Even if she enjoyed spending a few days reconnecting with her fellow soldiers in the Alliance, she still knew she would have to get ready for the monumental event the Alliance has ever seen. During those prior days, she also trimmed her hair to neck-length, which happened to be the length she liked the most prior to the events of Akuze. Having slipped into her officer uniform, Amber meandered through the corridor until she stepped outside the station, where she found Anderson waiting for her at the door.
"Anderson," Amber reported, "I'm ready to participate in the diplomatic conference."
Anderson nodded at her before they sauntered through the docks, making their way to the SSV Kilimanjaro. Once they reached the ramp, Admiral Hackett stood near the entrance to greet them, so they exchanged salutes before stepping inside the ship.
"I take it you got my message?" Anderson asked.
"Yes," Hackett nodded, "many of our officials were bewildered when we received word of Lieutenant Commander Shepard's survival and potential encounter with extraterrestrials."
"Is much of high command still skeptical, Admiral?" Amber inquired.
"You could say that applies to some of us," Hackett admitted.
It didn't take much longer before Anderson, Amber and Hackett arrived at the bridge.
"I could forward everyone her medical report, show her head is on straight," Anderson proposed.
Hackett gave both Anderson and Amber a soft smile.
"That would be most appropriate for the situation," he agreed.
The Admiral walked up the bridge to one of the pilots.
"Do those coordinates check out?" Hackett asked.
"Yessir. We're also ready to hit the relay on your word," the pilot nodded.
"Good. Give another twenty minutes," Hackett instructed, "we're still getting additional personnel onboard."
With the crew continuing to make preparations, Amber waited as she observed through the window while her mom and her friends boarded the ship minutes later.
"Hey, Lola," James called over, "we're here!"
Amber snapped out of her thoughts and stepped over to her friends.
"So, are you ready to see the Citadel for yourself?" Amber asked.
Ashley nodded as she folded her arms.
"I'm hoping your discovery is worth it," Ashley answered.
"Oh come on, Ashe. How could it not?" Joker scoffed, limping towards the front of the bridge to his position.
"I'd say she's the first human to discover them," Kasumi added.
"I'm just glad this didn't turn out worse than it had to be. Not sure about the asari or salarians, but I don't exactly want to be going toe to toe with something like krogan," he said.
Amber gave Kaidan a pat on the shoulder.
"I'm sure it won't come to that," Amber reassured.
"What are the turians like anyways?" Jack hummed, "you seemed to have spent some time with the bird-men, you must know something."
Amber took a moment to think over the question.
"Come to think of it," Amber said, "their society isn't too different from something like the Ancient Romans from their politics to their sense of duty and honor. They do put emphasis on their military, going so far as to make military service mandatory during their mid-teens."
James blinked twice.
"Oh," James chirped, "so they're more militaristic than us?"
"Yeah. Surprisingly enough," Amber nodded.
"Are they friendly?" Kelly spoke up.
Amber began pacing back and forth while she kept her eyes focused on her teammates.
"They're saints and jerks like the rest of us," Amber shrugged.
Several minutes later, the crew finished preparations, so Hackett turned his gaze towards the pilots.
"All right," Hackett announced, "take us out."
Upon cue, the pilots activated the ship's engines and moments later, they maneuvered it out of the docking bay before it launched through the planet's atmosphere. Joker's fingers cautiously brushed over the controls, setting course for the Citadel.
"Attention crew," he announced, "we're en route to a set of foreign coordinates. Secure bulkheads and any loose equipment. We'll be entering FTL in forty minutes."
The crew scrambled to secure any equipment while the ship flew across the vacuum of space, making its way towards the Mass Relay. Once it reached the ancient machine, the Kilimanjaro was enveloped in the relay's energy before it warped into FTL speed. An hour or so later, they arrived within the Serpent Nebula, with a few escorts following them for security.
"Well, those ships are definitely not ours," Joker commented, "and when you have the time sirs, you should come up and look at the scopes. Lieutenant Commander Shepard wasn't lying when she said this thing was huge."
Hannah, Anderson and Hackett gazed through the window and observed the station ahead of the ship. The station was massive, easily dwarfing the usual fifteen kilometer long Mass Relays they'd encountered up until that point. Attached to a central ring at the back were long metal strips like longswords, each with an entire city on top facing inward. As they approached, the number of strange vessels that showed up on scanners grew to be too many to count. How Amber became the first human to visit it was anyone's guess, yet her testimony was proof enough. The Kilimanjaro continued its approach before it arrived at the docking bay, where various politicians from the Citadel races and the Council waited at a platform at the Citadel Tower.
Aside from the specs that flew by in the distance, everything was instantly dwarfed by the enormous station.
"Admiral, we're being hailed," Joker informed.
"Put 'em through," Hackett stared out the window intently at the station.
Joker tapped at the terminal, causing it to project a hologram of the Council.
"I assume you're the Human Systems Alliance?" Sparatus greeted.
Hackett cautiously nodded.
"That we are," he answered, "I'm Admiral Hackett, here on behalf of our species. I believe we're still invited to discuss matters?"
"That you are. Your path to a reserved dock should be clear."
The hologram soon dissipated, so Hackett nodded at the pilots which allowed them to maneuver the Kilimanjaro to the reserved dock. Once the ship latched on and opened the ramp, Hackett led Anderson, Hannah and Amber out of the bridge with Kaidan, Ashley, Kelly, Jack, Kasumi and James following suit. Out on the docks, a few shuttles had been provided transportation to the embassies on the Presidium. These shuttles included C-Sec officers patrolling the docks. This gave the other humans in Amber's ensemble exchanging confused stares, but Amber figured the Council didn't want distractions. Amber led her ensemble aboard the shuttles before they settled into their seats. She managed a smile.
"So far so good, right?" Amber asked.
"Is it me," Kaidan remarked, "or were these aliens giving us weird looks?"
"Well of course they are, it's our first time here," Ashley groaned.
James rolled his eyes.
"Well, if what Amber said is true," James added, "most of these guys didn't know we even existed."
Minutes later, the shuttle doors closed before the shuttles lifted out of the docking bay, hovering through the air traffic. Kaidan, Ashley, James, Jack, Kasumi and Kelly gazed out the window. Gone was the utilitarian, familiar human designs, instead replaced by architecture of such strange shapes and forms. Down below on the streets dotted the heads of species most of them had never seen prior. In the skies, lanes of traffic between hovercars wove an intricate web over the city. At the center of the Citadel, the Presidium came into view. It was definitely more pristine in appearance, evoking a greater sense of nobility with the sudden shift in quality and cleanliness.
The shuttles landed near the Citadel Tower and opened its doors, allowing Amber, Anderson, Hackett, Hannah, Kelly, James, Jack, Kasumi, Kaidan and Ashley to disembark before C-Sec officers escorted them into the building. The group entered a large conference room with the Council already sitting around a large table. Saren and Nihlus were also sitting at the large table along with the turian Primarch, a salarian Dalatrass and an asari Matriarch. Already, Saren and Amber locked eyes once again.
"Welcome back, Shepard," Saren greeted.
Amber hesitated with her response for a moment.
"Err…good to see you too…Arterius," she reciprocated.
Amber sat down at the large table, compelling Anderson, Hackett, Hannah and Amber's teammates to follow suit.
"Hello, Admiral, I'm Primarch Fedorian. It's a pleasure to meet you," the Primarch greeted, reaching a hand out to shake.
"Same here, sir," Hackett replied.
With the humans in their seats, Sparatus cleared his throat.
"I appreciate the time you've taken to come and discuss introducing yourselves," Sparatus announced, "naturally, these are times when races tend to clash, so we're glad we can do this in a bloodless fashion. We'll be going over colony rights, maybe touch briefly on historical events to give context to some races and regulations, work on giving a district for your people to thrive in, and finally work on establishing an embassy."
Sparatus tapped at the terminal, turning on the screens at the seats and allowing the associates from the Alliance to read through the colonization rights and tech regulations.
"Wait," Ashley paused, "there are these Mass Relays that are…inactive?"
"I don't think they would leave notes on those relays telling them that they're not to be activated," Amber clarified, "but there would be less problems if we explained that rule to the others in the Alliance ahead of time."
James couldn't help but chuckle as he scratched his head.
"At least that didn't lead to anything," James mused.
By the time he finished reading through the documents, Anderson turned his gaze towards Sparatus.
"So," Anderson asked, "do you have a suggestion on introducing our race to the other races?"
"If you feel like taking this issue head-first, Captain, I suggest maybe getting to work having your personnel move here, start blending in," Sparatus shrugged.
"Blend in? You mean physically living here? And with other species?" Anderson clarified.
"More or less," Sparatus nodded.
"He means physically moving in with other species already living on the station," Valern hastily interrupted.
Amber slowly nodded.
"Sounds like a good idea," she agreed.
"A risky procedure, but so do I," Anderson sighed, "I hope you don't mind if we start off slipping them in with people in a general part of the station. I don't know if we'll somehow end up as luxury goods on the black market, and I'd rather not see good soldiers end up like cattle."
Saren and Anderson locked eyes.
"Yes, that concern is…understandable," Saren replied.
"No doubt batarian slavers or pirates would see human labor as some new commodity," Tevos acknowledged, "we'll arrange that accordingly."
Primarch Fedorian tapped on his terminal screen, which formed a projection of the galaxy. He started highlighting a number of systems between the edge of Inner Citadel Space and the Attican Regions.
"In regard to where your homeworld is," Fedorian said, "these systems are still available for colonization. Just be mindful of the batarian territories marked in orange."
Anderson, Hackett, Amber and Hannah examined the projection while they took notes.
"As for Shepard's encounter with the local wildlife on your colony three months back," Fedorian continued, "there's unfortunately little we can do about the complete eradication of such a species with the exception of setting prefabs on mountainous locations, away from open planes where Thresher Maws tend to establish their nests."
"Anything else to defend our colonies?" Hackett pressed.
"What else besides what you know, Admiral?" Saren replied, "from what I can tell, you already reinforce your colonies with automated AA batteries and local militias. That's all we can hope for."
"Very well," Hackett sighed.
Once everyone sitting at the large table finished reading the documents the Council displayed, Sparatus, Tevos and Valern started a new document and gave it the title Human Introductory Protocols.
"Now, as we established," Sparatus explained as he cleared his throat, "we're looking to have some of your soldiers on the station living with a list of hand-picked individuals. The idea is that while initially few, people will slowly be accustomed to humans without some hostile reaction. Eventually, you'll introduce more onto the station and in more diverse locations."
"Sounds reasonable," Hannah nodded.
Anderson, Hackett, Fedorian, Hannah, Amber, Saren, Sparatus, Tevos and Valern took turns writing out the agreement and exchanging it back and forth before the councilors made a final review.
"We have concluded this agreement has reasonable conditions," Tevos announced, "we will wait until you have signed it."
The Alliance officials collectively agreed to the terms and signed the document. After that, Sparatus, Tevos and Valern stood from their seats, encouraging the others to do the same.
"Naturally, there is some turmoil to be had when a new species enters the galactic stage," Sparatus said, "while we do not know what the damage would be otherwise, we know we have avoided it for the time being, and I hope with every fiber of my being that it stays that way."
Once the councilors ended the session, the Alliance members stepped out of the conference room with Amber leading both Saren and Nihlus with them. When they reached a lounge, Amber gestured Saren to Hannah.
"Mom," Amber introduced, "this is Saren. Saren, this is my mom."
Hannah briefly eyed the Spectre before reaching a hand.
"Pleasure to meet you, Saren. You're the one who got her off Akuze, yes?"
Saren returned the gesture.
"That is true," he nodded.
"Well…thanks for that," Hannah complimented, "she had me worried."
"You're most welcome," Saren replied.
All the while, Nihlus stepped towards Kaidan, Ashley, Kelly, Jack, Kasumi and James.
"So…you guys are her friends?" Nihlus asked.
"Y-Yeah," Ashley nodded, "you a friend of Saren's?"
"More like a protégé," Nihlus clarified, "I've long since graduated as a Spectre, however he still feels inclined to remind me that he's the eldest between us."
"Oh, like siblings?" Kaidan mused.
"Wow. How cynical," Nihlus snickered.
James pressed his forehead into his palm.
"Still, he's not the worst person you could meet," James commented.
While Nihlus continued his conversation with Amber's teammates, Hackett approached Hannah, Amber and Saren, giving the older turian Spectre a salute.
"Spectre Arterius," Hackett greeted, "I've heard highly about you."
Saren nodded at Hackett and returned the gesture.
"Thank you Admiral," Saren nodded, "anything else you wanted to discuss?"
"Perhaps we could discuss recommendations for new crew members from different races for the agreement," Hackett suggested.
Hannah, Hackett, Saren and Amber turned their heads towards a fountain in the distance.
"Considering Amber has been under my care previously, I suppose I can continue keeping her in my household," Saren commented.
"Ok," Amber paused, "so is there a place where my friends can stay?"
Saren made a brief glance at Kaidan, Ashley, Kelly, Jack, Kasumi and James before he returned his gaze towards Amber.
"I know several contacts close to where I live," Saren answered, "I can arrange accordingly."
Giving Saren a soft smile, Amber extended her hand, allowing him to grasp it. This was worth going through another step to forming such a cultural bridge.