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Monday, August 13, 2187 (morning)

Seated in the Normandy mess hall, Valdin Lam and Arien T’Nassa were pointedly discussing a minor question of Reaper psychology. Neither party particularly cared about the answer, but neither would ever admit that. Gefyra looked on in silence.

In Liara’s cabin, Liara and Javik were finalizing the complete draft of their book before sending it off to the editor. They were not consciously aware of just how closely they were sitting together.

In the Starboard Observation Lounge, Kaidan and Shepard sat on the couch, Shepard seated sideways with his feet on the couch and his back pressed against Kaidan. Kaidan was reviewing the next week’s duty roster, while Shepard was reviewing the last conversation he’d had with Tlotchcani, the new point of contact among the “friendly” Reapers. Compared to Bucharu, this one was downright chatty, but had a habit of making very cryptic remarks.

“‘Bucharu’s legacy’, that’s obvious enough,” Shepard said, thumbing his datapad. “But can you make anything of ‘secrets of light and dark’?”

“Mmh. Could mean anything,” Kaidan said.

“I’ll run it past T’Nassa later,” Shepard decided.

The two returned to sitting in comfortable silence.

The peace was interrupted by Kaidan’s omnitool beeping. As Kaidan tapped his omnitool to check on the notification, Shepard turned his head to look.

“Huh. Looks like I just got a recorded message from Councilor Tevos,” Kaidan said.

“Well? Let’s hear it,” Shepard said.

Kaidan pressed the ‘play’ button on his omnitool.

“Spectre Alenko,” the message began, “the Council requests your presence aboard the Destiny Ascension, at your convenience. We have a matter that could use your attention, but the details are sensitive. Spectre Shepard is welcome to accompany you.”

“‘At your convenience.’ I wonder what that’s about,” Shepard said.

As Kaidan and Shepard exited the lounge and headed toward the mess hall, they heard the sound of Lam and T’Nassa continuing their discussion.

“… arrogance their most defining trait,” Lam insisted.

“What we experience as arrogance is actually just a product of their singular motivation,” T’Nassa said. “They have no drives for things like pride or confidence. They consider a multitude of possibilities, then select the path that ruthlessly maximizes their goal.”

Lam waved his hand dismissively. “Yes, yes, but ‘multitude’ is constrained,” he said, complete with air quotes. “Unwilling or unable to consider ‘lesser beings’ as capable of generating effective counterstrategies.”

“Ah, but now we’re getting into the question of why Reapers don’t simply perform full-body quantum simulations of… Oh, hello there, spectres,” T’Nassa said.

“Having a productive conversation?” Shepard asked.

Before T’Nassa could answer, Gefyra spoke up. “I have found it enlightening,” it said. “I have made 47 observations about asari and salarian behavior that are novel to the geth.”

“Well, I’m glad we could entertain you,” T’Nassa said with exasperated sarcasm.

“Now, now, play nice,” Shepard said.

Kaidan smirked at Shepard and shook his head. “You two have been at this for a while. Why don’t you take a break?”

T’Nassa lifted an eyebrow skeptically. Lam scowled.

“Seriously. No talking shop for 15 minutes is all I ask,” Kaidan insisted. “It’ll help clear your heads.  In the meantime, Shepard and I have some business to attend to.”

“What sort of business?” Lam asked, curious.

“Spectre business.  We’re about to head to the Destiny Ascension to get the details.”

“I hope this doesn’t mean more trouble with the Reapers,” T’Nassa said.

“The councilor’s message didn’t sound urgent, for what it’s worth,” Shepard said.

“That’s a good sign, I suppose,” she said.

“Relatively speaking,” Lam said.  “Spectre business has a habit of becoming urgent.”

“Which is why we’re on our way right now,” Kaidan said.  “See you soon.”

“Farewell, and good luck,” T’Nassa said.

As Shepard and Kaidan rode the elevator down to the cargo bay, Kaidan tapped his omnitool.  “Joker, Shepard and I are heading over to the Destiny Ascension to speak with the Council.  You and James hold the fort while I’m gone, alright?”

“I’d say ‘no problem’, but last time I said that the Collectors kidnapped the crew, so I’m not gonna jinx us,” Joker replied.

Kaidan looked at Shepard, whose smile had faltered.  “I’ll tell you later,” Shepard eventually mumbled.

“Copy that,” Kaidan finally replied to Joker.

The elevator arrived, and the two stepped out into the cargo bay.  Steve was working on the Kodiak, a panel popped off to expose the inertial dampener coils.  James was disassembling one of the assault rifles for maintenance.  The KEI-9 mech was ‘sleeping’ at James’s feet.

Kaidan approached Steve.  “Cortez, how soon can you have the shuttle prepped for departure?” he asked.

“Give me about ten minutes,” Steve said.  “Where are you heading?”

“Destiny Ascension.  We’re meeting with the Council.”  At Steve’s expression, Kaidan reached out his hand, palm forward in a ‘stop’ gesture. “No rush, we have time,” he added.

“The Council, huh?” James called out as he approached.  “What’s the occasion?”

Kaidan raised his hands and shrugged.  “Not sure.  I got a pretty vague message from Councilor Tevos.  It’s Spectre business; that’s about all I know.”

“Man, remind me to never become a Spectre.”

Shepard’s lips twitched.  “Uh huh,” he said with amusement.

“Yeah, I read your reports on the Saren mission, Loco, and the Council doesn’t sound easy to work for.  One minute they’re saying they don’t want to get involved in the details, the next they’re shouting at you for getting one of the details wrong.  All stick and no carrot, no?”

“There is that.”

“So I figure, they ever ask me to be a Spectre, I turn ‘em down flat.”

“I’m sure they’ll be disappointed,” he said, nearly keeping a straight face.

Shepard and Kaidan walked side-by-side into the Destiny Ascension’s makeshift Council chambers, where the three alien councilors were already assembled and waiting.

“Councilors?” Kaidan asked.

“Welcome, spectres,” Councilor Tevos said. “And congratulations on your recent wedding. I hope the ceremony was everything you wanted it to be. Does the day find you well?”

“It does, and thank you,” Kaidan said. “Now, what was this matter that needed my attention?”

“Ah, straight to business,” she said. “I’ve recently received word of strange activity spotted in the vicinity of Niacal. Reaper activity.”

“Niacal? I’ve heard the name before, but I can’t quite place it…” Kaidan said.

“Niacal is one of our colony worlds in the Orisoni system, in the heart of asari territory,” she said. “Before the Reaper War, they were best known for developing bioengineered crops. Since synthetic biology made their knowledge base obsolete, the planet has fallen into a deep economic depression.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Shepard said.

“So are we. The Thessian republic of Serrice is finalizing plans for a financial aid package for the colonists. Unfortunately, the post-war rebuilding effort has been straining everyone’s finances, especially on Thessia, so the aid package won’t be much.”

Councilor Valern waved his hands. “But enough about economics,” the salarian said. “We suspect that the hostile Reaper faction is active there, though we cannot confirm it, and we have little idea of what they could be doing. The Council suggests that it may be worth your time to investigate.”

“Fair enough. Anything else?” Kaidan asked.

Councilor Sparatus stepped forward. “This is where it gets sensitive,” he said. “Shepard, we would prefer that you and the remaining members of the Applied Theology task force stay here while Alenko investigates this. As you may have heard, the major structural repairs to the Citadel have been completed. The full damage will take years to undo, of course, but the Presidium and all five Wards are habitable again. We’re drawing up plans to transport the Earth-bound refugees back to the Citadel. There’s no way to move 9 million people and keep it a secret, of course, but nonetheless we’re trying to keep it as quiet as we can until it’s done. We’d like Applied Theology to be on hand in case the hostile Reapers find out and try to intervene.”

Kaidan and Shepard looked at each other. Kaidan frowned slightly. Shepard gave a shrug and a small nod.

“Alright,” Kaidan said. “We’ll start making arrangements.”

“Good,” the turian said. “If there’s nothing else to discuss…”

Tevos and Valern stayed silent.

“Meeting adjourned.”