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The Zeppo Effect: A BTVS/ Mass Effect Tale

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Zeppo Effect". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: A series of oneshots and vignettes about our favorite White Knight's quest to show the galaxy's newest hero how battling extinction level apocalypse is done with style ... well style and a little help from a few very, very powerful friends.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Sci-Fi > Mass Effect Trilogy(Recent Donor)BHRamsayFR153293,77129193114,33518 Sep 119 Jan 12Yes

Virmire (6)

AN - Thanks to Reikson as always, especially as these were some long chapters but I am happy with how they turned out. Hope you all share my enthusiasm --- thanks to the all for the continued support and I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the gang up keeping Mass Effect Wiki. I'm guessing all of the decent fics and half of the sucky ones owe their existence to the people who faithfully upkeep and maintain this treasure trove of Mass Effect Knowledge.



***
Shepard's Thoughts...


Harris and Alenko's sudden attack of esprit de corps was heartwarming, but not the biggest thing on my mind.

Not for long, anyway. At various points on this trip, various people had warned me that my immortal friend was not the only weird and unique thing that I'd encounter on this trip.

I'd listened, but not really understood.

I'd wondered what could be stranger then a soldier who couldn't die in battle?

Answer ... How about a God who'd been fighting our real enemy since long before man took his first steps?

***

Rana Thanoptis cowered on the floor under her desk. Illyria, still disguised as Fred, seemed uninterested in the fighting outside.

It was limiting being Fred, even after all these years, but Winifred Burkle still served a purpose. She could still go places that Illyria would never be welcomed in. At least, not without annoying levels of violence.

"We should've left. We could've run." Rana whimpered. Fear and misery had her hugging her legs.

Illyria sighed. She hoped that Rana would not start crying again. The noise was bothersome.

As a pet, the Asari was merely adequate. She had none of Spike's spirit, or his humor. And the diminished Old One seriously doubted that Thanoptis could even take a punch without whining like a child.

"We have little to fear from men with guns," Illyria said dryly as she sniffed the air. "Besides, I smell something... familiar..." she trailed off as a memory twinged in her mind.

"Familiar or not," Rana complained. "...you're a God, Mistress. You don't have to be... afraid, like the rest of us. We can die."

"Believe me when I say that even Gods can die." Illyria said coldly. "I've seen it happen, and I've been the cause of it."

Illyria walked over to a weapons locker.

"If you'd like, I can give you the code, Mistress. It's..."

"No need," Illyria snapped as she yanked the door right off its hinges. She then threw the twisted mass of the door on the ground and pulled out a pistol, tossing it to the frightened Asari.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" Rana cried.

"If there is violence, you will be able to defend yourself. Do you feel better now?"

"I'd feel better if we could just leave. Please, Mistress."

"We will leave soon. I have to speak with someone about the future. Now, do you have the code to the Turian's private lab?"

Rana nodded, shoving the data pad at the Goddess.

"Then put the weapon away. It will cause trouble when those who hunt him arrive and see you armed." Illyria snapped.

Rana looked fearful and only lowered her gun, not putting it away. That's why the gun was in her hands when Shepard's squad burst in the door.

Shepard's weapon came up without hesitation. "Drop the weapon!" she snarled, firing a shot over Rana's head. "Drop it now!"

Rana screamed and cringed, firing by accident. Her bullet whizzed by Xander's shoulder, causing him to squawk in startled protest. Wrex simply leveled his shotgun and fired back, out of instinct.

Illyria's eyes flared a bright blue, and the shell that the galaxy knew as Winifred Burkle vanished, allowing Illyria the God-King of the Primordium to walk among pitiful mortals once more.

For Xander, the world seemed to slow to a crawl and he gasped in recognition.

It was Illyria as he'd seen her during that last battle. Clad in that strange red leather bodysuit, fury etched on her face. She'd joined the last survivors for that final stage of the Brawl-For-It-All, wanting revenge for the death of Spike and that weird Stygian beast that she'd inexplicably dubbed Pancakes.

Illyria marched over to Rana, and pulled her out of the path of Wrex's now-slow moving gunfire.

"Fred- I mean, Illyria..." Xander found himself stumbling over the confused relationship between the sweet girl he'd met once and the cold God-Being she'd become, thanks to Wolfram and Hart's treachery.

"What the Hell... what are YOU doing here?" he finally asked.

Illyria narrowed her eyes, looking at Xander. "You. The one who thinks that he is funnier than he actually is. Spike often spoke of copulating with your betrothed. The tale of your cuckolding brought him great amusement. Why are you here?"

"We're looking for Saren. Are you... are you working for him?"

Illyria shuddered involuntarily, sneering at herself for doing so. "...the girl... Winifred... she dreamed of exploring new worlds, seeing what lay beneath alien stars. When mankind moved out into the galaxy, it amused me to indulge her wish."

"You're exploring the galaxy to make Fred happy... she's still in there?"

"Sergeant, who is this and why is she here?" Shepard snarled, her gun still trained on Illyria.

"Her name is... Illyria. Illyria the Merciless, Illyria the God-King... honestly, Boss, Illyria's got titles coming out the wazoo."

Illyria nodded. "Saren hired Rana and I to investigate the indoctrination process, to find him a means of protecting himself. Of course, there is no real defense. For normal people, anyway."

"You were helping him?" Liara asked

"It wasn't as if we had many options," Rana snapped. "Our first test subject was the man I replaced. Now I just want to get out of here before he dissects my brain."

"Rana, I shall accompany them to Saren's private lab. You will remain here with the others."

"But, Mistress, I was..."

Illyria's eyes suddenly flared with electric blue energy. "Do as I say," she hissed, her voice soft and menacing.

As the Asari researcher squeaked and nodded, Illyria spun around and marched to the elevator. "Are you coming or not?" she snapped.

"Can we trust her?" Shepard whispered.

"She's never tried to kill ME, that's a huge plus in the win column as far as I'm concerned." Xander replied.

Shepard snorted. "By that standard, Saren's harmless. Someday we'll have to discuss your tactical threat-assessment scale." Then she sighed. "Alenko, Garrus, Wrex... stay here and hold this room. And keep Miss Thanoptis out of trouble."

The three of them did not answer, gaping at the leather clad humanoid who could seemingly move faster then weapons fire and seemed to know Xander.

"How did she do that thing where she... she was there one second, then she was..." Garrus sputtered his confusion plain.

Xander sighed. "Short answer? She can manipulate time," he explained as he followed Shepard into the elevator. "Actually, she can do a lot of really freaky stuff. I'd love to stay and explain the whole backstory, but she has zero impulse control, and even less patience."

The doors closed on the group. Garrus turned to Rana. "All right, maybe you can explain."

Rana nodded. "She's an anthropomorphic manifestation of one of Earth's primordial deity figures."

Garrus sighed. "A little less complicated, please?"

"Some of Earth's gods are corporeal beings. That woman was infused with the essence of one such figure about two hundred years ago and has been the host for that god even since."

"So some mad woman tells you she's God and you believed her?" Kaiden laughed.

"As a matter of fact... no, I didn't. At first, I thought she was crazy. Then I watched her rip apart a bunch of Krogan hopped up on Ryncol and battle-rage."

"Combat training and biotics could explain-" Kaidan groped for an alternate explanation.

Rana snorted. "I'm not a first-year student, I'm a damn scientist. Obviously, I base my statements on hard, empirical data."

"Which would be?" Kaiden asked.

"I've personally watched her manipulate time. Freezing it, running it backwards and forwards in localized areas... trust me, biotics and technology can account for a hell of a lot of things that I've seen that woman do. But making an entire room of hungry scientists freeze in place? Just so that we can raid the buffet table unmolested? If she isn't a god, then she's something powerful enough to pass the muster, for my use."

"Okay..." Kaidan butted in, massaging his head. "Just so that my headache can reach ridiculous proportions... you're telling me that she defeated a bunch of amped-up Krogan singlehandedly, and then raided the buffet table... on a whim?"


"The funny thing is that she doesn't need to eat, she rarely sleeps, and I get the impression that she maintains her human appearance out of... well, I guess... sentiment... would be the right word." Rana said, as she began pacing back and forth.

"If it weren't for her, I might've been killed by the wandering Geth."

"The Geth attacked you?"

"Once. She picked one up and used its body to reduce the others to scrap."

"Excuse me?" Garrus asked.

"I've seen her do some pretty vicious things ever since I met her... I've chosen not to ask too many questions anymore." She shuddered, clearly in the grip of some ugly memories. Finally she shook her head vigorously, trying to shake herself free of the memory in question.

"But Saren... does he know about her?" Wrex asked.

Rana shook her head. "Saren thinks she's just an extremely eccentric scientist. She does the work he asks of her and doesn't bother him with details or questions, so he hasn't ever had need to look beyond her disguise."

"A goddess? Really?" the old Krogan mumbled in wonder.

"I'm not sure what she is, exactly... but if she wants to say that she's a goddess, then I'll go with that until you can find me a rational explanation for the things that I've see her do."

"What about that whole thing of calling you pet? What's that about?" Kaidan asked.

Rana sighed, rubbing the skin folds at the top of her head. "She seems to crave social interaction, but she still has trouble relating to people outside of whatever radically-defined power dynamic that she's used to. And... well, she takes care of me. She protects me, and I follow her everywhere and do what she tells me to do... if she wants to call me Pet, I'll go with it as long as I'm still breathing at the end of the day."

"But that just seems impossible." Garrus sighed.

Wrex snorted, thinking of Xander Harris and the impossibility of the Tech Sergeant's existence. "Possible, impossible... both of you might want to broaden your horizons a little." he rumbled thoughtfully.

***

Saren watched the monitors as they signaled that his private lab had been breached. He turned to the Geth scurrying around the room.

"Faster, all of you!" he roared at them. "Blast your synthetic hides, faster! Sovereign must not be delayed!"

The Geth chattered and moved faster with the preparations for his departure. He decided he was making all of this far too easy for Shepard. It was time to remind the human that she wasn't the only one who could command the loyalty of sacrificial pawns.

"Dahlia." He called to the Asari standing behind him.

A blue hand slid possessively over his shoulder. Unlike many others, Saren held no great fascination for Asari. But the young Dantius sister didn't need to know that.

"So..." Dahlia cooed sensuously in his ear. "Finally realized that you can't rely on religious fanatics and brainless Krogan? If you want the job done right, then you have to send the best."

"I sent Benezia." Saren pointed out dryly.

"And look where that got you." she purred condescendingly. "You need me. Me, not that doddering old fool."

The Turian sneered at her. "Benezia had her uses and she tended to draw a little less attention then a known slaver."

"I didn't hear you complaining when my slaver ring brought you all those subjects for your little experiments." she snapped.

"...And I didn't hear you complain when my people got you off Sharjila before your sister could have you killed." Saren shot back.

"I didn't think the bitch had it in her to be THAT ruthless. If I didn't love to see Nassana squirm so very much, I'd have returned the favor." Dahlia hissed.

"Then, now is your chance to show me that my efforts were not wasted." Saren sneered back.

The Turian brought up a scan of the facility. "Shepard's Shadow team will be making a run for the AA guns and their power generator here." He pointed on the map.

"Give me some of your Drones for air support and I'll have them flank Shepard's team. They can take the Spectre down."

"Dahlia, have you never heard the stories of Torfan? Shepard is a trained Alliance Marine, an N7 operative, AND she absolutely HATES slavers with a passion. If you underestimate her, she'll turn your people into varren feed."

"Then what do you want me to do?"

"Your people will hang back while the Geth and Krogan lure her into a prepared killzone."

"What's your plan? What's Shepard after?"

"She's making for the reservoir near the Krogan breeding trenches. That's the only place where she can land that ship of hers. Your people will wait in concealment there. Wait until the Normandy is on the ground, then spring your trap."

"I'll handle it."

"This is your chance, Dahlia. The team that I dispatched to retrieve T'soni failed me. Shiala failed me by giving Shepard the Prothean Cipher. Even Benezia failed me."

"I'm smarter then they are, and better. Shepard won't live past the day."

"I might even give you the Spectre's ship as a reward. If the rumors about its abilities are true, I think you'd find it useful."

"A ship like that, I'd have enough power to challenge Aria T'loak herself. Then we'll see who the Pirate Queen of the Terminus Systems really is."

Saren let the Asari entertain her delusions of grandeur. Truth be told, the rogue Spectre doubted that Dahlia would last even five minutes in a fight against Shepard. But those five minutes would keep Shepard busy. Dahlia's only purpose, other then taking as many of Shepard's people as she could before her inevitable death, was to buy him more time.

***

The elevator rattled as it passed through the facility. Shepard glared at Illyria every so often, but had apparently decided to file the Old One away as part of a growing list of things that weren't nearly as important to her as finding and killing Saren.

Liara was also fascinated by the Old One, finally leaning over to her while clearing her throat nervously.

"So... Miss... Illyria." she started. "You are... really... a goddess? An actual living, breathing deity?"

"I do not breathe, as you put it, but... yes, I am." Illyria's face screwed up in frustration. "Or... I was... a god."

"Well, god might be a tad dramatic," Xander muttered. "Truth be told, the Old Ones were just really, really powerful..." he quickly felt Illyria's harsh stare burring into him.

"Never mind me," he said dryly. "She was totally a goddess."

Illyria nodded, with arrogant satisfaction.

"A goddess who spent over a bazillion years locked in a box at the bottom of a deep-ass well," Xander added, in a loud whisper.. "...but, hey. Splitting hairs."

"You will forgive my skepticism, but what little I know of Earth history makes little mention of their deity figures being anything more then metaphors and allegorical story icons. And there are no records of anyone called Illyria." Liara said softly.

"My empire was lost and forgotten, due to treachery and infighting amongst the others of my kind. I, who once commanded thousands, reduced to a few pitiful minions. And then, the world was allowed to forget about us after the war and the few of my brethren who didn't flee were sealed away two hundred years ago."

Shepard snorted. "You want me to believe that mankind just forgot that there was a war? With gods and goddesses running around?"

"Your people did not JUST forget," Illyria snapped. "You all chose to forget, and he and his kind let you." she pointed at Xander.

Xander simply raised his hands in surrender. "Don't look at me, boss lady," he drawled. "Not my call."

"Then who makes that kind of call?" Shepard demanded.

"There was no conspiracy, no secret cabal." Xander said dryly. "It wasn't like anyone waved their hands and made the world forget. It's just the way the world works. When bad things happen that people can't or don't want to deal with, they allow themselves to forget. Enough people do the same, and suddenly nobody remembers that Sunnydale used to be a small town with an alarmingly high murder rate before it was a lake."

Shepard recalled him making that mistake when they'd first met. She'd dismissed it at the time, as an unimportant mistake on his part. Of course, she didn't know then what she knew now about Xander Harris.

"Nobody but you," Shepard said, slowly understanding. "...and you remember, because you used to live there. Whatever happened to it is connected to the reason why you're... what you are now."

Xander shrugged. Shepard hadn't gotten it right, but he wasn't about to begrudge her jumping to that conclusion.

Liara was still disturbed by Xander's words. "But the past is important. History is important. The things this woman has seen, the stories she could tell... shouldn't they be preserved?"

Xander snorted. "You look at Illyria and see proof of the wonderful and rich hidden history of Earth. I look at her and see living proof of what happens when people, with no regard for life, suddenly decide they want power and will do anything to get it. Make no mistake, Doc. A good woman had to die so that Illyria could live. Winifred Burkle, the real girl who used to live in that body... she was smart and funny. She was a good person who deserved a hell of a lot more than to wind up as little more than a... goddamn photograph."

"Not everyone's like that, Xander." Liara chided. "Surely, you can't think that Shepard and I are like that."

"You and boss lady are exceptions to a rule that I've had drilled into my head for a long, long time. And don't call me Shirley."

Shepard snickered as Liara rolled her eyes. "I assume this is more of your humor?" she sighed.

Xander sighed. Leslie Nielsen was legendary, but some people didn't properly appreciate the classics anymore.

"Look, Doc. Saren found an ancient dreadnought," Xander decided on another tack to make his point with Liara. "But does he try and help people with it? No, not him. He saw a path to power and he took it. And all of us might pay the price for it."

Shepard sighed. "Liara, I know it's crappy to hear this, but I agree with him. Look at Kaidan. His life was almost ruined because somebody somewhere decided that humanity gaining greater biotic power was worth screwing up a child's entire life. You saw what Illyria could do. How far do you think the Asari would go to gain control over abilities like that? Because I don't even want to think about how far I KNOW the Alliance would go to exploit powers like hers for their own use."

"Goddess forgive me, but you're right. I know you're right. But it just seems so wrong to hide secrets of this magnitude from the rest of the galaxy."

"Galaxy can be an ugly place, Doc," Shepard sighed. "If I could, I'd protect you from things like this. Xander's used his gifts to make the galaxy a better place. Imagine what someone like Saren would do if he couldn't be killed. If he was ageless and immortal."

"Your insight into the Turian does you credit." Illyria sneered as she strode out of the elevator and into the main lab.

The group followed after her and found themselves instantly transfixed by the room's only notable decoration.

"Is that... a Prothean beacon?" Liara asked aloud, reverence in her voice. "Goddess, look at it the detail. This is fifty thousand years old, and in perfect working condition."

"Hey, Doc, you cart this into Serrice U, and I'll bet all those tightasses who laughed at your theories would eat their hearts out to see something like this." Xander mused aloud.

"I assure you, Xander, that there are no cannibals on the Serrice University executive board. "

"Doc, I meant-"

"I know what you meant, I'm attempting to be humorous." She grinned impishly at him.

"Her style could use some work, but I give her points for effort and execution." Shepard added, smirking.

"Yeah, I think the judge might be a little biased." Xander riposted dryly.

Liara ran her hands lovingly over the object's surface. "What's remarkable is how well preserved this is. Something like this should be in a museum."

"Sorry, Doc," Shepard nodded sympathetically. "I'd like to indulge you, but I doubt Saren's going to let us just walk away with it. Even if we could cart it out of here."

Illyria snorted dismissively. "Yes. Most impressive for the Prothean equivalent of a telepathic text message."

Shepard ignored the Old One as she stepped forward, interfacing with the beacon's simple controls. She was suddenly grabbed by a strong force, just like on Eden Prime. And just like before, she felt her body go rigid as her mind opened up and let the universe rush in.

Xander watched. He'd only heard about this secondhand from both Kaidan and Ashley, so seeing it firsthand it was bizarre.

When the beacon finally released Shepard, she collapsed to the ground. Liara rushed to her side, concern written across the young Asari's face.

"Shepard, please let me help you." she begged. With a nod, Shepard relaxed into the Asari's hands.

"Calm breaths, Commander. Go to a place of peace, a place of serenity," she intoned, just as her eyes went black. "Embrace eternity!"

Liara stood on a hundred worlds, looking up into the skies of each of them and seeing dark shapes filling the sky. They resembled giant metallic squid, with huge tentacles reaching down towards the ground. From the ends of each tentacle were destructive beams of light and power that speared downwards, leveling whole buildings in a single blast. And in the midst of this horror, she could see Shepard staring upwards.

No, not Shepard, but it wore her face.

Shepard was seeing what this being had seen, and Liara was perceiving the vision as it was being directed by the Commander. There was no doubt that the Shepard in the real world was only seeing disjointed images flashing before her eyes.

What looked like Shepard, but was not, closed her eyes and the scene shifted. Giant worm-like beings, almost like thresher maws but with long tentacles and a sinister intellect, glared down at the two of them.

"Why should we protect you?" one such figure rumbled. "These old machines are of no threat to us. Begone."

"The Conduit! We would give you the means to cross the stars!" Shepard cried out.

The other huge beasts turned to the one that had first spoken. "Yes, brother, just what you've always needed; the means to flee!" it proclaimed grandly.

Liara desperately swallowed the bile that had risen to her mouth unbidden. Everything about these figures just screamed that something was... wrong, with them.

"Flee to the stars!" the creature continued. "Illyria fell easily enough! Now it is time for you to run and hide from our rebellion!"

The two turned to regard each other, hostility emanating from them in waves like heat.

"I fear nothing, brother." the first figure snarled. "If these old machines come, they will fall before me."

"Only if I deign to leave you any to kill." the second figure sneered. "Perhaps I shall slay them all and take their power for my own."

Shepard sank to her knees, unable to tear her eyes away from the vision. "Slavery or death..." she whispered brokenly. "Is this the only way?"

"The Conduit, please show me the Conduit." Liara pleaded and Shepard nodded.

Suddenly they stood under an alien sky, where the stars winked and seethed in the sky's inky darkness.

"What is this?" Liara asked aloud.

"An empire dying." Shepard replied. Her voice was flat, distant. "Each light is a Prothean world being snuffed out, subjugated, or completely annihilated. Our empire is lost. But if the Protheans must die, then we will strike one last, desperate blow in our death. If any hope remains, it is here on Ilos; the Conduit. If we cannot have salvation, then we shall have our revenge. The Conduit is the key."

There was a flash and Liara found herself back in her body as she gasped. "It's Ilos. The Conduit is on Ilos! That's why Saren needed to find the Mu Relay! That is the only way to reach the star system that has Ilos!"

"What else did you see, Doc?" Xander asked.

"There were two messages layered over each other. Both about the Reapers. One was a message from Ilos, informing anyone still listening to the system, about the Conduit. The second message was from Protheans on Earth, who traveled there in search of aid from the Old Ones. All that were left of them after they betrayed Illyria, at any rate..." Liara reported.

"The Protheans begged those left behind for aid?" Illyria sneered.

"They offered themselves in servitude to those Old Ones left after your defeat and imprisonment." Liara explained.

"Those fools would doubtlessly have no use for Mass Relay technology," the ancient God-King mused.

"Yeah, why find new planets to live on? Especially when you could kill everyone that opposed you and take the planet Earth for your own? If you're ruthless enough." Xander sneered.

You were actually alive to see the Reapers sweep through the galaxy?" Liara asked.

"You've never told them the tale?" Illyria asked. "Amazing. Little wonder that they are so unprepared for what is to come."

"It's been a few decades since I had to give the speech last time, sue me." Xander said dryly. "But, please. Feel free to take it away."

"Your world, your galaxy..." Illyria began. "They are all older then you can possibly imagine. That age saw the appearance of powerful beings living in it. Some, even as powerful as I."

Illyria sighed.as if fondly recalling something other then the absolute hell Xander knew that period of history to be, "Once, we Old Ones fought for dominance and power." The Old One continued, "Before us, there were the Eternals and their endless games of death and chance."

"And before them... who came before them?"

"Some whisper that once, long ago, Lords of Time and Space held the shadows at bay before they were defeated and destroyed by one of their own as punishment for their arrogance. But always, just at the fringes and lurking in the shadows... there were the Old Machines; what you call Reapers."

"You are not Saren." A deep voice echoed through the chamber. Looking up, the group noticed a hologram.

Shepard startled, this was what she had seen in the visions from the beacon.

To Xander, it looked like an armored cuttlefish and took up most of the room.

As they ran up the walkways to the image, the hologram pulsed in time to the teeth-rattling bass of its voice as it continued to speak.

"Rudimentary creatures of blood and flesh," the image's voice sneered. "You touch my mind, fumbling in ignorance, incapable of understanding. And now you bring this abomination to further corrupt the perfection and harmony of my sanctuary."

Illyria snorted. "You are the abomination here, Machine. Were you hiding in fear of me? When I worked under your arms for the last several months?"

"We have no need of hiding," the Voice snarled. "Not from you." The basso profondo of its voice hadn't changed a whit, but Xander thought he could hear anger. "I am Sovereign! Our armies scorched your cities and annihilated your slaves and your assets-"

"You bore me, machine." Illyria sneered. "Come and reveal yourself, so that I can tear you apart with my bare hands as I did a score of your brethren. You were as dust hurling yourselves against the wall of my greatness."

A sharp whistle rent the air and everything fell silent. Xander was a little shocked that he could bring the rampant one-upmanship to a stop, with a single sound.

"Not bad, Sergeant." Shepard whispered.

"Thank you." Xander nodded, before turning back to Illyria. "Just so we're clear, you ARE talking to Sovereign? The Reaper ship that Saren found, you're talking to it and it's talking back to you?"

Illyria laughed at him. "All this time, the woman has had the message of the beacon replaying in her head and you're saying that you've not once paid attention to its message? Is it only now do you begin to understand what it is that you face?"

"Sovereign isn't just some Reaper ship Saren found..." Shepard whispered, dumbstruck. "It's an actual Reaper."

"Wait," Xander interrupted. "You mean to tell me that the big bad we're fighting... that huge-ass spaceship that wiped out chunks of Eden Prime in a single blast, THAT thing is alive? THAT's a Reaper?!?"

"Reaper; a superstitious label originating with the Protheans." Sovereign rumbled, arrogant satisfaction in its voice. "In the end, what they choose to call us was irrelevant. We simply... are."

"Oh, that's not good." Xander groaned. "This is SO not good."

"The nature of our existence is so far beyond your comprehension that you cannot even conceive of it." Sovereign sneered.

"Your arrogance is unfounded, Little Machine," Illyria snapped. "You have been warned; your time will come soon enough. If these pitiful mortals do not rend you apart, then I surely will."

"It has to be lying," Liara insisted. "The Protheans vanished fifty thousand years ago. Illyria was... restrained, but you... you would have to be... no, it's impossible. You couldn't have been there."

"Organic life is a genetic mutation." Sovereign rumbled. "An accident. You wither and die; your lives measured in years and decades. We are eternal, the pinnacle of evolution. Long after your civilization is eradicated and forgotten, we will endure."

"There's a whole galaxy of races ready to stop a dead end like you." Shepard snarled.

"Confidence born of ignorance. The cycle cannot be broken."

"Cycle? What cycle?" Xander demanded.

"The pattern has repeated itself more times then you can imagine. Organic civilizations rise. Evolve. Advance. And at the apex of their glory, they are extinguished."

Xander blinked as some very unpleasant pieces began to fall into place. But Sovereign was still bragging. "The Protheans did not build the Citadel. They did not forge the Mass Relays. They only found them; the legacy of my kind."

Shepard snorted. "That's ridiculous. Why would you build the Mass Relays and then leave them for someone else to find?"

Illyria chuckled condescendingly. "That should be obvious, even to one of your kind. You are like herd beasts, being lead to your slaughter along a pathway of technological evolution. If you only know what they want you to know, then you learn only what they wish you to learn. And when they decide that knowledge has become too much of a threat..."

"...they wipe out any space-faring race before they can become a threat." Xander whispered. Anger and horror surged in him, quickly fighting with disgust.

"They're harvesting us," Liara whispered. "They let us advance to where we can produce resources and materials that they can use, then they kill us off before we get too powerful to be controlled."

"Your civilization is based on the technology of the Mass Relays, OUR technology. By using it, you evolve along the paths we desire. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it." Sovereign sneered.

"Their kind have invaded before." Illyria mused. "Every fifty thousand years they've come, seeking power and resources. Invariably, they found their way to Earth where they met..."

"The Old Ones... who I'm assuming kicked their asses." Xander mused.

Sovereign spoke again. "They did not defeat us. Our battles resulted in stalemate upon stalemate." Xander thought he could hear a touch of defensiveness in Sovereign's electronically distorted voice.

"They could not defeat us," Illyria continued. "Nor could we stop our eternal conflicts with each other, long enough to reach beyond the Earth to smite them once and for all. Besides, we had what we desired; an empire, unchallenged, with slaves to serve our needs."

"Yeah, slaves who ultimately rebelled against you and locked you in a box at the bottom of a damn hole in the ground." Xander sneered.

Illyria's warning growl was all the warning Xander got before a stinging backhanded slap knocked him back.

Liara helped him off the ground from where Illyria's blow had thrown him. The blood on his lip from her strike was already drying, the broken skin closing up until not even a scar could be seen.

"Hey, figured I owed you one after you threw what happened between Anya and Peroxide-Boy in my face." Xander snapped.

"So, the Reapers never conquered Earth because of the Old Ones." Shepard said in realization.

Liara nodded in understanding. "...and the Old Ones never left Earth because they were too busy fighting each other to try and conquer the rest of the galaxy."

"...but now you face the machines. This time, you do so without us to protect you as we did for generations." Illyria snorted.

"You're not even alive," Shepard snapped at Sovereign. "You're just a machine. And machines can be broken."

"I am the vanguard of your destruction." Sovereign sneered smugly. "Our armies will darken the skies of every world. You cannot escape us. You will finally be brought to heel. This exchange is over."

And the hologram cut out, while the console exploded with enough force to take out the windows of the room.

"Well, that was needlessly dramatic." Xander sighed.

"Normandy to Shepard! Come in, Commander!" Joker's voice came through the com. If he was breaking radio silence, it could only be for some dire emergency.

"That you, Joker?"

"I don't know what you did down there, but Sovereign just started moving! It pulled a turn that would tear any of our ships in half, and it's bearing down on your location, coming in hard! You'd better wrap things up in there, ASAP!"

"Then we make for the breeding facility and blow this place to hell and gone."

"What about her?" Xander asked, jerking his thumb at Illyria.

"What about her?" Shepard shrugged. "I'm guessing that anything that could kill her is well out of our reach." She then turned to Illyria. "Take Rana and get out of here. If you're lucky, you and I won't see each other again.''

"If you don't survive what is to come, then you're right; you and I won't be seeing each other again." Illyria sneered before walking off to the elevator.
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