DISCLAIMER: Mass Effect is the property of Bioware. This series is done purely for fun and I am making no profit off of this in any way. The series will cover the already known Mass Effect Universe with some (obvious) tweaking. While I will attempt to stay close to canon there will obviously be some artistic liberties taken to conform this series to my liking. This series is also going to portray love and sex between two or more women with minor references to some m/f pairings. There will be multiple f/f pairings and yes, this will eventually be a harem fic of sorts, so if that is not your thing then please move on. This story will also contain scenes of violence, death, and other content of dark nature (no rape however) further down the road.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Just a reminder here folks that some creative liberties have been taken with this story. My goal is to stay within the main thread of the ME storyline, but with some deviations that won't change the entire course of the canon. Thank you once again for all the feedback and emails! Glad you are enjoying the story so far.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To xfiredancerx[at]gmail.com

Six Degrees of Separation Series
Book 1: Tangled

By Firedancer


Chapter 20: Skeletons

"Admiral Waverly you have a priority call coming through."

The aging Admiral looked up from the paperwork he was reviewing and frowned. "From whom?"

"I don't know sir. It is an unrecognized call signature and our system is unable to track the origin of its location. Whoever is sending it is using an older priority clearance code, but it is still registering in the system."

"Patch it through. But keep trying to trace where it is coming from."

Waverly killed the connection to his assistant and then waited for his comm screen to flash its notification to him. Several seconds later the call was put through and he tapped the panel. "Admiral Waverly here. Who am I speaking to?" he demanded.

"Admiral Waverly, my apologies for all the subterfuge," came the even tones of a man Waverly recognized immediately.

"Damn it! I thought I told you never to contact me here in my offices again! Hold on a moment." He quickly switched lines over back to his assistant. "Beverly, belay the trace. False alarm, I know who it is."

"Yes, Admiral."

Switching back to the call Waverly settled back in his chair, a deep scowl etching his forehead. "You had better have a very damn good reason as to why you are risking things by calling me here."

"Yes, well, you have been a very difficult man to get a hold of as of late and I believe we had an agreement did we not?"

"Well in case you hadn't noticed we have been a little busy," Waverly ground out.

"I understand. But our agreement was that you would keep me in the loop and I would keep quiet about the fact that my organization still has your tacit approval. I think a few of your fellow Admirals might have something to say if they knew that you were continuing to allocate funds for my various research projects."

"You know Hackett would have my head served on a platter. It's bad enough that your people managed to attract the attention of his star pupil. Shepard is bent on destroying your organization after you had Kahuko killed. What the hell were you thinking?!"

"My condolence's on the loss of your fellow colleague, but it was an unavoidable situation. He was sniffing around and unfortunately my sources informed me that he was closing in on your continued involvement with Cerberus. Since your people turned their backs on mine and have all but declared us terrorists just to cover their own asses, I have been forced to take some rather drastic actions as of late. I do not appreciate being stabbed in the back Admiral, but I will continue to do whatever is necessary in order to protect humanity. If that means I have to don the cloak of the bad guy for now and take the blame, then I will. The Alliance needs you, and I need you where you are. However, make no mistake in the fact that I will do whatever it takes to keep things as they should be and anyone who tries to interfere with that will be dealt with swiftly."

"Fine. What do you want?"

"I understand Commander Shepard is being sent to chase after geth. Am I to take it that the Alliance is also going to try and sweep the threat of the Reapers under the rug like the rest of the Council races?"

"How do you know what her orders are?" Waverly demanded angrily.

"You are not my only contact inside the Alliance, Admiral….just my most powerful and resourceful one," came the almost flippant answer.

"Yes. The Council wants the geth incursion put down completely and the President is inclined to agree along with most of Command. The last thing we need is the loss of more human colonies. Besides, I figured you would be happy. With her off running around after geth she'll be too busy to stir up more trouble for your organization."

"I can handle Shepard if need be."

"Your people sure as hell didn't do a good job handling her before."

"Commander Shepard was on a critical mission and had I interfered with that, it would have been very detrimental to us all wouldn't you say? Yes Shepard cost me a great deal, but in the end the gain out-weighted the losses. If she becomes a nuisance again I will deal with her in good time, but for now I wish to know what is being done to stop the Reaper threat."

"We can't even confirm that what Shepard and the rest of the Normandy crew claims about this so called Sovereign, is even true. We have scientists working on it now, but I'm willing to bet my retirement on the fact that your people are the ones who swooped in and managed to collect up most of that thing's remains."

"And you would be correct in your assumption. My people are indeed studying the remains and Sovereign was no mere geth…it was much more advanced."

"Well advanced or not, there is no hard evidence to prove that there is a whole armada of them sitting out beyond the edge of our galaxy."

"I see. So Alliance Command is following suite with the Council races and disregarding Shepard's warnings."

"Not entirely. I think it's a waste of time and effort, but Hackett and Anderson are insisting that some of the pieces we recovered be sent to the quarian flotilla for further study since they are the leading experts on the geth. She has also been directed by the new Council to continue in her search for proof substantiating the threat of these so-called Reapers."

"Excellent. I expect you will do a better job in keeping me apprised of the situation in the future."

Waverly's face turned bright red at the arrogance of the other man. "Who do you think you are that you can just-,"

"Who I am, is the man who used to work for the Alliance under your name Admiral Waverly," that calm voice continued. The Illusive Man's voice never rose, but there was heavy note of steel in it that cut right through Waverly's tirade and made him fall silent. "I am the same man who was thrown to the wolves by your people when they started to get nervous when a few things went wrong. I am also the man who has willingly kept silent about the Alliance's involvement with Cerberus once some of the…unauthorized experiments were exposed to the public. As I said before, I am willing to take the blame- for now. But once humanity has established itself fully on the permanently appointed Council, I am the man who will not hesitate to cut a few losses if I feel certain resources are no longer trustworthy or reliable." There was a lengthy pause of absolute silence. "Do we have an understanding Admiral?" The Illusive Man asked.

Waverly's fists clenched, but he knew when he had been outmaneuvered. He didn't much care for the Illusive Man, or some of his experiments. But Waverly knew that The Illusive Man was a person of great means, and his sole purpose in life was the protection and advancement of their race. As a soldier, Waverly was all too familiar with the fact that sometimes one had to make sacrifices in the pursuit of their goal, and he had been the only one who had been willing to make those sacrifices. So, after the Illusive Man's fall from grace after a few of his so called 'unauthorized' experiments had been exposed, Waverly had agreed to continue funding his research on the side. He'd known he was making a deal with the devil, and he was walking a very fine line right now. But he would stop at nothing to see humanity rise amongst the other races and take their rightful place in the galaxy. He would play this game, because The Illusive Man was right, they needed each other…for now.

"Fine. But if Shepard starts hunting you down, don't expect me to step in and intervene. She is not in my chain of Command and any action on my part would draw too much attention. She's your problem now."

"And I look forward to the challenge she will present. You leave Shepard to me, and simply keep me informed of anything important that develops…before I hear it from the news feeds again."

Before Waverly could say anything further the connection was cut and the aging Admiral muttered a curse as he slapped his desk in frustration. This was a problem that he was going to have to take care of eventually.

Deeply hidden elsewhere in the galaxy....

"Shepard did everything right...saving the Citadel, but leaving the Council to die. Humanity's place in the galaxy is strong than ever, and still it's not enough."

"Humans may control the Council, but Shepard remains our best hope."

"But they are sending her to fight geth...GETH! We both know they aren't the real threat. The Reapers are still out there."

"And it's up to us to stop them."

"The Council will never trust Cerberus. They'll never accept our help...even after everything humanity has accomplished. But Shepard? They'll follow her. She's a hero...a bloody icon. But she's just one woman. If we lose her, humanity may well follow."

"Then see to it that we don't lose her."


Chapter 21: Quarian Reborn

Tali looked herself over in the mirror and adjusted her new armor into place. The one nice thing about being back with her people was that everyone had their own space- small as it may be- and every room was equipped with its own sterile environment that allowed her to remove her suit on a semi-regular basis. She had experienced long periods of being in her environmental suit before, but her time spent with Shepard had been the longest by far. For awhile she'd felt trapped and almost claustrophobic, and there had been more than one occasion where she'd nearly succumbed to the maddening urge to crack the seals on her suit and risk infection for just a few breaths of fresh air. But she'd gotten through the worst of it and had hit that point where the suit had become a part of her.

She hadn't been kidding when she'd told Shepard that she barely came out of her quarters that first week home. After all the fanfare and celebrating, Tali had been shown to her new, and somewhat spacious quarters aboard the Neema. After assuring her father for the hundredth time that she was fine and she would continue to be fine on her own, she'd gently kicked him out, run the sterilization sweep inside the room and had stripped out of her suit the second it had finished. Keelah had that felt amazing! She'd spent a good portion of her time that first week, reveling in the feeling of various sensations against her bare skin. Being able to finally lay in a bed and feel the soft sheets once more….she'd been hard pressed to get out of bed that first day in her new quarters.

But Tali was an adult in her race now- one with status and who had accomplished much during her Pilgrimage. There were threats to her kin out there. Some far more menacing than any of them could have ever dreamed of. She had a responsibility to her people, and her sense of duty finally kicked in after a week of resting. The Admiralty had not begrudged her the need to relax and enjoy a few simple pleasures that she had been denied during her extended Pilgrimage. Tali Zorah had brought honor to her people in a manner that no one else had ever been able to accomplish since they had been driven from their home world. So they waited patiently for her to come to them, knowing she would answer all their questions in due time.

The story she to tell had shocked them, however. Like others before them, they questioned the validity of Tali's claims. But Tali had presented the evidence that she had, and not long after that, the Admiralty received a most unusual request from the human Alliance Command. Tali was secretly pleased by that turn of events. It was clear that the Shepard's race was about to gain a strong position in the galaxy now that they were a part of the newly formed Council. If the humans were agreeable to establishing open lines of communications with her people, it could mean that the quarians might finally gain some recognition and status in the future. For now Shepard was their strongest ally, and she would do everything within her power to ensure that she kept the humans on their side.

Tugging one of the decorative sashes into its proper place, she tried to quell the sudden bout of nervousness she felt. "Keelah," she chuckled to herself. "You'd think this was the first battle I was about to go into. Get a grip Tali," she chastised herself with a rueful shake of her head.

Deep down, she knew it wasn't the upcoming fight, but she tried to ignore the true cause of her sudden case of nerves. Instead she gave herself another firm mental shake, and holstered both her weapons and double checked the functionality of her Omni-tool. Pleased that everything was in order she exited her quarters and headed up to the bridge just as they were beginning docking procedures.

"Just in time, Tali Zorah. Commander Shepard informed us that they just arrived about an hour ago. She has several crew who have never been to this facility and has already arranged for a tour. Our people have been invited to join as soon as we have clearance to board the station."

"Excellent. I take we have a little while before we finish docking procedures?"

"At least half an hour."

"Then if you don't mind, I would like to take the time to go over some things with the new recruits as to what they should expect."

"Go ahead and include as much of the team as you can. I have a feeling this is going to be a training exercise that will push everyone's experience levels."

"Aye, Commander."

Tali turned and headed down to the main crew deck, as the Commander ordered all combat crew who were not otherwise engaged in their duties, to report to the Briefing Room. She stepped into the empty room and realized she was just put in charge of her first solo briefing. She wouldn't be fighting with these men and women, but she would do her best to make sure they were as fully prepared as they could possibly be to go up against their enemy- which ironically would include herself.

The room quickly began to fill up, and once it seemed that everyone who could attend was there, she stepped up to the small podium. "Commander Reegar has asked me to brief all of you on what to expect for the upcoming training exercise. As you have all been told, this will be an exhibition match of sorts. I will be joining Commander Shepard and my old squad of teammates from the Normandy. The six of us will face a combined force of Commander Shepard's new compliment of Marines, all of you, and a small garrison of Geth. The Geth will be programmed not to engage you or the Alliance Marines, however they will not work with you. As the match is not scheduled to occur until tomorrow, you will have time to meet with the Marines and come up with a coordinated plan of attack. I have been informed that after docking, Commander Shepard has arranged for us to be given a tour of the facilities so that everyone may familiarize themselves with the station and more importantly the battlefield that has been selected for us.

"The purpose of this match is to demonstrate several important lessons that those of us on the Normandy learned well this past year. The first is that it doesn't matter how severely outnumbered your team may be, if you work together, strategy will always win over numbers and brute force. The second is that it takes more than weapons to win a battle. Commander Shepard and Chief Williams are incredible soldiers. However they both saw the advantage of utilizing the tech and biotic talents of the rest of our team to help distract, confuse and sabotage the enemy to make their attacks more effective. When you go up against us tomorrow, be prepared to defend yourselves on any front. Don't focus on any single area or we will find your weakness and exploit it quickly."

"Tali Zorah, we have all seen the news vids of your former teammates fighting. But that is what the media has patched together to….sensationalize the fight. What can we truly expect from you and the rest of Shepard's squad?" one of the more seasoned Marines asked.

Tali felt somewhat put out by the question and nearly didn't answer it. If the fool thought that the security feeds played up Shepard's skills, she was almost tempted to let him walk into the fight over-confidant and underestimating their skills. However, Kal had asked that she prepare this team for what they were about to face. She reached down and activated her Omni-tool and quickly interfaced it with the large vid screen in the briefing room. Within seconds, she had various recordings of their many battles running across the screen, and allowed them to play through for several minutes. These were not the usual security feeds that were constantly played on the news. These were the actual live feeds from each of the team's own personal cameras which were standard in most armor nowadays. Tali's selection hadn't been random.

The group fell silent as they watched just a fraction of what Tali and the rest of the Normandy crew had gone through. They watched the first battle Shepard, Ashley and Garrus had fought to free Dr. T'Soni, and saw just how close to death they had come. Shepard had taken the brunt of a full fledged Krogan charge shortly before the cave system had collapsed, and had barely made it out in time. The suit's readouts showed just how erratic her vitals were by the time they escaped.

And Shepard was not the only one they witnessed go down in a fight. Every member of the team had eventually taken a bad hit somewhere along the line, and it was only due to Dr. Chakwas considerable skill, and maybe a little luck, that they had all survived. They witnessed Liara's tragic confrontation with her mother, Wrex's personal struggle when he found out about the cure Saren had supposedly come up with for the genophage, and the sacrifice of Lt. Alenko. The clips were short and she was editing on the fly, but she made sure they saw just how difficult that mission had been on them, physically, mentally and emotionally. When the screen went dark, the room remained deathly quiet.

"It is true the media does tend to sensationalize and glorify battles and victories. But they never show the personal sacrifices and losses that are suffered in order to gain that victory," she told them quietly. "We did not just come by these skills naturally. Yes, there was obviously a talent there, but necessity forced us all to perform above and beyond anything we could have ever expected of ourselves. Tomorrow you will see for yourselves just what a small squad is capable of, but today you got a small taste of just what it cost us to reach the level of performance that you will see demonstrated. All of you volunteered and were carefully selected for this training because the Admiralty felt you had what it takes to persevere through the training necessary to bring you up to a similar level of skill. Take advantage of this training opportunity to push yourselves, because once we are out there fighting for our lives for real, any small mistake can cost you or your teammates their lives."

She let that sink in as she paced back to the podium. "As for what to expect? Expect attacks from every possible front. Long-range, close quarters, tech, biotic…you name it and at least two members on our team are experts. Do not let your guard down for a second or one of us will find the weakness and exploit it. Also expect multiple attacks at the same time. Shepard likes to confuse, divide, and conquer. I suggest that after the tour, you spend the rest of the evening getting to know Shepard's new Marine squad which will be your allies for this exercise, and come up with several strategies. Any other questions?"

"Will we be training with Shepard and her crew after tomorrow's exercise?"

"I am not sure what Commander Shepard had in mind. But my guess would be that it will be a mix. Both her team and ours are heading out onto the front lines, and while training together will help provide some excellent opportunities for tactic and culture exchange, both teams do need to focus on learning how to work together a cohesive unit. I believe both Commanders will want to train solely with their own teams to work on building that. These facilities are quite extensive and allow for multiple squads to train in separate environments at the same time. It is a privilege and honor to be allowed use of these facilities. I am sure you have all been warned to be on your best behavior while aboard the station, but I would ask as a personal favor that you take the time to express a word or two of gratitude to Commander Shepard and the Station's CO, for extending such an opportunity to us."

"Don't you worry about us Ma'am," one of the techs spoke up. "I think I speak for all of us new recruits when we say we are ecstatic to be able to train on a station like this instead of being forced to work through the kinks the hard way, like you had to. We promise not to take this gift for granted."

"Besides," one of the other soldiers remarked. "The humans are poised to gain control of the Council, or at the very least become a very influential part of it now. If we can strengthen our ties with them now, it can mean having a strong ally in our corner if the Admiralty decides to try and retake the home-world. There is little chance of us doing it alone, but with the humans to back us up, maybe…just maybe we could have a chance."

The rest of the room broke into quiet murmurs and Tali simply nodded. Her father had told her that with the geth moving beyond the Veil, the quarians could no longer ignore their presence or the threat they posed to the Fleet. There were several who felt that the time to take the war to the geth was approaching. Not everyone was agreeable of this approach, but all of them had at least seen the need to be more prepared for potential future attacks. She'd also had a discreet and personal request from her father that had raised some questions for her. But he was an Admiral to their people and a brilliant engineer at that. She assumed he wanted to study their enemy more, so that they could come up with better defenses in the future. But until the geth made a move on the Fleet, it would be up to the newly commissioned Special Forces teams to keep a war with the geth at bay long enough for her people to prepare themselves one way or the other. And as the veteran soldier had pointed out, it was foolish to even think of going into a war without at least one ally.

The murmurs continued for a couple of minutes and then Tali raised her hand indicating silence. "Whether we go to war or not is not really of concern to us right now. Right now we just need to survive long enough to keep our people safe. But you are right Joret, having the humans on our side can only be beneficial. Now more than ever as the political balance of the galaxy is shifting in their favor. If there are no further questions, I suggest you all go check your gear over and then be ready to meet at the docking ramp in half an hour."


Chapter 22: Switching Hats

Commander Alexis Shepard, Hero of the Citadel Battle, could not believe how nervous she was. Her armor just didn't seem to sit right, her palms were sweating, her mouth dry, and she could easily detect all the other classic symptoms of the adrenaline pumping through her system right now. With a mental shake, she closed her eyes, relieved that the rest of the gathered group was standing behind her, and took several slow deep breaths as she forced her emotions back under control. Moments later, she opened her eyes and let out a quiet sigh of relief as the airlock began to spin through its cycle to finally reveal the young woman that had gotten her worked up in the first place.

Tali Zorah was accompanied by the rest of her own crewmates, but Shepard really didn't take note of them as all her attention was focused on her former quarian teammate and friend. The mission had taken its toll on everyone and when Tali had left, she had been as emotionally, physically and mentally worn down as the rest of the Normandy crew had. Rest and time home with her family and people had obviously done a great deal of good for her, as it had for the rest of Shepard's team. She walked with a confidence and grace that spoke of her battle experience, along with her newly appointed and well earned status amongst her people. To Shepard's keen eye, long gone was the brave yet inexperienced young quarian, out to prove herself and bring honor to her people. Before her now stood a veteran soldier, brilliant in her field of expertise, and ready to lead her own team into battle. Given her recommendations to the Council, Shepard was very interested to see what the rest of the week held when she and her squad would engage in a few skirmish exercises against Kal and Tali's squad. Shepard smiled, probably a little more warmly than she normally would, as she stepped forward to greet the quarians.

"Commander Reegar. Tali Zorah. Thank you for accepting our offer to join us."

Kal Reegar nodded. "It is our pleasure and honor, Commander Shepard. We cannot thank you enough for providing us with this opportunity."

"My father wished to pass along the gratitude of our people and of the Admiralty Board for this experience Commander. He also wished for me to express that they hope ties between your people and mine can continue to grow," Tali added.

"Given the threat we are facing, we are going to need the cooperation of every sentient race in this galaxy. Because of your history with the Geth, your people have the most experience and knowledge of dealing with sentient machines. If anyone has a chance at finding a way to shut the Reapers down, I believe it is the quarians. So let your father and the rest of the Admiralty board know that I plan on doing everything within my power to make sure that our two races do form an alliance. I hope it won't be the only one, but it would be a start."

Tali nodded. "They will be pleased to hear that. So, this is your new Marine compliment?"

With greetings out of the way, introductions were made and after a few minutes Shepard began herding their rather large group towards the command center so that introductions to Admiral Ahern could be made before they began a tour of the facilities. Tali hung back a bit though as she noticed the look that was given to her from Liara. As the rest of the group began to move off, the two embraced briefly but firmly.

"It is good to see you again Tali," Liara said quietly as they let go and began slowly following after the others.

"It's good to see you again too, Liara. Thank you for the regular messages. It was nice to be back with my people and my family…but the Normandy became my home and I missed all of you terribly after I left. The updates helped," Tali admitted as she reached over to squeeze Liara's shoulder meaningfully.

Liara looked ahead, noticing that Lt. Garvey was glancing back at them, ever vigilant that no one was left behind. "There is much to discuss my friend, that I could not relay in the messages. But this is neither the time nor the place," she indicated with a sigh as she tilted her head towards the young Lieutenant who was observing them briefly before turning away. "Alex is eager to spend some time in catching up with you, but duty calls first. Tonight, after the tour is given, she has scheduled a quick warm-up training mission for us if you are available?"

"Kal Reegar knows that I will most likely be spending today and tomorrow with Commander Shepard as we prepare for the exhibition exercise. Barring any unforeseen emergencies that require us to leave, I am free to do as I wish the next two days."

"Then perhaps after the training exercise, you will join all of us for dinner on the Normandy? The Commander has seen to it that barracks for your team and the Normandy's Marine's were made available tonight so they could have someplace large enough for all of them to get to know each other and strategize."

"That is very thoughtful of the Commander. And I look forward to spending some off-duty time with my friends again. From the look of things, there is a great deal for you to share," Tali said with a warm smile in her voice, even if her heart was aching slightly.

With her natural gifts, Liara could sense that Tali truly meant what she had said, but she could also feel the pain that her dear friend was trying hard to ignore. Making sure that they were far enough behind to not be overheard or observed, Liara stopped walking pulling Tali up short with her. She turned to her quarian friend and rested both hands on Tali's shoulders. "Your absence was a pain felt by all of us Tali, and Alex understands that your place right now is with your people. You have no idea just how important you are to her or how vital a role you play in her plans to prepare for what is ahead. Just know that if things were different, she wouldn't have let you go without a fight…and neither would Ashley or I."

Tali glanced down the hall and then back up at Liara. There was a wistful smile on her lips as she took in the intense gaze of her dearest friend and she dared to rest a hand along Liara's cheek for a brief moment. "Thank you," was all she said, knowing Liara would understand completely.

Things were as they were, and there was nothing that could be done to change them at the moment. The Reapers were out there, and duty, responsibility and obligation had settled on the shoulders of the few that had bravely chosen to acknowledge and accept it. Shepard was the tip of the spear, and she had chosen Tali to play an important part in her plans to defend the galaxy from the Reapers and destroy them once and for all. Their duty required personal sacrifice on all their parts, and Tali was willing to accept her own, knowing that at least she was fighting for something. At least she was fighting for a possible future with the people she cared most for. Liara had given her hope, and that was enough for now.

Liara sensed the change in her friend and smiled as she simply nodded. Then she reached up and took Tali's hand in her own and the two walked down the corridor after the others, the conversation turning to lighter-hearted topics as they caught up to the rest of the group.

Shepard looked up from checking her assault rifle and caught the eyes of the others. "Ok guys, this really isn't meant to be too challenging for a couple of reasons. The first is that I don't want to give too much away to the others," she admitted with a mischievous smirk. The other chuckled knowingly.

"Second, Ash and I have been cleared for full duty for a couple of weeks now, but this will be the first combat drill either of us will have been able to run in almost two months. I have a feeling that despite some hand to hand sparring and training, we are both going to want to work out the kinks a bit without overdoing it before tomorrow. And finally….I just wanted to have some fun blowing shit up with my team," she said with a full blown grin of anticipation.

This earned her a second and more hearty round of laughter from the others. Wrex even slapped Shepard on the back, who managed not to wince. "I like the way you think Shepard," he said in amusement.

"So how are we playing this Skipper?"

"Three teams of two: Garrus and Wrex, Tali and Liara, and you and I, Chief. I don't want to give all our tactics away so Garrus, take a few shots from a mid level point while Wrex covers your six. When you feel it's time, move in and join the party. Tali and Liara…tomorrow you two are going to be our key players. Both of our squads have gone against mercs and such with some biotic and tech talents, but none of them have ever been faced with skills like yours. Ashley and I will take the low ground and will draw enemy fire. You two stay on the fringe and play down your abilities. Use as much combat and hand to hand tactics as you can. Safeties are on full since I don't want anyone hurt before tomorrow, and the enemies will be a mix of organics and synthetic. Setting is mid range…enough to let us warm up before tomorrow and get back into sync, but not enough to really challenge us. Sorry to disappoint Wrex, but I promise tomorrow will more than make up for it."

Wrex shrugged. "A good warrior knows when not to tip his hand."

"Everyone clear on their assignments?"

"Is this a timed event?" Tali asked as she checked her shotgun over one last time and then settled it against her lower back.

"This is the outlast program. Basically, the computer will keep throwing enemies at us for as long as the entire team stays 'alive'. I've set the limit at half an hour…unless of course someone goes down before that."

"I propose that if someone does get killed before that, they owe the squad a round," Garrus grinned.

Shepard matched the grin. "Now that's some good command thinking there Mr. Vakarian. But just one round? Make it three and I think we have some incentive now."

"Sounds good to me Skipper."

Wrex snorted. "Kiss ass," he muttered.

Ashley quirked an eyebrow. "Says the Krogan who practically begs me to clean and maintain his beloved shotgun because he knows I can do a better job," she shot back at him with a teasing grin.

Wrex just grunted in response but didn't necessarily disagree. There was a ripple of chuckles and Shepard merely grinned, finally feeling completely at home. She was surrounded by her closest friends…her chosen family…and they were about to have some fun doing what they did best. The adrenaline began to flow and the anticipation built once more. She slipped her helmet on and cracked her knuckles. "All right guys. Let's do this."

"…and then the airlock door opens and Chakwas is there and she is PISSED. We all knew we were busted, but we were all so trashed we couldn't even manage to keep a straight face for more than five seconds," Ashley admitted with an unrepentant grin.

Tali laughed, and shook her head. "I imagine you both found yourself stuck back in sickbay for another day after that?"

Shepard snorted wryly as she took a healthy swig of her beer. "She grounded us both for the rest of that week. Doc doesn't pull any punches…but then that's what makes her the best."

"And she gave us a verbal dress down that made even Wrex squirm," Garrus added with a chuckle.

All eyes turned to the massive Krogan who merely shrugged. "I have learned through long experience that the females of nearly any species pose the greater threat. The Doc can make some pretty convincing threats despite her oath as a healer."

Everyone chuckled in agreement and the conversation continued on for a little longer before things began winding down. Finally, Shepard pushed her empty bottle to the pile that had accumulated in the center of the table. "Alright guys, I need to head back. It's been a long day and I still have ship's business to go over briefly with Pressley before I hit the rack. Everyone is clear on when and where to meet tomorrow morning for our final briefing?" She paused and made sure every member of her team answered in the affirmative before she nodded in approval and then looked at her quarian friend. "Tali, walk with me?" she asked figuring this would be as good a time as any to start fulfilling her unofficial role as ambassador to the quarians.

Tali bid goodnight to the rest of the team and then walked alongside Shepard in companionable silence as they made their way back towards the Normandy. They boarded the ship and Shepard slowed to allow Tali to greet some of the crew as they made their way towards her quarters. Once safely inside, Shepard went to her desk and pulled out a small flask of amber colored liquid and a unique looking bottle with quarian writing on it.

Tali's head canted to one side as Shepard held up the small bottle and smirked. "Is that…?" Tali asked in disbelief.

"Homebrewed and quarian approved Kavaat? You bet it is," Shepard answered with a full grin.

"How did you procure this? It is rare even amongst the fleet!" she asked in amazement, even as she accepted the sweet alcoholic beverage that was packaged so that a quarian could drink it through their suit's special emergency induction port.

"I have friends in high…and low places. Managed to get my hands on a small supply of these actually. Figured I would save them for special occasions…like tonight." Shepard watched as Tali tore the special sterilizing wrap off the bottle and then pulled a special straw out of one of her belt pouches and deftly punched it through the small seal on top of the bottle.

Shepard raised her glass and Tali clinked her bottle against the glass as she had seen the others do in the past and then raised the straw to the port in her suit's faceplate. The beverage was filtered through the tube and a secondary unit just inside her helmet, but it was purposely made strong in both content and taste since some of that would be lost in the filtration process. By the time the alcohol hit her taste buds, it was pleasantly sweet with just a slight hint of the normal burn that is associated with nearly all alcoholic beverages.

Quarians made do with mostly bland and tasteless food throughout their lives and things like alcoholic beverages were a luxury that most enjoyed only on extremely rare occasions. Tali's father had given her a small sampling of some shortly before she had left for her Pilgrimage in a sort of father-daughter bonding experience. Kavaat had been her clear favorite, the sweetness unlike anything she'd ever tasted before.

Shepard grinned into her glass as she heard Tali groan in appreciation after her first sip and then with a sigh she removed the straw and capped the end of it before she moved over to one of the chairs and made herself comfortable. "Good?" Shepard asked unnecessarily.

"You have no idea. As quarians we have resigned ourselves to certain realities of our lives. Being limited to a rather bland diet is one of them." She uncapped the top and enjoyed another sip before recapping it setting it on the table in front of her.

Content to nurse her own drink, Shepard settled across from Tali and leaned back completely relaxed. "Tali, as you are probably aware, after the attack on the Citadel there was a huge gap left in the political structure when the Council was wiped out by Sovereign and the geth. My people have used this opportunity to gain more of a political foothold with the Council Races and Captain Anderson was recently appointed as Councilor Anderson. Humanity has officially gained status amongst the other races and this places us in a crucial position of actually being able to influence how things are run from here on out. But we've already hit some serious roadblocks."

"Such as?"

"Not everyone is convinced that what we destroyed at the Citadel was a Reaper. And right now, to keep the masses calm, they are spinning it that Sovereign was just some kind of advanced geth...nothing more."

Tali sat up stiffly. "Of all the stupid, boshtet ideas! Are you serious?!"

Shepard took a long sip and then sighed. "I am…and trust me I was just as livid. But after talking with the new Council, I can see their reasoning. I don't agree with it, but I can understand it."

"How could they justify this?"

Shepard explained what they had told her about the majority of Sovereign being snatched up and the lack of evidence, along with their desire to keep universal peace for now until more intel was brought to light. She told them of her assigned mission and of the more discreet missions that she had been tasked with. Shepard did not mention the part about putting Tali's name in for Spectre commendation though. But her conversation lead her to the reason she had asked Tali to her quarters.

"Tali I may not agree with everything Alliance Command or the Council are doing, but there is one thing that apparently we all agree on…even if it isn't openly. We all agree that it never hurts to start being prepared. The Council is not turning its back on the idea of the Reapers being out there, but they need proof. They need intel in order to have some kind of idea of how to go about preparing for a potentially massive war. They need more to go on about our enemy than just a the warnings that were imprinted in my mind alone, and the barely decipherable logs of an ancient and badly damaged AI that could stop working at any moment now. I have already told you that I believe your people hold the key to unlocking more of the Reaper's secrets because in a way, Sovereign is very much like the geth…just much more highly advanced. Councilor Anderson, Admiral Hackett and other key officials feel that an alliance with your people at this time is critical. I agree."

"My father has hinted strongly that such a prospect seemed to be brewing on the horizon. He has already received several communications from some of your superiors asking if my people would be interested in an exchange of resources and information."

Shepard blinked. "He has? Councilor Anderson never mentioned that. Only that he wanted me to unofficially act as an ambassador of sort between our two people."

"And how does the Council feel about such an alliance?" Tali asked frankly as she took another sip of her drink.

"Apparently there is not any resistance from the other Councilors themselves. I get the feeling that it is not something they are ready to go public with any time soon, but apparently they too feel that your people's knowledge of the geth are an invaluable resource right now. And that IF the Reaper threat does turn out to be a viable one, they can't turn their back on the fact that the cooperation and coordination of every race in the galaxy is going to be needed. So the request was made by Councilor Anderson, but he made it clear that there were others with a vested interest in my success of opening…diplomatic lines between my people and yours. If such an alliance were started it could lead to more doors being opened further down the road."

"You mentioned an… exchange?"

"There are several crates in our cargo hold of Sovereign's remains. I have been asked to deliver them either to you or to the Admiralty directly so that your people can study them to help determine if Sovereign was simply an advanced geth or something else completely new. In exchange for sharing your findings, the Alliance along with several other discreet entities are also prepared to offer your people several important resources of your choice."

"Such as?"

"Fuel, critical ship parts, access to scientists and doctors interested in researching the immune issue with your people for starters."

Tali sat back stunned. When her father had talked with her the day before, after finding out about their rendezvous with Shepard, he had indicated that such negotiations might start taking place and that she was authorized by the Admiralty to speak on behalf of their people. She wasn't given any authority to make critical decisions, but he had asked for her to feel out what the humans had in mind and relay it back to those that would make such decisions.

She took another sip of her drink as she turned over in her mind what Shepard had related to her and tried to quell her growing excitement at the opportunity this presented for her people. "I can tell you that the Admiralty is open to starting negotiations with your people, Commander. However, it is they who will make the final call as to how detailed an exchange there might be between our people."

"Tali, whether they wish to receive what we have to offer or not, is entirely up to them. What they wish to share is also up to them. But regardless, those crates are going back with you. All I need from you right now is confirmation that Sovereign was not simply another geth. I hope that with this gesture of good faith, we can expect more in the future as they study what I am handing over to your people. But I know that will be out of your hands. All that matters to us at this point is to have proof that the Reapers do exist."

Tali set her drink down and nodded. "That, I can promise you Commander. I can only try and persuade the Admiralty to share whatever other findings we discover with your people. I have a strong feeling that this won't be an issue, but I cannot make any guarantees until I talk with my father. Perhaps by the end of our training exercises I can have a better answer for you."

"It's good enough for me. For security reasons I am going to keep the crates locked in Normandy's hold for now. Only I - and now you - know what they are, and no offense, but they would be safer on Normandy until you prepare to leave. I would ask that once you do leave however, that before you engage in any further combat missions, you return to your fleet to deliver the packages."

"I will make sure that all communications between myself and my father on this matter are held on secure channels and that he will see to a change in our orders," she answered with a nod.

"Excellent." With business settled, Shepard relaxed back into her chair once more as she poured herself a tiny bit more into her glass. "So, tell me about the Neema," she encouraged, changing the topic to more pleasant and informal conversation.

They chatted for another hour, simply enjoying the chance to catch up with one another. Feeling pleasantly buzzed and very relaxed, Tali allowed the conversation to drift into more personal territory. "Liara told me of her Joining with you and Ashley. I am happy to hear that all three of you were finally able to enjoy a moment of happiness and peace," she told her friend, her tone wistful.

Alex toyed with her empty glass and shifted in her seat even though she held the barely visible silver gaze that was directed at her. She thought she could see the faintest of smiles through the purple faceplate. "Tali…," she began finally, resolving to be truly open with the young woman across from her.

But Tali leaned forward and a gloved hand rested over her own, stilling her nervous fingers on the glass and squeezed them lightly and reassuringly. "I know Alex. And I have made my peace with the way things are," she interrupted softly. "If circumstances were different, I would contemplate other…choices that were and are open to me. But you were right to let me go. My place is with my people right now…for their sake and for yours."

Alex turned her hand so that she was clasping Tali's three fingers within her own. Her gaze became serious and intent. "Your place might be with your people right now, but things are not finished between us either Tali Zorah."

She was sure that she could see a smile behind the faceplate now. The fingers twined with her own squeezed her back firmly. "I look forward to the day when we can address those issues properly Commander. Until then…well we have some Marines to show a thing or two. I should head back to my quarters and you need some rest as well," Tali said as she stood up and let Shepard's hand go. "I look forward to fighting by your side again tomorrow Alex."

Shepard flashed her one of her predatory grins. "Those kids aren't gonna know what hit them. Thank you for sharing a drink with me Tali. Don't forget I have a small case of that Kavaat, and I intend on celebrating again tomorrow night."

Tali's laugh was music to her ears and followed Shepard into her dreams when she turned in for the night, shortly after her quarian friend left.


Chapter 23: Sound of Madness

Admiral Ahern approached the silent squad and noticed an immediate difference between the two sides in simply how they waited before heading into the simulator. The other Marines, both human and alien, had been fidgety and talkative, a clear case of nerves settling on the shoulders of even the most experienced of their combined group. Shepard and her team were quiet and still…even the large Krogan. As he approached they all stood.

"Your 'enemy' has settled into position Commander."

"So what scenario did they choose?"

"Overtake and destroy their underground base."

Shepard smirked and looked back at Garrus, whose mandibles flexed in amusement. "I think they are trying to take your sniping skills out of the picture Garrus."

"I'm flattered Commander," he chuckled.

Shepard looked back at Ahern. "Is this a timed event?"

"Once your presence is detected, you will have fifteen minutes to breach their facility, stop a large data packet from being transmitted, set the self destruct sequence, and then evacuate. If you go over the time limit, you lose. Any computer confirmed 'kills' will end the scenario. The safeties have been lowered to the bare minimum for your team per your request Commander, so please remember to duck. You can't be killed but I've seen people come out with some pretty bad injuries, so please watch yourselves in there. I don't need Command or the Council breathing down my neck just because you six wanted to have a little fun on my station."

"Understood, Admiral."

"Per your request, there will be a random rotation of geth patrols and mech patrols that you will also have to avoid or neutralize. Your combat knives have all been replaced with simulated knives- once drawn inside the simulator, the blade will activate and the sensors will register whether a strike is considered kill-worthy or not. If you are struck hard enough by an enemy's knife or weapons-fire that it would seriously wound you in real life, the sensors that have been placed on your armor will lock that limb into place and render it useless. Do you have any questions?"

"How do we know they aren't waiting to ambush us just inside as soon as we step through that door?"

"Simply put, they have no idea when or where you will be entering. The simulator allows for us to make changes in the program's design so as to conceal the entry of newcomers. They only knew that they would be first into the simulator."

"Is there an overall time limit for this simulation?"

"So long as you all remain undetected, no. Although I do have another team that I had scheduled to use this by tomorrow, so try not to dally too much Commander," Ahern said with a wry grin.

"I think we'll have things wrapped up by then," Shepard said with a smirk. She looked back at her team then. "Weapons check."

The group pulled out their primary weapons, and everyone meticulously went over their gear before looking up and nodding their readiness. "Let's go show these kids a thing or two," Shepard grinned before she slapped her visor down into place and then nodded to the Admiral who keyed the door open.

The group entered into a simulated cave tunnel and immediately took up defensive positioning that made sure all sides were covered as they crouched low. "Good luck Commander. My day is about to be a whole lot more interesting," he said with a grin. Then the door sealed, the tunnel was pitched into near darkness, and those that needed to, switched on their night vision.

"Activate your bio-dampeners," Shepard commanded quietly as everyone switched on the small device Tali had given each of them earlier that morning. The Spectre glanced into the corner of her faceplate's HUD display and noted that their energy signatures were masked from her own sensors. She commented as much, and then noted wryly that Tali was already at work on it.

"Sorry, Commander. These are prototypes and I had to wait until each unit was active before I could recalibrate our individual sensors to read them." The group waited patiently and then one by one began murmuring confirmation that they could now see each other on their sensors.

"Good work Tali. What can you tell us about this cave system we are in?"

The young quarian smirked behind her mask as she consulted her Omni-tool. "There are geth configured dampeners, so I can't get a full readout. Give me a minute to bypass the subroutine."

In the darkness Wrex muttered "Hundred credits says Stick Girl does it in thirty seconds or less."

There were very soft noises of amusement at that, and sure enough, Tali had hacked into the dampeners. The data fed back into her Omni-tool and she had a complete layout of the cave system they were in. She relayed her findings to Shepard who nodded and then ordered Tali to take point and guide them to a suitable spot that would give them a good visual on the base. Tali nodded and began moving swiftly and surely up ahead of them. Twice she had to pull up short and everyone was forced to take cover as a random patrol would pass nearby, but their presence remained undetected.

An hour later they had managed to reach the outskirts of the underground base and Shepard had to marvel a bit at the detail of the holo-program. Then she quickly set about assessing the situation. So far they had only seen geth inside the tunnels, but here around the base there were armed mechs patrolling the perimeter. One patrol circled near their position and they all hunkered down behind a wall of crates that was near the cave they had exited from. As soon as the patrol had passed Shepard looked at her team and began giving well practiced hand signals. She sent Wrex back to watch their six, while Garrus would start scouting for what little protected high ground he could find and set up camp. Tali and Liara would work their way in deeper so Tali could begin working her own special brand of technical genius to gain them any intel she could. With any luck they would be able to come across some kind of unguarded computer or control panel. Shepard finally looked at Williams and signaled for her to recon the west side of the base while she would take the east. Everyone except Garrus would regroup at their current spot in thirty minutes. They all knew without instruction that radio silence was to be maintained unless absolutely necessary.

Meanwhile, inside the base…..

"Still no sign of them?" Kal Reegar asked of his techs.

One of them looked up and shook her head. "No sir. We thought we had a flare deep inside the cave system about an hour ago, but it was too brief and faint for us to pinpoint its location. That is geth occupied territory and we are able to monitor their patrols, but so far there has been no indication of them coming across Shepard's team. We are continuing to monitor on all levels for their presence."

Lt Garvey, who was standing next to Kal Reegar inside the command post inside the base looked over at the small mix of techs seated around the various monitoring stations within the room. "What kind of firewalls do we have on this system to prevent any unwanted hacking?"

"Double firewalls on all critical systems, sir. It would take even the most experienced hacker an hour to break through and this is so state of the art that any attempt to do so would trigger half a dozen alarms first."

"Excellent. But keep your eyes peeled regardless. After a year of dealing with the geth who knows just what kind of tricks they've picked up," Garvey cautioned. He looked at a different screen and nodded in approval. "All patrols are in place, our hidden sentries are keeping watch for any suspicious movement within the compound, and our secondary lines of defense within the base are dug in."

"It still disturbs me to say this, but at the first sign of trouble we are standing by to activate the geth troops that are inside the lower storage area."

Garvey gave a tiny smile to the Quarian commander. "You and me both buddy. I still think it's overkill, but I'll take all the odds I can get."


The former C-Sec officer forced himself to keep his breathing quiet and steady as a patrol of holo-mercs passed by his location not more than a meter away. When he'd first started fighting with Shepard and had gone into his first stealth mission he'd instinctively held his breath and had learned the hard way that doing so was not always the best idea. When the patrol they'd been trying to avoid had paused to chat for a few minutes, he'd almost given their position away when he'd finally been forced to draw in a desperate gasp of air. After dressing him down something fierce once they got back onboard, Shepard had then put all of them through a basic course on silent recon. Their next mission out, she'd given him one of her typical back-handed compliments, but there had been no yelling about his incompetence. Within that first month he'd finally earned his first real compliment from her for his performance. By the end of their mission, he'd needed no more words of encouragement or compliments to know he was living up to her standards. The fact that she often sent him out to do solo recons attested to how far he'd come and how much faith she had in his skills.

Garrus let out an inward sigh of relief because he knew that no normal human would have been able to detect his presence, but there was an element of uncertainty in dealing with holo-created people. One never knew just how well they were programmed to be like the real thing. Moving on, he skirted around the perimeter of the base and ducked behind a small loader. Raising his rifle he began scouring the walls and spires within the massive cave and then grinned. Pulling his eye from the scope he checked his surroundings, and after making sure he was still in the clear he went back to assessing his area of interest. Moments later he was swiftly making his way towards a pile of large boulders set to simulate the remains of an ancient rockslide within the cave's confines. Careful to remain out of sight as he began climbing, the Turian soldier found himself a nice perch nearly a hundred meters off the ground. He was perfectly hidden in a small depression behind two large boulders which were rounded just enough at their base to form a small opening in which he had perfect line of sight to most of the complex below.

Garrus chuckled as he spotted the hidden sentries on the rooftop of the complex and in several other locations throughout the cave. The Turian had to give the other soldiers some credit, they'd done a good job concealing their locations. He'd unknowingly passed within fifty meters of one of the sentries earlier. But no alarm had gone up so apparently his movements had gone undetected either out of sheer luck or the sentries had their detection abilities hampered either by their own camouflage or all the interference that was being run within the cave system. Either way, Garrus counted himself lucky and watched the careful progress of his fellow teammates, ready to warn them if they strayed too closely to one of the hidden sniper's nests.

Tali and Liara…

The two women silently made their way deeper into the complex, pausing every now and then to make sure that Tali could keep their presence masked from the numerous security devices spread throughout the complex. They finally reached a maintenance shed, and slid inside undetected.

Liara left the door slightly cracked and took up watch while Tali moved to a wall panel near a console that was usually only used for simply diagnostics on the various equipment that was stored within the shed. "Is it a viable source?" Liara whispered to her companion without taking her eyes off the scouts that were patrolling in their general vicinity.

Tali was silent for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, but this is going to take me some time. Talk about system security overkill," she answered in quiet amusement.

Liara risked a glance over at her friend to see Tali regarding her Omni-tool with extreme intensity. "Can you break into it?"

Tali was silent for another minute longer and then shook her head. "Not without tripping one of the dozens of alarms set into place." Suddenly, her head tilted and her fingers became a blur of motion. "But anyone else with a security card can access the system," she informed. "If we can get our hands on a card, I can make it work."

Liara was back to watching the patrols and noted that one would be circling close to their position. "Will any security card do?" she asked as her keen eyesight spotted a badge clipped to the belts of the two people walking their assigned patrol.

"Yes. Do you have a plan?"

Liara flashed a grin at her friend and then motioned for Tali to keep out of sight and quiet. The two-manned patrol consisted of one Quarian and one of their own Marines. They were talking quietly as they made their circuit, and Liara waited until they had passed before she used her biotics to levitate a small rock off the ground just as the Quarian was stepping over it. He stumbled, toppled into his patrol partner and both men, staggered a few steps further trying to keep themselves and each other from crashing unceremoniously to the ground. After recovering their balance the Quarian looked around, spotted the rock he had apparently tripped on and muttered an abashed apology to his companion.

"No worries, mate," the human said easily as they resumed their patrol, completely oblivious to the fact that amidst their jostling, the man's security card had been biotically snatched from his belt.

A smirking Liara T'Soni turned to proudly present the card to her waiting companion who chuckled quietly and then set about accessing the system with practiced ease. Less than ten minutes later Tali was securing the plate back to the wall and tossed the card back to Liara who levitated over to where the earlier trip-up had occurred in case they came back to look for the missing card. Mission accomplished they deftly made their way back to the rally point.


The massive Krogan Battlemaster moved quietly through the tunnels, patrolling the area around their rendezvous to make sure that things stayed clear. He knew that he wasn't anywhere near as silent as the rest of his team, his size simply did not permit it nor did he prefer to move about in stealth. He'd been a warrior for a long time, and he'd always relished in letting his opponent know that he was coming. Krogan as a species thrived on confrontation, and sneaking around was simply not their style. But Shepard had insisted upon expanding his training and skill abilities and he'd balked at the idea. Of course then Shepard, sneaky bitch that she was, tricked him into the training by saying that she didn't think he could accomplish it anyway. His pride had of course been insulted and he'd told her that he would show her he could do stealth.

Wrex had not only surprised her, but himself as well, with his ability to keep his normal tendencies in check. The Spectre had commended his effort and then had worked with him over the next several months, honing his skills. Williams had also given him a few pointers, helping him to adapt some of their own methods to better suit someone of his size. Wrex had always prided himself on being a good warrior, but even he had to admit to himself that working with Shepard's team had been an enlightening experience. T'Soni and Alenko had worked with him to help him develop stronger barriers, and Garrus and Tali had taught him a couple of basic tech tricks, though he doubted he would ever use them on the battlefield like they did.

And Shepard really did find the best battles. Wrex loved a good fight as much as the next Krogan, but he'd begun to tire of the meaningless jobs as a merc. They were all the same: someone pissed someone else off and that person wanted him to take care of their problem. The money was always good, but he'd begun to ponder what meaning his life had. And then Shepard came along and not only did she find some of the toughest battle's he'd ever seen in his long life, but they actually meant something. He was also intrigued by the fact that a human was willing to go so far and risk everything to save not only her own species but every other species in the galaxy. It was probably the only reason why he hadn't killed her the second she'd made it clear that they weren't going to try and salvage Saren's supposed genophage cure. The moment he'd heard about the cure, everything in him had screamed for him to turn his back on them and save his own race.

For the first time in his life, he found himself warring with a sense of loyalty to a single individual. He'd come to respect Shepard over the long months, and she had more than proved by that point that she actually did give a damn about the rest of the galaxy despite the stupidity of the Council. So despite the building rage, he'd managed to practice some of his newfound patience and hear her out long enough to know that she had a damn good reason to not go after the cure. It had been the toughest choice in his life, but in the end it had been the right one. As it was, they'd lost Alenko, and he knew that had he tried to go after the cure himself, he too would have been nothing but ashes in the wind.

Instead, he'd lived through one of the greatest battles of all time, had been declared a hero of all things, and had brought honor to his people. While he was looking forward to getting back into the heat of the battle, he'd also begun to contemplate the future. Shepard was right in pointing out that should the Reapers arrive, the entire galaxy would have to unite or else face extinction like the Protheans did. The asari were powerful biotics, others such as the salarians were known for their intelligence. The humans and turians, despite their racial animosity towards each other were very much alike in that both were known for their adaptability to nearly any situation, their determined fighting spirit, and their cunning in battle. Tali's race, while physically disadvantaged as a whole, were probably the most gifted engineers anywhere. The Krogan however were bred for battle, and if the Reapers ever did show up, his race would once again be needed.

Which could present a problem since their home-world was in shambles, and civil wars between rivaling clans had continued to diminish their already dangerously low numbers. Someone was going to have to step up and start bashing some sense into some very thick skulls one day soon.

An approaching geth patrol cut into his musings, and he backtracked as quietly as he could and ducked into an adjoining tunnel and waited silently as the patrol passed and then monitored their route as he hadn't seen this patrol before. The geth marched past the exit of the tunnel, but did not head out into the main cave. He waited until he could no longer hear their fading footsteps and then gave it another minute for good measure before he continued on with his own patrol. The others would be back in another ten minutes and he wanted to make sure there would be no surprises for anyone.


"Did you watch the replay of their warm-up match from last-night?"

"Sure did. Was pretty impressive, but I don't think the Commander or the Chief are quite fully recovered from their injuries. Did you see how Williams limped a little after the fight? That is going to be a big advantage for us."

"Yeah and Shepard seemed to have a hard time when it got down to the hand to hand. She was definitely favoring her right arm."

From her hiding place only a few meters away, Ashley couldn't help but smirk to herself, as she overheard the quiet conversation between one of the Normandy's Marines and his quarian counterpart. She and Shepard had played up their 'injuries' yesterday for this very reason. Funny thing was, neither of them had told the other of their plan to do so- they were just that in sync with each other's mindset. That brief thought brought a smile to her face before she focused her mind back on task.

Peeking around the corner she took note of access points to the building, placement of cover, turrets, sentries, and counted heads. She noted that no patrol was alone. In the case of holographic patrols there was typically a small group of four mercs or mechs wandering around the outside. Their real opponents were typically paired up and she noted that it was almost always one Marine and one tech. She also observed that they had tried to pair up one quarian and one human to balance out the fighting style along with the skill ability and level. Smart thinking….but it wouldn't help them much, she thought smugly as she silently moved on to her next target.

As she started to make a quick dash through open ground towards the next bit of cover a slight movement higher up caught her eye and she ducked back into her cover as she scanned carefully in the direction she'd caught to slight shift of something. And then her trained eye spotted it. A hidden sentry post, camouflaged as merely a stack of crates. Only the highest 'crate' was only about half metal and the other half a cleverly disguised mesh to resemble the look of the metal. It did a good job of concealing its occupant, but it also gave the sentry a false sense of complete invisibility. Fortunately for Ashley, the occupant of this particular sentry had shifted to where the light was reflecting off of some surface and the reflection lighting up the mesh was what had caught Ashley's attention. She had to admit that it was the perfect sniper's nest though.

Taking her rifle off her back, Ashley brought it up and began scanning around the complex and began spotting several more such towers. None of them were close to where Tali and Liara had been headed so she knew they would be okay. Opening her comm she decided to risk breaking silence to warn the Commander of her discovery. Thankfully they had developed a set of simple signals that were closely related to the old Morse Code principals. She signaled the Spectre who responded that she was listening. Ashley quickly tapped out her warning and several seconds later Shepard relayed an acknowledgement before going silent once more. Satisfied, Ashley made note of the sniper's nests and then moved on.


Shepard froze when the quiet click came through her headset and ducked back behind a stack of crates as she pressed the receiver to acknowledge the call. She listened to the brief signals and frowned. She scanned the area a second time, not seeing what was being warned about and then flipped her visor down and queued up the thermal imaging system. And immediately spotted what her Chief had. Nice catch Ash, she thought to herself as she made note of the locations and then flipped her visor back up and sent a quick signal of acknowledgement back.

Several short minutes later, Shepard had completed her recon and was on her way back to the rendezvous point. She waited patiently for the rest of her team to arrive. Wrex poked his head out, saw that Shepard was alone and indicated that he would make one more circuit and be back in five minutes. She nodded approval and smirked in pride as he moved silently away. While she waited she sent a quick signal to Garrus who indicated that he was in position and ready. She ordered him to stand-by for further instructions and then turned her attention back to Ashley who had just ducked into their hiding spot.

A quick scan showed that there were no enemies nearby, so Shepard risked whispering to her teammate. "Nice catch."


"Find a good entry point?"

Ashley shrugged. "Depends on how you want to go in. There were two entry points. One small, with lots of security in place the other is in through the garages and maintenance bays. Less security measure more guards. Willing to bet at least one heavy mech on the other side of the doors."

Shepard nodded and decided to wait until Liara and Tali returned to decide how they would approach things. Two minutes later, Wrex was hunkering down next to them and they waited a few minutes more for the return of their other two teammates. Just when Shepard was starting to grow concerned there was the slightest of rustling and as everyone tensed ready for action, Tali and Liara rounded the corner and dropped down low indicating the need for silence. Everyone froze and they all strained for any signs of discovery. A minute later a small group of mech scouts marched by and the whole group remained motionless until well after they passed.

Slowly exhaling in relief, Shepard peeked around the corner and watched the mechs round the corner up ahead and disappear. Looking back at the two she arched an eyebrow. "Cutting it close," she whispered.

"State of the art security," Tali answered back quietly. "Didn't have time to hack into it using my normal methods."

"Were you able to get anything?"

Tali nodded. "I was able to get limited access of the system using one of their security cards which I was able to copy. I did have enough time to drop a non-detectable virus into the system which will basically disable their entire security system as soon as I activate it. Of course when I do that, they will be aware of our presence and the countdown will begin."

"You get a layout of the base?"

Tali nodded and quickly scratched a map out in the dirt. Ashley, Shepard and Wrex then added what they had all seen during their recons. Shepard looked at their crude map and then nodded to herself. "Alright people, here's how it's going to go down. Tali, I know you can get into the system if you have more time, but quite frankly this is more about showing them how things work in a down and dirty battle. So that's what we're going to give them. The most direct route to the control room is through the maintenance bay so we go in there. We'll skirt around the edges to this point, setting charges on these towers here, here, and here to take some of the pressure off Garrus. And then," she looked up at them and smirked, "we knock on their back door."

Wrex cracked his massive knuckles and grinned in approval. "I like it."

"Wrex, we'll provide cover fire to draw them away from the door so you can get a good charge at it. Please remember that there are safeties on, but you can still do a decent amount of damage if one of those kids gets caught in your path. I don't want any of them losing out on this training because we weren't careful enough," Shepard warned him.

"Fine, fine. I promise not to break any of your trainees," he grumbled in slight disappointment.

"The rest of us will draw as much fire to this position here. It will be out of the line of sight of the snipers from this side of the complex and it will take those ground troops three to five minutes at best to rally on our position. By then we should be inside. Once the door is breached, Ashley and I will take point and Tali you follow us and take out everything you can as we go. Wrex, you and Liara will watch our six. Use whatever you have at your disposal to wreak as much confusion and damage as you can people. Most importantly….don't die. If you do you are footing the bill for this entire station tonight. Got it?"

"Yes ma'am," Williams grinned as the others nodded.

Satisfied, Shepard flipped her comm on and relayed a series of signals to Garrus that told him to standby for action within five minutes. He would receive verbal commands shortly after that. He sent an acknowledgement back and Shepard nodded to the others who were prepping to head out. Poking her head around the corner and scanning the area, Shepard signaled to the group and they began their quick dash towards the bay doors. Using hand signals, cover and their thermal scans they avoided being spotted while Shepard and Williams leap frogged each other in setting charges at the base of each tower.

From his perch, Garrus was able to watch their progress, and flipped the safety off of his weapon. Seeing what Shepard had planned, he quickly determined that the snipers closest to his position would pose no threat to the rest of the team, but the soldiers hidden on the rooftop would cause a problem. They would become his first priority. The Turian began to slow his breathing down to even, methodical breaths, and chose his first target. With any luck, he would be able to take down three of them before they could even reach the safety of their barricade. By then they would be too busy trying to figure out where he was attacking from to brave trying to reach the edge of the roof for a clear shot down on Shepard and the team.

Station Control….

Admiral Ahern glanced around the room to see that all of his staff were watching their screens intently. He didn't blame them. He was sitting forward in his own chair, fingers pressed together in anticipation of the battle that was about to ensue. "Make sure that as soon as the Krogan charges, that all safeties on anyone in his immediate vicinity are set on maximum," he ordered.

"Aye Admiral."

"Admiral, they completely evaded all the geth in the tunnels. How do you wish for me to handle that?"

"Double the troop count inside the storage area and throw in a squad inside the maintenance bay."

"Standard configuration?"

"Heavies class," Ahern smirked.

"Sir?" the tech asked in surprise. "We already have a full squad of drones in there, along with two heavy mechs sir."

"Should give that quarian of theirs a good run for her money then, don't you think?"

"Should I raise their safeties when they enter the maintenance bay sir?" the safety tech asked.

"The Commander was very insistent that we do no such thing Lieutenant. As you were."

"Yes sir."


The group lined up against the last bit of coverage that was provided between themselves and the maintenance bay doors. Looking down the line Shepard noted that they were all grinning in anticipation and looking just a little bit feral. Even Liara was looking a little eager to finally be in the thick of things again. Pulling her weapon free, she flipped off the safety and held up her hand and began a five second countdown. As she reached zero, Ashley pushed the button and several large virtual explosions rocked the entire cave as the charges they'd set detonated.

Once again the group had to pause for a brief second of admiration and then Shepard charged out into the open firing at the stunned guards with unerring accuracy as she went. The three other women were close on her heels and they quickly circled back to back, as more guards and holographic mercs began pouring out of the building to defend the base.

Base Control Room…


"Sir we just lost towers one, two and three!"

"Sirs, the troops on the roof are reporting firing on their location. Two…no three down now."

"Shepard and three of her team are at the maintenance bay entrance sir!"

Reegar and Garvey looked at each other and nodded. Reegar turned to his own techs. "Begin data upload and base self destruct sequence. Bring all mechs and geth online."



"We just lost all security feeds."

"How? I thought you said there were firewalls in place!"

"I-I-I'm not sure sir."

Garvey seemed to take it in stride however and he pulled his weapon out. "Alright people, the system has obviously been compromised. Get the mechs and geth on line and then grab your weapons. Shepard isn't going for subtle and I have a feeling this is about to get ugly very quickly. Zeta plan is now in effect."

The techs in the room scrambled to do what they could with what was left and then began pulling and checking their own weapons as they moved to their assigned locations. Some would remain inside the room- the last line of defense with Garvey in charge. Reegar would lead a second team to fortified positions outside to try and stop - or at the very least slow - Shepard and her team in the hallways. The main objective was to stop Shepard, but if they could stall her team long enough, they would fail to reach the objective in enough time.


To anyone who had a view of what was going on just outside the maintenance bay, it was pure and simple pandemonium that whirled around a calm center of four deadly women. For those who were not simply a holographic projection, they thought they had known what to expect when going up against Shepard and her team. They quickly realized they didn't know the half of it, and they were at a loss to defend themselves against the onslaught of attacks that they were confronted with.

Weapons were fired until overheated and then secondaries were drawn and used. In the middle of the gun fire that raged around them, people and objects were being hurled around like toys, and any shots that got close to the tightly knit group were deflected by a damn biotic barrier. On top of that, weapons exploded in their hands crippling their own shields, and several of the mechs fell to the ground useless.

Shepard's eyes darted towards the building's entrance and seeing it clear, gave Wrex the signal. Somewhere high above them, she heard the tell-tale echo of Garrus' rifle fire round after round. Several holographic mercs had dropped from the roof above before dissipating into thin air, and Shepard smirked to herself as she gave a silent thanks to her Turian friend. There was a massive roar from her right and she watched as several of the guards began backing up slightly as Wrex made his intentions quite clear. A few seemed frozen in place, including one of her own Marines. Pulling her own sniper, she fired at the man knowing that at this range the shot would sting something fierce despite the safeties. But it knocked him back far enough to be out of Wrex's path as the massive Krogan began bearing down on the bay doors.

Seconds later the thick steel doors crumpled under the force of the Krogan's impact before being ripped completely from the frame and tossed aside like tissue paper. Shepard stepped over the 'dead' marine who was trying to get the air back in his lungs.

"First thing we are going to work on with you Kim, is learning to duck," she remarked dryly before they moved into the building.

…and was promptly tackled to the ground by her Chief. Gunfire chased them as the entire group scrambled behind a large land vehicle. "Anyone else feel like they might have stacked the odds a little more against us than we first agreed to?" Tali panted as she risked a glance around the vehicle. Her eyes widened behind her faceplate. "They've changed the program since I hacked into the system and made alterations!" she exclaimed.

"So it seems. Wrex?"


"Forget what I said about playing it safe. They want to play hardball then they can learn the hard way."

"With pleasure," the Battlemaster said as he unholstered his shotgun and cracked his neck.

"Ladies? Let's give the man some breathing room shall we?"

"Aye aye Skipper."

Outside the building, Garrus paused in his firing while his weapon cooled down. All but two of the rooftop soldiers had been neutralized, and they had dug in enough to not present any kind of threat. He used the brief moment to scan his surroundings and finally grunted in amusement. The snipers were finally turned in his direction scanning for his position. And below them, a whole squad of Geth had emerged from one of the tunnels nearby.

"Well now…this just got interesting," he chuckled to himself. The overheat indicator on his rifle scope died away and he took out the first of the three remaining snipers. The second one went down seconds later, but the third had finally made his position however and took a shot that caused debris to rain down in front of his scope. Two more shots followed the first, but Garrus didn't flinch. He waited patiently for the debris to clear and as soon as it did he took his own shot. The sniper went down and then Garrus quickly re-aimed towards the approaching geth, working away at the shield on the Prime while he still could from his protected position. Several headshots later, the Prime was down, but the rest of the squad were quickly closing in on his position.

Rolling to his feet, the former C-Sec officer took in the fact that the path he had taken to get up to his perch was blocked so he moved to the other side of the boulders and looked down. It was steep, fully exposed, and extremely hazardous looking. "About time I had a bit of a challenge," he smirked before he turned to fire point blank at the first geth that had managed to climb up to his position. Then he leapt and began skittering down the steep face of the cave wall, taking care to spot the various enemies that began to present themselves and fire wildly at him. During the rough journey down he managed to take out three more, before he came to a tumbling halt on the cave floor.

Panting slightly he looked up to see the geth grouping above him, unable to pursue down the path he'd just come and raise their weapons to take aim at him. Unfortunately, they were too far out of range for his Omni-tool. Lying on his back he raised his sniper, took aim and fired off three quick shots before his rifle overheated. Three geth went down, but the rest opened fire. Rolling away, Garrus scrambled to his feet and made a dash for the nearest piece of cover, swapping out his sniper for his assault rifle. It was a ground game now, he decided as he keyed his Omni-tool up and waited for the first bunch of guards to get within range of his position….

Station Control Room….

"Gods and Goddesses," someone breathed in awe.

Ahern had to silently agree. Shepard and her team were tearing the maintenance bay - and everything they'd thrown at them - apart. Tali was working furiously to disable or weaken as many mechs and geth as she could, while still ducking and weaving around various pieces of cover and managing to get off more than a few well placed and debilitating shots. Liara was following in her wake, firing her own weapon with deadly accuracy even as she used her biotics to deliver a number of final blows to the heavy mechs Tali was weakening. Shepard and Williams were both taking the fight to the enemy, rushing in close like stinging bees on a victim. Both were wielding high-powered shotguns, and they would duck and weave around one particular target, their weapons bringing it down within seconds before they'd move on to another. Wrex was simply charging anything in sight. Which meant Shepard and the others had to keep on their toes, because the large Krogan didn't seem to have any regard for who got in his way. But Shepard wasn't shouting any orders for him to stop, and it appeared they were all highly aware of his location around the room because any time he neared one of them they would deftly move out of his way. Robotic parts were strewn all over the large bay, and Shepard's team had barely been grazed by any of the shots being fired around the room because they were simply moving too quickly for any of the robots-mech or geth- to lock onto. The carnage was frightening and awe-inspiring.


Shepard delivered the final shot to the head of the mech she and Ashley had been wearing down and looked over her shoulder. Tali and Liara had made it to the far side of the room and were also in the process of taking down their last opponent. Shepard smirked as she watched Liara lift and then slam one of the mechs down onto the ground before Tali walked over and calmly shoved the barrel of her shotty against its head and pulled the trigger.

"Wrex! Playtime is over! Eight minutes and counting!"

The Krogan stopped mid swing and glanced back Shepard. "Always ruining my fun," he grumbled before he took the mech in his hands and head butted it into oblivion. Dropping the destroyed machine he strolled over to the Spectre and glanced around. "You really know how to throw a party Shepard," he said after a moment with a wide grin that showed all his teeth.

"Hmmm, you should have seen the last one she threw," Ashley chuckled as they jogged across the now quiet bay towards the door that would lead them towards the control room.

"Stay focused people," Shepard reminded them, though she was smirking in approval of their performance so far. "What have you got Tali?"

"A couple dozen life form readings between here and the control room. Clear ambush. My program should have run its full course by now though and their security system will be of no use to them. They have no cameras, no automated weaponry, no locks on any of the doors and…" she paused looking around one finger held in the air and flicked it just as the lights went out.

"No lights," she added in the dark in a smug tone.

Station Control Room….

"Whoa whoa whoa!" one of the techs exclaimed as he sat up further in his chair and began typing furiously at his console. Around him several more were suddenly refocusing their attention from the screens to their own workstations as alarms began going off.

"What the hell is going on?!" Ahern demanded. "No one is supposed to be able to access the main power systems like that!"

"Sir…the quarian… I don't know how but she somehow managed to get into the actual program's coding."

"Shall I end the simulation Admiral?"

"Are the safeties still on?"

"Yes sir."

"How far in is she?"

"Basic environmental controls only sir. I mean, she's breeched the main security firewall somehow so she could access just about anything…but she seems to be limiting her-"

"Let the simulation continue then, but I want you to keep an eye on the safety measures. If anything looks out of the ordinary pull the plug immediately."

"Aye sir."

"Track her progress in the system for now, but when this is all over with I want you to figure out how exactly she managed to access the program from within it and make damn well sure that this never happens again," the Admiral ordered grimly.

"Yes sir."

Maintenance Bay….

Shepard keyed her night vision up, and looked over at Tali. "Do I even want to know how?"

"Probably not. I imagine I'll be hearing from the Admiral as soon as we exit the simulation."

"Well they didn't kill it so I'm taking it as a good sign that they are going to let this play out. Alright people, let's move. Clock's winding down."

Swapping her shotgun for her assault rifle, Shepard moved to one side of the door as Ashley moved to the other. The others took their own positions and then the door was thrown open and Shepard dove into the narrow corridor low and to the left, firing as she went. Williams did the same, hurling a flash grenade as she went. She and Shepard closed their eyes and looked away as the grenade went off, and then began pressing forward as those who were part of the ambush were momentarily stunned and blinded by the grenade.

Tali and Liara slipped into the corridor behind them, adding their own flair to the chaos that was ensuing as Reegar tried to rally the troops. But like an unstoppable force, Shepard and her team just kept coming. Their shields flared and buzzed at them in warning from time to time, but their hard earned experience had taught each of them the exact limits of their shields and armor. Before the final shot that would break through their armor would land, they would duck into whatever little cover they could find for those few precious seconds that would allow their shields to recharge.

Reegar soon realized he was in a losing battle. Shepard was advancing too quickly, and his troops would not be able to hold her off long enough. But for now his side still had the numbers. "Fall back!" he finally ordered while they still could. "Everyone fall back into the control room!"

They lost half their number during the retreat but by the time they made it into the mostly dark control room, panting from the exertion, they still had over twenty soldiers left. Garvey looked at Reegar. "What the hell happened out there?"

"Garage full of synthetics didn't even slow them. And I don't know how they managed to hack into the environmental controls, but not all of your people were prepared for that. There was a lot of blind firing going on in that hallway."

"I've ordered all remaining troops inside. With any luck they'll get boxed in."

"What about the turian?"

"Reports last had him outside dealing with the geth. All we have to do is hang on for four more minutes and shoot anything that comes through that door. Every take cover!"


Garrus jammed his assault rifle into the chest of the already damaged geth and pulled the trigger until the weapon overheated. Satisfied he stepped back and looked around, noting the quietness over the base. He'd seen the various patrols- real and otherwise- rushing into the base and grinned to himself. Apparently, they thought the geth would keep him occupied long enough to not be of any concern. Oh yeah….he was about to ruin someone's day. And Shepard was definitely going to owe him a beer tonight.


"Shepard I have multiple contacts approaching from behind us and from the main entrance," Tali warned tightly. "Looks like they are sending every last troop our way."

"Last ditch effort it seems. What's behind the door?"

"Twenty four signature readings. I could cut that in half right now if you'd like."

"As tempting as that offer is, it would be cheating. We do this the hard way. The enemies from behind…how many are real?"

"Only four…and they are at the back of the pack."

"Wrex…cover our six. Liara, rip the control room door, and then you and Tali dig in right outside. Once we've secure the room it'll be up to you Tali to stop the upload and set the self destruct sequence. Ready for some CQB exercises Chief?" Shepard asked as she pulled her pistol and combat knife.

Ashley switched over to her own sidearm and knife and gave Shepard a feral grin and nodded.

"Good. We won't have much time to spare."

"Here they come!" Tali commented as there was noise at the far end of the hall. Wrex unholstered his shotgun, walked over to a second nearby doorway and ripped the heavy steel door right off of its hinges. Shepard smirked as she saw him crouch slightly and hoped that their own soldiers would have the good sense to get out of the way. With a mighty roar, the Krogan charged down the hallway, the door absorbing the sudden and prolific amount of gunfire being aimed in his direction.

Turning back, she nodded to Liara who used her own biotics to rip the Control room door from its hinges and then spun and hurled it towards the other oncoming soldiers. Like a giant fly-swatter the charging group was knocked back and left to lie either 'dead' or stunned as the rest of their companions tried to get around the door which was now wedged sideways across the corridor, forcing them to either go over or under it and leaving them dangerously exposed to Liara's and Tali's attacks.

Behind them, Shepard and Ashley dove into the room, one high and one low, firing as they went. They made it to the first control panel just as their shields began failing and took cover as their own pistols took the moment to cool down. "I counted at least twenty!" Ashley called out over the gun fire.

Shepard nodded and then looked over at the woman that had been by her side through more life and death situations than she wanted to count. This wasn't really a life or death situation- they were only playing at it right now- but their honor and reputation as a team was on the line. A quick check showed they had just under three minutes to secure the room and have Tali work her magic. "We don't have times for games Chief!" Shepard shouted back.

Williams nodded in understanding and took a couple of slow deep breaths to center herself. She nodded she was ready as soon as her HUD quit flashing overheat warnings for both her shield and her pistol. Every shot would count as they rushed their enemy. Shepard held up her hand, did a three second countdown and then the two women leapt over the destroyed console they'd been using as cover and charged directly into the gunfire, their shields immediately lightening up, but holding for the three seconds that they needed to dash to the other side of the room.

Then they were over the makeshift barrier their enemy had built and the firing began to rapidly die off as the two women broke into their ranks where no one wanted to accidentally hit one of their own teammates.

Station Control….

The control room had gone silent once more as everyone watched in awe at the well choreographed actions of Shepard's team. Garrus, though having received no further instructions from Shepard knew what the objective was and now that he no longer faced any opposition from their combined enemies, had used his own considerable hacking skills and had found what he was looking for. The Krogan Battle Master had effectively blockaded any further attempts into the base through the bay, and Tali and Liara had not only stalled any further advances towards the base control room, but they were effectively decimating the opposition.

Inside the control room however was what had captivated almost everyone's attention. Ahern had lived a long life as a soldier and had been through a good many battles in his extensive military career. He'd seen good soldiers, he'd seen amazingly talented soldiers. This however was a whole other category of talent in his book. At first he thought that their charge into Garvey and Reegar's ranks had been desperate and reckless. How wrong he had been.

By diving into their midst, Shepard and Williams had forced the others into a close quarters combat situation, effectively nullifying any firearms the others had. The two women fought back to back once more, moving with a deadly grace and ease that attested to the dozens of fights they had been in over the past year. Ahern watched with a practiced eye, seeing the many styles of fighting they both incorporated, noting that they were holding nothing back today. He'd known Shepard was good, he'd had access to certain files that not a lot of other people were privy to. But even he'd underestimated the cohesion of Shepard's team. A tiny smirk lifted his lips as he watched. God help the Reapers if they ever crossed paths with Shepard and her team again.

Base Control Room….

It was hard for her to not lose herself in the battle rush. But not all of her opponents were holographic and she had to have enough presence of mind to curtail some of her blows. But it didn't mean she had to go easy on those who were real. She had to give Reegar and Garvey some credit…they'd saved the best for last. When the attacks finally came, they were well coordinated. But they weren't enough.

Three people rushed Shepard while another three rushed Ashley. Backs to each other, the women fired simultaneously, taking out the nearest of their opponents, before ducking under the attack of the second, knifing them in the process and using their body as a shield as they fired on the third. More were already on the move and they dropped their burdens and let them come. Shepard ducked a knife that was thrust at her, grabbed her assailants arm and spun him into Ashley's own blade while she slid on her knees across the floor her own knife coming up and under the guard of a man that thought he had a clean shot on Ashley's unprotected back. In the blink of an eye Shepard was back on her feet, her gauntlet blocking a wild swipe at her to the side as she fired pointblank into a quarian faceplate. Behind her Ashley had dropped to a crouch sweeping two more off their feet, and rolled under Shepard's sweeping leg kick as she took out two more that were trying to flank them both. Ashley was firing at all four even as she was standing, and the rest backed up a step, eyeing the two women warily as they realized their numbers had just been cut in half in seconds.

Shepard didn't give them any quarter however, and she fired into their loose circle, forcing them to attack once again. Blocks were thrown, kicks and punches landed with devastating force, knives and pistols were wielded with unerring accuracy, as the two women moved in a lethal ballet of destruction until they stood panting in the middle of the room, surrounded by the 'dead'.

"Tali!" she shouted.

The quarian came rushing into the room, holstering her shotgun as she started accessing her Omni-tool. "Your cutting it extremely close Commander," she informed Shepard tightly as her fingers flew. She knew it was now up to her, but she barely had a minute left to stop the upload and set the self-destruct with just enough time for them to escape. "I suggest you leave…now."

"No one gets left behind Tali. Can you do it?"

There was tense silence and then Tali had to admit. "I can stop the upload, but I may not have enough-," her words were cut off by a sudden blaring of an alarm as red strobe lights began flashing throughout the base.

"Self destruct sequence initiated. T minus sixty seconds." A computerized voice informed.

Everyone froze for a second confused and then Shepard grinned. "Garrus," she murmured proudly. Then she quirked and eyebrow at the quarian. "You were saying?"

Tali was working furious to break through the last of the firewalls. They were eluding her however and she knew they were running out of time to make a safe escape from within the compound. "Boshet!" she swore before doing something very Shepard-like. She pulled her shotgun and began firing into the console she'd been accessing. After the third shot the others were joining her until the console exploded. Looking down at her Omni-tool she nodded in satisfaction. "I suggest we run," she called out as she holstered her shotgun and started for the door.

Shepard was close on her heels. "Wrex! Clear us a path! Garrus what's your status?"

"Back outside and heading towards your exit point."

The four women charged down the hall, thankful that Wrex was up ahead, clearing the way as they would be pushing it to get clear of the designated blast zone. With ten seconds left to spare, they burst back out into the main cave and began running for the closest bit of cover they could see where their turian companion was waiting.

"Let's move people!"

"Shepard we will not be in the clear!" Tali informed them breathlessly.

"Liara?!" Shepard called out, her own lungs burning from the exertion.

"I can do it!" Liara panted.

They skidded to a halt as soon as they met up with Garrus and ducked down behind the outcropping of rock that he'd taken position behind.


"Wrex, I'm going to need you to boost me."


The massive Krogan slapped a hand on the asari's shoulder and grunted a 'do it'.


"Here goes nothing!" Liara called out as they drew as close together as they could while Liara threw up a barrier around their entire group, using Wrex's own biotic ability to help boost the strength of the shield as the entire cave lit up around them.

Part 24

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