DISCLAIMER: Bioware owns the concept of Mass Effect and all of its characters. This fanfic is for entertainment and no profit what-so-ever.
AUTHORS NOTES: It seemed that Shepard would have been a bit more banged up than seen at the epilogue of the Paragon: saving the Council ending. I drew out the drama a bit more. Inspired by the Sam-bashing in SG1 episodes this pays homage to that as well.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter


Chapter 17
Natural Insight

Shepard bypassed the campfire and those seated around it eating MREs and headed directly towards the scientists, Vigil and the prime. "Tali, give me a Sitrep."

"We've got joy." The quarian said adapting to the more human elements of 'Alliance military speak.' "The prime's neuronet processor is adaptable to the Prothean AI. Vigil will be able to rewrite its programming and download; it will take some time, however."

"What's the time frame we are working with?"

Tali winced slightly behind her faceplate. "Approximately ten hours, Captain. Not only does Vigil have to adapt the prime neuronet brain, it has to completely rewrite the memory core. There is a great deal of information to deal with, it's not like when it gave you the OSD to reprogram the Citadel station, it's an entire intelligence we're working with. If we rush it, it might compromise the integrity of Vigil's programming."

"I understand." The Spectre said. "Make it happen however you have to, take what time you need, we still have six days. We'll continue the watch." She gave a last loving and ever protective look to her wife who was practically hovering over the technicians before Shepard moved off to inspect the rest of the camp.

Liara's eyes followed after the woman of her heart, her child's arda. Yes they had a lapse perhaps in judgment when they had become self-indulgent and enjoyed their passion, but as soon as Samantha stepped out of the mako she morphed into the Spectre. It was astonishing to watch this transformation no matter how many times Liara bore witness to it. Samantha, Liara admitted was as her own arda had once said born to the uniform.

The Spectre maneuvered around the camp taking note of the egresses into the Watcher's Chamber, the picket line, the camp layout, where and how makos were parked. And approved of all of it. She trusted William's judgment. The young lieutenant had spent most of her active career groundside. She knew how to set up a camp, fortify it in its most efficient manner possible, and keep the defenses at peak performance.

"Lieutenant." She called out to her XO. "I want a two man watch. With the barrier down we're more vulnerable to attack and worse espionage. Keep the roster you set up; simply convert it to two on patrol rather than one. Save for the first watch, I'm on it as well. I want twice the number of proximity beacons put up. I also want a perimeter of defense drones deployed. Make it happen. Oh and Lieutenant, make sure each member of the company is well-rested, fed and ready for their watch. No exceptions. Press the issue and pull rank with the more stubborn ones if you have to."

"Aye, aye Skipper." Williams saluted and set off to give her CO's orders to the rest of the company. The lieutenant paused and turned. "Skipper."


"That means you too, doesn't it? You were in battle and er… matrimonial recreation …um." She sighed and Shepard only smiled. "Look I know you biotics have an extremely high metabolism, and you guys tend to have a ravenous appetite. As XO, I made myself familiar with the special requirements of the crew. Turians and quarians have different digestive systems, and biotics need far more calories in their diets than non-biotics. As per your orders, I'm making sure the squad is five by five, that means ma'am you have to take chow."

The Spectre gave a playful salute, "I'll get right on that, Lieutenant." The Spectre made for the campfire grabbed one of the blue-foil MREs and started to dismantle it. The blue bags were designed for Biotics. Not only did they have more food in them but they were designed for the calorific needs of biotics.

Williams had indeed familiarized herself with the needs of biotics long before she became XO. She knew the standard Alliance combat ration for a soldier was 3000 calories per day; biotics were given 4500, as well as a canteen of potent energy drink for quick refreshment after hard combat.

Being in combat with Shepard, Kaiden and later Liara and Wrex she had seen them all gulp almost greedily from their canteens. Back on Therum after battling the geth in the compound before they had set off to find Liara in the mining shafts, her water had run out she had been given leave to drink from the Spectre's canteen. Despite the warning that it was an energy drink and not water she hadn't expected the taste. It was almost like drinking raw coffee beans, almonds, sugarcane and ginseng juice all at the same time. She was hyper-stimulated for the next four hours before she crashed. At the very least it had kept her hydrated.

Ash had also seen other issues the biotics had to deal with other then the mass quantities of food they had to eat. Electricity accumulated in starship drive cores must be discharged, and so must the electricity in a biotic user. Biotics were prone to small static discharges when they touched metal. More then enough times she heard Shepard, Kaiden and Wrex curse when they zapped themselves when grabbing something metal. Of course combat boots worn by biotics were insulated to help prevent this but it didn't always work as well as it should.

The only ones that didn't mutter under their breath were the asari who obviously had adaptive abilities to prevent this. Williams hadn't asked any of them, not even Liara but she suspected it was something biological, like electric eels back on Earth who gave of electrical discharges but were immune to it themselves.

For a moment, Williams watched as Shepard dug into her food, swiftly and hungrily. It was apparent to the young woman that her CO didn't exactly know how hungry she was until she was eating. Satisfied the skipper was seen to, the lieutenant turned to carry out the rest of the Spectre's orders.

Not to shove work off on others, Williams grabbed several of the miniature proximity beacons from one of the mako's belly boxes and set off to put them into place. The beacons were designed of course as a sonic/laser alarm system set to go off if the perimeter was broken by attackers or as she said worse, infiltrators. Morwen, Nual, and Wrex followed suit until the whole of the encampment was picketed.

The aerial defensive drones were standard issue on the larger M36 makos. Compact and diverse the VI droids were easily stored in a secondary belly box under the mako's chassis. Typically used to guard garrisons, bases and space stations the Alliance Military also used the drones on extended field missions. Garrus and Williams adopted the task to activate and deploy the drones to patrol the surrounding area of the Watcher's Chamber.

Liara remained close to the technicians watching their very close progress with a sense of achievement. Yes Liara was well schooled in field of electronics but she wasn't a specialist, not like Tali, Shi'ar or Jahleed. Yes the young archeologist could bypass locks, make repairs and even boost the shields in her armor but she had no skill in hacking, decryption or splicing two different technologies together. Still that didn't stop her from remaining ever near. In fact it was motivation to be present, as she at this moment had no direct involvement in something she held very close to her heart and had dedicated half her life to.

"Doc," Ashley came up to Liara. "Orders from the skipper, we're to double up on watch. You may want to get something to eat and some shuteye before you have to take watch with Dr. Baynham sr."

"Thank you Lieutenant, I understand." The asari didn't move but continued to watch over Tali, Jahleed and Shi'ar as they worked diligently over the prime and Vigil.

Williams puffed out a breath of air. "She was insistent. Besides there isn't much you can do but make the techs nervous, you may was well rest up before you have to take watch. There are other concerns you have to take into account, Doc."

Liara turned this time and nodded with a smile. "Yes of course." The smile remained. "The Spectre's orders must be obeyed."

'Oh thank God.' Ashley swore to herself. She couldn't quite fit it into her head how on earth she was supposed to pull rank with the skipper's wife. Ever since the wedding Ash didn't know exactly how to address Liara in the more military fashion or how even she fit into the dynamics of rank. Liara was a part of the groundside squad, head of the Sciences department and yet she had no rank, no command authority outside her division, still she was very much a part of the crew. Fortunately Liara listened to reason or pretended to which was practically the same thing. It helped a little that Baynham sr. and Dr. S'thasa made sure that the techs working with Vigil were given ample food and water as well as coffee to sustain them while they labored long into the night hours.

As much as Biotics needed to consume a high amount of calories, train and sleep, they needed perhaps more than all of these things the need to center themselves, to focus. All asari whether they trained their natural biotics to their full potential or let them atrophy to mere cantrips knew this. They knew the import of meditation.

Though Nual was on patrol with Garrus, Morwen took this moment to meditate, and she was not alone. Off to the side, both Liara and Shepard were doing the same. They sat tailor style facing one another. Holding their hands out before them - one with the palm up the other down, mirroring each other so that palm almost touched palm.

This was a technique used while under the tutelage of a mentor, with the more experienced matron guiding her pupil to find her center; her inner focus and true balance with her full biotic potential. However it served the same function between the lovers. And indeed Liara was the most experienced of the two, thus she led the mediation.

Having already meditated, Aleena was now taking her chow along with the XO. The bounty hunter's time to patrol wouldn't be for another hour yet. Unfortunately for her she was sharing it with her one time friend and running mate if not outright competitor. If the Spectre suspected or knew the truth, did old Wrex know too?

No he was never one for subtleties. He would have called Aleena out the moment he spotted her. He'd catch her in a bear hug for old time's sake before he tried to kill her. No her old friend didn't know. That was not yet.

Ash had been watching Doctor S'thasa, watching Wrex. The krogan was scuffing down his fifth full MRE pack due more to boredom than to sate his hunger. "I wouldn't worry about Wrex." Ashley said assuming the slightly worried look on the emerald skinned asari's face was due to having to work so closely with the battlemaster. "He's a bit more restrained than the other krogans we've come across. And he's very loyal to Captain Shepard. He's actually got a brain in that shelled skull of his."

Aleena smiled internally. 'More than you could possibly know, kid.' "I need to ask. How did our illustrious captain get a krogan battlemaster, a hardcore merc like Urdnot Wrex to follow her? Scuttlebutt says he's not paid for this, and mercs like him are not the altruistic sort. No krogan is. Their motto is 'Eat, Sleep, pillage, and be selfish, for tomorrow we die.' It has to be more than the promise of the spoils of battle - that is a given price with any krogan."

Williams chuckled. "I'm surprised too to tell you the truth that he's stuck with us. And that he is still serving. Like I said, he's loyal to the skipper. He has a hell of a lot of respect for her. I think the only other person he respects half as much is an old friend of his, I'm not quite sure if she was something more than that to him. Though I can't get my head around the idea that an asari even a commando mercenary would find a krogan appealing. They aren't even mammals."

The bounty hunter tried to make a dismissive laugh but it came out a small worried sound. "Indeed. Does this commando have a name?"

"I heard Wrex talk about her to the skipper back on the Normandy. Her name is Aleena."

"I assume it was on the Normandy where Wrex agreed to follow Captain Shepard? Still without pay that is very unusual."

"Yeah, anyway. It's a weird story. You want the long version or the short?"

"The unabridged if you don't mind. I'm still trying to understand our captain, this may assist. She has a unique way of thinking. One I have not associated with humans. That being said I have seen such behavior in other Spectres. This might be an aspect in their quality that places them above the rank and file."

"I haven't worked with a CO like her either. You're right though; she's got a unique way of seeing things, doing things - that's for sure. Take Wrex for instance. The whole way she got him to swear a Battle Oath to her was like something straight out of ancient legends."

Aleena was beside herself in astonishment. "She orchestrated events for a battlemaster to swear that kind of an alliance? I know for a fact such a thing is unheard of since before the Uprising!" 'Wrex…you are impressed…what did she do? You fought in that war. What possessed you to swear a binding allegiance to this young woman?' Aloud she said: "How did she manage such a thing?"

Ashley looked to her skipper then down at the fire near her feet. She set her own MRE pack aside before she spoke.

"It happened not long after we were all on the Normandy. We had just rescued Doctor T'soni from Therum. Saren sent one of his krogan mercs to get her, because of her expertise in the Protheans. The skipper was all in this krogan's face about the place falling apart around us, and that the Doc was staying with us." Williams smirked. "She was so flippant with the lizard I thought for sure he'd blast her right then and there. It was the first time I fought a krogan battlemaster. To top it off he was a biotic, just like Wrex. But she killed him, as Tali and I took out the geth troopers.

"After things cooled down, I mean after we had squad debriefing and the skipper gave a Sitrep to the Council we were on our way to stop Saren and his geth. I think the skipper went to each of her officers trying to get a hold on how the crew was doing. She came to me and we had a one on one - off the records. I guess she figured I needed to vent. Seeing that battlemaster in a fight and getting tossed by him, made me think about Wrex being on the ship."

"You got time to talk one on one?" commander Shepard asked coming up to Ash's munitions workstation.

"Sh…sure. I was hoping to catch a moment of your time...off the records." Williams grew a little apprehensive. She had never met let alone served with anyone who earned the Star of Terra. If Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams were honest with herself she'd admit Shepard intimidated the hell out of her even more than that krogan back on Therum. The krogan was a merc and yes he was a biotic but Shepard was a Spectre. Like Captain Anderson said, Spectre's aren't made, they're born. Fighting along side Shepard, Williams understood what that statement actually meant.

"I've got an open door policy; if you have concerns lay them on me."

Williams noticed the stance taken by the commander was more relaxed to indicate she was listening 'off the books.' Taking a deep breath Ash plowed ahead, deciding to get it over with quickly like taking off a bandage. "Alright…I…I know things are different aboard the Normandy but I'm concerned about the aliens." The words just tumbled out of her mouth. "Vakarian and Wrex. With all due respect Commander, should they have full access to the ship?"

She expected a reprimand at any moment, to be dressed down or a snide comment about unable to keep them in sleeper pods the whole way. What she got was: "They may not serve the Alliance Chief, but they are allies. At least where Saren is concerned."

Ash shook her head. She'd gone this far she might as well go for broke. Besides once the commander found out who she was, who her grandfather had been she'd reassign Williams anyway just for being a Williams. All her commanders passed her around like that just because of whom her grandfather was. Despite her family being blacklisted Ash swore an allegiance to the Alliance and by God she was going to defend it, even if she wasn't good enough for them. "This is the most advanced ship in the Alliance navy. I don't think they should have free reign to poke around the ship's vital systems: engines, sensors, weapons."

Shepard remained cool and collected in her tone. Not dismissive, not barking commands about questioning a CO's orders. "You don't trust the Alliance's allies?"

"I wouldn't count the Council races as allies." Williams all but snapped. "We…humanity I mean have to learn to rely on our selves."

"Standing up for ourselves, doesn't mean standing alone. I've heard this before. You're starting to sound like one of those Terra Firma pamphlets, Chief."

Despite her restraint, her fear, Ashley was downright pissed she had been so easily compared to those xenophobes. "Terra Firma is a bunch of jackals who have strayed from the founders' original ideals. At least my reasons are rational. As noble as the Council races may seem now, if their backs are against the way they'll abandon us."

Once more the Commander surprised the younger woman, she almost laughed. "You've got a pessimistic view of the universe, Williams."

"A pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist. Look if you get attacked by a bear you'll sic your dog on it. It doesn't matter how much you love your dog, it isn't human you'll sacrifice it to save yourself. It isn't racism, not really. The Council took Saren's words over yours even over that scum of a dock worker Powell who saw Nihlus's murder. That's a prime example. Members of their species will always be more important to them than humans are."

"These are deeply held beliefs, Williams what made you think this way?"

"My family's been serving the Alliance since it was founded. My father, my grandfather, my great grandmother all picked up a rifle and swore the Oath of Allegiance. I guess we tend to think of Earth's causes as our own."

"Family shadows huh? Yeah, I come from a military family myself both of my parents serve in the navy. Anybody in your family we might know?"

Ashley paled slightly. "Couldn't say, Commander." She hurriedly answered. Technically she hadn't lied to the Hero of the Skillian Blitz. Not really. Omission of information isn't a lie; it was just leaving out a detail or two. "So you join to keep up the family tradition?"

"One might think that. I don't think they meant to start a family tradition, but after sixteen years on ships and stations how could I spend my life on the ground?"

"You're lucky – I spent most my career groundside."

Shepard smirked, "To tell you the truth it wasn't because my parents both serve. The future of humanity is out here. There is so much we haven't seen yet!" Excitement clearly shown in the young commander's face so much so Ash found herself smiling in return.

"Yeah, I know what you mean. I still remember the first field exercise on Titan. When we hit dirt, it hit me! 'I'm the first person to ever stand here!' Then my drill instructor kicked me in the ass and I fell face first in the muck. He spent the next five minutes chewing me out for goldbricking."

Shepard laughed hard, her lips pulled back into a full smile; a smile Williams thought was magnificent and bright. Her own smile curled in return. "Don't tell me you had Gunny Ellison! He's the only one I know who still used words like goldbricking for shirking duty."

Williams stared and laughed all the harder. "Good Lord, don't tell me you went to Macapá boot camp too! Yeah Gunny Ellison is still reaming out recruits down there, kicking ass and using words like inveigle and pusillanimous."

Both laughed so hard they had to use each other as support to remain upright.

"Gods, the first time I hit Fort Charles Upham up on Titan he comes stomping up gets millimeters from my face and shouts; 'Sixteen years of a resplendent spacer's life can make you acrimonious of being stationed groundside, Shepard. Are you sure you can handle the mud, recruit or are you pusillanimous?'

"When I said 'Sir, I can handle it sir,' he swiped my leg making me fall on my ass in the mire and ordered me to prove it. Later he accused my solution to the turian point defense emplacements of being 'capriciously bohemian with a taurine tenacity.' However I had a 'magnanimity aptitude at best.' I told him it got favorable results."

"Yeah I got something similar well the last bit I wasn't said to be 'capriciously bohemian' though. But later I found out I got a commendation for my solution and a promotion from squad leader to platoon leader." Ash said. "I'm guessing that's what happened to you."

"Dead on, chief."

Both smiled.

"You still in contact with him?" Shepard asked.

Williams nodded.

"Yeah I wonder how many of us who came out of his company still are." Shepard paused for a moment then as their former instructor had done to them during training. She maneuvered so quickly Ash didn't know what had hit her. This time however it wasn't a kick in the ass or a leg swipe it was a question seemingly right out of the blue. "It doesn't sound like you've worked with aliens before."

"No ma'am." Williams was momentarily caught off guard by the sudden and almost jarring change of subjects. One moment they were bonding the next the commander swoops in with uneasy questions. "Like I said before, I've been stationed mostly groundside, though I did get a rotation on Rakesh Sharma orbital platform for training. 'Every marine a rifleman, every rifleman Zee-Gee certified'."

"That's odd." Shepard frowned. "Your record is spotless, and all your technical scores are exemplary."

Ashley shifted on her feet nervously, "Um…ah …anyway that's why I haven't worked with aliens." Inwardly she thought: 'Please don't ask…please don't order it…let it drop…I don't want to leave the ship. I promise you, you won't regret it. Let me prove myself. I'm not a liability…I can prove I'm good soldier…just give me the chance. I was trained just like you by Gunny Ellison…let that mean something to you….to us.'

"Alright, I can see where your concerns are coming from. But this is a multilateral mission, Chief. You have to work with aliens like it or not," she said with an affirming head nod reminiscent of their old gunny.

Williams saluted. "It won't be a problem, Commander. You say jump, I say how high. You tell me to kiss a turian, I ask which cheek."

Shepard held up hand and gestured the comment away. "I don't think kissing turians will be necessary, Chief."

"You never know Commander."

To this Shepard raised a dark eyebrow but said nothing more. It seemed to Williams the commander was looking at something on her work table. The chief followed her line of sight until she came to the Onyx helmet Shepard had been wearing on Eden Prime, since then the commander had upgraded to a superior set of armor she purchased from the C-Sec requisitions officer.

"Skipper?" It was the first time Williams had called her CO by the old naval term of respect for someone who is in command but not ranked captain of a ship.

Shepard took the helmet and continued to stare at it. "Give me that Talon." She pointed to the military issued dagger on the tabletop.

Williams obeyed but not without question. "Ma'am?"

"You're about to lean why I ask a lot of academic questions about the other races' history and culture. I want no interference; you will stand down, Chief." Shepard said donning the helmet and striding off towards the krogan with an extremely determined gait.

Wrex had been working at a secondary work station apparently placing new upgrades in his assault rifle when he noticed something; someone came rushing him at astonishing speed.

Shepard sprinted for her target faster than a human had the right to move. Talon in one hand she slammed the blade into a storage locker near the krogan edge side up. In the same breath she used her momentum to launch her body into an aerial spin. All that force, all the speed enhanced by biotics was used to strike Wrex in a blow to the head that sent him sprawling to the floor.

His back bounced off the workstation before he tumbled and found his feet. His nose bled, as did the ancient scars on his shelled forehead. Shepard had somersaulted to her own feet she waited, her legs slightly bent in a fighting stance with the weight evenly distributed.

Williams snatched a rifle she had been refitting and aimed it at the battlemaster; she'd plug him before he made the next move. All she had to do was wait for the signal from her CO.

Wrex shook his massive head. He was seeing stars from the biotically enhanced head butt. He couldn't imagine what Shepard must be feeling. Crazy she-mammal! What in the hell was she doing? What possessed her to do a dumb ass thing like challenge him? He respected it, but damn the woman had obviously lost it. That Prothean beacon on Eden Prime scrambled her brain, it was obvious.

"What say you Urdnot Wrex? Do I have your blood, blade and gun?"

Trying to clear his head Wrex looked at the Talon embedded in the metal container, he could answer in one of two ways. He didn't know how she knew, but apparently Shepard had done her homework. Wrex took another look at the blade, then back to Shepard. The forefront of her hardsuit's helmet was severely dented. She had a concussion that much was evident but she was still on her feet, her body glowingly slightly with a powerful biotic aura.

"What say you!" she snapped again.

Wrex made a move for the knife. Out of the corner of his crimson eye he saw the kid Williams pointing a rifle at his head. But she made no other move. Shepard must have noticed too as she shook her head at the young chief gunnery sergeant, a silent order to stand down.

Williams did so reluctantly.

The same look was given to Garrus, two other marines and Rec-officer Merkerson. Without saying a single word, Shepard had full command of every soul in the cargo hold.

Wrex knew what his answer would be. He ran his hand along the edge of the blade; a well of orange blood immediately appeared in his palm. He took a step forward, placed his bleeding three fingered hand on the commander's helmet.

"You have my Oath of Battle Commander Samantha Shepard—Spectre. Until this mission is fulfilled."

"I hold you to your Oath. Break it and may your skull never bleach from the rays of Tuchanka's great twin suns.

Everyone seemed to relax a bit, and everyone including Wrex himself was a little more than confused as to what just happened. To the krogan his perplexity came from Shepard herself. How did she know of the ancient rituals? A Battle Oath was sworn between two leaders of different tribes in a time of a war to forge an unbreakable alliance. It was something often sworn during a Crush. Theirs was a culture of mercenaries, of pillaging and even pirating. But a Battle Oath, like the Crush was one of the most sacred of rituals.

"Chief." Shepard bellowed. "Step two."

"Yes ma'am."

Walking with determination, Shepard made it to the lift with Williams hot on her heels. The doors closed just as Shepard toppled onto her junior officer. "I think I need a moment in med bay," she said leaning all of her weight on the younger woman.

Without missing a beat, Williams activated the radio in her ear, "Med bay prepare a bed, the skipper's suffering a concussion."

"Chakwas here, acknowledged. What happened?"

"I'll explain when we get there." Shepard said.

"Skipper, Gunny Ellison was right about you. You are capriciously bohemian with a taurine tenacity.' And you do indeed have a magnanimity aptitude."

"Like I told him, it gets results." Shepard murmured fighting the effects of her concussion. She struggled to get the helmet off and was only successful after Williams helped her.

"Ma'am…how did you know to do that? I thought for sure Wrex was going to take the Talon and attack."

"That was the other option he had." Shepard muttered. She closed her eyes for a moment to fight off the strong waves of dizziness and the urge to vomit. She realized like Wrex her own nose was bleeding. "Believe me I was ready for it," she wiped her nose with the back of her hand, trying to stop the blood from creating a pool in the lift. She was still leaning heavily on Williams.

"As for his alliance, it's now set in blood. He won't turn on it. Like I said Chief, I make time for my officers. I listen to their concerns, and you had valid ones. I now have a krogan's Battle Oath; Garrus won't be out done by that. Both of their loyalties to this mission, to my command are assured. We can trust them."

The lift slowed to a stop on the next deck. Williams lent her support to her CO and guided her to med bay. The first person to reach them as they came out of the lift wasn't Dr. Chakwas or even Lt. Alenko but Dr. T'soni. The asari archeologist all but carried Shepard into Dr. Chakwas for care and attention.

"She is both ray and shark." Aleena muttered to herself. "A very lethal combination."

"Say again?" Williams wasn't sure she heard correctly or understood the context of the other woman's words.

"In the oceans of my home world there are great manta rays that often lurk in the territories of firaxon shark pups when they are still close to shore. You see, the schools of fish the sharks feed on will see the distinctive silhouette of the shark and flee directly into the hunting grounds of the rays. The rays use the sharks as a diversion and ambush the schools, striking so fast the fish don't even know they are dead until they are devoured.

"The shark is the most aggressive hunter on Thessia. It uses its speed, size and muscle to dominate its realm. You see it, you know it is coming and you know what it is capable of. Its deadly reputation creates a natural flight response in those marked prey. One will do well to respect such a creature. Your story demonstrates Shepard is both.

"There were tones in your voice that told me there was something you did not desire her to know, and were terrified of her reaction if she found out. You dodged questions of your family. Something in your family's history was a plague upon you. You spoke of your mistrust of non-humans and dodged the questions as to the true reasons for this mistrust. You saw Shepard as a shark, and fled. She then turns into a ray basking in the shoals, you become distracted by your mutual history in military training, thinking it was safe you relaxed, and she strikes then just like the ray. She sees something there, something you are more than reluctant to speak about, her teeth lock and she won't give up the hunt."

"She did the same with Wrex. She rushed him just like a shark, hitting him hard, fast and with so much power he is taken down. He saw it, felt it, and became the prey. The Battle Oath is the ray's strike, the ambush. He sees her command the entire cargo hold with a look, not words. And he knows with a look she could command his death, more than that he felt her power. He does what is the only option for a warrior in that position can do, he bends knee to a superior force. A force he admires. Krogans always fight simply to see who will win; they do this more so with those they call friends and allies. He knows even with his biotics he is no match for the Spectre. She is a leader, people follow her because of who she is. People will lay down their lives for her, is this not so? I understand now why the krogan would yield his power to her, and swear a Battle Oath to her.

"It's not because of her powerful hold on biotics. That has nothing to do with her power to command the souls of others. It is natural to flee the shark; just as it is a natural response to follow the Spectre, those who do not find themselves in discord with their natural response. Their rebellion against that nature generates hate, jealousy and the desire to rid that which they believe is the cause of such discord. If they can not be rid of Shepard through death they will do by the cause of great harm, as they themselves are in pain. This is why bounty hunters were summoned, why the attack on Dr. T'soni happened on Elysium. This Udina who haunts Shepard is in pain from his inner discord, hatred and jealousy; he will not stop until that discord is vanquished one way or the other. The only problem is he has never hunted a shark or a ray, he does not understand his prey. But she does, all too well. There can be only one inevitable outcome—one of them will die."

Aleena rose from the stone block she had been sitting on, checked her gear and spoke almost tonelessly "It is time for my patrol." She said nothing more as she glided away from the camp fire, leaving a very dumbfounded Lieutenant Williams staring after her.

Ash turned her head slowly looking mutely at her captain, staring at the dark haired woman for a long moment before she turned back to the retreating asari. She was right; people followed Samantha Shepard because it felt like the natural—instinctual thing to do.

'You say jump, I say how high. You say kiss a turian, I ask which cheek…'

The Illusive Man was pleased with how the plan was coming to fruition. He needed Shepard as a Spectre for reasons that Udina would never understand. She was a two time war hero, highly decorated and highly respected. A credit to humanity, the overlord of Cerberus understood this, he even respected her. She was a worthy adversary. Again something Donnel Udina would never understand. All he saw was a woman who cost him his seat on the Council.

The Illusive Man saw further than the ambassador's private ambitions and desires, the petty man would have been a disastrous choice. He had a reputation for clashing with the Council on numerous occasions. In truth the Council didn't respect the dignitary. Udina allowed his emotions, not logic to dictate his actions, the constant belligerent ranting to the Council had cost the man his seat, not the Spectre.

The Illusive Man knew he would never own Captain David Anderson, the new Councilor, as he did Charles Sarainco the new leader of the Terra Firma Party. But then Anderson would serve as the perfect diversion to Cerberus agendas.

The vid screen beeped to indicate an incoming message. The Illusive man looked up from the reports he had been studying and smiled when he saw that the call was on his secure line. Udina may have lacked many qualities, but at least he was prompt. At the very least the diplomat could be trusted to keep a schedule.

"Donnel, I should congratulate you on your choice of hunters. The test on Elysium proved to be satisfactory."

"I wouldn't call what happened on Elysium to be a success. They failed to hit their mark, and Shepard is more than well aware of being hunted and no doubt by whom."

"Yes, she is aware; to the point of being paranoid." The Man smirked. "Such paranoia will lead her down a path of self-destruction. It is imperative that she only disgraces and destroys herself, and not humanity. She needs to be broken, her hold on reality shattered. Inconsolable grief will cause her to self-destruct. The story will be she was already going mad because of the Prothean beacons."

"Like Saren."

"Precisely. All her ranting to the Council, to her former superiors about the Reapers will serve to solidify this story."

"The Reapers…"Udina scoffed. "Despite the attack I find it hard to believe that a race that killed the Protheans fifty thousand years ago has suddenly reappeared. No Saren and Shepard may have indeed seen the destruction of the Protheans at the hands of the Reapers. Saren played on this story, and Shepard believed it. You saw Sovereign; it looks remarkably like geth bay ships. Saren used the idea of the Reapers to control the geth, and had them build their tin god.

"If there are more 'Reapers' out there, they are creations of the geth in the image of those that came before. Shepard has been played the fool because of the visions in the beacons. Yes I don't dispute there is a war on the horizon, or that we will see more ships like Sovereign, but it is because of the geth."

"That may well be true. I am pursuing a course of action that might get us insight on those who created the synthetic monstrosities."

"You mean the Migrant Fleet. You have agents infiltrating it?"

"The details do not concern you, Donnel but the answer is yes."

"And this is relevant to Shepard, how?"

"I said the details do not concern you. As for relevance to Shepard can you not see the parallels between her and Saren? Saren had a T'soni at his side; the most powerful biotic at his side, and he had the geth. Shepard has a T'soni at her side, as far as we know the asari may well be the most powerful biotic in Council space due to her genetic lineage. Shepard has a quarian as a minion, and who is it that created the geth?"

Udina didn't answer the question with words but smiled. 'The quarians.' The expression seemed to say.

"Exactly. This war on the horizon will be fought against the geth. Both Saren and Shepard shared visions of the end of all organic life. Saren so paranoid by visions he became the catalyst for this war to come. He woke the geth to their 'god'. Shepard also touched by the beacons will have many suspicions upon her, many will look to see when or how she will snap. It will not be a surprise when she is finally pushed over the edge. Given the information by our friend it will become widely know that she would 'go rogue if anything happens to Liara T'soni'."

"Aren't you afraid this will make her a martyr?"

"All the better for humanity, you are a fool not to see this or use it. Humanity will not lose the position we now hold, we will not lose our right to have Spectres. The weak will always need heroes. Let them have Shepard, let them mourn for her. Those who do not support her… worship her; already despise her for her supposed turning away from the Alliance. Either they will see her as the Spectre so tormented by visions of the end of all organic life, that when her wife was murdered she snapped and they will pity her. Or they will see a woman turned cold by aliens, by an alien wife, they will see only her cruelty, her malice, her vengeance and they will disavow her glory, her honor. Both however will blame the beacons for scrambling her mind, and humanity will rise above the fall of one its greatest lionized yet tyrannical heroes."

"You intend to make her into a Julius Caser."

"We need her to be, Donnel. We shape the events around her life, her quest to insure that she does. In turn Cerberus will be the sanctified Senators that put the end to a tyrant that threatened to destroy the glory, honor and life of the Empire. She will be placed on the wrong side of history in the end."

"What do you want me to do?"

"For now nothing, but sit tight. I have already leaked our friend's information to that reporter Emily Wong."

"That mousey do-gooder reporter? Why?"

"Wong loves to uncover conspiracies; she is also one of the strongest supporters of Shepard. Once our illustrious Spectre snaps, Wong will play the spin doctor and create a tragic picture of what lead to Shepard's end. Weren't you paying attention? As I explained at nauseam for our goals for humanity to come to fruition we need Shepard become both martyr and tyrant, Wong will help us do so. Of course she will sit on the information until the pieces fall into place. No doubt she has by now heard the words, and being the loyal supporter that she is may even inform Shepard of the anonymous tip. Still she can do little more than make a human interest story out it. Shepard herself may tell the reporter to sit on the information, or Wong will do it of her own volition."

"Shepard will not tolerate this. She will no doubt kill our friend for leaking the information to us. She can be ruthless when pushed. Her tenacious defense of Elysium six years ago proved that. And then there is the way she ended Saren. You saw the recordings. You saw how she manipulated him to commit suicide then dispatched his husk with cold aggression."

"That is of very little consequence now. Our friend's usefulness is finished the moment he consented to the price you paid him for selling out his commanding officer. And such actions only assist our agendas for Shepard. She might not be the Butcher of Tofan, but when we are finished with her she will be so much worse. "

The Illusive Man smiled, for Donnel Udina was already seeing Shepard in the light he had started to paint her. Doubts would descend and every action Shepard took, The Illusive Man knew that Udina would suspect her, judge her. Udina was the model of those who stood against the first human Spectre: the reactions of the diplomat would be the reactions of the others.

Part 18

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