Enlea T'Vari watched with amazement, and a little envy, as Miranda Lawson commanded three holoscreens on her desk as one, each with the precision of a surgeon. There was not a single miss-click or backspace on any of them, while Enlea fumbled with her own omnitool as she sat next to the Cerberus operative. Of course, the human had the aid of what was obviously a very advanced VI as she mined the data, but the direction of all of the searches came from Lawson, with EDI delivering the results.
In spite of the woman's intuition, though, they were no closer to uncovering the perpetrators of the attack at Dashta after an hour. Enlea shrugged. "Well at least we know the order didn't come from us." She laughed, realizing that she made it sound as though she was only happy because it exonerated her as a suspect. "I mean, anything we can do to narrow the search is good, right?"
Miranda sighed and pushed her chair back and to the side so she was now facing Enlea. She noticed skin around the asari's eyes was dark and blotchy, and her ordinarily immaculately pressed clothes were stretched and wrinkled, sure signs that she had been up for a long period of time. But there was an air of earnestness and relief in her voice that still poked through the exhaustion, which only made it clear to Miranda that Enlea had no idea what the data she carried meant. She leaned forward in her chair, her elbows on her knees. "You don't really know who you're working for, do you?"
Enlea blinked twice. Throughout their searches, the identities of most of her contacts and superiors remained shielded behind obscure, randomly generated screen names and logins. While the contents of their messages could be read, their names and positions remained a mystery. Enlea knew some of them to be sure, but could not bring herself to expose them. She hoped, foolishly maybe, that the subject would not come up. "Well, I know it's difficult to explain, and given the circumstances I understand if you don't exactly put a lot of faith in what I say, but I serve the Citadel, first and foremost. My duties as diplomat as well as, um... intelligence asset, preclude me from saying exactly whom I report to."
Miranda's lips tightened to a thin smile. "And your allegiance to this council of Matriarchs you mentioned earlier?"
Enlea could not hide her indignation. "Does not preclude in any way my duties duties the Citadel. In fact, our aims for the betterment of society as a whole have always aligned, not just for the asari but for everyone."
"Really?" asked Miranda. "Because from what you've shown me, you basically work for the asari equivalent of Cerberus."
"What?" Enlea gasped. It took her a moment to realize the human was serious. "That's insane! We're not terrorists!" Miranda arched an eyebrow at her, and Enlea began scrolling through her omnitool at a maddening pace. "Everything I've shown you says otherwise! We may have been keeping tabs on the other species on the Citadel, but we use this information to help people, not harm them."
Miranda turned back to her screens and began chaining together columns of data across the screens as Enlea continued her frantic defense. The asari's hands trembled as she tried to punch up the search command. "I haven't received a single order that could be remotely construed as treasonous or violent..." Her voice trailed off as Miranda leaned to the holo directly in front of her and with two taps of her fingers the rightmost screen flashed "Contact between quarians and geth must be prevented. Ensure the destruction of the Normandy by any means necessary." Miranda went back to work on the other two screens without missing a beat.
"Well. That crossed the line," Enlea said after taking a deep breath. "Obviously. But that's why I came to you with it, isn't it? I swear, nothing like this has happened before. I don't come from Illium, or Omega, Miss Lawson. I work on the Citadel, the very heart of the galaxy, a nexus for all people to gather in peace. My people have worked for thousands of years to create a cradle of diplomacy and opened it to all people willing to work within the law, for all species, even one such as yours. We would never do anything to jeopardize that."
Miranda dragged the leftmost window into the center screen where two grids of data merged to one. On the left side scrolled messages and alerts from Enlea's omnitool. "I've been corroborating the data in your omnitool against the Cerberus database. On the left we have your message archive. On the right, a list of covert operations known to have occurred throughout Council space during the last decade." Names, places and dates from all across the galaxy floated by, joined to Enlea's correspondence by thin lines. "Unprosecuted data thefts, reversals in legislation, election fraud, weapons trafficking, assassinations..."
"It was my job to monitor all those things," Enlea said. "In spite of our best efforts, the galaxy is still a dangerous place."
"Except that many of your messages about these occurrences pre-date when they happen." Miranda pressed a one of the messages and it halted on the display and the connecting line brightened. Miranda touched the corresponding report and it expanded to the right screen. "For example, this report on a human weapon smuggler, Marcus Ogilvy. An excellent catch, by the way, in spite of the illegality of your methods. However, because of the lack of proper evidence, C-Sec was unable to prosecute."
Enlea nodded. "I remember. He was the main supplier for the Blue Suns in the lower wards. But his operation in Zakera was shut down and he fled Citadel. He was later killed by his own associates for exposing their network."
"Except he wasn't," Miranda followed the line and touched the corresponding folder on the Cerberus monitor. A half-dozen dossiers of human criminals flashed on the screen, each with the word DECEASED over their pictures. "Ogilvy made it as far as Utopia, where he did meet his fate, but it wasn't his own people who did it. They were already dead on the Citadel, something that C-Sec records don't reflect because the official investigation was closed. Cerberus, however, felt the unexplained murder of six humans warranted investigation. But we were never able to figure out who did it."
Miranda opened the trafficker's profile. "Ogilvy was intercepted as he attempted to make it deeper into human space where he thought he'd be safe. A single witness saw a well-armed group of asari abduct Mr. Ogilvy from a transfer station at Zion, where no asari had any right to be."
"Eye-witnesses are very unreliable," Enlea said.
"Except when the witness was one of our operatives who recorded the entire incident," Miranda touched the holo and a video window popped open to a security camera feed. "After his associates turned up dead we put a trace on him and caught up with him at Zion." A human male stood on a deserted transport platform waiting for a skycab. A spark of light enveloped his head and he fell to the ground to be dragged away by some unseen force. She replayed the event using IR and UV enhancement. A pair of cloaked figures became visible as they pulled the unconscious human away. "Asari Commandos, operating well within Alliance boundaries. We were unable to determine their exact unit designation, but like the murders on the Citadel, it remained a mystery to us up until now."
Enlea shook her head. "You're reaching. There's nothing here that implicates the Citadel or any of the Asari Republics for that matter. Those asari were probably Eclipse. Ogilvy made a lot of enemies for himself."
Miranda punched the glowing line to the right of the picture to bring up the next entry in the dossier. "The weapon shipment Mr. Ogilvy was to deliver was never found by C-Sec even after weeks of searching. The official conclusion was that the shipment never existed, providing an explanation as to why Ogilvy was killed. He shorted his partners." Miranda tapped the next line and the screen flipped to the next slide. "But a full manifest of the weapons was provided to Alliance investigators by Marine Staff Sergeant Sandoval, Kyla G, quartermaster, Alpha Company, 22nd Marine Battalion on Eden Prime as part of her testimony in exchange for a lighter sentence. They did a complete inventory of the entire division and found over two hundred weapons unaccounted for." Another tap of a finger brought up a galactic map highlighted by glowing blue points. "At least until they were used in at least sixteen raids across nine different systems, resulting in over two hundred deaths and several hundred million in damages."
"You need to turn this over to C-Sec, immediately," Enlea gasped. "Withholding this kind of information is what allows incidents like this to happen!"
"Enlea," Miranda paused to choose her words. She backed out of the Cerberus files to Enlea's message list and highlighted the lines connecting them to the Cerberus dossiers on the screen via a twisted maze of branching connections. "The perpetrators in every incident where the weapons were later used were asari. I have no doubt that you acted in good faith when you passed on your Citadel reports to your handlers on Thessia. In this kind of arrangement, with the kind of people you work for, information flows one way. You couldn't possibly know what was being done with it. You need to understand that this was not an isolated incident."
Miranda touched another folder. "Here we have emails belonging to a turian representative named Sagil Verrulnus detailing his attempts to block a vote on asari economic expansion into the Terminus. He was electrocuted in a bathhouse one day after you broke into his account. Faulty insulation, according to the official report. Our investigation concluded the scene had been compromised before C-Sec arrived to investigate. And here, a report taken from the Citadel Office of Economic Development shows a volus fabrication company attempting to land some very lucrative construction contracts in Teysari Ward. It looked like they had it locked, especially after they dug up a report that the asari company bidding on the project routinely cut costs by using undocumented, exiled quarians as their primary labor force. Yet the volus withdrew their bid and abandoned the ward the next day when their worksite and equipment stores were sacked by dozens of armed thugs. Three volus were killed. No arrests were ever made. It was written off as a riot sparked by a wage dispute. Coincidentally, a week later, the asari picked up the contract."
Miranda scrolled through page after page of reports connected by those glowing lines. "And I just picked those at random. We can go through as many as you like. But I think you'll find that in each case, the asari come out on top."
Enlea's jaw dropped as her eyes scanned the screens.
Miranda leaned back in her seat. "I should thank you, really. What you've given us clears up a great number of mysteries that confounded our best analysts. More importantly, it ties them all together. It brings into focus the picture of a shadow organization operating from the asari homeworld with wide-reaching, invisible influence, willing to go to any length necessary to protect the interests of their people. Sound familiar?"
Enlea shook her head in disbelief. Miranda sighed. "Trust me, Miss T'Vari. I know of what I speak. This is an area I am intimately familiar with."
Her hands shaking once more, Enlea now scrolled through Miranda's screens herself. As much as she wanted to believe that this was some kind of trick, an elaborate ruse by Cerberus, the sheer quantity and quality of the intelligence before her was almost as staggering as Professor Solus' report on the reapers. She watched dozens more of her reports drift across the screen, each coupled with its associated Cerberus addendum, before she forced herself to turn it off.
The asari's lips tightened over her jaw, and tears formed at the edge of her eyes. Miranda half expected her to storm out in a spectacular fashion, but instead Enlea just stared at the screen. "Why are you doing this to me?" Enlea said. "You hate us so much you want to see us fall to your level?"
Miranda sighed. Her first instinct might have been to ridicule Enlea for being naive, at the same taking satisfaction from seeing the haughty diplomat struggle with being so monumentally wrong about everything, but she wasn't enjoying it all. Miranda couldn't count the times she had to deal with operatives and assets that sincerely wanted to help their species, but could not accept that in an uncaring universe, drastic steps sometimes had to be taken. How many times did she have to defend her position with her shipmates and the other members of the squad who looked at her for the longest time as their worst enemy? Listening to Shepard's rationalizations that he was working with Cerberus, not for them, seeing how every time his eyes focused the emblem on the walls, the uniforms, he seemed to die a little inside. And the more time she spent under his command, the more she realized how right they all were. But Miranda knew exactly what Cerberus was from the start. It was her choice. For others, the revelation of the machinery behind the curtain was never easy to accept.
It's far easier to stand in the dark and look into the light, she thought. Because when you're standing in light, you don't know how deep the darkness goes. "No," she told the asari, who refused to look back at her. "I'm doing it because the woman who wrote these reports had no idea what they were being usedf for. Now she does. What she chooses to do with this information is up to her."
To Miranda's surprise, the asari laughed, but it wasn't because anything was funny. She rubbed her eyes and sat back in her chair, completely sapped of energy. "How far back does this go?"
Miranda tapped her keyboard. "Our records only go back so far, twenty years or so. But it's reasonable to assume from what we've seen that they've been in operation far longer. It takes time to set up an operation as vast and well prepared as this."
Miranda suddenly scowled at the thought, which made Enlea sit up sharply. "What?"
"Time," Miranda swept her hands across the center holo screen, causing it to go dark. With renewed vigor she re-opened the files on Dashta and Erinle. "They were there, waiting for us," she gritted her teeth, cursing herself for not seeing it before.
"Who?" Enlea asked, but Miranda stayed focused on the screens and did not answer, for which she was almost grateful. There had already been too many surprises as it was.
"All right, Legion," Tali said as she rubbed armor shavings from her hands and backed away from the geth. "You're good to go."
Legion took a step forward and stretched its arms wide and the armory's overhead lights reflected brightly from pearlescent white armor plating that covered its head, shoulders, abdomen and legs. Gone were the jagged edges and scraped, burned surfaces, the mismatched components, and gaping seams. Instead of a walking wreck, the geth now looked like it had just taken a step off the showroom floor.
"Looking good, buddy," Jacob said from behind as he continued to check for obstructed joints or leaks. He nodded and gave Tali a thumbs up.
Tali smiled behind her mask. In spite of how she felt earlier when she saw the effort Mobile Platform Two put into cosmetic repairs upon returning to the ship, she had to agree that Legion looked so much better than before. It still had the same lines as a basic geth platform, but being clean and shiny it was much more likely to inspire curiosity or admiration rather than terror, at least to those few who weren't panicked at the mere sight of geth. She reached out and patted a familiar emblem on its right breast plate, one that would guarantee Legion would not be confused with any other platform.
She raised her omnitool and began a scan. "Go ahead and move about a bit, Legion. I want to make sure we didn't miss anything."
"Affirmative," Legion said, and began to walk around the compartment, occasionally lifting a crate or crouching down to test its actuators and kinesthetic processes as Jacob looked on.
As Tali monitored Legion's movements, she noticed a new message on her omni, written in Khelish. Ship's comms were still under lockdown, so it wasn't from the Admiralty Board unless they somehow learned Normandy's location, and what a fiasco that would be when Shepard found out if that were the case. But when she saw the sender's name, she groaned in her helmet. Kal'Reegar. She'd left him down in engineering, alone on an alien ship, for almost two hours. She read the message, sent an hour before.
"Turning in after a long day. Found a bunk on the storage level. Glad to be back in your service, ma'am."
Tali closed her eyes. With everything that happened, the escape from Dashta, her altercation with T'Vari, the disaster in engineering which claimed the lives of Ken and Thane... she'd lost herself completely in the simple pleasure of fixing something. But she couldn't justify forgetting a long-time friend like Kal. How could she to make it up to him?
A tap on her shoulder made her jump. She turned her head to see Jacob looking over her shoulder and she quickly shut off her omnitool, afraid of what he might think if he saw the message, even though he couldn't possibly read it. Then she realized he wasn't even looking at it. Instead, he pointed past her to the aft end of the compartment, mouth agape.
She followed his gaze and saw Legion standing in the window overlooking the drive core. What's he doing, she wondered? Does he see something down there? She watched as Legion turned sideways, but his camera remained focused on the window. Her own jaw dropped.
The geth was looking at its own reflection. As they watched, Legion turned the other way, showing the bright red stripe painted down its right shoulder plate. It scanned itself once more, turned toward the glass, it's camera head pointing down, then back to the reflection once more. With mechanical precision, it traced the sharp black lines of the N7 logo on its breastplate with an alloy finger. Then, it took a step back and carefully squared its shoulders and feet to the glass and stood rigidly, as if at attention, as the two organics behind it stared in astonishment."Oh man," Jacob whispered. The look in Tali's eye told him she had to be thinking the same thing. "Tell me that's not pride."