Jake glanced back as Finn walked onto the bridge. "Oh, hey bro. What's up?"
"Kyra stole my sandwich." Finn said dourly as he took Mannon's usual seat.
Jake chuckled. "She's something else, isn't she?"
"Yeah, she is." Finn smiled, still feeling a bit warm from the kiss she gave him.
"Glad you two are hitting it off. I was beginning to worry about you, man."
"Worry about me?" Finn asked, surprised. "Why? Not that I don't appreciate the sentiment."
Jake let out a sigh. "Well, you've never really had anyone special. I mean, there was the whole Xyn mess, but you yourself said that was a whacked out kinda relationship. For a while there, I thought you and Mannon might hit it off, but you never really seemed interested."
Finn thought back to his days on J-27. Mannon had caught his eye; how could she not? She was the only woman within light years, and it was hard not to appreciate her athletic build and pretty face.
"I think it was the Alliance thing." Finn admitted. "I was trying to forget Earth, and there she was, a bold reminder of what I left behind. Besides, I never got the impression she was interested."
"Too busy staring at the comm array." Jake shook his head and said, "Well, I guess it all worked out."
They sat in silence for a long moment. It had been a long time since they had just say back and talked about nothing in general.
"Who do you think is chasing us?" Finn asked absently. He didn't really expect an answer; it was just another topic.
"I dunno, bro. Ever take out a student loan?"
They traded glances for a moment before bursting out into laughter. It felt good to laugh, even if the joke wasn't that funny.
"Seriously, though," Finn said, "Let's brainstorm this. What do we know so far?"
"Well, whoever it is has some pretty impressive resources for one." Jake said thoughtfully. "They managed to get the Blue Suns on their side, snuck assassins onto New Elysia, and even built Billy."
"Check." Finn agreed. "Their ships have no transponders, which makes them impossible to identify, but also makes it hard for them to go to any settled colony or planet without some sort of inside connection."
"Check. They presumably made Billy, so it makes sense that they're wanting cloaked ships for spying purposes and probably sneak attacks."
"Check." Finn considered Billy for a moment. "And yet Billy managed to get away somehow. That implies someone on the inside was trying to get the message out."
Jake argued, "Or that they just messed up."
"Billy worked fine when I was flying him." Finn replied. "Nothing wrong with the design or circuitry as far as I can tell. The only problem was the damaged FTL drive, and Kyra’s already fixed that."
"Maybe Krieger snuck into these guys' base and made off with it?"
They looked at each other for a moment before mutually shaking their heads. "Nah."
"So, an inside man?" Finn asked.
"Check. I mean, Billy's cool enough to have gotten himself out, but maybe he had some help."
"Yeah. Anyway, then there's Jan’Ce."
Jake gave him a curious look. "That turian girl we met at Krieger's place? What's she got to do with this?"
"Aria warned me that she was asking around Omega about us. Godot told me the same shortly before we were attacked. Hell, Krieger mentioned she was a representative of one of his clients … I wonder if he knows."
A twang of guilt ran through him; he hadn't so much as sent Krieger a message since Omega. He made a mental note to try and contact him once they were in the Sol system.
Jake suddenly started tapping the console with one paw excitedly. "Dude, I've got it! I totally know who's after us!"
"Let's hear it then." Finn said, smiling in anticipation of what was to come.
"The Shadow Broker!"
Finn started to laugh, but it stuck in his throat when he realized that it actually made sense: Billy, the way they seemed to know where the Ulasomorf was going, and the secretive nature of the mysterious organization.
There were a lot of rumors about the Shadow Broker; some claimed it was a vagrant AI on an old Alliance station that mysteriously vanished. Others claimed the Shadow Broker was more than one person; more like a tightly-knit group of people who pulled the galaxy's strings. One thing that everyone agreed on, however, was that the Shadow Broker had thousands, perhaps even millions of agents scattered across the galaxy.
Finn stood up and started walking to the cargo bay. Jake glanced at the controls for a moment before following him.
"Hey!" He called out to Finn. "Where are you going?"
"I need some answers, and I need them now." Finn said, not slowing down. "I think it’s time Billy and I had a little talk."
There was no sign of Xyn in the cargo bay. No sign of the dirt in the truck either; Finn didn't know how she managed to get it all out of the truck or where it ended up, but he had more pressing issues at the moment.
As Finn climbed into Billy's cockpit, Jake seemed unusually reserved.
"I dunno, Finn." Jake said uncertainly. "Billy might not like it if you start poking around in his systems."
"Oh really?" Finn said as he activated the consoles. "Well, as much as I appreciate Billy's cloaking generator saving our hide just now, it's high time he gives us a reason for-"
Just what reason he was looking for he never said; as he started to activate his Omni-tool, the right side of the control console slid open. A massive clamp shot forward and grabbed his entire arm.
"What the …?" Finn began, struggling in vain to free himself.
The cockpit chair rolled forward automatically as the clamp pulled Finn's forearm into the console. A restraining plate rose from the floor as he was tilted towards the console until his face was inches away from the control panel. Another clamp, this one emerging from the left side of the panel, caught his left arm and pulled it into the console as well.
"Finn!" Jake asked, alarmed. "Are you all right, buddy? What's going on?"
"Get Kyra!" Finn told him hurriedly as the center console slid open, effectively trapping both of his hands.
As Jake hurried away, an eyeless mask extended from the center console. Finn tried to pull away from it, but his restrained arms and torso made it a futile maneuver. As it pressed against his face, he felt a sudden stabbing sensation in the back of his neck. He cried out, but the mask completely muffled any sound he made.
The pain in the back of his neck throbbed agonizingly as the seconds passed. The mask began to pump air in and out of him, but he was only faintly aware of it. He stared into the darkness, fear coursing through him as he waited for what was to come.
Suddenly, all of it was gone; the pain, the mask, the air pumping into his lungs. Hesitantly, he opened his eyes, only to find himself standing in a large open field covered in waving grass. There was a beach not far from where he stood; he could hear the sound of waves hitting the shore. The amber hues of the golden sun bathed everything in an orange light that left Finn feeling strangely at ease.
His feet started moving as though of their own volition towards the coast. The long grass whipped against his bare legs and feet as he slowly made his way to the distant shore.
As he drew nearer his destination, he noticed the many rock formations that rose from the sea, neatly hemming the sun as it sank towards the horizon. It didn't take much longer for the grass to eventually turn to warm sand.
He didn't notice the boy until he was only a few feet away.
The boy looked at him impassively, his far too-large T-shirt rippling in the wind. His shorts were so large, they were practically pants; he had to cinch them around his waist. There was something familiar about him that tugged at Finn's memory.
They stared at each other for the longest time. As the seconds ticked by, Finn realized with a start that the boy was him as a child of eight years.
A plethora of questions ran through Finn's head, but the biggest at the moment seemed to be, "Who are you?"
"I was given the name William, though your friend called me Billy, I believe." The boy told him. There was a strange, impassive quality to his voice. "Either is suitable."
"Billy." Finn repeated, the irony of the situation not lost on him. "Jake really was talking to you."
The boy nodded. He glanced down at himself for a moment, before saying, "I pulled this form from your memory so that you might feel more at ease."
"This place, too?" Finn asked, glancing around again. While the view was spectacular, he had never been to such a place before.
"No. This place is from my own memories." Billy followed Finn's gaze to the rock formations jutting from the water. "Rannoch. It was my home. It was where I was born."
"You were quarian?" asked Finn, still trying to get a handle on what was happening.
"In a manner of speaking." The boy looked out over the ocean for a moment before saying, "I am geth."
Finn was struck speechless. The boy nodded patiently as Finn's mind scrambled to put the pieces together.
"But … weren't they normal synthetics?" Finn winced; the word normal seemed rude. "I mean, they had bodies, right?"
"We used mobile platforms, but they were merely shells; while my own platform fell centuries ago, my program remains."
"But the geth were destroyed four-hundred years ago." Finn told him. "No one's ever figured out how to restore them. How did you survive?"
The boy appeared to consider this for a long moment. "Not a simple question. Allow me a moment to consider."
The boy started walking. Feeling as though he should follow, Finn hurried after him.
After a few minutes of walking along the shore in silence, Billy said, "How much do you know of the history of the geth and the quarians?"
"Just what I learned in history class." Finn admitted. "They built you as expendable labor, you got smart, they panicked and tried to kill you, and lost their planet as a result until the Reaper War forced the geth and the quarians to make peace."
"That is concise, but accurate."
"But at the end of the war, the Crucible destroyed all the geth along with the Reapers and every other AI … er, synthetic."
"That is true. My people were decimated by the Crucible."
"I'm sorry." Finn said, feeling responsible despite the fact that he wasn't even alive at the time.
The boy waved his apology aside. "Do not fret; the geth knew that it was a possibility; anything powerful enough to destroy the Reapers could, and ultimately did, prove harmful to all artificial life. Steps were taken to ensure that some survived, though in truth I have not encountered another geth in over four-hundred years."
Finn opened his mouth, but the boy stopped him with a shake of his head. "Your sympathy, though kind, is not necessary. I have not had the opportunity to look for the others of my kind should they exist as of yet for reasons that will become clear."
"How did you survive?"
"I was protected."
That didn't really answer Finn's question, but something in the boy's tone made it clear he wasn't going to explain any more … at least not yet.
"Where are we really?" Finn asked.
"We are in the database matrix within the prototype ship in your cargo bay." An apologetic look crossed the boy's face. "I apologize if I startled you, but if you had activated your omni-tool, your recent effort would have been in vain."
"I don't understand."
The boy held out his hands. Lines of code sped between his fingers until a large red segment hung in the air.
"What is this?" Finn asked, a feeling of foreboding going through him.
"A tracking program, installed within the master key code. It broadcasted your position whenever you activated your omni-tool."
"That's how they were following us." Finn looked at his right arm. "Everything that had happened; Krieger's injury, the destruction of J-27, Mannon getting captured … it was my fault."
"No." Billy said, shaking his head. "It was mine. I've remained silent up until now, allowing you to think I was a mere ship because I wasn't sure if I could trust you. The information I carry is too vital for my mission to fail. If I had discovered the code earlier, I would have spoken to you then."
"During the war, many geth platforms were sent out into the galaxy to investigate the Reapers and their allies. I am one such unit. As the battle raged around Earth, I came across a Cerberus outpost in what you now call the Minax System."
"Cerberus?" Finn asked, scratching the side of his head. The name seemed familiar. It had something to do with the Reaper War, but he had spent far too many of his classes dreaming about flying a space fighter.
"A pro-human organization that was attempting to control the Reapers instead of destroying them. They came very close to succeeding, but were ultimately stopped by-"
"Commander John Shepard." Finn said, snapping his fingers. "I remember now! Shepard shot their leader!"
Nodding, Billy said, "The Illusive Man. The galaxy would have been a much different place if the Illusive Man had succeeded."
"I bet." Finn said; he had seen a picture of a Reaper once; even half-destroyed, the thing was still managing to cause a massive amount of destruction. If the Illusive Man succeeded in controlling them … well, the word 'Overlord' came to mind.
"While investigating the Cerberus facility, I was discovered and had to abandon my platform. For centuries, I existed in Cerberus systems, transferring to ships as I needed to move. The Reaper War had ended, but Cerberus was still active."
"Weren't you curious about the other geth?"
"I was." Billy conceded, "But the Cerberus threat had high priority. If they were still up to something, I had to find out what it was. Even if the geth were gone, I'd need to report the threat to our allies. Unfortunately, there were difficulties; every time I felt I had a way in, it was suddenly blocked off. Every time I tried to return to the station on Minax, the ship was rerouted remotely. I had little luck making progress until I came across Glaxe Strafos."
"Who?" Finn asked automatically.
"He was the turian scientist who designed the cloaking device now integrated into the Ulasomorf. He discovered me snooping around his lab and trapped me in his personal console. I'm still surprised he did not report me to Cerberus."
An image of a turian appeared beside Billy. He looked a little small for a turian, but there was definitely a fire in his eyes hinting at the mind within.
"He was a genius." Billy said, admiration in his tone. "But as we became friends, I realized he was more than just another great mind. We often spoke of philosophy and the nature of morality. If I seem better-spoken than other geth, it is because of my discussions with him."
Finn had naturally never met a geth, but it seemed impolite to say so.
Billy continued, "We became good friends over the years. Despite my urging him to leave Cerberus, he remained working on the cloaking generator for over a decade. I had little choice but to remain with him, but I didn't mind. My people were gone, and my attempts to uncover Cerberus's plot had ended in nothing but failure."
"What changed?" Finn asked, sensing that was where the story was heading.
"As the prototype neared completion, he began to express misgivings about the project. While a true cloaking device was a major breakthrough, he had always assumed it would be used to hide space stations, perhaps even planets. It was designed to hide very large things, and when Cerberus supplied a fighter for testing purposes, he began to grow suspicious of their motives. After some prodding from me, I convinced him to investigate Cerberus's true purpose."
"It took him months of digging before he managed to find a way to get us through the Minax station's security. Cerberus found him out, but I helped him escape with the prototype ship."
Billy fell silent, his eyes on Finn. Finn wasn't sure how to process all of this, but he felt he understood one thing at least.
"So this Cerberus organization is chasing us." He shook his head, adding, "Well, I didn't see that one coming. Then again, after four-hundred years, I guess that's hardly surprising."
The boy nodded. "You need not worry any longer. I have disabled the transmission code in your omni-tool. Kyra's as well, while she was trying to access my systems."
"So she knows who you are too?"
"No." Billy said, shaking his head. "I disabled her code covertly."
"Okay." Finn said, scratching his head again. "But why bring me here? You could've just disabled the code and flown off on your own, right?"
"Where would I go?" Billy asked, his voice quiet.
Finn opened his mouth to respond, only to realize he didn't have an answer. Sighing, he said, "Fine, I get that … but why talk to me, now?"
"Because you are the captain. Your crew trusts you as much as you trust them." Billy paused for a long moment, his eyes staring holes into Finn. "What would you do to protect your family?'
"I beg your pardon?"
"Your friends. Your 'brother', Jake. Kyra. What would you do to make sure they remain safe?"
The seriousness in Billy's tone made Finn stop and consider the question carefully. He thought back to his days on J-27 with Darsan and Mannon, to his first date with Kyra and sweet, sad song she sang, to the jokes he cracked with Eri, to Xyn's tear-stained face, and finally to all the times in his life that Jake had been there for him.
"Whatever it takes." He said quietly.
For a long moment, they stood there staring at each other, the whispering of wind through the tall grass and the lap of waves against the shore the only sounds that could be heard.
Without a word, Billy stepped up to Finn and placed his hands on either side of Finn's head.
Everything went dark, but only for a moment. He was now sitting in the prototype ship, staring at the controls. At first, he thought Billy had released him, but as a three-fingered hand reached forward, he realized that he was merely watching a scene.
It wasn't just his vision; his entire body felt different, as though it had been crammed into an ill-fitting case. He felt his fingers manipulating his controls, both familiar and strangely alien.
"Of course!" He realized. "Billy has a neural interface. This must be memories he recorded from Glaxe."
He (or rather, Glaxe) continued to manipulate the controls, saying, "You realize they're going to blow us into dust if they find us here."
"It is an acceptable risk." Billy's voice said through his mind. "Considering the stakes."
"The stakes." Glaxe shook his head. "For once, I hope you're wrong about this, William."
"As do I."
The ship flew towards a massive asteroid partially covered by a metal sphere. As they drew near, Glaxe breathed. "Transmit the codes."
For a few agonizing moments, Finn was sure they had been caught. The entry port into the sphere remained closed and impenetrable.
Then, miraculously, the message came through the comm. "Argus-7 identification accepted. You are cleared to enter, Specialist Tannis."
Finn and Glaxe breathed a collective sigh of relief as they urged the ship into the massive enclosure.
The air of tension was almost palpable, though Finn wasn't sure if it was from him, Glaxe, or Billy.
As the door shut behind them, the consoles suddenly went dark.
"William!" Glaxe said in alarm, trying to restart the systems.
"I am still here." Billy replied. "Something just shut down our engines."
"I believe I can regain control. Do not panic."
The panel came back online a few moments later. Just as Glaxe started to breathe a sigh of relief, an image of a middle-aged man appeared on his main viewscreen. Something about his eyes struck Finn as strange; there seemed to be little lights in them in a strangely uniform pattern.
Finn felt Glaxe's mandibles drop in shock. "No!" The turian whispered. "It can't be!"
A single name ran through Glaxe and Finn's head: The Illusive Man.
"Glaxe Strafos." The man said, raising an amused eyebrow. "My, my. You're a long way from the Arcturus Stream."
"You're dead!" Glaxe managed to say. "Shepard killed you centuries ago!"
A faint smile graced the man's face. "Rumors of my death have been … exaggerated. A body is just a shell, as your geth friend undoubtedly knows."
Finn felt uneasiness spread through him, definitely coming from Billy. The geth hadn't expected his cover to be blown.
"Yes, I knew you were there, William." The Illusive Man said smoothly. "You put up quite a fight trying to get in here. It seemed only fair that I let you see what you've struggled to find out for the past four-hundred years."
The Illusive man vanished. The inner chamber doors slowly opened, revealing the interior of the sphere. Fear turned into terror; some coming from Glaxe and Billy, but mostly coming from Finn. He may not have remembered much from history class, but there wasn't a single being in the galaxy that wouldn't recognize what he was looking at now.
His vision abruptly faded as the mask pulled away. The neural conduit slid from the newly installed port in the back of Finn's head. The fear running through Finn was so great that he didn't even notice the pain.
The clamps released his arms and the seat returned to its standard position. Finn stumbled out of the craft, hitting the floor hard just as the lift doors opened to reveal Kyra and Jake.
"Finn!" Kyra cried out, running to his side.
He clasped her arms, so terrified that he couldn't even speak.
"What the heck just happened?" Jake glared at Billy, demanding, "What did you do to him, Billy?"
Steeling himself as much as he could considering what he had just seen, Finn said, "Get everyone in here. Now!"
"I got it!" Jake ran off towards the bridge.
Kyra took Finn's head in her hands, concern shining in her eyes as she asked, "What is it? What's wrong?"
"They have a Reaper!"