Giuseppe Verdi - Patria oppressa
Giuseppe Verdi - Patria oppressa
Passing through the atmosphere of Helyme, the advanced shuttle slowly dropped in altitude. Disengaging stealth systems, the pilot skillfully maneuvered the craft between crumbling and abandoned skyscrapers.
They were remnants of a civilization long since passed, supposedly destroyed by the misuse of biological weapons. The planet was under surveillance by quarantine satellites, reporting any activity to watchful authorities on Illium.
Feron smiled to himself, gazing out the shuttle window as it glided over the ruins. Almost every official on Illium was in Liara’s pocket. It was easy enough to throw them a few incentives to look the other way, while the Shadow Broker built a secret installation on a usually inaccessible planet.
It was protected by powerful shields, signal jammers, advanced turret defenses and various devices that masked electromagnetic output. The entire facility was off the grid, with no extranet access and ridiculously tight security. Feron wasn’t one to take chances, especially this close to the Terminus.
The shuttle began its descent to the landing pad. Several armed guards jogged out to meet them as they touched down. As the door opened, Feron stood up and casually strolled toward the main doors with one of the mercenaries in tow.
The drell was wearing black mesh body armor and combat boots, in place of his usual attire. His custom M-12 Locust was carefully hidden in a shoulder holster beneath his long tactical coat. A small, discreet device attached to his belt generated a personal cyclonic shield. It would easily stand up to a barrage of rapid gunfire, technology developed and shared by the Quarians during the Reaper War.
Feron walked through the facility at a brisk pace, bypassing several engineers in electronic clean rooms and more patrolling guards. Everyone always made an effort to get out of his way, since they knew exactly who he was. The drell found it amusing, since none of them had a single reason to fear him. Reputation alone was enough to keep people in line. He preferred that to violence or childish intimidation.
Reaching the main construction bay, Feron stopped briefly and looked through the massive observation windows. The ship had almost reached completion.
It’s visual design was heavily based on the original Normandy SR-1, a sleek and maneuverable frigate with the ability to outrun any vessel in the galaxy. This version had a more custom feel, with a slightly metallic sheen in varying shades of dark gray.
It would be more difficult to detect at distances with the naked eye. Not that it mattered, since it was also equipped with advanced stealth systems. In terms of weapons, the ship was outfitted with GARDIAN lasers and Javelin disruptor torpedoes.
The vessel was specifically designed for evasion, with the ability to strike quickly and run. Due to this, it was lightly armored and given cyclonic shield generators to compensate for rapid strikes against the hull in close quarters combat.
With a smirk on his lips, Feron turned away and continued down the long hallway adjacent to the construction bay. He needed to find the project lead and get a status report. The engineers were having difficulty implementing an efficient power solution for the ship. The information network hub inside was competing for energy with vital systems.
The drell was prepared to acquire any resources they wished, no matter how ridiculous. It was important for him to finish this. The ship had become somewhat of an obsession for Feron, one of the most ambitious things he’d ever done.
He knew Liara would make good use of it, a mobile station capable of defending itself and fighting off Cerberus. They’d barely escaped back on Hagalaz, at great cost. Feron felt his memories begin to draw him back to that dark, awful ship. Closing his eyes for a moment, he saw the shape of a massive yahg looming over him.
Shaking his head, the drell pushed the images aside and continued his trek to the other end of the complex. He’d repay his debt to Liara and Shepard, give them the tools they needed to keep doing important work.
It was the least he could do.
Jide Kosoko was on his lunch break when he got the call. He had been working on installing the shield generators with a few others from the work crew for most of the day. He knew none of their names, just faces. Despite that, they still went on lunch break together, laughing and joking around like any other job.
Only it wasn’t any other job. They never discussed anything personal, only general topics like politics or celebrities or the days work. Like Jide, the workers on this project prided themselves in secrecy and discretion.
They had all heard whispers of who their employer was, but Jide knew for certain: he was building a ship for the Shadow Broker. His orders were drilled into him. He knew exactly what to do, and had the tools to do it. He was ready to move at any time. That was why, as he took another bite of his lunch, he wasn’t surprised when he heard a quiet beep in his surgically implanted earpiece.
It was time for his real job to begin.
The Illusive Man settled into his chair in the depths of Leviathan base, placing his whiskey on one arm and tapping a button on the other to activate Watchdog.
"Watchdog, contact Operative Kosoko. Aeneas Protocol is in effect."
With that, he sat back in his chair, waiting to be connected to the feed from the camera concealed within Kosoko’s contact lense. Today was going to be quite satisfying.
Losing the Broker ship to Dr. T’Soni’s last ditch kamikaze attack had been an inexcusable misstep. The officers in charge of capturing the ship had been warned not to charge in guns blazing, but apparently they thought themselves better tacticians than he. Needless to say, they were no longer with Cerberus.
With the Broker’s ship destroyed, The Illusive Man had salvaged as much as he could from the wreckage- not much, but still some intel of value. T’Soni had done an excellent job of wiping data when his two officers had practically announced their presence to the entire planet.
The rules of the situation had now changed. Without that ship as a central operations network, the Broker’s information network was a shadow of it’s former glory, effectively putting the Illusive Man at the head of the galaxy’s most powerful information network.
The Illusive Man intended to remained firmly at the top of that network. A few key bugs planted during the construction would provide an entirely new wellspring of information, and certainly the inside track on T’Soni and the Alliance. Which now meant Shepard. He intended to keep one eye fixed on the movements of his old adversary. Shepard had a knack of disrupting his plans.
Cerberus was still off the radar; assumed defeated. The Shadow Broker had no reason to take precautions against an organization that no longer existed, so it had been easy enough to slip a sleeper agent into the ranks. With the construction efforts nearing completion, it was high time to execute the operation.
Despite its seemingly trivial nature, this operation could provide a key advantage for him in the coming months. The Illusive Man templed his fingers and watched the screens intently.
“Cerberus isn’t as evil as most people think. The salarians have the Special Tasks Group, the asari have their legendary commandos for stealth and recon operations. Cerberus is humanity’s answer to those organizations.”
A gentle breeze sighed through the trees, it’s cool kiss prompting the Illusive Man to adjust the light leather jacket he was wearing now. The jacket, worn over a plain white polo shirt and a worn-in pair of blue jeans, was just enough to keep him pleasantly warm in the cool mid-morning, with the sun peeking between the trees and speckling the brown blanket of debris one expects to find on the ground in the woods.
The only sounds were his shoes, gently crunching out a beat on the dirt path, the intermittent chirping of the birds nestled among the trees, and the gentle lap of waves on the shore of the small lake that the forest path wound it’s way around. The sky above was a clear, calming blue, with a few puffy clouds meandering their way about up there beneath the sun’s warm gaze.
The Illusive Man took a long, languid breath in through his nose, savoring the crispness of the air. He had many pleasures to choose from: the best whiskey, the finest tobacco, and any number of beautiful women, but these occasional walks around the lake were his favorite.
Usually he was able to get up (early), eat a working breakfast, then head to the pool for his morning swim and shower before heading to the lake for his walk. Sadly, they were few and far between these days, what with all on his plate.
When Watchdog had informed him he had no pressing appointments today, nothing to keep his eye on, he had been certain that there was some kind of error, but after checking and re-checking he had finally concluded that he did, in fact, have time for a walk.
The stress had melted away the instant he stepped onto the path. This little patch of heaven did more to keep him sane than anything else at his disposal. It reminded him of days long past, adventuring through the Kentucky forest with his dog, Cooper.
He smiled fondly. That big, fluffy Golden had been his constant companion, always ready for an adventure but equally ready to curl up and be petted when a young Jack Harper needed somebody to lean on. He missed that dog. He always toyed with the idea of getting another, but it would simply be unfair to the dog. He didn’t have the time to put in the attention that a pet deserved.
There were many things that he had lost making the ascension to his place as humanity’s shield. But there was truth in the old adage “If you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself.” If he could find a successor worthy enough to take up the mantle, he would gladly retire and get back to the life he had left behind.
The Illusive Man meandered off the path, stepping on to the narrow strip of sand that marked the shore and looking out over the calm waters of the lake and the trees on the far side.
After so many years, he doubted there was much of a life to go back to. But that familiar Kentucky forest was still there, and so was the sun, the sky and the trees. And maybe he could finally get that dog.
But as he felt the hollow, sad pang in his heart, he knew that it was just another fantasy. This wasn’t a role that one simply left, not after everything he had done. And especially with all of Earth counting on him, his people and his home that he loved so much. The only person he trusted to do right by them was himself.
"Sir?" The voice came from behind him, startling him back into the present. He turned, spotting the young operative at the treeline. Patrick Carson. He knew Carson, not personally but from the dossiers. He had handpicked everyone now working in this station, after all.
He had a distressed look on his face, and looked ready to bolt back into the treeline. The poor kid had probably never seen his boss in person before.
"Sorry sir, I didn’t mean to bother you, it’s just… this spot… I didn’t expect…" he stammered. The Illusive Man smiled. Being intimidating had advantages, but this was not the time or place.
"Calm down, Patrick. You’re not intruding at all. You have excellent taste in relaxation spots, though." He waved Patrick down from the trees, motioning for him to stand at his side.
As if walking on glass, Patrick Carson walked down to the beach to stand beside the highest authority in Cerberus. The Illusive Man felt Patrick’s gaze taking him in, going over his features, lingering on his eyes. He felt the boy’s nervousness mix with a giddiness that came with meeting a celebrity, realizing that they aren’t so different from you.
"So, has she said yes yet?" The Illusive Man asked, remembering the details of Patrick’s dossier.
"Sir?" he asked, before making the connection. His face lit up with surprise that was buried under a rosy blush. "Oh, um. You mean Rachel," he said referring to one of the other station’s operatives that the Illusive Man knew he was interested in. "It’s uh. Not that simple," Patrick said, the blush still rising.
"It is that simple, son- you ask a girl out, she says yes or she says no,” he said, tossing a wink at the young Cerberus operative. “Should I issue an order for you? Go out with Patrick or face formal charges. Signed, The Illusive Man.”
Patrick let out a giddy but genuine laugh and a wide grin for the first time since the beginning of the conversation. The Illusive Man smiled too. The kid would have a heck of a story to tell at the water cooler.
The moment was cut short by the vibration of his omni-tool. Something required his attention. Damn.
"Well, I’m afraid duty calls. Nice to meet you Patrick, and enjoy the day," he said, giving the kid a warm, firm handshake.
"You too sir," Patrick replied, and then the Illusive Man was off, finishing the rest of the path and heading out the Atrium door and into the stark white hallways of Leviathan Base, miles beneath the ocean.
The Assault on the Illusive Man
Symphony No. 7 in A Major || Ludwig van Beethoven
The aroma of garlic and sautéing vegetables filled The Illusive Man’s apartment as he prepared tonight’s dinner. It had been a long day, as most days usually were as of late. Bringing the Cerberus juggernaut back up to it’s full operational potential was very taxing work.
Some days it felt almost like he was building the organization from the ground up again, trying to repair networks and recruit troops all while watching as the Alliance rolled over everything he had worked to accomplish. Today had been one of those days.
His black silk socks padded over the floor as he took a cold beer out of the fridge, cracked it, and took a long, relaxing sip. He sighed and turned on the news as he walked back to add chicken to his fledgling stir-fry.
It seemed they were in the middle of broadcasting another post-war reconstruction fluff piece. To an extent, it was good to see Earth, the home he loved so much, being rebuilt. But it still left a nasty taste in his mouth, and he couldn’t help but wonder if his plan- his carefully executed endgame, already set in motion at the Reaper reconstruction facilities- would harm Earth’s rebuilding efforts more than help.
The Alliance was firmly in peace mode, pouring money into education, infrastructure, and health care instead of defense. That was all well and good, but nobody ever seemed to stop and think that it would be damn difficult for their children to go to school and grandma to the doctor if they couldn’t protect themselves from singing the Turian national anthem every morning.
He took another sip of beer, adding noodles and a splash of water and sauces to the pan. That, certainly, was one of his reasons, but only one and not the major motivation, at that.
If people knew his reasons, he was certain many would applaud them. Sometimes the ends really did justify the means. In that old cliche, so abused and discredited over the years, existed a gem of wisdom that the Illusive Man believed others were finally starting to comprehend.
The ends did justify the means, but only if the ends were truly critical enough. Yet few were. In every endeavor humanity undertook there was an evaluation done.
Whether it was to give expensive medical treatment to a ninety year old who had little time left anyways, or to stop the exploitation of natural resources so that a certain species of animal could survive, or to spend trillions and sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives to establish a beach head of humanity in alien cultures in hopes that humanity could finally spread throughout the galaxy and take it’s rightful place on top.
Those decisions were made every day. And no matter which way they were decided, someone was hurt, often many died, many more lives were destroyed, but the decision had to be made. And that was exactly what The Illusive Man had done.
Indeed, he had executed it with far more planning and thought than most governments exercised when contemplating something just as monumental.
He reached over, gave his ingredients one last toss, and served it on a plate before grabbing his beer and walking down the two short steps to the living room.
He sank onto his plush leather sofa and took a bite of his completed meal, savoring each chew before finally swallowing.
Yes, he was doing the right thing. Humanity needed him now more than ever.
He let out a contented sigh and took another sip of beer, picking up the remote to flip through the channels. It wasn’t until then when he realized Watchman was alerting him to an incoming message. From Eila.
He gave a contented smile and stood, stretching, before walking upstairs to his study to take the call. After getting the reports from Bekenstein, he was very interested to hear what she had to say.