standing next to the bed containing what was technically the Systems Alliance President.

Karin Chakwas came into the room and stood alongside Shepard flicking through a data pad, “she is lightly sedated. Has fractures to her legs, some bruising and what looks like a mild concussion that need’s close monitoring.”

“Thanks Doc,” Shepard said and then turned her attention to the woman in the bed, “President Arman… I need to talk to you ma’am.”

“Vice President,” the woman sounded groggy, “oh God no… Chen… the President?”

The woman stared at Shepard, “what the hell happened to you? Where you at the meeting?”

“No ma’am they dropped a building on me. I need to move you to the safety of the Normandy we have not fully secured the station.”

“They won’t tell me anything… I need to know is the President dead?”

“I’m afraid so. Also most of our Naval High Command and Admiral Hackett is in critical condition, we will be moving him to the fifth fleet’s flagship shortly.”

“We have transport for you President Arman,” Doctor Chakwas said.

“I’ll leave this with you Doc,” Shepard said as she made for the door, “I’ll speak with you a little later President when I get back to the Normandy.”

Admiral Hackett’s office, Arcturus station – eighteen hours after the explosion on the station

As Shepard entered the anti-room she sensed a change in Tash. Something akin to fear, ‘get a grip Shepard you don’t know what anyone’s feeling… I don’t even know what I’m feeling,’ she thought.

She looked at the two marines guarding the door through which she could see Admiral Mikhailovich, Tash’s father and Shepard’s uncle, sitting behind Hackett’s desk.

“Do you want to wait out here,” she said to Tash who shook her head.

“Ah I wondered when you would turn up,” he sneered as she walked in the room, “well you won’t have quite such free reign once Hackett is replaced.”

Shepard’s mind began to cloud with rage but she pushed it away. She had to stay cold, level headed but Shepard was also fearful that once the rage started she wouldn’t be able to stop it.

“Let’s cut the bullshit, I don’t have the time,” Shepard strained but her voice was still little more than a hoarse whisper, “the names of your co-conspirators and who else has been targeted by your boss.”

Mikhailovich narrowed his eyes, “who do you think you are Commander, I am acting Admiral of the Fleet and it would appear that you are conspiring to commit treason and mutiny. I have absolutely nothing to say to you.”

“You’re a lying bastard but you’re not getting away this time,” Tash almost spat out the words but again Shepard felt or sensed an edge of fear.

“You are a disgrace to that uniform and to our family I have absolutely nothing to say to you girl,” the Admiral stood and focused his attention back on Shepard.

“I am going to put in a call to Earth and then get all the injured, including Hackett and the Vice President, moved to safety and I suggest you take your attitude as far away from me as you can get… and take that piece of shit with you,” he ended indicating to Tash.

It was over in a second and Shepard didn’t even have time to register the thought that had given rise to her action.

Shepard pulled out her hand cannon and pistol whipped the Admiral as he tried to push past her.

As he lay moaning on the floor at her feet she said spoke to the two marines who had been guarding his door, “take him down to the hangar with the others and make sure you use restraints.”

Without a backwards look she left and made her way back to the Normandy.

Normandy medbay – twenty hours after the explosion on the station

Shepard stood in front of a more awake looking President Arman and gave her a salute.

Before the meeting Shepard had read the intelligence reports she had asked the Broker team to pull together and checked Hackett’s own research into the new President.

From what she could find there was no hint that Arman was associated with Cerberus or Earth First in any way. She was President Chen’s pick and through her long career she had stood up against the kind of anti-alien and isolationism that was the hallmark of Harper’s beliefs.

She was a tough pragmatist, anyone who got to the top of human politics had to be, so she had on occasion formed unsavoury political alliances to get things done.

“Why am I on the Normandy and not on the fifth fleet’s flag ship?”

Shepard almost smiled, “you like to get straight to the point and so do I madam President. The Normandy is the safest place in the Galaxy right now for you and we have a communications centre that is both highly secure and wide reaching.

“If I could have brought the Admiral here I would have but he needs more medical care than our medbay can offer. I do have him and the other survivors guarded by highly trusted marines of the fifth fleet. And I really hope you won’t be buying the bullshit that this was Batarian retribution.”

Shepard tried to gauge the woman’s reaction to what she’d said but the new President was tough to read.

“You didn’t completely answer my question Commander.”

They were alone in the room but through the glass walls of the partition Shepard could see Miranda working on what was probably the next nanites treatment.

“I’m sorry ma’am but there as some thing’s I need to do that you might interfere with and I also don’t want you tainted by them,” Shepard remained at parade rest the woman was after all the leader of the Systems Alliance.

“I think you should sit and start by telling me what happened to you. What did you mean when you said they dropped a building on you?”

Shepard gave as short a version as she could of the explosion on Illium, the ten other assassinations that had happened within the same timeframe and her certain belief that the explosion on Arcturus was a Cerberus coup.

It was the longest she’d spoken since coming around after being dug out of the rubble and was fighting off a coughing fit.

She heard the door swish open and before she could say anything Miranda was next to her and pressing the hypospray to Shepards neck.

“My apologies for the interruption President but if Shepard insists on trying to kill herself I will keep trying to keep her alive,” Miranda left quickly and closed the door behind her.

“You do look…”

“I’ll take it easy when we’ve stopped Cerberus,” Shepard pulled at the neck of her dress jacket she was feeling hot again, “I need you to appoint Councillor Anderson to the role of interim Fleet Admiral until Admiral Hackett recovers enough to get back to work.”

“And will he?”

“Take the job?”

“Recover.”

It was one of the things Shepard was just not thinking about. Hackett would recover or it was all over.

“He has to ma’am or we’re all fucked.”

The President raised an eyebrow, “I think you need to read me in on what else is going on Commander.”

Shepard wondered how much to tell the woman but again she knew that without the President being on board there was very little Shepard could do apart from exact revenge.

So for the second time Shepard launched into the short version of the Reaper threat, Jack Harper’s take on how to deal with them and the level of infiltration into the Alliance Navy by Cerberus.

When Shepard had finished speaking the silence hung between them for a few minutes.

“But what if we can control them, harness them in some way. Gain access to all that new technology, the ability to use them for good rather than destruction?”

What Shepard wanted to do was scream at this woman that it had been tried, almost every cycle. That was the point; it was one of their seductions.

As calmly as she could Shepard answered, “You can’t reason with them, bargain with them, and our technology has been guided by them to ensure we can’t destroy them face on, yet.

“Saren Arterius and Benezia T’Soni both thought they could work with the Reapers but they were both destroyed by them. In the last cycle the Protheans were destroyed as much from the inside out as the indoctrinated in positions of power made sure every plan to hinder or evade the Reaper invasion was derailed.

“We will have a hard enough time beating them but to be constantly stabbed in the back, from within our own species will make it a forgone conclusion that we will never get the chance to really try.”

Shepard had to stop talking, her breath was like glass in her lungs, her throat felt constricted and the sweat from the pain and effort was soaking into her clothes.

Again silence as Shepard watched the President process the information.

“I saw the recording of the one in the Aratoht system, when you stopped them coming through the alpha relay,” the President suddenly looked sad, “I think President Chen was preparing to brief more politicians about the threat and he started with me before we left Earth.”

Shepard nodded and President Arman continued, “I agree Anderson will be a safe pair of hands and he is completely up to speed with both the Reaper threat and Cerberus.

“I’m assuming you want to deal with the traitors on Arcturus before he is appointed and before I address the media so you will need to be quick.”

“You understand our options are limited currently, in terms of how we deal with our compromised naval leadership?”

“I understand that Cerberus has a lot of reach and that long drawn out Courts Martials would be an opportunity to stir misinformation and discontent. This is an internal Alliance Navy issue Commander and I am appointing you as the senior investigation and enforcement officer in relation to this terrorist attack on the Government of the Systems Alliance. Where are Prime Minister Shastri and the rest of the members of Parliament?”

“We moved them to one of the carriers, they are safe and comfortable,” Shepard was still trying to process the amount of authority she’d just been given. And the amount of freedom she had to deal with Hackett’s list of compromised officers.

“Where are my staff I need to start getting things back to normal,” she grimaced, “as normal as they can be after someone tries to decapitate Systems Alliance leadership. I’ll need to talk to prominent Earth leaders, calm nerves. I may make a quick statement to keep the media at bay, everything’s under control, terrorist investigation ongoing that sort of thing.”

“Of course madam President, you can have my cabin for your private use and our communications conference room as your temporary office. It should only be a couple of days and once Admiral Anderson on Arcturus he can decide when its safe for you leave the safety of the Normandy,” Shepard stood but turned back at the door, “summary judgement of the ringleaders could still take a few days.”

“What you feel is right do quickly, Commander, the rest will have to go through the usual processes,” President Arman was already firing up her Omnitool. The conversation was over.

Docking bay 17, Arcturus Station – 37 hours after the attack on Arcturus

Shepard sat in a makeshift hearing room which was little more than an engineering shop with all its benches and equipment pushed to back against the walls.

She was sitting at a long table with Admiral’s Chi’Peng and Singh and they were sitting as a military tribunal. President Arman had given Shepard a temporary promotion to Admiral.

The adjutant who was serving as administrative support to the Tribunal began to read from the formal statement that had preceded every one of the eight hearing they had already convened.

“The Systems Alliance Parliament has invoked article 72 of the Parliament powers act which delegates marshal law powers to the Alliance Navy at times of war against the Alliance.

“The attack on Arcturus is being classed as a terrorist act and an attempt to overthrow the Systems Alliance government and as such an act of war.

“Although evidence gathering is continuing and the physical investigation still ongoing there was little doubt the attack had been orchestrated and carried out from within the highest ranks of the Alliance Navy.

“This is your only opportunity to speak in your defence and offer whatever mitigation for your actions which may influence your sentence,” once the Major had finished his statement he sat down and monitored the recording of the session.

“You have the statements of fact in front of you,” Shepard said to Admiral Mikhailovich as he stood in front of her hands and ankles in restraints.

“I do not recognise the authority of this Tribunal,” and she gave him credit for continuing to be the aloof bastard he always was.

“Read the charges and the evidence please,” Admiral Singh said, “this is your last chance to confess and bring your fellow conspirators to justice.”

“I am a loyal Alliance Navy officer, unlike some in this room,” Mikhailovich sounded less confident, “where is my lawyer?”

“No smart Cerberus lawyer is going to get you out of this. This is a trial for treason under martial law, you know what that means,” Shepard never took her eyes off him.

He read through the orders he had issued that were being used as evidence.

“I… well yes… these seem to be in order but what…”

“The movement orders removed a complete layer of security from the Admiral’s meeting, the other order was to put the officer we now know planted and set of the bomb in the room… do I need to draw you a picture?” Shepard growled.

“But… there were very good reasons…” he seemed to fold in on himself as the realisation that he was deeply implicated in the operation that unfolded on Arcturus the previous day.

“You were either completely complicit and didn’t expect for any of this evidence to see the light of day or you are truly incompetent and have been led around by the nose by your lower ranking officers. Neither of those scenarios are good for you,” this time Admiral Chi’Peng who spoke.

The accusation was clear and hung in the air.

“Do you have any statement to make to the Tribunal before it passes sentence,” the Major asked.

Mikhailovich shook his head slowly and stared over their heads at the back wall of the room.

The three Admirals conferred as they had done on every occasion leaving Shepard to pass their shared judgement.

“You have been found guilty of treason by this Tribunal and for that crime you will be stripped of your rank. You will be executed on the next Earth sunrise, which by our calculations will be in around four hours.”

When Shepard finished speaking the Major ripped Admiral Mikhailovich’s badges of rank from his uniform and his two marine guards led him out.

“Who’s next,” Admiral Sigh said breaking the silence.

By the end of the Tribunal they had passed judgement on eighteen of the strongest cases of the highest ranking officers. The longer list and anyone exposed by the ongoing investigations would go through the usual military disciplinary channels.

Five of the eighteen, all Admirals or Vice Admirals, had been sentenced to execution. The rest were sentenced to thirty years hard labour on a penal planet in the Traverse.

As was customary the members of the sentencing Tribunal had to be present at the execution ensuring the personal reasonability for their decision was reinforced and to support the men and women of the firing squad.

Shepard walked into the hangar and saw five squads forming up. One for each prisoner who was standing against the hangar wall their hands still shackled.

Three had taken the option of a hood while the remaining two, Mikhailovich being one of them, were looking out across the hangar towards the squads who were ready to do their duty.

“You put me here Shepard… I’m not guilty of anything apart from trying to make everyone see you for who you are,” Mikhailovich shouted in a defiant voice his eyes burning with hate.

“Take aim,” the Captain in charge shouted and there were several shouts from the waiting prisoners.

“Earth first,” “you can’t kill an idea,” “Humanity first,”

Shepard noted that her uncle did not yell out but held her gaze and for a moment her certainty faltered.

Had she railroaded him because of their history, but the evidence was there, his name was on all the necessary arrangements.

“Fire,” the ear shattering bark of twenty five Avenger assault rifles echoed off the walls.

It was too late for doubt.

Administrative Directors office, Illium City Corp, Illium – 36 hours after the bombing

Aria heard the door swish open but continued to look out the window across the city scape of Illium.

“This is outrageous… get out of my chair… I’m calling security and…” the Asari Matriarch stopped mid-sentence when Aria turned the chair around and leant forward on the woman’s desk.

“I am not accustomed to making appointments and by all means call your security and we’ll see how well they do against the twenty mercs I brought with me,” Aria spoke quietly but the Asari paled and said nothing.

The Director of Illium Corp which effectively meant the highest authority across the whole planet glanced quickly at the door behind her but it was flanked by Grizz and Ne’aira.

“Sit.”

Once the Director was sitting Aria said, “you may think you can ignore the Asari Councillor but I will destroy you and your pale imitation of Omega if you do not do exactly what I ask,” Aria leaned back in the chair but her eyes never left the other Asari’s face.

“Don’t try to fuck with me Dilsa K’Esla or you will live just long enough to regret it.”

“If I had known that the requests…” Director K’Esla spoke quickly but stopped in her track under Aria’s withering gaze.

“You will hand over everything you have on the explosion at the apartment block yesterday. You will also make available your satellite recordings from yesterday… and for the sake of your bondmate and daughters don’t try and bullshit me that you don’t have surveillance or start quoting corporate privacy,” Aria stood up, “you will also answer any and all questions you get from my representatives.”

Aria stopped by the door and with one swipe of her hand she knocked the Asari off her chair and everything from the desk, “the recordings had better be with me within the hour.”

Penthouse suite, Azure Hotel, Illium – 40 hours after bombing

Aria had rented out the entire top floor for her entourage and took the penthouse for herself.

The Hotel management had to move guests where suites and internal trying rooms were occupied but as Aria held a substantial shareholding in the Corporation that owned the hotel her wishes were accommodated quickly and without fuss.

Her team had received the surveillance recordings for the area around the apartment block and the satellite footage had just arrived.

The Asari stood looking out across the skyline of Illium, the suite’s floor to ceiling glass wall offering stunning views. But Aria wasn’t seeing the view in front of her. He focus was working out the who, the why and the how of what appeared to be the assassination of her daughter.

“Who knew about the apartment,” Aria said over her shoulder to Ne’aira, “where is T’Arani?”

“Still at the site I believe with Kasumi Goto,” Ne’aira responded and was already preparing her Omnitool for a call to Aethyta T’Arani.

“Bring her here.”

An hour later Aethyta T’Arani was standing in Aria’s penthouse, “I don’t have the energy to fight with you Aria and I need to get back to the estate,” the Matriarch’s voice was low.

Aria turned to face her lifelong rival and noted the old commando’s tired and drawn expression.

“Do you think she’s dead,” they were alone in the room but Aria still spoke quietly.

Aethyta seemed to collapse inward, “if she was in the apartment then yes.”

“If,” Aria said trying to decide whether she wanted to share the information she had.

“There was a significant gap of time between the silent alarm being triggered and the explosion,” Aethyta moved to get herself a drink, “seems to me the alarm was set to lure Shepard back.”

Aria nodded her agreement and waited for Aethyta to continue.

After downing a large whiskey she continued, “So they needed… someone in that apartment to set off the alarm. But if Liara was under any threat she would have made a fight of it… and she’s powerful,” Aethyta poured herself another drink.

“Who knew about the arrangements, the apartment location and who could get past the guards on the roof?” Aria hated needing to ask these questions but she had no time to get hold of T’Joan and she might not have all the pieces either.

Aethyta stiffened and turned to face Aria drink still in hand, “you got something you want to share with me T’Loak.”

This time Aethyta spoke with more power and the edge of anger was clear in her tone.

Aria savoured the moment, she knew more than the old Matriarch and it really got under Aethyta’s skin.

Deciding that her old grudges and hates were less important than finding out what happened to her daughter Aria didn’t try to needle Aethyta further, “You can have a look for yourself but we have some footage from satellite surveillance, it’s not much and doesn’t last long, but it clearly shows a shuttle landing on the apartment’s penthouse roof minutes before the alarm went off.”

“I thought the landing pad was security shielded… you’d need permission to land and why didn’t the two commandos’ on security duty raise the alarm,” Aethyta was turning over the evidence in her mind.

“An expensive and expert hack would get you through the landing pad security shield… to get past guards they would need to trust someone just long enough for whoever it was to get the drop and eliminate them,” Aria paused and continued in a level tone, “where is Galine?”

Aethyta seemed confused for a moment, “Shiala? She’s back on the estate, she took a few days off to visit the temple and…,” then it hit her, “if that mad fucking bitch has done this I’ll…”

But Aria cut across her and this time the Queen of Omega’s tone was cold and hard, “do what? You had plenty of time to deal with her. She was manipulative before all the shit with Saren but you knew as well as I did that now she’s also deranged and dangerous.”

“Liara wouldn’t hear anything about sending her away; she has compassion and sense of loyalty. Not sure where she gets the compassion from,” Aethyta muttered her last comment under her breath but loud enough for Aria to hear.

“That is what accidents are for, but enough of this, find out where she is.”

Aethyta was already calling up her second in command back at the Mansion, “Captain Iallis find Shiala Galine now,” Aethyta stayed on the call and in the silence tension in the room grew as the minutes passed.

Aria turned back to studying the sky cars flashing across Illium’s darkening skyline. There was yet another storm rolling in.

“Athane’s tits, start tracking her now… all our resources yes,” Aethyta ended the call and looked at the broad shouldered back of Aria T’Loak and just for a moment thought she saw them drop a little.

“So we are left with three scenarios,” Aria said quietly, “Shiala used Cerberus’s help to kidnap Liara and kill Shepard in the process. She handed Liara over to Cerberus or…”

Aethyta had joined Aria at the window her eyes a little misty as she said, “Shiala kept Liara in the apartment in some twisted act of suicide and murder.”

The two Matriarch’s stood for a long time in silence eyes on the horizon but their minds on the same burning question, what happened to Liara T’Soni.

END OF THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY – PART 1

A/N As someone quite famous once said “This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.” W Churchill

Part 2 will obviously continue our original plots and we’ll move firmly into ME:3 territory. As promised we will also weave the thread that is the Andromeda Initiative more strongly into our journey with this particular Shepard and Liara.

Hope you join me and don’t forget to visit the website where I’m also starting to support the story with some images and music.

Till we meet again o7

Chapter 73 – end of Part 1