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Faults and Fortitude

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Miranda: “If we hack that control, every door on this cell block opens.”

Jacob: “It’s the only way to get Jack out of Cryo.”

Shepard: “I’m doing it, be ready.”

What happened next will change the course of the game’s history...

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Chapter 1 - Faults and Fortitude

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The very first thing Saren registered was an icy chill running up the length of his spine, frigid air surrounded him in a haze. He was moving, not on his own but upwards -the pull of artificial gravity, or so he figured. A lingering ache made his shoulders tighten and he grunted. Opening his mouth, it felt like he’d been asleep for too long. His mandibles were stiff against his face, his tongue felt fuzzy and useless between his teeth.

Metal grinding on metal made him wince, the sound too loud after too long a time spent in silence. When the biotic managed to blink his eyes open, the light pained them too. Brightness made him squint as he was unable to cover them with his only wrist trapped as it was at his waist. The geth arm he’d been fitted with by Sovereign had long since been destroyed.

Comfort definitely wasn’t something the doctors or the guards had considered when they woke him. Although, that come as a surprise. They were as much monsters as the Reaper pawns that had implanted the technology had been in the first place.

Attempting to stretch his neck out, Saren caught against another metal binding, a collar. He growled at the despicable conditions that the Council had left him in. He deserved better than this squalor. He deserved his freedom.

Awareness started to settle in when the motion stopped and the mist dissipated. The chill in his extremities began to ebb and his eyes acclimatized to the harsh fluorescent lights. It was only then that Saren realized that he’d been cryogenically frozen. For how long, he didn’t know.

A flat, female voice to his right forced Saren to refocus his attention on a human that had been woken at the same time. As the world sharpened in front of his gaze, he watched her break free from the bindings, similar to his own. Apparently, he had not been awakened intentionally. Otherwise, there would have been a slew of guards waiting for him. Nor would there have been another prisoner reanimated in the same chamber. It was too dangerous.

He was too dangerous.

The thought made his mandibles slide into a grin. Now was his chance to escape. He’d tried to be accommodating, he’d allowed the Council to keep him in custody for months. He’d done the treatments they forced on him, however painful, and come out no better for them.

Tightening his only hand into a fist, he willed the first binding open and then tore at the one around his neck. Stepping forward out of his own steel pod, Saren took in the environment. It was a warehouse. Cold metal walls with no real defining features surrounded him. A control room sat above the level he was confined on. There were three cages, like his own, that had risen from below the deck and only one other had been occupied. Twisting toward the doors, he watched a series of mechs begin their startup protocol, the sound of metal grinding and electronics spooling filled the space. They would need to be dispatched before he could leave. There were no sapient guards.

Before Saren could even finish leaving the pod, the human screamed out a battle-cry. Her body igniting in the familiar blue colouring of a biotic aura before she attacked the centre of three mechs waiting for them.

Not to be outdone, Saren rolled out his neck as he stepped forwards out of the containment ring. With a mere flick of his wrist, his biotics were flaring to life. Without an amp, his power was less refined than normal, though he wasn’t any less deadly. Instead of clean spikes of biotic energy the edges frayed, it was more difficult to control the flare, but he was nothing if not an expert at his craft. The Council underestimated him.

The mechs were more akin to a fledgling’s plaything than an actual challenge for the pair of them. The human’s biotics were anything but controlled, yet she was effective at the least.

Above them, at the cell’s viewing port, movement caught his eye. Three humans stood there, but only one of them warranted his attention. ‘ Shepard.

Saren snarled despite himself. His jaw tightening as his hand glowed even brighter and he tore the head off of a second mech. At the edge of his hearing, the woman hollered in triumph but he paid her no mind. The human Spectre was on the station and that was invariably the reason for his unplanned awakening.

He wouldn’t thank Shepard, not after everything that had happened. But he couldn’t bring himself to be ungrateful. Anything was better than an eternity of waiting for the Council to revive him. Anything was better than remaining frozen in time until he was deemed useful again. To be given no choice in the matter to begin with…. Despicable.

Saren’s attention turned back to the battle as Shepard and the other humans disappeared from his sightlines. He was certain they’d be seeing one another again soon.

After that, the three mechs were destroyed within a matter of seconds. It felt good to stretch his abilities once again. It had been far too long. For six months after the destruction of Sovereign, he’d been held in a mental institution of a sort, his doctors working to cure him of indoctrination. Though he tried to explain, multiple times, that with Sovereign dead the Reapers held no influence over him, no one cared to listen. They’d torn the cybernetic implants from his skull and plates, replacing all of the tech in his body with new. Even his cybernetic eyes were gone, replaced with cloned tissue after he’d been left blind for nearly a month.

Once they finished with him, he’d been forced into captivity... wherever this was. He didn’t recognize the space and he’d seen the Council’s high security prison facility from both sides; jailer and prisoner. Whenever the Council had decided he wasn’t worth the effort of keeping awake and put him in cryo, he couldn’t recall.

Even as he closed his eyes and attempted to force the memory to return, he found his mind blank. No one had ever mentioned cryogenically freezing him. Opening them again, he looked down at the empty space his arm should have occupied. The last thing he did remember was being told he needed a procedure to adjust the artificial shoulder socket.

After that, nothing.

Saren shoved the thoughts aside, there would be time to deal with it later. Instead, he turned his attention to the other prisoner. The human’s chest was heaving as she turned her gaze on him, Saren kept his face emotionless and merely raised a brow-plate at her. What he’d thought was a fitted shirt was actually a maze of tattoos, enough to make his head hurt if he tried to stare at them too long. A spare glance downwards showed he was in a similar dress, a bright orange pair of pants that hung loosely around his hips, a simple pair of cheap boots were on his feet and his torso was barely covered under a thin sleeveless shirt. Not that he needed sleeves, what with an arm missing.

She turned away, starting to jog toward the doors. When she was nearly there, she stopped and half-turned around to yell: “You coming or not, birdy?”

Though Saren growled at the term, he followed. There was no use overexerting himself when there was a willing body to throw at the masses first. His distaste for humans still lingered deep in his bones… but he was smart enough to put the preconceived notions aside when it benefited him.

Surprisingly enough, the human was easy to work with.

Where he carried all the finesse of a turian biotic prodigy, she had all the raw power that one could expect from early human experimentation. Despite the tattoos, his keen eyes saw the scarred web underneath them. Scars similar enough to the ones he used to carry along his spinal column and along the back of his skull for him to know exactly what they’d done to her.

The mass of scar tissue on the human didn’t stop there, it continued along her chest and arms… probably her entire body. Humans were truly a despicable species. This one could barely be considered an adult.

She would, however, help him get off the station. Then they could go their separate ways. He had no interest in working with her longer than he needed to. Her disregard for his safety as she flung a mech towards his head made him feel that she was probably thinking the same. They were both using one another as a means to an end. Saren could respect that.

He did, however, want to know where they were.

“Human!” Saren shouted over the din of a blaring alarm as he slid along the ground between the legs of yet another massive mech. As he passed beneath it, he threw a biotic blast up its centre, crippling it’s systems. “Where are we?”

The biotic leapt over the crumpled remains and sent a shockwave down the hall with a roar. “Purgatory! Look left!”

Saren tossed out a warp as she suggested and hit a batarian square in the chest. The blue armour took a moment to register in his mind as Blue Suns. A menacing growl dropped from his throat as he tore the human following the batarian to shreds.

Standing, they came to a halt beside one another. Both were short of breath, the heavy biotic use was exhausting without an amp. “What is Purgatory?” he asked.

Her bald head cocked to the side. “You stupid or something? It’s a prison ship. Terminus systems. Mercenary run. Some bare-” she caught the slur and changed the insult, “-asshole names Kuril runs the place. Extorts colonies for money, otherwise he’ll drop prisoners off.”

He scoffed, amazed that the Council would stoop so low.

“Tell you what, we get out of here? I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”

Too angry to reply, Saren simply flicked his crest in acknowledgment and continued to follow the tattooed woman through the prison. She seemed to have a better idea of where they were and the way out, for now she could lead. They worked in tandem killing other prisoners and guards alike.

Apparently, Shepard had not only opened his cell block but all of them. It took the biotics a while to reach the docking bay, a few of the routes were blocked and some had even been vented into space.

By the time they found themselves tearing down the catwalk towards safety, two guards still thought it pertinent to stand in their way. While Jack slid across the floor, her biotics tearing a batarian in Blue Suns armour into two pieces, he cut his arm through the air in front of him, shoving the turian guard into the wall and breaking his neck.

They came to a halt at a series of viewports. The tattooed woman took one look at the frigate docked outside, instantly recognizing the insignia. “Cerberus!”

While she panicked and stomped about the deck, Saren took a closer look and he recognized a different part. Normandy. This was Shepard’s ship… yet it wasn’t. It was too large, the angles too soft to be of turian design. This was a new starship.

‘Just how long was I in cryo?’

A shot whizzed by his head, taking out a batarian that neither he nor the human, had seen approaching them. The body slumped to the ground, dead. Both of the biotics swung around to see Shepard flanked by the pair of humans he’d been with in the viewing station. Now that they were closer, he could see the Cerberus yellow and black emblem on their chests. One was a male, darker than Shepard and the other a female.

His co-conspirator was the first to speak. “What the hell do you want?”

“I just saved your ass,” Shepard told her, scoffing. His voice didn’t sound quite right, it was… different. Harsher than when they’d last spoke, or rather when he’d last taunted the man.

Hiding his surprise behind a scowl, he watched the two of them bickered back and forth for a few moments, ignoring him entirely. Saren let them, it wasn’t his quarrel to be a part of. Shepard wasn’t here for him, he was here for the human, Jack.

Saren agreed with the raging fireball that had been escaping alongside him, Cerberus was not an entity he’d expected Shepard to be associated with. The Spectre may have been human, but he was not an alien hater.

“I’m offering to be your friend,” Shepard said before following his words up with a threat. “You don’t want to be my enemy.”

“Just ask Arterius,” the darker skinned male commented offhanded, gesturing toward him.

The turian growled, tilting his head forward in a subtle show of displeasure. As if Shepard had been the one who had broken Sovereign's hold on him. “Shepard isn’t the reason I’m here. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“Huh,” Jack looked at him sideways. “I expected you to be taller.”

Though tempted to throw an insult back, Saren kept his mouth shut and levelled a glare at her instead. She rolled her eyes and turned back to the rest. The gesture was too reminiscent of the one Garrus had made on that fateful morning on Noveria. He had to give his head a shake to squash the memories. There would be time later.

“You show up in a Cerberus frigate, expecting to take me away somewhere. You think I’m stupid?” the tattooed woman asked them.

Shepard just laughed and stated the obvious. “This ship is going down in flames, I’ve got the only way out. I’m offering to take you with me. And you’re arguing.”

After a few more moments of bickering, they came to a bargain. Jack led the way down the docking tube toward the frigate, taking the other two humans with her and leaving Saren standing face-to-face with Shepard.

“What are you even doing here?” Shepard asked him seriously as he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back into his heel.

Saren grit his teeth. He didn’t have much to bargain with and it was unlikely that Shepard was lying… this probably was the only way off Purgatory. Telling the truth could only benefit him for the moment, maybe not the whole truth… but enough. “After being declared free of indoctrination, I was transported here and held by Council order. I was declared too valuable an asset to destroy.”

“Alright, well…” Shepard’s arms uncrossed and he rubbed the back of his shaved head with one hand as he released a long breath. “Come with me then, I’m going to need all the help I can get to stop the Reapers.” He turned and started leading the way down towards the ship, trusting enough to give Saren his back. The others were already waiting in the airlock for them.

The biotic looked back at the carnage he’d left behind. There was no choice. He began following Shepard. His voice could almost be considered snide as he prompted: “Is the Council not listening to their new favourite?”

Glancing over his shoulder, the human’s mouth was drawn into a tight line. “Exactly how long ago were you detained here?”

“I don’t know,” his mandibles flared outwards at the idiocy of the question. “I’ve been in cryo.”

Shepard stopped dead in his tracks and dropped his head. “You’re in for a pretty awful surprise then… come on.”

Inside the airlock, the turian and four humans waited in silence. Saren, standing a pace behind the rest, observed that both of Shepard’s lackeys had a hand on their pistols. He flicked his crest in annoyance, it was unclear if they were wary of him or the tattooed human. If they were smart, it would have been both.

The Spectre stepped out of the airlock first, turning left towards the front of the ship while the rest of the humans turned right. At first glance, the frigate was large and grossly under-packed. There was too much wide open space as he looked down the command deck. The lights were too bright and the temperature far too cool. He was sad to say that Purgatory had been better suited to turians than this.

“Joker, ready to go?” Shepard addressed the pilot.

Spinning around in his chair, the pilot took in the motley crew. His eyes widened comically as he locked eyes on the turian. “Uh… Shepard? You do realize that’s Saren standing behind you, right?”

Shepard sighed. “I am aware.”

Saren simply stared at him, emotionless.

“Right, well… okay then.” The pilot, Joker, tore his eyes off Saren’s plates and looked back to the human. A touch of fear sat in his voice even as he stowed the attitude and got back on task. “We’re ready, where to?”

“Omega.”

“Understood. I’ll get right on that.” He might’ve said more, he looked like he wanted to, but instead just turned back towards his console and began running the calculations. There was a fluidity to his motions that spoke of experience, perhaps this was the same pilot that had piloted the first Normandy.

It didn’t really matter.

Saren followed the humans through the command deck. As he walked, he caught the eyes of most crew members rise from their stations to watch him and the rest pass. As his cold gaze slid over them, each one stiffened and turned back to their work. Intimidation came naturally to him, it always had.

“How long did you spend in custody before they sent you to Purgatory?” Shepard asked as they passed through the ship’s armoury. The ex-Spectre noted a number of decent weapons sitting on the racks, apparently, the pro-human terrorist group was not above using other species technology.

“Six months,” he replied without stopping his visual inspection. In front of him, Shepard stopped and turned around. A grim expression sat across his mouth, his brow pinched inwards, which brought Saren to a halt, his head tilting in question.

After a short, pregnant pause Shepard deadpanned, “It’s been two years, Saren.”

“Excuse me?” Even Saren couldn’t school his expression against that piece of news. He’d expected a few months at most… but two years. That… that wasn’t possible.

“You missed a lot. I died. Cerberus brought me back to life. The Council is covering up the Reapers entirely. They’ve put all the blame on you and the geth-”

Shepard kept on talking as he began leading him toward the briefing room. Saren was still stuck on the timeline, ignoring most of the rest for now. He didn’t want to believe it.

The briefing room was again large, a table stood in the centre of the room without chairs sitting around it. Shepard picked up a datapad off the table and transferred something to it with his omnitool before offering it to him. “Here, this is what I have so far.”

The biotic merely nodded, taking the offering and he began to read. The script was only a rough translation from human common, Shepard must have switched the language over before handing it to him, but it was enough. The rest of the humans settled and began discussing the situation, their bickering resuming while he was busy.

Saren’s mandibles hung slack from his jaw as he stared at the evidence. His pale blue eyes widened at the numbers on the datapad in front of him. Two years. He really had been cryogenically frozen for two Spirits-damned years.

On the edge of his consciousness, he realized that the humans were ignoring him as they continued to argue over useless data and discuss the ship’s rules. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. He had lost years of his life because the Council didn’t see a need for him.

Their best agent.

He’d… he’d dedicated his life to them and for what? To be thrown under lock and key until they saw a specific need for him. Like he was some tool to be thrown in the back of a workshop to collect dust and be forgotten? He wasn’t even sure if it was anger he felt or disappointment or just unadulterated rage. Two years.

Shepard had died and been brought back to life during that time. Saren still wasn’t quite sure that he believed that either, but considering he was standing in the briefing room of a Cerberus frigate with the human who’d hunted him across the galaxy, things were already so wildly fucked up that it was likely all true.

He couldn’t believe it.

He didn’t want to believe it.

When Saren finally stowed his inner panic and came back to reality, the humans had finished negotiating. The Cerberus female, who he’d learned was Lawson, escorted Jack to the door. “Do I need to put her in the holding cells?” she asked Shepard with a snide smile. “Just to be safe?”

Shepard shook his head, exasperated, as Jack answered for herself. “Yeah, no thanks precious. I’ll find my own place. Somewhere near the bottom. I don’t like through traffic. Don’t keep me waiting, Shepard.” She paused, one hand on the doorframe. Without looking back she said, “Sorry about your luck, Arterius. You sound even more screwed than me. I was only in the deep freeze a few weeks. Good luck with that.”

Without further comment, she left. Lawson tight on her heels and the human male, Taylor, on hers.

Once the door closed, the hum of the drive core was the only sound for a handful of minutes. Shepard didn’t turn back toward him, nor did Saren attempt to leave. The pair needed to discuss just what in the Spirits’ names was going on. Nothing was as it should be.

“Saren, what I said back there… I meant it. I’m going to need your help to defeat the Reapers.” Shepard spun around, looking at him square on and with his head raised. The position he knew was a human sign of confidence but his primal brain reminded him it was a weakness to display one’s throat to an enemy.

“Why trust me?” he asked without malice, even his subvocals remained flat despite the human inability to hear them. It was a habit, even after months of disuse.

Shepard’s hands opened, gesturing around the room. “Would you trust them?” Saren’s brow-plate rose, questioning him. “I sure as hell don’t. I need as many people on my side as possible. You, of all people, know what the Reapers are capable of. You know I can’t do this alone.”

“Alone,” he scoffed, cutting his hand through the air. “How do you expect to get help while working for Cerberus? Other humans might be willing to serve terrorists but the rest of the galaxy will condemn you for it.”

Shepard let out a long sigh, shaking his head. “The Council won’t listen. I’ve already been there to speak with them. They reinstated my Spectre status as a show of good faith, but that’s all. I don’t have the manpower, I don’t have resources. This is all I have. Cerberus. It’s their ship, their funding. The colonies that have been attacked by the Collectors have all been human, so the Council doesn’t give a shit.”

“Do you even have one non-human aboard this ship?”

The Spectre gave him a pointed look and flicked his chin toward him. “So far, just you.” Saren had to stifle the urge to growl in annoyance.

Saren needed to move, so he paced the length of the room. The mass-produced boots clunked against the decking as he walked. That was one of the many things he’d need to correct if he was going to remain aboard this ship. He’d need armour too, weapons, provisions.

With his Spectre status revoked… he needed Shepard, loathed as he was to admit it. The human could grant him amnesty, allow him to do what he was sworn to do and protect the galaxy. Spectre status or not, he was honour-bound to the Milky Way by his own Spirit. He turned and walked back to stand in front of the human, reaching his arm out in the human gesture for agreement.

“I’ll help you,” he said.

Shepard took his hand. “Welcome aboard.”

The handshake was firm and short. Enough for the sentiment without getting sentimental. His mind was already running through the next steps: Supplies, information. “You mentioned Omega?”

“I have two or three potential recruits there from Cerberus’ files. The dossiers are in the datapad I gave you,” Shepard told him as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Should be there for a cycle or two, it depends on how long it takes to evaluate the candidates. A human, a salarian and an unknown.”

Saren hummed in understanding and slight curiosity over the mention of an unknown.

He should be able to get what he needed from Omega, it was the location of one of his many stockpiles. As a Spectre of his calibre, he’d had a fair number of resources made available to him over the years and acquired a few businesses too. If things were as he’d left them, or even half as well, everything would be in order. “I have some business to attend to there.”

“Not going to run off on me, are you?” Shepard joked. Although Saren could tell from the timbre of his voice that the question was half serious.

“I’ve given you my word,” he snarled, insulted by the insinuation.

The human’s hands rose as if he was surrendering. “Whoa, don’t bite my head off.”

“If only it were so simple, Shepard.”

“Huh, right…” his arms slid across his chest again, crossing as he sat back into his hip. Saren noted it was the same way he stood earlier, favouring the right leg, perhaps there was a lingering injury that caused him discomfort. “Well, we’ll be there in a few hours. Enough time to catch some sleep at least. Is there anything else you need?”

In fact, there was. Saren just wasn’t sure if he wanted to voice the question or not. From the human’s answers earlier, he knew that his par-… he knew that Garrus wasn't on the ship. Without the information being offered freely, the question would continue to burn in his mind. Perhaps, it would even deter sleep and that was not acceptable for mission readiness.

It was better to ask. Get the question out of his mind.

“There is one more thing,” he initiated. Shepard nodded for him to continue, curiosity sitting brightly in his eyes. Saren’s mandibles pulled into his face with the discomfort at the stare, the query made him uneasy.

“Well?”

“Where is Garrus?”

Shepard’s expression dropped and that was all Saren needed to see. He clamped his teeth together, stopping any semblance of emotion from rolling out in his second voice or his features from giving away the disappointment.

“I don’t know.  No one does.”

That… wasn't right. Vakarian wasn’t the sort to just disappear. Perhaps he was picked up by Blackwatch or another Hierarchy venture. He was more than qualified, even before helping to ‘save’ the Citadel from him and the geth. “What do you mean?”

Saren could hear the man’s teeth grind together in his mouth. “Apparently, a month or so after my death he went missing. He quit C-Sec, never showed up for Spectre training. No one I’ve asked seemed to know where he is, and my messages bounced when I tried to contact him. He’s in the wind.” Shepard blew out a breath and looked at the floor for a moment, almost as though he was trying to gather the courage to say more.

Picking up on the human’s hesitance, he prompted him to speak his mind. “You want to ask something, go ahead.”

Shepard looked up, his gaze intense and jaw tight. He had been preparing himself. “I know you two were… well…”

“We were,” Saren said to cut him off. He didn’t need to hear the words.

“Right, well when we saw you… I was hoping you’d know where he was. Or maybe how we could find him. I guess we’re both screwed, two years gone.”

Saren couldn’t force himself to do more than grunt in answer. Shepard was right, but he wasn’t about to agree aloud. No… he needed to process this new information. He needed to do some research of his own and see what he’d missed these past two years.

They parted ways.

He didn’t much care where Shepard went. It wasn’t important. The only thing that was, was resorting himself. A meal and a shower first, then perhaps he’d find somewhere to rest. While his mind sprinted in a thousand different ways, his face remained outwardly impassive. The crew deck was empty when he arrived, Lawson had mentioned the Normandy’s schedule when they’d been in the briefing room. The night cycle had started while they were busy and the deck would be empty for a while.

The AI he’d been introduced to before Shepard left him, led him into the lavatory first at his instruction. Not only did he want to warm up, but he wanted to get out of the blood-stained prison uniform he was forced to wear.

An Artificial Intelligence hadn’t been entirely unexpected. Cerberus was involved in much more sinister things than illegal tech. He almost huffed a laugh as he added reanimating humans to their list of crimes. He’d been working on developing his own for a time before Sovereign began to invade his thoughts. The project had been left unfinished. He wasn’t opposed to studying this one and using it to his advantage as it suited him.

Stepping up to the sinks, he started undressing. His single hand pulled at the drawstring around his waist and at the clasps on his boots. A noise of frustration fell from his maw as he worked. All of the day’s stressors ate at his hide and even the slightest setback felt like climbing a mountain.

Once nude, the ex-Spectre took a moment to look at himself in the mirror. Where there had been metal and cybernetics there was now the best artificial plate that credits could buy. His hide was scarless and smooth, plates bare of cracks or paint. His hand rose to trail over the line of his zygomatic horns. He looked younger.

It was… odd.

Shaking his head to clear the fog, he pushed away from the sink and collected his clothing. Without anything else to wear, Saren tossed the uniform into one of the cleaning units recessed into the sidewall of the lavatory. The controls were intuitive enough, even without an omnitool on his wrist to translate the symbols for him. When the Citadel doctors had removed his cybernetic enhancements, they’d taken them all except for his amp port. A useless brick of metal had been slotted into its place to keep the port clean. Yet another annoyance.

“AI, how long until we arrive on Omega?” Saren asked as he turned on one of the showers and waited for the water to heat. He found it cold to the touch and adjusted the spray until it was up to the hottest setting.

A robotic feminine voice piped in over the speakers as the artificial intelligence said. “Eight standard hours, Arterius.”

Saren hummed in acknowledgment as he stepped under the cool jet of water. He stiffened at the chill. “Damn humans and their damn soft hides,” he muttered under his breath.

“Would you prefer the temperature was increased?” the AI asked.

Without mulling it over, Saren agreed. The heat rose substantially, enough for steam to fill the room and for him to finally start removing the ice from his bones. He cleaned himself as best he could without a plate scrub and only one arm. At the least, when he finished there was no more blood on his plates. His missing limb was not enough to impede him in battle, nor in domestic tasks… yet it remained an annoyance.

Just another one to add to the ever-growing list.

After stepping out of the shower and drying off, the cleaning unit still had another ten minutes or so of runtime. Without a second thought, he headed for the mess hall in search of something edible.

“Dextro-safe rations are currently available only in emergency ration bar format, Arterius. You will find them stored above the cooling unit.”

Saren did not thank the AI, even as he found the rations exactly where it said they would be. Biting into a ration bar, he was surprised to find it was fresh. The flavour left something to be desired, but as the first thing he’d eaten in two Spirits-damned years, it was bearable. He swallowed it down quickly before going for another. Mentally, he added better rations to his supplies list. He wouldn’t make it long on the Normandy if they forced him to eat this shit on an ongoing basis.

After returning to the washroom to fetch his now-cleaned clothing, Saren decided it was time to look for somewhere to sleep. A quick survey from the AI told him that most of the ship was empty. With the humans taking up the sleeper pods and crew room, he decided it best to commandeer one of the lounges. Why anyone would design a frigate with two lounges boggled his mind.

Nonetheless, he first checked the lounge with the bar. It was lacking any dextro alcohol and though he could drink the levo stuff his taste buds wouldn’t appreciate it. He left and headed for the opposing side, here at least he could lock the door and not risk a mutiny for liquor.

Saren settled in on one of the couches. Exhaustion pulling at his hide. Even with his mind racing, sleep came easily. His dreams were wild and unkind, plagued with images, not of Reapers… but of a deceased Garrus laying at his feet.

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Omega was the same cesspool he remembered it to be.

Without even passing through the docking port there was already a fight. A human beating a batarian senseless. A salarian was watching. Saren ignored it, leaving Shepard behind and passing through the gateway to the station alone.

A second batarian was making his way in the opposite direction, seemingly to meet the Normandy in the docking bay. Saren noted his armour was quality and without a mercenary emblem. He could have been one of Aria’s if the asari was still in charge of the station. It didn’t concern him for the moment, even when the male gasped and moved out of his way. If Aria was in charge, she’d know soon enough regardless.

Stale air assaulted his nostrils, garbage and refuse lingering underneath the stench of over-recycled air. Bypassing Afterlife, the biotic headed for the markets to one of his many contacts. An elcor shopkeeper had long since been on his retainer.

Upon arriving, the markets were filled with the usual riff-raff. A mix of species only matched by the markets on the Citadel milled about in search of wares to keep themselves alive. The lights and sounds overwhelmed, the smell and taste that lingered in the air was sickening. There was a good reason why Saren rarely visited this place. He felt like he needed to bathe again despite it only having been a handful of hours.

Stepping up to the correct shop, Harrot recognized him without difficulty. His tone was the typical monotonous of his species. “Wary greeting: Spectre Arterius, what a surprise. How may I assist you?”

“I need the following supplies,” Saren told him without preamble as he passed over a datapad with his requests. He felt no need to engage in idle chatter, it was obvious the elcor wanted him gone as soon as possible and he had no reason to stay longer than necessary.

After reading it, Harrot responded as he’d expected. “Fearful: I do not have all of this in stock. It will take time.”

“An omnitool and the best pistol you have, I’ll take first. The rest is to be delivered to the docking bay noted on my order by the end of the cycle.” Saren did not leave room for argument and the elcor didn’t try. This was not their first encounter and it was unlikely to be their last.

Outfitted with finer equipment, Saren set out for the rapid transit hub. It would take too long on foot to get to the armourer and implant specialist he preferred. His senses attuned to the world around him and began to catch glimpses of what he’d missed. Two years was a long time to go dark, too long. Whispers of Collectors, a plague and of some vigilante called Archangel all assaulted his aural canals.

By the time he sat down in the quietude of a private sky-car, he felt overdrawn. Winded almost, with everything he’d learned from a mere hour abroad. The amount of studying the biotic would need to overcome this setback felt like a lead weight settling down over his shoulders. Too much had happened. He’d been gone too long.

Once his destination was set, Saren brought up his new omnitool’s interface with a flick of his wrist to begin setting his preferences: the haptic interface was set for single-handed use and the orange glow was dimmed down to an appropriate setting. The extranet was fast enough with a few tweaks in the coding for him to start downloading some of his contacts and data from the network. After his time dark, he expected some of it to have been pulled down or be corrupted, but enough was there to begin getting a handle on his old life.

Thousands of messages began downloading. Saren closed his eyes against the onslaught, taking a deep breath to steady himself. Those could come later. For the moment, there was only one person he wanted to speak with.

Taking his time, he brought up the search bar and began typing in a name.

\\

Search Inbox: Garrus Vakarian

Returned: 0 results

Attempt New Query?

\\

Saren blinked and reran the search. Nothing came up.

Before the biotic could convince himself otherwise, he sent off a test ping to see if he could at least reach him. Within a few seconds, a failure to send report returned instead. Growling, he tried the Detective’s other address. Nothing.

Garrus had deleted himself from the extranet or at the least he’d disabled the simplest ways to contact him. He was gone.

There had been no reason for Garrus to suspect that he’d ever get out of custody. There had never been a hearing or legal procession. From the time he’d been jailed on Council order, he’d disappeared from public view. Curious, Saren pulled up an extranet tab and typed his own name into the search function. Perhaps that would help him begin to understand what he’d missed while he was imprisoned.

\\

Search Extranet: Saren Arterius Status

Returned: 1 345 243 results

Top Result: Deceased

\\

His arm dropped and Saren fell back into the seat, stunned. A cavalcade of emotions boiled underneath the surface and his mind refused to settle on any one in particular. He was angry with the Council, for certain, but it was the feeling of betrayal that roiled in his gut more than anything else. He was imprisoned and legally made out to be deceased. There was no apparent trial, simply a guilty verdict.

Garrus probably believed him dead right along with the rest of the galaxy.

He checked the date of his supposed death and it made him laugh aloud, the sound bitter as it fell from his throat. He’d died two days after Shepard . The coincidence was too perfect. Whether the Council had done it then to hide the news under the stories about the human or vice versa, he’d probably never know.

It was possible that information had been part of Garrus’ reasoning for disappearing or perhaps it had solely been Shepard’s death.

Or neither.

Garrus was an intelligent turian. If he hadn’t been, then Saren would never have wasted his time on him in the first place. He wouldn’t have left a comfortable life to disappear into nothingness without cause. He couldn’t have. Nothing in his Hierarchy or C-Sec files pointed to depression or mental instability.

Before he could draw conclusions, Saren was forced back to reality by the familiar pull of deceleration. The taxi’s cheap inertial dampeners didn’t do much to mask the feeling. He closed out the omnitool and schooled his features back to his typical blank expression.

It didn’t matter that inside he warred with himself. He had tasks to accomplish and a timeline to make, Shepard would be waiting for him in a few hours. Research could come later.

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