A/N – I'm back! Bit later than what I said. But a little thing called 'Dragon Age: Inquisition' has taken up pretty much all my time outside of work and holidays.
So… er… Hello, dear readers! If you've already read 'Search for Saren', then this is the sequel to that. If you haven't read it, I guess you don't really need to read it as you'll figure out what happened in that story just from reading onwards. (Or you could, you know, go and read it. The choice is yours!)
Anyway, first thing is that I've been doing some thinking since I finished up the last story and I've come to a decision. 'Search for Saren', this and the next story (whatever it will be called) are no longer prequels to 'Promises Made, Promises Kept' as I'm going to make enough changes that these three stories simply won't fit what happened in the first story I wrote. To those who read 'PM, PK', all I can say is not to worry. There will be differences and I will be changing some events significantly enough that they just won't mesh with that story any longer.
What that also means it that I'll be writing this, plus the story covering ME3 and also, perhaps, a new post-ME3 story. The reason I'll be doing that is because of the number of changes I will be making. 'Promises' was an incredibly fluffy, sentimental piece of writing based on a perfectly Paragon Shepard and with a set of rose-tinted glasses – the post-Reaper world I created was almost too perfect. Now while I will continue to write fluff etc., the post ME3 story I have planned for this trilogy won't be all sunshine and happiness. Grittier and darker, as there is no doubt a post-Reaper galaxy won't be a nice place to be, for a while at least.
Rated M, as Shepard swears (he is a soldier, after all) and Jack also appears later in the story. It'll be a swear-a-thon! (Not really) Oh, and there'll be sex too. Dirty, dirty, naughty, sweaty sex. Bow-chicka-wow-wow.
Just as a final note, the name of this story is named after an Australian band – it seemed apt as Collectors is part of the name.
Anyway, a few prologues to start off with, to cover events between the end of ME1 and the start of ME2. (So far I've written 9, may add more.) I know there are comics and all sorts of other non-game content that provide plenty of back-story, but I've done my own thing by linking the two, though haven't strayed from lore.
Orbit around the planet of Alchera appeared clear of danger as the SSV Perugia disengaged its FTL drives and slowed to what could be considered crawling speed. They had received orders from Alliance HQ to proceed directly to the Amada System as the Alliance had received an SOS from, of all ships, the SSV Normandy. The Perugia was sent to investigate at once.
"I have the beacon on scanners, sir. But no sign of any signal from the Normandy itself. Though I do have at least six faint signatures," stated Ensign Ramirez, "I believe they could be life-pods."
"Life-pods? But the Normandy was a stealth craft. It's… simply impossible," replied Captain Kowalski, "Scan for radio signals. Anything, Ramirez. There must be survivors in those life-pods."
Kowalski turned to where his pilot sat, his eyes on both the consoles in front of him but also glancing out the window out front. Generally front windows were only there for aesthetic purposes but you could still get a decent view when the ship was travelling slow or stopped. "Anything you can see out the front, Flash?"
Flight Lieutenant Gordon shook his head. "I've got nothing either, sir. Nothing on any scanners. I can't even see any wreckage out the front. If something did get the Normandy, it sure did a number on it."
Kowalski turned with his hands behind his back, head down slightly, as he paced back and forth along the gangway. He couldn't believe that, of all ships, the Normandy had been lost.
"Sir, I've got something!" shouted Ramirez, "Someone's on the radio."
"… name is Liara T'Soni… I repeat, the Normandy has been destroyed… forces unknown… six life-pods… Shepard lost… require immediate assistance…"
You could have heard a pin-drop in the Perugia. Regular crew-men to officers all shared glances as news filtered through. They couldn't quite believe what they had heard. Every serviceman and woman at least knew the name of Commander Shepard. Since events on the Citadel, there was no greater hero in the Alliance.
"Ramirez, see if you can clear that up and respond. Ask them to clarify."
Ramirez keyed his console to clear up the reception. "Liara T'Soni. This is Ensign Ramirez of the SSV Perugia, Alliance Navy. Please repeat your previous statement regarding the Commander. I say again, please repeat your previous statement regarding the Commander."
There was a moment of silence before a voice replied. "Thank the Goddess. I repeat, the Normandy has been destroyed. We know of six life-pods which escaped. And Commander Shepard is missing. He was what you would call 'spaced' during evacuation."
"Miss T'Soni, this is Captain Kowalski, Commanding Officer of the Perugia. Hold tight. We'll get all survivors on board as soon as possible."
"Yes, Captain. We'll wait until further instructions."
Over the next two hours, the six life-pods were located and brought on board the Perugia. The crew were surprised to see one contain a turian and a krogan, everyone taking a step back as the krogan bent down and exited the life-pod, clear fury in his movements. The turian didn't look any happier, both moving away to stand alone though appearing to be on edge. The last life-pod was eventually brought aboard, with two navy crewmen stepping forward to open the door. First to step out was an asari, to the slight amusement of the navy personnel. She was followed by a female human doctor. To the amazement of nearly everyone, the third and last person to step out was a female quarian, who nearly collapsed as she stepped out of the life-pod, the doctor bending down slightly to hold her up, clearly providing some sort of comfort, with the asari helping steady the quarian on her other side.
One of the personnel stepped forward. "I'm Corporal Cole. I'm here to assess survivors." The Corporal glanced across the three females in front of him. "What's with the suit rat?" he asked, gesturing towards the quarian dressed in the dark suit.
The asari looked at the Corporal with pure venom in her eyes. "What did you just say, Corporal?" she hissed.
"I asked what was with the suit rat? What, is she upset or something? The hell is a quarian doing on one of these life pods anyway?"
The turian and krogan both stepped forward, placing themselves in front of the quarian. "I think you'd best apologise right now, before I lose my temper. You ever seen an angry krogan?" clear menace in the question stated, "My little friend here has just lost her Captain. Her friend. And she at the very least deserves your respect. Particularly from the likes of you."
The Corporal looked from the krogan to the turian, and then behind to the asari, who was now starting to shimmer in blue. "What do I have to apologise for? It's a simple question. I mean, what the hell was a quarian doing on board the Normandy anyway? It's a surprise we found you and the turian on one of these life-pods."
It all happened in an instant. The krogan pulled his shotgun from the small of his back, aiming at the chest of the corporal. The turian followed suit, an assault rifle in his hands in a second, aimed at the forehead of the Corporal. The sounds of rifles and pistols being un-holstered and cocked echoed throughout the hangar. At least half a dozen Alliance personnel had weapons trained towards them. The asari shimmered in a glorious blue, lifting a hand as the Corporal found himself trapped in a stasis field. The asari then stepped forward between the turian and krogan, ignoring the weapons now trained on her.
"I think someone needs to learn some manners," she stated, a tone of menace in her own voice, "How dare you show such disrespect! We are all crew of the SSV Normandy, under the leadership of Commander Shepard. First Human Spectre. Saviour of the Citadel. We've just survived one of the greatest battles in galactic history. And we've just witnessed the loss of a man we had chosen to follow until the very end. And you ask what is wrong?" She shook her head. "I know our Captain was proud of his service, but he would be ashamed right now. Probably of all of us."
A human male, clearly devastated himself, stepped forward, raising a hand as he remained unarmed, trying to defuse the situation. "Guys, this really isn't the way…"
The asari turned her head slightly. "I know it isn't, Kaidan. But we've just been rescued, and this is how we are treated… How she is treated," gesturing towards the quarian, "It's not right. Not after everything we've just been through. What would he have had said? I know what he would have done." She turned back towards the Corporal. "He'd have knocked some sense into him."
The quarian hadn't moved since this debacle had erupted, but finally she appeared to straighten as she stepped forward, placing a hand on the asari's shoulder. "Stop it," she said quietly, "He wouldn't want this. He wouldn't want any of this. Please… Liara, just stop it."
"I'm sorry, Tali," stated Liara, her eyes now starting to moisten as she turned to look at the quarian, hearing the heart-broken tone of her voice, before looking back at the Corporal, "But he should learn some manners. He had no idea what we've just been through. What you've just been through."
"I know, Liara. But none of this helps. And it doesn't bring him back. And he," gesturing towards the Corporal, "Means nothing by it, I'm sure. I've been asked a lot worse. And not many people would have expected someone like me to be rescued." She sighed. "Just let him go."
Liara nodded, and released the Corporal from the stasis field in which he'd found himself. The Corporal then took a few steps back, still looking at Liara with fear in his eyes. Tali turned around. "Garrus, Wrex, put your weapons away. We don't need any more deaths. Not today. We've been rescued. They are clearly here to help us. It's just… a misunderstanding. Please… just put them away."
The pair stared at Tali for a moment, before they both nodded and slowly lowered their weapons before stowing them on their backs. Tali turned to notice the Alliance personnel look at each other before slowly lowering their weapons, the tension in the room immediately disappearing as weapons were holstered. She looked up to see another human walking towards them. Tali backed up slightly and felt the rest of the Normandy team close ranks around each other. He took off his hat and appeared solemn, or so Tali thought.
"Crew of the Normandy, my name is Captain Kowalski," the human male introduced himself, his voice softer than anyone expected. He turned towards Tali. "I take it you are Tali'Zorah?"
Tali nodded her head. "You know my name?" she asked in surprise.
Kowalski nodded in return. "I know all your names. I was briefed on the crew when we were ordered to this area." The Captain turned towards the Corporal. "Cole, come here. I think you need to learn about something. Let me introduce you to the crew of the Normandy."
The Corporal, rather sheepishly, walked towards his Captain with eyes firmly on the ground. "Cole, this is Tali'Zorah. She was an engineer on the Normandy."
"Pleasure to meet you, ma'am," the Corporal stated, "And I apologise for what just happened." The Corporal held out a hand, Tali hesitating for a moment before grabbing it as they shook hands, while shaking her head at the same time.
"No apology is necessary, Corporal, though I appreciate your words. I can understand your surprise. I take no offence. Trust me, I've had far worse introductions. Just… drop the suit rat thing. We're not all bad."
The Corporal looked sheepish again, before he grinned slightly and appeared relatively relieved. "Will do, ma'am."
"Garrus Vakarian," Kowalski stated, stopping in front of the turian, "C-Sec detective. Ex-turian military. I've heard good things about you." The turian simply gave a short bow.
"I hope they were all good," the turian replied, Kowalski just grinning and nodding.
The Captain then moved on, the Corporal still following him. "Urdnot Wrex. I've heard some stories about you. Don't suppose you could share some with the crew later?"
The krogan bellowed a short laugh. "Sure thing, Captain. I've got plenty. Quite a few would involve my friends here."
"Doctor T'Soni," the Captain announced, stopping in front of a now blushing asari, "I've actually read a couple of your dissertations. I don't know about the rest of the Alliance, but I believe what Shepard has stated is true."
Liara was clearly surprised. "You have?" Kowalski nodded. "It's good to know there is someone else out there who believes at least."
Kowalski stopped in front of Kaidan and the Doctor. "Who is now the acting Commanding Officer? I haven't seen Navigator Pressly retrieved from any of the life-pods."
The group in front of him all looked at each other before Kaidan stepped forward and saluted. "I believe that would be me, sir," he said sadly, "Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko. Commanding Officer Shepard and Executive Officer Pressly were both lost with the ship, sir." He gestured towards the rest of his crew. "Commander Shepard's team and crew have been through… something we never thought we would have to experience. And, as you would understand, we are very… protective of each other."
Kowalski shook his head sadly. "No need to explain anything, Lieutenant. I can understand emotions would be running high at the moment. But may I ask something, though?"
"May I ask if the crew can relinquish their weapons please? I can assure that you are all safe here. Once we arrive back on the Citadel, they will be returned at once."
Alenko nodded and turned to the crew. "Hand over your weapons. As the Captain said, we're safe here. We don't need them any longer." He heard Garrus and Wrex mutter under their breaths but they took their weapons out again, and holding them barrel first, handed them to the Alliance personnel, who gave a brief nod as they took them. Tali hadn't moved a muscle. Alenko took a step towards her.
"Tali?" he asked softly.
"It's the only thing I have left… He gave it to me…," she whispered.
"The Captain has asked politely, Tali. We're safe here."
Tali looked up at Alenko. He couldn't see her face but he knew she was upset from the tone in her voice, almost breaking as she continued. "I can't… If they take this, I have nothing left that is real. Nothing that I can hold onto."
Alenko looked back at the Captain, eyes verging on pleading. "Can she keep it, Captain? Please?"
The Captain appeared to think for a moment. He could hear the pleading voice of the Lieutenant. But there was also no doubting the heart-broken tone of the quarian. He nodded his head. "Okay. Just make sure it's kept safe and it should be fine."
Tali looked down at the shotgun in her hands. The inscription he had written on the stock. The only gift he had given her that she had managed to save. Apart from the medal she always kept in her suit, close to her heart. Tali stood surrounded by the rest of the crew, but had never felt more alone.
Slowly she started to tremble as the tears started to flow again.
She felt the arms of Liara and Chakwas wrap around her again. Trying to bring comfort. They had been doing that ever since they had escaped the Normandy. Ever since they had heard him die over the radio. Deep in her mind, she appreciated what they were trying to do. But it was pointless.
She was empty.
And he was gone.