Tony Stark was tired and grumpy and did not want to deal with any meetings but he’d promised Pepper to be a good boy and go to the meetings for the next week. And he already hated it.
“What’s next.” He groaned. You’d think recently revealing himself to be Iron Man would save him from this. Give him some leeway.
“A lunch meeting with the Mass Effect Foundation,” Pepper responded. “They’re a global organization that specialize in multiple areas but also are the Foundation that helps run task forces like the Grey Wardens.”
“As in like Cousland?” Tony asked, mentioning one of his favourite security officers who was an ex-Grey Warden. “She never tells me what the Wardens are.”
“Security reasons Tony.” Pepper reminded him.
“It’s about my suit.” Tony sighed. “At least I’ll get lunch out of it.” With that, they headed to the restaurant that was picked out, a rather nice place that wasn’t too upscale. They were lead into the backroom by the waitress to find two women who were much older than Tony but he couldn’t place their ages.
“Dr. Stark,” one of them said. She was grey-haired with bright green eyes. “Commander Valerie Shepard, head of the Mass Effect Foundation. This is my wife and second in command, Dr. Liara T’Soni.” The other woman stood to shake his hand. It felt odd her hand, but Shepard got his attention. “You like burgers? This place is amazing for them. I’m thrilled Grunt decided to open this place, did I say that before love?”
“You have. Every time you see him.” T’Soni said. Tony frowned.
“You know the owners?” Asked Pepper politely.
“Grunt? I sorta raised him. He was part of the Foundation until he decided to open this place up. Great cook.” Shepard said cheerfully.
“So you brought us to your territory,” Tony said cheerfully, trying to figure out her goal. With Fury, it had been simple. He wanted an in. What did this woman want?
“I brought you to a place where I could trust that everything we say won’t be repeated.” Shepard corrected. “I’m about to tell you several secrets that if you say to anyone not in the know I get to drag you to the deepest darkest hole and throw you in.” Shepard grinned. “Fun secrets.”
“You’re not after the suit,” Tony stated more than asked. Shepard smirked and then nodded to her wife who put a silver disk on the table. It flickered on and a hologram appeared above it of people flying around in suits.
“What the-“ Pepper breathed as Tony stared. As far as he knew he was the only one with that technology.
“Kid- we’ve got suits like it. We’ve had them since our beginning in World War II.” Shepard grinned further. “Let’s order and then I’ll start my story.” Tony studied her for a second but then grinned.
“Burgers are good?”
“Hell yeah.” They picked out their food and a waitress came in to take their orders. “I… I know… do I know you?”
“Somewhat ma’am.” The waitress grinned. “I’m an anthropology student.”
“Oh! I must have played your visa then.” Shepard nodded and Tony frowned. “I’ll have- okay stop with the look.”
“The doctors said to cut out your alcohol and you know it, Valerie.” T’Soni told her.
“A glass of wine won’t-“
“No.” Shepard groaned but ordered a Pepsi while Tony did order some beer that made Shepard pout at him. He just grinned at her. He liked her. Pepper could tell and she was happy for her friend. He didn’t have many people who liked him.
“Alright, so my story starts back in World War II.” Shepard started when the waitress left. “I was helping with guerilla warfare against the Nazis.”
“You must have been young,” Tony said.
“I was twenty-two so yeah.” Tony blinked and Shepard grinned. “So while I was helping with this, we get notice of a large crash near us. We think it’s either Allies or Nazis. So we go over and what do we find? We find a goddamn spaceship.”
“... I’m sorry what?” Tony asked, blinking. Shepard laughed.
“Spaceship. As in aliens and shit. Let me tell you that was a shocking discovery.” Shepard looked thrilled she was causing his shock. Old lady probably didn’t get to have much fun.
“Bullshit.” Shepard just widened her grin.
“Liara?” Her wife smiled and reached up to remove a holograph device around her neck, revealing a blue-skinned woman with tentacles for hair.
“... what the fuck?” Tony asked as Pepper stared in shock.
“Ha! Never gets old!” Shepard cackled. “Anyway- So in the ship was Liara here- an Asari archeologist, a Turian named Nihlus who was special ops-“ Liara flicked the holodisk on the table and a picture of a spiky alien with red face marks appeared. It was followed by another blue. “Another Turian named Garrus. A Quarian named Tali-“ a suited figured appeared. “And a Krogan named Wrex. Along with others but these are the important people.” Another alien with a plate on his head appeared. “It seemed that while we were fighting on Earth, they were fighting in space. Or at least they were about to launch into a war. Nihlus had reason to believe so anyway.” She sighed. “He was right but not the point. The point is here is this group of young adults stumbling upon aliens during a war. It was hard but some of us decided to help them fix their ship. We couldn’t leave them like they were. What if the Nazis or Hydra got them? And their advanced weapons?” Tony shuddered. “So me, Kaidan Alenko, Ashley Williams, Jacob Taylor, Miranda Lawson, Jack Harper-“ the name Jack was spat out bitterly and it made Tony eye the pictures showing up. He was an older man with grey hair. He wondered why Shepard has so much bitterness. “And David Anderson stayed to help. After we helped fix it though Hydra found us. Turns out our group had a mole who’d alerted Hydra- and then killed the others. So the aliens took us onboard and off we went to space.”
“That’s… impressive.” Tony said as the waitress came in- not batting an eye at Liara- and handed them their drinks. “So what happened in space.”
“Turned out Nihlus was hunting down a rogue agent named Saren who was working with a race of A.I. called Reapers,” Shepard explained. More pictures showed up. “The Reapers would routinely go around and wipe out everyone every fifty thousand years or everyone who’d achieved spaceflight anyway.”
“I’ll get to it don’t worry,” Shepard told Pepper. The old woman stretched a bit. “Me and the others began helping out. We couldn’t go back to earth and we wanted to be useful. I had been born with a bad heart but I didn’t let it stop me.”
“She nearly had a heart attack twice.”
“Hey! I’m telling the story!” Shepard said. “Anyway, we helped stop Saren and I got a new heart out of it. But we also decided to stay in space cause well… it was nice.”
“She means she was the one to take down Saren when it turned out he let the Reapers implant him with robotic parts, taking control of his body and turning him into a robot when he died. She jumped on him and ripped his head off while suffering a heart attack which is why she got a heart replacement.”
“It wasn’t as badass as it sounds,” Shepard said. “And the reason we stayed wasn’t because of that. I stayed because I prefer women or well woman shaped people. Back then? That was a big no. Jacob stayed because as a black man he was much more at ease in space, Anderson stayed because he found a calling working with the military, Kaidan discovered that abilities he had hidden for years were normal in space, Ashley stayed because she preferred space to earth for its treatment of women and Jack along with Miranda… they stayed for another reason.” Shepard sighed. “Okay I did this wrong. Reapers have some tech or something that targeted brain waves. It could mind control people. I’m not lying. Jack got a face full of it and we thought we’d got it all out and we did but…”
“Jack was already a bit of a wild card,” Liara said tactfully.
“No, no. I’ll tell it how it is. Jack was an egotistical asshole who believed in his own supremacy. He wasn’t racist or sexist or anything. He considered that dull, unimaginative. But he was a dick.” Shepard sighed. “He ran off with Miranda, joining some group that wanted to take over Council Space- Council being the government we were dealing with. Miranda only joined him cause she considered him a father figure as her’s… let’s just leave it as was an abusive asshole.” Shepard sighed. “So I go along with Nihlus in helping clean up the Geth- who were robots created by the Quarians who went rogue and tried to murder them all but not. It’s complicated.”
“What my wife means is that the Geth were helping the Reapers- or at least somewhere. So she and Nihlus went to go and deal with small bands still going around. That was when their ship was attacked.” Liara explained.
“Nihlus didn’t make it. And with him dead and just a bunch of random aliens who didn’t even have an embassy on the Citadel where the Council was, a Krogan like Wrex and there’s some serious racism there, an Asari whose mother had been helping Saren, and a Quarian where there’s also racism there… no one wanted to think about the Reapers.” Shepard sighed. “So me and Liara ran off to become spies-“
“I became an information broker and Shepard became a mercenary.”
“Spies basically,” Shepard said. “Through this we discovered the people who caused the ship destruction and I began pursuing them. Jacob and Ash joined up to help while Anderson stayed on the Citadel to cover for us. Jack and Miranda reached out after a while to help and we took it cautiously. We met some interesting people along the way. An Asari Justicar- I’ll give you notes later- a Salarian scientist, a Drell assassin. As well we met Grunt- a biologically engineered Krogan. We killed the Galaxy’s biggest info broker, Liara took his place and then we went and blew up the enemy’s homeworld. After finding out they were the remnants of a race killed by the Reapers. They’d been known as Protheans and they were and kind of are a big deal. We also got proof of the Reapers so we have that to the council and I was a good girl and agreed to being kind of locked up until guess what? Reapers came. Of course, by then the Council had already reached out to other space bodies.” Shepard sighed. “There is a lot of complicated stuff I think I forgot. Okay, back to this. There are these things called Mass Relays which can basically slingshot you to different solar systems around the Milky Way. They were left there as a trap by the Reapers. If they could control how organically developed and could control how they travelled…”
“Much easier to kill.” Pepper and Tony said, voices dark. Shepard pointed at them.
“Exactly. However, Reapers got cocky and didn’t think anyone would go hmm, obvious trap is obvious. That’s the meme right?”
“Talk to Anna about that love I have no clue.”
“Whatever. I’m old I can make bad meme jokes. So there is a bunch of space flight worlds out there that don’t use it. So the Council contacts them and then the Reapers come and start attacking everyone. We get word of a possible weapon, book it and find its plans to build one, we send it in, get word of another possible weapon and turns out cryogenic freezing works and hey we have a Prothean on our team which was fun. Javik’s a dick but a good teammate. Then we run around the galaxy dealing with bullshit because the end of the current galaxy is the time for bitching and fighting. We solve some shit, I’m named sister to Wrex who has become the leader of all Krogan, we save people and then we find the creators of the Reapers.”
“The creators?” Tony asked.
“Yep. Okay, long story. But psychic abilities aren’t that uncommon. I mean, Liara here is an Asari. A monogendered race who reproduce by melding minds together. The creators of the Reapers- who I called Leviathan cause they never gave me a name and I thought giant ass aliens who can mind control people deserved that name- had created and A.I. to solve a problem. Why do organic life and synthetic life fight?” Shepard spread her hands. “A.I. research has been banned after multiple incidents of the A.I. turning on their creators. At least in Citadel space. I had a good laugh at the Council’s faces when it came out that other civilizations hadn’t and it was fine. But they all admitted at first it does happen. The thing is you need to treat A.I.-“
“As people or children.” Tony interrupted her. “That’s what I do.”
“Exactly.” Shepard nodded. “But the Leviathan race weren’t the type to do that for themselves. They had slave races they controlled with their powers. They didn’t want to think about it and they didn’t want metal servants who they couldn’t control. I’m fairly certain they would have just destroyed the A.I. after it was all done. But instead… the A.I. decided the way to prevent it from happening was to murder all advanced civilization every fifty thousand years.” At the looks, she was given Shepard nodded. “I know. Anyway, all the Leviathans booked it, and a few survived. I managed to convince them to help and luckily they all died during the war otherwise we’d still be fighting them. We finished the weapon to kill the Reapers and discovered that the A.I. was housed sighing the Citadel where our leadership was. And we needed it for our weapon. I went there and was confronted by Jack. We’d split from each other after he wished for me to save the homeworld- which was a ship- of the people who killed Nihlus. Miranda stayed with me, her eyes opened. Jack wanted to control the Reapers. He was mad with the Reaper’s control. He shot Anderson who was with me. I convinced him to back down after a long talk. And then I activated the weapon. Citadel was destroyed, I nearly died but got saved. Most of me is metal now after that hence why I look younger than I am. I’m ageing slower.” She shrugged. “After the dust cleared and we rebuilt I learned something about humans.”
“We both did.” Liara Said. She looked amused, and a little embarrassed. “Asari had been considered the most advanced in the Galaxy even among non-Citadel civilizations. But the truth was we were hiding a data storage of info from the Protheans, using it to be the most advanced. After everything we got a very long talking to.”
“But it’s not about that. What I found out is that humans are the most adaptable species in the galaxy. We’re the most diverse and the sturdiest. We don’t give up. I’ve only met one other race who is similar to us and even they don’t have as much adaptability as we do because they were bioengineered. Due to this and the realization from all the people I knew I had to protect Earth. What would happen if a race decided to wipe us out before we got strong enough to fight them? What would happen if they decided to enslave us before we developed tools to use against them? So I came back to Earth with my friends, my wife, and we created the Foundation.”
“How many times have we almost been invaded?”
“One hundred. Exactly- we just fought off another Batarian attempt. Dumbasses.” Shepard shook her head. “We’ve also slowly been introducing high tech gadgets. We also give companies stuff so it’s not to obvious we’re doing it though frankly I fucking hated Howard so he never got jackshit from me. And you? You’re miles ahead of the rest of the planet. You made A.I.s, a flying suit, holograms. That’s damn impressive.”
“We also are cautiously debating about opening up a bit.” Liara Said. “My people have a planet in their system that we are willing to give to humanity as a settlement planet.”
“Colony in space baby.” Shepard grinned. “We’re also negotiating about terraforming Mars but we also discovered a Prothean ruin there so our plans are really put on hold.”
“That’s… wow.” Tony blinked. “Why come to me?”
“You’re a genius,” Shepard replied. “Like I said you’re miles ahead of the rest of the Earth. I know you have some stake in opening up to the rest of the galaxy, but not like others would. Also? You’re a big goddamn hero.” Shepard sounded like she was quoting someone with that, and Liara’s face showed it was a quote.
“Please stop. Zaeed is a pain.”
“Zaeed is awesome,” Shepard replied. “But anyway- my point is that you Dr. Stark are someone I can trust with this. I don’t trust SHIELD. Fury is someone who believes the ends justify the means and I’ll admit I’ve done some dark stuff. But he pushes it a bit too far. The World Security Council I don’t trust at all. I don’t trust a lot of governments despite them usually being in the know because I deal with them bitching at me about my slow integration of tech.”
“But you trust me?”
“I trust that you’ll love to play with alien tech. But you’re at your core a good man.” Shepard smirked. “So, let’s eat. You can read over some stuff I’ll send you and then we can meet up. Our A.I. can chat with yours-“
“If Joker lets her,” Liara said.
“If he gets pouty his ship girlfriend is talking to another A.I. I’m laughing in his face.” Shepard told Liara.
“Wait, you know a guy who fell in love with an A.I.?” Asked Tony, highly amused as the door opened and the waitress came back in.
“We ragging on Joker?” She asked, handing out the food. Tony jerked seeing some floating in the air, blue light around them.
“He the one to pick you up from the Citadel University?” Shepard asked. “He the reason you chose the USA for your… what did we call it? I think I let you name it.” She turned to Liara.
“Integrated study program. Letting students see how humans live.” Liara said in an amused voice.
“Actually I wanted Canada.” The girl replied, reaching up to tap her necklace and revealing she was an Asari like Liara. “I was one of the kids Commando Kaidan Alenko saved. I wanted to see where he grew up. But Canada is full.”
“... I’m confused. I assume this was back when the Reaper war was going on…”
“Asari can live for a thousand years,” Liara explained. “I’m nearly two hundred.”
“Yeah. And Commando Alenko… he saved me. So I chose somewhere close to Canada.”
“Kaidan was a good man,” Shepard said, sounding sad. “He’d be honoured you wanted to go to Canada.” The waitress smiled then she put her hologram back on and left.
“How many?” Tony asked gently. Shepard knew what he meant.
“Kaidan. Anderson. Jack. We lost Legion to- a Geth robot who worked on our side. Mordin died too. Thane was terminally ill, and while he still fought he died due to complications after being stabbed. We lost so many but those were the ones I knew. And… well, time goes by. Miranda has to get cybernetics to so she’s still around. But they weren’t as extensive. She had to retire. Physically she’s probably in her seventies. Fit as hell though.” Shepard sighed. “Ashley is in a nursing home. Actually she’s in Peggy Carter’s home. Dementia got her. Jacob is dead- died two years ago. Tali is dead. Quarians don’t tend to live long. Garrus is still working. He’s my other second in command.” Liara chuckled.
“The only reason I’m your second is I can talk you out of stuff. Garrus goes along with your crackpot ideas.”
“Okay true. Samara is off doing her duties. I’ll send you info on what she’s doing but she’s going running a monastery for Ardat Yakshi. More info will be given. Krogan can live for centuries- or even over a thousand years so Wrex is still leader of the Krogan. Grunt’s here… EDI is up and alive to. She’s the A.I. we were talking about. She was with us during or mission to the homeworld. I think… I think I forgot to mention her which isn’t right.” Shepard groaned. “Old age sucks.”
“You’re still sharp honey.” Shepard sighed but smiled at her wife before they began eating.
The burger was delicious and chewing let Tony think a bit more.
“Can I have a few days to think about it?” Shepard nodded.
“Sure. I’ll send you info about the Thedosian nations to if you want- not that they need to come out anymore.” Tony winced, remembering how a giant green hole had appeared above the country and how it had finally came out that there was magic there- along with actual elves and dwarves. And demons. And qunari. A lot of stuff really. “We also have the one who kickstarted it in custody. Elven god. Was a bitch blocking his powers.”
“No. He’s dead. But the guy behind him isn’t. It’s a long story and I honestly did not care after the first bit. They got the guy. I’m happy.” Shepard shrugged. “I was also busy dealing with the fall out of Thedas magic being revealed and also dealing with another invasion so yeah.”
“You have a lot on your plate,” Tony said sympathetically.
“You have no idea. But I do have heirs. Protege people. Whatever. But that will be explained if you agree. They’re on a hush-hush mission.” Shepard told Tony and he nodded. “Now, let’s eat. I’ll send you files and… next week? There’s a little place that sells alien food if you know how to ask.”
“Sure. Sounds great.” Tony grinned. He felt he would like working with Shepard.
The many, many, many files Shepard sent were a doozy to go through. Some were personal files- some on people in his own company. Notes said retired and he was inclined to believe them. Other files were on some of her agents he might run into.
But he was more interested in the data at first. And so he read. He read about the Geth- how they were created by Quarians and when they learned they were evolving many had become disturbed and tried to shut them down, only for the Geth to turn on them. He read about the three hundred year time that the Quarians travelled on ships and were seen as lesser. He read about how that changed and a tentative peace was brokered and then hardened into full peace during the Reaper War.
He read about Krogans and the genophage- the sterility plague out on them by the Turians and Salarians. He read about their anger and bitterness. He read about the cure and the peace.
He read about biotics and element zero, how Kaidan Alenko was an incredibly rare- or even the first- human biotic after his mother found element zero on earth and was exposed while pregnant. He learned about Jack- not Harper- a young girl kidnapped from Earth because of her biotic potential and turned into a weapon.
He read about the planets and the governments and he was a bit upset there wasn’t any other information on tech but he accepted it. He probably be allowed more later.
He turned his attention to the Thedosian nations after that and that was staggering.
Blight, Darkspawn- no wonder they had such strict laws about people coming in and out- magic, the Chantry… it was all so much.
There was news of places like Kirkwall and the war fought there, of how devastating a Blight could be. How it could destroy everything it touched. Learning the full news about the giant green hole- how it was a way into another realm that apparently surrounded Earth and it was only thanks to luck that magic only manifested in Thedas- or something else.
After reading all of those, plus her files on how she wanted to reveal alien life to Earth- filled with notes and corrections from her wife- and the dossiers, Tony sat back and thought.
Should he help? Or should he let her find someone else?
It really was a no brainer.
He called Shepard. “Hey, want to meet up earlier? I wanna get a contract going.”
Why the hell would he turn this down?