Finn and Kyra were in the cargo bay playing poker with potato chips while they waited for Darsan and the others to return from their impromptu beach trip. Finn was usually pretty good at cards, but Kyra managed to call him every time he bluffed; he was already down to half of his bag of cheddar and sour cream chips.
"Call." She said, tossing one of her barbecue chips on the pile between them.
Finn threw his hand down with a sigh. "Take 'em."
Squeeing, she quickly put her hands around the pile and swept them into her bag. Finn noted that it was almost full to the brim.
"Beginners luck." He muttered as he shuffled the cards.
She giggled and flipped a chip at him, saying, "Don't worry, sweetie. I won't let you go hungry. Of course, I'll expect you to work for your food."
"Oh?" He asked, raising an eyebrow at her. "What sort of work do you have in mind, milady?"
She leaned forward until they were only a few inches apart. "I'm sure we can work out something."
They started to kiss when they heard someone call out, "Oy! Get a room, you two!"
Kyra let her head hang down as Finn glanced back at the cargo ramp in time to see a shirtless Eri leading the others back into the ship. They looked quite cheery, especially Xyn, who apparently was humming as she strolled up the ramp in little more than a bikini. Her hair hung down to her ankles, and was now a vibrant and healthy shade of green.
"Hey." Finn said as he dealt the cards to Kyra and himself. "You guys have fun?"
"It was an … interesting experience." Eri admitted. To Finn's surprise, Xyn glanced at Eri, a barely perceptible blush in her cheeks. Finn wasn't sure what to say about that.
"Refreshed; I feel like I'm just two-hundred again!" Darsan said, giving his rare smile. "How'd things go back here?"
Finn gestured at Kyra, who said, "Pretty good. Billy's info caught their attention. We've got a meeting later today on the Citadel with Admiral Ulenko and Counciller Breven."
"That's good news." Eri said, nodding. "That means this mess is almost over."
"Maybe." Finn conceded. After a moment, he said, "It's not all good news though. Mannon got reassigned."
Xyn seemed the most saddened by this news. "Sherle's gone?"
"Yeah." Finn told her. "Whatever's going on in the Krogan DMZ has the Alliance spooked. Besides, her post was on J-27."
"Sadly; still, it seems wrong that she's gone. She's one of us."
"I know." Finn agreed.
Kyra rubbed his arm, her gaze sympathetic. "It's not goodbye, remember?"
Finn smiled at her and nodded. "She's right. We'll warn the Alliance and once they deal with the threat, we'll rebuild J-27. As soon as the krogan thing blows over, I'm sure we can request her back."
"Firmly; that's right. I've got connections; if I push hard enough, we'll definitely get her back."
Something about the certainty in Darsan's implied tone reassured Finn. With a final glance at his pathetic hand, he tossed his cards on the crate and handed the rest of his chips to Kyra, who let out another squeal of delight before snatching the bag from his hand.
Hopping off the crate, he said, "Well, now that everyone's aboard, we might as well head out. Jake?"
"I'll need someone at the comm. Mind taking over?"
The Citadel was considered by many to be the most impressive artificial structure in the entire Universe. A space station of massive proportions, the Citadel was the seat of the Council and home to millions of people from across the entire galaxy. The station was still in Earth's orbit from the aftermath of the Reaper War, mostly due to the fact that no one could figure out how the Reapers had moved it there in the first place.
The station itself resembled a flower bud; five massive arms (or petals, as it were) connected at the center hub. The arms were currently open, but could be closed in emergencies, locking together to form an impenetrable shield. Such a case hadn't happened since the time of the Reaper War, however.
Rumors still abounded as to the nature of the Citadel; popular belief held that it was made by the Protheans, but many whispered of strange beings that had existed since the dawn of the galaxy. Others maintained that it was the Reapers had built it to facilitate their invasion, only to be thwarted by the legendary Commander John Shepard.
Whoever made it, there was no denying that it was a massive hub of galactic politics. In addition to the five councilors, the Citadel was home to ambassadors and embassies of every space-faring race, as well as millions of citizens going about their daily lives in cities running down each of the station's arms. It was a hub of galactic economics as well; while there was no black market per se, the average shopper could find pretty much anything he, she, or it wanted, though it might require a visit to some of the less reputable parts of the station.
Normally, a civilian ship like the Ulasomorf would have to dock at one of the lower wards. Fortunately, Kyra had managed to secure them access to the Alliance docking area.
In retrospect, Finn realized that having Jake at the comm might have been a mistake.
"This is Citadel Control to the Ulasomorf. Ulasomorf, are you reading us?"
Jake put his hands on the edge of his console. "Uh, loud and clear. Where do ya want us, man?"
After a momentary pause, the man on the other side asked, "To whom am I speaking?"
"Oh, I'm Jake. Who are you?"
"Your name is Jake who?" Jake asked, surprised. "Wow. What are the odds of that?"
"No, I mean, what is your full name?"
"Jake the … uh, dog."
Finn had to struggle not to laugh in the ensuing silence.
"You're a dog." The officer asked, his voice flat.
"Right. Well, kinda. It's a long story; see, I was-"
Finn interrupted, "This is the Captain of the Ulasomorf. Sorry; we just lost our comm officer. We secured permission to land here, probably under the name Kyra'Shor."
After a few moments, the officer replied in a relieved tone. "Ah, here you are. Okay, you're cleared for docking station B-7. Your escort will be waiting."
"Thank you." Finn reached over to Jake's console and cut the transmission off.
Jake pouted. "Sorry, Finn. I guess I'm not really good at this."
"You kidding?" Finn said, flashing him a grin. "Are you kidding? You're a natural!"
Once they were docked, the crew met in the cargo bay and headed out the docking tube. As they walked out onto the metal walkway, Xyn slowly spun around, her eyes darting around in a futile attempt to see everything at once.
Finn couldn't blame her; the sight of the Citadels five arms was nothing short of amazing. Although they could only see the nearest buildings on the arm they were on, the idea that each of the other arms was just as packed was astounding.
Two C-Sec officers were waiting at the end of the walkway with a middle-aged human woman in an Alliance Uniform.
"Kyra?" She asked, her eyes sifting through the rest of the crew.
Kyra stepped forward and gave the woman a hug. "Hi, Auntie Meg."
Stepping back, Kyra turned to the rest of the group. "Everyone, this is Megan Alenko. She's an admiral or something, I think."
"Something like that." Admiral Alenko said, smirking.
She looked at the group, a hint of amusement in her gaze as she took each crewperson in turn. It might have been Finn's imagination, but she seemed to stare at him just a bit longer than the others.
"You've all made today quite interesting." She told them. "Cerberus, Reapers, The Illusive Man. Even with the proof you provided, if anyone but Kyra had brought this to me, I'd think they were either pulling a massive prank or trying to spread a panic."
She nodded to the C-Sec officers, "I'll take it from here, officers."
They nodded and walked away. Admiral Alenko motioned for them to follow her, "If you will, ladies and gentlemen."
They followed her into a large lift at the end of the docking station. As the massive doors closed and the elevator began its ascent, Kyra slipped her hand into Finn's.
Admiral Alenko noticed. "Oh? Kyra, you left out the part about having a boyfriend. Did you tell your mother or your sisters yet?"
Kyra blushed, saying, "I haven't really had the time. We've been busy y'know … running from Cerberus and the Blue Suns."
"Here's a tip; when you do talk to them, leave that last bit out."
The lift opened onto the presidium, a massive open deck of the station that encircled the Council Tower. The gleaming white walls and healthy trees and bushes gave the entire area an air of serenity.
"Oh!" Xyn whispered. She ran out to the park directly in front of the lift. Her bare feet glided through the grass as she hurried over to a large tree next to an artificial pond.
"Don't see many scaal this far from New Elysia." Admiral Alenko commented. "A shame, really. I've never seen one alone though."
"It's uncommon." Finn said, watching as Xyn dipped her hands into the water. There was an almost child-like look of delight in her face.
Admiral Alenko cleared her throat, saying, "We really should be moving on."
"I'll stay with her." Eri volunteered. "I wasn't going to be able to contribute much anyway."
Finn patted Eri's shoulder thankfully; he couldn't bear to make her leave after seeing her so happy. "We'll meet up here later."
Earth's embassy was a large open-air building not far from the Citadel Tower. Most of the traffic around the area was human, with the occasional non-human lobbyist. Naturally, Finn and company drew more than one curious glance, though to be fair, it was hard to not look notice Darsan with a hat like that.
The Chamber of the Human Councilor was pristine, yet very simple. The room itself seemed far too large for the one chair and desk that served as the only furniture in the room. There were a few ornamental vases on fancy pedestals, and a few paintings were hung here and there on the wall.
The man sitting at the desk stood up as they group approached. He was a little shorter than Finn, and well into his fifties from the look of his rapidly receding hairline. There was something in his eyes that left Finn feeling a bit uneasy. To be fair, however, his anxiety was undoubtedly high at the moment; with all the Alliance personnel around.
"Counciller Breven." Admiral Alenko said, turning to face the others. "These are the people who found the information on Cerberus."
"Indeed?" Breven asked, raising a grey eyebrow. "A startling revelation, if true. Still, I understand you risked your lives to bring us this information, as well as a schematic for a damn impressive piece of tech."
"You did see the proof, right?" Finn asked.
"Indeed. Intimidating stuff. The scans you provided match with scans from our records as well." He sat down. "A Reaper, after all these years."
"You believe us, don't you?" Kyra asked.
Breven nodded. "Not much of a choice. You've got reasonable proof, and after what happened four-hundred years ago, the Alliance is taking this very seriously. The problem is convincing the other Councilors.
"Reassuring; you will find Councilor Mattak very supportive." Glancing at Finn, Darsan added, "We're old friends."
Chuckling, Breven said, "Well, that's something anyway. To be honest, I'm more worried about the source of this information."
"I don't follow." Finn asked guardedly.
"Well, your captain's name garners some respect, but look at the rest of your crew." He picked up his datapad, saying, "Most of your crew came from station J-27, correct?"
"That's right." Finn said. "Mannon, Darsan, Jake and me."
"Pretty far out there, wouldn't you say?"
Finn narrowed his eyes at the Councilor. "This isn't some kind of isolation dementia; you said yourself that the scans matched."
Breven held up his hand, saying, "You don't have to convince me; like I said before, I can't risk not taking you seriously. Rumors have been running around for ages that Cerberus wasn't really destroyed, and this definitely confirms it as far as the Alliance is concerned. Unfortunately, we can't just send a fleet across the galaxy to act on this information right now, not with the krogan situation building. We need to convince the other Councilors that the threat exists, and from my experience, they’ll use any excuse they can to dismiss anything that threatens their fragile little bubble. In the very least, we need them to get suspicious enough to send a Spectre to investigate."
"So what does who we are have to do with anything?" Kyra asked, her hands on her hips.
"Please, Miss Kyra; you need to understand the way politics work here. While our relationship with the turians is better than it was prior to the Reaper War, the krogan situation has them on the defensive and unwilling to part with any of their own troops. The asari, on the other hand, seem obsessed with the status quo. The Salarian Councilor might listen to us, I think, but the others will latch on to anything as an excuse to discredit the information. Your captain's got some connections, and that'll help, but respectfully, the rest of your team consists of a single scaal, a turian with a history of petty crimes, an antique KEI-9 unit, a repairman, and an exotic dancer."
"Exotic ... Kyra?" Finn looked at Kyra, who blushed furiously and turned away.
Sighing, Breven said, "I don't mean to offend you, Kyra; I don't mean to offend any of you. I'm just telling you how it is."
"Plaintively; are you saying it's hopeless?" Darsan asked.
Breven shook his head. "Of course not. Your evidence is extremely solid; I'm pretty sure I can get two of the other Councilors to side with us. I'm just warning you ahead of time that it might not be as simple as you may be hoping."
That wasn't quite the reassurance Finn wanted, but he could tell the man was being honest with them.
"I understand." Finn told him. "I'm sure you'll do your best … and thank you."
"No, thank you, my boy." Breven told him. "You're the ones who risked your lives to bring this information to us. I just hope your faith in the Council will be justified."
Admiral Alenko led them out of the room. Once the doors shut behind them, she said, "You should all take a bit of a break; wander around, maybe do some shopping. It'll be a few hours before the Council convenes."
"Thank you." Kyra said, rubbing her elbow.
As Alenko went back into the Councilor's quarters, Kyra started walking slowly down the hallway.
Finn patted Mannon on the shoulder, "Listen, could you guys go on ahead and meet up with Eri? We'll be along in a second."
"Understanding; Sure thing, Finn. With authority; Come on everyone."
The rest of the group walked past Kyra, leaving the two of them alone in the hallway.
Finn walked up to her. Slipping his hand into hers, he said, "C'mon. Let's go for a walk."
They left the embassy in silence. Finn couldn't help but feel a little worried at her strange behavior. It felt positively bizarre for him to take the lead from her.
He led her to another park; a few people were sitting on benches under shade trees. The artificial sky above them had no true sun, but images of clouds passed by creating the illusion of a normal sky.
They walked until they were a good distance away from anyone else.
He stared at her for a long moment; she walked with her eyes downcast. It was like she was ashamed, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out why.
"Kyra," He began.
"I wasn't a stripper." She said quickly. "Or a prostitute. It was just quarian folk dancing, I swear!"
"Whoa!" Finn said, holding up a hand. "Easy, there! It's okay."
She opened her mouth and quickly shut it. Looking away, she said, "It wasn't like exotic exotic dancing; I mean, we wore skimpy outfits, but it wasn't-"
"Hey." He told her, squeezing her hand. "It's fine. I'm hardly one to go around passing judgment on other people. I wouldn't do that anyway; there's nothing wrong with being an exotic dancer. I bet you were cute."
She forced a smile. "Were?"
"Yes, were." He told her, drawing her close. "Now, you're pretty."
"Just pretty?" She asked, wrapping her arms around his neck.
"Beautiful." He whispered before kissing her. She was caught by surprise; once again, he had taken the initiative.
As their lips separated, Kyra's eyes met his. Her voice serious, she whispered, "Thanks Finn."
"For what?" He asked.
"For being Finn."
He chuckled as they started walking again. "Anytime. It's what I'm best at, after all."