The crew stayed together while they waited for the news. Darsan gave them a bit of a tour of several of the wards; he often wandered off topic, telling stories of when he had lived in the Citadel. There was a little shopping, but for the most part they just took in the sights before finally returning to the Presidium.
There was a nice restaurant with a large park made specifically for picnics; after ordering enough food for everyone, Finn picked up the massive basket and headed out into the park where the others were waiting beneath the shade of a large oak tree.
"All right, everyone." Finn said, sitting down beside Kyra with his basket. After sifting through the contents for the moment, he said, "One caeser salad for Miss Xyn."
She took the plate from Xyn with a nod of thanks. She still had a little aura of sunshine and happiness surrounding her. The artificial sunlight wasn't quite the same as the real thing apparently, as her hair only came to her waist, but it was still a vibrant green.
"One extra large mixed green salad with grilled chicken and no onions."
"Thankfully; Right here, Finn." Darsan said, his hand practically enveloping the bowl.
"A cheeseburger with barbecue sauce and no tomato with …"
Kyra took it from him before he could even mention the french fries, leaving him holding a handful of air. She gave him a kiss on the cheek before opening her container.
Shaking his head, he pulled out the next package and said, "One can of Peng Cola Classic."
"Ooh!" Jake said standing up and starting to leap about in place. He leapt up and caught it in midair easily.
"Let's see; one order of … er …" Finn looked at the food uncertainly, not sure how to pronounce the name or describe the oddly colorful food. Even the smell made him scratch his head.
"Kryrkshal Byansten." Eri supplied helpfully, reaching out for his lunch.
Shrugging, Finn handed the container to Eri. As he settled back down and everyone else started to eat, Kyra glanced at him and asked, "Where's your lunch?"
"I'm not hungry." Finn confessed. "Too nervous. Besides …"
He slipped his arm around her and snagged a french fry. She made a swat at his hand, but he was just a bit faster.
"You did say you wouldn't let me go hungry." He told her, pausing a moment before kissing off a bit of barbecue on her cheek from her first bite.
She returned the kiss, but he couldn’t help but notice the hand that wasn’t caressing the back of his neck was pulling her tray of food a little further away from him..
Chuckling to himself, he leaned back against the tree and stared up at the artificial sky. Even if the clouds weren't real, it still felt relaxing to watch them drift slowly across the blue sky. He really hadn't had much of a chance to truly relax lately. With any luck, he'd have a bit more time in the future to kick up his heels and just sit around.
Xyn sat back from her unfinished meal. "Pardon me, Finn, but what are the Reapers?"
Eri practically choked on whatever it was he was eating. When he finally recovered, he asked, "Where did that come from?"
"I'm curious; Finn was shaken by the mere mention of one. Even mentioning them seems to darken people's spirits. Were they truly so terrifying?"
"Pretty damn terrifying." Eri told her. "They trashed Palavan. We still haven't repaired all the damage."
"Sadly; it was the same on Dekuuna as well." Darsan said, staring into his salad.
"I hear Thessia got it bad too." Kyra said sadly. "It's sad, really; Thessia's beyond beautiful. The asari were damn near annihilated. Rannoch was only spared due to its remote location, and I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have protected it in the long run.
"We all were damn near annihilated." Finn told Xyn. "The Reapers left their mark on the galaxy. Fortunately, we managed to put aside our differences and beat them back in the end."
"Well," Kyra amended. "At least long enough for Shepard to activate the Crucible."
Xyn bowed her head, saying respectfully, "The loss of life must have been tremendous. What were the Reapers, anyway?"
"Some kinda synthetic life, right?" Jake asked; he had finished his soda and was now bending the can into a miniature version of himself.
"It's a bit more complicated than that." Kyra told him. "The Reapers were designed to solve the problem of synthetic life eventually overtaking organic life. Unfortunately, they turned on their creators and latched onto the idea of basically wiping out anyone past a certain technological level in the galaxy."
"That's a bit extreme." Xyn said. "How did they know it would always turn out that way?"
"Faulty programming." Finn replied, shaking his head. "Bastards didn't even give people a chance. Bit them in the ass, though, didn't it? Ol' Shep managed to unite the galaxy. Hell, he even managed to bring peace to the quarians and the geth."
"Tenative peace." Said Eri, stirring his food absently with his fork.
Finn told him, "You can't start thinking like that. They at least deserved a chance at a lasting peace. Everyone deserves a chance."
Jake sat up suddenly. "Uh oh. Incoming, guys."
Finn followed his gaze to see Admiral Alenko heading their way.
"Hey, Auntie." Kyra said as she stuck a fry in Finn's mouth. "What's up? Good news?"
A look at the Admiral's face made Finn's heart sink. "You're kidding." He whispered, fry drooping out of the corner of his mouth like a cigarette.
"I'm sorry." Admiral Alenko said.
Everyone stared down at the remainder of their food as they contemplated this turn of events.
"Disbelieving; Councilor Mattak-"
"Was the only one who supported us." Alenko finished. "He was very adamant about it; said you'd never pull a stunt like this. Unfortunately, there was a flaw in the evidence that lost us the salarian vote."
"Flaw?" Finn asked.
"In short, they think that this whole thing is some kind of Alliance plot. The salarians aren't wanting to get involved in 'Earth' affairs with the krogan situation looming above our heads, and the turians are too busy trying to make sure their own space is protected.
"What of the asari?" Xyn asked. "They are an even-minded people; surely they would have supported us with the evidence."
"You'd think that, wouldn't you?" Admiral Alenko sighed and shook her head. "Despite everything the elcor and humans have done for the galaxy, the asari still view us as little more than children. When things get tough, the asari councilor always sides with the old council races."
Kyra put down her burger. Finn couldn't blame her; what little appetite he had was not gone.
"Well, that's it then, isn't it?" Eri said, anger and disappointment in his voice.
"I'm sorry." Admiral Alenko told them. "All I can tell you is that the Alliance is taking this seriously, and the elcor councilor has already offered support. I'd be lying if I said that I thought it was enough with the whole galaxy on edge about the damn krogans. Still, I want you all to know that we appreciate you bringing this to light. It wasn't for nothing."
Alenko's eyes fell on Finn. She looked as though she wanted to say something else, but couldn't quite figure out what. With a final nod of her head, she walked away.
Finn stood up. "Finish eating and meet up on the Ulasomorf. We'll talk about our next step when I get there."
"Do we have a next step?" Eri asked.
"We'll talk about that too." Finn said. He gave Kyra a quick kiss on the cheek before running after Admiral Alenko.
"Hey!" He called out when he managed to catch up with her. "What aren't you telling us?"
"It's irrelevant now." Admiral Alenko told him.
Finn hurried around her and stood in front of her to stop her from walking. "If there was a glitch in the proof, I can check it again. I've got a guy on board who's good at that sorta thing. Hell, he might be able to get more evidence."
"It won't help." Glancing back in the direction of the park, Admiral Alenko said, "The information you provided had evidence of geth tampering."
"No surprise there. It came from a geth." Finn told her truthfully.
"You have a geth on board your ship?" She asked, her eyes wide.
"In a matter of speaking. Look, if it comes to that, maybe I can rig up some sort of communication interface or something; let the Council speak to Billy directly." Finn sighed, and said, "Cerberus nearly managed to screw the entire galaxy over last time. Whatever they're planning can't be good, not after four-hundred years of planning. Hell, this trouble with the krogan sounds right up their alley!"
Finn blinked. "You do?"
"Yes, I do. I told you, the Alliance is taking this very seriously." Alenko let out a sigh of her own. "The Council believes the evidence is tainted by Alliance interests."
"What? How? Why?"
"Because the volus claim the ship is registered to a former member of the Alliance who deserted years ago. I don’t know how they found that out, but it was enough to make the Council think this is an Alliance operative essentially cooking up this evidence to garner support. The kid was a bit of a prodigy back in the day, so this sort of thing wouldn't be beyond him, not that I believe it so. Mattok didn't buy it, but the others did."
Finn didn't know what to say. He was stunned to find out that after Cerberus and the Blue Suns, the proof of the Reaper was being dismissed because of him.
"I'm sorry." Alenko said truthfully. "I wish we could've done more. You and your friends are of course welcome to stay in Alliance Space for protection until we deal with Cerberus, but I can't make any promises."
Finn wanted to argue, but there was nothing to say. Bowing his head, he said, "Thank you, Admiral. Even if the Council won't help us, it's good to know that someone believes in us."
She accepted the thanks with a nod before continuing on her path.
The walk back to the Ulasomorf felt like a small eternity. Finn knew this wasn't about him; it was about politics. The Councilors were looking after their own. When it came down to it, who were Finn and company to them, anyway?
As he entered the cargo bay, he saw every eye turn his way. He didn't know what to tell them. He couldn't bear to let them know his part in their failure to convince the Council.
"Ideas?" He asked, but even to him it sounded weak.
After a long silence, Darsan said, "Speculative; we could go to Dekuuna and begin rebuilding J-27."
"What about Cerberus and the Reaper?" Finn asked.
Darsan shrugged his massive shoulders. "Weakly; maybe they won't find us. We changed our transponder, and we have the cloaking device."
"You mean just run away?" Eri said, sounding surprised.
"What else could we do?"
Everyone stared at Finn. Blushing, Finn said, "We can't fight Cerberus, not alone. We're not soldiers, and our ship is only a salvage vessel. The Council won't listen to us, and the Alliance pretty much said that they can't do anything at the moment."
Kyra's face suddenly hardened. "Then we make them listen."
Now everyone was staring at her.
"We … we go find more proof. We give them the generator and the ship, we let Billy talk to them. We have to do something, right?"
Finn wanted to say she was right; he wanted to rally up the others and come up with some plan, but the feeling of helplessness hanging over him was too cloying. He looked away from Kyra wordlessly.
"Finn." She whispered, the disappointment in her voice hitting him like a knife in the heart.
"We should get ready to leave." Finn said quietly. "Anyone wanting to head off should do so within the hour."
Kyra opened her mouth to argue, but nothing came out. Slowly, a look of anger spread over her face. Without a word, she stomped off towards the lift.
"I'll talk to her." Jake said worriedly.
"After you do, could you come talk to me?" Finn asked. "'Cause I could use some Jake wisdom about now."
A ghost of a grin crossed Jake's screen. "Sure thing, bro."
"Eri?" Finn asked.
"Hey, you hired me, remember? That reminds me." He tapped his omni-tool, adding, "I think I'm about due for a payday, wouldn't you say?"
Finn couldn't help but let out a chuckle, despite the dour mood that had fallen over him. "Sure thing."
He waved his own omni-tool, confirming the transfer. "There you go. We can delay our departure if you want to pick up a few things."
"I think I just might. Darsan?"
"Resigned; Sure. I could always use another hat."
Once they were gone, Xyn asked, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Finn lied. "Aside from the obvious, of course. Why do you ask?"
"Your spirit seems … dim. It reminds me of the days before you left New Elysia." A worried look crossed her face. "You aren't leaving us, are you?"
"No!" Finn said, with just a bit more force than he intended. Sighing, he said, "No, Xyn. I'm not abandoning you or anyone else on this ship. I'm just … frustrated, that's all."
After a few moments, she gave him a small kiss on the cheek.
"It's easy to let the darkness consume us." She said sadly. "Just remember, when it feels like it's too much to handle on your own … we're here for you just as much as you've been here for us."
Finn blushed, saying, "Thank you Xyn. I think … I needed to hear that."
She smiled sweetly at him before bowing her head and walking away gracefully.
That left one crew member left, one that Finn wasn't looking forward to talking to. With a resigned sigh, he climbed into Billy and slid his hands into the console.
Billy was standing in a grassy field this time, his back to Finn as the human approached.
Finn tried to think of something to say, some way to not sound like they had failed, but everything just sounded empty in his head. Sighing, he said, "I'm sorry."
Billy didn't respond. Finn couldn't blame him; four hundred years, and the death of his people … all of that and for what? Vague promises of help?
"I let you down." Finn said quietly. "I let everyone down. I thought I could run away from my mistakes, and yet they still keep biting me in the ass."
After a moment of silence, he said, "Maybe that's just the way my life is. Maybe I really have just screwed up once too often."
"You did not fail."
Finn looked up. "Huh?"
"You did not fail. You simply haven't succeeded yet." Billy turned to Finn, his eyes strangely piercing. "Do you remember what I asked you before I showed you the Reaper?"
Finn nodded, saying, "You asked me what I would do to protect my family."
Billy nodded. There was a strangely reluctant look on his face as he approached Finn.
Looking up at him, Billy said, "I have to show you. You have to know, to understand the stakes."
Nodding, Finn knelt down so he could look Billy in the eyes.
Billy reached forward and placed his hands on either side of Finn's head.
He looked apologetic as he said, "This … will hurt, Finn. I wish there was another way."
Sensing the importance of this, Finn nodded and steeled himself for what was to come.
The world turned to chaos. Finn's mind was flooded with images and memories; dead people converted into horrible versions of unlife, their essence replaced with the cold logic of an insane intelligence, tearing apart soldiers desperately fighting to protect their friends and loved ones. Images of innocent men, women, and children dragged through the streets, converted into more horrific abominations.
Worlds were torn asunder, tens of thousands of years of progress reduced to rubble and death under the looming forms of the Reapers. The massive ancient synthetics moved with a calculated ease as they ripped and tore and clawed civilization into ruins. It wasn’t just one memory, or a dozen, or a hundred; he was seeing the damage of the Reapers through the eyes of every geth that bore witness to it.
Again, and again, these images flowed through Finn's mind without rest, without reprieve. He desperately wanted to look away, but there was no choice but to watch as the Reapers slowly annihilated everything they touched. The smell of ash and blood filled his nostrils and the screams of the dying filled his ears until he felt as though he would go mad.
Finn fell to the grass, his mind pounding from too much sensory overload.
"I'm sorry." Billy told him, looking truly apologetic. "You had to know; to see how bad things were the last time."
Finn slowly managed to push himself off of the ground. His head was still throbbing, but the peaceful surroundings did much to ease his mind from the threshold of insanity.
"B-but there's only one." Finn told him. "Just one Reaper; One Reaper can be stopped."
The sadness in Billy's eyes only deepened. Finn flinched as he reached out and touched Finn's temples once again.
He was surrounded by the inky blackness of space. His heart raced for a moment before his mind reminded the rest of him that it was just a simulation.
His view turned to an image of the Milky Way Galaxy; a sea of stars swirling around in the cosmic void. It made him feel very small, but also part of something bigger.
Without warning, he seemed to fly forward. Stars and planets whizzed by him as he seemed to literally zoom in on the galaxy, bringing him to the station in the Minax system where the Illusive Man's Reaper lay in wait.
After a few moments, Finn saw another image in his head; an identical station in the Silean Nebula. Moments later, there was another in Maroon Sea, and then another in the Apien Crest. More and more images of similar stations appeared in his mind, about fifty in all until his view zoomed out to the galaxy at large. As he stared at the dots representing the stations spread out evenly across the galaxy, Billy's meaning became clear.
The interface released him. As he sat back, he realized someone was asking him something. He slowly turned his head to see Kyra looking at him with concern. Eri and Darsan were standing behind her; from the new hat Darsan was wearing, he realized they must've already completed their little shopping trip.
"How long was I gone?" He asked.
"Three hours." Her concern quickly turned to alarm. "Finn." She whispered. "You're crying."
Finn felt his cheek and his hand came away wet. He closed his fist, resolve filling his very core.
"We're not giving up yet." He said firmly. "Get everyone back in here. If I'm going to do this, we're going to need a plan."