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 34

"I don't get you." Abby addressed her sister in the privacy of their shared hotel room. "You had her in the palm of your hand! You had her and you turned it down?" She sat down on her bed the one closest to the window with a hairbrush in hand.

Her sister ever the marine had taken the bed closest to the door in case there was need to take a defensive position or even an offensive one. Even before Abby roused herself from an alcohol induced slumber from the previous nights libations, Ash had already showered, brushed both teeth and hair the latter still hung free down her shoulders in soft black waves. She took to civilian clothing namely denim jeans and a loose fitting white blouse as she wasn't officially on duty for the day. Abby who still wasn't used to the military lifestyle aboard a starship was slower getting herself ready for the day. What Ash did in five minutes took the younger Williams an hour and half.

"You seem to forget it wasn't just Sam I would have, Liara comes with her. They are a package deal. They both come with little Secura. I'm not in love with Liara. It might have worked in time, but…it would never be balanced." Ash took in an unsteady sigh. "You've seen the two of them. Hell last night should have been proof enough. You saw the bond in motion. They are so deeply connected they don't even seem to be aware half their conversations happen within that bond. I will never be a part of that."

Ash gave a wondering look to the door that adjoined their room to the room the Skipper had with Miss Prothean Expert. "No matter if Liara and I truly learn to love each other, I will never be as close as Sam and Liara are together." She turned her attention back to her sister. "Get it now? And… I'm too damn selfish to share. I'm not as open minded as Liara is and as the Skipper has become. I want you to drop it." Ashley explained patiently, though pained.

Abby frowned, her heart breaking for her favorite sister. "But it's hurting you."

Ash sighed. "Tell me about it. I'm the one inside here." She tapped her chest. Absentmindedly she wiped tears from her eyes. "Which is why I'm asking you to drop it."

Abby knew her sister in a way only a sister could. Ash was an infinitely proud woman who despised showing any amount of emotional weakness. Abby didn't say thing as she dropped the hairbrush onto the bed, crossed the room to sit beside Ashley. She held her sister as she allowed herself to feel for the first time the true depths of what the ending of the trinity meant to her, even though it never officially began. How long they remained like that was difficult for Ash to say, to her it felt like hours. In fact it had only been a few minutes.

"How about you and I hit some of the nightclubs tonight, just you and I and get truly and seriously tanked?"

Ash offered a soggy smile. "Sounds good to me, sis."

"Good. Come on let's catch some of that famed breakfast buffet before it's all scarfed up by the other patrons and we're forced to dig in the regular hotel fare."

Ash wiped her face with the back of her sleeved arm. "I'm in. Though even if we do miss the buffet the food for the day is still comped."

"It's good to be the right hand of a Spectre-hero." Abby chided jovially. "And the right hand's sister. Of course you're a hero as well."

Ash grinned at this. Leave it to Abby to know how to lift her spirits. It was a gift she had ever since they were young. For a while they said nothing as they made for the hotel's dining hall. It was only after they were shown to their table that the younger of the Williams turned and spoke.

"So are you going to tell me the real reason you're not the XO anymore."

"What the Skipper told the crew is the truth. I told her I wanted to be at her six groundside and frankly she needs me. Liara agrees. I can do the job as an XO but I'd rather be at her flank than in second in command and left behind holding the deck."

They moved from their table to the queue for the buffet, each taking a plastic tray, utensils coffee cups and a glass for juice or water.

"Makes sense. It's the only way you can show your love for her and for her to accept yours."

"Yeah but it's more than that. A committed ground team has a connection deeper and even tighter than even those of family. We rely on each other to stay alive, we protect each other. Even Wrex came to welcome it. We're a part of his krant, the Skipper is his battlemaster. That's how powerful Shepard is, even krogans follow her. We will all follow her into the jaws of hell if she asks us. To be separated from that…" Ash swallowed hard, "is harder than…turning away from the trinity. So if I have to give up the command track for that then so be it. I'll get back there eventually. Right now I'm where I needed to be. Where I want to be."

They made their way through the queue taking their preferred items from the offered menu.

Abby nodded. "I get it sis. Hell yesterday I was paired up with Wrex on that scouting mission, he definitely has a case of hero worship for Shepard. He headbutted another krogan so hard he knocked him flat out just because he said something challenging against Shepard."

"Headbutting is a favored sport for them. What exactly did the other shellback say to piss Wrex off so much?"

"At first I thought it was some sort of weird krogan complaint. He said something about Shepard having a set of quads on her for going up against Saren and destroying his geth-god but she should be fed to the threshers for destroying the cure for the genophage. Wrex was a race traitor for following a squishy female and he should have dropped her back on Virmire but he doesn't have the stones. Then crack! The other guy was slammed in the head and was out cold."

Ash snorted. "Back on Virmire I was a bit concerned you know. Wrex had his shotgun trained on her and she had her pistol pointed at his skull. I was behind him ready to drop him. I seriously thought it would come to that. But damn if the Skipper wasn't born with a silver tongue. She not only got Wrex to back down but she made him see those tank-bred clones were a mistake and so was Saren's cure. She had him convinced it would have turned the krogan into slaves. I think she was right about that."

The elder Williams found herself frowning as she rewound what her sister had said about the Saren's geth. "Geth-god. Is that what you said?"

Abby nodded. "Apparently that's what a lot of people are saying. Emily Wong even said it on her news show. Word is the geth created some kind of god out of some lost derelict ship dating back to the time of the Protheans. Saren conned the geth into believing it was something called a Reaper because of the visions from the ancient beacons. They say Shepard is a god-slayer."

"…And people are believing this?" Ash asked a bit astonished. The Council was right…the people would believe what they had been told. They were actually buying it! "Where did you learn this?"

"Wrex brought me to one of those dank dark seedy places. It was one bad day away from becoming Omega."

"Wrex took you to one of those places!?"

"Ash, I can handle it. You can stop hovering you know, I'm all grown up not some child anymore. I am just as much as a Williams woman as you are."

"I know sis. It's hard not to play the role of protector. It's always been my job."

"Yeah I know. You played that role sometimes at nauseam. So what does your Skipper say about your hovering?" Abby bumped shoulders with her sister as they headed back to their table with their laden plates.

"She agreed to the switch didn't she?"

"Well yes, but she is a Spectre, your mother henning must annoy her."

"I DO NOT mother hen!" Ash snapped causing several heads in the dining hall to turn in her and Abby's direction. Most of them aliens and each with expressions of irritation and aloofness as if they were not surprised for the sudden outburst from the humans. Ash's cheeks flushed as did Abby's.

"You always know how to make a scene." The younger Williams said between her teeth.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Would you keep your voice down? See you're doing it now. I'm just sayin' sis you allow your emotions to speak for you most of the time, unless you're in front of a superior officer. Then you're all the model soldier: officer and a lady and all that. Outside of that you're as blunt as a balteen hammer."

"Maybe," Ash said in a tone that conveyed she knew perfectly well her sister was correct. She was always quick to snap at civilians if they pissed her off. It was probably the reason Shepard had called earlier in the morning and said the today's meeting with the Council was to be only herself and Weareth'Bol.

But come on! That smug turian Councilor …he can twist things around on an antique dime and test even the most patient person into committing violence. That man even got Liara riled. The last person to push her buttons ended up as metallic goo.

"So now that we have the day off what do you want to do?" Abby swiftly changed the subject.

"You might have the day off, I have duty shift this afternoon. I'm not the XO anymore but I still have some reports to go over and there are still details Shiala and I have to iron out. Transferring positions isn't as easy as simply saying you want it done."

With their plates loaded down with omelets, bacon, fried mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, baked beans and toast the sisters Williams sat down at their table and prepared to stuff themselves. Rupert tried his best with highly preserved military grade food stocks, sometimes even getting fresh ingredients but still there was nothing like dining on true fine food that was expertly prepared, save perhaps for something made by Mom.

The Citadel Council and the Alliance Brass and the skeptics may not want to admit how much they need Shepard but if it wasn't for her Council Space would be thrust into a new dark age. The Council as well as all aboard the Destiny Ascension would have been lost without Shepard's orders to protect them and the flagship. And though humanity has proven more than their worth to the galactic community they are not ready to take the grand responsibility as to dominate the Council or the protection of Citadel Space. They are still learning what it is to be part of a galactic community. The rest of us must help them grow and learn as any true community will with their children. Fine representatives of their race such as Shepard and Councilor Anderson prove they are ready to grow, learn and become part of the community.

Spectre Shepard will need to build an armada to fight the geth-gods, that have assumed the para-historical-mythical name the Reapers. The Council will give her a token fleet to save face, which is why they granted her the name Normandy. But she will need more aid. Listen to me children your extranet Wizard says if you believe in the truth then join up on a ship willing to make a stand when the time comes. If the geth-gods are out there then they will come for all of us. They don't care if you are a hard core merc, a decorated officer in the military or C-Sec, a deserter, or a pirate they will cut you down. They will reap! So when Shepard asks for aid, give it to her and the valiant crew of the Normandy. The Wizard gives you the truth, children listen and live, do not and perish just like the Protheans. The Wizard has seen first hand the destruction the geth-Reapers can do. Shepard is the only one doing something about it but she can not do it alone. We of the galactic community even those in the Terminus Systems must make a stand with her.

Councilor Lei'Cree Tevos closed her connection to the extranet with a gleaming self satisfied smile. She might not be able to support Shepard within the Council Chambers but The Wizard definitely could to a minimal degree. To have openly supported Shepard in the Council would have divided it and such a thing would be detrimental to all within Council space. Councilor Tevos must place greater value on the bigger picture; however The Wizard had the liberty to zero in on the finer details. Covertly aiding the young Spectre was in the long run the better choice, it allowed Lei'Cree to aid on two fronts.

Those who didn't believe in conspiracy theorists like The Wizard took the majority of the cues from the Council. The only way the collective populace of Citadel Space could get on with their happy little lives was they did not know about the galactic doom looming in dark space. To protect them the Council acknowledged Shepard as a hero and protector even if they discredited her warnings that the Reapers were coming. They were only geth warships and Shepard leading the battle against them on the Normandy.

The matriarch had indeed touched Shepard's deep subconscious and found the truth in the visions from the beacons. What she found terrified her. She wasn't going to gamble on the idea the Reapers were no more. Even if all was left were derelict ships brought back to life by the geth like Sovereign, they were still capable of immeasurable extinction level destruction. What troubled her was deeply how Shepard believed in the true existence of the Reapers. It motivated her every action, her crew and those worshipped her as a hero. It even motivated those who spoke out against her, men like Udina and his bounty hunters as well as organizations like Cerberus.

Shepard needed help.

And so The Wizard was dusted off after thirty years of lurking in the shadows of the extranet and brought back into the light. The idea behind The Wizard had been if you cannot stop the conspiracy theorists, then control them by becoming one of their most revered. Not even the rest of the Council knew the identity of The Wizard.

(Despite how often they attempted to catch that damnable hacker who always seemed five steps ahead of the special task force and the few Spectres that had been sent on the hunt.)

Lei'Cree removed the specialized and highly modified Omni tool she wore when she assumed The Wizard's identity. It was an identity she had assumed for practically the past five hundred years. In her youth she was a sublime hacker, her skills had only increased as time progressed. Only one Spectre ever came close in catching her, the STG task force never even came close. And then there was a Justicar that nearly caught her, fortunately the appearance of an ardat-yakshi distracted the huntress long enough for the Councilor to cover her tracks and disappear back into cyberspace.

Lei' Cree rubbed the back of her neck feeling the tension already building and the day hadn't even officially begun. A blue hand met hers taking over the task of massaging. The Councilor closed her eyes indulging greedily in the simple touch of her lover. The hands massaging her trailed along the soft folds in her neck, down along her spine and back to her neck, mindful to keep the touch soothing without being arousing.

"Your mind is a storm of decisiveness and indecision. This is not like you." The other matriarch uttered softly.

"There are many whispers roaming the Citadel now that Shepard has returned. They are as varied as the emotions centering on the change of ship names. Many have accepted it merely as a part of some political game on the Council's part. Many believe The Wizard." Lei'Cree said. "Without divulging the confidentiality of your clients can you generalize their responses do they correspond with the mass public?"

"Before I answer I may add your ploy with your hacker alias is quite clever." Shi'era said kissing the Councilor's neck folds. "As you said many believe it is a political game. Others have more negative attitudes towards the event. The majority of my clients do not bring it up, but this is the feel of the station. Having read Shepard no doubt she has only agreed to this as a dis-favorable order."

The Councilor nodded. "I had to betray the truth of what I knew, what I saw in her mind when we linked. She was beyond rage yet kept her anger in check. Though barely. She is becoming more easily provoked; my fellow councilors and I are concerned over her mental and emotional state. Even David has grown concerned for her."

"She has an acute sense of morality. Sometimes it is blinding to look at her aura, it as deeply aglow as a Justicar's." The Consort said softly. "I feel she has a very similar adherence to a code perhaps known only to herself. She stays as close to her code as she can, it is so very much apart of her just as a Justicar to the Code of Athame. Shepard is innocent in her way of looking at most things. Either they are morally just or they are erroneous. If wrong, it must be stopped and the victims saved from whatever is happening to them. When I first read her, her innocent views confounded me. It has been several centuries since I have met anyone quite like her that wasn't a maiden in her second decade. She is incredibly idealistic.

"I knew she set herself apart from others not because of her talents but other reasons I will not divulge. I pray to the Goddess she will never lose her views on the galaxy and become jaded like so many others when they discover the truth of how the galaxy truly functions." The Consort studied her lover as she would when she would give the gift of words. "You fear Shepard will rebel and go rogue."

"Trace seems to think it is only a matter of time. Jorge believes if she is pressed hard enough she will break and prove humans are not yet fully ready to be Spectres despite she is above the rank and file among many of the soldiers of the council races." Lei'Cree paused for a moment, her face betraying her thoughts. "Before humanity joined that is" She amended. "David is confident not only is her oppressive belief in the Reapers true but so is her loyalty."

"The only threat you have of her rebelling is if you forbid her Liara." Shi'era said honestly.

"I tested their connection yesterday. Before our conference I had asked Trace who has an antagonistically aggressive relationship with Shepard to challenge Liara. The result was quite surprising. They both flared brightly throwing up barriers not over themselves but over each other. I don't even think they were fully aware of it. I have never seen that outside a pure asari soul bonding."

Shi'era digested the information she had been told. Soul bounding while not rare amongst two asari it was with an asari and her alien lover. She knew their bond was strong just not how strong.

As if reading her thoughts, Lei'Cree added. "Perhaps it has to do with Liara's pregnancy."

"Pregnancy!" Shi'era gasped loudly in a rare moment of exclamation. "Liara is pregnant? Shepard is not a matriarch….I admit her mind is uniquely strong and willful but she does not contain the power of a matriarch. Racen only became pregnant because of the potency of the melds she shares with Lidanya."

Lei'Cree winced inwardly. "I had assumed since you freely admitted you are the dame to Liara you knew of her pregnancy and the gestalt."

"I knew a little of such. My daughter and I are still learning about each other. While the lines of communication are…open they are not fully free. She has stipulated I be placed on probation with her. I fear for too long she felt I had rejected her, ashamed of her birth. It was Samantha….who tried to make Liara see a lighter side by saying that perhaps I did want to come forward and claim her as my offspring but something happened to me and therefore could not. It was Samantha's own mother who helped to open the door to Liara's life. She is still very hesitant around me. It does not surprise me she has not spoken of her pregnancy with me."

"I understand. I respect you and your daughter's privacy I will not pry. However there is no denying Liara is with daughter and that Shepard is the dame. I highly suspect the gestalt influenced many of the changes in both of them including Liara's ability to bear a daughter so very young."

Both matriarchs knew to bear a child so very early in the Maiden stage was far beyond risky. Maidens were typically unable to even become pregnant as their bodies simply were not ready to convert their own genetic code with the information taken from a partner and conceive a child. Only those who had experienced deep and regular melds were even able to tap into that area of a more mature brain typically awakened during their Matron stage. Even with modern medicine the very young mother and daughter often died before or during child birth.

It took more than a Bond born of the Union for either to survive which was why it was never done outside the Bonding and even then it took more than marriage. A soul bond made all the difference. The stress of the pregnancy was shared between two bodies, two minds…two souls.

The soul was deep and eternal which was why it was only ever known amongst two asari. Such bonds if held allowed both asari to live well past two thousand years. Romantic Legend held that Matriarch Dilinga and her bondmate lived for seven millennia. But that was legend. The truth was no one knew for sure how long the matriarch and her beloved had lived but it was well past three thousand years, her writings were proof of that.

Shi'era knew her firstborn Racen had such a deep connection to Lidanya. It should not have come to a surprise that her first conceived daughter had the ability as well, given whom Liara's mother was. The gestalt…now that added new variables into the equation. It would not come to a surprise to the Consort to learn that Liara's daughter was conceived during the creation of the gestalt.

Even with such a bond between Racen and Lidanya they had not chanced Racen or their daughter's heath to such a connection. Once she was pregnant the embryo Racen carried had been surgically removed and implanted within Lidanya's womb for the remaining months of gestation. It was Lidanya who had given birth to Maysa. Such an option was not open for Liara and Samantha. While asari and humans shared many similar traits they were too many differences for embryonic transfer to be viable. Besides even if it were a valid avenue to consider Shepard's hectic Spectre lifestyle was not.

Shi'era was too well schooled in concealing her emotions to allow them to play out upon her face or be betrayed by body language, knowing her as she did Lei'Cree took her lover's hand into her own and squeezed it. No words were exchanged, there was no need. Both were far too old and had seen far too much for empty platitudes to be of any comfort. And such words never gave lasting comfort to a parent.

"For what it is worth, today's meeting is with Shepard alone." The Councilor said purposely omitting the fact Weareth'Bol was also to be present. "I'm sure if a message was sent to one Dr. T'soni she may well be free for the day."

"How fortunate that today also coincidently happens to be a day when I am also free." The Consort allowed a smirk to tease the corners of her mouth.

Last night's baby-shower ambush derailed the Spectre. The jocularity of the evening had for a short time distracted her enough not to dwell on the fate of the true Normandy. Shepard did what she had done within the Council chamber she tucked away all of her emotions into a tightly sealed little box which allowed her to keep focused on the mission. It was what she had done Elysium, on Eden Prime and on Virmire and the Citadel. When she was alone, she could afford the luxury of feeling those emotions. She allowed them to crush her, she allowed herself to feel. It was something she had learned in the Grief-Management therapy sessions she had taken.

Yes all hands on the true Normandy were strangers as she had taken all those who had served with her during the conflict with Saren with her to the Victory. But it didn't mean the loss of the ship affected her any less. The Normandy had been her first command. Her first ship. In fact its loss rocked her to her core.

All those who had lost their lives on Elysium had died because she wasn't fast enough, she had failed them all. Kaiden died because she was forced into a difficult situation. She had to choose one life over another, in the end she chose the more efficient soldier. Thousands of humans had died because she chose the Council over humanity.

All those lives lost on the Normandy were because of her. They were hunted down because Shepard and the Normandy were synonymous. Fifty lives cut down because of her reputation. Her ship - and she would always think of the Normandy, the true Normandy, as her ship - destroyed…

Shepard supported her weight with her hands resting against the large bay window over looking the Serpent Nebula. Off in the distance there was a flash indicating the Citadel relay was opening. Another ship coming in or leaving from this distance it was difficult to discern. It crushed her thinking never again would it be the SSV Normandy coming back home to roost.

Liara watched from the shadows. She knew Samantha needed moments of silence to come to grips with the tormenting guilt eating away at her. Liara knew her wife accepted the name Normandy for the Victory for more than to get an armada or keep the bridges open with the Council for her it was a penance: a constant reminder of yet another failure to protect. If Samantha had one true failing it was her great reverence for guilt.

Keen asari hearing picked up the barely audible whispered notes of a dirge. She knew it was Salish, the people of Samantha's mother. It was a song of spirits, a song for the spirit of the Normandy, and the lives lost aboard her. The young maiden waited for her beloved to finish knowing she needed this moment for herself and her forsaken ship. Liara knew the song was generally sung to the drums…the heartbeat of Mother Earth and the scent of smoldering sage. Samantha sang it to the heartbeat of Great Void; her beat was a softer sound.

Liara softly padded barefooted up to her bondmate pressing her nude body next to Samantha's. "You are a good woman Samantha, even if you sometimes have a hard time believing it."

Sam said nothing. What was there to say? Nothing would ever change her mind.

"Do not give power to the enemy by giving them your guilt, instead destroy them. Obliterate their existence from this galaxy. Do not let them win, do not succumb. Right now my love, grieve for the loss, let it overcome you then let it give you power to destroy them."

"Destroy them?" Shepard whirled around on her wife. "You make it sound so easy. Whoever this enemy is wiped out the most advanced ship in the Alliance Fleet., fuck in the Council's fleet, even more advanced than their flagship. The Destiny Ascension has main guns powerful enough to rip though the barriers of any other Alliance ship but it took a light frigate to save her ass!

"The Normandy wasn't cut down by any pirate ship. Those fifty lives are on my head! They were obliterated because of me, Liara. Isn't it obvious? The Reapers have other agents out there, agents that have their tech, their weaponry and they hunted down the Normandy because they believed six month old Intel and thought I was on that fucking ship. That is all on me! All of it!"

"And do you think that makes it better, Samantha? That I want to believe because you were in command of that ship, that Joker was its pilot that we might have faired better? Shall we pretend then? Shall we make-believe Joker bought the crew a few more moments to escape. Then what? You damn well know he would have never abandoned the helm, just as you would never abandon the crew or me.

"Pretend for a moment the evacuation went as you desire and all hands or at least almost all hands escaped. Joker still doesn't leave his post. What do you do? I know exactly what you would do. You would do what my dame did to my mother! You would force me aboard an escape pod and jettison it, making sure I was safe and our unborn child was safe. Then you would go to the bridge, force Joker into a pod and if it took breaking every bone in his body do to so that is what you would do. I know you. You would never leave the ship until all hands were either off or dead.

"But what if you couldn't make it to an escape pod even if you got Joker into one? You get spaced. I lose my bondmate and our daughter loses her Arda! And we all lose the best hope, the best chance we have to stopping the Reapers! Is that what you want? Is that a future you would have? Yes those lives on the true Normandy were lost; they were lost because of a reputation, your reputation. Now either you can make that loss be in vain or you can retaliate. We gather information. We start asking questions. We hunt. We pursue and we neutralize those that did this. Right now all I want you to do is to mourn, grieve and heal. But do not allow them to destroy you, my love. Save your anger for the enemy, take none for yourself."

Liara placed a gentling azure hand upon lightly tanned flesh of Samantha's cheek. The bond wasn't needed to feel rage the burning within the human's heart. Generally when such rage built within her whilst on ship Sam would take to the gym to run laps, perform hardcore calisthenics, lift weights or hit the punching bag until sheer exhaustion took her. While the hotel had a fully equipped workout room which was also purposely constructed to accommodate biotics it offered little to no privacy. Sam was in no mood to deal with the outside world at the present moment. If someone like Conrad Verner came up to her, the Spectre would likely blast him with a singularity.

Despite the need to train with her biotics it was equally important to meditate. They sat tailor style though this time they did not raise their hands palm to palm but instead to a small sphere of dark energy about the size of a pea. To an outside observer it might look as if they were each playing cat's cradle only with the ball of yarn still attached to the strand of wool. In this case it was tendrils of white-blue energy latticing between fingers and the orb which was increasing steadily in girth: from pea to walnut to orange to its final grapefruit sized sphere.

Liara's eyes became a solid white oddly similar to the fully aroused black of the Union. Sam's eyes became distant, unfocused reflecting the azure glow of biotic power. Together their breathing became as one. Even their heartbeats became synchronized rhythm: four-two-four-two…

Another beat joined the staccato rhythm--faster than the more dominating thumping. Neither woman shifted their inward gaze though their lips curled into a warm smile as Secura…their little Sparrow had linked with them. And they were three.

Tali had been given a room in the Ambassador hotel on the same floor as Shepard and Liara. And despite the coup for all quarians in being given such lavishly decadent accommodations the young woman decided to return to the Vic…to the Normandy.

She was loath to leave the engines for long. She tended to them as a new mother her first child. She need not tend to them as she might have if they were aboard a ship within the Flotilla but the desire…the need was still there. This was her ship regardless of her name she was Tali's.

Last night had ended in the wee hours of the morning and with Tali going directly to Engineering and checked upon her triplets. Inspecting each one of the Tantalus core drives to make sure they were in peak performance.

"The girls are fine Mom, you can stop worrying over them." Adams said as he entered drive core alcove.

"James! You gave me a start." Tali lightly scolded.

LT. James Adams Chief Engineer of the Normandy held his hands up in surrender. "Sorry kiddo." He came up and patted the young woman on the back. "Didn't mean to. But you don't have to worry, I tucked them all in for you." He winked.

"I…I know it's just that…"

"You're a good engineer and you're doing what good engineers do making sure the old lady is up to snuff. And you can't sleep unless you hear those girls purr." Adams pointed his thumb towards the three large drive cores. "Right?"

Tali gave a small embarrassed laugh. "Right." she answered back.

Adams nodded and walked with her as she inspected each drive core, the calibrations on the FBA couplings, and the day's maintenance diagnostics. That's what the chief liked about the girl. She was a true engineer's engineer.

Whilst they were making their rounds the thick Scottish brogue of Kenneth Donnelly could be heard as he gossiped with his partner in crime Gabrielle (Gabby to most of the Engineering crew) Danilles about the fact Shepard had decided to change the name of the ship from Victory to Normandy.

"…I wonder why she didn't say anything to us." Donnelly said.

"Probably because she didn't know if her request was going to be granted." Danilles retorted shaking her head. "Think about it Kenny. She didn't want to raise anyone expectations. The name Normandy is now a legend along with Shepard. She probably didn't want to get her hopes up."

"Yes but everyone on the station seems to have already known long before we found out. Seems a bit fishy to me." Donnelly looked up to see Adams and Tali approach and waved them over. "Boss, what do you think of all of this?" he asked of Tali. "You're close to our captain; did she say anything about changing the IDC?"

Everyone in Engineering had come to appreciate and recognize Tali's expertise as a technical guru. They all, including Adams, had started to call her boss-lady because she was the true undisputed authority of the grease monkey crew. In fact it was Adams who had started it.

"I don't think it was Shepard's idea, Kenny." Tali said honestly. "Though I can see some attachment to her first command ship and what the name now represents to her and the rest of the galaxy. I have very good reason to believe she was ordered into this."

"What about you chief?" Danilles asked turning the attention back to Adams. "What do you think?"

"I think the boss-lady's right." he said. "And I also think you two need to get back to work rather than spreading the scuttlebutt."

Both snapped a salute. "Yes sir!"

Adams led the Tali away from the two techs, directing her towards the exit. "Remember kiddo a good chief knows when to crack the whip and when to allow things to slide. Have any doubts when that is take a look at Shepard's leadership. She's one of the best damn commanders I ever served under. When the crew spends more time chowing the scuttlebutt then work its time to step in. If they are working and talking then it's a judgment call. Unsubstantiated rumors you don't want that spreading. Things that already happened that's something else."

"I seem to remember the scuttlebutt surrounding Shepard and Dr. T'soni and their interest in each other before they became an official couple. That was a bit unsubstantiated."

"Like I said judgment call. The whole ship was whispering about that. The commander and the daughter of Saren's second in command having a romantic interest in each other is news. One not easily silenced. This news about the IDC is also big news. But until we get word from the captain we keep a lid on the rumor mongers. She'll tell us what we need to know." He turned a parental eye on the young woman. "And now I'm telling what you needed to know, kiddo. Go hit the rack and get some shuteye. You'll need to be five by five if Shepard gives the word to bug out."

"Aye, aye chief." Tali said with a mock salute of two fingers touching her temple. "See you in four."

"Make it six, Tali."

"Six. Very well."

"Don't you worry I'll keep the babies well looked after." he patted her on the back. "Now off with you."

Adams watched Tali leave with a smile upon his lips. He was damn proud of the kid. In many ways he looked upon her as a daughter. Her father surely was proud of the girl's achievements, of who she was, of what she had done and who she was becoming. He sure was. If he had a daughter Adams had wished her to be just as Tali was: smart, talented, kind of heart and sharp of mind and virtue. Part of him responded to her as a superior officer, a stronger part of him responded to her as a father figure. And as such he designated himself the duty to look after her. Times like now she needed someone like a Dad so she didn't go and do something foolish like neglect herself. Sometimes he felt the girl was worse than Shepard when it came to looking after herself.

With the ending of yesterday's conference the Council had advised that the next day's meeting was with the Spectre alone together with the ambassador of the beings of light. While Samantha was going to be tied up for the day, Liara was free. She had thought to spend time with Ashley but she had gone with her sister for the day. She had contemplated simply going back to the ship she still had a great deal of work to finish. The catalogued Prothean finds still needed extensive testing. The tech had to be ready for application especially if they were going in hot in an unknown territory and conditions.

Whatever engaged and neutralized the Normandy SR1 had incredible power. It was Reaper tech the only way the Normandy SR2 had any hope of surviving the encounter was if they had the upgrades. To engage the enemy without them was folly.

Liara paused in thought as she stared out of the porthole of the hotel room. 'When did I start thinking like such a soldier?' She snorted softly amused at herself. It had begun shortly after she had met the intriguing human. It started first with the ground missions with the mako on various worlds, the missions to the planets targeted by Saren. She recalled the first time she had called out to the Spectre that all targets were down. Later it had changed to all targets neutralized. The more time she spent with the human warriors the more she picked up on their military-speak, even answering 'aye, aye' from time to time.

She placed a hand upon the swell of her belly, her smile deepened. "It was difficult growing up as a matriarch's daughter, you my Little Sparrow will grow up with the legacy of the first human Spectre twice honored with the Star of Terra as your Arda. I can think the only thing perhaps as difficult is to be a daughter of a Justicar." after a pause she added coyly "and Benezia's daughter. Much will be expected of you my dear one. But I will see no pressure is given before it can be taken. My mother taught as a youngling play is just as important as studies and I intend to carry on those lessons with you, my daughter." Her hand continued to rub her belly in soothing circular motions. Somehow it helped soothe the restless movements of the child.

Taking slow deep breaths Liara concentrated on the ebb and flow of life growing within her, sending the fetus the love and joy she felt. Vicariously she sent Samantha's love as well despite the fact her bondmate had already done so before she left for the conference with the Council.

The Prothean Expert thought of the woman who was her own dame…her siring parent. She didn't know if she could ever utter the word Arda to Shi'ara but she was willing to allow the door of possibility to remain open. Now perhaps an opportunity had presented itself and Liara thought to take advantage of it and seek out the wisdom of the matriarch concerning the pregnancy. She shared Samantha's concern over Sparrow or rather Secura. A name chosen for Samantha's middle name and given by none other than the unborn's godmother: Ashley during the impromptu baby-shower. After all Sparrow was a familiar pet name not one to be born centuries later by a matriarch. They had agreed Secura was a beautifully acceptable name and it gave a connection to Samantha as well as the human's maternal heritage. Secura was a name given to Samantha for her own grandmother Shan.

Liara had every intention of ensuring Secura knew and appreciated her Arda's heritage. She may not truly have Samantha's DNA, but the link to genetic memory was there or at least conventional wisdom held. Secura would know of the Salish, of the druids, she would know what it was to be a Shepard. She wanted Secura to share a very strong connection to her Arda, an unshakable ever strong link that would forever keep the bond even after the inevitable passing of her beloved bondmate. When Secura grew to become a Matriarch she would carry a part of Samantha with her, a link she would share with her own daughters.

'Perhaps it is time to strengthen other connections.' Liara thought more to herself than her womb and child within.

She left the hotel room, her destination the Consort's chambers. She truly didn't know what to expect from her dame: shock probably, words of warning how dangerous it was for her to be with daughter and not to take undue risks. What the young asari truly needed were not warnings she had already heard but true advice on how to ensure the safety and health of Secura. She didn't feel comfortable enough to speak to her…'sister' Racen on the subject. Besides the Destiny Ascension was on a goodwill tour and reaching Racen was going to be difficult and besides Liara was here now on the Citadel and Shi'ara was close at hand.

She snaked her way though the light crowd in the Presidium, her emotions and thoughts overtaking mind and thus her concentration was not fully on her surroundings. She dismissed the expensively dressed debutants, dilettantes and diplomats. Ambassadors, philanthropists and corporate executives were equally ignored along with the well armed C-Sec officers patrolling the streets and the few members of various military personnel.

She didn't give a second thought to a turian C-Sec officer shadowing her though she did turn slightly to acknowledge his looming presence. She shifted to the side thinking the man wanted to overtake her on his ambling patrol as her gate was rather slower so lost in her mind as she was. When his steps fell in line with hers Liara paused for a moment thinking he wanted to speak with her, but silence greeted her. He wasn't even looking at her, his eyes fixed on the path before them. In that silence she dismissed him without a second thought.

She crossed over the bridge that stretched over the sapphire lake and here she paused to take in the scent of juniper, lilacs, roses and a dozen other flowers. She always enjoyed this part of the Presidium. The park was a spectacular sight, housing grasses, tress, flowers, even birds and insects all fully reengineered to coexist in a vibrant paradise. The light of the holographic sun shown on the crystalline lake adding a sense of serenity designed to erode the stresses and pressures of ambassadors and diplomats.

Thirsty for a taste of that serenity Liara diverted her path to the Consort's Chambers for the glade of the park. She stopped near a bench and removed her boots and socks enjoying the feel of soft grass upon the soles of her bare feet: strange how this simple pleasure was now an exotic delight. She clenched her toes then unclenched them and wiggled them upon the emerald blades. She padded towards the lake's edge, sat down and dipped her feet into the temperature-controlled water. She leaned back on her arms to support her weight and let out a long soft sigh. How she longed to dive into the water but swimming or even wading in the Presidium Lake was strictly forbidden. She was skirting the laws as it was with her just her feet dappling in the water.

And yes the hotel had a pool as did the hundreds of fitness centers scattered throughout the Citadel, but Liara hated the treated water. It made her eyes sting and the smell always gave her a headache. Other asari had similar reactions; the smell of chlorine was cloying to them. Considering their aquatic ancestry it wasn't all that strange, nor was it strange that they preferred to swim in waters of oceans and seas or even lakes and rivers. It was why asari carriers and dreadnoughts had specially treated 'ponds' within the gymnasiums. It was their technology that was used with the Presidium Lake to make it seem more natural. Biologicals were removed by special equipment on the ships, here on the Citadel the keepers took care of the details.

Closing her eyes Liara listened to the chirping of the birds in lazy bliss. It seemed to her that even Sparrow was listening to the sounds of her namesakes. She giggled softly at the frivolous thought. The giggling swiftly stopped as she sensed the presence of another approaching from behind.

"Oh!" she gave a slight gasp of surprise. "Officer, excuse me, I didn't see any signs proclaiming dangling ones feet in the lake to be an offence."

It was the same turian officer that had shadowed her earlier. "There are far more offences that need be answered than a maiden playing as a youngling in the water."

It had been an excruciatingly long meeting even if they were only seventy-nine minutes into it. The exchange between Weareth'Bol and the Council had been strife with odd questions about their concept of the beginning of time and how long they had been in wait for the synthetic machine devils. One thing was certain the beings of light did indeed predate the Protheans by fifty-thousand years but if only for the fact of the Ee-Zo event on Klencory. But their 'awareness' was relevant to when they awoke and became enlightened. It became a very circular conversations, it was rather like trying to have a conversation with a waterwheel: in no time at all you were back where you started from.

The Council had asked for a representative of the beings of light to be left behind to speak with them in the end it was decided that the Device was to be left in the hands of Councilor Tevas as the rest of the hives were reluctant to abandon their mission or the 'Shepard Spectre' who led them to their destiny. When they had gone back into the safe confines of their Hive the attention of the Council turned to the Spectre.

"It seems you are cultivating allies by the score with or without the approval of the Council." the turian councilor said.

Shepard had just about had it with the man. Apparently he still blamed her for the fate of Saren - for the desiccation of his spirit at the hands of the Reapers, of Sovereign. She spun on the male pinning him with one of her more commanding and baleful glares. The malicious intensity of her gaze caused Trace Ba'lor to flinch, actually physically flinch under its influence.

"You have a couple of choices Councilors: kill me, discharge me or let me do my job." Shepard hissed. It wasn't exactly ringing the bell but it was skirting the edge of acceptable insubordination and simple stupidity. "You want me to find ways to neutralize the Geth and their 'Reaper' class dreadnoughts then some of you have the audacity to bitch about how I go about doing it?"

"Spectre Shepard, the Council has no issue of you finding allies and making connections with …new or rather lost races. This is a momentous occasion" the asari quickly intervened. "Understand we have no doubts as to your abilities, skills or dedication to the code you swore to when you became a Spectre. You have our gratitude and appreciation for your unique ability to uncover the lost and hidden secrets those of life and of technology."

"The Council as you know does not wish to become mired in the methods of a Spectre in their line of duty." Jorg Valerian proclaimed. "We will not interfere in your line of duties to Council Space."

"Carry out your duties as ordered, Captain." Anderson added leaving the turian open for repercussions. Anderson knew that Shepard was a full patriot of Council Space just as she was to the Alliance.

To undermine her now was out of pure spite and the turian knew it. "It is as my counterparts proclaim Shepard." he said. It wasn't exactly a proclamation of glowing support but neither was it a baleful condemnation as was typical of the man.

Before the Spectre could form a reply she spun a hundred and eighty degree angle and sprinted for the elevator that led from the Citadel Tower to the Podium the only word the Council heard was:


Part 35

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