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 46
Calling Out the Bitch

"Attention on deck!" shouted Gabby as soon as she saw Shepard enter the barracks shared by all engineering staff.

Tali was sitting with her crew and by the looks of it they were playing Skillian Five. Though engineering division all shared quarters, Tali as chief engineer was afforded a cubicle of her own rather than just a rack. It gave the young quarian engineer a sense of familiarity with her old life on the Rayya, before her Pilgrimage, before the war with Sovereign, before knowledge of the Reapers. That seemed like a life time ago.

"Give us the room." Shepard commanded. Her orders were quickly obeyed, and the others scuttled past. Once clear, Shepard's expression became softer, filled with concern.

"Tali, I wanted a moment to talk to you. Specifically about the compilation you put together."

"Was it not satisfactory?"

"More than merely satisfactory, Tali. You did a remarkable job. Actually that's why I wanted to talk to you. I saw it the once with the Solheim kid, but you had to put it together. You had to watch it a lot more than that. How are you doing?"

"I've adjusted." Tali answered. "But don't ask me to do that sort of thing again." There was an edge to Tali's voice, Shepard had never heard before and yet it did not surprise her to hear it.

Shepard nodded and causally folded her arms over her chest as she leaned against a bulkhead that speared two rows of bunks. "I understand how you gained footage of Cerberus's attack on the Ideena, but that kid….the one with the broken helm he wasn't a part of their crew, was he?"

The image of the man flashed in both women's' minds. He had been stripped completely naked, but his body was not a representation of his race. It was impossible to tell what he may have looked like.

A deformed mass of flesh that made up the man's face was lumps, bruises, cuts and bum marks. All his teeth had been kicked out and one cheekbone had been caved in the other cheek gaped wide as if someone had slit it lengthwise from the lip to what could only be the quarian's ear. One eye was swollen shut, while the other… The other had both upper and lower eyelids savagely torn off by a pair of pliers.

It was an ancient method of torture: in addition to the excruciating pain of the brutal removal, the victim would go slowly and agonizingly blind as the exposed eyeball became dehydrated.

His body had been equally abused. His fingers and toes had all been broken, most yanked from their sockets. Every inch of exposed skin showed signs of being beaten, cut, burned or dissolved by acid. More to this was a kind of loamy, gray growth which had spread out from the quarian's wounds and spread across the skin. Cerberus's sadistic torture had not been all the poor wretch had suffered on top of it all he had contracted some kind of alien disease.

"His name was Veetor'Nara nar Neema. I was told he was on Pilgrimage. He chose to aid a human colony in the Tremens Systems, called Freedom's Progress."

Shepard knew the name. What had happened there haunted her mind. The buildings left standing, untouched by battle and yet all the colonists had suddenly vanished with no clue as to how or who had done it. The Council suspected slavers. And because the colony was in the Terminus Systems, the Council had no jurisdiction.

"Cerberus found him, tortured him and dropped him back there? But I don't understand why not just space him after they were done with him? Why do such a thing unless they wanted us to know who had done this to him."

"I don't think Cerberus wanted to us to know it was them, it was only chance that Neema discovered the truth. Veetor managed to send a coded transmission back to the flotilla. In it was footage of the attack on the colony. A sergeant Prazza vas Neema was sent with a squad to investigate when the colony went dark. My father said Veetor managed to set up a trade negotiation with the colony for foodstuff. No one is quite sure how considering he was never good with people, they made him nervous and unsettled. Um anyway like I said the colony went dark, Prazza and his squad landed at the same time as a team from Cerberus.

"From what information the crew of the Neema could piece together, Veetor had bunkered down in a warehouse and activated the security mechs to protect himself from the next wave of intruders. He had no way of knowing he was not only attacking Cerberus but our own people as well.

"Prazza was known to be a bit hot-headed more so after Cerberus's attack on the Ideena. No doubt when he saw their signals he went on the immediate offensive. Before Veetor was captured by one of their agents he had cameras feeding live transmissions back to the Neema."

"Tali, why am I only finding out now and why didn't you tell me sooner?" Shepard's tone suddenly became very hard edged.

The girl shifted from foot to foot. "You were on Illium at the time, and this Intel came directly from the Admiralty. Shepard, my father gave me this information, not because I'm his daughter but because we're hunting Cerberus. I don't even think they told the Alliance what was discovered.

"Academically the Flotilla knows that the Alliance isn't responsible, but Cerberus is a part of humanity, understandably there are trust issues. I…I meant to tell you…"

Shepard placed a hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "Tali, I promise you this, Veetor will be avenged. But you tell me everything, understand. You're a member of my team, an officer of this ship. Until you return to the Flotilla you are known as Tali vas Normandy. Remember that."

"Aye, aye" Tali responded, regretting she had given Shepard the impression her loyalties were questionable. "Shepard…I…."

"Nothing more need be said, Miss vas Normandy." The Spectre smiled in a way a commander does when a gentle reprimand was received and understood.

Tali did the only thing she could do. She saluted. "I wasn't given any more information. Veetor was tortured for information those bastards thought he might have and dropped back on Freedom's Progress. My Father said they were given an 'annoyance' tip that a team of quarian marines and one tech were found dead.

"When I asked for security footage from the Ideena, my father asked why I needed it. After I told him, he also sent me footage the recovery teams took in addition to my request. He said to tell you that when we find those that did this, when we find Cerberus we are to send them to whatever hells they fear. If they don't have a hell we make one for them."

"Hell only works against those who have a conscience, Tali. Cerberus agents have no conscience; there is no hell for them. They will get their comeuppance but I won't lose my soul over it, I won't let you lose it either. But I won't be soft on them.

"I owe my daughter justice. Veetor and the victims of the Ideena, Admiral Kohoku and countless others deserve retribution. I have never wavered in my duty, I won't in this. You have my personal guarantee, Tali."

"I know." Tali nodded. Even through the tinted helmet it was easy to read the young woman's expression. It was one of absolute trust. No, it was more than that it was devotion.

"Tali, there is one more thing I want you to do, concerning the vid you made. I want you to talk so someone in the Sanctuary about it. I don't care which of the clergy you choose, they are all accredited councilors. What you had to expose yourself to because the orders I gave you, I know it hit you. I didn't want you to deal with it by yourself."

Tali shifted; clearly ashamed she might be viewed as weak minded.

Again Shepard placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "If you think for one moment I haven't talked to someone about the crap I've seen or done you're mistaken. I've joined grief support groups to deal. A wounded mind is like a wounded body, if allowed to fester and becomes gangrenous it destroys. It's foolish to allow that to happen when you have the means to heal. Make sure it doesn't happen to my best engineer." There was a hint of a smile in the eyes that held concern. "Promise me Tali, you'll talk to someone."

"I will."

Shepard nodded and turned to leave the barracks when the quarian's voice called her back.

"Shepard? Thanks for caring."

The Spectre again nodded. "You're my crew; a commander's first duty is to her ship, her crew. And you're more than that, Kiddo. You're family. Mine and Liara's."

It could not be seen but Shepard knew there was a large smile behind the mask. "Since we're five by five, I have to go. I have a date with a mat and a padded wall."

Tali giggled. "I could do with a little exercise myself. Garrus said something about reach and flexibility… I don't know what that means exactly, but I think he wanted to teach me a few sparring techniques he learned in C-Sec. Down and dirty fighting of the lower wards sort of stuff, not the fancy moves Shiala and Aleena are showing you. Of course that would be silly as he and I are not biotics. Still I think I might enjoy it."

'That's not all he wants to show you, Kiddo.' but that part Shepard kept to herself. "Give'em hell Tali. Just make sure you come out on top. Pounce on him if you have to, it'll sure surprise the hell out of him."

The Spectre could have sworn there was a blush behind that tinted visor, but then she couldn't be a hundred percent sure.

"I…I think I can manage that." There was more scuffling of feet and hand wringing which caused Shepard to grin. "I've taken several antibiotics and 'herbal supplements' to bolster my immune system…." Tali coughed nervously. "Just so…um…he doesn't have…the…er…the advantage."

"Rriiight…" Shepard smirked. "Reach and flexibility…I'll have to remember that next time I 'spar' with Liara. Though I don't think I'll be trying that with Aleena. "

"Oh Keelah! That's not what I meant! Not exactly, anyhow."

Shepard draped her arm around the younger woman, whispering conspiratorially "Relax, Kiddo. Have fun." With that Shepard left murmuring about delicious prospects of introducing reach and flexibility to her Angel Eyes.

Oriana having limited access to the ship took full advantage of the areas she was allowed within. Once such room was the PT arena. A gymnasium specially designed by asari engineers for biotics to train and compete, allowing them to sharpen their skills. To use the ability to throw, pin or block objects were basic skills for any biotic. More advanced biotics used spatial distortions to destroy objects with rapidly shifting mass fields but to do so on a ship and do it safely certain measures had to be taken in order not to bring harm to the ship's structure. The walls of the biotics' training area were padded so opponents when thrown would bounce off and land uninjured

It reminded young Oriana of the gym she belonged to back on Illium called The Cube. The Cube was a franchise introduced by the asari to the larger populace for a twofold purpose. One was to make money; the other was to monitor the progress and ascension of non-asari biotics mastery over their powers. The gyms were very wide spread there was at the very least two on every asari controlled colony world and at least a half dozen on the Citadel.

Oriana presumed all asari ships had such gyms or rather as the military called it physical training arenas. Here the girl had hoped to watch the true masters of biotics train. She hadn't expected to see Shepard facing off one of the ship's doctors. Of course all asari were natural biotics and some were better than others, but it was a surprise to see a physician be such a powerful biotitic. The woman could have been a huntress, with her command over her talents. And to see Shepard in action, even if it was only PT, was a real treat.

She sat and watched as the famous Spectre faced off against the physician at the instruction of a fairly pregnant asari. Oriana was more pulled in by the 'coach' whom seemed to be suffering from some sort of odd skin condition. The commander's purple skin was slightly mottled around the soft neck folds with green. Her flesh tone nearly matched that of Dr. S'thasa.

Growing up on Illium, Oriana was so accustomed to asari that she hardly gave notice to the different skin pigmentations, which was as varied as it was with humans. Asari tended to be predominantly blue, just as humans were tanned, but there were those who were purple and some even and more rarely green. But Oriana had never seen an asari who had mottled skin like Commander Shiala.

Up until a century ago there had been a skin condition that afflicted humans called vitiligo. It was a condition that caused depigmentation of sections of skin. It occurred when melanocytes, the cells responsible for skin pigmentation, died or were unable to function. Its exact cause remained a mystery and it was rare – the incidence galaxy wide was less than one percent. It was possible to treat it with gene therapy in utero, if the condition was detected. Of course not all cases were caught early and if parents or in the case of the asari --parent, did not wish to undergo the risk of treatments to their unborn child, it left the possibility for the condition to show in later years.

So distracted by her run-on thoughts of the changes in skin pigmentation, Oriana was utterly taken by surprise by the sudden flash of biotic powers clashing. A flare of blue-white energy pulsed and vibrated as a beating heart. Such was the power of two warp fields clashing together.

Shepard was holding off Dr. S'thasa or was the physician holding off the Spectre? Neither one gaining ground nor losing it. The web of power slithered and writhed as a living thing. Snaking around the combatants like blue elemental serpents.

"What is the highest technique you hope to achieve?" Shiala asked as she circled Spectre and huntress as they dueled.

Oriana listened with attentive ears to the lesson not of biotic power but at the core of the philosophy of asari martial arts. It seemed this was the true contest.

"To have no technique." Shepard shot back, still withstanding Aleena's continuous bombardment of warp-throws. Her barriers were strong, but no barrier was invulnerable.

"Good." Praised her mentor. "What are your thoughts when facing an opponent?"

"There is no opponent." Shepard struggled to resist Aleena's throw. She felt her body slide back. It was taking all of her willpower to maintain the barrier.

"And why is that?"

"Because the word 'I' does not exist." Shepard gritted her teeth, sweat streamed down her face, her eyes now solid cyan. Soon she would have very little left.

"Continue." Shiala commanded, deliberately forcing Shepard to extend the very boundaries of her biotics.

Oriana was astonished the relentless stalemate was allowed to continue. Surely no one could withstand such continuous onslaught. No one could maintain that power… Oriana was considered to be a very powerful biotic for a human, but there was no way she could maintain that kind of abuse.

"A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good huntress does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When she contracts, I expand. When there is an opportunity I do not hit." she pulled back her hands causing the pulsing mass energy to condense not unlike the shock waves of a super nova.

Aleena suddenly felt her body lift and fly back against the far wall with such a force impact that had it not been padded, her spine would have been broken. "It hits all by itself."

Stunned, the bounty hunter staggered drunkenly to her feet. Her world spun around her and she promptly fell back down, right on her ass.

Wide-eyed, Oriana felt her mouth hang open at the martial display. She rushed to help the physician to her feet, but by the time she got there, the asari was already standing. Aleena ignored the human girl despite she was well aware she was there The huntress tapped deeper into her reserves and used a biotic rush to cross the distance gulfing between her and her opponent with tremendous speed and power. The Spectre tumbled to the mat by the sheer force of the impact. Her whole body felt like mashed potato slopped onto a tray.

"Remember Spectre, the enemy only has images and illusions. Behind which they hide their true motives." Aleena said stalking toward her prey, her body shimmering in element zero. "Destroy the image and you will break the enemy. Fill yourself with desire and see only illusion, empty yourself of desire and understand the great mystery of things."

Shepard handsprung to her feet, her body glowing brilliantly as she gathered energy into an eezo barrier to shield herself. What remained she readied to strike.

"The hit you refer to is a powerful weapon easily misused by the huntress who deserts her vows." This came from Shiala. "A huntress has to take responsibilities for herself and accept the consequences of her own doing. This code is not only taken by all asari huntresses no matter which city-state they serve but it has been adopted by the Spectres as well."

Aleena slammed a singularity into Shepard's barrier. The Spectre was strong enough to hold back the attack. Barely. She pushed the assault back, and once more they were at a stalemate.

Shiala steeped forward and grabbed the hands of both women, instantly breaking the contest. The air shimmered in element zero, erupting and silenced. "Enough. This contest will not be won. It can not, not in the way you are fighting it.

"When you face the enemy, you need emotional content." Shiala said, pointing to her head. "Not anger. Strike with meaning. Do not think. Feel!" She moved up to Shepard and pointed her purple-green finger to the ceiling of the room. "It is like a finger pointing to a constellation." Shepard looked at the finger, just as Shiala knew she would and smacked her rather hard on the head, for such obvious folly. The human winced at the sudden blunted pain, but stood firmly rooted at her spot. She was far too much the marine to react adversely to the corporal punishment. "Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory. Do you understand?"

"Aye Orthori" Shepard bowed her head respectfully as a student to her mistress. For that was that Orthori meant: Mistress.

From her new corner Oriana turned to the woman who had escorted her to her rooms back on Illium. Part of her wondered how the ship's XO answering to the command of the Spectre, could in turn become Orthori over her. Growing up on Illium she needed no translator to understand Asarian. It was her second language; she knew what the word meant, for she after all had her own.

"Lieutenant Nual, isn't it?"

"It is. Is there something you require?" Nual said evenly.

Now that the main attraction was finished the asari commandos took to the mats. Shiala commanded them to bring out the drums in preparation of the echo game.

The girl shook her head. "No, not really. You're just one of the few faces I recognize."

"Oh. Of course."

"In your training you don't hold back or pull your 'punches'."

"Only very young maidens starting the training in school do so. As huntresses we train the exact control over our biotics. If you instruct your mind and body to withhold power in training you will react thusly when in battle. It is the same reason when we fell an opponent in training we never offer to aid them to their feet. Or you will do so automatically on the battlefield without conscious thought of having done it."

"So that's why no one offered to help Dr. S'thasa to her feet after she hit that wall?"

"Precisely. Even if you had managed to offer her help when you came over here she would never had accepted. The enemy may have secreted away a weapon and you will be accepting help right into your death."

"But don't you risk maiming or even killing your sparring partner, or being equally hurt?" Oriana pressed.

"Only those who have mastered their skills to this level, unleash their strengths. It is a show of greater power to contain the strength with which you strike. How fast, how hard, how little to strike is the display of that skill. It is how we train as younglings. We devote thirty years studying the martial arts and that is before we decide to become a huntress. We are young when we choose the military, and from that point on we dedicate ourselves to sharpening our minds and body for that sole purpose. Our commando units are nearly unbeatable. One-to-one we are practically unstoppable. Woe to those that face an asari Spectre. And those that chose the life of a Justicar are far far more proficient."

"I've never seen a unit fight, but they say your commandos possess profound tactical insight, a hunter's eye and a dancers grace and alacrity. The turians say the asari are known to be the finest warriors in the galaxy."

"They also say that fortunately there aren't many of us." Nual smiled. "We do not need numbers when we have skill and the true understanding and complete mastery over biotics."

"Spectre Shepard held her own against Dr. S'thasa." Oriana felt slightly smug pointing this out to the asari. Sure the proficiency of the huntresses was remarkable but Shepard was all human.

Nual grinned then. "The Spectre is a special case. She is unique… I have seen her in battle, bore witness to feats of great biotic prowess. She was touched by the Protheans and they left their mark on her."

Oriana looked to the raven haired woman with captivating blue eyes in new wonder. There were so many stories about her, most of which she had heard from Macey still, until now she hadn't quite believed many of them were real. How could she? They sounded so fanciful and mythic. It made the Spectre out to be some demigod.

"Our enemies will not stand. Shepard is a Council Spectre. She swore loyalty to them, and we of the T'Soni Bastion of Armali have sworn our allegiance to her."

Oriana digested the words. That Shepard commanding platoons of human marines was to be expected; even having the aliens on her flagship team following her was equally expected. To gain the unwavering loyalty of asari commandos, turian marines, and salarian STG was something else.

She was curiously watching as the commandos set up a circle with drums and set up a secondary ring with smaller taiko like drums. She had never seen such a set up before not even in the dagro-túr (dojo) she belonged to. Her Orthori mentored her and a handful of other non-asari in the art of biotics, so why did they not teach her this?

She thought was all out of reactions, but when she saw Shepard flipping, twirling and slipping hurling biotic pluses into the vertical drumheads which had been hit with pebble sized beads. Shepard was echoing the ricochets of the beads sticking the drums; it was an amazing to watch.

"My Orthori never taught me this."

Nual scoffed. "Of course not, you're a civilian and not an asari."

The girl frowned. "So only commandos are trained this technique?"

"It is a training regiment our novice huntresses begin with and as commandos continue to drill in to keep our reflexes honed."

Oriana's eyes never left the martial dance the Spectre was throwing herself into body and soul. It was an awesome spectacle to behold. "But…but Shepard isn't asari."

"As I said she is unique. She is accepted amongst my people."

"Why because she married Dr. T'Soni? I know plenty of humans who married asari. Are they accepted as well?"

"No. Not as you mean. When I say Shepard is accepted amongst the asari, it isn't that she took one of us as a bondmate, but because she underwent the greatest trial a youngling undertakes in her first footsteps as a maiden. The Great Hunt."

"The Hunt?! You mean she hunted one of those massive sharks?" Oriana's eyes widened. "Kyra, Datlin and Malicho my sorority sisters talk about it. They went through it together. Datlin said she barely made it through; Malicho has a scar along her side from where the shark swam past her. Are you saying Shepard underwent that trial."

"She did."

But…that's so deep in the ocean, the pressure alone…it would burst human eardrums. Asari had the ability to breath underwater and their third eyelid allowed them to see. Oriana knew that the trial required the would-be huntress to be completely naked armed only with a ceremonial dagger and biotics. Surely Shepard had been allowed goggles, earplugs and a rebreather.

"And before you ask, yes she is the only non-asari to ever been granted the honor and privilege of the Great Hunt. It is not because she married an asari or even embraced our religious philosophies, as I said before she is unique."

Somewhere in her hindbrain, Oriana recalled Macey saying something about that tabloid reporter Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani saying that Humanity's first human Spectre was more asari than human and she had gone completely native. Ironic the reporter said considering Shepard's maternal heritage was Salish. The string of curses that came out of the normally shy and docile woman's mouth surprised all her sorority's sisters. But then again Macey was very protective of her hero and would hear no slander against the great Commander (now Captain) Shepard.

Sitting in the gym Oriana in part understood Macey's fascination with the Spectre. Watching her perform this afternoon was an eye-opening experience.

"This all can't be to go against Cerberus." Oriana whispered watching the training continue. "Can it?"

Nual turned to the young human, "To cut off the true head of the hound a force such as this is necessary. Cerberus however is a tertiary target."

"All this for a tertiary target? Then who….or what are the first and secondary targets?"

For a moment Nual seemed to hesitate. Then she said: "The primary objective it stop the Reapers. Despite what you may have heard on the news, Sovereign was not the only dreadnought. It was not even geth. There are more of them, and they are coming. We must be fully prepared to meet them. And so we train, continuously, until we are at our utmost state of perfect readiness. "

"Seven. Six. Five. Four." Williams was counting down. Around her a squad of marines both human and turian were stripping and putting back together assault rifles. All of them blindfolded. The young lieutenant walked around the soldiers watching them with an extremely critical eye. "Three. Two. One. You're done. Now!"

The metallic racket of assembly stopped.

Williams marched up to a young blonde corporal. She looked at him, the weapon in his hands. Her dark brown eyes, hardened. "Marine."


"You satisfied with that gun?"

Beads of sweat beaded upon the marine's upper lip.

"You satisfied with it to save your life? The life of your squad?"

"Yes ma'am."

Williams said nothing as she took the muzzle of the rifle and pointed it at her chest. "Fire."

"Ma'am…" the boy swallowed hard. He shifted the gun but Williams replaced it against her chest.

"Fire your weapon, marine!"

He fired, jumped when there was only a hollow click.

Williams reached down on the table picked up the assault rifle's firing pin. "Redo it, Corporal. One thousand times."

"Yes Ma'am!"

One turian marine snickered at unfortunate human. Williams marched up to her, got an inch from her face. "You find something particularly funny?" She picked up the corporal's rifle and pointed it at turian. "Is your rifle in order?"

"Yes Lieutenant."

"Has your trigger ever slipped?"

"No Lieutenant."

William's finger which had previously been flagging the trigger now coiled around it. "Accidental discharge can be... detrimental. Has this rifle ever gone off when not supposed to?"

The turian's mandibles flashed out in irritability. Despite the two training exercises she was one of the few turians who still resented having to obey a human. "What are you doing ma'am?"

"Answer the fucking question, jarhead. Has this rifle ever expended an accidental discharge?"

"No ma'am."

"You sure about that?"

"Yes ma'am." fear now settled in the woman's mind. On board a turian ship she could expect to be struck for the hint of insubordination she had given Williams.


"Ma'am no Ma'am!"

Williams grunted

"What is friendly fucking, or friendly fucked?"

The marine sucked in a bit of air, "Friendly fire."

"I think I'm going to have to retire because I didn't hear you!"

"Ma'am, when a target is hit by a marine that is a friend or friendly. It is called friendly fire, Ma'am."

Williams stared hard at the other woman who was a head taller than she was, but at the moment the turian felt three heads shorter. "That's right. It can happen during drills if the rifle is not properly maintained or is hot. Isn't that right squad?"

The troopers in the room all answered as one "Ma'am, yes Ma'am!"

"Golden Axiom of the marine corps. This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine." she moved the safety off. "Without my rifle, I am nothing. Without me, my rifle is nothing." She turned to the rest of the room. "I don't hear the words!"

The room shouted the axiom. "This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine. Without my rifle, I am nothing. Without me, my rifle is nothing!"

"The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and their rifle. Every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman. All other conditions are secondary. Is there anyone in this room that believes poor rifle maintenance is a fucking laughing matter?"

"No Lieutenant!"

"What about you, Jarhead? You still find it funny?"

"No, Lieutenant."

"Outstanding!" Williams's response oozed mockery. "I'm so glad you don't find it funny. In fact you find it so not funny, Jarhead that you're going to dismantle and assemble your rifle alongside your brother in arms. One thousand times. We are all marines here! One marine fails we all fail. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"

"Yes Lieutenant!

"We are defined by three core values, not by our species." Ash found herself unconsciously straightening her back. "Honor. Courage and commitment. The integrity of these values in installed in all of us, in our training. We are held to the highest ethical and moral standards, not just on this ship but as marines. We act in the manner befitting our station. Respect is a part of that station both given and received. To do less makes us less.

"Courage. It defines us. It is our forge of mental, moral and physical strength. It gives us the ability to overcome our fears and accomplish our mission. We stand fast, and hold the line. We face the challenges that would stop others, because we are marines!

"It is because we are marines that we gain our sense of commitment. We serve. We do our duty. When we enlisted, we swore an oath to protect with dedication and determination. Our resolve will always be tested. They send in the marines when the task is nigh on impossible because we finish the mission.

"Semper Fidelis. Humans know what this is. It means Always Faithful. This is the pledge to the mission, to each other, to the Corps. We make it to those we are sworn to protect. We make it to this crew, to this ship. To the mission. To Shepard. DO YOU COPY?"

"We copy, lieutenant." the room answered as one.

"Outstanding." this time her comment was not laced with sarcasm. "The rest of you….remain and keep count. And while you are doing so, you will repeat the axiom. One thousand times."

All heads glaringly turned to the turian woman. Had she kept her mouth shut, they would have been out and hitting the mess for chow. Of course the idiot human male who forgot his firing pin was no better. There would be hell to pay back in the barracks after lights out. And that was the point. They fought as one; bled as one and they would discipline each other as one.

Wrex had been loitering outside the armory watching the whole affair. When Williams vacated he was there to greet her. "You handled that skull-face fairly well, but there are better ways when dealing with insubordination from their kind."

"You know Shepard doesn't like it when we use racist slang."

"Shepard aint here."

"Her ship, her rules. She's always here."

Wrex nodded. "You got a point. So do I. A krogan shows that kind of disrespect you headbutt him. You know what to do with a human, but a turian? You sweep their legs and sent their scrawny bird-bones to the deck. Make them eat a bit of dirt."

"I think I made my point clear enough." Williams said. "I didn't need to send her to the deck. Having a hot rifle pointed at your gut by a CO, that's not something you soon forget. That kid in there won't forget his lesson either."

"You pulled a Shepard in there."

"I like to think I added my own flavor to the mix." Ash grinned.

"A bit of the point there, eh Williams?"


"Carve your own path and stop following in Shepard's shadow. She casts a hell of a long one, and she's got a set of quads on her, I haven't seen the like in a long time. Time to start casting your own shadow, kid. You want to make Shepard proud, she's your battlemaster, I get that. Make her more proud if you actually become that leader she's training you to be.

"You took the initiative to set up them training exercises. You're pulling the crew together just as much as she has been. And right now Shepard's mind is on a whole other game."

"Cerberus put a marker on Liara, killed her baby, of course her mind is on other objectives."

"You're not the XO of the ship but you're the Two-I-Cee of the flagship ground team. Shepard's hand-picked team. More than that, you've been named Shepard's Trusted. That aint no small thing, whelp. It aint just to stand up as a witness to wedding vows. It means you're one of two guardians of her family. I been thinking, our Spectre might have forgotten she's included in that. She's forgotten her firing pin. So question is Trusted of Shepard, what you going to do?"

For a moment Williams had no voice. "We stick to the mission. We acquire the package, gain the Intel and hit the target."

"And what target is that?" Wrex pressed.

"The Reapers. They are the primary objective, that's never changed. But it is imperative we neutralize this distraction. Cerberus is the immediate threat. They have painted Shepard and Liara. We will not be able to pacify them entirely, not now but we can strike back hard enough they retreat."

"And Shepard?"

"I'll do my duty. I will not fail her or our mission. And I won't let her fail herself. Just like you won't. Like the others won't."

The mammoth krogan nodded his great head, "Now you're talking like a Trusted. Like a warrior casting her own shadow." Wrex clapped Ash on the shoulder, causing her to lurch forward unsteadily on her feet. "There's hope for you yet, Williams. You just remember that when you talk to her, in case you know you have a one-to-one."

"Yeah. Right." Ash nodded, rubbing the spot of Wrex's "love tap". "Do the others feel this way? Tali? Garrus?"

The hump on the krogan's back lifted in a krogan shrug. "There aint' no telling what's in that head of that bird-boned C-Sec drop out. And the kid, I think that's sorted out soon enough. Then again she's T'Soni's Trusted. Aint none of us lost faith in Shepard, Williams. Don't think that. But I know pain. I know the pain Shepard's feeling. I lost five children to the genophage. I know this pain well. It's easy to become blinded by rage. I know what it's like to let it eat you up, and spit you out. And I know that if it chews you up good enough, you lose them that's closest to you. You gotta cut the poison out before it reaches the heart and kills, ya. But it aint my place to set her to rights, aint my duty to take them blinders off, I aint the Trusted." Wrex's ruby eyes looked solemnly at the young human woman. "But this old battlemaster will always cover Shepard's six in a fight; bird-bones and the kid will too, you know that. Aint no cause to question it, girl."

As soon as Miranda stepped onto the CIC of her ship, Yeoman Kelly Chambers greeted her. "You have unread messages on your private terminal Operative Lawson."

Lawson wanted to glower at the younger woman; she was far too chipper at this time of the morning. On top of that, Miranda hadn't slept a wink, she hadn't since her sister was taken.

Without a second thought Lawson opened up her messages. Normally she would have taken them in her quarters, but none of them were marked priority nor confidential as would come from The Illusive Man. There was one that gained her attention however; it was headlined with her I-Partner Connections id. LawBringerCR2. She would have deleted it for spam, but her instincts told her to open it. She prided herself on being an excellent judge of character. Her assessments were always right on the money. Besides she could only think of one person that might called themselves S³? Spectre Samantha Shepard. The origin of the mail came from Omega.

And so she opened it.

As soon as she did a rather lively if not antique tune belted out over the entire comm system.

"Who let the dogs out
(woof, woof, woof, woof)
(woof, woof, woof, woof)
(woof, woof, woof, woof)
(woof, woof, woof, woof)

Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)
Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)

(woof, woof, woof, woof)

Miranda snarled and hit the delete, but the music continued. It was intolerable. Cerberus computers had so many firewalls they were impervious to spam-bombing and virtually impossible to hack!

When the party was nice, the party was jumpin' (Hey, Yippie, Yi, Yo)
And everybody havin' a ball (Hah, ho, Yippie Yi Yo)
I tell the fellas "start the name callin'" (Yippie Yi Yo)
And the girls report to the call
The poor dog show down

Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)
Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)

Lawson tried muting it, the comm-system would not respond to her commands. The music continued pipe through the system, now the whole crew was looking at her. "Chambers, don't just stand there gawking like a fool, shut the comm system down!"

Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)
Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)

Kelly was frantically attempting to obey the order, but no matter what commands she typed into the holographic interface she couldn't shut it down. "I'm sorry ma'am. Somehow a virus got into the system."

"That's not possible! The firewalls installed into the system cannot be breached." Miranda growled shoving Chambers away from the comm-system and started frantically inputting commands into the comm-systems mainframe. "They were designed by the Illusive Man himself, he wrote them."

I see ya' little speed boat head up our coast
She really want to skip town
Get back off me, beast off me
Get back you flea infested monger

"Apparently they are not infallible. Whoever wrote that virus is better." Kelly raised her voice over the music blaring still from the comms. The refrain was now repeating, and to her left she heard one of the crew members say:

"Hey I like this old timey music."

The woman next to him nodded. "I know what you mean. It has a beat you can just sing along too."

Both of whom received sharp pointed glare from Lawson when they began barking in time with the chorus.

Lawson finally managed to isolate the virus and purge it from the system. "Shepard's little quarian pet." Miranda sneered. "It has to be. Shepard isn't that skilled at tech, not at this level." She couldn't help but admire the skill of the alien vagabond. She was good. Very very good.

"It appears Shepard is calling us out." Kelly said with a bit of admiration in her voice. "Or more specifically you out. The Spectre has a bit of a rock star's presentation doesn't she?"

"I'd say more juvenile." Lawson snapped. She was not at the best of times a patient woman and this prank was enough to send her typically frigid personality into mercurial explosion pure anger aimed any anyone in her line of sight. "This is completely unbefitting of her heroic legend. Spectre indeed! This stunt only proves nothing more than she is a posturing child throwing a tantrum. It is as if she is back in some low brow junior high school. She holds the blind almost religious devotion of her troops and yet she pulls something like this?"

'Who let the dogs out? How unimaginable was that to use a song (no matter how old) with the lyrics containing the word dog in it and connect it to Cerberus? This from the Hero of Elysium? The Savior of the Citadel? This iconic woman reduces herself to playing silly juvenile pranks? That made no sense at all. Any respect for Shepard, Miranda held was quickly fading. But her hindbrain picked up on the hidden message within the song, or the rather meaning behind Shepard's intention. 'Who let the dogs out?' Who allowed Cerberus? 'She really want to skip town.' Left Illium--gone to Omega, if the origin of the mail could be believed. 'Get back off me, beast off me. Get back you flea infested mongrel' That one was fairly self evident.

Chambers who held a degree in psychology knew this message was far more than a junior high school prank. It was without question a deliberate attempt to antagonize Operative Lawson, with the metaphoric equivalent of a slap in the face with a gauntlet, nevermind the beaded operatic white glove. Kelly knew that if she pointed out to Operative Lawson the logic she saw in this maneuver, she'd not only be heavily reprimanded in front of the rest of the CIC staff, she may well end up transferred. But there was a logic to it. Not only was the gauntlet now thrown it was picked up just as Shepard intended, with Lawson completely undervaluing and underestimating her enemy. It was a tactic directly out of the Art of War. Shepard as far more cunning and far more dubious than Operative Lawson gave her credit for.

"Maybe that's what she wants you to believe," hinted Chambers in a humble whisper. The young redhead knew that if she knew something and kept her tongue the Illusive Man would demand why. He terrified her more than Operative Lawson. She waited for the backlash but Miranda Lawson stood smoldering in her anger and humiliation.

Liara smiled conspiratorially at Chorban. The message had been sent, the salarian guaranteed that until the 'Dogs' completely scrubbed the system every time Miranda Lawson sent or received e-mails the song would open and play. The virus underwritten in the binary base code of the song would become as a Trojan horse and latch onto the matrix of the comm-system that opened it. No doubt Cerberus's firewalls would prohibit the Trojan from spreading from one computer to another, but the damage to Lawson's private terminal was the end goal.

More accurately it was to send Lawson into absolute distraction or as Joker might say absolutely bonkers. It was a tactic it seemed favorable by the human military to play music the opponent finds exceptionally annoying, very loudly and continuously in effort to drive the enemy out of hiding. According to human ancient lore the continuous playing of trumpets even brought down walls. The only walls, Liara was interested in bringing down was Lawson's sanity.

Chorban had a brilliant mind. After all he had developed new technology capable of not only scanning but recoding bio-readings of the Keepers. Something that had not been accomplished since the re-discovery of the Citadel. It wasn't that the asari a millennia ago were incapable of creating similar devices. It was their philosophy that prohibited them from pressing the investigation into the keepers. After a dozen died or self-terminated during the first attempts to discover more about strange little aliens, the asari proclaimed them protected sapient entities, not trained beasts. It was illegal to disturb the insectiod beings from their work.

Chorban however held no such beliefs was willing to push the boundaries even the ethical ones to discover the truth of the Citadel's custodians. The eighteen year old scientist could not allow things to rest, he had to know and Shepard's own curiosity had gained the better of her and so the scanning of fifteen keepers on the Citadel had commenced. Chorban was still working on the data but what he found thus far was astonishing. His invention and development of the scanner and his research was the primary reason Shepard had recruited him. And so far he had been a valuable member of the science crew. One Liara came to rely on.

And it was he that Liara had gone to when she came up with an idea to challenge Lawson. They had the bait yes and there was no question that for that alone Lawson would come for them. And her bondmate had ensured the Cerberus bitch knew it. But Liara wanted to push Lawson to the edge, into stupid and rash decisions. It was like sending small mass effect pulses into the water to tease and disorient the fraxon shark into becoming the prey rather than the hunter.

Liara longed to do more to the woman that represented the people who took her daughter. Her heart still ached for the flutter of Sparrow's touch. Absentmindedly her hand slipped to her empty womb where once she had felt the soft kicks of her child. The absence stabbed at her soul, the pain of the loss constant.

How ironic was it that Cerberus was as the humans say dogging their heels? Even as the Reapers were closing in about them these hunters were bound and determined to make an end of the very one who had any hope of stopping the monsters from the dark. The only one who could unify the races into a force great enough to destroy those that decimated the Protheans.

"We had our fun, now back to work." Liara said her tone had a surprisingly cool edge to it, which startled even the asari on hearing it aloud. "The footage we were given by the Flotilla concerning the attack on Freedom's Progress proves the Collectors are involved.

By now the crew had adapted to the idea that the Collectors were slave-servants to the Reapers. Now there was proof of the knowledge previously locked away in Shepard and (via the knowledge bond) Liara's minds.

"Collectors… sapient parasites…indoctrinated slaves." Chorban said. "How long before the indoctrination starts to fail due to mental instability just as it did with the Protheans?"

"It may have started already. In the memories of Regent Izu-Chuan we saw the unique weapon, something she called seekers. They are a major concern. They swarm upon colonies like locusts. They have been and are used to immobilize their prey. The Freedom Progress footage shows how effective this is. We need a way to combat it and the toxin they emote or we are already defeated."

"They are bio-engineered just like the keepers. It is safe to assume they were not constructs of the Collectors but the Reapers." Chorban had no issue believing the hypothesis. His own findings taken from the keeper scans proved as much. In fact it proved much more than that. He knew without a doubt, before Vigil's declaration that the Citadel wasn't really made by the Protheans. Before he knew the name Reapers he had determined via his scanning research the great space station was made by something far older than the enigmatic Protheans.

His quick mind surmised the keepers were introduced by the Reapers to be its organic custodians. Once more his independent project echoed what Shepard and her crew knew because of Ilos, the keepers were supposed to react to...something, some signal or something...about every fifty thousand years. He had documented that you can measure genetic variances; it's a bit like comparing rings on a tree to see the drought years.

Before Shepard recruited him he had sent his findings to the Council hoping to gain an audience. He wanted to prove to them what Shepard was saying was true. Around the last time this signal went off would be around the time the Protheans disappeared. And it was scheduled to go off sometime around the time of Sovereign's attack. Of course now he knew why it hadn't. Shepard had stopped it. By stopping the signal she had stopped the great mass relay that the Citadel was from opening and allowing thousands upon thousands of Reapers through. They could not engage in a war with the Reapers by conventional means.

"This is one of the nasty surprises I knew was coming. We must find away to shut them down. Or adapt our armor to withstand their attacks. So far none of the Prothean caches we discovered offer any true aid in that area. But I do have an idea, Dr. T'Soni."

"Lay it out."

"Integrated armor with subsonic frequencies to mask our bio-readings."

"Cloak us, like the Normandy's cloaking device? Are you certain?"

"Certainly difficult to make. But the upgrades should confuse detection. Making us invisible to swarms. Well in small numbers. In theory."

"In theory? That sounds promising." Lira said sardonically.

"Experimental technology. Only test is contact with seeker swarms."

"And if it fails, we lose more lives to the Collectors."

"Seekers seem only interested in humans. Left young quarian alone. I know quarian environmental suits. They are not set up to mask life signs unless geth involved. Investigated this prospect, used as a base to create shielding from seeker swarms. Also incorporated detection tech from keeper scanner. May have to send a non-human team to investigate."

"Shepard will never agree to that. She will assume responsibility and test the upgraded armor herself. If swarms are not interested in non-humans then how can we effectively test the upgrades?"

"Be easier if we had specimens to collect raw data from."

"We don't. We start making the prototypes with what data we have. Reversal of the keeper scanner's maybe the keystone, a place to start."

"Agreed." Chorban nodded.

"I wonder if it is not advisable to ask the Wereth'Bol for assistance."

Chorban's eyelids blinked. "Communication with them is difficult. They speak only to biotitics. Even then their language is circular."

"But they were created to destroy the machine devils, these seeker swarms may very well be the Reapers variant on our micro-allies. We must be open to ideas, Chorban even the smallest chance of hope of success is a chance worth investigating."

The salarian nodded. "I suppose you are correct. After all it was said to be impossible to scan the keepers and yet I invented a device that does. One must be able to test the boundaries of theoretical knowledge and accepted hypotheses. One of my professors was always fond of pushing scientific discovery. You'd like him, Dr. T'soni. His name was Mordun Sullus. Old for a salarian, past fifty!"

Liara was about to suggest they contact him, but upon hearing his name she recanted. "Then he passed?"

"Not at all. He has a clinic on Omega."

"Perhaps it is time for a reunion?" Liara prompted.

"I'll make the call, Doctor." Chorban smiled. "In any event it will be good to see him once more. Even if you have to put up with the Patter Song, while he works."

Liara's half frowned in curiosity. "The what?"

"He likes the human music of Gilbert and Sullivan." a three fingered hand rose in the air. "Don't ask."

"Samantha, I must ask why are you truly going for Lawson?" Shiala asked of the Spectre after they had retreated into the captain's cabin. Shiala had expressed a desire to speak with Shepard in privacy, a wish the human had granted.

"To bring down the enemy you must first destroy their infrastructure. Miranda Lawson for Cerberus, the Collectors for the Reapers. They will fall. They must fall."

"So this is only tactics? Nothing more?"

Shepard didn't care for the implied tone the newborn conversation was developing.

"Extrapolate." The single word became an order.

Shiala nodded her head once. "Then I shall speak freely either as your XO or as your Orthori. The role is irrelevant; the words will be the same. However I need to give you context."

Feeling this was going to be a long conversation, Shepard led the matron over to the sofas. Before sitting herself she went to the mini-fridge took out two high glucose energy drinks and a couple of protein bars. After PT drills Shepard was always a bit hungry, and her body needed refueling after extraneous use of her biotics. She had learned early on a little pick-me-up delayed any adverse reactions. The draining feeling was not unlike those experienced by someone with low blood-sugar. Being irritable and lethargic was something no soldier let alone the ships CO could ever afford.

Shepard sat down, tore open the protein bar and took a rather sizable bite from it. Asari recipes always seemed more palatable than the variety the Alliance military came up with. Shepard always found they had the consistency of gravel and tasted of old mildewed cardboard. For herself, Shiala opened the juice bottle and indulged into a long drink before she once more found her voice.

"The Lady Benezia would tell her acolytes, 'we are the sum of our actions; we can sow harmony or discord: Dissidence and harmony are a part of the same tree. Tyranny is just as dangerous coming from within as without. One must examine the source. Your abilities are so above those around you there is the temptation to set everything right by might alone. That is tyranny within. Soon you may come to realize that indirect action is too ineffectual. You may feel it necessary to enforce your will so the crime never takes place and you become the oppressor when all you wanted to do was to make things right. This too is tyranny within.'"

"Are you telling me I am in danger of becoming a tyrant or that I already am one?" Shepard set down the empty wrapper of the protein bar, her sapphire eyes smoldering with frozen fire challenging the asari.

"Read into my words what you want. What I am saying is that you changed things. There is no going back."

Shepard snapped, rising to her feet. "I am a Spectre, sworn to bring down evil, traitors, criminals, the enemies of Council space. Before that I served the Systems Alliance. I am an N-Seven marine. Until my dying breath I shall always be an N-Seven marine. What do you expect me to do, Shiala?"

"Endure. You can make a choice. No one can make you choose to do the right thing."

"The right thing?" she moved into the area behind the sofa that separated the loft from the 'living area' to the bed. "Cerberus is a force of pure terrorism; the right thing is to shut them down. They are malign. They need to be put down like the mad dogs they are."

"I wouldn't say that terrorism is malign, because I don't think any form of warfare is malign. I think it is atrocious." Shiala said with the perceptive wisdom of the Matriarch she would not be for another five hundred years. "But it's a peculiar that one form of warfare should be regarded suddenly as being not on."

"I will not allow Cerberus to go uncountable for their actions. I will not let them free to rampage. The Illusive Man is subtle deceitful creature. He is a cancer … a sprawling parasitical shadow deep in the heart of racism."

"I did not say you should allow them to go free."

"Your words circle on themselves, Orthori." Her anger now under control, Shepard returned to the sofa and sat down heavily.

"I am not speaking of you. But your bondmate."


"You know your beloved far more deeply than I, but I've known her for hundred and seven years, and I've known her mother far longer than that. The T'Sonis always pay their debts, and Liara has the temperament of her parents. The three of them, Benezia, Shi'ara and Aethyta. Especially Benezia and Aethyta. "

That gave Shepard pause.

"I've disrupted a deep thought. I can see it growing dimmer in your mind."

"Aethyta? The matriarch bartender from the Eternity Lounge? I thought she was Liara's muinthel."

"She was the third in an unspoken triad." Shiala sighed "I will attempt to explain. When I joined in a knowledge-bond with you, I learned quite a bit about you, Shepard. More perhaps than you desired me to know."

Shepard became guarded. "What did you learn?"

"All you knew was peripheral knowledge of the Spectres. They answered only to themselves, laws and regulations did not govern them. It was a drastic switch for a child raised by naval officers. You were granted early enrollment for enlistment. Records show you were eighteen, when in fact you were five months shy of your birth date.

"Apparently the marines allowed it to slide, perhaps because of your mother, perhaps because of your own inherent talents. I know that you didn't care; all that concerned you was ensuring you did your duty. That you were a Shepard. You hold with near desperation to remain true and honest to your conscience and to the high code of honor you set for yourself. To be a guardian, a protector.

"In short order your service to the Alliance changed when you become a Spectre. The Alliance had no intention of allowing you to slip free from their command and yet you had. You chose to remain with the Spectres rather than your career with the Alliance Military, with the N-Sevens. Something you still take enormous pride in, and in fact you're quite protective in case someone dishonor the legacy. "

"That's common knowledge." Shepard said dismissively, relaxing a bit.

"On the surface yes, but what isn't common knowledge it that you fear to waver from the path you set yourself, you fear the dark within. That fear motivates almost all your actions. You keep the dark incarcerated. "

Shepard's teeth ground against each other. That was not common knowledge. Though it did explain the strange expression Shiala held after the bond was severed. Shepard had always believed it was because she had assumed Shiala had never melded with a human before. Now it was much clearer. Separating her thoughts from that moment Shepard said: "What did you learn of Benezia or Saren when you linked with them? You did learn something or why drag this out?"

"Of Saren? The birth of his hate for humans. Yes his brother was killed by humans during the First Contact War. But what is not exactly known is how General Desolas Arterius died. It involved a relic and three humans. Two males: Jack Harper, Ben Hislop and a female Eva Coré."

Shepard's mind pounced. "Relic? What sort of relic?"

"At the time I don't think they truly knew what had, they related to the legend of the Valluvian Priests. But after Sovereign, Saren knew it to be Reaper. It changed all three of them, Desolas, Harper and Hislop. And a dozen of others were all altered, like Saren was at the end."

Desperation flashed in the human's eyes. "What else? There has to be something more!"

"There is no doubt, but I do not know it. The transfer of knowledge is accidental save for Matriarch Benezia and what she deliberately gave me."

"And what was that?"

"Liara never knew her siring parent until the day of her mother's funeral when your mother forced Shi'ara to step up and reveal her identity. Benezia…was a strong woman, with a strong mind. She was capable of sealing a part of herself away even from Sovereign, but she allowed me to see that which she hid for a hundred and six years. Perhaps because a part of her regretted sending me to what would have been my death, one I volunteered for. Had it not been for you, it would have been. Matriarch Benezia gave to me the greatest of all knowledge."

The pit of Shepard's stomach churned. She knew what the asari was going to say, but the Spectre held up her hand. "No. Don't say more. I will not lie to Liara and if you tell me what I think you will I may have to. This is not something to be dealt with now, and I don't know why you are trying to do it."

"I told you once before the T'Sonis have a fierce anger in them that is slow to burn out. If a T'soni sinks her teeth into her quarry they will tear it apart, not unlike the shark. You saw it with Matriarch Benezia and it killed her. Do not allow Liara's anger to overcome her. For it will, until she is blind to all else, even you.

"The scientists say that gaining traits from our siring parent is drivel, but Liara's siring parent…she….is outspoken and stubborn, and has been known to rebel against the norm. And she holds a unique wisdom, a gift of words that some choose not to listen to, many have not. It was the reason she left Thessia. Liara has that gift, she too has rebelled against the norm, or else she would not have become an archeologist, continued digging in old ruins in solitude, isolated from kith and kin for decades. When you capture this Miranda Lawson, Shepard….either Liara's rage or her isolationism will gain the better of her if you allow it. You cannot."

"They killed our child! Her rage is more than justified!"

"It is, Spectre. But at what cost? Her soul's peace, the children yet to come, your love for one another? Remember the fate of Ksad Ishan…Vigil. Her rage destroyed it, until there was naught left but slag. She did not think, she reacted. To save you yes, but she did not hesitate. Rage consumed her.

"Let true justice not vengeance be served. You intend to confront Lawson with the vid you had Tali create and then have her answer accusations with Oriana listening. And if all goes according plans that girl will by youthful impetuousness face Lawson and demand more answers. Seeing her younger sister, knowing she saw the vid and heard the denials that surely will follow will crush Lawson's spirit, allowing you to get into her mind."

"Yes, that is the intention."

"Do you think Liara will allow Lawson to live? Do you think she will forgive you if you allow another traitor to slip away with her life as Merkson had? You eased that travesty, with the knowledge that Stevenson was going to be executed and Merkson will never clap eyes on his get and will spend his life in prison. But Lawson is a pure representation of those that killed your child. Will you let Lawson go after this? Can you?"

"Lawson will not be freed. She will go to prison."

"Please tell me you are not as naive to actually believe that! Cerberus will never allow it. And by sending Lawson to prison you will condemn many more to death. Cerberus will send another agent, an assassin to free her. This assassin or possibly more will come after us of course. We are prepared to face them; after all it is a specialty of asari commandos. And the flagship team will never allow them success. Question is how far are you willing to go to protect this Lawson woman from a Cerberus assassin or your bondmate?"

Shepard turned from her mentor to cast her eyes upon the aquarium. Its blue light cast an eerie glow to her caramel skin. "Do you know when I dream, I no longer dream as a human? As my true self? I dream in the thoughts and the voices and memories of the Protheans. When I dream at all and am not just plagued by nightmares."

"Tell me."

"What can I tell you that you don't already know? You are haunted by these same dreams and more."

Shiala nodded "You already know I suffer as I did when I was under the thorian's control, with the headaches and muscle spasms. I fear if I were back on Faros I'd be sharing these sensations with other Thorian victims."

Shepard nodded. But Shiala suffered far more.

"My dreams are vivid from my time with the thorian, not just the cipher. Then there is the changing of my skin pigment. Aleena deliberately changed hers to go undercover. Me…." the matron did not need to finish the sentence.

Shepard's eyes became soft and saddened. It had barely begun but as soon as Shiala noticed her normal purple skin was changing she sought medical attention. Now she was starting to match the deliberate cosmetic changes Aleena had undergone in order to disguise herself. Doctor Chakwas and Aleena suspected Shiala's affliction might be due to trace amounts of spores still present within her body. Dr. Volkhavaar assured both mother and Spectre that Shiala's daughter was not in danger. However there was the theory that fetus was partially responsible for the matron's contrition. By the time Shiala's daughter was born the mother would be green just as her clones had been.

Shepard had been pulled in to the medbay and given the full details. At the time Shiala had offered to resign and remain in an advisory role only. Which meant Ash would have to retake the position as XO. Before the Spectre made the decision she had to know the details, was the matron's illness making her incapable of performing the duties as Normandy's executive officer. The answer was no. Was she comfortable with remaining as the XO? The answer was yes. Shepard's response was as long as Shiala wished to remain in her position, it was hers. And so Shiala remained at her post.

"And there's more. It is not my pregnancy that stops me from fully training you; my biotics have become more unstable. I dare not use them."


"No. Please. Say nothing. There is nothing that can be done." What she didn't say was nothing that could be willingly done. Abortion was utterly out of the question. Even if the fetus could be extracted alive and placed in an artificial womb, the procedure was exceptionally risky. It was a risk Shiala was utterly unwilling to take.

"Your Prothean dreams." the asari changed the direction of the conversation. "You were already suffering from nightmares before the cipher. Once you gained the memories your nightmares and dreams became far more vivid. I dare say as vivid as mine."

"Haunted by dreams from memories not your own. Yeah that can screw with your mind. Waking and in those first few moments your words are your own but not in their delivery." Shepard snorted dismissively. "Well maybe yours, but certainly not mine. I'm not typically an eloquent speaker. Inspiring the troops to march is one thing, being the more continuously loquacious sort is another."

"Says the woman with the silver tongue." Shiala responded in the same dry humor. "But I know what you speak of. Feeling the words issue out of your mouth and knowing they are not fully your own. It is much like being locked away in Reaper indoctrination, though it is not."

"It's more like Prothean indoctrination." it was a repetition of words, Shepard had said before on a central theme of her worry that she was influenced by the shades of the Protheans.

"Tis only the memories, your thoughts are still your own, Shepard. Be mindful my friend, turmoil lingers and it will as long as you hunt Cerberus. Their glowering shadow takes form; they watch your actions ceaselessly. They are not so mighty yet that they are above fear. Doubt ever gnaws at them. They fear you Samantha, fear what you've become. Their slaves strike hard and fast against the worlds of non-humans. The attacks on the quarian fleet and the quarian boy on the human colony and countless others are the proof, and they will not stop.

"Cerberus will use their puppet Udina to destroy any alliance between our peoples. They mean to make a shadow war; you will be forced to defend your union with Liara---to extension with the asari to the masses of humanity. For they whisper in the dark you no longer know the color of your blood. Cerberus and Udina are tightening the noose. But for all their cunning, we have one advantage; we have the deep secrets of the Protheans. They may know we possess it, they may even suspect that we use it to save all organic lives. What may not have entered their minds that you will even see those who wish your fall saved from the Reapers.

"But first save your bondmate from herself, Samantha. Do not allow the darkness of her rage to overcome her. Do not allow it overcome you."

AN:1 I know in previous chapter I gave Oriana the family Baldwin but I changed it due to the trivia notes on Miranda where her last name was going to be Solheim due to the blonde look but TPTB changed it to Lawson. So I changed Oriana's last name to pay homage to what would have been Miranda's name. And did a bit of editing myself with pervious chapters fixing some errors and continuity issues and to change a few things to coincide with what we all know is in ME3.

AN2: Veetor's torture adapted from Ascension. With Shepard not on Freedoms Progress, there was no one to stop Cerberus. Jacob fans…not to worry….

Part 47

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