ERINLE, OSUN SYSTEM, 0945 GST
Dashta Interchange Station Ravaged by Conflict - Dozens are confirmed dead and hundreds more wounded after a running battle erupted throughout Dashta Interchange Station earlier today. Several docked ships were also destroyed, and preliminary estimates of damage to the station are in the hundreds of millions of credits. The identity of the combatants have not been conclusively determined, but initial reports indicate multiple factions of Terminus mercenary groups engaged each other in combat... (read more)
ERINLE, OSUN SYSTEM, 0957 GST
Fugitive Ship Docked at Dashta During Battle - The Normandy SR-2, recently branded as a terrorist vessel by the Citadel Council, was detected departing Dashta by Erinle traffic control thirty-four minutes after shots first rang out in the station's main commerce section. Station Manager Yila Kallamo publicly stated that she believes the crew of the Normandy instigated the fight, and private security forces engaged in self-defense... (read more)
ERINLE, OSUN SYSTEM, 1021 GST
Cerberus attack on Dashta Station - EXCLUSIVE VIDEO captured by Lin Tolmare, station resident, clearly shows Citadel fugitive Commander Shepard leading a wild shooting spree through the corridors of Dashta Interchange. (see holo here)
ILLIUM, TASALE SYSTEM, 1046 GST
Terminus Organizations Unite in Protest - In a rare display of unity, representatives from sixteen of the Terminus Systems sent a signed letter of protest to the Citadel after learning that the Council had rescinded Commander Shepard's fugitive status less than ten hours before his participation in the "Dashta Massacre," which left an estimated 113 killed and over two hundred wounded. The Terminus Governors are demanding that all Citadel and Alliance forces retreat from Terminus space, including the fleet currently operating the Saharabarik system. Of note, Aria T'Loak of Omega has remained silent on both the incident at Dashta as well as the attack by an unknown ship at the Sahrabarik Relay two days before. (read more)
Commander Shepard paced angrily at the head of the conference table in the Normandy's briefing room. Everyone present had seen him after battle, sometimes dour, sometimes agitated, sometimes relieved, but always in control. Now there was an edge to his voice and a look in his eyes that belied what he was really feeling. This was personal.
Seated at the table, Garrus continued to study the schematic of Dashta and the replay of the battle, retreat and escape from the station. Miranda poured over data in her omnitool. Next to her, Jacob nodded or shook his head as he corroborated data against his own omni. Tali, like Shepard, paced up and down the long side of the table. At the far end, Mordin's fingers danced over a virtual keyboard and pulled up search results with a speed that would make most VI programmers envious. Projections of Dashta Interchange Station, its layout, ownership records, ship manifests, and current news stream piped in from the extranet were visible for all in the room to see.
"Maybe they were already there," Jacob speculated. "And we just stumbled into the hornet's nest."
Garrus kept focused on his display. "This was no chance encounter. Boarding shuttles, personnel and equipment already in place, coordinated attacks between different groups... Someone told them we were coming. They were waiting for us."
"Erinle's the third largest port in the Terminus, and in Omega's back yard. Hell, this could be their actual base of operation."
Miranda paused in her search long enough to roll her eyes. "How frequently do you imagine the Blood Pack, Blue Suns and Eclipse go in together on time shares?"
Garrus looked straight at the Cerberus officer. "They knew who I was, Jacob. They called my name. Zaeed mentioned the ones who jumped him did the same. They were looking for us, specifically."
Shepard stopped pacing to look over Miranda's shoulder. "Any luck pulling data from the ones you killed boarding the ship?"
"Not much," Miranda said. "They all had dead man's triggers built in to scrambled the data. But EDI did find this." She directed their omni-tool feed to the main holo. A roster of Normandy's squad members filled the screens. Next to their names were their probable locations on the ship or on the station, as well as a number.
"They had our crew manifest," Shepard growled.
"What do those numbers mean?" Tali pointed at the display.
"Bounties," Garrus said and leaned back in his chair. "This was an ambush, plain and simple. Impressive, Shepard. You're worth ten million. But do take note that Archangel edged you out with twelve..."
Shepard slammed a fist on the table in front of him, which made everyone look up, startled. "Goddamn it, I don't care who has the high score! I want to know how they knew we were coming!"
"Sorry," Garrus sighed and turned his concentration back on his display. He had only been trying to lighten the mood, but he should have known better. As long as there were casualties in the infirmary, Shepard wasn't going to be laughing. The numbers on the bounty sheet were more than just figures on a screen to him.
Shepard started pacing again. "We pulled a bait and switch at Tasale. We had a ghost transponder sent out to Ismar. How the hell did anyone know we'd be at Erinle?"
Miranda rubbed her temple. "Could be the people we paid off to spoof the transponder weren't reliable. I could confirm if you'd unlock the transmitters..."
"No," Shepard snapped. "Not until we know where the leak was. I don't want to transmit anything that could be traced back to us. Could be someone on the goddamn ship for all we know."
"Docking complete," EDI said from her avatar projector on the table. "The geth are transferring materials."
"Keep at it," Shepard said to the team and turned to the hatch to leave. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
"Shepard!" Tali hurried after him. She caught up to him as he reached the Armory's hatch to the CIC. "I need to contact the fleet."
"Absolutely not," Shepard said. "Until we find out who gave us up, no transmissions to anyone. Period."
"But I need to tell the Admirals we're all right! That the geth were unharmed! They've called four times since the attack requesting status. I have to tell them what happened-"
Shepard whirled around so sharply he almost hit Tali with a raised arm as he pointed at her. "So? The Council is calling. The Illusive Man is calling. Admiral Hackett is calling. We are talking to none of them, nor will we call the Admirals. No transmissions. I don't want anyone to know where we are. Clear?"
"Aye, sir." Tali could see the anxiety in his eyes and hear it in his voice. There was only one thing that ever made him act this way. "Shepard?" She reached out to him as he turned his back to her and headed for the hatch. "Jack's going to be okay." She hoped she sounded convincing enough.
Shepard sighed and patted her hand. Unfortunately for Tali, nothing short of the bald ex-con screaming and swearing in his face would convince him of that. The quarian sighed as well and watched the hatch close behind him before she headed back to the conference room with the others to try and get their captain some answers.
Shepard winced as he walked around the CIC's central projection unit. Black holes peppered the walls and consoles, and debris still crunched underfoot. None of the crew were around. With all of the damage and inoperative consoles, they simply had nothing to do. He and Miranda authorized them to stand down until repairs were complete.
In the dim light, the flashlight faces of the geth threw all sorts of crazy shadows around the compartment as a half dozen of them worked to bring the CIC back to life. He shielded his eyes as he passed a geth platform as it cut away the damaged elevator door with an arc welder. He imagined what it was like for the crew as they waited for the mercenaries to break though, wondering if they would be able to fight off the attack. Even though only one of the assault shuttles managed to dock, the Eclipse commandos managed to get all the way to the cockpit before they were stopped. Had the mercenaries been successful, the ship would not have picked up the rest of the crew stranded on the station. Tthey might have all met their fate on Dashta.
He maneuvered around to stand next to the blue geth standing at the Yeoman's console. "Hello, Commander," Blue said, still utilizing the natural sounding female voice it had adopted before meeting the quarian delegation. "Our shuttle has just completed docking."
"I heard. Do you have everything you need?"
"Yes, now that we've resupplied. The Pollus Maskawa has enough stock for two more such operations."
"Let's hope we don't need them."
"Indeed," The blue geth talked as it dug chunks of burned plastic from Kelly's console. "Repairs are going slowly in your quarters. While the hamster survived the attack, I regret to inform you that your fish did not. A large volume of water seeped into the deck and shorted out the enviro-gravitational emitters. It will be uninhabitable for a few hours."
"That's all right," Shepard said. "Don't waste time on it. Just get the hole sealed and I'll take one of the sleeping pods on the crew deck. How are things in here?"
"We've removed most of the damaged components, and should have replacements fabricated and installed within the hour."
Shepard looked around the ring at the six geth platforms quietly going about their work. "Thanks, Blue. We appreciate the help. And not just for the repairs... but for everything you did to defend the ship. Jacob and Miranda said they couldn't have done it without you."
The geth's flaps widened and contracted. "You and your crew wouldn't have fallen under attack if we'd proceeded with negotiations remotely as you had suggested. We were responsible for your predicament. It's our error to correct."
"No, it isn't. There are a lot of bad people out there who want a piece of us. You got caught in the middle. You didn't have to fight at all."
Blue set down the touchpad panel it had repaired and turned to face the human. "Oh, on the contrary. It's our obligation. You accepted Legion into your crew when all other organics greeted us with blind fear and hostility. You spoke and acted on our behalf when we were unable to do so. You've given us a chance to reach out not only our creators but to all people in the galaxy. If this causes conflict for you, we will share in it. The outcome is far from certain, but it's a chance we would never have if not for you, and our society would stagnate without it. It is we who are in your debt, not the other way around. We owe you our future, Commander Shepard."
Shepard couldn't tell if Blue's hyper-accurate mimicry in inflection and gesture or the words it said affected him more, but he found himself clearing his throat. He couldn't even think of anything clever to say.
Blue cocked its head. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"No, thank you."
"Then I'll get back to my repairs," Blue rotated on its heels back to Kelly's console as easily if they had been discussing the weather.
"All right then. Later, Blue."
Councilor Tevos rested her eyes in her hands as if that would make the news coming out of Dashta go away. She forced them once more upon hearing the chime indicating an incoming call from her fellow Councilors. She sighed and settled back against the plush leather of her desk chair. "Gentlemen," she said as their holograms resolved before her.
"Well, he's gone and done it again, hasn't he?" Valern paced back and forth in the vid. "We grant Shepard a reprieve, and he celebrates by shooting up a Terminus space station!"
Sparatus sat rigidly at his desk, his talons clenched in front of him. "We should have taken the Normandy into custody when we had the chance. It was a mistake leaving him under Alliance control."
Tevos rubbed her blue forehead. "What of the Normandy now? Is our fleet in pursuit?"
Sparatus bristled. "Not at present."
"Why not?" Valern demanded.
"We don't know where it is. I am told we lost contact with them immediately after they left Erinle."
"What?" Valern shrieked. "Just who do you have running things there, Sparatus? Saren? Shepard has been eluding C-Sec and your fleets for two years now! How can you not know where it is? Oh, I forgot, you didn't know he was going to show up at Erinle, either! We had to find out about it through that murderess on Omega!"
Sparatus stood and glared into the camera. "What are you suggesting?"
Valern shook his head and tapped on his omnitool. "I'm authorizing intervention by STG."
"You will do no such thing! This is a Council matter, and will be handled by Council assets. If any special operations are required, we will call in the Spectres."
Tevos stood now as well. "Gentlemen, please! We have enough problems right now without creating internal strife. We must remain unified in our focus on the crisis at hand."
"Dashta is the crisis at hand," Valern's large eyes widened. "Over 150 confirmed killed now, many of them personnel of the station! My god, they're showing live feeds of children being brought out from a breached emergency shelter and they're claiming Shepard's crew did it! They are calling for his blood all across the Terminus and Traverse! Has anyone been in contact with the Alliance? They're just as much to blame for this mess!"
"I have been in contact with Admiral Hackett," Tevos said. "He assures me that Shepard is incapable of this kind of violent act. In fact, he's of the opinion that this was an attempt by Shepard to disperse his crew lest they be taken into custody, and that the attack was carried out by criminal factions unifying to try and eliminate them. And I believe him. We can no longer buy into the narrative that Commander Shepard is a terrorist."
"You can't possibly be serious," Sparatus said.
"I am," Tevos said, her eyes locked on his. "Councilor, you've read the reports. You've seen the footage from your own fleet and the data with your own eyes. Shepard has been telling the truth the whole time. This is not some ruse to throw us off his tracks. He has fought for years now to bring us this evidence and made it freely available to us in spite of his ties with Cerberus. I agree that the Dashta incident is significant and must be investigated and accounted for, but we can't let anything deter us from the responsibility we have to protect everyone in Citadel space from the impending arrival of the Reapers!"
Her two fellow council members regarded her with empty stares as she caught her breath from her extended tirade.
"Yes," Valern finally said, "of course you are correct. But we must respond to this incident somehow. The public will demand it."
Tevos sat back in her chair. "So we pull our fleets out of Sahrabarik, and ask the humans to do the same. That's what the Terminus governors really want, anyway. The tragedy at Dashta is just a smokescreen. They need our fleets out of there so they can resume business. That's all they care about. We already have all of the intel we need from the Normandy, the collector wreckage has been recovered, and relay-to-relay communication has been established with our task force beyond Omega Four. Our presence at Sahrabarik serves no purpose other than to exacerbate the situation."
"Logical," Valern said. "And expeditious. What do you think?"
"I disagree," Sparatus growled. "Whatever his intentions, history shows Shepard is a menace to peace. Chaos and destruction seem to follow wherever he goes. He needs to be contained."
"The scale of destruction from Shepard is nothing compared to what we face if we don't prepare for the coming invasion," Tevos said. "For the greater good, we must address the reaper threat first. Once that has been accomplished, we can deal with the smaller issues."
Sparatus' mandibles twitched. "I will notify our commanders and send the request to Admiral Hackett to retreat from Sahrabarik."
Tevos nodded, relieved. "I will notify the Cabinet for validation while you work through the military chain of command. If they have a better alternative, we'll abide by it. And it is critical that we work with the humans - not just to alleviate the Terminus issues, but to solidify a common defense. But I believe the sooner we pull out of Sahrabarik, the better. It's oxygen waiting for a spark."
"And what of Dashta?" Valern asked. "We cannot remain silent."
Tevos took a deep breath. "We offer our deepest condolences, denounce all acts of violence that were committed against the station and its inhabitants, and offer aid which will undoubtedly be refused. As for the Normandy, it is no longer our concern. Shepard has acquired many enemies over the years. Regrettably, he has chosen a path that precludes our assisting him, and he knows it."
Valern laughed. "I'd say he's proud of it."
"We'll deal with him the next time he attempts to cross into Council space, if there is a next time." All Tevos got in response were silent nods from her counterparts, then dark screens, but at least she knew she had the cooperation of the other Council representatives. She wondered what the general public would think of their lack of formal procedure outside the view of news cameras? Some things are best kept secret, she thought as she switched her console feed to her private, secure channel. Satisfied that the lesser issues had been dealt with, she could now concentrate on the crisis created by Normandy's return.
Pursuit of Normandy is being terminated, she typed.
Where are they now? Came the response.
After fleeing Erinle, they jumped to Xe Cha. From there they set a course for deep space, a tactic Commander Shepard seems to prefer. Our operative is following at a discrete distance.
On a turian warship. This was a poor choice. They cannot be controlled.
Tevos swallowed thickly and her fingers trembled as she typed. Apologies. There were no other viable assets available when Shepard took flight.
She watched the screen intently for a response. For a few seconds, all that greeted her eyes was the blinking cursor.
Did the quarians complete the transfer of geth from Normandy?
Unknown, Tevos replied. She had to delete it and type it again because of her shaking hands. The quarian ship fled Dashta at the first sign of trouble. Once more, there was hesitation on the other end of the line. Or was it something else? She had to wait almost a minute before the response:
Do we know who was behind the attack?
Not at present.
It is irrelevant. The quarians must not be allowed direct contact with the geth. I will provide whatever is necessary to prevent that outcome. Maintain surveillance and alert me if there is any change. Just as Tevos' fellow Council representatives ended transmission without acknowledgement, the chat window displayed one final, curt line of text:
XJL40005AA6-1125 has signed off.