Who Are You?
Captain Lorian ignored the geth and asari Justicar standing next to T'Vari and focused his attention on the turian standing across from him. He was a younger man, perhaps half Lorian's age, wearing a simple black shirt under a casual blue turian jacket with no markings or insignia of any sort. The entire right side of his face had been ripped to shreds at some point, and a large circular graft and bandage had been attached to cover it. Dark blue face paint was still present on the left, but Lorian could not identify the clan. "Who are you? What's your ship?"
The younger turian did not stand at attention or even salute. "Garrus Vakarian, sir. The Normandy is my ship."
Enlea's attention had been consumed entirely by the Justicar standing before her until she heard the name. "Garrus Vakarian... of the SSV Normandy? The Alliance ship?"
"That's right," Garrus replied, but did not look surprised at the question.
"Mercenary, now?" Lorian asked.
Garrus scowled at the Captain. "Weapons Officer."
Enlea stepped carefully around Captain Lorian, away from the Justicar and the automaton. In preparation for her mission, she familiarized herself with everything she could about Commander Shepard, including the names and histories of his former associates. The turian's name figured prominently in the after-action reports of both the Alliance and Council, from Councilor Sparatus to Shepard himself. Garrus Vakarian disappeared shortly after Shepard's alleged death and no references of him existed in any of the Council database since. Yet here he was, with his old commander, on a ship that bore the same name. She pulled the datapad from its case and pulled up the crew roster of the SSV Normandy, then looked at the quarian seated across from Vakarian. She wore a veil with lavender swirls over a dark gray envirosuit similar to the one worn by the young woman in her files. It could not be coincidence. "Tali'Zorah vas Neema?"
The quarian stayed in her seat, arms crossed. "vas Normandy, now. How do you know me?"
Enlea looked thoughtfully at the dossier on her datapad. She didn't know much about quarian culture, but knew enough that when they took a ship's name as their own, it was more important to them than family. So Tali'Zorah, along with Vakarian, who had killed dozens of Cerberus operatives in their time with Shepard were all now serving on board an enemy ship. "And you're a member of the crew as well?"
Zorah's voice softened slightly. "Chief Engineer."
Enlea looked at the salarian still seated at the table. Dressed in a white lab coat, he seemed to ignore the entire exchange as he typed furiously on a virtual keyboard. She did not recall a salarian aboard the original Normandy, but his presence on board was only slightly less baffling than the Justicar's or the geth.
Lorian had also studied Shepard's file, but was not so easily flustered as his companion. Nor was he as likely to accept these claims without some evidence to back them up. Enlea was ordinarily much more disciplined. He hoped she would return to her senses and remember their mission. He turned toward the red-clad asari standing next to him. "That would make you Doctor T'Soni, then?"
"No," the Justicar shook her head. Her pale eyes locked with his with an intensity that nearly made him step back, even though her expression was as calm and serene as someone coming out of deep meditation. However, her slightest movements and gestures radiated pure power. "I am Samara."
"And what may I ask is your role in this little charade, Samara?"
"Captain, please," Enlea stepped behind Lorian as he faced the ancient warrior. "Show respect."
"I would never do otherwise," Lorian said, unimpressed. "I am merely trying to ascertain the truth behind what we are being shown." He shifted his gaze toward the geth and looked it over from head to toe. It was scraped, battered, covered with miniature craters and spall marks, but its most distinctive feature was the huge hole blasted through its torso. Tiny pinpricks of lights illuminated a tangle of hoses intertwined within. It looked as abused as the Normandy had been on approach. He gestured at the robot. "And this... Am I to believe that a geth is also part of the crew?"
Surprisingly, the geth's main camera focused on him, individually, as it answered. "We are Legion. We are part of the Normandy collective."
Lorian sighed and turned back to his companion, not trying to hide his skepticism in the least. The multicultural mix, the presence of an asari warrior, a talking geth... It was getting more ridiculous by the minute, which only made him angrier as he tried to figure out what trickery Commander Shepard was attempting. But Enlea, forgoing any hint of composure, was trembling visibly. The presence of the alleged Justicar was too much for her. No doubt arranged when Shepard learned an asari was coming on board, he thought. Though Cerberus' choice for a turian face to show him was surprisingly ineffective.
Enlea was not shaking because of Samara, though. There was no way this was a standard crew for a Cerberus vessel. The senior officers were not human, and they had willingly stayed behind to defend the turian fleet. Everything they had been told about Shepard and the Normandy had been wrong. It wasn't the Justicar she feared. It was what would happen if they kept getting things wrong. It was time to try a different tack.
Lorian, unfortunately had different ideas. He turned back to the table. "What's next? A batarian first officer? An elcor navigator perhaps?"
Garrus' fringe spiked briefly then settled back against his skull. "We had a drell infiltration specialist, but he was killed yesterday during an attack very similar to the one you just experienced. His body's in the infirmary, if you feel the need to verify."
The quarian, who had seemed to be warming somewhat, now spoke with acid in her voice. "And we have a krogan on board who I'm sure would love to make your acquaintance."
Enlea tensed at the provocation. The other members of the Normandy's crew stared at them silently. That's why you never send a soldier to do a diplomat's work, she thought.
Lorian's tone was just slightly condescending. "I am merely pointing out the paradox of a Cerberus ship that apparently has a non-human crew."
"We follow Shepard, not Cerberus." Garrus kept his voice calm.
"And who does he follow?" Lorian snapped back. "The Alliance? The Illusive Man? It's getting hard to distinguish between them these days."
Garrus stepped around the table toward the Captain. He was obviously struggling to keep his temper. "Commander Shepard followed the orders of the Council until it cost him his ship and his crew. Since he prevented you from suffering that very fate, Captain, maybe you should show him a little more respect. Because he's the one that gave the order to save you. Not Cerberus, not the Council, not the Alliance."
"Mind your place," Lorian growled.
"I don't think I will," Garrus said as he paced, his mandibles flared, his head turned to keep Lorian in view. "I hate Cerberus. I hate everything they stand for. But what I hate most of all is that we were forced to work with them because no legitimate authority," he pointed to the pair of Council representatives, "would take action."
"None of you have any concept of legitimate authority," Lorian's own mandibles were bared now. He looked about the conference room as he talked. "Shepard especially! He was awarded with unlimited power as a Spectre and he's violated the trust given to him! He defiled that responsibility! He's a traitor, just like Saren was!"
Garrus stood face to face with Captain Lorian. At the mention of Shepard's name, the quarian, the Justicar, even the geth, all circled around him. Only the salarian at the table stayed where he was. Zorah pushed in between the two turians and poked her claw at the Fleet Captain's chest. He outmassed her by at least twice, but she stood as tall as she could to get in his face, and anguish filled her voice. "You know nothing about Commander Shepard!"
"You pompous, ignorant, bureaucrat!" Garrus started in. "Shepard saved you. He saved everyone. This is the thanks he gets, and you wonder why he told the Council to go to hell?"
The geth stood directly behind Lorian, blocking the Captain's path as he involuntarily took a step backward. However, Lorian seemed otherwise unfazed. "I rest my case. You do realize if anything happens to us, this ship will be instantly destroyed."
The quarian threw up her claws and gave a disgusted growl behind her mask before turning and taking a step away. She whirled back around to face him once more. "Why do you think you're here? You think Shepard saved you just so we could kill you in person?" Then, to Garrus, "Maybe we should bring Grunt up here. Talking won't get us anywhere with this bosh'tet."
Enlea watched the display with silent horror. This wasn't any mere display of rebellion in the face of the Council. What had these people seen in their time with Shepard to make them act this way? "Yes," she said, carefully stepping around the circle, subtly distancing herself away from Lorian. "That's exactly why we're here. To talk. To hear your side of the story. We are not judges and this is not a trial. Commander Shepard wanted to share information with us on who attacked our fleet. Once we have that, it is for the Council to decide what to do next. But we're here to listen. Right, Captain?"
Captain Lorian clenched his jaw, but nodded. Apprehending Shepard at this point seemed extremely unrealistic. It was time to follow Enlea's lead. "That is correct. But regardless of what he has to tell us, I reserve the right to make my own judgments. I will listen, and I will relay what he has to say to the Council, but I will not absolve him of his crimes."
The Justicar walked slowly around into Lorian's field of vision, her expression the same tranquil mask she wore before. "I've been alive nearly a thousand years, Captain. And in my time I've never met anyone with sense of justice as finely honed as Commander Shepard's. His mission has always been to serve the greater good. The Council has refused to see it because their vision is clouded by their preconceptions. Do not make the same mistake."
"Madam," Enlea asked respectfully, "What is Shepard's mission? If we knew that..."
Garrus took a deep breath. "We're trying to prevent the return of ancient machines that harvest-"
"Reapers," Lorian cut him off. "You're trying to save the galaxy from a fairy tale."
The salarian at the table, who had said nothing during the entire exchange, stood suddenly and walked toward the visitors. His words came out in at a staccato pace. "No. Not a 'fairy tale.' Annihilation, complete and total. Extinction, on a galactic scale. A cycle of absolute destruction unbroken for millions, perhaps billions of years."
Captain Lorian's brow plates arched slightly. "And you are...?"
The sniff of contempt from the salarian would have been amusing any other time. He reached out and pulled Elnea's free hand in front of her, simultaneously slipping his other palm into hers. Reflexively, she pulled back and the salarian let go, but not before Mordin wrenched her datapad from her other hand and shoved it into Lorian's talons. Mordin then took a step back, arms folded in front of him, his cranium wrinkling deeply from an intense scowl as he waited an eternity for the captain to examine the the DNA scan. Enlea wondered briefly how the salarian knew about the scanner in her glove.
Match confirmed, the screen read. Subject: Dr. Mordin Solus, Special Tasks Group (Ret.)
"Can also provide blood sample, retinal scan," Mordin said, "and current resume, with references."
Lorian scrolled through the long list of academic and military achievements of the man standing in front of him, verified by DNA analysis to be exactly who he said he was.
"Captain," Garrus exhaled deeply, his fringe smooth and relaxed. "Sir. A fairy tale did not destroy your fleet."
The fleet, Lorian thought. That had been Shepard's hook to get him to come aboard the Normandy in the first place. He was on the bridge of the Selelucia looking at the five empty spaces on the task force status board when Shepard hailed him. Come aboard if you want to know, Shepard had said. Lorian did want to know. He wanted to know that his friends, his comrades, the people who trusted him as their commander had not died in vain. And right now, he did not know anything. He owed it to them to find out the truth.
His eyes traveled from the salarian's dark orbs to the glowing slits behind the quarian's mask, the cyclops eye of the geth, to the haunting, unblinking stare of the Justicar, then finally the turian in front of him. On the best day, getting two species to agree on anything was a monumental achievement, yet here five of them stood, united, with the sole purpose of getting him to listen.Lorian slowly handed the datapad back to Elnea. "Then tell me what did."