eponymous_rose: (ME | Victus)
eponymous_rose ([personal profile] eponymous_rose) wrote2012-11-04 02:27 pm

[Mass Effect] Home Fires Burning (4/8)

Title: Home Fires Burning (4/8)
Word Count: 1,000 (this chapter)
Characters: Hilary Moreau, Aeian T'Goni, Solana Vakarian, Lantar Sidonis, Garrus Vakarian, Liara T'Soni, Donnel Udina, Dehkarr, Jeff "Joker" Moreau
Rating: T
Warnings: Canon character death, violence
Spoilers: ME3, from start to finish.

Summary: Khar'shan, Tiptree, Citadel, Palaven, Earth. Five tales from the Reaper War. This is the way the worlds end.

Interlude: Sympathy for the Devil

"Good morning, Councilor. Earth-equivalent date: August 25, 2185. Reminder: today is Sam Li's two-year wedding anniversary. Error: receipt of message unconfirmed due to Arcturus Station communications blackout. Reminder: today is Michaelle Smith's fifty-seventh birthday. Error: receipt of message unconfirmed due to Arcturus Station communications blackout."

Councilor Donnel Udina stared at the ceiling and, after a time, he managed to summon Sam's face to mind, the ridiculous grin that was full of a young person's idealism and cheerful disdain for the vagaries of politics. Michaelle was much easier to recall, her laugh equal parts mocking and teasing as she tore up the debate floor with a whirlwind of hard facts, playing devil's advocate and winning, just to show them all how it was done.

He remembered the names.

He thought about them, and then he stopped thinking about them. He sat up. No need to make the bed, since he'd just been lying on top of the blankets. No sleep meant no dreams to tangle sheets. No dreams.

Tonight the dead would sleep easy.

The Citadel itself was dreaming, drifting, and he faded among the crowds, separate and anxious and solid amid the sea of sleepers. There was no war here but the one that tumbled and snarled and spat inside his mind, gnarling his hands into helpless spasms of activity, scrubbing them together again and again, washing them clean.

"You're doing the right thing."

"No. I'm doing the only thing I can."

He thought about burning worlds, about the walls that rose around them, about the horrifying placidity, cold comfort. He thought about the art and culture and genius and savagery and wonder of an entire planet being stripped bare. He thought about time, about minutes and seconds and centuries and millennia lost, torn away, forgotten.

He stepped into his office, sat at his desk, adjusted the papers, stood up, sat down again. A bloodless coup. He looked at the beads of red where his fingernails had dug into his palms. Bloodless.

He was still shaking by the time the call came.

"Change of plans," said Leng, and Donnel felt his heart sink still lower, had to grip the edge of his desk for balance.

He kept his voice tight. Professional. "The only reason I contacted you is because your Illusive Man agreed to do this my way, or not at all. Do you have any idea what a delicate situation this is?"

"Oh, some." Leng's voice was airy, deliberately provocative, but he was small-time compared to the political shit-stirrers Donnel dealt with on a daily basis. He took a deep, calming breath. Then Leng said: "The salarian councilor knows."

A thousand little hints, mistakes, errors in judgment crashed down around Donnel in that instant. What had he done? When had he given himself away? No matter. What was done was done. He swallowed, hating himself for reacting, for prompting that smug little grin on Leng's face. "What do you propose?"

"Councilor Valern will have to be eliminated."

Donnel jumped to his feet, slammed his hands on the table, and a voice inside him whispered that he'd seen this coming, he'd seen this coming. He shouted to drown it out. "Damn it, this is not turning into an assassination! We slip in quietly, we arrest the Council, we force them to grant me the necessary emergency measures to get some help back to Earth, we cut through this bullshit red tape. Nobody dies. Do you understand? They'll crucify me. Humanity will never get the support it needs. I thought you of all people would understand that! Earth is burning-"

"Which is why it's so necessary," Leng said, smoothly. "Don't mistake my intentions, Councilor. This call is a courtesy, nothing more. The wheels are already in motion."

The vidscreen went dark. Donnel fell back into his chair, shaking. He'd told himself Cerberus would still have humanity's interests at heart, somewhere deep in their core. He'd told himself the Council just needed his boot up their asses to stop dithering and send their forces where they were needed most.

He'd told himself that Shepard had managed to play the Illusive Man for a fool and she'd come out of it intact.

"You're doing the right thing."

"No. I'm doing the only thing I can."

He sucked in a deep breath. The wheels were in motion, but he had wheels within wheels. The new Spectre, Williams, had a loyalty to the Alliance first and foremost, and there was no love lost between her and Cerberus. He'd stalled her, kept her aboard the Citadel, offered her the promotion as a lure, just as he'd done with Bailey. Oh, she hated him, he was certain, but she loved Earth more. She understood the true threat, unlike the blinkered politicians building wall after wall against the truth. A grudging ally was far better than none at all.

He didn't even jump when his office shuddered and shook around him with the force of some distant explosion. Klaxons and sirens wailed. He waited. After a time, a turian C-Sec officer, one of Bailey's newer recruits, came stumbling into his office, breathing hard. "Cerberus is attacking!"

"What's the status of the rest of the Council?"

He straightened, snapping to some approximation of attention. "Councilors Tevos and Sparatus were in their offices. They're currently in lockdown and under armed guard. Councilor Valern is still unaccounted for."

Dead, Donnel translated mentally, and then thought, a little wildly, I think I know the feeling.

"All right," he said. "Listen to me carefully. There has to be at least one mole here on the Citadel – how else could Cerberus bypass our defenses so easily?" The boy looked shaken at this, a little wobbly on his feet, so Donnel sharpened his tone. "Listen to me. There is a Spectre at Huerta Memorial Hospital, Ashley Williams. She can be trusted. Get her here now."

The officer ran, leaving Donnel alone for a moment, and he was thinking about walls crumbling, sleepers waking, planets burning.

He pulled a pistol from his desk, turned it over and over in his hands, felt the weight of the ugly thing in his hand, the uglier thing in his head. He adjusted his tunic to cover the bulge of the weapon, stepped out into the corridor with the weight of it at his side. Sam Li. Michaelle Smith. Arcturus Station. Earth.

Someone would have to remember the names.

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