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 4

"Commander, message coming through," Joker said over the ship's intercom. "Um ma'am it's from the asari homeworld, the signature is from the Temple of Athame." Clearly the pilot was stymied as to why a church would be calling the commander.

Liara gave Samantha a startled look. They had been sharing a quiet meal in their quarters when Joker called.

Shepard tapped the communicator at her ear, "Joker, send it to the comm-room, I have a feeling this is going to be more than a vocal communiqué."

"Yes ma'am."

"Samantha, please explain why the Temple of Athame on Thessia is contacting you."

"When your mother was discovered to have joined Saran she was classified as a traitor. We didn't know her motives at the time or that she had been indoctrinated. We now know why she did what she did. Without her sacrifice we would not have been given the coordinates of the Mu relay. Without her Shiara would not have followed her and gained the cipher from the Thorian and we would not have the information on the Reapers. I would never have understood what those images were. Even with your melding of our minds you couldn't have translated all those images. We would have been lost and Sovereign would have won.

"I sent a private communication to Councilor Lei'cree telling her that the bodies of the matriarch and her disciples should be removed, for propriety's sake if nothing else. Exogeni shouldn't get their mitts on her just to 'repurpose' her body to some Frankensteinian experiments. The Councilor agreed. During my grounded rack-time I asked if there was going to be a funeral for the Matriarch now that she was acquitted of any crime and if not there should be. They told me they needed to deliberate on the issue. I believe we are getting our answer now."

Liara was flabbergasted. "You… you would offer funeral rites to my mother? After…what happened?"

"She needs to be remembered for who she was before her indoctrination. Everyone needs to remember who she was as you do: beautiful, intelligent, kind and strong. This is the only way it will happen. It needs to happen." Samantha fidgeted with the salad on her plate. "Are you upset I didn't speak of this with you? I know I should have included you but I didn't want to bring you more pain."

Liara's hand covered the Spectre's stilling her nervous movements. "No I am not upset. Surprised but not upset. Your intention was to bring healing to me, and restoration to my mother. How can I bring fault to that?" She rose gracefully from her chair still holding onto Samantha's hand.

"Come then, let us see what the Matriarchs of Temple of Athame have to say."

"Alright Joker open the channel."

"Aye-aye ma'am."

A beat later the real-time holo-communicator opened up to reveal three asari Matriarchs, all of them garbed in what looked to be the same style of robes Benezia had been wearing back on Novaria. The one in the center had an identical headdress while the two on her flanks wore no such covering.

"Commander Shepard," the center priestess said with a very slight bow to her head. "My name is Matriarch Mardon Silaha, high Priestess of our Goddess Athame. To my left Priestess Daath Heziel. At my right is Priestess Kerubiel Resh."

Shepard had learned enough asari etiquette to touch her fingertips to her forehead before showing the women in front of her an open palm as she bowed her own head. "A pleasure, Lady Mardon. I stand with Dr. Liara T'soni. Whom you can understand has a very real interest in what your answer is to be."

Liara gave the formal greeting to her senior asari. Yet she said nothing. She waited to hear what the High Priestess had to say.

"Your request to honor Matriarch Benezia has been granted. She was once our most powerful and highly respected matriarchs, a highly revered High Priestess. It is good to know she had not truly fallen and her betrayal was not of her making. She is redeemed. High Priestess Matriarch Lidanya has requested the privilege of overseeing the rites. As the only daughter of Benezia you have the right to accept or decline this request Dr. T'soni, what shall it be?"

"I accept." Liara said softly. "Who else serves?"

"Disciple Shiara has also requested she be granted the right to stand," Kerubiel said. "As has another disciple Racen Abstergo, though she did not follow Lady Benezia in the attempt to stop Saren as she had other duties aboard the 'Destiny Ascension'."

"There are also two others that desired to stand, Councilor Lei'cree and Consort Sha'ira," said Daath. "They were long known to your mother."

Liara seemed to weigh her words before speaking. She knew the Councilor far better than the consort. Of the consort she only knew by reputation and the one brief encounter when they had restored her missing grandchild. Still the consort had given Samantha the knowledge and courage to propose marriage, for that alone Liara felt indebted to the older asari.

"I consent to all requests, with one of my own." She turned away from the high priestess and Matrons to look at her beloved. "Samantha, will you stand with me?"

"Of course," the Spectre said without hesitation. "Just tell me what to do."

"We will explain once you arrive on Thessia in two weeks time. There are matters on the Citadel that have taken precedence. It will also give us the time necessary to ensure all preparations have been seen to and met. Dr. T'soni you do of course realize that your mother had many, many followers. They will all wish to offer their respects to her memory." Lady Mardon said.

"I know. I take no issue for their need to do so. Nor do I begrudge anyone else that feels obliged or the need to offer their own condolences for my mother's passing from this existence into the next. Let it be so." Liara gave loving a look to the woman at her side before addressing the priestesses once more. "Thank you for your many kindnesses."

"The gratitude should be delivered to the Spectre, it is at her insistence we investigated further into the demise of Lady Benezia's fall and drew our own conclusions. We found her guiltless of treason but a victim of her own well-intentioned actions. She will be remembered with honor, Liara T'soni. May the Goddess guide your way." The communication ended leaving archeologist and Spectre alone.

Liara turned from her spot, said nothing but sent waves after waves of her gratitude, love and affection into the heart of her lover. Samantha gladly bathed in the warm flood as she sent her own affections back into Liara. For now it was the only way they could make love and they reveled in it.

A galactic week later a memo appeared in the Spectre's incoming e-mails. And she groaned at the orders she had been given. Why couldn't she be sent off to fight bandits… geth… anything but what she was expected to do? In one weeks time it was going to be a very, very, long, uncomfortable day.

That day had now arrived.

Shepard opened the ship-wide intercom, "To all Officers and NCOs. I got orders from the top Brass, the function today is mess dress. Get out the polish, the starch and the pride. Check the bitching at the door, it's only pain. Shepard out."

The Spectre turned to Joker with a chiding smile. "Guess what has to go?"

"Aw man, I just got this to look decent." The pilot rubbed his neatly trimmed beard.

"It's an order mister. The face hair follows regs on a ship and I don't have a problem with it, but for formal dress… it's scruffy so get rid of it, Joker." Her tone was apologetic yet firm.

"Yes ma'am."

Mess dress was worn only on the most formal occasions rather than the dress uniform or 'dress blues' that senior officers wore on a daily basis. Uniforms based on gender had long since gone out of style and both sexes now wore the style previously only issued to males.

Shepard's own mess dress uniform had a long sleeve choker-collar midnight blue outer blouse, white halo-frame cover with all her medals and ribbons. She also wore a white bowtie and cummerbund and bore the long traditional Mameluke sword of the Marines. XO Pressly was similarly dressed. Williams, Adams and Joker's mess dress uniforms showed their ribbons and marksmanship badges and the NCO sword hung at their sides. Their cummerbunds were scarlet and their bowties black. Each officer had their rank embroidered in gold and silver wire on the shoulder epaulets, the collar and cuffs of the jacket piped in scarlet and gold with the quatrefoil – the coiled rope-like decoration on the cover. Along with the fitted double breasted jacket each of them wore black trousers with gold piped blood-red 'honour' stripes down the outer seam, the width of the stripe another indication of rank. The uniform was completed with a 'boatcloak', a black knee-length cape lined in scarlet silk and whilst the overall effect was impressive Shepard had always found it overstated and more than a little preposterous though she did admire the look on others. As a child she had always thought her parents looked heroic when they were dressed in their mess dress. Personally however it was very different. She felt weighed down and encumbered when she wore it herself but, as she had ordered the others, she checked the bitching at the door for it was only pain.

"What is that, my love…'it's only pain'?" Liara asked taking the bowtie from the Spectre's fumbling fingers and started to adjust it around her beloved's throat.

"It's an old Marine saying during Basic." Shepard raised her chin to better accommodate Liara's hands. "Used as a jocular encouragement for recruits who are suffering while undergoing the rigors of commando training. It's also painted on signboards in 'Heartbreak Lane' to announce the 500 meters distant finish of the Endurance course.

"And in this case the uncomfortable wearing of your more formal uniforms."


"They do look quite fetching but why wear them if they bring such discomfort?"

"I can sum that up in two words, Babe. Orders and tradition."

Liara gave a bemused smile. "I see." She tilted her head and smirked playfully. "Perhaps an older statement is also fitting and I fully understand its use now."

"Oh? Do enlighten me, Gorgeous."

"I love a woman in uniform."

Shepard threw her head back and laughed. Liara's own lyrical giggle joined hers. The asari planted a kiss on her lover's cheek before meeting her lips. "Although I must say I enjoy seeing you out of uniform just as well." She bit softly at Samantha's lower lip causing the Spectre to whimper in need.

"That is so unfair. Getting me all hot and bothered when I have to face the multitudes."

"It is only pain." Liara coyly smiled.

The Spectre swooped Liara up into her arms making the regal asari squeal. "Alright Miss Prothean expert no more spending time with Joker!" Samantha kissed her beloved hard, fast, pouring all of her desires into Liara.

The bond flared between them, calling them to answer more primal urges. She unceremoniously dropped Liara on the bed to where she almost bounced right back off. Both giving in to a fit of unchecked and spirit-freeing giggles, the kind you could only ever share with the love of your life in a very private space.

"Time to inspect the troops before I let them out amongst the public. See you in a bit." Samantha leaned down and placed a swift kiss on Liara's lips as she lounged on the bed.

"I too must change into my own formal wear. It should not take me long."

Shepard left her quarters and headed for the comm-room where she had ordered her officers and crew to gather.

Joker had shaved his beard making him look almost ten years younger. It was almost disconcerting to see the hollowness of his cheeks though it was a common feature of those with Vrolik syndrome. He had even given his leg braces the old spit and shine. Standing beside him were Williams, Pressly, Adams and Chakwas. All of whom looked perfect in their more formal uniforms.

Garrus was wearing the C-sec version of a dress uniform that was just as ostentatious as that of the marines. Blue and black ceremonial armor that looked much like their day to day armor but with Garrus's own family crest painted on the front which was mirrored on the back. The patterns also seemed far more intense with a lighter shade of blue and a deeper black.

Wrex wore his family's ancestral armor. It had been due to Chief Williams that the relic had been repaired, refitted and buffed to a high shine something Wrex now wore with pride.

Tali had opted to wear her colossus armor since it was the finest thing she owned outside her father's ship. Besides it had been a gift from the Spectre. That made it all the more special and treasured. It had been polished to a high gloss that refracted the lights that shone upon it.

Liara had stolen the breath of all who had seen her step out of the commander's quarters moments before. The gown she wore was sheer and translucent. The cloth was of deep midnight purple. One single two inch wide strap descended from a choker style collar covered her nipples yet left her cleavage in full view. The single strap crossed in the back to make an X pattern in the front to go directly under her breasts—cross again over her abdomen but left her belly button exposed. The single strap wound around the long back one more time then came to the front separating off into smaller straps to form smaller V's to cover Liara's hips. From here a sheer skirt floated against her skin. The sides of the skirt were slit on either side leaving the thighs completely exposed while discreetly covering her backside and groin. Her biceps were fitted with long arm bands that ended just below the elbow and stopped just short of the armpit. On her head she wore a light headdress that draped along her spine almost like a veil. About her neck, Liara wore the engagement necklace her beloved had given to her mere moments before planetfall on Ilos. Liara oozed sensuality which was accentuated by the calf-length 'roman-style' open toed sandals, silken laces crisscrossing to her knee.

"Um, Skipper put your tongue back in your mouth, you're drooling." Ash whispered to the commander who was standing next to her.

"Huh?" Someone spoke to her? "Oh… yes of course…She's stunning…what did you say?"

Ash snickered. She knew her skipper hadn't heard a word she said. Not that she blamed her - Liara was ravishing. She had even stared opened mouthed at the asari and gave a low whistle.

The men in the room had suddenly found themselves extremely envious of their commander. All save Pressly. Some found it a little uncomfortable to stand and attempted to shift their stance behind another for discretion's sake.

"Wow, you clean up well." Joker blurted out.

"Shut it Lieutenant." Shepard growled possessively without meaning to. She walked up to Liara, her eyes blue irises almost completely dilated by her desires. "You look radiant." Her voice was a smoky whisper.

Liara could feel Shepard's increased heart rate as if it was her own heart thundering behind her chest.

"You're incredible." Her voice got even huskier causing Liara to feel her own passions rise and beg to be given attention.

"You approve then, Commander." Liara deliberately used her lover's rank as a cold-shower effect for both their sakes. It worked.

"Very." Shaking her head, Shepard forced herself to focus on the task at hand. "Alright people, move out.

Four weeks had passed since the Battle of the Citadel. Repairs were still being attended to, ships were either dry docked or in synchronous orbits about the station if they were undamaged. Crews of ships and station alike had put in hour after hour of work in the repairs. But there were other repairs that needed to be seen to, there was more to healing than just stitches.

Three weeks since the announcement of the Council accepting humanity to be amongst their numbers and the revealing of Captain Anderson to be the human councilor.

Two weeks since Shepard had received word from the asari homeworld that all was in place and ready for the Matriarch's funeral.

One week since she had received orders from Fleet Admiral Hackett that she was required to speak to the masses, and to do so in dress mess. She had also received word that a special request given to the Admiral was going to be granted.

Today marked a keystone in the building of bridges and healing of wounds. A galactic month ago today Sovereign had crashed through the citadel tower and changed life as organic sentients knew it forever.

Leaving Normandy in the hands of a skeleton crew the senior officers and groundside squad once more left their private dock for the turbolift that opened inside C-Sec's customs offices within the Academy. From here the nine would board a rapid transport monorail to be zipped quickly from the Ward arms to the Presidium, more specifically to the Citadel Tower. Though not heavily armed or garbed in matching colossus armor the crew of the Normandy caught everyone's attention just as they had before.

Alliance Privates and C-Sec officers escorted the crew and squad past the fountains to the stairs that once led to the catwalk outside the Council audience chamber. It was still in some disarray but the hull of the ship had been removed from ground zero. The Council Chambers proper were still under repair as were the gardens. The structure however was still sound and capable of housing people in the balconies.

The remaining wreckage had not been covered up for the ceremony but left as a testament for the Spectre and her brave teammates of what they had faced alone. While the fleets overhead had battled Sovereign, only three lone warriors had faced Saren and the husk incarnation of the Reaper.

A make shift stage had been crafted, upon it were several rows of chairs on a tier system. Those closest to the front were reserved for the Council directly behind them came the world leaders of Citadel Space as well as the ambassadors. A special space had been accommodated for the elcor ambassador's great girth.

Behind them dignitaries from all the major races of Citadel space that did not have ambassadors, hanar, krogan, quarrian as well as a few species Shepard was wracking her brain to recall all their names. Tali gasped as she saw none other than her father seated, watching her every move. She couldn't tell if he was proud of her or not, but wanted to believe he was. She might have been an accomplice in stealing an Alliance ship, but she had been part of the crew that stopped the galaxy from being destroyed.

Behind the diplomats were the admirals, generals and captains and commanders of all the ships in the fleet that had faced Sovereign. Seated amongst them was General Septimus. He gave a nod of his head to Shepard, his hawk eyes gleaming in pride and praise for the other soldier's noble accomplishment. Alongside him was Captain Kirrahe who also gave the Spectre a warrior's nod of acknowledgment.

Behind this row were seated several Spectres many of them turian, others included asari and salarians. All of them dressed in the finest Spectre issued armor and they were all fully and heavily armed. Behind them a row of empty chairs that were no doubt left open for the crew of the Normandy.

Shepard's keen eyes zeroed in on the battle worn colossus hardsuit that was on display just before the podium like a memorial wreath before a coffin. She snapped her head around to Williams who stood a little straighter. Beside the gunnery chief a krogan smirked as much as a krogan mouth can smirk.

Shepard noticed that Fleet Admiral Hackett was seated along with Matriarch Lidanya in the front row along just flanking the councilors, not a part of their row but not a part of the world leaders or ambassadors. He stood and saluted Shepard as soon as she was on the stage as did the Matriarch. These actions caused the whole of the audience to salute as directed by their own customs or simply stand in acknowledgment of the Spectre.

One of Shepard's stray thoughts had drifted to the fact that if someone like batarians or other races of the Skillian verge wanted to overtake the galaxy all they had to do was bomb the weakened Citadel station at that very moment what with all the political and military top brass congregated in one place. Of course others had thought of this which would account for number of Spectres in the audience, dozen of asari commando units and salarian STG units, whole platoons of marines patrolling the station. There was also three times the number of C-Sec officers on patrol. The number of patrolling military vessels on active duty would also prove a deterrent.

The Council, all garbed in robes of the latest cutting-edge fashions; asari deigned ensembles made with the finest materials imported from Thessia itself. They were opulent and extravagant - flowing black robes highlighted with splashes of red and yellow. To the crew of the Normandy seeing their former captain in such robes was a shock as they were so accustomed in seeing him in his dress blues, anything else seemed… well, odd bordering on the surreal.

Though all four stood it was Councilor Lei'cree who took the lectern. The words would be familiar to Shepard and Anderson. Where once all three had spoken them only the asari did at this moment. Still they were the words that needed to be heard by others.

"As we once told Commander Shepard - Council Spectre we recognize the enormous contributions the Alliance has given during the war against Sovereign and the Geth. Many humans lost their lived in the battle to save the Citadel. Brave and courageous soldiers who willing gave their lives so that we the Council might live. There is no greater sacrifice as we share your grief over the tragic loss of so many men and women. Commander Shepard's insistence at pursing Saren the Fallen into enemy territory and doing so despite the odds saved not only our lives but the lives of billions from Sovereign and the Reapers. Her noble and selfless act is the symbol of everything that humanity and the Alliance stand for. And though we can not bring back those valiant soldiers who gave their lives to save ours we can honor the memory of their actions. We welcome with open arms the newest addition to our ranks as councilor, retired Captain David Anderson as humanity's Councilor.

The room erupted in cheers and applause. In every section of the titanic space station humans cheered their success in finally being acknowledged. Some were a little more vocal how overdue it was but at least they now had a seat in the greatest governmental body of Citadel Space.

For two hours the world leaders, diplomats and ambassadors made speeches. Joker thought back to what the commander once told him about when getting a medal he'd have to listen to hours of admirals giving speeches. By the Maker his legs were killing him. The pilot cut a glance to the others and noticed a lot of people had tired asses if all the shifting in seats was any indictor. The commander looked like she was about to bolt any moment now. She continuously scanned the crowd, looking perhaps for treachery or out of sheer boredom.

Even T'soni was scanning the crowded balcony. Joker wasn't sure but he could have sworn that the Spectre and archeologist were deep in conversation as they continued to look at the audience, but they never spoke a word he or anyone else could hear.

He saw the asari tilt her head and gesture at the balcony closest to the podium. Shepard followed her lead and looked at the balcony. Her lips pulled back into a full smug smile. Joker himself tried to find out who the two were looking for and was about to give up when he thought he saw the chief up there in the balcony. But he knew Williams was sitting right next to him. He dismissed the notion of a doppelganger when he heard the familiar deep voice of Admiral Steven Hackett take center stage.

"Just doing my job, sir.' Those were the words Commander Samantha Shepard once told me after a near impossible mission. Just doing my job, sir. Only doing her job included infiltrating an enemy biotic base that was using innocent civilian researchers as body shields. Not one civilian died as she and her valiant team I know to be Dr. Liara T'soni and Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams neutralized the enemy.

"Just doing my job, sir, included infiltrating a space station and rescuing a hostage, her action made sure the civilian was freed and reparations for the biotic L2s were issued. It included infiltrating and pacifying a dangerous cult without it descending into a bloodbath, not a shot was fired, all had surrendered peacefully. The definition of 'just doing my job, sir' was to bring justice those who had misused their station in major corporations that resulted in the abuse, murder and torture of soldiers and civilians alike. Just doing my job, sir, included bringing to light the gravity of the extreme danger the Reapers represented even when she was stonewalled and betrayed by backdoor politics. Just doing my job, sir, included bringing evidence that cleared the names of those taken in by Sovereign's indoctrinations.

"Just doing my job, sir, included hunting Sovereign, and making it possible for the fleets to destroy the Reaper while she faced off the rogue Spectre who had become the embodiment of Sovereign. She did so with only two others at her side: Dr. Liara T'soni and Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams. I happen to know the only reason they were the only two with her is because the mako is designed to carry only three personnel."

The crowd laughed slightly.

"I also happen to know that the efforts of her crew both human and non-human made it possible for her to report: I was only doing my job sir. As the Council acknowledged humanity's sacrifice, Alliance Command recognizes the contributions of our fellow citizens of Citadel space. Stand and be recognized. Dr. Liara T'Soni, Miss Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, Battlemaster Urdnot Wrex, C-Sec Special Officer Garrus Vakarian.

"Your recognition will be earmarked by the greatest honor the Alliance Military can give. And though it has never been given to civilians and non-humans, it is the belief of Alliance Command and more importantly the President of the Alliance that you all should all be awarded the Star of Terra!"

The crowd thundered their approval. Tali glanced at her father, for the first time in her life she had seen him smile! Tali stood ram-rod straight in the like of her hero. Her father smiled! He smiled at her! He did so because of the Spectre had made Tali a part of her crew and allowed the young woman the opportunity to prove herself. No medal or honor given this day could be greater than her father's smile.

Hackett reclaimed the attention of the crowd once more. "It is also my honor to recognize the contributions of the Normandy's regular crew. Stand and also be recognized. XO Staff Lieutenant Scott Pressly, First Lieutenant Jeff 'Joker' Moreau, Operations Chief Abram Adams and Dr. Caroline Chakwas. It is my honour to award you the Navy Cross."

Once more the applause was deafening.

"We also acknowledge the loss of Second Lieutenant Kaiden Alenko who gave his life on Virmire. In recognition of his actions Lieutenant Alenko is posthumously awarded the Star of Terra."

Hackett let the slightly more subdued but no less heartfelt round of applause fall to silence. "Commander Samantha Shepard, front and centre!"

"Yes sir." Shepard like the rest of her crew were astounded. Oh they had expected some medal, you don't get dolled up in mess dress for nothing, but none of them had expected the most esteemed metal of the Alliance Military, certainly not the non-humans. In fact it seemed to shock the dignitaries, Council and ambassadors as well.

"I realize that the first time you were awarded this metal was for your unrelenting courage and heroics on Elysium during the Skillian Blitz it was given to you by the President. Your actions then are the only reason the colony still stands. It is by your actions recently that galaxy still stands. I have been given the honor to award you the Star of Terra today." Hackett's long gaunt face beamed with a rare smile.

Shepard rose from her chair and walked determinedly to the podium. She stood at rigid attention staring just off of the Admiral's right shoulder. "It is with great pride I present you with this prestigious acknowledgment." From a velvet case he took out the very recognizable seven pointed golden Star of Terra medallion. The medal bore the look of a proper heraldry shield in miniature. The star itself was encircled by an emerald torse what some might see as a wreath of ornate olive branches. The sports on either side of the wreath were rampant lions which meant courage and nobility. The star itself had a circle design in the center featuring the iconic Lady Liberty, and Lady Justice standing before the Alliance Military chevron complete with the six stars that represented each continent on Earth. The crest was a full-spread falcon which represented that there would be no rest until the task was completed. The whole thing was suspended by a sky blue two inch wide silk ribbon so that it could be hung around the neck.

Shepard was already wearing her previous Star of Terra, causing the newer addition to lay slightly askew.

"Congratulations, Commander Shepard." Hackett saluted her. The Spectre snapped her own crisp salute until the admiral dropped his.

She moved aside to allow the others of the groundside squad to receive their medals. They were all returning to their seats but Hackett placed a hand on Shepard's shoulder, "Not so fast marine." He smiled. "Commander Samantha Shepard in recognition of your command, patriotism and leadership, your undaunting dedication of duty to the Alliance you are hereby promoted to the grade of Captain, Alliance Fleet."

Shepard was beaming. She was scarcely aware that Hackett had removed her commander's insignias and replaced them with the full-spread eagle of a captain. She could feel Liara's pride soaking into her warmly. She felt the eyes of her parents watching her with similar pride. She smirked as she realized she actually outranked her mother now. The Spectre knew she must have restated the vow of service from the President herself but she didn't truly recall doing it. Shepard knew now was her time to speak.

She was not a woman for speeches. She knew how to inspire her soldiers but to civilians she had always played it by ear, making it up as she went along. However this needed to have a little more diplomacy. The Spectre knew many eyes were watching her, waiting for her to comment on the new human role on the council, about Sovereign, and Saren. There were some who believed she would rise to glory the human achievement and their power, proclaiming they should never have been denied. There were some factions of humanity who waited for her to justify the death of so many humans. When she stood before the masses she held up her hand.

"Before I speak in earnest, I would ask this of all of you. It is a custom of humanity to stand for two minutes and remain silent as a show of respect to the fallen. Many warriors of many races died, sacrificed their lives to destroy Sovereign and save the Council. Out of respect to the fallen, I ask for these two minutes."

She said nothing more, but bowed her head and waited in silence. Behind her the Council, collected Alliance Military brass and the Normandy's groundside squad did the same. Even Joker stood on creaking leg-braces; he was supported by Liara's very gentle biotic lift so no weight was placed on his already stressed legs. He flashed her a grateful smile before closing his eyes in reverence.

The whole of Citadel Station seemed to draw into a dead silence. No soul spoke, not on the Presidium Ward arms, the bars or Markets. They all waited for the two minutes to pass.

The Spectre raised her dark head, "Thank you." She drew in a deep breath, held it for a few beats before letting it out slowly. "I have been asked to speak today in hopes to quench the fires of fear, unrest and to inspire. I struggled for days to find the right words. And there were so many words that needed to be said. Before I do that however there is something else that needs attention. Given my new rank I get to do really cool things like this."

She looked to Hackett who had reclaimed his chair moments ago. Before she had been informed her request was approved, now that she got to carry it off herself was a moment of sheer joy for the newly minted captain.

"It is with great pride that my first order of business as Captain is the announcement of the promotion of Gunnery Chief Ashley Madeline Williams to First Lieutenant."

Ashley was almost as surprised to be given the promotion as she was to receive the Star of Terra. The Normandy crew applauded as did many members of the audience, cheers and whoops heralded from the balcony to the right. Williams looked dumbstruck and was yet to move forward. Shepard lifted an eyebrow and smirked.

Numbly Ash once more stood before the seated dignitaries. She prayed her trembling body would not be noticeable. She thought of her father, believing how very proud he would be of his first-born on this day.

Commander… no make that Captain Shepard stood before her, her wide grin cocky as she approached Williams. "Look over my right shoulder, eleven o'clock balcony."

"Ma'am?" Ash whispered.

"Just do it Ash."

Williams obeyed and the smile on her face paled in comparison to that when she saw who was up there. She had longed for her mother and sisters to be able to see the ceremony. But Sarah's graduation had been on the same day and Ash had told them they should go to that instead. Besides it cost a great deal of credits to buy passage from home back on Amaterasu to the Citadel. Together they could only afford passage for one, how had all four of them been able to make it?


Ash knew it was her skipper who had footed the bill for all three of her sisters and her mother to be present on this wonderful day. They stood at the balcony waving their hands, calling out her name and cheering the loudest. Her mom was wiping tears from her eyes, mouthing the words 'I'm proud of you babe.'

If it wasn't inappropriate Ashley would have given the skipper a bear hug. As Hackett had done for her, now Captain Shepard did for Williams, she saluted her. Ash stood so tall and straight the Spectre thought starch had been suddenly infused in the younger woman's blood stream. The salute was drill perfect. Pride busted out of Lt. Williams as it had never had before.

"Dismissed Lieutenant." Shepard tilted her head to the side.


Taking a great gulp of air, Shepard returned to the podium. Oh if her day could just end on that note. But no, she had been ordered to and expected to give her speech. For a second she paused hoping for a sudden geth attack. When none came Shepard knew now was the time for her to speak to the masses.

"Thank you one and all for your indulgences. Today has been a monumental one for so many reasons, the recognition and reward of my fellow soldiers and myself and not the least the opportunity to speak to you all. I am a soldier: this is not a natural state for me. And I found myself stumbling for the right words. A trusted fellow soldier once told me other people say what she meant far better than she ever could. Today I find I need another's words. There was a poet of Earth named William Blake who spoke very well about the wages of battle, fear and what drives nations, in this case worlds together. Though they might be viewed as the words of an anarchist they I think they are words of man seeking answers after seeing so much blood and death. We have seen this death, this blood, our souls weep for the lost, for the destruction and we thirst for answers. That poet's words are as fitting today as they were in his day.

"O for a voice like thunder, and a tongue
To drown the throat of war! When the senses
Are shaken, and the soul is driven to madness,
Who can stand? When the souls of the oppressed
Fight in the troubled air that rages, who can stand?
When the whirlwind of fury comes from the
Throne of God, when the frowns of his countenance
Drive the nations together, who can stand?
When Sin claps his broad wings over the battle,
And sails rejoicing in the flood of Death;
When souls are torn to everlasting fire,
And fiends of Hell rejoice upon the slain,
O who can stand? O who hath causèd this?
O who can answer at the throne of God?
The Kings and Nobles of the Land have done it!
Hear it not, Heaven, thy Ministers have done it!"

The whole of Presidium drew silent, collative chills ran along the spines of the listeners. In the Ward arms it was the same, the poem had shaken them to the core. In the bars the patrons had held their drinks, tongues silent and watched the vid-screens all wanting to hear what the Spectre had to say. Her words now held more weight than any other known Spectre.

"Who can stand? Not one soul. Not one! But many can. Not one nation… one world… not one race can stand. But many can. We need to be united so that the fiends of Hell…the fiends of Dark Space will not rejoice upon the slain. No Reaper will be able to clap its broad wings over the battlefield and rejoice in the slaughter, if we stand united! We must stand together, we must hold the line, all of us: asari, human, turian, volus, hanar, salarian, krogan, elcor, quarian and those we have yet to call ally. It is not simply the species of Citadel Space that face this great annihilation but ALL sentient life.

"There are murmurs of malcontent and distrust. Whispers of blame and hatemongering. Cold eyes and cold hearts make for defensive walls that can not be breeched by the enemy but they can not open to a friend. Now is the time when we must unite. As Captain Kirrahe once said, "WE WILL HOLD THE LINE!"

The Spectre's voice was overcome with the thunderous voice of applause, stomps of feet and cheers. In the bars drinks were spilled as the cheers turned to magnificent levels of jubilation, empowerment and heightened morale. The Presidium was awash in these same great cheers of affirmation. In the Ward arms there didn't seem to be a soul that hadn't been swayed by the Spectre's words.

"I vow this day I will not stop my pursuit to push back the Reapers. I will find a way to stop them. But I can not do it alone. It is not weakness to call for help, allies make us all stronger. We the sentients of this galaxy need this strength more than ever. Those who believe they can go it alone are fools, stubborn and stupid. Those who seek to go alone are already dead though they do not know it. Upon the Normandy, I had the fortune to call asari, krogan, turian, and quarian my allies and we held the line. On Virmire I had the fortune of calling salarian my ally and we held the line. Allies give us power, give us strength and together as allies we will hold the line!"

Once more thunderous applause over took the station. The Spectre turned from the lectern surrendering it to the Council. Her stance was confident, her face radiating with the essence of power her words had over the audience. She knew now the seeds of unification had been planted. They just might have a chance.

"Your father would be so proud, Ash." Kathryn Williams said hugging her first born tightly. "Officer's commission and the Star of Terra. Oh Ash I am so proud of you."

"It's great sis." Abby took her turn hugging her big sister. "I thought you were some kind of thick-head going to the military after they blacklisted our family and what they did to Dad. But you made 'em see you for you and not for Granddad. That's one hell of a thing to do."

Ash smiled. Taking each of her sisters' hugs and turning them into bear hugs. Each of them wanting to touch the Medal of Honor to make sure it was real. Ashley was fidgeting with the medallion herself as if ensuring herself this wasn't a fantasy but reality. A Williams had been presented with the most honored metal of the military. It was still so unreal. She was running on emotional overload. Pride, awe, happiness it all coursed through her at FTL speed.

"I wouldn't have done what I did without the skipper. The command… er… captain did it. She took me under her wing. Taught me more about command more than I thought possible, like there are layers and nuances that are often more effective than showing rank. She knows when to let things slide and when to crack the whip. When she found out who I was related to she didn't hold the Williams name against me. Hell she thought Granddad was a brave man and did what he had to do to save the colony, and the garrison. It wasn't fair what the media and military did to him. She said she would have done the same. She gave me every opportunity. She made me feel like I am worth something. I always felt I wasn't good enough for the Alliance. The skipper made me feel proud about myself."

"Ash don't you know you are worth so much?" her mother hugged her tightly. "So this is why you followed her into hell." Kathryn's green eyes found the distinctive profile of the Spectre who was standing very close to a young asari, both of whom were talking to Councilor Anderson.

"Yeah, and if she asked me I'd do it again." Ashley said proudly. "I'll always have her six."

After the ceremony the attendees had been escorted into a great hall for a gala reception. Food, champagne, wines, were being served. An asari orchestra played on one of the raised balconies directly over the dance floor. The acoustics were designed to augment the music but not overwhelm the guests.

"What's it like serving with her?" Lynn asked watching Shepard meet and greet a dozen different people with congenial politeness and patience.

Ash laughed, "Never a dull moment, I can tell you that. Hell the woman is always on duty even when she's not. I actually got her to relax to share a drink with me on Armistice Day. She said after the days we had 'hell yeah'. She's got a wicked sense of humor, oh and never ever play poker with her. She can get really spooky when she wants to. She got an ExoGeni executive to back down on his orders to neutralize an entire colony and back it financially instead."

"Wait - that was Ferros wasn't it?" Sarah asked. "That was her?"

Williams nodded. "Yeah, it was spooky watching her bend that guy to her will and get him to see things from her point of view. By the time she was done talking to him he thought making ExoGeni rollout the bank accounts for Ferros was his idea." Ash laughed. "I commented that I didn't know she knew how to speak corporate. She said she didn't either; she was making it up as she went along. She's the best I've ever served with. And personally she's tops, she is always open to my concerns and that of the crew. I kinda got the feeling she had a pretty lonely childhood. I babbled about some of the things we did growing up and she enjoyed listening. "

"That is often the case with only children with career minded parents." Kathryn sagely commented.

"How'd ya know she's an only kid, Mom?" Lynn uttered watching the Spectre with a mixture of compassion and desire.

"Ever hear of another Shepard kid? Another offspring might have been overshadowed by their sister and grown resentful or rebellious just to get noticed. We would have heard of another Shepard kid even if they were as close as the four of you, from the media. If nothing else by that hack Al-Jilahni who might have exploited any sibling rift. Plus she listened to someone else's family stories as if she was trying to soak in that closeness." Kathryn smiled at her daughters staring at her. "Come now, I might not practice my science but I am trained to notice little nuances. Granted it's in geology still that training never goes away. Besides I have four daughters who taught me how to read people just as well as geological formations."

Lynn was watching out of a mixture of awe and barely veiled desire.

"Forget it." Ash said following her sisters lustful gaze. "She's sweet on someone else."

"I wasn't…."

"There's practically a drool puddle at your pointy little feet. How long are those heels anyway? You're what wearing three inch stilettos? " Williams nudged her younger sister. "And that top you're wearing what – did you have Abby tie you in it or pour you in it? You look like one of those chicks from those trashy books Sarah reads."

"Hey they're not trashy… some of them have really good plots!"

All the other sisters Williams as well as mother rolled their eyes.

"She's spoken for? Who? You? But you're not sly."

"I never said it was me."

"I know it's not a guy. Think about it, if she's seen a Williams hell-cat on the battlefield maybe she'd like to see one somewhere else." Lynn waggled her eyebrows up and down. "And hey just because I like the more feminine stuff doesn't mean I can't fight. I'm one hell of a swordswoman - champion fencer six years running. Shit, I have an Olympic Gold for crying out loud."

"Lynn, give it up." Sarah said. "You're not in her league, sis. Sorry. Take a look at who she's standing next to. Even if they aren't touching look at her whole stance, it screams protectiveness, love and even a little possessiveness for her girl."

"The asari babe? I thought she was an escort. She looks like she works for the Consort… that gown she's wearing… totally hot. But it isn't something you'd see the Councilor in is it?"

"That's 'Dr. T'soni' little sis and don't you forget it. And if you're thinking she's some kind of floozy then you're out of line. She's my friend. And she's very special to the skipper." Ash proclaimed firmly.

When a Williams woman declared someone was their friend, despite what her sister may think it was a no-go zone as far as insults went.


"How could you think Dr. T'soni was an escort anyway? You saw her on the stage receiving her Star of Terra from the President." Ashley asked.

"She didn't stop watching the Spectre." Kathryn snickered at her daughter's expense. "Kept staring at her the whole time."

"MMOOMM!" Lynn stamped her foot.

By this time Shepard had navigated her way to the crowd after she spotted Williams and her family.

"Captain Shepard it is an honor to met you." Kathryn Williams said softly. Her voice warm and pleasant had the undertone that had MOTHER all over it. This was a woman who definitely knew how to control four decisive young ladies. She lacked the harder edge of Ashley but the spunk was all there, it could be seen in the glint of her green eyes. She had the high cheekbones and definitive chin that spoke of her Latino-Grecian heritage. Her skin color was a darker shade of caramel than Ash's. The rich black hair hung in a thick plait down the centre of her back.

"Believe me Mrs. Williams the pleasure is mine. Meeting the mother of one of my finest officers is a true honor. She is a credit to the uniform more importantly to her family's lineage of fine soldiers." Shepard said graciously. "There is no way I could have confronted Saren, the geth or Sovereign without her, nor would I want to."

"I haven't seen that color on Ash in like forever." Lynn joked paying her eldest sister back for all the early jibes.

"Shut up, twerp." Ashley growled out of the side of her mouth.

Shepard smiled, but said nothing. "I'm pleased you were able to make it in time, I know it was extremely short notice."

"Yes, it seems an Alliance officer sponsored the trip; would you know anything about that, Captain Shepard?" Kathryn gave the Spectre a knowing look. A week ago the Williams' household had received clearance and passes for Citadel station as well as first class tickets on the next carrier out. The messenger said it was a matter of formality for the family so they would be present for Gunnery Chief's promotion the only catch was they were not allowed to speak of the promotion prior to the event itself. They had also been granted first class accommodations in one of the finer hotels in the Wards for the duration. It had to have cost a small fortune. Kathryn wanted to know who to thank, but the courier who delivered the package said he had signed a non-disclosure agreement and could not possibly say.

"Haven't a clue ma'am." Shepard said matter-of-factly. "Perhaps Alliance Brass wanted to ensure one of their decorated officers had family present to witness the event. After all my own parents are here."

"Yes, but they serve in the military. They were here regardless." Kathryn smiled. She stepped up to the Spectre and placed a motherly kiss on her cheek. "It would be unseemly for me to do that to Admiral Hackett… perhaps you could pass my gratitude to 'Alliance Brass'."

Shepard snickered. "Ma'am, if I did that to Admiral Hackett I'd be busted down to private!"

"Then keep it for yourself, my dear."

"Spectre?" Lynn allowed the single word to roll off of her tongue. "Do you know how to dance?"

Ash wanted to take her sister out back and shoot her.

"I'm guess you mean formal ball room? Oddly enough we have to learn it in Officers' training for events like this. But to tell you the truth I'd rather go dancing at the Flux." She gave a seductive wishful thought to her lover. Who was standing quietly by Ashley, unfortunately the expression she had was misinterpreted by Lynn.

"Perhaps we can go there sometime, Ash said she wanted to take us there on a girls' night out. As you fit into that category you should come with us."

"Oh… ah… No. That's sister time. Ash needs to let her hair down and be with family without worrying about ranks. But thank you."

'Very smoothly done Beloved. I believe she is quite taken with you.'

'How do I make her untaken with me without looking like a grade-a jerk?'

"Oh but I'm sure no one will mind." Lynn protested.

'Allow her one dance here, and then let her see you dance with me. I believe that will aptly discourage her smash on you.'

"I'll compromise, Miss Williams. How about a dance here?"

'Crush. It's called a crush…because typically it sorta crushes the heart of the person infatuated when they discover the person they fancy is unavailable. Of course impossible infatuations say on a celebrity is more or less an innocent crush, because you already know they are unattainable but doesn't stop you from fantasying.'

"Oh. Okay. I'd love to dance with you. And you don't have to be so formal. I'm Lynn. Ashley should have introduced us all."

'Did you ever have a crush on someone?'

'Oh yeah, on one actress or another when I was growing up. Or rather their characters they portrayed on some vid-series or another. There was also this asari Prothean expert I had quite been attacked to. Oh wait that's you!'

The asari's smile was thought to be for Lynn's scolding of her sister rather than the jovial remark of her lover's thoughts.

"Sorry Skipper." Shooting was too good for her, Ash now wanted nothing more than to take her sister out back and hit her with the mako.

"Don't sweat it chie….sorry Lieutenant. You know I'll almost miss calling you that. Have to get used to Lieutenant."

"Yeah no kidding Captain." Williams flashed her amused smirk. "Okay introductions. You met Lynn. My mom is Kathryn and that's Abby and the quiet one is Sarah."

The sisters Williams all had the same black hair, heart shaped face and full lips. Their skin had the slight tanned look to it those of Mediterranean and Latino blood, yet the ancestral traits of the English-Welsh of their father also came through. The Williams surname was definitively English.

"Ash has often spoken quite highly of her sisters, and parents. It's an honor to meet all of you in person. Speaking of neglecting introductions, I'd like to introduce Dr. Liara T'soni my close friend and fellow warrior."

"I am less the warrior and more the archeologist, Captain." Liara smiled gracefully. "I believe fellow crewmember is more apt."

For both of them it was growing increasingly difficult to keep hidden their deep affections for one another. Anyone with eyes to see could instantly tell they were far more than close friends. Yet they maintained the façade for the time being.

"Oh I don't know doc." Ash said. "The way you flung around those geth, rachni and thorian creepers with your biotics, I'd say you're one hell of a stand up fighter. And you dance around with your asari martial arts just as good as Sarah."

"I've always wanted to learn the martial arts of the asari." Sarah piped up. "But the training is only for your commando units." She turned her full attention to Liara. "Are you a commando, as well?"

"No. I did devote the first twenty five years to the study of martial training as all young asari daughters do, but then I chose a different path."

"Twenty-five years? That's your whole life!"

"Actually, it is only a quarter of my life."

'Looks like you have your own Williams crush to handle,' the Spectre flashed a smile. "If you will all excuse us, I believe the next song is a waltz, Lynn if you're still interested?"

"Very!" Lynn snaked her arms around the Spectre's and practically dragged the older woman to the dance floor.

"God, I hope the skipper doesn't make me clean out the sink-tanks for this." Ashley grumbled. She wanted to take her sister out back and have Liara sling her into a biotic singularity.

"I think it's sweet she's humoring Lynn." Abby said. "So sis, if Captain Shepard was a guy you be the one dancing out there with her?"

"That's fraternization, Abster."

"Come on…"

Ash stood a little closer to her sister, whispering. "If she were male… she'd be the love of my life. I even thought of batting for the other team for her. But ah… even if I did, her heart belongs to another. I don't mind. Liara saved my skipper's life. I don't get other asari. But Liara is the bomb."

While Sarah and Liara spoke of the difference between aikido and asari training, the Spectre was stuck on the dance floor with a fawning younger sister of her junior officer. She gave Lynn three dances before she took Liara out. As they danced they left no lingering doubt in anyone's mind just how much they meant to each other.

Lynn was heartbroken.

Of the other members of the groundside squad, only Garrus and Tali remained. Wrex had taken off as soon as it was announced there was a reception. His idea of food, and entertainment was found at Chora's Den.

As for the turian he had spent a great deal of the time speaking with his father, informing his sire of his decision to return to C-Sec and to reapply to the Spectre's but not until after the Reapers were pushed back. He told the elder Vakarian that it was the influence of Shepard that made him see the need to follow regulations, and rules. He paraphrased her wisdom that if he didn't care about those he was sworn to protect, then he was only a terrorist with a badge. Just because you can break the rules doesn't mean you should. You can't control other people's actions but you can control how you will respond.

Garrus was positive that his father wouldn't like Shepard; it seemed however that his sire in fact had a great deal of respect for her. She wasn't fast and loose with the rules like the other Spectres. She held strong to a strict rule of conduct, perhaps it was because of her dual role as an Alliance military officer as well as Council Spectre.

For her part Tali had a similar encounter with her own father. She had been dreading the meeting him again - she had after all been instrumental in stealing a ship. There had been no doubt in her mind when she told Shepard that her father would likely shoot them down himself if he found out.

According to her father however the rumors of the Normandy being grounded (and thus stolen) had been a ruse for Saren's followers still on the Citadel. If they believed the Normandy and thus Shepard was grounded they would no longer view her as a threat to their master. This was done to allow the Normandy to slip away undetected from the rogue Spectre's spy network and strike Ilos.

Privately Tali wondered how much of this was truth and how much was spin doctoring by the Council and Alliance Brass. Perhaps is should be brought up back in the Normandy's comm. room.

Tali saw the Spectre making her social rounds in the reception hall as was required of her. The young woman waved Shepard over in hopes to have her meet her father.

"He-ey Tali, I hope you're enjoying your time."

"It is different from the events on the Flotilla. I think it is fascinating, But I think I like the Wards better, definitely Flux much better."

"You and I both, Tali. I can vouch for both Ash and Liara. But sometimes you have to play the game."

"That is true." Shepard could hear the smirk behind the words even if she couldn't see the young lady's mouth.

"Father, I would like to introduce you to Captain Shepard."

"Captain, my father Niel'Zorah nas Rayya of the Admiralty."

"It is my honor to meet you Admiral 'Zorah nas Rayya." Shepard bowed her head as she seen Tali do to Captain Anderson when they first met. She didn't know quarrian etiquette and hoped she hadn't just insulted the most powerful man in the Quarian Flotilla.

"Tali'Zorah, tells me you were instrumental in her discovery of the data on the geth. Is this true?"

"She gave me the gift of evidence to reveal that Saren was a traitor. I owed her, sir. She was there every step of the way when we hit the Armstrong cluster. If it wasn't for her techniques in fighting the geth we would have had a far more difficult time in the cluster and with the geth that followed Saren. It was only fitting she receive the data that was collected. I truly don't believe it matters who uploaded the OSD on the geth first only that it was.

"Sir, she is also the reason the Normandy is now in fighting form. Your daughter is one hell of an engineer. My chief engineer even stated that he wished all of his crew were half as intelligent as she is. She knows FTL drives forwards and backwards. If it were up to me, I'd sign her up in a heartbeat. But I know her heart belongs to the Flotilla."

The admiral looked to his daughter with an appraising glance. He raised his helmeted chin a little in the pride he felt for her. For so long he had distanced himself from his only child because she brought to mind her mother. His beloved wife, she was such a tender woman, so intelligent. Like Tali'Zorah she had been an excellent engineer. They were so similar in appearance that it hurt to look as his child knowing her mother was no more.

"She has asked to stay with your crew for the duration of the upcoming war with the Reapers. As a father I would say no. This I do not like, she is my only child and my wife is dead. As member of the Admiralty…" the man sighed. "I think she is the best representative of quarian engineers who is willing to work with non- quarian. Know this Captain Shepard, if my child dies in your service despite the fact I know she will fight with fire, I will hunt you down for the rest of my days."

Shepard solemnly bowed her head. "Then you take my life now, Admiral 'Zorah nas Rayya for I can not guarantee life on my ship. I can promise only I will do all I can to protect her along with every other member of my crew. But if she sails with me she sails into danger."

"Now that is an answer I respect and accept Captain Shepard. Had you promised anything else I would have denied her request and demanded she return to the Flotilla. You have my respect human Spectre. I see now why my child had the greatest fondness and respect for you. It is earned."

"Thank you sir. I can promise you this, that respect and fondness is returned. I can also promise that Chief Adams will be ecstatic to have her back on his crew."

Niel'Zorah nas Rayya turned his head to face his child. "Daughter, you will return to me after the war of the Reapers. I will not abide losing you to the arms of oblivion."

Tali swallowed hard. "Yes, Father."

Neither quarian said they loved the other. They didn't have to it had already been said. After all the man who never once smiled in a child's life had smiled at his daughter.

The night had been long, eventful and over-stimulating for everyone. By the time the crew returned to the Normandy they moved as if they were synthetics themselves by rote and pattern. Uniforms stored, showers taken, medals secured and numbly crawling into sleeper pods, sleep-pads on the mako floor or in the case of Shepard and Liara into bed.

By the time the groundside squad woke, the scuttlebutt about the Star of Terra being awarded to non-humans had reached every ear on the Normandy, in fact every ear in the Citadel. There was also the fact of the promotions of both Shepard and Williams that made its circle in the rumor mill.

What was spreading just was quickly were the rumors that Ambassador Udina had resigned his post at Citadel. The truth was the President of the Alliance had decided to replace him. His decision to ground the Normandy had very nearly cost the galaxy's existence as sentients knew it. She was more than pissed about the dignitary overstepping his station and interfering in a military operation.

"Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy." Williams said coldly. "He was back-stabbing bastard."

"He is still an ambassador, show a little respect Second Lieutenant." Pressly ordered. "He was doing his duty as he saw fit. The council used him as a patsy."

"Williams is right, Pressly." Shepard interrupted the rebuke. "He is a bastard. Hell you even said it yourself you loved the fact we 'stole' the Normandy. Show a little loyalty First Lieutenant."

"Yes ma'am. I only meant that he was still a man of station."

"Not any more." Wrex's deep voice vibrated off of the floor of the Comm-room. "If it were up to me I'd put a bullet between his eyes for his crap."

Pressly ignored the krogan as he had most of the aliens.

"They wouldn't have been able to use him, if he were a man of integrity instead of selfish and politically motivated for his own needs. Why do you think the turian councilor phrased his comment the way he had? 'Ambassador, I get the feeling Commander Shepard isn't going to back down?' He knew Udina would impound Normandy and lock me out. The Council made me a Spectre; they knew I didn't need permission to go in to the traverse to hunt down Saren. But Saren's had a garrison of spies still on the Citadel, with news the Normandy was grounded Saren relaxed his guard. He went into the Traverse with Sovereign and a geth armada. No doubt he faced opposition. I doubt they went in stealth mode as we did. We were a full day behind him and yet we caught up to him in time.

"Yes the Council used Udina's underhanded, backstabbing motives to their advantage. It is something I might have done if I had the foreknowledge they held. But Udina needs to go away if humanity is to strive and continue to show is worth. Men like him and those of Terra Firma show the worst humanity has to offer. It takes ten good actions to make up for one bad. With Udina in power we'd forever be in moral debt. This is the end of discussion about political swine. I didn't call you here to chew the fat over that slug.

"In three days we are going to Thessia on a diplomatic mission. You have three days shore leave take advantage of it, who knows how long we will have before we can enjoy that kind of free-for-all. Make the most of it." The Spectre smiled. "That's an order. Dismissed."

The crew rose as one and started to fill out of the comm.-room. "Hang back Pressly. I want a word. Williams wait outside."

"Aye aye Skipper."

"Yes ma'am?"

"I have transfer papers for you."

"Ma'am?" The older officer looked positively stymied.

"Your feelings about Udina's dismissal ran pretty deep. Speak freely."

"Yes ma'am. I don't like it that he was used by the aliens. News about the Normandy being grounded could have been slipped out as misinformation they didn't have to use the ambassador that way."

"You will address the Council as the Council not aliens, Lieutenant." Shepard admonished. "And no they couldn't. Don't you think Saren's network of spies would have double checked the authenticity of Normandy being grounded? Some of his spies might have been present in the Council Chambers and heard everything. If it were simple matter of theatrics, they wouldn't have bought it. Udina couldn't act his way through an elementary school production of Snow White. Even I had to believe it was the truth. And I can bluff the best of them, how else do you think I got that Jeong guy at ExoGeni to do what I wanted?

"Actually it's about Udina I wanted to speak to you. He's requested a new navigator for his cruiser. I strongly suggested you for the post; I think you are better suited for his crew. Do you not?"

Pressly thought about it for a moment before he spoke "With all due respect Captain, but who will be XO of the Normandy?"

"Lieutenant Williams of course." Shepard's eyes grew hard and cold, daring the man whom she knew to be a party member of Terra Firma to challenge her. He didn't. "The paperwork is a matter of course and learning. She is a quick study and will no doubt be able to fulfill her new role. I've come to trust her the way a captain trusts their XO. You served Captain Anderson well as a navigator, you were also instrumental in finding the most efficient and daring drop point on Ilos which was why I put you down for the commendation you received yesterday.

"As I am now a Captain I have full privilege to hand pick my crew, whereas as commander I had to accept those assigned to me. You understand I need a collective of personnel that will work in harmony with other species. I know your political views will at one point or another rise up and will not be cohesive to the crew I plan on having. When the postings of Udina's diplomatic roster came up, I gave your name. You've been accepted on the SSV San Diego, pack up your gear and head out. Oh and congratulations."

Pressly knew a dismissal when he heard one. He saluted crisply, turned 180' angle and headed out of the door. A moment later Williams appeared.

"Skipper you wanted to see me?"

"Pass this news on to your family, Ash. I've got papers here that inform me that a Williams has just been appointed to the position of XO." Shepard waited a beat for the news to sink in.

Ash dropped her jaw staring. "Ma'am?"

"I need someone I can trust without a doubt. I told you if I put my ship under your command I never have to worry for it or the crew. I thought you understood that."

"XO? But…what happened to Pressly."

"Gave him his walking papers." Shepard said calmly. "He had way too many issues with non-humans. I know you did too but you changed, he never will. I won't have discontent on my ship and I won't tolerate prejudice. I needed a lieutenant in that spot and I wanted you. Ash, I told you before you are command material so start acting like it." The Spectre's mouth turned up in a smile that took any sting out of the words.

"I won't let you down, Skipper." Ashley proudly saluted.

"Now go be with your family. By the way if your sister ever hits on me again," a smirk "or tries to touch my ass, you become a private and I'll make you scrub the sink tanks the entire time we face the Reapers."

'I'm going to kill her!' "Yes ma'am. I'll smack her upside the head for you Skipper. I'm sorry about that she's… sorta sweet on you. I am really sorry."

Shepard chuckled softly. "I think a sisterly reprimand will be good enough. Dismissed Lieutenant."


As she left Shepard overheard the familiar growls of her friend and junior officer. "I'm going to kill her! Of all the stupid ass things to do!"

Ash spent the whole three days with her family. And did indeed take her sisters to Flux. Lynn was cuffed over the head by a pissed off Ashley. By the next day it was if the incident had never happened. She didn't know when the next time would come that she would see her sisters or mother and wanted to, needed to soak in their love and closeness. She spent the last day doing mother-daughter stuff with her mother, just her and her mom. Despite all the toughness and strength in the sister Williams there were tears when Ash had to report back to duty.

Tali delivered the geth information to the Flotilla which opened the doors to nearly any ship she wanted to join. The individual captains however were informed that she would not be joining any crew yet until the Reapers had been pushed back. Unlike her father however, they did not understand why a quarian would do such a thing but they accepted nonetheless after all Tali'Zorah nas Rayya was an exceptional engineer and her gift beyond compare.

Garrus had been accepted back into the ranks of C-Sec by Executor Pallin and given extended leave to serve Captain Shepard. Pallin who like the majority of C-Sec officers had no love for the Spectres, but the turian had a grudging respect for Shepard. She might bend the rules but she never broke them. To the commander of Citadel Security that was something at least. And the Spectre had managed to reign in Garrus slip-shod regard to regulations and his overheated blood to just get the job done despite the cost. The human had been a good influence on the young male.

Wrex and Joker either gambled at Flux or drank themselves into blinding stupors at Chora's Den. They were happy.

Liara and Samantha spent the time exploring each other, their bond and the richness of just being in each other's company. After a month of being rather chaste in their passions, relying on the bond to express their more primal desires the lovers splurged within each other's love, desires and delights. Samantha was still not a hundred percent but she didn't allow that to slow her down. Three days of 'Embracing Eternity' had invigorated the Spectre and sated her libidinous hunger for her betrothed. Liara had reveled in the Unions with her beloved, feeling her heart swell with delight, wonder and awe. Their bodies, minds and souls so interconnected so interwoven it was almost too much and yet not enough. In a word it had been three days of perfection.

The reassembled crew made ready for departure. The Normandy had been cleared for take off, their destination Thessia: homeworld of the asari. It was time to put many things to rest.

Part 5

Return to Mass Effects Fiction

Return to Main Page