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 42

Willing energy into an unwilling, incompliant body after surgery was not unlike a writer staring at a blank page on the computer screen willing ideas into text. Sometimes the ideas don't come, the writing is neglected. Shepard had stared at the ceiling of her room for the past half hour telling herself to get out of the bed, and do….something.

It was too easy to simply close her eyes and sleep. The pain meds were strong, made a person lethargic. Or so the Spectre made the attempt to convince herself that was the reason why she wasn't getting out of the bed.

The truth was for the past week she didn't have to think about the war with the Reapers. She didn't have to think about getting her ship and her people into shape to face them. She didn't have to think about the ongoing unrelenting continuous battles of will and words with the Council. She could simply snuggle up to Liara and be for one moment a normal woman and not some goddamn hero.

'Face it Sammy, you're just being dead lazy. Get off your ass and do something. Besides today is physio-day.' Shepard scolded herself. Tossing the blankets aside she rose from the bed, stretched and popped the kinks out of her body before moving for the ensuite to take a shower.

She had just ducked her head under the spray of water for a second time rinsing off the shampoo when a pair of blue hands reached around her waist slick on the soapsuds. The warmth of the other body pressed up against her. "Do you still feel as if your skin is crawling with ants?"

"Not anymore." Sam said coyly, leaning against her beloved. "Though I have to say last night's little escapade was astounding."

Liara giggled. "Better than our first night together?" she nipped the soft flesh of her bondmate's earlobe.

Sam turned in her arms, "Nothing compares to that night, Angel Eyes." She kissed Liara soundly. Her hands slid over the slick blue body.

Liara smiled demurely, "We were a little rushed that night… I like it better when we take our time and indulge. But you are correct our first Joining was truly amazing." Liara's hands cupped Sam's face, looking into blue eyes that still held the cyan glow within the pupils. Then much to Samantha's she surprise kissed the tip of her nose, causing Sam to blink several times in succession. "Unfortunately our exercises today are not to be so intimate." the maiden cocked her head slightly; "Well not until later."

"You are such a tease." Sam put on a full faced pout.

"All the sweeter for the wait." Liara purred.

"Huh. Promises, promises." She returned the playful kiss before surrendering the shower to her lover and stepped out. After towelling her body dry and running it over her head to soak the remaining moisture from her black hair she used the towel to wipe away the fog condensing upon the surface of the mirror. She studied her image for a moment not out of vanity but with a more critical eye. "You know, Mom's right. I do need a haircut." she frowned as she pulled the fringes she normally kept swept back; they now hung well past her nose. "Phft." she blew a puff of air causing the fringe to float away from her eyes. "What a disgrace."

"I rather like it long." Liara said after turning off the water and stepping out of the stall.

Sam idly handed over a clean towel to her before she grabbed a comb and started to rake it through her dark locks.

"It's not regulation."

"But you're a Spectre; you don't have to follow regulations." Liara lightly teased.

"Thirty years of military upbringing, Love. It's kinda hard to kick the habit, just because now I can."

"Can you not put it up like Ashley?"

"Not a bun type of girl. Pony tails yes, buns or topknots just aren't my style. I'd rather have a sergeant's flattop than have a bun."

Liara made a face.

Sam giggled as she saw her beloved's face reflected in the mirror. "What you can't see me with a flattop? Okay then how about a crew-cut."

"Even worse."

The Spectre's lips were still curled into a smile. "Okay, okay no flattops and no crew-cuts. But I still need a trim. After I'm sprung from here, I'll have to hunt down a barber. Illium has enough humans to warrant some sort of hairdressing joint."

"Or I can do it." Liara said following Shepard into their suite.

Shepard went to grab a sports bra and tee-shirt from the bed but turned and gave her wife an incredulous look. "Um…you? Liara, babe you might be a brilliant scientist, a powerful biotic and one hell of an archaeologist and paleotechnologist but hair-cutting? What on Earth would you know about hair care?" she waited for the answer as she wiggled the bra over her head and shoulders.

"You wear your hair simply; it can not be that difficult to trim straight lines especially if you use a comb to aid you."

Shepard tugged on the shirt, "I don't know…." her words were slightly muffled coming from behind the cloth. When her head popped out she saw a slightly forlorn look on Liara's face. The sort you see on a five year-old after telling them that Father Christmas never truly existed and was made up by the corporations to sell more commercial products. Sam sighed, "Look it's not that I don't trust you, it's just that….well you don't exactly have hair. It's not something you can learn by reading a how-to manual…"

"If you are fearful I will turn a cereal bowl over the top of your head, I will do no such thing. I will simply trim your forelock and the back. You can get it styled later to something more cosmopolitan."

Shepard folded her arms over her chest, "Do I look the sort of woman that conforms to cosmopolitan ways, Liara? I've been accused of being butch, soft-butch and a hard-ass but never cosmopolitan. I'm not a frilly-lacy pink lipstick lesbian." she blushed slightly, at Liara's cocked eyebrow. "Not that being a…a…. lipstick lesbian…fem… is a bad…thing."

Liara smirked. "Technically asari are not lesbians. Lipstick or butch or any labels humans seem preoccupied with. Besides, you like me in my white lacy thong and teddy."

Sam bit the inside of her cheek as she was want to do when seriously embarrassed. "Well yeah…you're seriously hot in those!" To distract herself she pulled on a pair of N7 navy-issued unisex boxers that matched her sports bra.

"You are deliberately trying to distract me, my love."

"Is it working?"


"Ah damn." Sam sighed. "Babe, look it's like I said it has nothing to do with trust and everything to do with experience. In this matter, you have none."

"All you want is a trim. But perhaps you're right, tis best to allow someone else to do this simple thing."

"Oh… you're evil" Sam tried to frown. "You know that? Evil."

"Is it working?"


Liara grinned triumphantly. "Here sit backwards upon the chair and I'll fetch the comb and scissors."

"Just so you know if you botch this…. you have to get a tattoo."

Liara opened her mouth then closed it. "A tattoo?"

"Yep. And I get to pick what and where it goes."

"Really?" Liara stared down her bondmate, with her hands upon her narrow hips. "It is my body…I think I have say in this."

"You'd be more imposing if you weren't naked you know." Sam smirked teasingly. "Standing in a Peter Pan stance as you are now… It's adorable. It's also sexy."

"You're hopeless, Samantha." Liara shook her head.

"I'm a married woman who has libidinous thoughts about her bondmate. Now tell me that's a bad thing."

Liara walked over to the bed where she had tossed her clean undergarments before climbing into the shower and started to put them on. A devilish gleam came to her eyes as she began to don them as if in a reverse burlesque dance at a bordello. She gained a satisfactory gasp from her beloved before she put on a pale sea green silk blouse as mundanely as possible.

"Evil." Shepard whispered.

"I learn from the best."

This had Sam completely stymied. "Who?"

Liara gave a pointed look.

"What Me?" She chortled incredulously. "I'm hardly seductive…"

"To me you most certainly are. I love the way you lean on something with your arms crossed over your chest. That is very evilly seductive."

"Phft." Sam dismissed the compliment. "I know I'm not half bad in the looks department, but the way I stand when relaxed is hardly sexy."

"You do not see yourself though my eyes. There is no point in debating in what I find attractive or sexually appealing in your actions, my love. It will be futile." sitting on the bed she put on her socks before slipping into a pair of black slacks. "Now this tattoo, what do you have in mind and more importantly where will you demand I place it?"

"On that cute ass of yours. Right cheek I think. As for the what… I haven't decided yet."

"If you think for one moment I'll allow property of Samantha Shepard or any variation of your name on my backside you will be very disappointed."

"Oh please…I'll be far more imaginative than that. But of course you don't have to worry about a thing if the haircut isn't botched."

"Very well."

For a moment Sam believed she was free and clear of the pouty-faced wife wanting to give her a haircut. But she was in no such luck as watched Liara go for the wardrobe and pull out the Spectre's rucksack. There was always a first-aid kit in there which included a pair of bandage scissors.

Granted medi-gel took care of injuries incurred on the battlefield until a medic could better tend to the wounds. However there were times you didn't have enough medi-gel, or you ran out. Sometimes you had to rely on very old, very basic methods of first-aid. It was something Shepard had learned long ago in basic survival skills back in boot camp. Gunny Ellison drilled it into his recruits' heads that relying on technology all the time made a soldier impotent. So it was that whenever Sam hit groundside for long periods of time whether it was mission based or on furlough she had an old-fashioned first aid-kit either in her gear or stashed in various concealed compartments on her hardsuit.

"These shall do nicely, I think." said Liara as she opened and closed the blades of the scissors.

Sam groaned, but gave in.

Physiotherapy seemed a full day of repetition, not only for Sam but for Liara as well. Dr. Kiang T'Shyn ran them through the same battery of tests as before the surgery, comparing the results to the control set.

Many of the results came back within a very minuscule variant of the control set. Others were under the control numbers but only two days after the surgery this was to be expected, the body was still healing. And still others were just that much above the previous results to be marked as significant.

The echo game was where it showed the most. At first Sam didn't think she was up to the demands of the strenuous exercise, but her Illium doctors and even Aleena assured her that she was. Apparently Chakwas's presence was demanded back at the Normandy as there were several incidents with the science team and some sort of physical training. Ash's simple SitRep stated it was nothing to worry over but the doctor was needed nonetheless.

The first run through of the echo game was very much like the Spectre's first try, ages ago. Her pulses were not as controlled and far too powerful: three drum heads had to be replaced. Once more Liara soothed the anxiety building up within Samantha so that she might concentrate and refine her shots. This time she was able to follow thirty-five of the ricocheting echoes.

It was the same the next day and the day following. Her average now was thirty-eight beans. The weight she could control with her biotic lifts and pulls were now into the tons where before it was only half a ton. Her rushes were longer and higher though not too extraordinary. With proper training she would be as equal to a young asari commando. Finesse and control was where she lacked skills, not power. But that was solved with repetitive training as it was with anything in life.

A simple but relaxing exercise with biotics was what the Spectre dubbed as making balloon animals. She was to simply sit and create organic shapes with a flare of biotic energy. It was a game that asari younglings did during recess. The object of the game was not unlike the human's game of cat's cradle with a bit of string. The difference was that biotic energy replaced the string and it was played as a solo activity. But it could be competitively played with another child or in this case with Liara as to who could create the most elaborate flare in a given time limit. Of course the design still had to fit within in a single palm. Another meditative drill was to create an orb and maintain it throughout during heavy meditations. The biotic physiotherapeutic exercise Dr. T'Shyn said would diminish the chances of Cyan Syndrome from recurring. In fact it was imperative that Shepard perform both meditative methods if she wished to remain healthy.

And here came the elephant in the room. Children. "Doc, are the children we have in the future going to be bonded to me as Secura had been? And if so how are we to minimize any threat to the fetus due to the demands of a Spectre's duty?" Sam wasn't about to mention the war with the Reapers. That would only serve to dredge up unwelcome questions due to the debunking both the Council and the Alliance Brass over her dire warnings.

"It is not uncommon for matron commandos to go into battle while in the early stages of the pregnancy. To prevent physic trauma from seeping into the fetal unconsciousness she dampens her bond to the unborn daughter and at the same time erects strong mental barriers. Now that you know you are likely to be bonded to Liara's daughters all you need do is to create a similar effect."

"Our daughters." Sam's features slipped into a narrow expression of displeasure.

"I'm sorry?"

"You said 'Liara's daughters'. Any child within her womb is also my child. I don't give a fucking damn if my DNA is only there to remap Liara's own. Any child is my child, blood or no." The Spectre all but snarled.

"I apologize." Dr. T'Shyn hastily said. "It was a slip of tongue. I meant no offence." She should have known better and guarded her tongue more closely. Those diagnosed with CS were prone to express their emotions rather strongly.

Sufferers of the syndrome felt all emotions and therefore expressed them just as strongly. What might be mild annoyance before became instant grounds for swift anger and quickly dove in to rage. It was the same for all other emotions: grief became inconsolable sorrow. Dislike became intolerance. Love became possessive and jealously guarded. And hate….became murder. It was why it was so dangerous to provoke suffers of Cyan Syndrome even those of the more benign borderline stages.

Yes Shepard's illness had been caught in time before the neural degeneration became far too progressed to be reversed. But she was still recovering. A healer should know better than to reopen wounds. "I sincerely apologise Spectre. I misspoke. Of course any chid conceived by Liara is of your heart, your spirit ….your daughter. Just as if you were to conceive a child she would also be a child of Liara's."

Liara felt as much rage at the earlier inference as her bondmate. Their connection allowed Liara to feel Samantha's emotions as if they were her own and often times it became confusing as to who was feeling what. She reached out to soothe her bondmate only to realize it was Samantha who was touching her arm.

"She apologized. I don't think slapping my doctor with a singularity will help matters, Angel Eyes."

Liara blinked as she realised that her body was shimmering in the cyan glow of a biotic field.

"Now that is interesting. How very curious."

T'Shyn had the same tone of voice Liara had nearly two years ago when she first found out about Shepard's connection to the Prothean beacons.

"Samantha held the anger but it was you Liara that reacted." She moved to the younger asari with a penlight in hand. "Does this happen often?" She shone the light in Liara's eyes watching as the pupils constricted to small pin points then took the light away studying them closely as they re-dilated.

"More than before. The gestalt set it off, I think. But when well this…happened," Sam gestured to her eyes indicated the CS. "it was bit more intense."

"Most curious." The doctor now did the same to Samantha. "When I read the files from doctors Chakwas and S'thasa I had assumed they were speaking of the soul-bounding but this is…unique." She frowned. "You held the anger, but she reacted and you Samantha have the signs of summoning your biotic energy but Liara does not."

Sam bit her lip looked to her love then back to the doctor. "Actually I have a thought on that. You see… the Prothean devices I interfaced with, left me changed. As you know, I was given the Prothean cipher via a knowledge-bond. I have their genetic memory within my mind ingrained in the beta waves. The gestalt bonded Liara to me as you said soul-deep but I think it did a lot more than that. I gave her the cipher through a knowledge-bond as she indicated. But what if in that genetic memory… was a soul-bounding between say two Protheans. Maybe this is how they connected to their bondmates?"

"Now that is a stimulating theory!" T'Shyn exclaimed. "Oh to do an in-depth study on this. Truly what an evolutionary benchmark for biotic understanding."

"You know doc you're not the first asari who wanted to put me under a microscope."

Liara's cheeks turned purple in a blush.

Unrelenting in her jibe Sam continued her teasing. "Of course now that Liara is here with me it makes it easier." she reached over from their seated positions and gave her wife a very quick peck on the cheek.

"Indeed. I think this must be studied." T'Shyn said earnestly. She picked up a data-PADD and scrolled through the contents. "As I re-read this it says you gained the cipher through a knowledge bond with your XO Matron Shiala of Armali. And that she gained it from a sentient plant known as the thorian. But there is little more to it. Other than to say the thorian has some sort of psychic control over its thralls, the human colonists of Zhou's Hope."

"I guess Chakwas didn't think any more was relevant. But it wasn't only humans there was a salarian and of course Shiala. She was inside some sort of pod kept prisoner. The thing not only made creepers, they were I don't know plant zombies, mindless but deadly, it also made several clones of Shiala."

For the next three hours Liara and Shepard explained the occurrence of the thorian on Faros. The fact creature dated back past the Protheans was astounding to hear and actually to relive the memories. Liara was still plagued by nightmares of that thing's malevolence.

"It is truly a tragedy that such a being had to be destroyed." the physician said softly.

"I tried to negotiate. But it resisted any sentiments of peace. I had to instigate more hostile negotiations. Given that Saren had double-dealed it didn't help matters. It was a danger. I am sorry I had to kill…to execute it but I had no other recourse left." Shepard said.

"So this thorian saw the extinction of the Protheans by sentient machines called the Reapers? The same species that Sovereign, Saren's flagship was a part of?" The doctor was astounded but yet not unbelieving.

Sceptically Shepard nodded, readying herself for the ever familiar ridicule she often confronted in the face of her warnings. When none came she spoke. "Yes. I suppose since it was a plant and did not build… the Reapers did not deem the thorian a commodity to be harvested or collected, nor was it a threat to be wiped out. Until it was roused by ExoGeni I think it was just hibernating away, left alone with its thoughts and memories. It was why Saren sought it out. He needed the Prothean memories. He knew the thorian had absorbed Prothean lives in the past, thus gaining their genetic memories. It was why he sacrificed Shiala to it."

"Does Shiala have the same symptoms you two do?"

"No, not that I'm aware of. I didn't think CS was something asari suffer." Shepard frowned now curious herself.

"No we do not." The doctor shook her head. "However, there are other symptoms this thorian might have left her with, say perhaps the same symptoms you described the colonists having. Acute headaches, heat-rushes even unstable biotics. And there might well be other side-effects we do not know of that will affect asari but not a human or salarian."

"So far the only thing to manifest is her pregnancy. Being cloned so many times, her body initiated her own reproductive cycle. Her nervous system tapped into the thorian's DNA just as I did with Samantha during the gestalt." Liara offered. "If there were any other changes she would have notified me and Samantha. She was my mentor as a youngling when in service to my mother. I know her well. She would not keep anything of this consequence from either of us."

T'Shyn gave a mother's knowingly pained smile. "Are you so certain of that young one? So close to you two and seeing you both suffer so much, is it not conceivable that if she was suffering she would not wish to add to your burdens? Regardless if she is or not, I'd like permission to examine her as well."

"First that is up to her, even as her commanding officer I won't order it unless I am convinced this has more to it than scientific curiousity."

"I confess much of this is scientific curiosity. However." the doctor held up a purple finger pausing any forthcoming argument on the Spectre's behalf. "It also has much to do with understanding this cipher, and its connections to the Prothean genetic memories. If your theory is true, Samantha, that the bond between you and Liara is not fully asari in origin but Prothean. To fully treat you and Liara as she suffers from CS as surely as you do, I must come to understand it. I know you are pressed for time and due to have the months to waylay here. So I propose I join your crew and continue my studies there. What say you Spectre?"

"But what of your practice here?" Sam could not keep the shock out her voice if she tried.

"I am the senior partner in this clinic and chief surgeon. I can take my leave as I see fit. And this will surely benefit biotics in the future. Not to mention a full in-depth understanding of this unique phenomenon will only benefit you and your bondmate as well as any future daughters. Please consider the request, Spectre. I shall not demand an answer as of now but give this some serious contemplation."

"Look, even if I do agree, Doc we are going into theatre, and not the surgical kind. We go to war." Shepard pointed out.

The purple asari laughed. "Do you truly think I have stayed on Illium all this time running a medical clinic? In my wild days as a maiden I was a merc. I even ran with the Eclipse Sisters for a time, oh …two or three centuries ago."

To Sam the asari before her didn't look any older than Caroline Chakwas… relatively speaking. She couldn't help but wonder just how old her physician was.

"There are other concerns." Liara said. "The chain of command is sacrosanct. And while you are senior partner here and chief surgeon, on board the Normandy that position belongs to your colleague Dr. Chakwas and I am head of the science department. Of course we are all under the command of the Spectre."

"I have taken orders from the very young before; this shall not be the first time." There was a smiling gleam to the asari's green eyes. "So does this mean you consent to the request?"

Sam shrugged. "As much as you wish for me to consider the request, I want you to make sure this is what you want. The Normandy is an unconventional ship. It's a wavecrest class which means shared living spaces, save for the department-heads, who have their own little cubicles. And well me and Liara, we have the loft. But a specialist in biotic medicine is beneficial. S'thasa is our battle-medic and Chakwas handles pretty much everything else but she isn't specialulized in biotics. And we have a lot of 'em on board. Granted most of them are asari…."

"Add this to your considerations, Samantha. If, I am onboard not only can I monitor the progress of your healing and recovery from CS, but I can also aid the both of you in controlling this unique bonding experience. Thus equipping the two of you with the knowledge on how to monitor your bond to one another, as well as any future children. Not only that, it will expand the knowledge we have of the Protheans and their biotics. Surely you Dr. T'soni can see such advantageous benefits to uncovering the full understanding of such a remarkable species."

Liara nodded, but in that moment Sam's mind flashed back to the Intendent of Quana and how she locked out the majority of the colony she governed to preserve the lives of those deemed more worthy. She thought of Administrator Ksad Ishan and Vigil and how with its personality of man the VI had diverted all power from the life support pods of the 'non essential' to preserve the scientists' cryo-chambers. Then it went a step further and transferred all power from the life pods to itself to preserve its programming. All because the data it held was deemed more worthy, and far more necessary than an entire population. The real Ksad Ishan could not have come to that choice easily. He could not have made it as coolly as it was made out. It had to have pained him and yet he had ordered Vigil to preserve its programming at any cost. The Reapers had to be stopped.

No the Protheans were not the saints, not the mental giants, 'the gods' the rest of the galaxy revered them to be. Vigil had it right when he confronted Sam and Liara both with their preconceptions. Sam reflected on some of the choices she had to make to stop Saren. The sacrifices she had to quickly calculate for the better good to preserve those more…necessary. In the future days to come, Shepard knew in her gut she would have to make more cold hard decisions, make more sacrifices to win against the Reapers. She prayed she wouldn't lose her humanity doing it.

Still, T'Shyn had a valid point. Understanding the Protheans, their biotics and their telepathic links could only be a benefit. To understand what she and by extension Liara had become, the Spectre knew she had to understand more about the Protheans. T'Shyn had already been vetted by Calis, the rest was just paperwork.

At long last the Spectre spoke. "Permission to come aboard, Doctor."

"Thank you, Spectre." the other woman said.

"I hope you still feel the same way once we get into the thick of it." Sam said cautiously. "I'll contact my XO and have the arrangements made. I'm sure we can find some accommodations"

*That will not be an issue, Spectre." Shiala said over the real-time holographic communiqué. "We've lost one of our science team members. She can have his bunk.*

"Hold on, what do you mean lost one of the science team? What the hell happened?" Shepard all but snapped.

*Mr. Jahleed resigned his commission after his ordeal in the survival training course. It seems he had a rather bad reaction to some fruit and it caused quite the havoc with his bowels….*

The Spectre grimaced as she imagined a volas with very watery bowels inside an environmental suit. It wasn't pretty.

*Yes you can imagine the problems. He was rather vocal about his forced involvement in the training course and said he was on the Normandy to help uncover technology to stop the geth not necessarily to go into physical combat with the machines.*

"Yeah, I'm still back at survival training course. Who set that up?"

*It was Wrex's initial idea Spectre, but it was by the senior staff equally agreed upon this was a necessary step to have a better chance not only surviving the coming battles with the Reapers and their allies but winning it. I authorized it. I hope I did not undermine…*

"No, are you kidding? I wish I had thought of it. Great idea, far better then going complacent while we're dry docked. So what else is going on?"

*Lt. Williams has taken a dozen crewmembers, half of which comprises of the non-combatants along with a complement of marines into the Illuminari National Forest for war games. Mr. Vakarian has taken the same number into Nos Austra to one of the several battle-sim arenas, half of his crew also comprise of members of the science team. Battlemaster Urdnot Wrex took the remaining twelve members in to the same forests as Williams for survival training. He also took mixed squads of commandos and set them through their paces.*

Shiala further explained the idea of the rotations of the Normandy crew. Granted the majority of the engineering members and those needed for the upgrades remained behind. And of course there was always a full commando squad on guard.

"Tell the squad good work on getting the crew into shape. We'll be rendezvousing within the day."

Once she returned to the Normandy, Shepard received the strangest looks from the crew. It wasn't the first time that day she wished she had worn a hat. Liara T'soni was many things, being a hairdresser was not one of them.

Thank providence the helm was clear of any jesting pilots or anyone at all for that matter. Of course with the refit in motion and dry docked as they were there was no true need for a helmsman.

The crew sagely decided not to comment on their commanding officer's new hair style given the Spectre's 'come on if you think you're tough enough' stare. Then Ashley Williams approached with a full wattage smile of amazement, and …desire.

"You look like a thistle." She said by way of greeting her CO.

Shepard pursed her lips.

Stepping nearer to her closest and dearest friend Ash whispered, "A very cute and very hot, thistle."

Sam sighed.

"I don't think she looks like a thistle." Liara protested. "That certainly was not the look I was going for. I thought a nice feathered layered cut would be quite fetching. And I will say it is."

"Um…Liara…you did this?" Williams gave an astonished look to the Spectre. She reached out and flicked a rather stubborn lock of hair that fell over Sam's nose.

The archaeologist nodded proudly.

"What on earth possessed you to allow an asari to cut your hair, Skipper?"

"She did the 'you kicked my puppy' voice and she used the doe eyes." Sam mimicked her bondmate's pleading woe-begotten expression down to a tee.

"Oh…you know you are so whipped don't you?"

The frown was back. Arms were crossed.

Ash grinned even brighter. "Admit it Skipper, it looks good on you. Kinda gives you a rogue-pirate appeal. Or a ranger from the tales of old."

"Not exactly the look a Spectre should have, though is it?" Shepard challenged.

"Oh I don't know," Williams shook her head. "A wilder look is better than say the boot-camp crew-cut. Yeah that says authority but this thistle-cut is way better. "

"I told you so." Liara added. "This is very fetching. And she is correct it does give a wild look to you my love. Wild means unpredictable, and face it, Beloved, the vast majority of your plans are spontaneous, unorthodox and improvised. This is why your enemies have difficulty winning any confrontation with you."

'You just don't want to get a tattoo.'

'On the contrary, I think I will get as you human's say some ink done. My sister asari huntresses have a great deal of ink, though typically on their backs though some on the face as well. So why should I not?'

'You truly know how to take the wind out of someone's sails you know that, Love?'

Liara smiled. "It's a talent I learned from my mother," she said aloud.

"You know it's still rude when you two do that." Ash interjected.

"Sorry, Ash. Habit." came the Spectre's answer.

"Right…" The younger woman took on a more serious expression. "All kidding aside, Skipper how are you doing?"

"Well enough." Sam placed a warm hand on her friend's shoulder. "I'm on the mend. I'll be five-by-five soon Ash. Don't fret."

"Yeah well once you're hundred per cent, then I'll stop."

"I know." Sam said with a smile. "We'll talk later in my quarters. For now I want a SitRep on what's been going on. From what I heard from Shiala you should be out stomping around in the woods playing war with a complement of my scientists. So what are you doing here?"

"Shiala said you'd be back today." the marine answered as if that explained everything. "And I'm switching out teams then we head out again."

"So let's see what you've done to my scientists." Shepard said leading the way to medical-bay.

When she walked in the sight surprised even her. Three humans one of them Ash's sister Abby lay on beds, their skin covered in what appeared to be pink paste. It took a moment to realize that it was calamine lotion, an old fashioned remedy to be sure but one that worked exceptionally well. The other two were the Baynhams: mother and daughter.

Chells was there as well, looking absolutely miserable. So miserable he was openly weeping. Then he sneezed. No he wasn't crying, his eyes were watery due to…what - hay fever? Jahleed was nowhere to be seen; the Spectre assumed he was in isolation due to the severity of his condition. To someone outside an environmental suit hyperactive bowels might be a great inconvenience and nuisance but to volas or quarian it had the potential of being very deadly. Given that he had already expressed his desire to resign, Chakwas may have already cured him and sent him on his way. Though Shepard doubted it.

The Spectre studied each face in turn until she at last came upon the only one not seemingly injured: Dr. Shilar. "Shilar, I hear that the science teams were put through their paces." looking at the injured. "It went well?"

The asari didn't know if the human was being sardonic or not. It was always so difficult to tell with humans. So she opted to answer truthfully. "It was not a complete success. But the object of the session was survival and we did manage that. I doubt Urdnot Wrex would concur with the less than stellar results but it was never stipulated just how he measured success."

"I'm not asking about Wrex's assessment. I want yours, Doctor. I want to know," at this Shepard waved her right index finger in a circle indicating the others in the room "how all of you came to be here."

"We were given the classic scenario of our escape pod crashing into a massive body of water therefore becoming inaccessible as was the majority of our survival gear. Despite the fact we accounted for hypothermia, we 'lost' one of our team to it. Or so we were told. We set camp, insured to set up a picket and a watch cycle but we 'lost' two more."

"Did you scout for possible threats within the area or was camp set relatively close to the crash site?" Shepard asked.

"Within the crash site." Abby answered this one. "I thought we might be able to salvage something from it. When my father took my sisters and me on camping trips he'd always say to use all available resources. Seeing that asari can practically breathe underwater and can withstand the pressure of the deep, I thought they might be able scavenge something from the downed pod."

"Did your father ever tell you crash landings attract attention? You did not know if the immediate area had hostiles or not when you established your base camp. Pirates, scavengers, raiders even bestial life forms see a crash and the scent for a hunt hits them. And that is exactly what they do. They hunt. You lost two of your members because you did not vacate immediately the area for a more isolated one.

"While scavenging anything from a downed pod is a good idea, you should have vacated then returned when you were sure it was secure to do so." Shepard was a little surprised that Shilar or one of the other asari hadn't thought of this. Liara surely would have, and she wasn't even trained as a commando.

'No but I was trained by one very talented huntress and let us not forget my mother.' Liara's words whispered into the Spectre's mind. 'Do not judge the other asari too harshly. Not everyone decides to expand their biotics or take even the most basic martial training. Shilar is one such person. She never trained in her biotics beyond the very basics taught to all younglings. We are not as the turians who must serve a compulsory two years in the military.'

That was true. During her cultural diversity classes in the academy, Shepard recalled that if an asari's biotic powers were below grade they could never serve in the Republic of Thessia's armed forces. And even the mercenary companies were extremely reluctant to hire on any asari who couldn't summon a decent singularity or hold a barrier, despite their greater talents in other areas.

"I'm assuming that you lost more of your squad just after you settled your second camp."

"We did." Lizbeth Baynham nodded, "It was within a cave. But we were not so careless to simply set up camp without checking to see if it was inhabited by local wildlife or other potentially dangerous lifeforms."

"Did you cover your tracks?" Shepard asked.

The elder Baynham answered the question with her own. "Our tracks?" She shook her head. "No. I don't recall doing that. Did any of you?"

"No. We did not. There was something coming at us at great speed. We fled. We secured ourselves in the cave and fortified the entrance." Chells answered. His normally high-pitched fast-paced speech was thickened by rather seriously stuffed up sinuses. It took Shepard all her command training not to burst out laughing at the comical sound of a salarian with head-cold.

"So you fled, and in doing so allowed your pursuers to know exactly where you were." The Spectre pointed out. "If it was an animal the hiding of your trail is moot, they could simply smell you out. However it if were not and your hunters did not have acute olfactory senses you led them directly to you."

"But we were being chased!" Abby said defensively. "The cave was a good defensive position!"

"Yes, a move I myself would have made. However after the threat had seemingly diminished did you send scouts out? Perhaps you weren't so much chased by a living thing but from debris from the ship you had been ordered to abandon. Fallout. Nevertheless if you scanned the cave I'm presuming you still had your omni tools?"

"Only one. And that blasted krogan made sure it was only partially functioning. He no doubt had that Rentola hack into the others to make them inoperative. Deliberately crippling us! I took parts from the others to repair mine, defeating his machinations." Chells grumbled. Then sneezed. "There were no signs of anything chasing us. That krogan simply made the noise to frighten us into fleeing and making mistakes."

"That actually was the point Chells. Dealing with inoperative tech and improvising is a key to surviving any ordeal. One must adapt and overcome to thrive in an inhospitable situation. The idea of non-functioning omni-tools wasn't to simply handicap you it was to force you to think outside the box and circumvent the problem." Shepard pointed out.

"We even used the omni-tool to set up a crude alarm system." Abby said proud of herself, for recalling one of her father's lessons. "That's how we knew that damn pack of varren was on our scent."

"In our haste to flee the first camp we inadvertently crossed into the varrens' hunting grounds. There were no bones, scat or tracks to indicate the cave was their den but apparently they laid claim to it." Shilar said. "We were forced to surrender the cave to their superior numbers or be overwhelmed. In fact if it hadn't been for the keen observation of Dr. Williams we surely would have been. "

"And how did you manage to escape the varren? I'm guessing this is where the story gets interesting." Shepard said with a hint of a smile on her lips.

The worst of it was the sound they made.

It was a screeching howling cackled bark that no furred beast on earth had ever made, not even hyenas. It set Abby's nerves on fire. The acoustics of the cavern made it all the worse. Their barks bouncing off the walls like an asari echo game.

'Ash is not the only Williams with strength,' she chastised herself. 'Fear cuts deeper than any blade, bites deeper than any bullet.' She repeated words her mother often spoke to her girls when they were filled with night-terrors and imagined creatures lurking under beds and behind half-closed closet doors. 'Fear cripples, so let it pass through you and think clearly. Then open your eyes and see what truly is there.'

When she was five years old, Abby had replied that it was easy for her mother to say she was ancient…Mommy was after all thirty.

Abigail Williams never told her mother that it was Ash who made the monsters go away by shooting them with her cap-pistol. 'Monsters are stupid. You fire at 'em even with a toy gun and they think they've been shot for real, so they die or they run away because the noise of a gun scares 'em. Now stop bawling and go to sleep, there's no more monsters. You're a Williams for crying out loud stop acting like a pansy.'

'Monsters are stupid.' Abby reminded herself. '…noise scares them….' She looked around to her companions. Jahleed was in a right panic as was Chells. 'They hear the noise and think themselves dead. They have already resigned themselves to death. I'm not like that; I am not going to fall because of stupidity and panic.'

"They are circling us," Shilar's clear crisp voice broke through the clamour of braying hounds. "It is difficult to know the strength of their number, but I believe it is fewer than our imaginations have conjured."

"What difference does it make? We have two guns and one of them only has a half a clip and the other is empty. What are we going to do - throw rocks at them?" sneered the volus.

"Actually that's not a bad idea. We just pull a Shepard! " Abby said. She stepped towards the fire and took out one of the limbs that was only partially burning and began to examine the stalactites and stalagmites of the cavern with her geologist's eyes. "There's a saying we humans have. Sir Isaac Newton was the deadliest son of a bitch in space."

"Of course!" this came from, Lizbeth. "His first law! An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force."

"Our scientists have cultivated this same law several millennia before yours I might add… but what are you suggesting?" Shilar asked.

"Simple. Like I said we pull a Shepard." Abby answered with a full grin on her face. "You're a biotic Shilar, you can summon up a singularity and hurl a few well placed stones into those support struts near the south end of the cavern. It will bring that whole face down. It may not have the same impact as a twenty kilo slug going at one percent of lightspeed but it will do some very heavy damage. Even if it doesn't kill the varren it will frighten them off. I've seen what asari biotics can do on Ilos. Dr. T'soni and Shepard brought down a whole dreadnought!"

"Not all asari are like the great Dr. Liara T'soni." the asari said not bothering to disguise her contempt. "Some of us never cared to train. Just because I'm an asari does not mean I'm some biotic sorceress. I have not used my biotics in seventy-five years! And you expect me to aim a rock with pin-point accuracy to bring down a section of the cave? Goddess, it took me three attempts to complete the Great Hunt! I'm a bio-physicist not a huntress. "

"It doesn't have to be accurate, my dear." Juliana said softy. "Just powerful enough to do what Abby is suggesting."

"I think this whole plan is insane!" Chells barked. "If we bring part of the cave down it will cause a chain reaction and we'll all be crushed."

The braying-howls grew closer; flashes of silhouetted bodies could now be made out in the deeper shadows.

"We don't have time to debate this as a committee! Look it's something Shepard will have done, it's bound to work." Abby snapped. "Can you summon your biotics or not?"

To demonstrate Shilar willed the energy within her body into a swirl of blue-black energy in the palm of her hand. "It will not have any amount of finesse nor can I guarantee the results you are looking for."

"We have to give it a try." Lizbeth said trying to be supportive.

Abby turned to the others, "Alright, the rest of you gather what you can and leave, I'll stay behind with Shilar." She took the only loaded pistol and switched the safety off. She was the most experienced with pistols so logically she was the one who was armed.

"You want to be fishdog bait be my guest, come on Chells we're leaving." Jahleed said waddling towards the mouth of the cave.

'I can do this. It will be just like the roses. Lift first. Concentrate on one action at a time' old words of her first mentor had uttered to a five year old Shilar. The words were oft repeated. The rose lifted, and petals came off.

A rock in front of her feet rose and flew, and fell several paces short of the mark.


"It's okay." Abby said. "But not to ah put any pressure on you they are coming closer."

Shilar nodded. "I told you I haven't done this in a while. Just give me a moment."

"Take all the time you need, just make it quick." young Williams said urgently. She pointed the muzzle of her pistol aimed at tracking the movements of the ever encroaching varren.

A lithe sinewy form lunging out the shadows, growling, and snapping barrelled towards the women. Its eyes as red as its sleek scaled hide, its teeth as bright and as dangerous as the jiggered glitter of broken glass. Backed between two boulders, Abby fired. The angle was wrong the bullet splintering stony earth at her feet as the varren jumped at her, growing deep in its throat. Shots rang out, again and again some going wild. Its head exploded with the next shot that Abby could have sworn missed.

'They are making the noise to scare you, are you the monster or them? You're a Williams for crying out loud stop being a pansy. Steady of arm and hand, steady of eye, steady of shot.' Those last words were those spoken by her firearms mentor, the man who gave her instruction. The sound of guttural and primal shrieks of fury withered behind stone walls.

At the same time Shilar felt the queer sensation of rising anxiety the taste of bile in her mouth. She was never any good at her biotics. She had only ever reached ten-beans in the echo game. Ten! Sighing the asari lifted her hand once more allowing the arcane power to fill her body and mind.

'I have to relax. Slow steady breaths. Open my mind…Embrace Eternity.' She lifted her hand to the rocks that lay scattered across the floor of the cavern. They shifted unsteadily, but lifted. Skills long left sleeping woke with a fury as one roused from nightmare. Boulders slammed into the far South wall. A ferocious clamour cracked, booming its earthen voice above the braying of hounds.

Shilar's world span, she felt her arm grabbed and her body propelled forward, her feet tripping over themselves.

"Great job, now we have to get the hell out of here!" Abby screeched yanking the asari along with her.

Clouds of dust billowed forth, coughing out of the mouth in great spasms.

"If you wanted to pull a Shepard, you most certainly have." said Chells. "Big results, big explosions, the dead of our foes strewn everywhere."

"I would hardly call trapped within a cave strewn everywhere." Abby said. "It worked didn't it?"

"Yes it worked but now we're out of shelter." Jahleed complained.

"We were out of shelter when that pack of varren were set upon our scent." Shilar said. "Do not complain now volus in the manner of which you live. You are a craven and as such you have not the voice nor call to say in the manner of which you are saved. Be grateful you are not food for fishdogs."

"He's right though." Juliana said. "We must find new shelter."

"I know where we can go." Shilar said pointing towards a path leading deeper into the woods, into a grove of towering old growth giants. "Those trees grow on Thessia as well as here. They grow strong and thick as any of Earth's redwoods. We'll find shelter there as well as food."

"Why didn't you say anything before?" Chells asked. "We could have avoided that whole mess with the cave and the varren and everything that has befallen us so far."

"I wasn't leading was I? Abigail didn't ask for opinions or advice she took the lead assuming it was hers because her sister is the Spectre's right hand."

"What do you expect? She's Earth clan; they always assume they should already be in charge." Jahleed said.

"That isn't fair!" Lizbeth snapped coming to her fellow human's defence. "Abby came forward to lead us when no one else did."

"Look you want to lead, go ahead Shilar. Take us to these magnificent trees of yours." Abby said blithely.

"Ithiliend, the trees are called." Shilar said. "In the ancient days when my people still huddled in caves they would harvest the fruit, blossoms, leaves and bark from the trees. From their leaves my ancestors wove ropes, clothing and canvases for sails to propel ships made from her wood. From her bark and pitch kayaks were constructed. Ithiliend limbs lent their strength to our bows, tridents and spears. Her sap gave us amber and once distilled it gave us sweet syrup to cover our breads. Her fruit gave us nourishment and sweet summer wines. Her blossoms gave us blessings to sacrifice to the Goddess."

As they drew nearer to the woods the great grandeur of the trees was overwhelming, their girth too much for the mind to take in at once. Whole cities could be held within the very branches of the trees, imaginations nearly created them in such lofty green glory.

"If they are so wondrous, why then did the asari huddle in caves?" Chells asked. "Would it not be safer to live within these great boughs?"

"You mistake me, Chells. Perhaps you have forgotten my people were once far more amphibious then we are today. Though still beings of the ocean we are likened to the whales rather than the sharks. But the seas and ocean are ever our home.

"The caves my people called home were not land-based, but vast underwater caverns linked together in winding labyrinths. On Thessia there are many such caves. Once you dive into the great deep of the oceans you will find the after passing these mouths of these caverns in dry chambers. Whole cities lay hidden beneath the mother oceans, safely tucked away form land based predators."

"And the predators of the deep?" asked Juliana out of true hunger for knowledge.

"Avoidable enough if you know how. Apparently my ancestors possessed that knowledge, or the asari people would not be alive this day."

"If we take to the trees, the legacy of the asari aside we might just win this game of survival of Wrex's. I say we start climbing." Abby put forward.

"I'm not made to climb and I don't trust that one's biotics enough to lift me." Jahleed pointed to Shilar. "Shepard or T'soni yes, you not a chance."

"Then stay on the ground volas." the woman answered curtly. "Our chances of survival might go up without dragging you along."

"Let's not make any hasty decisions based on tempers made from exhaustion and hunger." Juliana said in a mother's voice. "Jahleed if you stay on the ground it is well enough. We will set up a watch so you will not be vulnerable as you sleep and when you are on watch you should be alert enough to raise an alarm should anything happen.

"Shilar, you said your people fashioned weapons from the limbs and boughs of these great trees then we can likewise." the elder Baynham reached out and touched the massive leaves, to her they were not unlike the leaves of umbrella trees or banana trees but three times greater that size. "You'll have shelter Jahleed, if we build a lean-to from these leaves and twigs. Come let us show these soldiers, theses warriors that egg-heads are capable of overcoming the odds of surviving the wilds."

For once no one argued.

Hearing about the in-fighting of the scientists it did not trouble Shepard as much as the lab-coats might have feared. To the Spectre it was not unlike the bickering, fisticuffs and silver-tongues found amongst raw cadets in boot-camp. Of course that stopped once dominance was hard won and the alpha rose to lead the squad and thereafter the platoon.

"Am I right in guessing that these ancient trees had something to do with the condition you are all in?" Shepard asked and again it was Shilar who answered.

"It was. The fruit caused a most unfortunate reaction in the volas's digestive tract. Cap….Spectre, Jahleed annoyed me to distraction as he did the rest of us, but I had not known the fruit would affect him so." Shilar answered softly.

"Do you assume that I thought you purposely set out to poison him?" Shepard said coyly. "And what of Chells?"

"It was the blossoms." the salarian answered for himself. "The pollen. The air was thick with it the accursed stuff. It got into my nostrils and clotted there. Would it be I never left the Citadel!" he sneezed.

Unfortunate, but powerful antihistamines would easily clear up the man's malady. It could have been the tree or perhaps it was due to the simple fact that Chells had lived the majority of his life in the relatively sanitary environment of the Citadel. Some people were simply prone to hay-fever.

"That leaves my humans," Shepard said, "and their pink mud."

"It was the leaves." Juliana said. "My first clue should have been the texture."

"What do you mean?" Now the Spectre was intrigued. From what she had heard of the multi-purpose foliage of the ithiliend trees it was a lot like hemp.

"They were soft upon the skin, like velvet. Like poison oak and ivy back on earth. While we share much in common physiologically with the asari we are different enough that some plant life will have very different affects upon us. Or maybe it is simply personal. I am allergic to wool as is Lizbeth." the elder woman continued to explain.

"But Abby suffers as well." Shepard pointed out.

"Yeah, and I can wear wool, so we're back to the poison ivy-oak thing."

Shepard looked at each of the bed ridden scientists and turned to Chakwas. "Patch them up quickly. Williams, you said you were selecting your new team?"

"Yes Ma'am."

"Make sure they are all on it. All twelve of them."

"Yes Ma'am."

"Captain…" Chakwas said. "If I may… the scientists are not all hundred percent."

"Exactly. Since when is war gentle? Let them overcome the adversity of their own bodies and the frailties living inside labs have given them. Patch them up and send them out."

"Actually that is a little of my point. It's been a while since I was in the field. I want to join this next rotation. I could use a little exercise to get rid of the kinks in these old bones. A little field work will be a nice switch; S'thasa can patch anyone up here in the med-bay."

"You want to hit the muck Doc, be my guest. However I want you to meet with Dr.T'Shyn, the biotic specialist, first. She'll be joining the crew."

She could see the look of incredulity in the older woman's eyes. Before anything could be uttered out of Chakwas's mouth, Shepard spoke with a purely diplomatic and yet authoritative voice. "Don't worry, Doc she knows this is your med-bay and you're head of medical."

The Spectre gestured for the Doctor to take her into her office thus allowing them a bit more privacy. Shepard always felt calling this space an office was generous as it was not much more than an enclosed cubical with sound-proofed walls that afforded doctor/patient confidentiality. Only when Shepard knew they had confirmed seclusion did she relate the theories and speculations of the good doctor Kiang T'Shyn. Most of which had already been hypothesized. The Protheans, more succinctly the Prothean cipher. Coupled with the knowledge of Dr. Morzan Volkhavaar the specialist in asari neonatal care, the totality of the hidden effects of the bond were soon to be uncovered.

What they hadn't fully expected was the true affects of the bond and what the cipher had done to it. Yes there were written accounts of such close bonds between two asari and more oft than not between the long lineages of the pureblooded. Liara a child born of long lineages of purebloods believed it was the key to the bond and the gestalt.

They were looking in the wrong direction. They were looking into the ancient asari but with each new revelation of the Protheans biotics and their telepathic abilities it was becoming clearer that it was in their direction they should have turned their full attentions. It seemed the bond born between the two young lovers was not asari in the making but born of the Protheans. But was it purely Prothean or of a mixed blood union of that of the ancient asari as it had been with Matriarch Dilinaga?

In fact it was to her writings that both Liara and Sam had turned to. And why not? They had recovered fourteen of her lost texts and safely returned them to Thessia. Liara once told Shepard that Matriarch Dilinaga was one of her heroes growing up. Even to this day the heroic figure of the brave matriarch held a special place in the archeologist's heart.

When asked why Dilinaga was so important to her, Liara told the story:

Interstellar colonization sparked a golden age of learning and cultural advancement for the asari. During this time, the Matriarchs became obsessed with achieving 'ultimate knowledge'. To that end, a small but dedicated group chose to leave

Thessia hoping to find greater wisdom and true enlightenment elsewhere.

Within a span of a few years, twenty-eight Matriarchs left Thessia with no destination in mind and no plan to return. Only six were ever heard from again. Of the other twenty- two, only Matriarch Dilinaga's remains were discovered, along with several writings made during her journey.

The writings instantly became the subject of intense study and discussion. Hundreds of anthropologists and historians analyzed the writings and theorized on their meaning and importance to the asari race. For several generations, these writings were kept at Thessia Guildhall, the center for asari learning and research. Less than a century ago, these were finally made available to the public. Since arriving at the Farinah Museum, the Dilinaga exhibit has become one of most popular historical attractions on Thessia.

Liara was a frequent visitor, in fact her visitations were bordering on the devout. It was only natural for her then to turn to her hero for the answers she sought. It was almost ironic that the answers lay in the ancient days of the Protheans, and Liara being an expert upon them had not truly thought to look there.

"You may want to consider that your bond was born of the Prothean cipher but raised asari." Dr. Chakwas said at long last. "If you mean to understand the heritage of this bond, it means delving deeper and deeper into the Prothean memories. That didn't work out so well the last time."

"That was the vinculum. This is going to be different; we will only touch the memories within the cipher itself." Shepard argued.

"And how do you plan to do this without that accused thing that tried to make Swiss cheese out of your brain Sam?" Chakwas asked sternly.

"A knowledge bond shared through our meditations." Liara answered. "The cipher already dominates Samantha's nightmares and her dreams. Perhaps this will help make peace with them. We must do something; we must gain full control over this bond, lest it consumes us and destroys any chance for our future daughters." the asari's voice dripped in desperation.

"Liara, understand, I am not against this. But with all the two of you have suffered and had to endure, we must act prudently. I am your doctor and your friend. I worry."

Liara reached out and touched the elder human on the arm. "I know. We both do. This is why we want you to be a part of this. Dr.T'Shyn is a biotic specialist yes, and has aided several non-asari with CS which was why you sent us to her, but she doesn't know Samantha or I as you do. This is new to all of us, your thoughts and experiences will be most welcome."

"Ditto." Sam said with a simple smile on her face. It wasn't the most loquacious of answers but hell Liara said everything she wanted to.

"Of course I will be a part of this. This is after all my sick bay." the sternness in her voice never reached her grey-green eyes which were filled with an almost maternal care and most certainly amusement in her Spectre's monosyllabic response to Liara's speech. "This means however that I will forgo the venture into the field. I had best see to our new doctor's induction." What she didn't say was: 'and insure she knows this is my territory and those two girls are my people.'

If her soldiers hadn't needed her back on the Normandy to patch them up from their misadventures during the training sessions Chakwas would never have left Shepard or Liara back at the clinic. Their needs even with petty hurts greatly outweighed those of her favored two. Ever was the doctors' terrible and necessary duty of triage. Now the two had returned to the ship and under Chakwas dutiful and watchful eye.

"Since you are here, I'd like to run my own examinations." Chakwas said. "I know you are loath to have a physical as any marine, but I need to see the results for myself."

Shepard all but rolled her eyes. "Very well, get on with it then," Sometimes it was easier and less time consuming to consent than to argue over such simple matters.

When they emerged from the office the beds of the med-bay were vacant no doubt the former residences were harried off by a sharp barking orders of Lt. Williams. Shepard imagined the younger woman telling the lot to check their bitching at the door, it was only pain. It brought laughter into the Spectre's voice and filled her eyes with merriment.

"Scholars may not be galvanized steel but boiled leather can offer just as much protection to those who know well to use it. If they learn to use their own strengths they will triumph." Shepard said, paraphrasing a Prothean colloquialism.

"Perhaps they will take what they have learned from their time attempting to survive the trials of the woods into theses games of war."

"If not it will be a very short game. Pitted against commandos and marines they will not outlast the day if they do not find cohesion. What we mean to give them in strength and morale may well have the opposite effect."

"Trust in Ashley, my love. If my fellow bookworms," to this the purple lips curled into a smile, "do not find unification and cooperate no doubt our friend will slam their heads together and chastise them for not being smart enough to puzzle out such a simple riddle."

Sam snickered. "That she will."

When Samantha Shepard first began to utilize a more archaic form of speaking from time to time, Chakwas had attributed it to the bond with an asari mind. For the physician had been to enough medical symposiums with matrons to grow accustomed to its hearing. But there was always apart of Caroline that theorized it was the Prothean's manner of speaking and not asari. Now she was sure of it. The Protheans had a far greater influence over Shepard and Liara than she had originally feared. The legacy of the Protheans was a doubled edged sword salvation and damnation both.

It was nearly an hour before Chakwas allowed Shepard out of the medical bay. By this time the Spectre and her bondmate were famished. Normally the two took their evening meal in their quarters but tonight they opted to join the crew. It was good from time to time to put in a showing. Besides boosting moral by showing the crew the captain wasn't too good for their company it was a good way to soak in the scuttlebutt. As it happened Rupert had the Citadel News playing on one of the hall's public monitors. Emily Wong's voice as clear as ever washed over the typical din of the crew.

'The controversial tell-all e-book "Criminal Negligence: The Citadel Council and the True Story of the Geth Threat" went on sale at midnight last night and was lapped up by lovers of conspiracy theories and politics everywhere. Written by a C-SEC officer personally responsible for asari Councilor Tevos' safety, "Negligence" alleges that the Citadel Council knew the geth were traveling outside the Perseus Veil long before their attack on Eden Prime. Other revelations, such as the geth spreading to not one but five planets before their attack on the Citadel, are now being revealed to crank up the hype on the author's tour of the Council's homeworlds."

"Negligence is not the only controversial book to line the shelves. Political commentator Erlan Golta clashed today with Bryan Theodor, host of the popular late-night "Eye on the Stars." Golta appeared on the show to discuss his new book "Juggling the Monkeys: An Insider's View of the Tower." When Theodor accused Golta of being deliberately inflammatory in his portrayal of Council politics, Golta said

"Are you kidding? I could show you signed orders drawn up to book Commander Shepard on obstruction of justice. And this is from the offices of the Councilors after the fucking Battle of the Citadel." Messages both condemning and applauding the controversial writer have flooded in. When asked about Golta's guest appearance, Theodor remarked "It's always a pleasure. Anytime Golta wants to be catastrophically wrong in front of millions of viewers, I'm happy to have him on."'

Many faces turned to the Spectre some with forks or spoons halfway lifted to their mouths. One crew member Leda of Engineering, who had been deeply engrossed in the 'Waters of Kolono', the newest expansion for'Galaxy of Fantasy,' went as far as to pause her game. All waiting to hear or see what Shepard's reaction to the news would be. Murmurs started to rise:

"Did Shepard know about the warrant?"

"Surely Anderson would have told her. He would not sell her out, not like Udina."

"Why arrest her, when she was doing her job?"

"Maybe its because she stole the first Normandy to go to Ilos."

"Obstruction of justices? That's preposterous. It was Saren who was the obstruction."

"The Council was embarrassed by a human what do expect them to do? Admit it? Of course they what to shut her up!"

"I can't believe it was after the Battle, they gave her medals upon medals."

"Yeah a second Star of Terra, not to mention the Galactic Unit Citation and the Palladium Star! What nonsense is this where they award with one hand and punish with the other?"

"Politics. There is nothing more than politicians love and hate more in equal portions than a great hero."

"I want a copy of those books."

"As do I." Shepard said, stilling the voices of others. "And for the record, no I didn't know about the orders to arrest me. Corporal." She addressed the blonde young man that always seemed to be lurking in the mess hall. "Go into Nos Austra and purchase a copy of each book before the order goes out to pull the damn things from the shelves."

"Spectre?" It was Lilihierax (though to most he was called Li) who called out. "Do you believe the Council will pursue censorship?"

"Of course they will Li." Kenneth Donnelly said. He was always an outspoken defender of Shepard. So vocal the Spectre surmised that had he not joined her crew he would have been drummed out of the service for insubordination and with him would go Gabby. "They have debunked everything Shepard ever said 'bout the Reapers. I say we kick 'em in the daddy bags and tell 'em next time they need saven' they can go bugger themselves!"

"I'd pay real money to see that." Li said. "'Course if you did that, you wouldn't be a Spectre no more."

"No, I suspect not." Shepard grinned.

"Corporal Gunderson, actually I wish for you to purchase three copies of the book, I will have one of each for myself and I strongly suspect Lt. Williams will desire one as well." Liara said in her soft spoken voice.

"Aye aye." The blonde lad snapped a salute and made to follow his orders as swiftly as able.

The asari turned back to her bondmate and saw a very amused look in those cyan ice eyes. "You are looking forward to this reading."

"It shows that much huh?"

"Just a little. I wonder if 'Negligence' was endorsed by The Wizard."

"Now that is a curious thought." She bit into her warm roast beef sandwich. "We shall have to wait and see."

"I might think you are more curious about this signed document that ordered your arrest for obstructing justice." Leda said. "What I find curious is that as a Spectre you are not bound by laws, rules or regulations. Spectres are interments of the Councils justice so how can you be arrested for obstructing it?"

"Cuz the Council don't wanna be found out for cravens and liars." Ken said before stuffing his mouth with a large quantity of mashed potatoes. "She saved their ungrateful arses and they wanna go and put her in the slammer, that's obstructing justice if ever I heard it."

"Thank you Ken," The Spectre said diplomatically. "I'll have my answers once I ask the questions, for now however I want different answers to different questions. How goes the refit?"

"Oh no. You didn't." Gabby bemoaned. "Ken, don't bore the Spectre with tech stuff."

"Just give me a brief SitRep Ken; I'll get the full report from Tali."

A brief report from Kenneth Donnelly lasted three hours with much interruption from Gabby telling him he was getting too technical and reminding him that Shepard only wanted the basics.

Liara abandoned her beloved after two and half hours and retreated to the quiet security of the loft. When she entered she was quite astonished to find a fish tank aligning the left bulkhead. It held brightly colored stones of every color of the rainbow, three plastic castles, swaying seaweed, and a tethered submarine made to look like something out of a Jules Verne novel. The fish it held were those from both Thessia and Earth that would coexist without devouring each other.

There were Illium skalds, the blue spined fish native to the lakes here on Illium. Thessian sunfish, small brightly-colored fish native to Liara's homeworld. Prejek paddle fish, they were flat blue fish known for their odd locomotion and feeding habits. As a girl Liara always giggled at the way they moved. She recalled her mother saying that not all of the Goddess's creations were graceful but even the ungainly have their place in the universe. Clumsy yes but beautiful also.

There were Japanese koi, or more specifically the nishikigoi with white, red-orange and golden scales that would grow as large as the tank would allow. To many these carp were the perfect metaphor for the human race. They would grow as large as allowed and could quickly dominate their environment and those around them. They were almost bullies.

The tank was also home to Thessian jellyfish and leafy sea dragons that looked more like bits of floating seaweed than a fish. These had always fascinated Liara, and she had always favored them above their cousins the sea horses for their unique beauty. The sea dragons ate plankton so there was no need of snails to aid in the maintenance of the tank

Liara smiled when she saw a red ribbon upon the glass front. She placed a hand upon the glass watching the small Thessian sunfish darting to and fro like sliver streaks of light. She touched the ribbon then saw a small card attached to it. Turning it over she read: 'From your Trusted with our love, may it grant you some moments of serenity. P.S. Chakwas said aquariums are good for lowering the blood pressure and Shiala said they are very good for meditating.' Tali and Ash.

"Oh they are sweet." Liara whispered but only the fish were there to hear her words. Looking at the panel in the middle of the twin tanks she saw an automatic feeder set on a timer. Despite this a long fingered blue hand touched the button causing flakes of fish food to descend into the tank. It was a healthy mixture designed to meet the needs of all species within. Liara watched contently as the fish darted to the top of the tank greedily sucking up the flakes

"What a perfect gift." She uttered aloud. 'My Samantha will enjoy it so.'

AN1: I like Lady Hawke's default look so I didn't change it, I thought Shepard would look cute with that hair style. My Shepard even sorta looks like her, that and black-haired blue eyed Starbuck.

AN2: text about Matriarch Dilinaga used from Mass Effect Wiki, and text used from Cerberus Newsnet

Part 43

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