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Salvaging from Strife (Chapter Cover Art)

Salvaging from Strife[]

Chapter 16 - Roll Call[]

Part 1[]

ComStar Compound
Citidal Station
Widow Star System

The doorbell to Precentor Kamea Shepard's office chimed. Looking up from her desk, Shepard barked "Enter!".

Adept Williams poked her head into the room, before nervously entering with a pile of datapads. "Honoured Precentor, I have the latest update from the Clans," she announced.

"Give me a summary, Adept. I'm too busy right now. And I told you already, skip the formalities, it saves time." Shepard instructed.

"Yes, mada-, yes, of course," the adept nodded eagerly. "The Clan enclaves on the Citadel are currently only occupied by non-combatants and what they consider below minimum acceptable garrison strength. Most of their garrison had already departed to the Skyllian Verge to fight the batarians weeks ago, and the remainder departed to join the newly assembled Clan task force on the border to Geth space, the one that formed before the Normandy Initiative started. It's the same for the rest of the Clan military in the Relay Systems. They are already committed, and will not join the Normandy Relay forces."

"The Normandy Initiative is currently divided into two branches," Precentor Shepard instructed her subordinates. "The Normandy Auriga task force aims to liberate the Aurigan Reach, while the Normandy Relay shall focus its attention on the Relay Systems. Given my connection to Saren and Feros, we are now attached to Normandy Relay for the foreseeable future."

"They were much more willing to bolster the Normandy Auriga task force," Shepard muttered. "What else?"

"There were some individual volunteers, but they're still disorganized. On the Citadel, there's a Clan Wolf aerospace pilot and an Elemental from Clan Hell's Horses who are ready to join."

"Well, something is better than nothing," Shepard resignedly commented. "The Clans should provide more in the future, but that will have to wait. You may go." The adept deposited the datapads onto the mess on her table, then paused at the door. "You have a question, Acolyte?" Shepard curtly demanded.

Adept Williams hesitated briefly, before making eye contact with her and sullenly asking, "I don't understand why the Primus is letting the Clans decide our course of action. Why should they force us to start the Normandy Initiative? Those barbarians are a bunch of short-sighted warmongers."

"We fought and died on Tukkayid to defeat those savages!" Adept Shephard denounced bitterly to the grim-faced Precentor delivering the news. "And we are supposed to forgive and welcome them?" Sounds of assent echoed from the other veterans of the battle.

"You will treat the Clans with respect, Acolyte." Precentor Shepard admonished. "Even if they are unbelievers, they still swore to protect Terra and their actions serve Blake's will in their own fashion."

"I apologize, Precentor," Adept Williams looked appropriately chastened, "but ComStar shouldn't be forced to obey outsiders."

"No, ComStar shouldn't," Shepard agreed, "but we must make do with what we have, as Blake did when he founded our Blessed Order. The Star League is in a fragile state right now, and we cannot afford to sow discord. The other powers are only participating in the Normandy Initiative because of our involvement, and because nobody wants to be accused of abandoning the Star League. Besides, we have been working on such projects for a reason, even if they've all proven failures so far."

"So, Project Phalanx failed in less than six months. Come on, pay up," the smiling adept crowed. Grumbles answered him as the others in the meeting room either forked out their wagers or calculated their winnings. Shepard reluctantly added the bottle of Terran champagne to the pile on the table.

"The Star League is in dire need of a unified military force that can claim to represent all of humanity," Shepard continued. "Preferably under ComStar's guidance, but that's not a necessity. Perhaps the faithful could have assembled our own task force, except Feros is still too fresh, and many will use that as an excuse to ignore our appeal. There could be better arrangements, but letting the Clans take the lead for now is acceptable, especially given the level of cooperation we have fostered with the more… receptive of the Clanners. As incomplete and barebones as the Normandy Initiative is right now, at least it provides some framework to build upon."

Adept Willams frowned. "I don't know how Normandy Auriga is doing, but Normandy Relay is still a mess, Precentor. The Great Houses haven't provided anything yet beyond promises of military material. The Canopians are only offering a doctor!"

"I'm aware of how much we are lacking, Adept Williams." Shepard gestured at her overflowing table. "Precentor-Citadel Udina warned me yesterday that the emergency council demanded ComStar contributions to Normandy Relay to be beneath a certain proportion. The Great Houses apparently are worried we'll have too major an influence on the Initiative otherwise. Which is why Normandy Relay is hiring mercenaries to fill out our numbers for now, until there are more solid commitments from the rest of the Star League."

"I saw the MRB offer. I don't think anybody was interested. How did you persuade the Star Hunters to join Normandy Relay?"

Monty Shepard refused to look her in the eye. "I'm taking the contract," he hissed resolutely, "don't you dare stop me." The MRB clerk politely stayed quiet and averted her eyes.

"My nephew didn't need persuasion," Shepard admitted. "As for other mercenaries, most of them are tied down in contracts with the FedCom war, Skyllian Verge or elsewhere right now. And the rest are wary of joining such a new and untested Star League project. More mercenaries will sign up eventually, once they're confident the Normandy Initiative is a lucrative contract and not a death trap. In the meantime, the Normandy Relay will work on laying down the foundations and integration of individual elements, before we can even make a move. Without firm ground to stand upon, none can escape the fall," she quoted.

Adept Williams nodded. "I understand. Thank you for your explanations, honoured Precentor."

"You're here to learn, adept. You won't make it far if you don't understand how things function. If there's nothing else, go. You and I have a lot of work to do." The adept bowed and departed, leaving Shepard alone in her office again.

IIn the ensuing silence, Shepard contemplated her table. Slowly, she keyed in commands onto her computer. A distress call from Coromodir began playing, picked up by an element zero dropship fleeing from the Fall of Coromodir.

"The scout didn't stay in the system for long, but it was able to confirm signs of activity around the jumppoints, as well as debris falling from the jump points towards the sun. As no jumpships had escaped to the neighbouring systems, this confirmed our previous suspicions." The analyst paused, glancing at her and Precentor Udina, before continuing on. "The geth destroyed the jumpships and dropships. The scout was unable to pick up any signals from Coromodir either before departing, so we have no new information on the state of the planet."

The garbled screaming ended, and looped to the start again. Shepard pressed a button, and silenced the dead once more.

Part 2[]

Star Hunter's Citidal Compound

There were times, mercenary commander Monty Shepard bitterly reflected, when he missed being loyal to a greater cause.

He wouldn't have to deal with the mutinous glares, for starters.

"This is about Feros and the backstabbing Saren, isn't it?" Mechwarrior Freeman accused. "That Spectre nearly destroyed us! And now you're signing us up to get everybody killed by him, for a shot at revenge."

"Our opposing force is projected to be the geth, as well as any collaborators." He looked around at the rest of the mercenaries present for the impromptu meeting. "Yes, that does include the Spectre Saren Arterius, no matter what the Citadel Council says. But since reports say he's on Coromodir, that's Normandy Auriga's problem."

"He has friends, doesn't he," Rosby asked. "They're valid targets?"

"Probably. We'll be given free rein to hit targets of opportunity if there's justifiable cause, with appropriate bonuses. It won't be just the Spectre and his associates. Given the possibility of batarian collusion with the geth," something Shepard inwardly admitted was unlikely, "we may be engaging the Batarian Hegemony or other parties as well, depending on what our employers decide."

"Don't try to change the subject," Freeman snapped. Others murmured assent. "I know why you're taking the contract. So the aliens attacked your homeworld and Spectre Arterius betrayed us. We're mercenaries. Revenge or loyalty to some higher cause isn't profitable for us. You haven't even been near Cordir for years. The Normandy Initiative's a mess, and the same goes for the contract they're offering."

"It's Coromodir," Shepard corrected harshly. "I'm taking the contract with the Normandy Initiative, and that's final. You'll be paid well, and that's all you need to care about."

Freeman scowled. "I quit," he pronounced, "and I'm taking my Mech with me." Directing the next words towards the other Mechwarriors, he announced, "C-Sec's a good gig. They're bound to be hiring, after the work we've done with them. And if not, the Skyllian Verge."

"The Shadow Hawk stays," Shepard flatly stated. "You get a compensation, but the Mech stays."

"We'll see what the MRB says," Freeman declared. He stomped out of the meeting room. The other Mechwarriors exchanged glances, some shuffling towards the exit as well.

"Well?" Shepard growled, "Anybody else wants to chicken out? Dismissed."

TThe room slowly emptied, murmers of discussion between the mercenaries trickling to his ears. Rosby approached him. "I'm sticking with you," he promised. "Saren will pay for what he's done to us. I'll speak to the others, talk some sense into them." He didn't sound too hopeful.

Soon enough, they were all gone. Shepard slumped into his chair again, eyes glazing over the report from Oliveira about Saren's associates he had been in the middle of reading, assembled from public sources and data ComStar had slipped to the Normandy Initiative. A sound drew his attention to the sole other occupant of the room.

"Miss Zorah, I thought you would have left by now." The non-humans in his company had never been many in number, and Shepard suspected the few that were there would be gone before the Star Hunters left the Citadel. For independents with no allegiance to the Citadel, they were quite squeamish about opposing a Spectre.

The quarian shifted around, expression hidden behind her opaque faceplate. "I'd like to continue working with the Star Hunters, Commander Shepard."

"Really?" Shepard examined her faceplate fruitlessly. "Why is that so? Your contract was with the Aurigan Trading Company, not us. Since Lady Arano can't afford to retain you, you're free to go find your fortune. You'll get your promised pay, ComStar's banks are good for that at least."

"Then I wish to join the Star Hunters directly, Commander. Please, you must understand. The Geth are my people's enemy as well."

"The Geth were your creations, I know that." Shepard, and probably every single Mechwarrior with access to the Extranet, had rushed to acquaint themselves with the robotic threat after news of Coromodir had reached him.

The quarians, once a prospering race with good prospects on the galactic stage, had created the Geth as servants. But the machines became intelligent and rebelled three centuries ago. While the glory of the Star League was being consumed by the pyres of war, the quarians had been driven to near extinction by the war of extermination. The creators were driven from their worlds and reduced to a vagabond Migrant Fleet that housed the remainder of their species, while the created isolated the former quarian worlds in the Perseus Veil from the rest of the galaxy. Contact with the Geth was minimal, save for rumors of Geth intrusions through neighbouring relays or skirmishes with trespassers, the Clanners being among the most common in recent years with their 'recon' raids on Geth outposts.

"Yes, the Geth were our creations," Miss Zorah replied, "and my people have been studying them during our exile. They pose the greatest danger to our existence, and we need to know everything possible if we are to have a chance to retake our homeworld. Until now, those machines have stayed near the Perseus Veil. The Geth have been silent for three centuries, and now they attack a human world far from their borders without warning. Something has changed, and my people need to know. We all need to know."

Miss Zorah continued speaking earnestly. "Whatever the Council might be planning, I won't be able to take part. But the Star Hunters joined the Normandy Initiative, and you're working on the Geth problem as well. Staying with you is my best chance to help, and to learn more about the Geth."

"And what about Saren?"

Not for the first time, Shepard silently bemoaned his inability to read quarian body language. Miss Zorah was quiet, and he couldn't guess her response. "If the Spectre really is working with the Geth," her speakers finally broadcast, "then he is my enemy too. I'll do my part to take him down."

Well, Shepard wasn't about to turn Miss Zorah down. "Welcome to the Star Hunters then, Miss Zorah. I'm sure Chief Tech Virtanen will be happy to have you back. You're an expert on the Geth?" At her nod, Shepard continued, "Talk with Mrs Oliveira when you can, assist her with the dossier she's assembling for us. And you have connections among your people? Friends, contacts, family?"

Once again, Miss Zorah was frustratingly impossible to read. "I do," she answered after an awkward pause. "but I'm on my pilgrimage. I don't know if I can help in that way."

Some religious thing, then. "It's not important for now," Shepard waved it off. "The Star League is probably discussing diplomacy with your Migrant Fleet already. Just keep that in mind in case we need a friendly face to talk with your people."

He paused, looking for the appropriate words to acknowledge the Quarian's freely given offer of help, when his communicator beeped. Accepting the call, the voice of Chief Tech Virtanen informed him, "Commander Shepard, Freeman wants to take his Shadow Hawk out of our Mech hanger right now. Badger's stalling him, but MRB is apparently on its way."

Shadow Hawk (In Combat) 2

Shadow Hawk Medium 'Mech

"Understood, I'll be there in a minute." Shepard ended the call and glanced towards Tali. "Apologies," he told her, "I need to go. I'll talk to you later." Mind already racing with half-remembered fragments of Freeman's contract, he hurried out of the meeting room.

There were times, mercenary commander Monty Shepard frustratedly reflected, when corralling a band of mercenaries was just too much trouble..

Part 3[]

Citidal Station
Space Port

Point Commander Alenko fought down his anxiety. A true warrior was not afraid to be in the heart of danger. He had chosen this course, knowing what risks it would entail. He would conquer what foes dared face him, even isolated from his comrades and hampered by unfamiliar nature the of his surroundings.

"Relax," a voice below and to the side of him disturbed his mental preparations. Star Commander Moreau was leaning confidently against the wall, rather than standing at alert like the Elemental was. The Clan Wolf aerospace pilot grinned up at him, apparently at ease with their hostile environment. "You are too wound up. Worried something might happen?"

"Aff, Star Commander," Alenko replied. "We are too exposed. A dishonorable stravag can ambush us without warning at any moment." His eyes tracked a suspicious being warily, who changed direction abruptly and vanished out of view.

Star Commander Moreau laughed. "And why would anybody wish to? This is the Docks of the Citadel, the human section as well. It would be most shameful to the aliens if they are unable to guarantee the safety of their guests." He craned his head left and right. "Besides, you are the most dangerous thing I can see here."

Alenko was forced to concede the point. So far, he had seen nothing that could match his Elemental power armor one-on-one, with perhaps the exception of the IndustrialMechs. But even then, he was confident he could cripple the Mechs and vanquish the freeborn pilots with ease. Still, he was compelled to defend his caution.

"The aliens do not believe in honor, Star Commander. They could be capable of anything. And these humans do not know the Clans' Honor Road either. I cannot trust them." Many of them must be traitors to the Star League in heart, having abandoned the Star League in pursuit of power and wealth.

The Star Commander quirked an eyebrow. "Now I am curious," he declared, looking up at Alenko's face. "Why are you part of the Normandy Initiative? It sounds most unpleasant for you."

"It is an honorable task, Star Commander and the Initiative needs the trueborn to succeed." He kept to himself the hope for glory. The others of his Point were yet reluctant to commit themselves, but he had recognised the chance to prove himself by joining early. "Are you not here for the same reason as well?"

"Oh, maybe." Star Commander Moreau shrugged. "It sounded exciting. And my Star Captain was eager to recommend me to the Initiative. Still, you must adapt quickly, Point Commander. You are aware we are assigned to a sellsword company? The Star Hunters, quiaff?"

"Aff," Alenko grumbled. It galled him, to discover how little value the rest of the Star League put onto Normandy Relay. Fleets and armies were being rallied and promised for Normandy Auriga, but Normandy Relay was so barebones the two Clan warriors were attached to a wretched band of mercenaries. It was a shameful moment, realising he was required to accept orders from freebirth scum with no loyalties but to themselves. But so long as the mercenaries stayed true to the Normandy Initiative, he would have to be content with his lot. A more worthy commander would no doubt join the Normandy Relay soon.

The aerospace pilot clapped him on his armoured waist. "Do not be so glum, Point Commander Alenko," he cheerily commanded. "There are worthy mercenaries as well. The Star Hunters may not be on the same level as the Kell Hounds, but they must have been judged acceptable."

"Is that why you trust them with your Focht OmniFighter? Have you seen their dropship?" Alenko immediately regretted the act of insubordination, minor as it was. But the Star Commander ignored it, looking towards the Leopard they could both observe from where they were.

"Not the best, I admit, but at least it has both wings." Star Commander Moreau gave his verdict. Alenko's helmet cameras magnified the image of the Leopard, allowing him to see the myriad signs of fresh repairs covering its surface. "I will need to trust them with my fighter, since none of the Tech Caste have yet joined. Anyway, our wait is over. That must be him."

Leopard Class DropShip (by psicore)

Leopard Class DropShip

Alenko watched the mercenary approaching, and was not impressed. Still, he represented Clan Hell's Horses, and he would not shame his Khan. Quashing his dissatisfaction, the Elemental saluted Commander Shepard.

"Star Commander Moreau, Point Commander Alenko," the mercenary commander greeted them, "it's- sorry, it is an honor to finally meet you. I am Commander Montgomery Shepard of the Star Hunters. Is everything ready for departurer?"

"Everything is ready," Star Commander Moreau answered readily. "We look forward to working together. Mind telling us why the rapid departure?" Alenko had wondered the same. The notice from the Star Hunters had been rather abrupt.

"If we stay here any longer than we have to, the Citadel is going to find an excuse to keep us grounded." the mercenary explained. "The Calypso and Cormorant Dawn just got permission to depart, so I'm making the most of it. Almost everybody else is aboard, so we should join them." He turned and began making his way towards the docking clamp of the Leopard.

"Not too horrible, quineg?" Star Commander Moreau asked Alenko.

"He still needs to prove his worthiness," Alenko complained, "and show us more respect." He ignored the pilot's chuckle and trod after the mercenary, other freeborn scattering before him.

An armed turian was standing before the entrance to the Leopard. So the aliens were making their move. Immediately, Alenko readied his armour's weapons, keeping his arms down by his side until he could see where the other ambushers were.

The mercenary commander remained oblivious to the threat, coming to a halt directly before the alien. "Officer Vakarian," he named the turian, "just what are you doing here?"

"Hoping to have a word with you, Commander Shepard," the turian replied. The alien directed his gaze towards Alenko. "That is a big one."

"He's a Clan Elemental, they're all big." Commander Shepard stated. "There's nothing to talk about, Officer. I'm leaving, and C-Sec isn't going to stop me." Alenko stepped forward silently, looming beside the mercenary, who stared at the alien with an scowling face.

Frustratingly, the C-Sec officer appeared unfazed. "You'd be surprised at what I can manage, especially since I'm still C-Sec's mercenary liason."

"I dropped the contract, Vakarian," the commander snapped. "We work for the Star League now."

"Quite a few of your personnel are still employed by C-Sec. I helped you handle the breakup of your people into those leaving with you and those staying with C-Sec. I helped expedite your departure clearance as well, so consider this me calling in the favour." The turian folded his arms. "I'm coming along."

"Coming along?" Commander Shepard chuckled. "What, of the Citadel? We're travelling to Elysium'."

"The other ship, the Cormorant Dawn, might be," the turian answered. "It's certainly being loaded with everything you brought to the Citadel. How did you get it, anyway? I thought Lady Arano owned it." Alenko frowned, wondering if the mercenaries were already stealing from civilians.

"She still does, but we have permission to use it on her behalf."

"Interesting. But this ship," Garrus gestured to the Leopard, "you're loading fully armed Mechs here, as well as personnel and weapons for a military operation, never mind the other details I noticed. You're up to something, and I want to be there, because I'm concerned what might happen if I'm not."

Commander Shepard glared at him, and Alenko wondered if the time for talking was past. "You've got courage, I'll grant you that," the mercenary grudgingly complimented. His eyes widened, and he asked with a wry smile, "Does Executor Pallin know?"

Alenko didn't know much about turian facial expressions, but he was fairly sure the look was one of embarrassment. "I sent him a message. He should read it in a few hours."

The mercenary alternated looking between the turian and the Leopard's entrance. Finally, he sighed. "Fine, Miss Zorah will have to share her food. Vakarian, you can come aboard."

Fantastic. The Normandy Initiative now had aliens. Alenko bit down his temper, and stomped into the dropship after the mercenary commander and turian. He followed the Guardian ideology like most of his Clan Hell's Horse, which advocated protecting the Star League by defending it against hostile alien threats. He was not one of the aggressive Rangers, like Clan Wolf, who supported preemptively eliminating dangers to the Star League, and even the Rangers accepted the existence of friendly aliens. The turian was not an enemy, Alenko would tolerate his presence.

From behind him, Star Commander Moreau pushed past him and tapped Commander Shepard on the shoulder. "What is the plan, commander? Are we raiding somewhere?"

Commander Shepard turned to look at Star Commander Moreau. "The two of you might as well know, because I am planning to deploy both of you." He gritted his teeth. "Saren has an asari associate called Matriarch Benezia, who was on Feros. We don't know where she is, but we do know where her daughter is."

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