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 41
Let the Testing Begin

'….I shall bring the full force of my office and authority down around their ears. In knowing who they are, I know where to find them, and I will come for them.'

It was a bold declaration of war even by Miranda's standards, though she might also call it fool-hardy and overly dramatic to challenge her enemies so openly. It sounded a bit like clichéd dialog from a b-vid. There had to be something more to that theatrical display.

"She's quoting Sun Tzu. She's called out the enemy, used one of them as a trophy, and initiated the next move by openly stating she will not be manipulated into actions that are dictated by others."

The more Miranda thought about it the more she started to see just what Shepard had accomplished with her junior-high rockstar showmanship. She had not done this to posture before her enemies or assure the heads of state she wasn't going to go rogue. It was to provoke the sympathies of the general public.

Those that might have doubted her ability to carry on the duties as a Spectre, to represent humanity were now reassured. There was nothing that the plebs liked more than a hero constantly hounded, harassed or even severely wounded. They wanted to watch their heroes overcome the odds, pull themselves up once more and prevail where a lesser being would fall.

Now a great multitude would have heard that Shepard's bondmate was brutally attacked, an unborn child lost and a list of enemies that still desire her blood, more than that they want her to fail and go rogue. The public believed in Shepard now more than they had when she had saved the Citadel, because now she seemed more real, with known vulnerabilities. The public was already rallying behind her, now they would do so even more.

"You truly are a bloody icon." Miranda uttered to herself.

'You would truly wage war on all of these mercenary bands?' Wong asked.

'War? No not war.' Shepard shook her head. 'I'm just implementing the law. By instigating a terrorist action on the Presidium they have made themselves fugitives from Council justice. This criminal act can not go unpunished. Nor will it. Those that hired the mercenaries are the true malcontents.

'The act was perpetrated in Council space, within the seat of its power. This is Spectre territory, my territory, my jurisdiction. They were fools to so openly defy the law in what was an obviously staged attempt to make me either resign my commission or have me become like Saren, a rogue agent.'

'I don't understand." Wong said. 'Are you saying Cerberus hired mercenaries to kill your bondmate just to force you into resignation? Doesn't that seem a little outlandish? If anything, I'd think Cerberus would want to try and recruit you, not sully your name.'

'What greater power is there than to turn an enemy to your cause? Cerberus may not have been directly involved. There are those who have very strong ties to the organisation that are however. There are political parties that did not approve of my choice to order the Fifth Fleet to defend the Destiny Ascension rather than direct all firepower upon Sovereign. Nor my recommendation that Captain Anderson becomes humanity's first Councillor.'

'I know many viewers wonder why you made that decision. That is to say the decision during war not the appointment of your former Captain.'

'Are you asking me why I sacrificed so many human lives to save the Council? Or perhaps why Rear Admiral Hackett didn't belay those orders and concentrate forces on the enemy dreadnought? I know people of the Alliance out there criticize me for the loss of so many humans that guaranteed the continued dominance of the Council. They don't seem to grasp the greater scope of things. They tend to forget that others lost a great many lives as well.

'The turians lost twenty cruisers each with a crew of three hundred. The Ascension the asari dreadnought, we saved had a crew of ten thousand. We lost eight cruisers. Shenyang, Emden, Jakarta, Cairo, Cape Town, Seoul, Warsaw, Madrid. And yes I remember them all. Everyone in the Fifth Fleet is a hero. The Alliance owes them all medals, the Council a lot more than that. So does everyone else.'

Miranda picked up the tone of anger in the young Spectre's voice. The Cerberus operative turned off the vid-screen. She had heard and seen enough to gauge Shepard's true demeanour. Opening a line of communications with her, even with a gift-wrapped Udina wasn't going to be easy.

The Illusive Man believed the more intelligent a person the easier it was to manipulate them into believing a complex lie. They filled in the holes with logic, reason and creative thinking. They finished weaving together the threads in a perfect tapestry of deception. The simple minded questioned the holes in a story, demanding explanations for every loose end. It was far more difficult to lie to them.

When she was younger and being moulded into the perfect operative at the Illusive Man's feet, he had carefully indoctrinated this knowledge into Miranda's training. With deception she knew that one had to weave in bits of the truth to reinforce and support the layers of the story that were false. It was theatrics but of another kind: truth, deception, re-establish the truth.

And so the story went: It can not be denied that Udina did indeed join us. However he went completely against the Illusive Man's orders in ordering the death of your bondmate and child. My boss wants him eliminated; he is now a blight upon the best interests of humanity.

Getting Shepard to listen first was going to be the tricky part. The Spectre's history with Cerberus agents was going to cloud her judgment and further impressions of what Cerberus truly stood for. Yes, their methods were harsh but they were not as evil as many believed. People of Cerberus didn't hate aliens they simply believed that humanity should not be subjected, dominated or overrun by them. Cerberus was there to even the playing field and ensure humanity's continued growth. It would be far too easy to grow complacent in the role the Council wanted of them just like the hanar, drell or even the elcor and volus.

Complacency was stagnation, stagnation was death. It was a simple truth. One that Miranda hoped to convey to Shepard, that it was the driving motivation behind Cerberus doctrine. If the Spectre could be made to believe it or simply understand that, then she could be convinced to join in alliance. Miranda knew it would take something quite extraordinary to make Shepard become a willing part of Cerberus which was highly unlikely but an alliance however tentative was a start.

Finding the Normandy after it left the Serpent Nebula wasn't going to be a difficult challenge, even if she was running on stealth. A person like Shepard tended to attract attention. She was after all not always the most subtle of people, things tended to blow up around her. It was like being in the center of a hurricane calm and chaotic at the same time.

You could never capture a storm only chase it. But how to get near it and not be caught up in it?

Naga'sadow's fingers deftly moved over the helm controls of the Normandy bringing her smoothly into the prearranged docking bay on Illium. She loved the feel of the Spectre's ship under her expert hands, it responded to her command as a lover cooing with every touch. She was proud of the Normandy; it was an asari ship after all. Yes it had salarian mathematicians who helped design her along with the pre-existing human and turian models of the original Normandy but it was the asari who built her. It was the asari who melded four designs into one glorious whole.

She understood Joker's obsession and his jealousy over Normandy's helm. When she was placed as temporary lead pilot she took up the position because it was her task, her duty. Now she didn't want to give it up. She knew of course once Joker was reinstated she'd have to but he couldn't always be at the helm. She completely understood the jovial human's desire to always be the one to put the Normandy through her paces.

During the dogfight over Ilos she had been in the cockpit of a viper, one day she hoped to be at the helm of the Normandy when the inevitable fire-fight broke out. Especially with the new upgrades that were going to be installed. For now however she was content just being this marvellous ship's pilot.

She didn't know what strings were pulled to get the Normandy a private docking bay, but the young asari knew they had to very expensive ones. Being a Spectre had a great deal of perks, perhaps this was one of them, or perhaps it was because of the ship's resident contract negotiator's talents. The pilot decided it was probably a little of both.

Mallene Calis once a representative of the Armali Council had joined Shepard and her crew as a contract specialist. It was her expertise that managed to pull the strings both for the private docking area, the contracts for the new upgrades for both the ship and her captain. Working for the Spectre was good PR for the Council and Calis felt she was doing her civic duty to aid the Savior of the Citadel. She might not have the silver tongue of the Spectre but she knew the ins and outs of contract negotiation fine print. She had been doing for it for the past three hundred years. The only hiccup that ever came in her career was when she had to deal with humans. But her stint on Novaria had taught the maiden much about the impetuous and highly individualistic race.

She had taken Shepard and Vargas for dull stones simply because they were humans and completely underestimated them. And truly underestimated Shepard - a mistake that had a common theme of those that did ending up dead. Calis had to appeal to the Spectre's sense of justice to get her to perform the small task of hacking Vargas's computer with a monitoring device.

Shepard had first refused to undertake industrial espionage; forcing Calis to appeal to the commander's sense of justice by saying that Binary Helix was hardly innocent. That got the human's attention or at least the asari had thought it had. She had watched across the Mezzanine while the commander worked over Vargas whilst actually tipping him off about the attempted espionage.

What puzzled Calis the most at the time was that Shepard came back and told her that Binary Helix was on the alert. She took the news calmly and asked why Shepard decided to do this. She thought perhaps it was because it was going against a human company but the Spectre told her that it was justice. Neither the Armali Council nor Binary Helix were above the law. This was a much better lesson than a slap on the wrist. Calis respected that.

It was how The Game was played on Novaria; despite the fact the Spectre didn't seem to grasp that. It was also a very large reason why Spectres and alternatively Justicars were not welcome there. Such tactics were going on all the time on the corporate ice planet; it was enough to make officers of the law go insane.

Calis had been reprimanded for her choice of 'agents' and told she should have known better than to pick a Spectre to do something outside their nature. Calis would never have asked a Justicar to do such a thing as corporate espionage; she'd end up in pieces. Asking Spectre as clean as Shepard was just begging for the same end. Fortunately Shepard was content with Calis's humiliation and not the taking of her life. And it was for this reason when Shepard asked the Armali Council for a contract negotiator, Calis stepped up and volunteered for the role. Calis had no nefarious motive to pay the Spectre back for the botched mission, rather she felt indebted to Shepard for teaching her a very valuable and very bitter lesson. Humans should never be underestimated simply because they were new to the galactic scene. The humans were not vorcha, and they were not dull stones. Well at least not all of them.

The Game however still had its used even aboard a starship, especially a starship which such an integrated crew. Where subtlety, manipulation and subterfuge worked within The Game, especially on Novaria it wasn't appropriate for a military vessel. The direct approach was what was called for. Soldiers responded to orders. Calis reminded the Spectre that threats under the auspice of legality were a solid move against espionage for the non-military crewmembers. Few were willing to risk the definite end of their own lives and impending imprisonment of their families for monetary gain.

So it was that Shepard allowed Calis to open ship-wide communications and remind everyone of their contractual obligations, she added in duty, honor and integrity to bind the mindset of the crew. She also reminded them that should anyone follow Merkson's example that they were not the only ones to suffer but justice went all the way to their families who would ultimately pay for their misdeeds. The asari could tell the Spectre didn't at all like the very idea of the ultimatum's threat or rather promise but it had to be done.

Having taken care of the administrative details of the Normandy's arrival, Calis's duty now lay in meeting with the engineers for the upgrading and ensuring the medical team handling the Spectre's case progressed without a delay. So far everything was proceeding as exactly as planned. The engineers were due to arrive on the morrow and they would meet with Tali'Zorah and Lt. Adams. The quarian of course would be in charge of the entire refit. Nothing happened without her approval, as Shepard gave her full authorization. The Spectre trusted the young engineer's expertise and professionalism just as she did with Adams. The ship was in good hands. There was nothing engineers obsessed over more than the ship in their care. To them the Normandy was their baby…their first born.

"T'Lam!" Liara snarled the name with colder disdain than Sam had ever heard the asari use before.

She turned from packing her carryall, looked up and saw Liara leaning on the office station staring at the computer monitor as if had personally offended her. "Babe? I'm guessing she somehow pissed you off?" She gambled it was a she as T'Lam was an asari name.

"Dr. Unira T'Lam is….considered one of the foremost experts on paleotechnology. She was my mentor at the Serrice Academy where I earned my PhD. She now advises the Council on Prothean technology."

"Yes, I can see why you would have a problem with her." The Spectre said looking at her bondmate. She abandoned her packing for the hospital and padded up to the office section of their quarters.

Liara sighed. "I might seem ungrateful but my anger is just. I looked up to her, I was a willing disciple. She gave me the true hunger to delve deeper into the fate of the Protheans, their knowledge and technology. After a time she started to cast out my theories on the Protheans and the cycle of destruction. She spread doubt on the papers, I wrote concerning not only the Protheans but those that had come before them. She said my theories were idealistic! Fanciful!" Liara growled.

"My peers believed her. After all she's a matron and I was barely more than a child playing at archeology. Oh she said I had a talented mind and a vivid imagination but I had a great deal to learn about paleotechnology." The last sentence was said in a snarl.

"And to the asari this is same as an admiral saying an N-Seven is playing at war. Nice. So what happened? She, debunked your reports on our recent discoveries?"

"She has placed some questions on them, especially the validity of the data banks we found on Ilos. Specifically Vigil. Now that we no longer have him, her counter argument holds far more weight. That was enough for the Council to take her words over mine. "

"Like the arguments against what I've been saying about the Reapers."

Liara nodded.

"But this isn't what ticked you off. Is it?"

"She sent me a message saying she wishes to speak with me." Liara snorted. "Perhaps she desires to ridicule me in person. Even if it is by holo-conference,"

"Speak with her." Sam touched Liara's face with the back of her hand, gently stroking the blue cheek before she kissed her.

"You want to me to meet with this woman? Why?"

"She was your mentor. Might be good to say 'I told you so' to her." Sam flashed a smile. "Your work is instrumental in what we've been doing. And your knowledge is the only reason we discovered what we have. Not only did you discover it but allowed for the rest of us to understand it. We have a long list of Prothean tech, a great deal of it is going into the Normandy, thanks to you."

Liara sighed. "It was also my knowledge that brought you to the accursed vinculum that nearly destroyed your mind."

The Spectre shook her head. "That's bullshit. You didn't put me in that thing. Vigil did…and I did. I couldn't let it go. The need to prove the Reapers are real, the fate of the Protheans…drove me to take chances. There isn't any fault in you, Angel Eyes, or your knowledge. I told you that before. I did it to myself." Sam stole a kiss from purple lips that were set in a line of discontent and worry.

Liara frowned into the kiss, "I am serious."

"As am I." Sam continued to nuzzle her beloved, her lips trailing down the gentle folds in Liara's neck. She was rewarded with a moan of pure pleasure. "Stop beating yourself up over something that wasn't your fault. Besides if you weren't there to pull me out, I'd be lost. As for this T'Lam, talk to her, see what she wants." Sam nibbled at Liara's jaw line with little pecking kisses.

"We have a couple of hours before we have to book into hospital…" The Spectre slipped her hands down Liara's spine to the small of her back, causing her to gasp. When the fingers slipped lower, Liara's eyes went solid black. Sam's lips pulled into a large smile, she knew she had hit azure.

"Anyone ever tell you, you do not play fair?" Liara hissed in her desire.

"Of course I don't, I'm a Spectre." This elicited a giggle from the asari.

Liara used her biotics to send the duffle bag to the floor while at the same time manipulating Sam towards the bed. "In that case, we're wearing far too many clothes." Liara's left hand cupped her lover's breast before snaking down to Sam's inner thigh.

"Perhaps we should remedy that." Sam purred.

In quick succession shirts, trousers and undergarments were shed. Sam felt her heart quicken, her body responding to Liara's knowing touch. She moaned as she felt teeth bite her earlobe. She arched her back into the sensation.

"Prothean experts bonded to Spectres do not play fair either." Liara whispered as she sent a small biotic pulse into her lover's nervous system, replicating the sensations of azure being triggered.

"Goddess!" Sam gasped as a mini-orgasm hit her.

Liara nuzzled, nipped and kissed the woman writhing in pure desire beneath her, "You always go first in our Joinings. Now it's my turn to give pleasures." She slid two fingers into Sam's wet warmth, gaining a deep moan of want. The bond exploded between them, overflowing, overcoming and enfolding them both. Sam cried out in her ecstasy as another orgasm wracked her body. Connected to her, Liara thrilled to the power of her own symbiotic climax as it captured her.

Breathing heavily, body slick with sweat Sam flipped Liara onto her back. Her lips trailed kisses down blue-skin, along her neck, down to the swell of breasts. "Now I get to send you into embrace of eternity." Her lips pulled into hungry smile.

Ash in the CIC watched as Shepard and Liara left the elevator, both women were smiling, whispering to each other. "You're looking particularly glowey this morning, Skipper. Breakfast in bed, I take it?"

Sam smirked devilishly. "The best sort."

Ash shook her head as only a teasing sister would. The mirth in her dark brown eyes took on a more serious expression. "Skipper, the assessment crew will be here by late afternoon. Commander Shiala and I will meet with them along with Tali and Adams. We've got the baby well in hand, Sam don't worry about her."

Shepard reached out and touched Williams on the shoulder. "I know you got this. Actually that's not what I'm worried about." She shrugged as if trying to dismiss the apprehension she possessed about going under the knife.

"You'll be fine, Skipper. These docs came highly recommended; they've got the best credentials. They know what they are doing."

"I know. But knowing and feeling can sometimes be in conflict," the Spectre admitted. "But I gotta do this. I have to. I can't just throw on contact lenses and pretend CS isn't there, or that it isn't progressing." Sam rubbed a hand against the back of her neck, kneading out an imaginary kink. "Let's just get it done so we can go back to work." She smiled softly. "It's only pain right?"

"Check it at the door, Skipper." Ash held her hand out into a vertical fist.

Sam tagged the fist with her own, "Check it at the door."

Sam sat in the office listening as the doctor droned on about the procedure. Just as Chakwas prescribed, her nervous system would be infused with bio-synthetic fibres. The lattice shunting would act as a conduit to her brain and the dark energy nodules. The doctor continued to describe that the shunting was similar to those in her derma-layer. Shepard tried her best to keep her patience, and not roll her eyes at everything she had heard or rather reheard. Smart amplifiers, neural masks and hyper amps would take care of the issues of Cyan Syndrome. She knew all of this.

She knew the cipher had rewritten part of her cortical synapses, thus changing her beta waves. She knew the beacons, and other Prothean interfaces she had encountered furthered those changes. But more than anything else, the gestalt had augmented that change. She knew dormant areas in her brain were now awake, she knew she was functioning on the same level as an asari maiden without the thirty years of concentrated learning on how to control her biotitics. What she didn't understand was why it was that the doctor before her processed the need to virtually regurgitate everything that Dr. Chakwas and Aleena had already told her and Liara.

'You just want to go out and shoot something don't you?' Liara chided Sam through their link. 'Or blow something up?'

'Hey! That's not what I'm all about.' Shepard scoffed.

'You're bored.' Liara teased warmly.


"Spectre?" Dr. Kiang T'Shyn called out in a tone of voice that suggested this wasn't the first time she had tried to get the human's attention.

"Sorry. I…um…what were you saying?"

There was slight amusement in the woman's voice. "I said we can begin the testing. Both Doctors Chakwas and S'thasa will be present to aid in moderating and consulting on your progress, as both are intimately involved in your primary care.

"I need to set some baselines to see what I am dealing with outside the context of reports and medical files. We'll begin by testing the potency of your biotics. From your files I see you have undertaken training from your ship's XO, Commander Shiala…in the asari methodology."

"Yes that's true. Meditation exercises, and drills."

"This includes the echo game?"

"Yes, that's right. I can hold a pretty solid average of twenty-five to twenty seven beans. Once or twice I've managed thirty-one." The Spectre looked to her bondmate with pride. "It's nothing like Liara who can clear the bowl."

"You are no commando. That is impressive. As is the fact you can perform the echo game, Spectre Shepard. Few humans can manage that amount of control. " the physician complimented the younger woman.

"Not all archeologists are passive diggers of dirt, Doctor. Out on digs alone one must be able to protect ones self." Liara said adapting Sam's more sarcastic nature. "And Samantha is a very accomplished biotic. "

"Indeed. Is that not why you are here, Spectre? I read what Dr. Chakwas said about what happened with the firaxon shark, Sovereign and before that the battle on Elysium. Accomplished or not these are impressive feats for someone who had so little formal training. Perhaps we should commence with the testing."

Shepard couldn't agree more. She was more than anxious to get the whole affair done and over with. "Tell me what you needed me to do."

Three days of extensive testing designed to challenge asari commandos.

Shepard's first tests were simple, consisting of suspending roses, which moved into the echo game, even stopping an air car with a biotic pull. Her body was put through strenuous exercises,: how far could she use a storm-charge not only in distance but vertical leaps, how long could she hold a singularity, and how well she could control it. She performed pulls, throws, warps and shockwaves. She created barriers, slams, and reaves which allowed her to focus on snuffing out a single target's life, increasing her strength, power, and damage as well as her ability to heal. There were other drills such as having Samantha using her biotic power to enhance ammo to do heavier damage against a target's health, the strength of their armor and biotic barriers.

During all of it the Spectre was hooked up to monitors, even while she rested, meditated, slept and shared intimate moments with Liara whether it was making love, or cuddling, it was all recorded: peaks and dips, surges and drains. The doctors needed to see what triggered the higher surges.

The new amplifiers were custom-made specifically for Shepard, but the tests proved how they needed to adjusted to stabilize the Spectre's biotics. Her powers were a strange cornucopia, a mixture of Prothean, asari and human abilities unlike anything the doctors at the clinic had ever seen in their collective seven hundred and forty-five years. It was the Prothean markers that changed everything, from how they assessed Samantha to how they were going to cure the onset of cyan syndrome

On the fourth day Sam was prepped for surgery. She lay on the gurney as the local anesthesia set in before they put her under the general. Liara held Sam's hand close to her heart, while her other hand stroked back the locks of black hair.

"You're going to be fine my love." Liara whispered, as much to comfort herself as Sam. She kissed her forehead. "Caroline and Aleena will be there consulting with Dr. T'Shyn. I shall be with you every step of the way."

Sam groggily smiled. "They're letting you in?"

Liara nodded and placed another kiss on her bondmate, this time on her lips. "Yes."

Her eyes drooping, the smile on the Spectre's face became sleepy. "Chakwas must have told….'em about wha…happen….Sovereign." Try as she might Sam couldn't keep her eyes open. The sedative was fully setting in.

"I'm sure she did." Liara stroked the tanned cheek. The door opened up as three asari in surgical scrubs walked. in. "They're here for you."

Far too sleepy to speak Sam managed a nod or at least she felt as if she nodded, a thumb went up then she closed her eyes.

"How long is this supposed to take?" Ash groused. "It's been nearly seventy-three hours and all we get is she's stable, and still in surgery." She paced the floor of the mess hall

A familiar feeling set in around the companions as they sat around one of the tables, Wrex and Garrus side by side, opposite them was Tali and Joker. Leaning against the wall was very pregnant Shiala, her hand resting upon the swell of her belly.

"I can only relate to you what I am told by Dr, Chakwas. Lt. Williams, the replacing of the modules in her bio-amps, and the bio-amps themselves take time." Shiala said softly. "Cyan Syndrome is a progressive neural degeneration, we were fortunate to catch Shepard's in time. What damage had been done can be repaired, but will take time. Switching out amps will not magically whisk the problem away. She will have to undergo cell replacement and maintenance therapy along side biotic physiotherapy. That is not something that can happen within three days."

"She will be fine." Wrex said. "Or she won't. Fretting one way or the other will not change that outcome."

"Oh? So you're good with her not being fine? Then what the hell are you doing sitting here and not doing whatever it is you do when you're not stomping around in the muck groundside?" Ash snarled at the krogan.

The large male stood facing off against the puny human. "I didn't say I was fine with her biting the big one, I said she'll be fine or she won't. I'm not worried over it."

Ash got into his face staring him down. "Oh yeah? And I say again why are you sitting with us, if you aint worried over her?"

Wrex snorted, one could almost imagine steam puffing out of his nostrils like from great bull on the charge. "I was sitting eating when the rest of you came in and sat down."

"Yeah? But you're done eating now. Admit it; you're just as worried over her as the rest of us are. Stop pretending you're not."

Again Wrex snorted dismissively. "Look Shepard wants this ship ready for heavy battle. The engineers are doing their part. Our battlemaster is getting herself fixed up so she can do hers. I say we don't get soft in the meantime. Now we can pace up and down the halls like some nesting broodmother or we whip these so called warriors into shape. We harden them. I say we get Normandy's warriors ready to take down a thresher maw on foot. Get them ready to face husks, and whatever the hell the Reapers are going to throw at us. I heard Illium has full-on battle sims just like we used in Pinnacle station. We don't let them go on furlough we start training. If the asari are supposed to be the finest warriors in the galaxy let them prove it. Get them teaching. Not only the warriors, but the egg-heads as well. Liara proved that even a scientist can hold her own in battle.

"Everyone at this table knows what to expect, what we're going to face. They don't. I say we make them. We set up the sims so they face husks, minions of the Reapers, the rachni, thresher maws, thorian creepers and the geth. Instead of wringing our hands Williams, we turn this ship into a force worthy of Shepard's legacy."

Ash faced off the massive krogan and….smiled. "You're absolutely fucking right, Wrex. Shiala you're the XO now, what do you say?"

"Wrex has a very valid point. I will instruct the asari commandos to begin instruction of survival and battle techniques to the non-military crewmembers. Humans, turians and the salarians all have different fighting styles and military philosophy it will be a mistake to completely reconfigure that fundamental training. However we can begin integration in unit cohesion.

"Illium has several national parks we can utilize as survival training grounds as well as war games. Personal not required for the refit or security will congress there and we will commence training. I think it will be a very good start to being the scientists there to test their skills. We can divide into four groups: survival, battle sims, actually war games and a skeleton crew for the Normandy. We'll draw up a rotation chart. Since we are here for a month and one week has already passed we will take there remaining weeks into the afore mentioned sessions. The most senior warriors can guard the Normandy leaving those junior in rank and skill up for accelerated training and exercise.

"Because, I am the XO and not released for combat for medical reasons," she indicated her rounded belly causing several to chuckle. "I will remain with the Normandy for the duration. Wrex since this is your idea which group do you wish to oversee?"

"Survival. Krogan. We're good at that."

"And here I thought it'd be war games." Garrus taunted. It only gained him a very toothy shark's grin.

"I'll leave that to you Bird bones. Turians are good at playing at games."

Garrus lowered his head and grunted.

"Actually, I want that one." Williams said.

"Very well that leaves you the sims, Garrus. I'll order Morwen to take opposing side in the war games. I'll post the roster later this evening. And Wrex thank you for the insightful inspiration. When Shepard returns we will be ready to face whatever enemy dares to confront us. Dismissed."

"Can you believe these new orders? It's preposterous!" Jahleed railed through his environmental suit's vocabulator. "Those gun-totting knuckle-draggers think just because Shepard is away they can order us to go stomping through the mire, and pretend to be soldiers. Who do they think they are?"

"In charge." Chorban said.

"They are in charge, Chorban. And they are trying to up the odds of us surviving encounters with the enemy." Abby Williams stated. "We're on a military ship, on a military mission. We follow military orders."

"You're only saying that because your sister is Shepard's right hand." the volas challenged. "We're here because of our skills in the sciences, we're not meant to fight. No volas has ever been a warrior. In case it's escaped your notice we're not built for it."

"Are you built to survive?" Shilar asked. She was an asari biophysicist.

"We are given orders, and we will obey them." Lehneero a turian astrophysicist agreed with Abby and Shilar. "I am a scientist, but I served my mandatory two years in the Defence Force. All turians do. We do not shirk our duty. We can not serve this ship, perform our duties if we can not survive or defend ourselves. I concur with this new training regiment."

"Of course you do, you're turian." Chells snidely commented. Then in a more even tone he said. "But you're also right, Dr.Lehneero. We're on the cusp of greatness and much hinges on what we do on this ship. If we are to survive the war with the Reapers, then we only do so if we are fully prepared. That takes training most us never received."

"Twenty-four scientists all on survival training courses." Lizbeth shrugged. "I'm game. It's more than ExoGeni ever did for any their people."

"From the lists it looks like we're going to be divided into two teams, twelve in each. " Abby announced reading from a data-PADD. "Wrex will be taking the first twelve into the Illuminari National Forest for survival training. My sister is taking six of us into war games into the same forest and Garrus has the other six into VR battle-sims."

"Do you think they will pit us against the commandos and marines or will they slip us into teams with them? I sure hope it's the latter, I was always chosen last for any kind of sport" Lizbeth's voice took a hint of concern.

"I highly doubt they will pit us against seasoned warriors." Juliana said trying to soothe her daughter.

"You don't know my sister." Abby shook her head. "She can get a little sadistic against the bookish sorts. And face it, all of us here, fit the nerdy-geek clique extremely well."

"I for one am looking forward to be pitted against the jar-heads. Let them face brains over brawn." Hank McCoy of the genetic research division boldly proclaimed.

"If any of us are pitted against my sister asari, we will not win." Shilar said. "Each of those commandos has had at the very least forty years of training behind her. That is longer than most of you have been alive. Outwitting the turians, humans and salarians may prove easier. But that is not a guarantee."

"Way to boost moral, Shilar." Abby chided. "Face it they are all going to be overconfident. So we use that to our advantage. Whichever team we end up on, don't give into the stigma that scientists can't put up a fight. We just have to fight a lot differently then the jar heads. So maybe we don't win. But we won't go down with a whimper either. Make them earn their victory. And fuck who knows we might surprise everyone and take the trophy."

"I thought you said we wouldn't go down with a whimper." Lizbeth teased Abby who was rubbing the soles of her feet with a look of absolute agony.

For the better part of the afternoon a group of six scientists scrambled, fought and ran for cover. It seemed the very forest was hunting them. They found a cave to secure themselves in and establish a new camp. Building a small fire they roasted what looked like large beetles, tubers and massive mushrooms the size of a krogan's head.

"I have so many bruises they now have names and families." Abby complained. "In all the letters Ash wrote to us back when she was in basic, I always thought she was being a bit of a drama queen then she turns around in the next paragraph and says she loved it. I don't see how she could love it!"

"Look on the bright side, at least we're learning how to eat off the land, build lean-tos out of twigs, tree bark and moss and of course don't forget about the spelunking."

"And this teaches us how to battle against the geth how?" Chells bemoaned his own aching body. "In less than three days we 'lost' half our people. This is intolerable. I should never have signed up!"

"It's teaching us how to survive, to improvise to use what is at hand rather than always relying on technology, machinery and convenience." Shilar explained. "Why do you think the krogan gave us the scenario that our 'escape pod' crashed in the middle of the great lake and we were only allowed marginal supplies? He has a valid point as scientists we have grown complacent with our amenities."

"I think it is something else." Jahleed said. "I think this is all a diversion. I think Shepard is going to order the whole ship bugged and wired with monitoring devices. She wants us watched. Merkson made her paranoid, the death of her daughter - vengeful. She wants us out of the way so she can carry out the plan. She wants us out of the way; she has her favourite team to do it."

"I don't believe it." Abby said. "Shepard would never do anything like that."

"I think Jahleed has a point." Chells nodded his head, his large eyes blinking rapidly. "That Merkson fellow changed everything. She's gone cold. Now she's just like every other Spectre. Cold, hard and deadly."

"If she is like any other Spectre, best not piss her off." Lizbeth said. "But I don't believe she'd order her ship completely wired to monitor us all. It doesn't feel like her."

"Feel's like the STG, though doesn't it?" Chells pointed out. "She's got Karrahe as a consultant. He'd push for it. Even Commander Rentola is working with the krogan on this so called survival training fiasco. And Calis is from Novaria. She'd whisper into the Spectre's ear just how the corporations do it. We all heard Calis's little reminder of our contracts. Palon - you were on Novaria, didn't Binary Helix monitor everything? "

The young salarian looked up from the fire. His whole countenance was as if he had been mesmerized. But then fire had way doing that. He paused for a moment staring at the others gathered before the makeshift hearth. His voice was distant, measured and monotone. "Yes, I was on Novaria. So was Shepard. She stopped the rachni drones. Stopped the Matriarch and her commandos. Stopped the geth stormtroopers. I saw most of my team wiped out. Had to shower the brains of my partner off of me. If Shepard monitors us to keep us safe, it's her prerogative. She's a Spectre, it is her ship. If she's monitoring for traitors let her. Traitors were responsible for Peak Fifteen's fall. Spectres hunt and kill traitors of the Citadel. Traitors should be exterminated."

It was difficult to argue against that. Still…

"That's all supposition. Shepard's more the in your face, look you in the eye, shoot your ear off if you're a traitor, than put up monitoring devices type." Abby said. "All that gear, all that tech we found is being installed and anyone not involved in the re-fit is put into training. Trust me, I come from a very long line of marines. It's in the blood. Even on vacation especially on camping trips my Dad treated it like some sort of boot camp. That's a soldier for you; they always think you can stand a bit more training, a bit more improvement on survival skills, and guess what?" Abby flung her arms into the air, "we're on a ship loaded with soldiers."

"I concur;" Said Shilar the asari biophysicist "My peoples' commandos are the same, always in training, always improving their skills, they do not stop. Why do you think the asari have the reputation for being finest and best warriors in the galaxy? There is no great conspiracy on the Spectre's part. We must be tested."

"Say, I buy all of this, then where is the Spectre?" Jahleed asked. "Why isn't she out here with us putting us through our paces?"

"She has to oversee the refit doesn't she?" Abby said "It is her ship. That's why she ordered the flagship team to see to our training. All we have to do is make sure the rest of us survive the next three days."

Wrex monitored the progress of the scientists. In two days they were down to half their numbers. A very pathetic outcome but not unexpected. At least they lasted longer than one of the commando squads made out of turians and humans. Within the first hour they were down two members by the end of the day two more. By morning they had lost all members. They had been "killed,' by negligence, a lack of unit cohesion and discipline. And while the labcoats might just get away with such abysmal results, there was no excuse for seasoned warriors.

The other three squads were doing well according to his observation team which was made up out of members of the STG. Wrex would have preferred asari commandos or human marines but the majority were assigned to either the war games or the training-sims. Still infiltration units did have their uses. At the very least they knew how to move about covertly. They were sent out to tranquilize members of the test teams, in essence 'killing' them and removing them from active duty. They were then placed within a new squad, playing the part of a lost survivor of another pod with all other hands lost. All teams that were being tested had new members integrated all that is to say save the scientists.

To Wrex the labcoats were all too soft. On Tuchanka even the scientists were put through the trials of the Gauntlet. If they survived they were true krogan, worthy of joining a krant, of having a battlemaster. If not then they died within the trials. If the weak die it was of no loss to the krogan people, only the strong live, only the strong gained the right to mate. The smooth skins were far too accustomed to coddling their scientists, their non-military personnel. This was but a trial any youngling could accomplish. It was interesting to see how the other races tackled such basic survival skills. In Wrex's opinion they were falling short of even the most rudimentary expectations.

"The pack ready?" Wrex barked at Commander Rentola.

"It is. However I again protest its use, Spectre Shepard will not approve!"

"She's not here. The fishdogs have those subdural implants you put in. If they become too much for the labcoats, all you have to do is hit the button and varrens' heads explode. Shepard's precious pets won't be placed in too much danger. Now set them loose."

The salarian commander shook his head but obeyed the order. Ten varren against six non-military scientists, one of them a volus. They were doomed. At least Williams' clutchmate…wait that wasn't the right word…it was sister. Yes that was it. Sister. At least she had some of the lieutenant's skills out in the field. And despite the fact the girl didn't like pistols she handled them exceptionally well. And the asari had her biotics to back her up; those two might just pass this next phase of the trials.

The rest were still doomed.

Garrus like many of his fellow soldiers loved the battle-sims. First off you couldn't die in the simulator. The second was good old fashioned competitive rivalry. Who could beat whose time? Who had more kills, who managed to capture the most fugitives or free the most POWs? Who could survive the longest? Who could dampen not only enemy barriers and shields but hack the CPUs of geth or enemy controlled mechs?

Granted those with mixed teams of biotics, techs and marksmen faired better than teams that were heavy one way or the other. The simulation levelled the playing field a little allowing the less experienced in combat gain understanding of how frantic a fire fight could be without any casualties other than their own egos.

There were three basic terrains: volcanic, tropical and subterranean. There were twelve scenarios in all, many of which were based upon the vid-captures during Shepard's flagship teams battles against the geth, Cerberus and raiders. Different gravities, environmental conditions from inclement weather to toxic were factors. In most scenarios the individual teams were up against the clock as well as the gunfire of the holographic enemies.

The former C-Sec agent's only requirement was that the scientists must be integrated into the commando units. It was working with relative success. Of course if one team beat another it was usually the labcoats who were blamed for the discrepancy in the time-stamp. Still simulated bullets were better than live-fire training for those untrained with firearms or even unskilled in their biotics.

There were a handful of asari who opted not to train in their biotics. It always came as a shock to Garrus when he encountered one of them who never reached her full potential in what was a natural part of them. Then again his best experience with an asari scientist was Liara who was an extremely accomplished biotitic. Given whom her mother was this was hardly surprising. Knowing Liara as he did was why he assumed that other asari labcoats were up to her calibre.

All in all it wasn't a doomed or futile exercise, at least in the turian's opinion it wasn't. Once Shepard saw the results of the battle simulations that was when the true verdict would be in.

Of course she was undergoing her own tests and refits at the moment; he offered prayers to the Spirits that she'd pull through not only the surgery but the physiotherapy that followed. He knew how risky it was for biotics to undergo amp replacement. Of course in the ten years since the L2s were upgraded to L3s medical sciences had evolved. Nevertheless there was still a high risk factor even in microsurgery. After all the docs had to go in and replace all the amplifying nodules along her nervous system. One tiny slip and Shepard could end up paraplegic, or worse biotically-lobotomized which would leave her as debilitated as the majority of the L2s.

After what happened with Ksad Ishan and the vinculum, Secura and the bounty hunters there was no force in the galaxy from stopping Liara from tearing the doctors apart for accidentally butchering her beloved. Garrus hoped for all involved the docs didn't make a mistake.

Sam opened her eyes.

The first sensation she felt was pain. The second was the need to defend. If she was in pain there was something that caused it. The warrior in her retaliated against the pain maker…

Something around her was beeping loudly.

Oh that's right, she was going into surgery for the new L5 implant. Gods it hurt so much, her whole body felt at if it had been stung by fire ants. The thing is she couldn't recall if it felt like this during her first implantation surgery. Of course back then she was so high on painkillers…and younger…Goddess her body was on fire!

"Spectre….Shepard….Samantha….easy…easy…you're in recovery. You are in no danger, you are safe. Liara is near you, asleep but safe. She is simply exhausted. She was with you every step of the way of during your surgery. You need to relax, you need rest." Dr.T'Shyn said in a soft soothing voice. She knew from her human colleague, Dr. Chakwas that Liara and the Spectre shared a very special connection. It wasn't until the surgery that T'Shyn knew just how deep that connection went.

There were asari legends as old as the ardat-yakshi that spoke bonds so very deep that the very souls were connected. The soul-binding it was called. According to the legends it only happened to the oldest of souls and only between two asari. This was the first the matron had ever heard of it occurring between an asari and an alien, even if that asari was a pureblood. Was that the key then to soul-binding to another—a pureblood? And if so why didn't other purebloods experience such things? Perhaps it had to do the linage of purebloods? The doctor knew that Matriarch Benezia was a pureblood. Only long-lineage purebloods produced the ardat-yakshi, were they the only ones capable of developing soul-binding as well?

Nevermind. It made little difference in the here and now. For the moment her greater concern was the Shepard and by extension T'soni.

"Spectre, the surgery went well. The integration of the nodules was a success. I'll go into details later. For now just rest. I'll give you another dose of painkillers; it should be enough to ease your discomfort."

Still very much dazed, semiconscious Shepard watched as a purple skinned hand tapped a single command into a consol at her vitals monitoring station. The next moment the lids of her eyes fell heavy and she slept as the painkillers seeped into her bloodstream.

When Shepard woke next she was in her hospital room, Liara was in a bed next to her still sleeping. A sympathetic smile crossed the human's lips; of course she was still asleep the poor woman had stayed awake connected to Sam for full seventy-seven hours of her surgery. There were pangs of familiarity about the whole thing. Here they were in the hospital beds - one sleeping due to over exhaustion the other healing from a critical surgery.

As Liara stayed near Sam's side, Chakwas hovered over the young maiden. She was only a week past the miscarriage. Her blood loss had been considerable as had the trauma to her young body. But that was the saving grace; Liara was young and healthy as was Shepard. But these were Chakwas's people, her soldiers with piercing eyes. Caroline Chakwas wasn't about to abandoned her charges to other doctors simply because they were the experts. She was going to be with them every step of the way, they were her stability, and she loved them. Miscarriages, Cyan Syndrome Vorlex Syndrome, very delicate immune systems even chicken pox they were her people, all of them. And she would see them through it all.

Part 42

Return to Miscellaneous Fiction

Return to Main Page