Chapter 8 - Congressional Theory
The next morning had come with the smell of roasting bacon (probably vat grown) and coffee (dragged from the pits of hell). Shepard had emerged from his room more rested than he had felt in several weeks. The message had been short, to the point. But. But. She had signed it without honorific, without formality of naming. That, for some reason, allowed a kernel of something to sit in his chest. He wondered if he might just be hungry. And whilst he was rested, he was also restless.
Four days. Probably three now, factoring in comm buoy delays. And quite a bit to do before that: first, breakfast. Then, the Council. He hadn't received an official missive from them, other than from the interim human Councillor, a survivor of the Systems Alliance parliament, some wet behind the ears politico named Davies Charlestown. Shepard made a mental not to have Liara do some digging.
As he descended the stairs he couldn't supress the smile as he caught a glimpse of Garrus, lying on his front, snoring, arm hanging over the edge of the sofa. Miranda was likewise draped, her sculpted form a tangle of sheets and bed hair. The part of human he recognised as human did a swift appraisal.
"I saw that," grumbled Miranda, yanking the sheet up over her head, eyes still shut, "What the hell time is this Shepard?"
"07:30 Galaxy standard time."
"I hate you and regret the day I fired several billion credits into you."
"Could be worse, I could be the Harbinger of your awakening."
She groaned at his abysmal impression and tried to bury herself deeper into the couch. Garrus snored on. Rounding the corner he found Kasumi operating the stove. She grinned at him and in the clear light he was able to make out the face paint clearly - a mirror of Garrus'. She was wearing a robe - he decided to refrain from asking where she'd found it. Probably rifling through a storage room. Or another apartment.
"Morning Shep. You look perkier today."
"Oh it's bound to go downhill. May as well make sure I don't end up with a deficit."
"Good plan. I take it the Major and Liara won't be joining us yet."
"Yeah, I don't want to be next door to their room when they wake up. I can only take so much cute."
Kasumi grinned and fished a pot from the sit, pouring him a mug. He frowned around the kitchen and arched an eyebrow at her. She grinned brightly.
"Turns out I'm quite the homebody. Garry's a mean cook, too, but I find it helps set the day up."
Shepard leaned backwards and took a moment to just enjoy the normalcy of this. He eyed Kasumi for a moment, a question forming in his head.
"I'll be honest, never really saw you two as the ones to do the deed first. He's my best friend and I can't believe I utterly missed it," He held up a hand placatingly as she turned to point a spatula at him, one hand on her hip. She tilted her head to one side and grinned.
"Yeah, as I said last night - you were distracted. And Garrus and I were… well, it was about friendship. We have a lot in common, albeit on different sides of the fence. He's kind, he's awkward, he pulled me out of the fire so many times… how could I not love him?" She tilted her head to one side and offered a shrug, "When some Turian wounded were all set to tear down a camp of children, to get some material for a fire, he shouted them down, shamed them. He was rubbish at getting to the point though. Luckily, I wasn't."
She hummed cheerfully, briefly turning back to the stove to serve up a plate of bacon and eggs, before flicking a few items over in a second pan: dextro food, he realised. Shepard shook his head.
"Wow, blindsided me. Always thought you were there to perv on Jacob."
"Oh I did for a bit. Then Garrus and me had a long talk after you'd stolen all of the dextro alcohol from the lounge. He was so formal, so awkward! But he asked me about… stuff. He wanted to talk. I was glad of the company. And then I realised I was glad of his company. After the mission, after we all went our separate ways, he messaged me with some book suggestions: Turian mythology. And it rather grew from casual moments of brow touching in the lounge to…" she waved her hand at her face and giggled, "this! I'm thinking of getting them permanently marked on. Rather fetching?"
Shepard nodded, his face a mask of mock appraisal.
"You sure it doesn't clash with the purple?"
"Oy, Shepard, stop flirting with my wife…"
Garrus stepped into the kitchen and thrummed a morning at his mate, leaning down to touch his brow to hers. She grumbled something back and swatted at his talon as he reached for the dextro pan.
"Talons off - you're going to eat like a civilised bird man."
"Fine, fine! Sleep well Shepard? Did Kasumi sneak in to rifle through things? She better not have."
John chuckled and shook his head, "No, she hasn't gone through my drawers this time. Just saying, bit blindsided by this. Very happy though. Glad you both found some peace."
"Yeah, me too Shepard. I think she's happy. Human faces are so hard to read… she could just be using me for my hundreds of connections and extensive family…"
"Yes, because moving up the Turian hierarchy is a MASSIVE motivator for me," Kasumi rolled her eyes and served food for herself and Garrus, before turning the heat down on the oven, "So, eat!"
They ate whilst standing, sharing a few words, catching up on eleven months of time lost. A louder-than-needed clatter from upstairs announced that the other two house guests were "officially awake" and thus coming down. This got a "Considerate of them!" from Kasumi and a series of grumpy curses from Miranda who trudged into the kitchen with sheet wrapped around her like a shawl.
"Someone had a bit too much last night."
"Ridiculous. I am genetically perfected to not be an easy date."
"Yep, definitely too much."
Shepard placed his plate down on the side, nodding as Kaidan and Liara entered the living room. The cavernous space felt warmer today, filled with friends. Part of him dreaded their leaving, having just an empty space, with nothing but his thoughts. He was so used to having people only a bulkhead away, down a corridor. Solitude he associated with wetwork; rainy hillsides and a snipers scope; the black expanse above Alchera as he had slowly, every slowly, suffocated in his suit.
"Shepard? Lost you for a moment there boss."
Kaidan waved a hand in front of the Admiral's face, eliciting a brief shudder and a smile from the man, "Fine Alenko, just thinking about next steps. I'm going to head to the Council. You guys are welcome to crash here as long as you need."
Kaidan nodded, exchanging a brief glance with Garrus who gave the most imperceptible of nods, "Well, I've got to check in up there too - no doubt you're going to do something Earth shattering. may as well get front row seats."
Garrus chuckled, "I'll join you on the Presidium later. I owe Kasumi for breakfast, plus some overdue shopping."
"Didn't want to intrude on your honeymoon, Garry," Shepard grinned, "You guys have a hotel?"
"Nah, we're vagrants... Of course we have a hotel – we're booked into one in Shin Akiba, one of the few that actually has utilities too. But I reckon we'll be spending some time here. If I'd know you were alive, would have just expected to crash anyway."
Kasumi nodded and leaned against her husband. Miranda looked at the couples then at Shepard, turning like a large white traffic cone, "I've been working for the past seven months solid, so bugger the lot of you, I'm going back to bed."
She turned and trudged towards the stairs, grumbling about "sofas" and "shotgun". Garrus frowned, "But you don't use a shotgu-"
"Figure of speech you pillock."
Kaidan glanced at Liara and seemed about to say something, but Liara glared daggers at him, "Yeah, best not... mention… yeah. So, Council chambers!"
Shepard gave them both a look.
"Great. Spare bedroom broken in at least. The day gets better."
He ignored the blushes and headed back to his room to prepare. A good start, but he had a feeling it was going to be a long day.
G - So, what's the plan?
L - Keep an eye on him. M says he is still in recovery and Chakwas has spoken to her about his stress levels inhibiting his recovery.
G - KV and I will hang on the Presidium.
KG - need to get my initials changed on this ap. SQUEE!
K - keep the channel clear guys, will have record on should we have issues.
L - I doubt he'll do anything rash.
G - He's meeting the Council for the first time since we beat the Reapers. The new Council.
L - Point taken. Is he armed dear?
K - Does he need to be?
L - Another good point. Please try to minimise collateral damage. KV (Yes, rather adorable) can you get in close when they arrive?
KV - Was the Silver Coast a walkover? Of course I can.
G - Hey, wasn't all you. I helped.
KV - Yes, you were the perfect image of a busy body police officer. I almost bought it.
"What's happening then Captain?"
Kaidan glanced over at Shepard as the Admiral piloted the sky car towards the Presidium ring. He found his grip on the arm rest wasn't as tight as usual: The former Commander's driving was less erratic than usual.
"Just Liara, sending me a to do list. Shadow Broker stuff. Sometimes I wonder if I'm merely a roll in the hay with good connections."
Shepard snorted, but didn't pursue the matter. A lot of his friends on the Citadel at the same time? All a bit too pat, even if he had hitched a lift with three of them, with a plus one still aboard ship. But he wasn't going to complain. He turned his thoughts professional.
"So, brief me. You've got the most up to date information on the Council - what's the layout, what should I expect?"
"Honestly? Chaos. The communiques we were getting from them were contradictory at best. There's no single policy and there isn't what you could call an actual Council. It's a lot of representatives all arguing they deserve to be members, with the Asari and Salarians holding the traditional line, the Turians taking a back seat and everyone else demanding fair representation."
The Captain rubbed his chin and blew out a sigh, "The original Council members are... retired - Sparatus stepped down, Tevos is doing damage limitation back in Asari space. Valern, unfortunately, died during the Citadel evac, whilst the Reapers were moving it. The new Turian Councillor is Victus, so you've got an ally there. He handed the Primacy over to anew incumbent. The Salarian Union sent Esheel - she's pretty hardcore, pro Salarian, protectionist. Traditional Dalatrass. But there's complications there - a few Salarian colonies have seceded and have sided with the Krogan on a lot of issues. Worst is Irissa, the Asari delegate. Stone cold. She is not a fan of yours, sir, blames you for Thessia falling."
Kaidan took a breath and tilted his head back to think. Through the windshield he saw the Presidium come into clearer focus, the car angling into an access tunnel that would lead into the verdant park areas of the ring.
"Ok as for the, WOA! Shepard, Truck!"
The Admiral twitched, then glared at Kaidan, "Very funny, Lieutenant."
"Don't push it then."
"Received… anyway, the Krogan representative is Urdnot Kraal. Warrior but very shrewd. Wrex picked him specially for this. Not your average Krogan: shoots after asking the questions, usually. The Hanar have Delindanier - not a lot of impact there. Quarians… well, you know. Not a lot of info on him. Son of a live-ship Captain, excellent engineer, but very conservative. Accepts the Geth but is very traditional. Very tied into fleet traditions."
Shepard frowned, "Always thought the civilian Quarians tended to be a bit more laid back."
"There's more to him… he is related to Daro'Xen, after all. A bit of a collector apparently, anything of interest, tech wise, but now has expanded that. A few Quarians have gone on a bit of buying spree now they have a planet with more room to use. But yeah, he's quite a strict one. Haven't had much from him, other than the odd salvage request for 'studies'. And then the Elcor have Jorl and the Volus have Barla Von."
The car descended in silence for a moment. Shepard brought it to a halt on the pad near the base of the ruined Citadel Tower.
"Yep. Apparently went into politics after the Shadow Broker mantle changed hands. We know he knows a lot, has his own little network, but he's a cautious one these days. He wasn't on the Citadel for the past two years, left during your brief period as a tax dodge…"
Shepard sighed and looked at Kaidan, "Nice - way to rub in the fact I was dead, Captain."
"You can't be that bothered sir; you just promoted me."
"Right, fine. You armed? Think we'll need to shoot our way out?"
"They're politicians, sir."
"That's what I mean. Dangerous."
"Got my pistol."
Shepard frowned. Kaidan was in dress blues, as was he. A much better impression than combat armour, though he wondered whether he could even move in a set anymore. Plus combat armour tended to be undermined if you needed a cane; but he always felt a bit more, well, him, when in full rig. He patted his hip, where a mag-locked Carnifex was strapped.
"Shields and a pistol. Can't be too careful."
Kaidan sighed, but nodded, flicking his own shields to "active". Shepard nodded.
"Right. Let's go face the music."
The Council had taken up residence as close to the top of the ruin as possible - old habits died hard it seemed. As Kaidan and Shepard rode the elevator up towards the highest floor, they took in a view that was achingly similar to the first battle of the Citadel - pristine promenades marred by rubble and twisted metal struts. Verdant green parks with the twisted, burnt husks of dead trees scarring their layout.
"It's bad out there."
"But getting better."
Shepard grunted. How many times had he been up and down this damn lift? Hell, he'd walked up the side of the building, gun overheating as waves of Geth were mown down. He remembered Garrus calling out numbers, a laughing Tali flinging herself into the fray. He should've been worried at that, but the fact that a nearly two kilometer long sentient dreadnaught had been attached the the building and they were racing to stop it doing something very bad had meant he'd allowed for a little desperate mania. He remembered watching her move, back then. At the time, he'd thought he was just "keeping an eye on her", covering a squadmate. It was only as he drifted away in the blackness of space that his last thought had been. "I'm going to miss her."
The elevator shunted to a sudden stop, shuddering briefly, stirring him from his reverie. He gave Kaidan a sideways glance and they both hurried from the creaking machine. The doors hissed shut and they could hear the sing-song sound of metal under tension, settling again.
"And this place has definitely seen better days."
The floor was a large lobby, with several raised balconies on either side, very similar to the old Council chambers. High above, the tower was open to the elements, the tell-tale shimmer of a mass-effect shield keeping the vacuum out. The very top of the tower was layered with construction crews moving amongst jagged struts, going about the business of normalising the utter mess of the place.
It was crowded, the various representatives having departmental offices on various levels. It seemed that some of the people were just milling around, lost. There were queues everywhere; people still trying to find lost family; property requests; salvage agreements; enlistment. It was never ending. Most looked like refugees, with only the clothes on their back. Shepard swore under his breath.
"And it's still this bad?"
"And this is the more civilised part of space. The Terminus systems have only just gotten reconnected to the relay networks. It's… pretty bad out there."
Shepard stopped and shook his head, collecting his thoughts. Right now, there was just a lot of anger, frustration. He briefly wondered if he should've taken that offer at the end, trap or not… could he have made things more bearable? Reduced the casualties? Fixed things quicker?
But for how long? Keeping life going, some sort of pet for the demons? A deal with the devil was a poor arrangement.
He tapped his cane against the floor and continued onwards, trying to ignore the stares; trying to ignore the fact the crowd parted in front of them. A pair of Krogan bowed to him, their crested, heads dipping, their huge, humped frames bobbing with respect.
"You didn't have to headbutt them this time."
"Oh you heard about that did you."
"That and the fish."
A Geth inclined its mono-occular at him, the lens zooming closer. The synthetic stepped aside, offering a nod. The Admiral could hear the murmuring building as people began to turn, to point him out.
"Let's hurry this up. I'm assuming big double doors with a lot of C-Sec?"
"That'd be it."
Shepard limped faster. There were three figures ahead, atop a short flight of steps that led to the entrance to the conference room. Two Salarians and a human; he nearly goggled - Armando Bailey.
The trio turned as they approach, and all of them definitely goggled. Bailey spoke first.
"God damn Shepard, you keep doing this. Another tax dodge?" The officer grinned and Shepard noticed that the man's left arm was now metal. He gestured to it and smiled.
"Things get a bit dicey?"
"Darn straight. We were still fighting and trying to get the damn civvies outta here when the Fleet turned up. Made it off before you lit this thing up like a firecracker, but not before a Brute gave me his personal attention. Nice trick with the Relays. I won't ask how you did it, don't want that special Spectre magic to run out. Here for the Council?"
Shepard nodded and glanced at the two Salarians, grinning in recognition, "Kirrahe?! Jondum! Damn it's good to see you two. Small Universe." The two Salarians nodded, smiling, their large eyes flicking with rapid blinks. Kirrahe spoke first.
"Commander… or rather, Admiral. I am afraid you're about to run into the same problem we have. C-sec have been told to deny entrance to the Council chambers until deliberations are complete. We wished to voice our… concerns."
Jondum folded his arms and nodded in agreement, "Indeed. The Salarian councillor does not speak for all. This cannot go on without proper representation."
Shepard exhaled, looking at the two of them, "Interesting. For a second there I was expecting you two to be on different sides, with a request that I find some optimum solution to your issue. Can't think why. Is this true Bailey?"
The C-Sec Commander sighed and shrugged, "We were asked to keep the peace. Prevent a bullrush, protests, that sort of thing. 'A sense of decorum' as the Asari put it. They're trying to build a government, but they're treating everyone's request for a voice in the only way they know how: shouting it down."
"Not very patriotic Bailey."
"Not much of a patriot. Seen too much to buy that horse-crap," the Salarians looked mildly puzzled but seemed to let the comments slide without query, "The status of the Spectres is… in dispute as well, which is why Jondum is still outside. I can't let everyone with a claim for independence in, or a comment on Council policy. I make an exception, we get a panic."
"Yes, I see your problem. Y'know, Commander Bailey, I think you need to delegate this issue. Look for higher authority. Like, perhaps the large number of people behind me with relevant concerns over the large fleets out there all pointing at each other."
Shepard smiled as Bailey looked out at the crowd, all now watching them. The Admiral patted his shoulder, "We're not causing trouble, we want to remind the Council what matters. I think a few… select representatives should be able to have oversight on the political ramifications of this discussion?" He gave the man a wry smile. Bailey cocked his head to one side and nodded slowly.
"I think you're right Shepard. Due process in a democracy must be observed," Bailey grinned nastily, "I was asked to ensure the peace was kept, after all, in the spirit of democracy. Any recommendations?"
"Well, I was going to go pay my respects, I think it only fair that we take adequate representation, supervised by your men."
Looking over at the nervy C-Sec officers, Shepard noted their composition for the first time - A few Turians, humans, Salarians; but now C-Sec appeared the boast at least a couple of Quarians, a Krogan and a Geth. Shepard managed to contain his surprise, merely glancing across at Kaidan who offered a small shrug. Bailey noticed their looks and grinned.
"Ironic, isn't it? We've got representatives from everyone except the Hanar, but in there they're looking to tear each other to pieces," he sighed, "If I'm going to get fired, it better be for a good reason. It's only right that the public get a look in on their future. But I'll need you to keep the rabble rousing to a minimum, ok Shepard?"
The Admiral grinned and walked past the ageing cop, "Bailey, what do you take me for? Wait. Don't answer that," he paused to look at the the Salarians, "Coming?"
Jondum stepped forwards and fished a datapad from a clip on his belt, "Before we enter, Shepard, you should be aware of this. Things are not good. There is a reason our worlds have split from Sur'kesh."
Shepard frowned and flicked through the pad's electronic pages, skimming. His eyes widened and his jaw set, "Well now. This is not good. Bailey, change of plan. Rabble rousing is back on the menu, as well as full on riot control. We are definitely going to have to be careful here. I'd advise you get whatever available men you have on alert and on station."
Bailey looked uncertain but nodded, gesturing to the Geth officer, which approached. The pair moved off into a huddle. Shepard handed the pad to Alenko, his face set. Kaidan glanced through it.
"Yep. Now, who wants to try to explain that to the Krogan Councillor? Volunteers? Oh, just me then. Kirrahe, see if you can't round up some public spirited citizens to make sure we have an audience. Jondum, Kaidan, let's go do the Spectres proud."
And with that Admiral Shepard, Hero of the Citadel, Survivor of Akuze, Killer of the Collectors, Nominated Praetor of the Victory Fleet and pissed off Spectre limped over to the double doors and flung them open.