25 October 2580, T'Soni Lineage Estates, Armali/Thessia

As always, Vara reacted first when the alarm signal flashed to our daimones.

She had not served as my bodyguard in centuries, but her protective instincts remained strong. By the time I opened my eyes, she had already slid out of our bed and crossed the room to the nearest console. I saw her standing there, a shadow against the holographic display, its white-orange glow making interesting highlights on her bare skin.

"What is it?" I murmured.

"One intruder across the perimeter," she said. "Well equipped, with a tactical cloak, but no sign of weapons."

I rose from the bed, slipped into a silk tunic, and recovered my sidearm from the side table. A flicker of thought brought the lights up to one-eighth, just enough to see more clearly. "Should we go to the panic room?"

"Nerylla says not." Vara peered at me, her eyes dark in the dim light. "I wouldn't worry, Liara. She doesn't seem very concerned."

"Dealing with a single intruder, even with a tactical cloak? I should hope not. So long as no more are waiting to follow." I sat down in a nearby reading chair, setting my sidearm back down within easy reach. I checked the time, and grumbled in distaste. "I wish whoever it is had the courtesy to trespass earlier in the evening. I think I've had just enough sleep that it will be impossible to lie back down."

Vara smiled and crossed the room once more, her bare feet making almost no sound on the carpet. She stood before me and struck a pose. I smiled as I watched her, so familiar: short, even petite, but strong and wiry, moving like a dancer, white-dappled face and smoky silver eyes.

"I suspect I could persuade you otherwise," she murmured.

I shook my head ruefully, but I also extended my arms in invitation, and sighed in contentment as she joined me in the chair. I held her on my lap, enjoying the warmth and softness of her skin, and accepted a warm kiss. Then I felt one of her hands slip under my tunic.

"You," I informed her, "are insatiable."

"Guilty as charged," she murmured.

Goddess. Over three hundred years in our bond, she's borne me two beautiful children who are now themselves grown, and I can see the first signs that she's approaching her matriarchal transition. Yet sometimes she still reminds me of the maiden I hired on to T'Soni Analytics so long ago.

For which I am often very thankful.

Half of my mind stayed alert for some word from the protection detail or the house VI. The other half concentrated on idly caressing the skin along Vara's ribs, and nibbling my way down the side of her neck. I had her purring slightly by the time the next signal arrived.

{We've captured the intruder.} Nerylla's thought, through my daimon implant. {Despoina, I think you and Vara had better come see this. I'm calling Miranda as well.}

Vara and I exchanged a glance.

"Business before pleasure," I told her.

With a sigh of frustration, she rose to her feet once more and went in search of clothing.

We found Miranda in the security station in the south wing, working on the intruder's injuries. As sometimes happened, I stopped for a moment to consider her, struck as always by the puzzle my acolyte presented.

Miranda Keldaris was a tall asari, strikingly attractive, strong and graceful from years of athletic training. However, her primary talents were those of the mind; she was probably the most incisively intelligent asari I had ever known, and I included myself in that assessment. She had earned seven doctorate-level degrees from asari and human universities, and held galaxy-class credentials in mathematics, physics, xenobiology, genetics, and medicine.

None of this presented a surprise, when one considered her parentage and upbringing. Her mother had been an asari Matriarch, quite brilliant in her own right. Her father had been a remarkably gifted human named Jack Harper, once known throughout the galaxy as the Illusive Man. One of her early mentors had been her namesake, Miranda Lawson, a human genetically engineered for genius and raw talent. She had been raised in part in my own household, associating from an early age with many of the galaxy's foremost citizens. With such origins, an asari could not help but burn brightly or burn out. Thus far, Miranda had burned very brightly indeed.

On the other hand, she remained almost pathologically reserved, willing to share her ideas with others but almost never revealing any part of her soul. She had few close friends, and she was the only asari I had ever known to be less erotically curious than myself. To the best of my knowledge she had never taken a lover, not even after finally entering the matron stage much later than most of her peers.

Now I watched as Miranda bent over a low couch in the security station, working to save the intruder's life.

Our unexpected guest was a quarian.

He lay on the couch, unconscious, still bleeding slightly from a nasty wound in his left leg. A large male, close to two meters in height and very robustly built, in superb physical condition. He wore light combat armor in the close-fitted style usual for quarians, although Miranda had removed his helmet and part of the suit to work on his injuries. He kept his black hair very close-cropped, unusual for a quarian outside the Synarchy's military. I examined his face and found it quite attractive: pale violet skin tone, strong jaw, high cheekbones, and interesting markings around the closed eyes.

"How is he?" I asked.

Miranda stood, turning to watch me with her usual cool detachment. "He is suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, and a second-level allergic reaction as well as the wound. I think it's also been a long time since he had a decent meal. He should be fine, once I've had a chance to move him to the medical station."

"My team didn't do any of that," said Nerylla calmly. "When we confronted him, we didn't have to use force. He surrendered immediately, asked to be taken into the house, and then collapsed. We found a blood trail, leading from where we captured him back over the perimeter."

"How far over the perimeter?" asked Vara.

"As far as we took the time to check." Nerylla shrugged. "Best guess is that our friend was on foot and in hiding for a long time. Hours, maybe even a day or two."

"Yet he specifically asked to be brought into this house," I pointed out. "Yes, Miranda, move him to the medical station and take care of him. I suspect we will want to talk to him at length."

Miranda nodded silently, gathered up three of the household staff, and began the work of moving our guest.

"He's got a daimon, or the quarian equivalent, with a geth runtime cluster riding it." Nerylla handed me a datapad. "It's locked down tight until he wakes up, but we were able to query it and get his identity."

I glanced at the datapad. Kalan'Tana nar Qoralis, age twenty-two standard years.

"He's young to be so far from the Synarchy," I observed. "Still carries his birth-city association."

"Hmm." Vara frowned in thought. "His clan-name sounds familiar. Tana. Do you suppose he's descended from our friend Arin?"

"It's possible. I lost touch with his family a long time ago. It would be, what, nine or ten quarian generations since the Reaper War?"

"Closer to twelve, I think."

"He should be able to tell us once he wakes up. Quarians are careful about keeping track of their ancestors." I frowned. "You know . . . I can't help but think of another time when a lone quarian appeared out of nowhere, wounded and desperate for help."

"What are you thinking about?" asked Vara.

"Tali'Zorah on Illium and the Citadel, after she discovered evidence of Saren's alliance with the heretic geth and the Reapers."

Her eyes went wide with shock. "You don't suppose this is on the same level, do you?"

"Doctor . . ."

I turned. The quarian stirred on the stretcher where Miranda had transferred him. His eyes slitted open, revealing pearlescent white orbs. He struggled to push himself up on one elbow, and reached out to me with his free hand.

"Dr. T'Soni," he rasped.

I moved forward to kneel by the stretcher, taking his hand. I felt Nerylla tense behind me, watchful as always, but nothing seemed like a threat. "I'm here, Kalan. What is it?"

He fell back on the stretcher, exhausted, his eyes already starting to wander.

I bent close.

"The stars," he whispered. "The stars are dying."

In the small hours of the morning, I bent over a computer console, my daimon-enhanced mind sifting through data at lightning speed.

No news of a quarian unexpectedly landing on Thessia, or encountering violence once he arrived.

No sign of anything amiss in the Synarchy of Rannoch, that mighty and growing civilization on the galaxy's far rim.

No indication of odd or dangerous astronomical events, anywhere in the galaxy.

I found plenty of evidence for something going bad, but then that was a discouragingly familiar state of affairs. The valdarii continued to press territorial claims and raid outlying colonies, slowly but inexorably moving closer to the heart of Citadel space. The fanatic religious sect known as the Way continued to spread, causing social unrest across human space and beyond. The Citadel Confederation remained paralyzed, mired in factional disputes, unable to respond to the growing threats. My daughter Aspasia, an officer in the Confederation Navy, had sent me another private message, warning of further sightings of the Reapers on the galaxy's edge.

At times I very much wished I had never given up the Shadow Broker's network, or abandoned active service in the Confederation government. Long decades of retirement into private life had left me with very few active connections to call upon. I felt as if I moved through darkness and fog.

All that work and struggle. Helping Shepard to defeat the Reapers, putting salarian ambitions in check, defending civilization against a dozen other petty threats. Tearing down the corrupt old Citadel Council, setting up a semblance of galactic democracy in its place. Patiently bringing all the galaxy's peoples together, so they could cooperate to solve its common problems. Binding up old wounds, reconciling even the bitterest of enemies in a common purpose. Securing the Long Peace.

For what? For new generations to arise, forget everything we fought for, tear it all down once more?

Sometimes I envy the short-lived races. They don't have to stick around and watch as their legacy crumbles to dust and ashes.

Finally, I closed down the console, shaking my head in frustration, and made a call through my daimon.


{Yes, despoina?}

{What is our guest's status?}

{Resting quietly. Miranda gave him sedatives so he could sleep, and quarian-compatible quick-heal for his wounds. She has him on intravenous feeding and rehydration, and says his condition is improving.}

{Good. When he wakes, call me. Get some of the dextro food out of storage and have it ready for him.} I paused, thinking things through. {Do what you can to clean up any evidence of his presence. I don't want anyone off the estate knowing he is here.}

{I understand, despoina. I'll see to it.}

{Thank you, Nerylla. Good night.}

I leaned back in the chair, my eyes closed, and suddenly felt a gentle hand on the back of my neck.

"Is everything well?" Vara murmured.

"To answer that, I think I'll have to wait until Kalan wakes up." I sighed. "Goddess. The stars are dying. I certainly hope that is a bit of shock-induced hallucination."

"He certainly came a long way to tell us something."

"Yes." I rose from my chair and took my bondmate in my arms, as always enjoying the height difference that let me rest my cheek along her crest. "It can wait until morning."

I led her back to our bed, pulling the covers up over both of us. The feel of her skin against mine encouraged something other than sleep. We kissed deeply, hands wandering with long familiarity, knowing just where to touch to kindle desire. I moved down her body, nibbling and tasting, until I found the right places to reduce her to a state of raw nonverbal need. Finally she pulled at me, demanding that I rise to meet her, our bodies locked together, pleasure rolling up our spines to echo behind our eyes.

She whispered desperately beside my face. "Embrace eternity, my love."

A timeless moment of oneness. Affection. Respect. Passion.

Distant sadness.

I think even then, we suspected it might be our last time in peace for a long while.

Afterward, we lay tangled together in the darkness. I drifted, enjoying the euphoria that always followed our joining, sending gentle affection across the vanishing link. I almost faded out into sleep . . . but then I felt Vara's mind stir, a vague disturbance in her emotions, a rising urge to talk.

"Liara," she murmured. "There's something I want to ask you."

I shifted position, eased up onto my side so I could peer at her face in the darkness. "Anything."

"Why is it that you've never conceived a child?"

All thought of sleep fled. I rose up on one elbow to look down at her. "That's a very serious question to ask, all of a sudden."

"I suppose I've been wondering about it for a while."

"Does it disturb you?"

"Not really." She lifted a hand to trace the line of my cheek with her fingertips. "I've been deep enough in your mind to conceive a child by you. Twice. I know how you feel about me, and I'm content. It just seems strange."

"I suppose I've thought about it," I said slowly, examining my own motives. "When I was with Shepard, I certainly wanted children, even though it was centuries too early. When you and I finally bonded, I often thought about the possibility of having children with you. But then you reached the matron stage a good century before I could expect to . . . and then we had Aspasia, and young Nerylla, and it certainly felt like parenting to watch over Miranda during her maiden years. I suppose by the time my nesting instinct struck, I already had plenty to keep it busy."

"It's not anything about me?" she murmured, not quite meeting my gaze.

"Oh Goddess, no." I bent low to kiss her warmly. "I love you, Vara, and there is nothing about you I would not want for a child of mine."

"Are you sure?"

"Maybe I have some lingering reluctance to have children by another asari. Your ancestry is utterly conventional, four generations back, salarian and turian sires as far as the eye can see. I can understand why the idea never disturbed you all that much. I had Benezia and Aethyta for parents. Two asari. Two asari Matriarchs. The stigma against purebloods may not be as strong as it once was, but it certainly made its mark on me when I was young."


I watched her, knowing her well enough to understand what was going on behind her eyes.

"Vara," I murmured. "I'll think about it."

Very large, her eyes gleaming in the near-darkness. "You will?"

"We'll see what happens. Now may not be the best time for us to have another child, as badly as things are going out in the galaxy."

"True." As it often did, pragmatism won out over sentiment in her face. "I hope you will consider it, though. I would dearly love to see what a daughter of your lineage would be like."

"I'll consider it. I promise." I pulled her close for a warm embrace. "Now . . . do you suppose we can get some sleep? I've had quite enough serious thought for one night, and it appears we'll both need our wits about us tomorrow."