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: I've gotten some extensive aid from a reader who has an excellent grasp on real-world science and physics and has helped me understand the real-world applications of a gravity leveler, which is a far cry from the cinema-effects of the same device used in Ultraviolet which I have borrowed. I have taken extreme liberties with real-world science but then so do many sci-fi writers, after all explosions as seen in Star Wars / Star Trek / BSG/ Star Gate/ Mass Effect can not truly happen in the vacuum of space. Oh yes and due to the events of ME2 obviously this is very much an AU. However some elements / scenes / characters of ME2 will make it into here so I guess there will be some spoilers.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter


Chapter 30
Out of the Veil

"Dr. Chakwas! She's back." The voice was tinny, distant but instantly recognizable.

"Liara?" Shepard croaked out. She reached out with her hand trying to focus on the blurred image hovering just above her.

A blue hand wrapped around hers, "I am here, beloved."

Shepard blinked a few times trying to stop the world from spinning. She wasn't managing that too well. She grunted back a cough and swallowed hard.

"You're going to need this." Chakwas said handing a silver bedpan to Liara who returned the offering with a quizzical look. The necessity of the bowl became readily apparent when the Spectre suddenly vomited.

"Sorry," a meek whisper from an ashen and embarrassed Shepard. Liara placed a comforting hand upon her back, rubbing small soothing circles.

"You have nothing to be sorry about." Liara soothed gently.

The asari placed the pan upon the bedside table and picked up a glass of water, handing it to her lover. Shepard swished half of it and spat it into the pan, before swallowing the second half.

"Thanks," Shepard said hoarsely.

"Of course." Liara gently feathered Sam's black hair back from her sweaty forehead.

"How are you feeling, Captain?" Chakwas diverted the attention back to her.

"Minor throbbing. Seems a familiar pain." Shepard swung her legs over the side of the bed. Once more a wave of dizziness washed over her, making her feel light-headed. She held her head in her hands, forcing back the urge to vomit once more. She cleared her throat before attempting to speak: "Doc, I guess my team somehow brought me back, but what happened?"

"I was hoping you'd tell me. What is the last thing you remember?" Chakwas said. She activated her medical-Omni tool and began running scans over the Spectre.

Sam thought a moment, unsure of her own answer. "It's all jumbled up. I recall being a kid again—a little rug-rat and a teenager. I remember things … Prothean things from the beacons, like the cipher but more intense. There are memories of someone called the Regent. I remember her life, her thoughts, what it was like to be inside her head when she made the tough decisions. I saw her loved ones through her eyes.

"I remember Elysium. It was so vivid. It was as if I just went through it all again. All of it: the grit, the smoke, explosions, the blood, the fear, the excitement, the pissed off emotions. Trying to hold it together. I recall you telling me to take it easy just after you checked my dog tags." Shepard ran her fingers through her hair. "God…what a nightmare. Bad enough living through it the first time, doing it again was not something I wanted to do."

Liara turned her face away, ashamed. Shepard felt the unease settling in her wife's heart.


"I…I'm…so sorry Samantha. I had…to…I was not gentle. I had to force you to remember least Prothean memories take you over. You were already losing yourself to their forgotten memories." Tears gathered at the corners of her cerulean eyes. She hastily wiped them away before the other woman took note.

"Prothean indoctrination?" Shepard asked horrified.

It was Chakwas who answered. "No. I did thorough scans. There are no indications of mind alteration trauma indicative of brain-washing or indoctrination. As with your other encounters with Prothean-interfaces your beta waves are off the charts, however."

"If not indoctrination then…how is that I was losing my self?"

"The vinculum." Liara responded, her voice a tentative whisper. "It was trying to rewrite your own memories in order to preserve the ones contained within while keeping your mental faculties fully intact. It was almost exactly what we did to the geth prime when we downloaded Vigil into its positronic brain."

Shepard remained silent for so long both Liara and Chakwas grew concerned. Each placed a hand upon the Spectre's shoulders. When Shepard spoke her voice was hollow, almost dreamy. "The Regent Izu-Chuan ….she…was the director of the facility. She wanted to preserve her people by saving their consciousnesses inside that damn thing. She took DNA samples from everyone who participated. The idea was to later clone them as adults then download their consciousness in their tank imprints."

"How were they going to clone them if she herself was killed during their Reaper war?" Chakwas asked.

"The first download imprinting was going to be with synthetic bodies." Shepard snapped her head up staring as it dawned on her what those synthetic bodies were. "By the Goddess! Husks! The husks, they came from the Protheans! Not the geth. The Reapers must have repurposed the technology and perverted it. The geth were just the last ones to use it and they got them from Sovereign."

"Captain, I can't honestly believe that the Protheans impaled their own people on dragons' teeth." The physician chided incredulously.

"No. That came later, that's the perversion. The husks themselves, that's Prothean. Don't you see?" Shepard grew more and more excited. "Regent Izu-Chuan and her team created synthetic bodies, shells…husks to put their consciousness into while they rebuilt their homes and created the clones that they intended to imprint. Obviously the plan didn't work. In fact from the memories and what we know now it seemed to have catastrophically backfired."

Chakwas considered what Shepard told her. At first she wanted to question the validity of the memories burned into Shepard's mind by the vinculum. Scientifically she knew the playback of memories in the vinculum were legitimate, if only for the multiple neurological scans the physician had taken. It was those scans that deeply concerned the good doctor.

"While this new data is no doubt fascinating, right now it isn't the priority. Captain, we need to discuss what happened ground side. Frankly I'm concerned." Chakwas said. "To separate you from the implantation of memories, Liara pulled relative memories from your own past."

Shepard nodded as she took hold of her wife's hand and gently squeezed just before she brought it to her lips and kissed the azure flesh. "Elysium…and there were others."


"You did what you had to do, Angel Eyes. Don't feel guilty about it."

"I was not very gentle. It was a violation." The asari averted her gaze unable to look her beloved in the face.

"Would you stop beating yourself up, Liara?" Samantha reached up, took Liara by the chin, forcing her bondmate to look at her. "If you had not I would be lost forever. I owe you more than my life, Li."

"Indeed you do," Chakwas said drawing attention back to herself. "The vinculum had more of an adverse affect on you than the beacons. Before you were able to resist the adverse effects because you are incredibly strong willed. But you've been playing on that ability, and you've been taking unnecessary risks. Captain, how much do you know about Cyan Syndrome?"

Shepard thought for a moment, frowned then grew worried. "Doc, are you saying that I got…"

"No." the elder woman's voice was now softer, yet still stern. "I'm only asking what do you know?"

"Only what was I taught in biology at school and what my mentor told me. It's a condition that affects the amygdale area of the brain much in the same way red sand does to chronic users. CS makes biotics hyper-aware, mentally unstable and their powers erratic. It used to happen quite often with the L-Twos." Again worry took hold of Shepard, an expression clearly seen in her face. "But there have only been three documented L-Three cases and you upgraded my amps. I'm more of an L-four now."

"It would be more accurate to say an L-Five, if that is actually possible." Chakwas said almost offhandedly.

The worried expression was now shared by Liara. "Please, Dr. Chakwas you would not be asking this question if Samantha was not in danger."

"Klencory was the start." Chakwas said. "But not the trigger. Now listen before either you react, jump to conclusions or anything else. I need you both to do this." She got two nods. "First of all you're half right about Cyan Syndrome. But it's more than that: it strips your amygdale, completely deteriorates it. Some call it an eezo lobotomy. You know when you feel scared, worried, or nervous or you don't want to feel that way you push it to the back of your mind, and try not to think about it?"

"Yeah, standard training in both Basic and at Arcturus for the N-Sevens," Shepard said.

"As it is with asari commando training. The amygdale allows you to do that, it's a filter in your brain that keeps your emotions in check." Liara echoed. "It also affects long and short term memory."

Chakwas nodded. "Correct. Sufferers of advanced CS feel everything, they can no longer shield themselves against it. The first symptom is the sclera of the eyes becoming blue. Next is enhanced empathic awareness, and vivid nightmares. A mind constantly bombarded by these symptoms leads to personality disorders including dementia, pseudo-autism and schizophrenia. In the worst case scenarios psychopathic tendencies develop. As you said earlier there are several cases reported with the L-Twos."

Shepard felt her shoulder being squeezed. She clapped her hand over Liara's, perhaps accepting the strength than giving it. She took breath, "How long do I have before it sets in?"

"Now you promised not to jump to any conclusions." Chakwas reminded them. "As I said what happened on Klencory was the start. Add to that your exposure to raw eezo not to mention prolonged periods of time within the Device compounded with the fact that whole time you did not have adequate nourishment or meditations. Your body simply cannot cope. Blue sclera is a warning sign, like a heart murmur foretells of a heart-attack. You take measures and it's preventable. Now listen to me. This is the part where not jumping to conclusions is very important.

"The gestalt and the cipher triggered something new and unexpected in both you. Both Mal'dicta or rather Aleena and I have been studying this as you asked, Captain. As I said then the Prothean markers from the cipher rewrote part of your cortical synapses, thus changing your beta waves more than the beacons did. The gestalt furthered that change. It also changed the way your biotics work. The dormant areas of your mind are further awakening. This is what is triggering symptoms of Cyan Syndrome. It is why you've developed more empathic tendencies or at least hyper awareness of other peoples' emotions.

"Asari and what we've come to understand about the Protheans have never suffered from the disorder because their nervous systems readily compensate. Both species are incredibly adaptive. What is happening with you Captain…Sam is that your body is trying to do the same. Your brain has the genetic memories, thoughts and knowledge of the Protheans and it has a very powerful link to Liara. It's becoming confused as to why the signals it's transmitting to your nervous system haven't adapted. On the other hand if it wasn't for the link born of the gestalt, I highly doubt you would have been able to be pulled back from the vinculum as yourself. That damn thing tried to overwrite your memory synapses with a new identity. "

By this time the young archaeologist was sitting beside Shepard on the bed still holding her hand. Shepard squeezed it gingerly before she spoke: "Okay, I get why this is happening to me, but what about Liara?" Two sets of blue eyes studied each other for a breath that was held between them.

"You two are connected on a neurological level, what happens to one happens empathically to the other. So far you've managed to shield each other." Chakwas said. "It's imperative the two of you maintain the meditations. Captain, your biotic training must not simply happen when you have down time. You must pursue it aggressively. It will further your stability and resistance to CS."

"What of Sparrow?" Shepard's hand went to her wife's belly. "Our baby, she isn't in danger?"

"No. Sparrow is healthy and fine. Yes the bond ties the three of you together but CS can't touch her. The stress levels Liara feels will however." Chakwas affirmed. "Captain, this is a whole new development in CS."

"Doctor, what treatments do you prescribe? What must we do?" Liara asked her voice finding the strength she needed to confront the uncertainty of the moment.

"The treatment has its own risks, but I think this is our only option. Captain, your nervous system must be augmented, more than the SOP gene therapy you underwent after passing Basic. What I'm advising is bio-synthetic fusion of your nervous system. A type of lattice shunting similar to those used in the derma-layer that will act as a conduit to your brain and the dark energy nodules in your nervous system . Your amps will also need to compensate for this. I know there are some newly created smart amplifiers, neural masks and hyper amps that can accomplish this. Sam you're spiking far beyond that of an L-Four. As I said if an L-Five exists…you're it. It's safe to say you're the most powerful human biotic to date. Your double exposure to eezo in-utero and during puberty, the cipher and the gestalt changed everything. You are unique. Your body is desperately trying to adapt and stabilize to the changes."

Sam said nothing for a long moment. A good quantity of her body was already cybernetic. After Elysium her right eye and lung and the bones in her left forearm had been replaced by cybernetic components. After the attack on the Citadel, her left lung, both kidneys, spleen, and liver had been replaced by bio-synthetics. There was no other way to repair all the damage. Chakwas had also infused her skeleton with a synthetic weave that made her bones almost unbreakable. It had been in Shepard's signed medical preferences that in the event of yet another broken rib-cage she wanted her skeleton enhanced with synthetic weave. With the weave enhancements if she ever suffered from bone trauma yet again, medi-gel conduits allowed for bone regeneration in a matter of days rather than weeks. It was how the Spectre was able to go deep-sea diving and shark hunting so soon after breaking them.

"Samantha, even if you were completely cyborg you would still be you." Liara pressed her lips to her bondmate's worried brow. "Because of who you are in here. Your spirit is unaltered."

"But that's the tricky part. We have to make sure who I am in here," Shepard pointed to her skull, "is me and not some pissed off Prothean ghost with a score to settle."

"That brings me to another point, Captain." Dr. Chakwas interrupted. "You cannot afford to interface with any more interactive Prothean tech. I warned you before that you needed to exercise a little more prudence, now…" Green eyes narrowed into a look of disapproval and sternness an expression Sam had only ever seen on another person. A person she called Mom. "I'll put it more clearly and succinctly for you, Sam. Stay the fuck away from Prothean beacons, orbs and interfacing pyramids!"

It was all Shepard could do not to salute the older woman. "Yes ma'am, I read you. We're five-by-five."

All she got was a harrumph.

"You can't do the treatments here can you?" The Spectre asked trying to change the subject.

Chakwas shook her grey head, "I'm afraid not. Though Victory's sick bay and trauma center are superior to the Normandy's it still lacks many of the amenities a planet side hospital facility will have. Off the top of my head I can name three places that can easily do this procedure: Thessia, Illium and the Citadel. Though at this moment I hesitate to recommend the Citadel due to the rebuilding efforts."

"That leaves Thessia and Illium." Liara said. "The homeworld can yes do this procedure but Samantha if you wish amenity, I then suggest Illium."

"But Illium is still an asari world." Shepard argued.

"Yes, but these are precedents that are unique to Illium alone. Because they are so close to the Terminus Systems practically everything is legal there provided you have the correct documents and contracts." Liara stated.

"What do you mean practically everything?" Shepard frowned.

"I mean that if you have the correct documents even red sand is legal as is indentured servitude."

The Spectre was still frowning. "I can't believe an asari world would legalize slavery!"

"Indentured servitude!" Liara corrected defensively. "The indentured servant willingly goes into service; more often than not to pay off substantial debts they otherwise may not be able to pay back to their creditors. A good example is a student recently graduated from a university who had to finance the majority of her education by loans and does not have immediate employment upon graduation. She has accrued quite the debt, to pay it all off she can go into indentured servitude with a contract broker who will find her placement in her field of study.

"The holder of her contract pays off her debts, while she pays them back through her work. Once she has completed her obligations she is freed from the contract and also has substantial work references. The contract is binding to Illium and the … mistress or master as it were is completely responsible for food, health, and lodging. Disciplinary action is extremely restricted to certain measures."

Put like that Shepard and Chakwas both thought indentured servitude didn't sound so bad. After all the military had a similar scheme with their deferred education program, give them four years of your life and they paid for four years of university education. Add to the fact if you racked up a ton of credits in debit say on the stock market or very bad economic decisions or even loan-sharks, creditors didn't foreclose on your property nor charge you with fraud or horrifically maim you. Sure you lost a few years working to pay it back but it was better than the alternative.

"There are many aspects of Illium that affords itself to those who wish to obtain services and items that may not be available anywhere else." Liara continued. "Finding a qualified physician with the facilities to perform this procedure will not be difficult. I do recommend however that we take our corporate liaison Mallene with us before we sign anything." Liara placed a hand upon her wife's shoulder. "You want to keep this from the Council don't you?"

Shepard nodded. "Councillor Trace already thinks I'm mentally unstable, all I need is to give him ammunition to use against me. I don't arm my enemies."

"You still count the Council as an enemy?" Liara asked.

"Not the body no, just one man. Least you forget the Council is made up of men and women, and they are fallible just like anyone else." Shepard said.

"Then you will need a cover story." Chakwas said conspiratorially. "Perhaps the ship needs upgrades? The crew could certainly do with shore leave."

Shepard smiled. "Perfect. Mallene can set us up with that as well. We've nearly got a billion credits in the ship's stores. I think we can afford a few upgrades."

Spectres weren't paid exorbitant sums of money as one might think; their salary was about equal to that of a commander in the military. They also had to bank roll their own equipment, weaponry and modification upgrades. It was a measure the Council took to ensure those that served the elite office did so out of honor and service to duty to safeguard the galaxy and not for financial gain. Spectres already had a great deal of power; their office didn't need to be corrupted by monetary gains. Spectres who had substantial wealth had so by independent means, such as the stock market.

To help finance the mission during their hunt for Saren, Shepard had ordered her recon teams to salvage weapons and armour from fallen enemies, as well as prospect minerals, gases and several rare, light and heavy metals. She then took the profits from the sales and had Barla Von ingeniously invest it into several companies. With the volus's aid she became a major shareholder in both Serrice and Armali Councils, Kassa Fabrications, and of course Hahne-Keddar, the latter two had substantial holdings with Alliance Military. Consequently Shepard now had a very healthy bank account all of which she invested in the protection of her ship and crew.

"Captain, our new objective aside I want you to get some good solid rest. Go back to your quarters, eat and sleep." Chakwas said. "You've been though a very traumatic ordeal, your body and mind needs proper rest. I'm making a medical call so don't even think to contradict me on this, not even your silver tongue will talk your way out of it. You're off duty tomorrow and light duty the next day. Liara make sure she complies."

"I guarantee it will be so."

"Grub and quality rack time actually sounds good right now." Shepard said displaying more calm than she actually felt.

Chakwas discreetly left knowing that sometimes reaction to the gravity of a medical situation was delayed with patients. Even soldiers with piercing eyes and sensitive souls need a few moments to take it all in.

For a long moment neither woman spoke, they simply sat side by side on the bed staring at the bulkhead before them.

"I'm in it thick this time." Sam said softly. "It's all spiralling out of hand."

Liara still remained silent. She knew the one thing Samantha did not do well was accept the loss of control or accept a situation that had her up against a wall with no escape. Only this time the enemy wasn't easily outmanoeuvred. Her own body was the opposition.

Chakwas was right Sam had pushed the envelope with Prothean tech simply because she could. Now she was paying for her flaunting of that ability. Sam looked to her wife and winced. Because of her arrogance she had placed her Liara and their unborn child in very grave danger. The very idea of losing Liara was abhorrent.

The Spectre slid off the bed, turned to Liara to find the soft blue face wet with tears. "Liara?" Sam reached to cup her cheek.

"The memories…I forced out of you…"

"You did the right thing, Liara." Sam repeated her earlier conviction. "Never doubt that for a moment."

"I wasn't the only one to see them." The asari blurted out. "The vinculum was tied into a holographic simulator. It allowed …. we saw everything."

Sam closed her eyes. Liara knowing her childhood memories, even Ash knowing was one thing but the others seeing her more vulnerable moments as a child and youth were another. "They all saw…"

"Yes," A soft answer.


"It's okay." Sam answered quietly. "I trust them."

"Ashley vowed them to secrecy. None will speak of what we saw, but Samantha there was nothing there to be ashamed of. All of us were that young once, as younglings we all had days we were distraught. You only a babe in arms and to suffer such ridicule is….difficult." Liara said in a voice full of knowledge. "And as a teenager you…" Liara took her bondmate's hands into her own, bringing them to her lips as she kissed them. "You were confronted with such changes…you were so lost. Your reactions are quite understandable. There is no shame."

Sam drew in a breath. "They'll have questions."

"We took a vow, Samantha. No discussion of what we witnessed unless you initiate it."

"They'll want to know more about Elysium."

Liara nodded not denying it. "I would imagine they would like to know how you imagined that coded password for one: 'fried shoelaces marinated in spider venom.'"

Samantha smirked. "Oh that." She laughed. "When I was about seven, I was with my father when he had a tour on a space station. I think Mom was assigned to a frigate so I couldn't be with her. Anyway, I had a couple friends and we had a clubhouse - in truth it was just a bunch of blankets thrown over some chairs, in whosever quarters we happened to be 'camped' out in. We had a few rules, one of which was no double-digits allowed. To ensure security against teenager siblings and prying parents we came up with a password."

"Fried shoelaces marinated in spider venom," Liara smiled.

"What can I say at the time we thought it was pretty clever. Nevermind the fact we plain forgot that blankets are not soundproof bulkheads. I suppose we felt that inside our little fortress we were invincible as if the blankets had some kind of magical power to keep away the unwanted."

"The double digits?" Liara said playfully. "Hmm…you do of course realize had I known you at that time I would be one of those double digits?

Shepard smirked, "I got over being an ageist as soon as I hit ten. Besides I'm attracted to older women."

"How fortunate for me then," Liara teased back.

The air of levity, though fleeting was a welcomed reprieve. Memories all jumbled up, the threat of a biotic mental condition was enough to break most anyone else. Shepard clung onto her inner-self. There simply was no other option in the Spectre's mind. The gentle strength of Liara's presence bolstered the human's resolve. She would not allow all that she was to face all that she had faced defeat her. She would not allow her fear of becoming more machine than human cripple her or the mission.

Liara laid a hand upon her bondmate's shoulder. "Come, let us return home. After all the doctor's orders as you basely paraphrased were 'to get some rack-time and grub.' And as I was ordered to ensure this happen I intend to do just that." Liara leaned forward flicking the tip of her tongue teasing the soft flesh of Samantha's earlobe before nipping it. She knew just how sensitive her human's ears were - how responsive her Samantha was to such a touch. Sam moaned softly, her heart thundered as her stomach fluttered.

"I might do a little more than grab some rack time, Angel Eyes." To prove her point she grabbed Liara around the waist, nuzzling the soft folds at her neck. "How about embracing a little eternity?"

All the anxiety, the fear, the uncertainty, the relief of being freed of the vinculum transformed into hungry passion. Liara grabbed Sam on either side of her face pressing her lips to her lover's dominating her. Sam thrilled at the touch; she wrapped her arms around Liara's back and waist deepening their kiss. They had scarcely made into their quarters before Liara pounced.

Sam moved a step back allowing her wife to lift her tunic and sports bra over her head. Liara's delicate hands cupped each tanned breast, her thumbs brushing rosy nipples until they perked. She brought her lips to the hardened tips, tasting each eliciting a deep moan of pleasure from the Spectre.

Blue energy flared between them, swirling around their bodies, filling them, enhancing their desires. Sam's hands frantically removed Liara's own top and bra. The rest of their clothing quickly shed. Their biotic powers pulsed brilliantly once more coursing through their very cores. Sam rained tiny kisses along blue flesh, starting with windswept curves of her beloved's crest, down to the folds of her neck, her shoulders, to her cleavage. Tender little kisses trickled down the swell of her belly where their child grew.

Liara's moans provoked the fires burning within the Spectre to greater heights, crippling her self control. Sam nearly lost it when she felt Liara's thigh wedge between her legs.

"I want what is mine first," the asari said huskily, gently biting Samantha's lower lip. With little effort, Liara maneuvered Sam to the bed, pushed her down and began crawling her way up to Sam's body returning every little kiss she had received with those of her own. She slid her hands down Samantha's body until her hand was between the Spectre's legs. Two fingers slide easily into the warm wet depths. The pad of her thumb brushed against Sam's clit causing her to moan loudly.

The bond pulsed with each thrust, each stroke overwhelming their senses, overwhelming them both in their shared pleasure. Each was desperately hungry to feel more - desperate to hear the gasp of wanton pleasure escaping each other's lips, to feel the release of orgasm through the other's mind, body and soul. Each roared in their pleasure, their bodies quaking, shivering in the purest form of their expressed desires. Once more the blue energy of biotics flared as they inhaled the heady mingled cologne of their lovemaking, sending ripples of aftershocks of their mutual climax.

"Liara…" Sam's voice was husky, slightly deeper as it always was after an orgasm, "my beautiful everything," she snuggled closer holding her asari beloved possessively, "now it is my turn to have what is mine."

Liara gasped as she felt familiar – and very talented fingers - enter her slick core. She nearly climaxed right there and then with just the slightest of touches. Sam's lips curled into a wicked smile as she replaced her fingers with a very knowing tongue…

Sam slipped from her beloved's sleeping arms, padded naked into their ensuite. She stood before the large mirror not out of vanity, not truly. She stepped closer peering at the face staring back at her. Her finger traced the sickle scar under her right eye: the eye that looked so human but was a cybernetic replacement.

It was her decision. Be left with partial sight in the eye or replace it fully. She was no pencil pusher; she didn't want to train in some boot-camp. She wanted to fight, to truly earn her N-Seven status. She had trained so hard for it. So in the end she had accepted all the cybernetic replacements: bones, tissue, organs. She couldn't give up. She was an N-Seven marine. Now she was a Spectre and that same drive to persevere drove her to do what she must to continue the fight.

The Spectre traced the scar trailing diagonally across her shoulder to her hip. During her time at Arcturus she had never imagined such foes, nor such epic battles as she had faced with Sovereign, the geth and the rogue Saren.

"You're going to remove it aren't you?" a soft voice said from the threshold of the ensuite.

"I thought I wore it out of idealism I will always bear it within regardless what is shown without. But now…now I am tired of scars, Liara."

"You bear more than you should, Samantha." Liara came up behind her bondmate wrapping her arms around the body she so loved. She rested her chin upon the creamy-caramel shoulder.

"Before this war is over I will bear more as will all who travel and fight with me."

"We will do so gladly, my love." Liara turned her human in her arms staring at the face she so loved. "Our dedication, our loyalty to you is unwavering, we fight with you because we will not be parted from you. The willingness to bear the scars of war stems not only from this love but the dire need to stand against the Reaper blight. Our allies are few, many believe in only the geth and the war with them. We will bear scars of battle for t'is a better fate then extinction." Liara traced the angry scar marring the flesh. "Remove the scar or keep it. My love for you will not wax or wane because of what marks your flesh or what lies beneath. You are still Samantha Secura Shepard, my bondmate and arda of our daughter. And if you intend to see the birth of our daughter you will take this surgery. She will know you as flesh and blood not some synthetic construct. Your soul, your heart, your mind are still yours."

Sam allowed her wife's words to fill her with a secret strength. "I don't know about that, Liara. Did I not give you both my heart and soul?" She tried to smile but failed.

"As mine are yours. Let this fear pass from you, Samantha. Do not give it dominion over you. Do what you have always done and take strength from that which would diminish you. I have touched your soul, the Union even without the vinculum allowed me to know you as no other have. Do not despair; this procedure…a necessity. We both know this."

Sam didn't say the words: she knew there was no other true choice. Instead she led her wife by the hands to the shower stall. "I don't know about you, but a shower feels like a good idea to me."

Hot shower, food, meditation, more lovemaking and another shower left the Spectre feeling like her old self. Liara was very happily content in the exceptionally sated state Sam had left her in. Those not content however were the worried crewmembers of the ground team as well as the rest of the ship. Morale was a powerful thing. While Shepard felt fortified she knew now her duty was to see to the rest of the crew, starting with those that had accompanied her to the sanctuary as well as Shiala, the ship's third. Besides waylaying their concerns Shepard had to tell them what she understood from the Regent's memories. She had to tell them what she believed to be true about the connections between the Protheans, Reapers, husks and the Collectors.

"She's right. In the memories we saw husk like creatures. And more we saw the Collectors." Liara backed her wife.

"Collectors? What do you mean the bogymen from beyond the Omega Four relay?" Ash might buy the husks were originally Prothean constructs but this was too much.

"Despite their rarity, they are not myth." Liara said. "They do exist. The fact so few know this to be true gives them greater power and immunity. They are more known to trade in the Terminus Systems than any other. They tend to work through intermediaries however rather than directly with their clientele."

"Alright say the Collectors are not creatures of myth, if they were there in the memories of this Regent that would make their species at least fifty thousand years old." Garrus argued.

"Why not? The Reapers are." The Spectre countered. "And I've been thinking about that. The Reapers are older than that right? They are living ships, but still ships. So who was the original crew? Sovereign bypassed my questions on the matter like he was a politician. That makes most of what he said suspect. All politicians like to spin-doctor and re-work the truth to their liking; it's why they can't be trusted.

"My point is all ships have a crew, maybe the Collectors were …are the original crew. Slave-servants to the Reapers no doubt, but crew nonetheless. The memories show the Collectors working for the Reapers after indoctrinations start to fail due to mental instability. I don't know the connection but Regent Izu-Chuan's memories clearly show it. If they weren't the original crew, they have been since the Protheans fell. They have a symbiotic maybe even a parasitical relationship. They look like bugs maybe they are nothing more than sapient parasites, I don't know. The memories show the connection, the Reapers give the Collectors tech and the Collectors give the Reapers the one thing they don't have."

"Which is what?" Shiala asked.

Shepard showed her hand and wiggled her fingers. "Opposable thumbs." The Spectre smirked and then sighed as seriousness took hold of her once again. "They also find and harvest unique specimens. Isn't that what the stories say, that they scour remote regions of space looking for genetic mutations and abnormalities? From the memories of Regent Izu-Chuan, I know that the Reapers have a unique weapon, something she called seekers. These aren't the smart bombs we know of; they are altogether something far different. I don't know if they are bio-synthetic like the keepers but it wouldn't surprise me if they were. They swarm upon colonies like locusts. From what we saw from the memories they are used to immobilize their prey. Now herein lies the problem. If the Collectors used them fifty thousand years ago, I bet my next pay check they will still use them today if they wanted to take out whole worlds. Maybe that is how the Reapers do it: attack whole civilizations but leave no trace of how they did it."

"During all of my studies," Liara stated "The one thing that truly had me perplexed was the cycles of extinction. Even with the memories of this regent, the motive is still so unclear. Why do this? There has to be more than simple genocide. Left to the galaxy's own devices its races are quite capable of doing that to each other. Not a single asari lifetime can go with out some great war breaking out."

"Last time someone tried to have a heart-to-heart with a Reaper it didn't turn out so well." Ash said.

Liara gave the young human a look. "I do not wish to have congress with a Reaper, I am not my mother. I merely desire to know their motives."

"I …I… didn't…" Williams blanched. She hadn't meant to infer but damn if she didn't put her foot in her mouth. "Sorry. I know if we understand their motives we can better formalize a plan to defeat them, but I don't see how that is possible."

"We search the memories." Shepard said.

Liara turned on her wife so quickly everyone in the room flinched, including the Spectre. "NO! You heard what Dr. Chakwas said. No more interfacing with Prothean tech! It will destroy you. She medically forbade it and as your bondmate so do I."

Shepard smiled slightly. "There are other ways to search through memories. As an asari I would think you would know what I speak of."

"A knowledge bond." The frustrated young woman said in a deflated tone. "I…I assumed you meant…"

"It's alright, Liara." Shepard soothingly dismissed the embarrassment her wife now felt for her sudden outburst. "But yes a knowledge bond. It helped me sort out the images from the beacons and the cipher; I have no reason to believe it wouldn't do the same for the vinculum."

"Hold on." Ash interjected, holding a hand up to pause the on-going conversation. "What did Liara mean interfacing with Prothean tech will destroy you?"

All faces in the room stared intently upon their captain. The Spectre took a breath and began to explain to them what Dr. Chakwas had told her about Cyan Syndrome, what her body was doing and how it was changing. She told them an abridged version of the details about needing a particular procedure Dr. Chakwas had recommended. Their trip to Illium was more than the need to upgrade the ship with new shields, scanners and fuel systems.

"I knew Klencory was bad place." Williams said after the explanation was given. "That goddamn place was screwing with all of you biotics, and yours specifically Skipper. Then you were inside that Device for so long. It isn't right, none of it is."

"Perhaps not but it is what it is." The Spectre said. "We stop at the Citadel first give them the finds from the caches, meet with the Council and introduce them to Weareth'Bol and Ksad Ishan."

Uncomfortable looks were exchanged from one face to another. Shepard crossed her arms over her chest, her feet shoulder width apart. Not a good sign for anyone on the receiving end of the glare. "Williams. SitRep. Now."

"Yes ma'am. There was an incident in the sanctuary. The vinculum, Ksad Ishan knew what it would do to you. It seemed his secondary programming from his creator was to preserve any and all Prothean knowledge. When he saw the vinculum he deliberately enticed you to interface with it."

"I see." The Spectre's voice was still very stern. "I assume he is shut down then?"

"In a manner of speaking." Tali said.

Shepard's attention was again drawn to her hotheaded second-in-command. "I'm guessing that you shot him?"

"No." Williams shook her head.

"I did." Liara admitted freely. "For what he did to you he deserved no less than to be turned into slag." Liara's voice dripped with venom that startled the Spectre.

"Liara?" Shepard studied the woman before her, through the bond she felt a rage barely contained. Rage burning in her name, rage unquenchable, unyielding. Terrifying was the quiet rage burning behind innocent eyes.

"Ksad Ishan…Vigil deliberately misled you, Samantha! All that knowledge right at ones fingertips but at what cost? For my part in what happened I am glad to have done it and I would and will do so again and again to any that would dare strike against you and cause harm to you. That construct is in ruin now."

Shepard frowned slightly; she was unaccustomed to feeling such dark emotions from her beloved. "Is anything left of it?"

"We retrieved what was left," Tali said as if she were speaking of something quite visceral. "For my part, Captain I can't say I will mourn the loss of the geth. Despite the alterations and cybernetic lobotomy we gave it, it still was a functioning geth. There were too many unknown variables. Since the uprising they have adapted, one might even say evolved from that data you gave me for my Pilgrimage which denoted autonomic functions."

Shepard had been warned about such back on Ilos. It had taken a better part of two days for the science team to shut down the neurolink and autonomic functions to install Vigil into the memory core in the geth's posotronic brain. They had taken so many precautions against the geth mind they hadn't thought of the Prothean AI's hidden programming or agendas.

"I want to see it."

"We took only the head. The body…was beyond salvaging." Tali said

"Show me."

Part 31

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