DISCLAIMER: Bioware owns the concept of Mass Effect and all of its characters. This fanfic is for entertainment and no profit what-so-ever.
AUTHORS NOTES: It seemed that Shepard would have been a bit more banged up than seen at the epilogue of the Paragon: saving the Council ending. I drew out the drama a bit more. Inspired by the Sam-bashing in SG1 episodes this pays homage to that as well.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter


Chapter 9

"They're both changing." The salarian Councilor Jorg said quietly. "Though it is more pronounced in Shepard."

"How?" Anderson was already aware of his protégée's altered alpha and beta waves in her hippocampus but this was something new.

The Council had gathered together the day after the Hand Fasting at Lei'cree's insistence. She had grown concerned over the small incident during the reception with the newlyweds broadcasting their affections for one another so strongly that everyone had been slightly affected. Fortunately the matrons and matriarchs present had been swift enough to dampen the lovers' libidinous projections before something scandalous occurred. When Lei'cree returned to her chambers she had ordered full medical reports on Shepard and Dr. T'soni. She shared her findings with her fellow Council members as well as the dire need to discuss the topic.

"Dr. Chakwas' report reveals that their endocrine systems are fluctuating," the other male said simply.

"Explain this please," Trace the turian Councilor nearly demanded.

"The asari and human endocrine systems work on the same principle, but at different levels and proportions. Those levels in both of them are changing in relationship to each others. Shepard's system seems to be tending toward the asari balance and T'soni's seems to be adjusting toward the human one," said Lei'cree

"Are you saying Shepard is becoming more asari and Dr. T'soni is becoming…" Anderson began, his eyes narrowing despite his rigid self-control.

"No," interrupted Jorg, "far from it. Dr. Chakwas isn't sure yet, but she thinks there is a trend toward a balance of levels between them. In other words, their systems will match."

Anderson didn't like the sound of this. "What effects will that have on them?"

Lei'cree drew in a long breath. "I have studied at length all the data we were given by Dr. Chakwas. In fact she was quite thorough in her exams of both Shepard and Liara. It is quite astounding in the conclusions I have drawn. You must understand exactly what the endocrine system does. It controls much of the body's functions. It affects appetite, thirst, the body's ability to withstand heat and cold and the ability to sleep amongst other things. If they are prohibited from Joining or sharing regular mind melds, they will have a variety of symptoms including possible dizzy spells; something Dr. T'soni has experienced numerous times. They will also suffer headaches; feeling washed out and tired at the wrong time of day, and maybe generally irritable, unable to cope with stress. Basically, adrenaline levels peek at different times for different people. It means their adrenaline and hormones levels will be in phase with each other."

"Is this due to their mental link, their bond?" Trace asked.

"Almost definitely." Jorg nodded having studied the data at length as well.

"Is this common for asari?" Anderson stared long and hard at Lei'cree.

"It is very very rare and no recent documentations have been recorded. When it has happened it has between two asari. This is the first time it has happened between two different species that I know of. When their systems became in phase with one another all the symptoms vanished and they were made stronger for it. With two different minds it is difficult to discern what will happen when they have blended so completely as theirs have. For now we can do what they are doing and that is to wait. We dare not interfere."

Anderson sat back and digested this. "What you are saying that Shepard and Dr. T'soni will feel alert or tired at the same time of day. They can feel each others emotions? If they don't share melds they become light-headed, headachy and grumpy?"

"Essentially yes."

"Then we have nothing to worry about." Trace commented. "Sharing melds is something they do quite liberally if what happened at their Hand Fasting is any indication.

"Perhaps. I think you have failed to understand my fellow Councilors the extent of their bond. Their minds have merged so completely to the point that they are neither asari nor human but something else and I don't know what that is nor does Dr. Chakwas. I doubt even asari physicians will know."

"This is connected to Shepard's melds with the Prothean beacons, isn't it?" Anderson reasoned.

"That might have been the catalyst but their link goes beyond that. I believe this connection was more due to the fact Liara was using her body to keep Shepard alive for so long, they never truly separated. This is speculation but the theory fits." Lei'cree said. "They were already master biotics, now their powers have been enhanced and have become intermingled. Huntress Shiala told me that she had witnessed Shepard summon not only a warp-throw but a stasis-singularity during the Great Hunt. The only other person I know of that had been capable of doing so was Matriarch Benezia. It is reasonable that Liara would be capable of such feats given her lineage. But for Shepard to do so is remarkable! Such power, such control has never been done in the history of humanity. I have touched Shepard's mind and it has the feel of an asari youngling, not human."

"What if anything will we do?" Jorg asked. He shuddered at the thought of Shepard following the path of Saren.

"We wait." Lei'cree said. "It is the only thing we can do, as I said we can not interfere. This might be a new evolution between two species. Even if we wanted to do something there is nothing that we could do. This is biological not deliberately orchestrated nor genetically manipulated. We can however insist that they have tutelage with a matron who can school them in dampening their emotions so they do not broadcast them as they did during the feast last night. I think Huntress Shiala will be an ideal choice. She had been responsible for Liara's early teachings and they do trust one another. With the Great Hunt as well as sharing the cipher there is a connection to Shepard as well."

"Agreed. We need to keep this under wraps. If word gets out they could be exploited by opposing factions for their own ends…or failing that set to destroy them." Anderson said. "They already have opposition for simply being the first human / non-human marriage. Captain Shepard and Dr. T'soni both will lay down their lives to save all organic life; they were willing to do so for the galaxy. We need to protect them as much as they protect us. That reporter Khalisah Al-Jilani has already started a smear campaign against Shepard. She is the unnamed spokesperson for Terra Firma. Charles Saracino is using it as a platform for his campaigns, coupled with the death of so many humans in the Battle of the Citadel he is even gaining supporters from those that might otherwise have stood against the xenophobes. On the other hand the parties that desire more integration in the citadel space have used Shepard and T'soni as poster-children for their own agendas. "

"The best option is to remove them from control by any faction. After all Shepard is a Spectre. No insult intended Councilor Anderson but I believe it is in the best interest for all concerned if Agent Shepard was completely removed from Alliance Military's command." Trace said.

"Are you suggesting she resign her commission just after being promoted?" Anderson looked at his counterpart dubiously.

"She is a Spectre - her role, her duty goes beyond her race." The turian's mandibles flared out slightly showing his frustration at yet again having to explain a Spectre's role. He had to remind himself this wasn't Udina but Shepard's former commanding officer. Anderson was a military man not a politician. Duty, honor and service were his way of life. As it was Shepard's way of life.

"The Normandy is an Alliance vessel despite the joint effort in its creation. It will be in the flotilla that faces off against the Reapers, but it can not be under Shepard's command. We have an alternative." Lei'cree said. "Let us show you."

"We're leaving on the Ascension back to the Citadel, to catch up with the Kilimanjaro. Sam, if there is anything you want to talk to your father about now is the time." Hannah said. She had enjoyed her time in the gardens of the estate and had taken time to partake of morning tea in the lush and sanguine environment before she had to go back to the utilitarian world of ship-life. She also was greedy with her time and spent the light meal in the company of her daughter, and Liara.

"Why? He made his point pretty clear by leaving the reception early as well as what he said. He made a good show of tolerating Liara before but his actions later tell me he's nothing more than a bigot." Samantha belligerently ignored the 'mother's tone' in Hannah's words.

"I think the reality of seeing you married hit him pretty hard. And I don't think he was prepared for the customary gown of an asari bride." Hannah spread jam on some toast before biting into it. Discussing hard to talk about topics over a light meal made it easier to broach the subjects. Moments of uncomfortable silence were filled with eating rather than allow for festering emotions to go haywire and uncurbed words to be spewed.

The Spectre snorted but said nothing as she fidgeted with her own cup of tea.

"Samantha, I think maybe you should do this. I had not spoken to Benezia in thirty years and the rift grew larger and it became habit not to offer any communications at all. Now she is gone from my life and I regret not presenting a peace offering to her." Liara said diplomatically. She could feel Samantha's reluctance. She didn't want the repeated hurt of her father's rejection. "You will never know if peace can exist between you if you don't try, beloved."

Folding her arms over her chest, Shepard fought an internal war. All she wanted to do was leave the room and shun her father it would be easy and not much different from their previous relationship. Granted they simply fell out of touch but this….this was different. "Fine. But we see him together." 'I need you close.'

Liara tilted her head. 'I am always close.' Liara sensed that Samantha was throwing her father in at the deep end, forcing him to face the fact of their intimacy.

"But we see him here. He has to make the first move. I won't live in shadows, Liara. Surely I am no less his daughter for loving you? I won't let him make me feel wrong."

Liara pressed her forehead against her mate's, their hands resting on each other's cheeks. "I understand."

Hannah simply smiled.

An hour later, one of the bastion's servants showed Major John Shepard into the inner lounge. "Lady T'soni, Captain Shepard, your guest has arrived."

Liara caught in the midst of brushing Samantha's hair, heard her lover murmur a few choice epithets. She put the brush down hurriedly, watching and waiting for Samantha's next move. Major Shepard hovered near the door, obviously unsure as how to address Liara and unwilling to give her the benefit of her rank.

"Come in Major Shepard," Ever graceful Liara shifted from behind her wife and welcomed her father-in-law into her home properly by escorting the man to one of the settees. "Be welcomed here."

The major sat down on the edge of the seat, "Is it really necessary for us to have Liara here?" he asked his daughter.

"Even if Liara left the room, she'd know what you said." She replied evenly, squaring her gaze with his.

"Of course. That consort woman tried to explain Joined minds. It's hard for me to accept this asari mumbo-jumbo as truth, Sam. But then you are a biotic so I suppose it makes sense in some fashion even if you makes you dispossessed of your own kind."

"Biotics are my own kind, Dad." Samantha wrinkled her forehead in thought. "You could never accept that. Your stoic reluctance to face the truth doesn't make it any less of a fact."

"I'm not here to debate biotics with you. I was made aware by the Council how important the two of you are to both of our species, and I accept what has happened between you. The Prothean beacons scrambled your mind and Dr. T'soni aided you in sorting it all out. As a result you two are now linked."

"Can't you see us beyond the political implications? Doesn't it bother you that we are important to each other? Where do Samantha and Liara fit into your life - if at all?" the Spectre asked.

"I can't say it's what I wanted for you, Sam, it isn't." he said looking acutely uncomfortable. "I can see why you feel the need to be defensive. But if your relationship is important to you and you feel it's right isn't that all that really matters?"

Samantha stood up, hugging herself, "You don't understand it at all do you? I can feel it, Dad. Oh don't patronize me and tell me I'm wrong. You think I've made the best out of an impossible situation don't you? You believe it's an intolerable situation."

"I'm your father, Sam…Samantha. I want what is best for you. I've supported your need to become an N7. I supported you when you became a Spectre. I defended your reputation when Al-Jilani's news reports said you went rogue, stole an Alliance warship and became a mutineer because I believed in you. I believed you felt what you were doing was the right choice and gave you the benefit of the doubt. I want you to be happy." He tried to reach for her hand but Shepard took a step back unwilling to allow his touch. He let his hand fall. "I just don't think you will be happy with her. I don't see how you can be. Think of all the differences between her people and ours; their customs, morals - everything will be different."

"When we first Joined….when our Union was completed, I understood everything Liara knew as if I was her," the Spectre said softly, still staring hard at her father. "I know what it's like to grow up on Thessia, swimming in the ocean depths, practicing biotics under the watchful eyes of Shiala, sitting at Benezia's feet learning philosophy, religion. I felt what it is like to look into the far future and strategize small elements now that will have greater impacts into that future. The urge to rebel against the accepted conventional wisdoms and dive into the past. I know what feels to be touched by the quiet shunning of other asari because of my genealogy. I'm no longer just a human spacer. Part of me is totally asari, and humans feel as alien to me as you feel non-humans are to you."

"You're talking rubbish, Sam. Just because you know what it feels like to be asari...to be her… it doesn't make you asari. No matter how many sharks you go hunting naked as a jay bird you are not one of their kind."

"This is pointless…" Samantha growled.

"Please. Allow me to help you understand, Major." Liara intervened.


Divining her purpose, Samantha opened herself full into the bond that connected her to Liara. "Relax, Major. Close your eyes and breathe deeply." Liara whispered. "Embrace Eternity" the words meant so much, the unending cycle of life, death and re-birth, the energies of the universe touched in a single glorious moment of clarity. In that moment, Liara allowed John to experience what it was like to share such a mental bond.

White-faced, Samantha's father stumbled back, "Dear God-in-Heaven what the hell was that!"

"That is our Bond," said Samantha. "Now you know what it feels like."

"I…I could feel what the both of you were thinking, like a constant stream running through my mind. How…how can you live like that, so aware of each other?" He sat back down, pale and shaken.

Samantha turned from her father to the end table and poured him a cup of tea. "Drink this it will help."

He took a healthy gulp, then a second. By the third the tremors began to steady. "I…I didn't know people could become so close." He uttered quietly. "How can you stand it?" He looked from the cup in his hand to his daughter. "It is so intense, so domineering, dominating."

"Only to you." Liara said, moving to sit beside her beloved. "For us life would be unbearable without it. What we have isn't an ordinary asari bond though. It is more demanding."

"And more rewarding," the Spectre added. "Now do you understand?"

"Yes I understand, and I felt your commitment to each other, but I still can't say I like it," he said putting down the cup. "I am worried for you Sam. Would you have chosen each other if it were not for this bond?"

"The attraction was already there, the pull to be drawn together already in play, the bond intensified our love for each other and yes fed off of it." Samantha admitted.

"I see." He stood "Then I wish you all the happiness, Sam. Understanding and accepting are two different games, Kiddo. But I'll give it a go. I don't want to lose you over this. Since you entered the marines I was prepared to lose my little girl to battle, that's a soldier's life. When you became a Spectre I knew you would be facing dangers at every turn and I accepted the fact it might end with you in a coffin. I don't think I could bear it if I lost you when you're still alive." He hugged Samantha. "I'll see myself out."

Shepard watched her father go before turning her attention back to her wife. "Thanks for that."

Liara touched her Spectre's face, "I know the pain of never have known my sire, I do not want that for you. Now that I have the opportunity to know her better, I'm beginning to understand such connections are important." Liara placed a kiss on Samantha's lips biting her softly.

"You're not playing fair Li." Samantha moaned. "You know we have only two hours before I have to report to the Council."

Liara continued her administrations; her delicate fingers deftly traced the symbol of eternity along her lover's ribcage. "More than enough time to express our affections."

"An hour eh? Then we better get started." Shepard scooped Liara up into her arms carrying her to the large sofa in the lounge, her own lips kissing the blue skin of her lover's neck. She opened up her mind fully to Liara even as the asari did the same for her. The bond flared brilliantly between them, causing their desires to super nova in wonderful pleasurable crescendo.

"So much for a honeymoon huh, Captain?" Ashley asked during the long lift ride up to the penthouse suite the council had claimed as a temporary conference room. The hotel was not on the T'soni estate but rather in the spaceport of Armali.

"Oh I don't know, you can experience a life time in a brief touch of the mind." Shepard gave a sly look to her wife.

Ash looked from one woman to the other and shook her head. "Yeah I gathered. Last time before you ducked under that waterfall you two were getting hot and heavy."

"I believe the human expression is 'It was our wedding night we were allowed'." Liara playfully teased.

"Yeah but most people wait until they get to the bedroom to do…er…well…what you two did under the waterfall."

"You know the old saw, Lieutenant. 'When in Rome do as the Romans do."

"I think I'll stick to keeping things behind closed doors, Ma'am." Williams chuckled. "Besides you may have had an excuse but the rest of us didn't. I had to bolt from Joker and the bar scene; he was getting a little randy for my tastes. For a moment there I thought it was something in the booze everyone was getting a little antsy. But then the music started and hell who doesn't like a good dance?"

The lift doors opened to the private floor reserved for the Council. Standing beside the twin doors of polished cherry wood were two Asari commandos garbed in the brass and black uniforms associated with the city-state of Armali.

"Captain Shepard, you are expected; however this is a closed session concerning Spectre business, only you will be able to enter at this time."

"I understand." Shepard bowed her head slightly. She turned to her companions "Stand by. I don't know how long this will take."

"Aye-aye ma'am." Williams saluted.

Liara flashed an encouraging smile but said nothing. She watched Shepard proudly walk through the doors clad in her shining colossus hardsuit. Even her weapons had been polished and readied for use. The Spectre was back in the House.

Upon entering the suite Shepard was greeted with the presence of eight honor guards. Two asari, two humans, two salarians and two turians, a pair of each species represented on the Council - stood at attention in the circumference of the outer lounge. She passed them without acknowledging their presence. They served no true purpose beyond pomp and circumstance.

Shepard had grown accustomed to the Council antechamber's Roman style amphitheater, and having to stand on the Petitioner's Stage. Being seated directly across from the quartet was more unnerving than speaking in the great forum. She snapped a crisp salute before she stood at attention.

"At ease, Captain," Anderson said knowing the young woman would hold the pose until otherwise told. She went into parade rest, which was about as relaxed as Shepard could achieve.

"Captain, we called you here to address a rather problematic dilemma." Lei'cree started. "It appears the Alliance Military refuses to appreciate the gravity of your status as Spectre. Nor do they seem to be willing to understand your responsibilities, position and duties as a Spectre."

"I've spoke with Admiral Hackett and he admitted that his counterparts see your status as a Spectre something akin to being knighted and a special agent of the Council." Anderson said. "While they understand the duties of other Spectres, you have placed them with a conundrum with your service in both forces. Because you're still apart of the Alliance military the top Brass feel that they still have say in your orders and position. They also feel that you would be better used in service in a flotilla using your Spectre status to recruit new cadets."

Shepard frowned. She didn't like the sound of where this was leading. "You want me to resign my commission and they want me as a recruiter" It was not a question.

"You are already a voice for recruitment, Captain whether you know it or not. Since you engaged against the geth, Saren and the Reapers enlistment has gone up to seventy percent. Eighty-two since your speech during the awards ceremony," Anderson answered.

"However the issue still remains. Your service in both Forces is a conflict of interests." Jorg commented. "One can not serve two masters."

Trace picked up his counterparts thoughts. "When an agent is selected to become a Spectre, they must step down from any previous military force they belonged to. Their oaths of service is not forsaken, Captain but transferred. We did not ask you to resign your commission in the beginning because it served a purpose. We needed to test your commitment to the whole of the galaxy not just human interests."

"And if I didn't work out I still had my old job is that it?" Shepard looked directly at Anderson.

"Exactly. We also had to witness how the Alliance Systems Military would approach your status as a Spectre. You have been tested beyond the rank and file that singles out Spectres." Jorg said for the four of them. "We realize you were fully committed to being a Spectre. The time has come for humanity to fully accept this as well. In their trial they failed to appreciate the separate status you hold. They attempted to hold you hostage with your own humanity and service to the military. That can not happen again."

"The Alliance Military and ambassadors can not hold sway, rank or authority over you Captain." Trace said.

"I get the fact I have to serve the galactic whole just as the Council does even if it means at the expense of my race. I think I proved that during the battle over the Citadel."

"Your actions are not in question, Shepard." Anderson interrupted. "Quite the contrary."

"While you serve you will retain the rank of Captain, though in general the Spectres have no such command structure. As for the SSV Normandy you will no longer have command over her." Lei'cree said. And held up a hand to forestall the rage she felt build in the young woman before her. "Instead you will be given full autonomy separate and apart from the Alliance as captain of a new ship. She was constructed like the Normandy with the collaboration of all of the Council races. New human innovations have been recently added. The ship is dry docked here. She is a Council ship therefore you will report solely to the council as just as any other Spectre."

Shepard was a little stunned but kept her face schooled. "May I ask what class of ship she is?"

"Like the Normandy she is a prototype frigate but has been specially designed at first for an asari crew. Humans will be able to adapt. As an asari frigate she has a crew of 300 souls. Because of the newer necessary and revised innovations the Victory will hold 150 souls."

"One-Fifty? On a frigate? It was cramped on the Normandy with twenty-five, Councilor. There is no way we can cram that many on a ship that small."

The asari smiled. "This is an asari Wavecrest class design. Like the Destiny Ascension she is larger than her counterparts in other militaries of the other races. She will still able to land groundside and drop a mako. I know you are concerned with speed and stealth, believe me, Captain you will be well pleased with the schematics."

The turian Councilor handed Shepard a data-padd containing the stats of the new ship including a picture. Wavecrests were designed to look like the wave-skimmers on Thessia: a bird of prey that resembled a prehistoric pterodactyl if they were feathered. They dove and ambushed their prey usually marlins or small sharks that were sometimes several times larger than they. Their speed and stealth gave them all the advantage. The Wavecrests warship was molded with that attack style in mind.

Shepard gave a small glance to Anderson and she could be wrong but her former CO looked positively giddy. Anderson doesn't do giddy! But he sure was beaming.

"This particular Wavecrest-class Frigate is considered a mathematical work of art by its engineers. The 825 meter ship was designed with every single measurement, arc and number to be either a prime, powerful, or perfect number. The ship was developed by the math-obsessed salarians at the Jaedo Science Academy and manufactured by asari engineers here at Armali Shipyards." Anderson said.

Jorg picked up the conversation. "You will find that the Victory is a quick vessel, capable of lightning fast hit and fade strikes against enemies due to the Salarian ability to calculate complicated microjumps with ease." There was a small hint of smugness to his voice just then. "She is designed around the hit and run doctrine of the asari commandos."

Once more Lei'cree spoke. "The Wavecrest class frigate is best when disrupting the flow of combat by surprising enemies. The Victory will be able to microjump into the center of enemy formations, launch fighters and harass the enemy for mere minutes, then jump out again. A number of these passes would reduce many fleets with much greater numbers to wrecks, and cause many admirals to sound the retreat. The Victory also contains a hangar filled with four Turrian Raptor class assault shuttles and four Viper-class fighters and four Alliance makos."

"My crew?"

"The Victory will be the first true multinational ship. Your crew will be in the majority made up out of the council races, but also comprised of other Citadel Space species as well. You will be given a quota to match for each species but you are free to choose your crew. No doubt those who served with you on the Normandy you will want to post on the Victory. The pilot seat was even aerodynamically designed for someone with vorlex syndrome." Anderson said. He smiled briefly. "The Victory also has a very large seat installed in the comm-room and a krogan sized sleeping quarters kept apart from the rest of the crew given their territorial tendencies."

"However as this was originally designed for an asari crew therefore only the commanding officer and her partner have separate quarters. All others are in communal living spaces according to department; every member will have their own bunks, but they will be sharing living spaces." Lei'cree commented.

"That shouldn't pose a problem with the Normandy crew; we're accustomed to hot-bunking." Shepard said

"They maybe, Captain but other crew members might not be. I speak not only of humanity but turians as well." Trace pointed out. "There may be some difficulties."

"Either they adapt or they don't get on my boat." Shepard said firmly. "So when do I get to see this bird?"

"There is a shuttle waiting for you now, Captain." Lei'cree smiled. "The rest is simple formality."

"Look at her guns!" Ash all but shouted rushing to the porthole to better see the CCS Victory. "She's armed for heavy combat. Just look at those oversized guns."

"That's a massive twin turbolaser cannon, looks powerful enough to melt an ice moon measuring 1,000 kilmeters in diameter or pierce the shields of a ten kilometer- wide Grade Three battle station." Tali said in as much awe as the Lieutenant.

"Two long-range ion cannons will be perfect against Dreadnoughts. Thirty-eight point-defense laser cannons for anti-starfighter firepower, twenty-six twin turbolaser cannons. She's got fifteen…no wait….twenty flexible response light turbolaser turrets. Damn! The asari sure know how to arm their ships." Williams praised. "She even has five quad laser cannons."

"She was made for a Spectre in mind. I get the feeling the heavier guns were new additions to fight against the Reapers." Shepard pointed out. "She normally carries a crew of three hundred but they made room for a larger cargo hold to contain the gunships and fighters not to mention the makos. So we only have half the typical crew. She's 426 meters wide, height and depth measure to be 243 meters. She has 40,000 tons of cargo capacity and consumables for two years. She has three Tantalus core drives. She's capable of stealth flight and even comes equipped with a tractor beam and two gravity well projectors and extensive shielding. She can drop a mako like the Normandy and land groundside as well."

"Think you can handle her Joker?" Williams tossed over to the still silent pilot. "Or she too much ship for even you?"

"I can handle her." Joker said not without awe in his voice. "She just needs a careful loving hand, like any woman. I'll make her coo for me."

"Careful Lieutenant," Shepard warned. "You are seriously outnumbered here. Watch the innuendos."

"Yes ma'am," he said knowing there was a very delicate line between tasteless jokes and insubordination. He had crossed it on Virmire when he almost snapped he knew the drill of what was expected of him during that mission. Shepard had privately reamed him out for the liberty and said she'd bust him down so fast he wouldn't know if he was a private or a cadet. Since then he learned to gauge just what was permissible and what pissed her off. If she used his rank he was boarding on this side of a reprimand. Having suffered one, Joker was in no hurry for another.

"So Skipper any thoughts on the crew manifest?" Williams asked.

"Some. I'll go over the list with you after we take the grand tour of our new boat. I need you to collect all the department heads, Liara you'll be needed as well. You're the new head of Sciences. I know your specialty is the Protheans but I want a geologist and mineralogist, and scientists who deal with exobiology and zoology and toxicology. I want experts in general archaeology and anthropology, VI and AIs as well as botany. Never know when we will run up against some thorian creepers or some sort of mutation of it. I want to be prepared. I also want a larger team to deal with any and all Prothean finds we discover and already have.

"As I said Li you will be head of the department, you know who is best qualified amongst your counterparts in that particular field. I'll need to have Adams and Tali's input on engineering crews and Chakwas will be making a list of those she will need in medical. I want experts in all fields. I'll be evaluating commandos from all the council races. Ash you will be sitting on the selection process. As XO you will need to familiarize yourself with the crew, you're the buffer between them and me." Shepard smirked. "Not an easy job, believe you me. You're going to feel drowned in the paperwork alone. It's heavier than you had to deal with as a platoon, squad or unit leader. Trust me."

"Ooh…I hadn't thought of that." Ash groaned. "Just to let you know Skipper, I henpeck the keyboard."

"I don't care if you type with your nose just as long as you meet the deadlines." Shepard said almost sternly.

"Aye-aye Skipper."

"We will also have four clergymen from the Council Races who will serve not only as religious officiates but they will be qualified in counseling and mediation. This will be a fully integrated ship we will need to be able to live and work together as a collective whole or we're all ready doomed before we set sail."

"You will bring us together, Samantha." Liara said confidently. "You did so aboard the Normandy, no doubt you will do so again on the Victory."

"Yeah she's right Skipper. Only this time don't headbutt any krogans to make them loyal."

Shepard smirked. "It worked though didn't it? Wrex fell in line and swore a battle-oath to me."

"Yes and you suffered a concussion for a day and half for that particular tactic of inter-species co-operation." Liara chided.

The Spectre only shrugged. "Can't argue with the results."

Two months before the attack on the Citadel had dominated the media, along with the thoughts and awareness of every being in Council space. Now, however, the shock and horror were beginning to fade. Sound-bites from Shepard's speech were still commercialized to promote vigilance, patriotism and recruitment in the Alliance systems military. Other political diplomats used choice sections to promote unification and still others used it to promote their xenophobic views saying Commander now Captain Shepard had stepped beyond her station as an officer in the military by voicing Captain David Anderson as a choice for candidacy for the Council and the President going along with it just because she was a Spectre.

The media were now showing pictures of a newly restored station. Its pristine condition made the crowded streets of Omega space station seem all that more oppressive. Aleena hated having to come to the de facto capital of the Terminus Systems but nevertheless it was the best place for her next objective in fulfilling her contract.

Omega or rather as her fellow asari called it in their own tongue 'Heart of Evil' was the sort of place you constantly looked where you were going to avoid being gutted; constantly looking over your shoulder was a good way to leave yourself open.

Heart of Evil was located deep in the Terminus Systems. It was unique even for a space station. There was not another facility like it in the known galaxy. It was enormous and built out of the remains of a massive irregularly shaped hollowed out asteroid. The asteroid itself had once been mineral rich and mined ages ago now provided the initial resources used to construct the space station that completely covered every inch of its surface. Like the Citadel it had been constructed by the Protheans.

While the asari had the prestigious claim to have been the first aboard the Citadel no one was sure just who it was that found Omega. There were no Keepers aboard Omega, even if there had been they were long dead now. Anyone trying to hold the station did so for only a few short years before someone else came along and took it. Now it was a metropolis of interstellar commerce of the lowest common denominator. Those unwelcome in Citadel space, like the batarians, and the salarian Lystheni offshoot (which the twin Mournful Blades were apart of), slavers, assassins, and criminals from all races made deals, lived and thrived here.

Numerous factions settled on the station over the decades, each building out sections of the station to suit their specific needs. Their efforts had completely transformed 'The heart of Evil' into a massive floating city. As a result numerous independent districts sprouted up and out in their own mismatched architecture and haphazard design. This gave the station its uneven and lopsided appearance when it was seen at a distance. Arms added to the main hub like the ward arms of Citadel jutted out not as a symmetrical star but an ungainly creature with add-ons extending out from those arms at bizarre angles.

The narrow streets and alleyways were alive with feverish activity. Rushing this way and that, everyone was far too wrapped up in their own concerns to pay attention to beggars who made their pitiful demands from dark, shadowy corners. Prostitutes and red sand dealers, and fences took up most of the attention. Getting from a to b as quickly as possible, being the first to nail a deal, obtaining the best price while undercutting your competition that was what succeeding in 'The Heart of Evil' was all about. You needed nerves of adamantium and eyes in the back of your head to survive. You had to learn to smile even was you were stabbing someone else in the back. It was a rough life, a tough life, a ruthless life it was an exhilarating life. It was life in Omega.

Aleena shook her head as she navigated her way down the snickleways of the streets. There was no planning, no organization, no purpose to the streets, avenues or districts or buildings. Streets twisted and turned unexpectedly, and sometimes curled back on themselves to create infuriating dead-ends. Not even the residents were safe from quickly becoming lost or disorientated. New arrivals were easily overwhelmed. Aleena had been on the station several times in pursuit of a quarry or contact, and she generally made her employer pay heavily for the inconvenience.

True to her character the asari bounty hunter didn't care for the harmonious, pristine often sterile and ordered world of the Citadel any better. At least here she could literally get away with murder. Petty crime was a by-stander sport. There was no law enforcement, no rules, no law. Gangs were hired by those who controlled each section of the station to enforce some measure of rules.

While on the Citadel everyone spoke the common trade language on 'The Heart of Evil' everyone spoke their own native languages. Automated translators had to be programmed to interpret because most refused to cooperate with any other race. Where as the Citadel even the under streets of the Wards was free of trash and refuse. No one wanted to pay the exorbitant fines for littering. A thousand credits was a lot of cash for not chucking a discarded article in a refuse bin and they went up from there. Omega…it was quite different. The reek of unidentified food, unnamable perfumes, and putrid stench of uncollected garbage was the norm.

Aleena was half tempted to activate the collapsible helmet of her hardsuit just to filter out the scent of rot, decay and vermin guano. If the stench wasn't bad enough the sounds were worse. With everyone chittering away in their own tongue, swoop bikes zipping along, air-cars roaring above and the occasional fight the cacophony was almost more than a sensible asari could cope with. Still she would not be eschewed from her objective.

The bounty-hunter had been given very specific directions from the Shadow Broker which would lead her to one of the finest cosmetic surgeons in the field. He also happened to have lost his license along with Dr. Saleon to practice but that didn't stop the physician from work. Unlike Saleon who fled in a stolen freighter with hostages, he had fled to Novaria to his elder brother Administrator Anoleis. Unfortunately for him his brood-brother had been apprehended due to no small part of Spectre Agent Shepard. When the good doctor heard a Spectre was on the station he fled here to the Omega space station. He made far more credits here in Omega then he had done in Citadel Space or on Novaria.

While his former colleague worked in transplanting and cloning organs, Dr. Anoleis made a fortune altering appearances. Some procedures were as simple as eye tinting while others were complete facial reconstruction. A lot of people wanted to lose their identities when wanted by rival forces, C-Sec or worse the Spectres. Aleena only wanted a simply eye and skin pigmentation change as well as removal and alteration of her facial markings. The cost was going to be high. Still the stipend in accepting the contract was enough to cover the cost.

She would have enough money left over to cover the cost of a hacker who was also an agent of the Shadow Broker who was supplying her with a new background and new identity. All of this was part of her grand scheme to infiltrate Shepard's crew. Having learned that Wrex was part of the Spectre's crew had caused a few difficulties to the asari but nothing she could not overcome. That krogan would have easily identified her; hopefully with the cosmetic changes as well as altered pheromones Aleena would be unidentifiable to the aging battlemaster. She only hoped it was enough to veil herself from her fellow asari as well. She'd have to come up with some excuse not to meld with anyone for her mind was one thing she could not disguise.

"Oi, you there, pretty girl! What's your price for a macho-macho-sandwich?" a voice shouted out from one of two human males coming from the opposite direction Aleena was heading. He thumped his chest proudly as if this action was somehow a mating ritual. Who knew - perhaps for his species it was.

'You can not possibly be that stupid to think I'm a whore.' She thought. She narrowed her eyes taking in the surroundings, two refuse dumpsters to the right, ladder to a fire escape of a tenement building to the left. Locked and gated back ally doors to pawn shops just below the fire escape. This should be easy.

Her voice was almost without a hint of emotion when she spoke. "When I'm done talking you two will turn around and walk the other direction and find entertainment elsewhere. Do this you live. Do not and you do not. I'm done talking now."

"Oh an asari cunt who thinks she's a big bad. You dykes are all the same." The dusky ginger haired male slapped his friend (the one who had spoke before) on the arm. "I thought all you asari liked to fuck." He laughed.

The blonde snickered. Then blinked, as rain fell on him no that was inaccurate it didn't exactly fall on him more like splashed. "What the hell? Hey Chuck, I think a bird just pissed on me." He turned to Chuck and stared transfixed by horror.

"I think I've been shot." Chuck touched his chest stupidly before he crashed to his knees and then fell face first on broken glass. Blood sprayed from a large open chest cavity.

"You had a warning." Aleena said coldly. She was pointing Devlon pistol at her new target's chest. "You were unwise."

"You murdering whore!" The blonde made a grab for his own Hahne-Kedar pistol and squeezed the trigger, but nothing happened. Glancing down, he saw the status indicated on his weapon flashing red—it had overloaded. The whole weapon was disabled, even with manual override he would not be fast enough to fire again.

He felt a flash of agonizing pain tear into his legs. It felt as if every muscles, bone and fiber in his limbs had erupted. This was no hyperaccelerated projectile tearing into him; the asari bitch was using biotics! He felt stretched and compressed at the same time. A gravity well circled his body flinging him head over feet careening him into the dumpsters, along the upper catwalk of the fire-escape to crash on to the corpse of his friend. He lay still in his own bile.

With deliberate slowness Aleene approached him. "I'm a betting woman, human male. I'd wager that right now you wished you had taken heed of my words earlier. Now you understand the gravity of your choices." She smiled at her own joke. "Shall we take an introspective look why you chose death?" she crouched down near him and touched his mind in a meld with her own. She was not gentle.

The first thing she saw was the shock of seeing Chuck dead. The next was being turned away because of age by well dressed though scantly so asari. The surroundings were familiar…Consort's chambers. Though his eyes, Aleena saw exotic asari dancers. Again the location was very familiar….Chora's Den. Being strangled and thrown against a bulk head by a dark haired woman with fiery-ice blue eyes. The human Spectre! He had lost all his privileges all because he lost track of a little snot nosed asari rug rat! No one cared he was Kyle Gou the only son of an important diplomat. The next images were growing steadily more and more violent. Buying and dealing red sand. She saw though his eyes… the rapes of a dozen woman some human some nearly dead or dying asari.

Aleena snarled in rage. "You will feel all their pain, all twenty-three victims, all at once." The mercenary pushed her mind forcing her will into Kyle's as he had forced his body onto innocent women. She rose as silent as a shadow leaving the screaming, weeping pleading man behind her. Kyle Gou would never see another dawn.

The usual, rumors and gossip, whispered plots and lies filled the bars and pubs of the Wards, so that the air seemed to hiss like pressurized steam coming from the water purification centers on the Citadel. Like the steam, the words were heated, poisonous; sometimes opaque sometimes crystal clear - and indicated that something dramatic was about to take place. If the rumors were true there were only a few in the Alliance military who supported this action, many more felt usurped for they had lost their poster girl to the Council. A political storm was on the horizon

And why should it not break like a storm? The first human Spectre had docked on the station in a newly designed asari frigate with a newly innovated integrated crew. For the moment it was asari and human but after two weeks she would have a crew of 150, and the majority of them being from the council races with a few volas. The ship was fully autonomous under the direct command of the Spectre and only answerable to the Council itself.

Twenty-five soldiers had been chosen from each of the Council races. That made a hundred. Normandy's original crew all save one had transferred to the new ship. The six who Shepard came to call her squad also joined the roster. That left twenty-four. Four volus scientists filled the ranks. Once more the Council races made up the last of the twenty and all of them scientists and doctors. Some PhD's others were physicians.

Doctor Michelle declined the call to service; working on wounded soldiers was still not her idea of fun. However Dr. Mal'dicta S'thasa stepped up and took up the gauntlet to aid Dr. Chakwas. The asari physician had extensive knowledge of the biology and physiology of aliens. Chakwas was very grateful for the other physician's aid. The human might be knowledgeable about asari but she had practically no serviceable knowledge of volus, turian and salarian biology. She needed aid and wasn't above admitting it.

As for the other none-combatants they were all scientists and all under Liara's command. They ranged from archaeologists, anthropologists, xenobiolgists, astrophysicists, engineers (though they fell into ranks of LT. Adams's department) and geologists.

To be fair there was only one geologist and remarkably enough it was another Williams. Abigail Williams had followed her parent's footsteps just like Ashley, only it was her mother rather than their father. Shepard was only grateful that it wasn't Lynn.

Part 10

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