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Salvaging from Strife (Chapter Cover Art)

Salvaging from Strife[]

Chapter 18 - After-Action Report[]

Part 1[]

Modified DropShip Calypso
Therum, Citadel Space

"This looks terrible," Officer Vakarian decided. He forlornly poked his utensil at the uniformly gray goo in his bowl, then looked up at Tali, sitting across from him. "Is this really what you eat?"

"Yes, it is," she flatly told him. "Our food needs to be processed and sterilized before we can consume it through our suits, because our immune systems are so weak we cannot take these suits off. So I have to eat that every day. Thank you so much for reminding me."

"Right, sorry," the turian weakly apologised, carefully scooping up a small amount of the goo and putting it into his mouth. "It doesn't taste too bad," he finally forced out. "Could get used to this. I've eaten rations that were worse. And the smoke from next door certainly adds to the flavor."

The Calypso was crowded, especially with the passengers picked up from Therum. Several rooms, including the canteen, were now improvised holding cells. Which was why the two of them were having their meal in one of the Mech bays, right next to the blocky shape of the Bloody Igor. Smithon and the others had chosen the Jenner, because Badger wanted to test roasting human food using jump jets. Tali's suit was detecting plenty of aromatic airborne particles, so she supposed it was a success.

"You won't have to share my food for long," Tali told him. "Turian dextro food is common enough. Actually, why didn't you pick up any from Therum? There were some turian archaeologists, they must have food to share with you."

"They didn't bring more than a few snacks onboard," Officer Vakarian groused. "And they certainly weren't willing to share."

Being told they were prisoners would do that, Tali had to concede. "So what's going to happen to them?" She asked. "Commander Shepard had promised they would be freed."

Officer Vakarian put down his next bite. "He did promise that, yes," he agreed. "but since their ship was destroyed. They're traveling with us until he can drop them off. After that, somebody will probably pick them up."

"And what about Dr T'Soni?" Tali inquired. She'd only caught a brief glance of the asari as she was being escorted onboard the Leopard, and the question of what Commander Shepard planned to do with her nagged at the quarian.

"I don't know," the turian sighed. "I was there during the questioning. Dr T'Soni couldn't tell us anything about what her mother is doing, except that Matriarch Benezia was responsible for rescuing their expedition in case of an emergency. I doubt the humans have a reason to keep her. Shepard isn't planning to harm her, but he still refuses to release her. Maybe the asari Councillor can negotiate for her safe return."

Commander Shepard's voice interrupted their meal. "That's not happening, officer," the man rejected, standing outside their Mech bay. He stalked closer, speaking, "The asari knows things about her mother, about Saren and the Geth. Not to mention her mother is active somewhere out there. I'm not giving her up."

"That is for your superiors to decide, Commander Shepard," Officer Vakarian pointed out. "They can't possibly have ordered you to abduct an innocent asari right under the Council's eyes. You must have exceeded your orders."

"That is for Normandy Relay Command to decide, Officer Vakarian," the mercenary commander retorted, coming to a stop next to the BattleMech. A hand running along a scar on its damaged leg, he uttered, "I captured a valuable asset for the Normandy Initiative. I doubt they will be displeased at the opportunity. We will know which of us is right soon enough. Miss Zorah?"

"Yes, commander?" Tali replied.

"You know the geth parts we salvaged on Therum?" Tali nodded. She'd helped with the recovery of Geth components, sorting out valuable sections and such from the less useful pieces. Commander Shephard gazed up at his battered-looking Mech, then turned to face her. "Focus on the geth salvage for now, see what you can obtain from them. The other engineers can handle the Mechs." He smiled grimly. "Who knows? Maybe you'll find something useful. If you need anything, tell Chief Engineer Virtanen. He might be able to find it on Omega."

"Omega?" Tali repeated. "Commander Shepard, I thought we were traveling to the human colony Elysium?" That had been the flight plan she'd read on the Citadel. Of course, the flight plan also hadn't included the detour to Therum either.

Commander Shepard shook his head. "That's where the Citadel will look for us first, and we'd be more vulnerable to politics. Omega is more secure and independent, and we'll have the facilities of the Aurigan Trading Company to support us."

"Omega is a lawless, crime-ridden Terminus Systems settlement." Garrus pointed out with flat disbelief, apparently too surprised to muster anything more. "You can't seriously prefer that to Elysium."

Tali added, "What about the Queen of Omega?" Aria T'Loak hadn't interfered much in the Star Hunter's affairs previously, as far as Tali was aware, but the asari ruler wouldn't be pleased to be caught up in galactic affairs.

The human grimaced. "I'll work something out with her people. Don't worry about it." He sniffed the air. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find where the fire is."

Part 2[]

Comstar Compound
Citadel Space Station
Widow Star System

"This could be worse," Precentor Kamea Shepard decided, breaking the silence stewing as everybody present processed the new information. "How long do we have before the Citadel Council is aware of the action on Therum?"

"The Asteroid Omega MRB branch is still processing statements from the witnesses, Precentor," Adept Ereth reported. "But once they are released, the aliens are likely to spread the news to the rest of Omega, as well as their contacts. The mercenaries will be talking to other mercenaries as well, but the main problem is the C-Sec officer. He's probably reporting to his C-Sec handlers right now."

Adept Denar contributed with his opinion, "the Star Hunters should have handled the witnesses. The Geth attack wiping out a civilian expedition would have been believable as cover."

"What are you talking about?" Adept Williams asked with a frown. "Those people did nothing to us."

"It's simple, girl." Denar explained bluntly. "If the mercenaries were the only ones who know what happened, we wouldn't have to worry about the reactions from the Citadel governments. Sweep everything under the rug, pretend it never happened."

"I disagree, adept," Precentor Shephard stated. "Thorough measures would result in more problems when the information leaks. It would be a when, not if, because the Star Hunters are most certainly not up to the task, especially when they chose to permit a C-Sec officer to tag along."

"Perhaps we can use his presence to our advantage?" Ereth offered. "He might grant the operation the veneer of a joint Citadel-Star League operation."

"He also witnessed everything," Adept Williams added, eager to contribute. "At least it was a clean operation. He can't accuse Normandy Relay of attacking Citadel citizens."

"He can accuse us, Adept Williams, we'll simply have ample proof to the contrary." Denar corrected her. "More importantly, the Star Hunters are still holding on to Dr Liara T'Soni. What do we do with her?"

"Commander She-," Ereth fumbled over the name, "the mercenary commander isn't releasing her, and the MRB want to know whether she counted as a valid target of the Normandy Initiative for reasons of payment. The ROM team on Omega is preparing to begin information extraction, but they're open to suggestions from Precentor Shepard, since this would fall under Normandy Relay's purview."

"Keep the information extraction civil for now," Shephard replied. Ereth nodded and scribbled on her datapad. "I suspect the C-Sec officer will want to participate. Grant him permission, and make sure his presence is on record. We shall be polite for now. After all, Dr T'Soni is still a citizen of the Asari Republics, and the Citadel Council will be taking an interest in her well-being, if only to make things harder for us."

With that matter resolved, she moved on to what was more important to her. "The Star Hunters cannot possibly have salvaged all the Geth remains on Therum."

"No, Precentor," Ereth confirmed. "It's in the MRB report. The Star Hunters are reporting all Geth wreckage as spoils of war critical to Normandy Relay, and they also brought some high-priority salvage off-planet with the spare capacity on their Leopard. The MRB is currently assessing their claims, and the appropriate reward."

"ComStar is the custodian of the Star League's legacy," the instructor lectured to her and the other initiates. "We maintain interstellar communication of the HPG, which only the faithful can be entrusted with, but Blake's followers also safeguard all the other advanced technology the Successor States cannot use responsibly, until such time as they can be used to better the Inner Sphere."

"Well then, Adept Denar?" The adept in question nodded, anticipating his orders. "Take a ComGuard salvage team to Therum and collect everything. The Clans likely have their own collection from all their raids, but we don't want anybody else to have them. Hopefully, Omega looters will be the only complication if we move quickly enough. Ereth, keep an eye on Omega, don't let anybody do anything rash, and debrief the rest of the Normandy Initiative slowly, but not too slowly." To the other adepts and acolytes, she instructed, "Adept Williams, you were on the Citadel longest. Take everybody who isn't busy and start PR damage control."

"I will update Precentor Citadel Udina on the situation personally. And after that, a business trip to Omega seems in order."

Part 3[]

Omega, Citadel Space

"This concerns the Queen of Omega," the heavily armed krogan politely informed Commander Monty Shephard. "She is displeased you brought illegal contraband onto Omega without her consent."

"Contraband?" Shephard rhetorically asked, suspecting the answer. There was only one reason the pirate queen ruling the asteroid would be interested in his band of mercenaries. He leaned back in the uncomfortable chair, watching Queen Aria T'Loak's ugly underling instead of the nimble asari dancers entertaining the nightclub they were in. "This is Omega. There's no such thing as contraband."

"Dr Liara T'Soni most certainly counts as contraband. You are aware, I should think, that she is somebody Aria T'Loak does not want on Omega." The krogan sipped his drink loudly.

"Slaves and prisoners are brought onto Omega all the time," Shephard deflected. "So far, that's never been an issue. This is a matter for me and my client. I've already paid all the fees."

"Dr Liara T'Soni is not a normal prisoner. She will become rather high-profile soon, and Omega does not like the attention of the Citadel upon it. But Aria T'Loak is good friends with the MRB, who have been most persuasive on your behalf, and you had been a good, upstanding member of Omega society before your recent gaffe. As such, she is willing to overlook the presence of Dr T'Soni under certain conditions."

"What does she want?" Shephard asked.

"First of all, that she is kept informed of Dr T'Soni's status while the doctor is a guest on Omega. Secondly, that the Star Hunters and the Normandy Relay are liable for any damages caused by Dr T'Soni's presence. And thirdly, your service in handling a disagreement with a neighboring warlord for her. With adequate compensation, naturally."

"Just so I know, what happens if I refuse?"

"The Queen of Omega has limits to her patience. She may kill you all, free Dr T'Soni, and send an apology gift to your aunt."

"Fine," Shephard grumbled. "I won't take the contract against the warlord without informing myself first, but her Grace probably expects that. The MRB has it on file?"

"They do. Pleasure meeting you, Commander Shephard. I'll leave you to enjoy Omega's entertainment for now." The krogan stood up and departed.

Shephard inspected his own drink morosely, then activated his communicator.

"Hey, Virtanen," he spoke. "The talk went about as well as expected. We may need to rush repairs on the Mechs. Let Miss Zorah keep working on her thing, and tell Ollie to keep the Clanners busy if you can. I'll be returning soon, just need to visit the MRB first."

Part 4[]

Council Compound
Citadel Space Station
Widow Star System<br

"This is unacceptable," Councillor Sparatus snapped at Precentor Udina, not bothering to hide his displeasure. "Star League troops openly abducted civilians on an academic archaeological expedition! Right in front of a C-Sec observer as well."

Councillor Valern remained silent, studying the robed human taking up far too much of his life, as well as the other human ambassadors C-Sec had managed to gather. There was no doubt a fascinating story behind how the C-Sec officer involved in the Battle of the Ward was somehow suddenly an embedded observer in the Normandy Initiative, but Valern was much too tired to probe into the details.

"Normandy Relay forces rescued a Citadel research expedition from geth raiders," the ComStar ambassador countered. "They provided evacuation off-planet to safety. If anything, their respective governments should be grateful, rather than condemning us."

"We are grateful Star League forces eliminated a geth raid, but they brought the civilians to Omega," Councillor Tevos pointed out. "By force. Against their will. At least one Dr Liara T'Soni is still being held by your Normandy forces without cause. You were the one who told us the Initiative was assembled because of the geth occupation of the Aurigan Reach. Yet the Initiative forces were clearly on Therum to abduct Dr T'Soni."

"I see no reason to bother with that allegation. The geth were on Therum, that is evidence enough Dr T'Soni is relevant to the Initiative."

"She should be turned over to the Asari Republics, in that case," Valern replied. "They are best equipped to handle asari suspects. But since this is an interspecies matter, I therefore request her extradition to C-Sec. The Star League will be kept informed of the results, of course."

Precentor Udina shook his head. "I am afraid that is not possible. Matriarch Benezia has far too much influence among your Asari Republics."

"We have dismissed your claims against Matriarch Benezia and the Spectre Saren Arterius," Councillor Sparatus impatiently answered. "Unless actual proof can be provided, cease your accusations. Does the rest of the Star League believe this nonsense as well?" He directed the question towards the other ambassadors.

Unfortunately, the humans, fractious as they were, still took cues from the ComStar Precentor. "The Spectre has not provided any proof of his innocence." a purple-clothed ambassador replied after a short moment. "What evidence we have is too suspicious for the Free Worlds League to disregard." One by one, the other ambassadors present agreed as well.

"The Star League stands as one behind the Normandy Initiative," the representative from the Clan enclaves was the last to speak, as pompous and arrogant as the last time Valern had been forced to listen. "Our unity will not be broken."

Councillor Sparatus finally lost his temper. He snarled, "Right now, all I can see of your Normandy Initiative is a band of mercenaries and assorted rabble on ComStar's payroll!"

The rest of the meeting was quite unproductive after that.

When the three of them were alone again, Valern decided to speak first. "Councillor Sparatus, I share your sentiment regarding the humans, but that was ineffective."

"They are infuriating," Sparatus fumed. "We were supposed to be discussing proposed updates to quarian and geth policies of the Citadel governments today, but I expect that will have to be postponed till tomorrow. It seems every time we look away, the humans are causing another problem. This Normandy Initiative of theirs will be a major headache until we shut it down. We cannot permit them to do as they wish without regard for Citadel laws."

"Give them time," Tevos recommended. "The humans are still unbalanced from the Geth incursion. The 'Black Ghost' would alarm any of us if it attacked out of nowhere. Once the Geth situation has stabilized, they are more likely to listen to reason."

"How much time do you plan to give them?" Sparatus asked. "Another thirty years? Their politics is a mess, internally and externally."

A discreet alert on Valern's omni-tool attracted his attention. He responded and read the contents of the alert.

"Interesting." he hummed thoughtfully, drawing the attention of the other two councillors. "My office just forwarded this message to me. It claims to be from the Capellan ambassador. Read for yourselves."

"The Capellan Confederation shares your concern regarding oversight of the Normandy Initiative," Tevos read out loud. "Unfortunately, our best candidates are currently occupied due to recent events. If the Citadel were to declare certain contested worlds Capellan and assist our interests in the Skyllian Verge, we would be able to divert resources to guiding the Normandy Initiative in a more mutually beneficial direction."

 "If the Star League cannot safeguard its interests in the Skyllian Verge, perhaps it ought to withdraw its borders and let the batarians maintain peace in the region," Sparatus grumbled.

"The Salarian Union will not be interfering with the humans' internal affairs, I hope." Tevos warned. "That is unlikely to turn out well."

"Your concern in unnecessary," Valern replied. "They are doing enough damage to themselves without outside assistance."

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