Chapter Twenty-Eight - Noveria Nights
Noveria, Pax System, Horsehead Nebula
April 15, 2183
The Normandy was a bit of a conundrum for anyone familiar with Alliance ships. Standard Alliance operating procedure had a dedicated armory on the ship, with an entire team to maintain, and outfit the ship's entire crew with weapons and armor at a moments notice.
Unlike all other Alliance ships, the Normandy had a small set of weapons and armor, kept in the hanger of the Normandy, with a single crewmember assigned to tend to them, on a part time basis. His other job, as Requisitions Officer, often saw him spending long hours on the extranet, tracking down the supplies the Normandy would need and arranging for them to all be sent to the correct place.
After coming on board, Ashley had taken over the job from the Requisitions Officer, and she'd been meticulously trying to catch up on all of the work that had gone unattended since the Normandy's launch. It was a bigger job than normal, especially when you considered that no one on the Normandy was working with standard gear.
On top of working with the normal stores of equipment that largely went unused, the entire ground team had weapons and armor that needed to be maintained. Shepard's SPECTRE armor alone had taken nearly a week and cutting through more red tape than she ever thought she'd see to even figure out how parts of it worked.
There had been a minor kerfuffle when Garrus had learned that the Alliance had others maintain gear, and had challenged Ashley to what he had termed a 'calibrations showdown.'
It was much to his surprise when she won the armor, pistol, handgun, and shotgun challenges, but he had at least been able to keep his head tall with his perfect score on the sniper rifles.
All of that work was for a good reason, though. When a mission came up, everything needed to be working in absolutely perfect order.
As Shepard pulled on her armor, feeling the servos powering up with their quiet power, giving her strength beyond even the strongest man. Stretching, she looked around the hanger to see the rest of her squad following her lead.
Wrex was already dressed in his armor, but that was because he never actually took it off. He was leaning on the Mako, idly checking his shotgun over. He actually looked impressed with the work Ashley had done to it. Somehow, she had added another two shots before it overheated.
As always, Rainbow was struggling to pull the legs of her armor on, grunting to herself, completely oblivious to the snickers from Kaidan behind her.
Next to her, Tali was trying to figure out whether it was worth it to pull a chest plate on over her containment suit. It was either too tight of a fit, or too loose of one, thanks to the odd ways her suit sat on her frame, not to mention that quarian bone structure was just a bit off from human. Normandy didn't stock alien armor, at least not yet. Shepard would make sure that that was rectified as soon as possible.
Before Shepard could finish locking up her armor, the elevator door opened and she watched Liara step out. The asari looked nervous, wringing her hands together, but there was a determination behind her eyes that burned bright.
Finishing bolting her chest piece in place, Shepard turned towards her, greeting her with a smile. "Hey, Liara."
"You're going after my mother." There was a slight waver in Liara's voice, but she did her best to hide it. Taking a deep breath, she met Shepard's eyes, unblinking and firm. "I want to be there."
Shepard fell still, keeping Liara's gaze for what felt like an eternity to the Asari. Piercing, the look made Liara shift uncomfortably in her shoes, wondering if she'd perhaps pushed a bit too far. She felt laid bare, as if Riley was seeing everything that made her, her, and she wondered how she must appear to her.
Before Liara could ponder any further, Shepard looked away and the moment was broken. She took a deep breath, her legs shaking a little unsteadily from the intensity of the emotions that still rocked through her.
Glancing back at the rest of her squad, Shepard chewed on her lip. Looking back at Liara, she took her by her shoulder and led her a little ways a way, to be as private as they could be in the rather echoey hanger. There was no reason any of the others needed to hear what she had to say.
"Liara," Shepard said, her voice soft, with a surprising amount of tenderness considering what she said next, "You know I may have no other choice but to shoot Benezia."
"Yes… I…" Liara nodded, swallowing the frog in her throat as she tried her best appear brave. She wasn't completely successful. "I know. I have to be there regardless."
"Okay." Turning, Shepard caught Ashley's attention with a short wave, motioning her over. As she came up to them, Shepard said, "Get Liara outfitted in a suit of light armor. She's coming with us."
Immediately, Ashley looked like she wanted to protest, her brow screwing up in something resembling anger, but the look on Shepard's face made her pause. Shutting her mouth, she frowned, turning to Liara. She studied the Asari for a moment before sighing and motioning for her to follow. "Come on."
Without even checking to see if Liara was following her, Ashley stormed across the hanger to the lockers. Liara had to jog to keep up with the marine, and the sudden bloom of nervousness in her chest didn't help matters any.
"You have any weapons training, Doctor?" Ashley asked as she opened one of the larger lockers that kept the stock hardsuits for the entire Normandy crew, looking through the various boxes.
"Excuse me?" Liara looked at Ashley, blinking owlishly in confusion at the sudden topic shift.
"Weapons training." Ashley repeated, glancing at her before going back to her searching. "Have you had any, doc?"
"Oh." Liara nodded once, glad she caught up with what Ashley was asking. The surprised look on her face made Liara feel just a smudge of smug happiness. "Yes, I have. My mother made sure that I had basic weapon training when I was in college."
"Yeah?" Ashley sounded skeptical as she dismissed several boxes of armor for reasons beyond Liara's understanding. "How long did that last?"
"Twenty years! I know it's not a lot..." Liara paused when she noticed the look that Ashley was giving her.
Ashley pauses, staring at Liara like she's just grown another head and a spiked tail.
"Twenty years..." Ashley paused, staring at Liara like she'd just grown another head and a spiked tail, declaring herself lord of all pasta. "Doing what?"
"Most of it was biotic training, but her commandos made sure I was able to use any weapon I could ever find myself with." Those were long days, and Liara felt her muscles twinge in memory of the bruises and aches from those long hours of work and exercise.
"You're just just full of surprises, aren't you doc?" Ashley laughed, a harsh sound, shaking her head as she pulled a crate of light armor in Liara's basic body type out, dropping it on the table next to the lockers. "It's self adjusting, so you just need to put it on and I'll set it for you."
"Thank you." Stepping up to the box, Liara started to unlatch it, revealing the alliance standard armor within.
"Yeah, don't mention it." Ashley narrowed her eyes, making sure Liara was getting her point. "Really, don't mention it."
Without saying anything else, Ashley turned and walked away. Liara just stared after her, holding the breastplate of her new armor.
As the Normandy's hanger door lowered, a wave of frigid air swept into the heated ship, and Shepard could almost believe that she saw it happen. Her face stung, but she marveled for a moment at how warm her new armor kept the rest of her armor.
Walking down the hanger, Shepard heard her squad following after her, their footsteps loud enough to cut through the howling wind outside the hanger almost two-hundred feet away.
Liara wondered how Riley could look so confident walking into the unknown. Even she knew about Noveria, and she had heard the rumors about what happened on the planet. Some people disappeared, never to be heard from again, if they pissed off the wrong person. It didn't sound like a place she wanted to spend anymore time than she needed to.
Oh mother, what are you doing here? Liara wondered, worry filling her.
Before she could dwell any longer on her dour thoughts, Liara finally noticed the cold. Almost as one, she watched as the entire group collectively shivered as the freezing air hits them with a physical force.
The cold made it all the more clear to Liara just how strange the weight of her armor felt on her shoulders. It took a moment, but her armor started to warm up, getting her from freezing to death to just moderately chilled and in need of a blanket.
"You bring us to the nicest places, Shepard." Wrex laughed, shaking his head. Liara wondered whether or not he even felt the cold.
"If you don't like it, you can wait on the ship." Shepard didn't even look back over her shoulder at him, distracted.
"I wasn't saying I don't like it." Resting a hand on the butt of his handgun, he stretched his other arm.
Liara wasn't even sure whether or not Riley had actually heard what Wrex had said.
As the hanger door started to close behind them, Shepard led her group down the path towards the entrance into the main structure. From the looks of it, everything had been built into the side of a mountain, as much a shield against the cold as it had a defensive purpose.
When they were nearing the entrance, the doors opened and a group of soldiers, all of them human, wearing Hyland-Sorah armor trooped out. Their weapons were holstered, and they all had their helmets on, to ward off the cold as much as possible.
"Spectre, we weren't expecting to see one of you here," the lead soldier said, greeting them.
"What's going on here?" Shepard asked, hoping against hopes that her nose wasn't running. That would just be embarrassing, and she couldn't feel her face. "Why is there a fleet blockading the planet?"
"We're supposed to take you to see the boss," the soldier explained, gesturing back at the entrance. "She has all the answers you're looking for."
"Lead the way." Shepard wasn't happy about needing to wait, but she was more than willing to head inside and get back into the warm. "Before we all freeze to death."
The snow whipping against her window was beautiful in its own way, and Alice Vale had spent a good portion of her free time staring out at the stark beauty of Noveria, or at least what little of it she could see through the storm. Though it looked violent enough to kill a man in minutes, the storm didn't make so much as a noise in her rather large office, all thanks to the wonders of 22nd century engineering.
Instead of the storm, Also Sprach Zarathustra rang mightily in her office, which was in and of itself sound-proofed from the rest of the building, which her secretary probably loved. It was a wonder to stand there, a warm mug of hot chocolate (with just a hint of peppermint) cradled in her hands, and stand against the very fury of an entire world unaffected.
Deep lines of worry were carved into her face, and she wondered during her nights if they were the beginning of permanent marks. She promised herself that she'd take a vacation after this whole debacle was finished. She deserved it after all the stress that the NDC had given her.
"Ms. Vale, the Spectre is here to see you." The intercom broke the silence in her office, and Alice drew herself back into the real world. With a quick flick on her omni-tool, her music went silent.
"Send them in, please," Alice replied, turning away from her window and stepping up to her desk.
As she set her mug down on her desk, the doors to her office slid open on silent hinges and Alice watched dumbfounded as what appeared to be an entire menagerie of aliens walked into her office. Alice couldn't help it as her eyebrows made their way north, both surprised and amused at the turn of events.
"Hello, I'm Director Alice Vale…" Standing, Alice nodded politely at the woman in the most expensive armor. She stood with an air of dignity and self-assurance around herself that she could be no one else. "Spectre... Did you bring your entire crew with you, or do you just get lonely?"
The Spectre paused for a moment, looking back at her crew. A pegasus (and wasn't she a strange sight to see anywhere outside of Equestria) with a shockingly rainbow mane shrugged back at her, the rather impressive specimen of a krogan laughed, and the most nervous asari Alice had ever seen hid behind him. The two human marines, a man and a woman, were as professional as was to be expected of the Alliance, backs stiff and arms respectfully held at their sides. The turian next to them stood in a picture perfect example of Hierarchy parade rest, while the quarian was eying Alice's holo-display with a level of interest that hinted at her desire to take it apart and put it back to together as many times as possible.
"They come in handy when I find something that I want dead." The Spectre shrugged, not at all apologetic. "I'm Riley Shepard, Council Spectre, and my squad is simply too numerous to introduce."
"Fair enough." Alice looked over all of them. "I'd offer you seats, but my office wasn't built for an invading army."
"We'll be out of your hair as soon as we can." Shepard smiled, in a way that said she wouldn't be leaving before she had every single thing she wanted taken care of.
"No, please, take all the time you need." Alice was only being half-sarcastic. A satisfied Spectre was better for all parties concerned, and would be far better than having her keep showing up multiple times, distracting her and everyone she worked with. "I'm only leading a massive campaign against the Noveria Development Corporation."
"Why?" Shepard looked genuinely curious, a strange feat in and of itself. Spectres usually only cared about their own mission.
"Because Hyland-Sorah outright bought the planet from underneath them." Alice smiled, standing respectfully. It was only polite when she was unable to offer them any seats of her own. "We could really use a research facility without any Council oversight."
"That's lovely, from what I hear." Shepard would know, better than most.
"You'd know, Spectre." Spectres might not have any laws, but they answered directly to the Council themselves. That couldn't be any fun.
"Do you always bring an army when you're taking control of a business?" Shepard asked, pointing up at the ceiling. Alice knew immediately that she was referring to the fleet up in orbit.
"No." Alice took another sip of her hot chocolate, loving that the mug kept it at a constant, perfect temperature. "That came after the NDC decided it was a good idea to shoot our ship out from orbit. Not all of those ships up there are ours, anyway. There are... other matters that must be taken into account that we were not made aware of."
"So, you bought this place sight unseen, and whoever sold it you decided at the last minute that they'd rather not, sorry, and then opened fire on you?" She actually laughed, a sound that Alice found especially pleasant.
"It's a bit more complicated than that, I'm afraid." Shrugging, Alice stepped out from behind her desk, walking back to her window. The snow was falling even thicker than before, if that was at all possible.
"Please, enlighten me."
"The NDC did sell us the planet, and for a fair price-"
Before Alice could finish her sentence, the quarian interrupted her, "I don't even want to ask how much." Even with her translator working perfectly, Alice wondered at what the quarian's actual language sounded like, it was so heavily accented.
"A mere fifty trillion credits." Alice kept her voice flat and her face emotionless.
The room went deathly quiet.
"Mere…" the asari squeaked, her eyes almost comically wide.
"Whoa." The Pegasus sounded impressed, but Alice got the distinct impression that she didn't actually care about money beyond having her basic needs and desires taken care of.
"Heh." The krogan gave a guttural laugh, but nothing beyond that, staring at one of the larger pieces of artwork on her wall, a Monet, if she remembered correctly. He looked strangely moved, considering the reputation of most of his race.
"How do you even get that much money…" The female marine murmured, her brow scrunched in confusion the first sign of any personality from the otherwise professional woman.
"I could get a really nice sniper rifle for that." The turian sounded appreciative, but his wish was definitely not surprising.
"I could buy a new fleet for that." The quarian nudged the turian in response, as if wondering at his lack of imagination.
"I'd give it to charity." The male marine spoke up, showing that he had just as nice a personality to go along with his charming looks.
Everyone paused, looking at the man, and a rather impressive blush spread across his face.
"What?" He shifted uncomfortably under all of the attention, and Alice had to restrain a giggle. He looked positively embarrassed. "I thought we were doing a thing…"
"As I was saying, things did not go as expected." Alice mercifully drew everyone's attention back to her. A man that pretty deserved a little kindness.
"What happened?" Shepard asked curiously, just as willing to move on from her subordinate's embarrassment.
"The old administrator is right at the heart of all of this." Alice hated that bastard, Anoleis. He perfectly fit the stereotype of the businessman salarian. Hands in as many pies as possible, with those pies hidden and buried in so many petabytes of data that it would take years to figure out everything that he was up to. "Whether he is too stupid to realize he has no options, or he's doing something so illegal even the NDC would balk at it... who knows. It doesn't matter. He's in charge of the resistance."
"If you have all those ships, why haven't you wrapped all this up by now?" The female marine asked, her brow furrowed in thought.
"It's not that easy." Alice had actually contemplated that idea in the first few days of the siege, but her engineers and scientists had quickly talked her out of it, not to mention her superiors. "There's a lot of stuff that's on this planet that wouldn't react well to orbital bombardment, and there's some things that we don't to destroy. They've already built all of the facilities here. No reason to destroy them. It would take far too much work to start from scratch."
"Fifty trillion credits and rebuilding a few buildings is 'too much work?'" The krogan laughed again at that, drawing his attention away from the Monet to Alice. She blinked at the fierce intelligence behind his eyes.
"It took nearly two decades to set up the original facilities." Her engineers had explained it to her at length how hard it would be to construct new facilities, and it had given her a headache when she'd considered it all. "We don't want to wait that amount of time. The cold can be a real bitch."
"Even I don't like the cold, and I'm in a suit that regulates my body temperature," the quarian spoke up from next to the turian. It seemed like she immediately thought better of it, because she slunk behind the turian, drawing inwards on herself to make herself as small as possible.
"You travel with a very motley crew, Shepard," Alice said, a laugh in her voice. The quarian was cute enough to make her just want to grab her up in a hug and never let go. She would never admit that aloud to anyone, ever, it simply wasn't befitting a woman her age and in her position.
"We all kind of found each other." Shepard glanced at her crew, smirking. "It seems to be working so far."
"I don't doubt it." Finishing her hot chocolate off, Alice made a note to herself to send her compliments to the chef. She'd have to try some more of his twists on classics, because the hot chocolate was wonderful. "What's your reason to be on Noveria?"
"I'm looking for an asari matriarch by the name of Benezia T'Soni. She was last seen on this planet, and I need to have a little chat with her."
"T'Soni, huh?" Of all the things she was expecting, this was not one of them. Alice opened her omni-tool, flipping through her files and connecting to the server.
"She would have come on a small frigate, with a retinue of commandos and acolytes," the asari spoke up, and Alice wondered how she'd gotten involved. She had to be connected to the matriarch in some way, but she couldn't imagine what.
"Yeah," Alice said, nodding as she found what she was looking for. "It's in the records, before we showed up."
"Before?" Shepard raised an eyebrow.
"We managed to get a local copy from this facilities servers before they could be deleted," Alice explained. It had been quite an accomplishment for them to get even that much, to her embarrassment. "This was our landing zone, but we've unable to push any further."
"This blizzard." Pointing at the window, Alice looked over at the storm. In a long stream of everything going absolutely wrong, the storm rolling in had been the absolute worst. "It's been hitting us hard for the past week and this facility is right on the edge. If anyone heads further in, they're on their own. We can't provide overwatch from orbit, and we can't fly in this, so it's ground transportation the entire way."
"T'Soni is at Peak 15." Alice smiled apologetically as she pulled up a map above her desk. She helpfully pointed out their destination, apologetic. It was a hell of a long way away. "We're all the way over here, at the Grand Lodge. It's nothing else but a place for the scientists and businessmen to relax for a week or so before getting back to work."
"Huh…" The pegasus' wings slumped low for just a moment, but she didn't let them ever touch the floor. "Well, shit."
"That's almost one-hundred miles." Stepping closer, Shepard estimated the distance with a degree of accuracy that surprised Alice, though she didn't know why. It was probably standard training for the Alliance.
"Yep." Alice confirmed Shepard's guess. "It also seems to be the source of all of our troubles."
"What do you mean?" Shepard asked.
"Before we even landed, we received a warning beacon from the surface." Alice turned away from the window, walking over to lean against her desk. She crossed her arms, frowning. Everything about Noveria was just wrong. "It said that containment had been breached, and that all travel on Noveria had been grounded."
"You obviously didn't listen to it."
"We thought it was merely a ploy." Everyone had, from the comms operators all the way up to her senior staff. "I've been getting reports though…"
"What type of reports?" Shepard sounded resigned, as if it was all just another normal day at the office for her.
It probably was.
"The type that make me wonder if it was actually an attempt to save us." Alice knew for a fact that Anoleis wasn't behind the warning. He was too much of a bastard for that, but one of the scientists at Peak 15… who knows, maybe one of them grew a heart.
"What do you mean?" The asari asked, her voice filled with a natural curiosity that only a researcher could hold.
"There have been…" Alice tried to search for the right word. "Disappearances, for lack of a better word, amongst our patrols. Sometimes, they just never make it back. We'll find their vehicles, and sometimes their weapons, but never them. There's never any blood, or even a sign of a fight. It's like they simply vanished."
"Spooky." The pegasus snorted.
"Quite." Alice wasn't looking at the pegasus, instead looking past her at the krogan, his eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched. It was a far cry from the wonder he showed a moment ago at the painting.
"Disappearances or not, I need to get to Peak 15." Shepard didn't even sound resigned at the amount of work she was probably going to have to go through.
"Of course, Spectre." Alice nodded understandingly. "We can't escort you, or even fly you there, but we can give you one of our Grizzly's."
The M29 Grizzly was standard gear for any Alliance colony, or really any human colony. With enough room for fifteen fully kitted marines, and supplies for up to three days, the Grizzly was the armored beast you wanted with you if you were going into combat.
"That'll do fine. Thank you, Ms. Vale." Shepard nodded in thanks.
"Director Vale, actually," Alice corrected her. It wasn't a big thing, but she worked hard for her job, and she deserved recognition for that.
"Director then." Shepard smiled in apology.
"I'll have the Grizzly prepared." Alice said, straightening up. "It'll be a few day journey, and I really don't envy you, venturing out into that storm."
"Yeah, neither do I." Sighing, Shepard rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Thank you for your time."
"You're welcome." Glancing back out at the storm, and the already darkening sky, Alice frowned. "It might be best if you wait until morning. The drive will be bad enough as it is. I'm more than willing to put your entire crew up in our hotel for the night."
"Thank you, Director. That's a very generous offer."
"You're welcome." Stepping forward, Alice shook Shepard's hand.
As they all left her office, Alice turned back to her window and the howling storm beyond. Strange tidings were on the horizon, and Alice didn't like it one bit.
Arriving at the hotel, Shepard and her team were quickly gathered up by the staff and guided to their rooms. A young female turian had quickly caught Shepard's attention after they all arrived on what appeared to be an entire floor meant just for them.
She led her to the largest door and with a swipe of her omni-tool, the turian opened it, revealing an opulent room far beyond anything Shepard was used to staying in (save the castle, but she made a point to never stay long there, bad memories and all). It was a weird mix of smooth Asari design, with a touch of human rusticness that didn't at all seem like they should fit together, but they did. It was the type of room people paid thousands of credits a night for.
Turning gracefully to face Shepard, the turian took one look at the human's bewildered gaze and hid a smile behind her hand.
"Is the room to your liking?" The turian asked, careful to keep her voice even. There was no need to embarrass a Spectre after all.
"Uh…" Shepard blinked at the room, wondering just what she might end up owing the Director for this favor. "Yeah… I mean, yes, it's fine."
"Good!" The turian breathed a little sigh of relief, thankful that she hadn't angered the Spectre. "Please, call us if you need anything. Enjoy your stay."
With her task complete, the Turian bowed and left the room as quickly as she could, shutting the doors behind herself as her legs almost gave out from underneath her.
Shepard just stood in there in her room, biting her lip, before she dropped her small duffel bag on the floor, wondering what to do now. Glancing down at the key card in her pocket, she turned around and left her room, eager to get away to a bit of familiarity.
Back out in the hallway, Shepard was glad to find that Rainbow's room was just across from hers. The Pegasus' bag was still lying on the floor where she'd dropped it, and the door was left open.
Shaking her head, Shepard tried to not think of the times she'd walked in on Rainbow doing… embarrassing things, all because she was too lazy to close her own door. Thankfully, that wouldn't be the case here. It better not be, Shepard thought to herself, before doing her best to exorcise that thought from her mind, running it down and shooting it full of really big holes with the Mako's cannon.
Stepping through the open door, Shepard paused when she found herself staring exactly at what she was hoping not to see… in a certain manner. Rainbow had buried herself deep underneath a surprising amount of pillows on the bed, her rear lifted up into the air. It was only thanks to the fact that she was fully clothed that Shepard didn't pull her out by her tail and yell at her.
Well, that and the fact that she wasn't… amusing herself.
Vigorously, and without restraint.
"Rainbow…" Even though she might not be doing anything untoward, Shepard still rolled her eyes at Rainbow. She was definitely a weird filly. "What are you doing?"
Wiggling her hips, Rainbow scooched her way back out of the pillows (which was much more a struggle than either would ever admit), before grinning sleepily at Riley. She shrugged with her wings. "What? They're soft, I'm tired."
"Right…" Shepard just decided to move right along. It was pretty obvious that she wouldn't be having any deep conversations with her little sister so tired. "Just be ready tomorrow morning. We're heading out as soon as the sun is up."
"Ugh." With an unenthusiastic flap of her wings, Rainbow buried her head back into the pillows, groaning.
"Yeah, I know." Laughing under her breath, Shepard turned and left Rainbow's room, making sure that she closed the door firmly behind her. It wouldn't do for anyone else to just wander into her sister's room, after all.
Back in the hallway, Shepard found Wrex standing in his doorway, scowling at his room, his arms crossed over his chest. He tilted his head first one way, then slowly, the other.
"Something wrong there, Wrex?" Shepard asked, stepping up next to him, peering around his great bulk into the room, trying to see if anything was wrong.
Wrex glanced back at her, and she wasn't able to tell if he was surprised at her presence.
"I'm not going to fit on that," he finally decided to say, pointing into the room with a thick, armored finger.
Shepard stepping closer to him, she had to peer around to him to actually see into the room.
Sure enough, the bed, while big and spacious, was obviously not built for a krogan.
"No," Shepard shook her head, hiding her smile behind a hand. "No you are not."
"Huh." Wrex scratched himself before shrugging. "I'll call down to the front desk. See if they have something made for an Elcor. Their beds are as tough as a rock, but they won't break if I look at 'em wrong."
"Alright." Wrex could take care of himself, Shepard knew that. He was older than her by more centuries than she even wanted to think about. He wasn't older than about three-fourths of Equestria, but that was mostly because of a technicality.
Walking around Wrex, Shepard continued down the hallway, stopping at what could only be Ashley's room. Knocking on the door, Shepard didn't have to wait long for her to answer. She opened the door just a crack, a great blush on her face as she peered out.
The two of them stared at each other, Shepard eying the door, raising an eyebrow at the Gunnery Chief.
"Something wrong?" Shepard finally asked, wondering just what was wrong with her.
"No, ma'am." Ashley's voice actually cracked as she said that, and she blushed even harder, glancing away.
"No, Commander," Kaidan said from somewhere behind Ashley.
Reaching out, Shepard pushed the door open, and Ashley only gave a token resistance. Shepard blinked when she found Kaidan standing just behind Ashley, a hand covering his eyes, and not very effectively hiding his own blush.
Shepard entered the room, pushing past Ashley.
It quickly was clear that room was smaller than all the others she'd seen so far, with a single king sized bed in the center.
Shepard looked at first Kaidan, then at Ashley.
"They didn't have another room?" She asked, unable to keep the giggle out of her voice.
"Apparently not, ma'am." Ashley growled every word she spoke, scowling, but Shepard noticed that her ire wasn't directed at Kaidan.
"Right." Shepard looked at Kaidan, who finally gave up trying to hide his embarrassment, and she noted that his blush crawled down his neck and down into his shirt. "Are you two okay with this?"
"It's better than most places I've slept ma'am. I'm fine." Her voice resigned, Ashley firmly kept her gaze from wandering anywhere close to Kaidan.
"It's not a problem, Shepard." Kaidan's voice was barely a whisper.
"If you're sure." Shepard stared at them for a long moment, waiting for them to say 'no, it's not fine,' but neither of them so much as uttered a word. She shrugged. "Alright."
Without another word, Shepard backed out of the room and back into the hall.
Noveria was a massive smack in the face to Tali, even more so than the Citadel had been. While the seat of galactic power had been impressive, it hadn't been so overwhelming and unfamiliar to her as the icy riches of the companies warring over its ownership. The amount of wealth that was being casually tossed around could truly buy an entire new fleet for her people, and never have to worry about depending on others for help again.
For that price, she could buy a new planet.
Of the two, the planet would be the far more controversial choice.
Sitting on the bed, Tali had been staring out the windows at the storm beyond since the attendant had left her alone. From the feel of the fabric through her suits nerve suite, Tali could tell that the sheets were expensive, not to mention the bed.
Furnishing the hotel room alone would probably have cost the same amount of money as a small patrol ship for the fleet, as long as you were willing to pay second, third, or even fourth hand.
It was almost too much for her to handle, and Tali was torn between raging against the universe for being so unfair and curling up on her admittedly comfortable bed and crying herself to sleep.
She did neither, and instead, she just stared at the storm.
The knock at the door startled her, and Tali fell off the bed in surprise. She got up quickly, glad her suit hid her embarrassment and that there had been no one around to witness it.
Scrambling to the door, Tali pulled it open, finding Shepard standing there.
"Everything alright, Tali?" Shepard had obviously heard her falling off the bed, and Tali could just die in embarrassment.
"I… I'm fine." Tali gives a jerky nod.
"Okay." Shepard didn't sound convinced.
"I've just…" Tali let out a silent sigh, realizing how futile it was to try and hide anything from Shepard. The woman could make dictators and warlords bow to her will all with her voice, Tali swore. She had a way with words that Tali had seen in no others. It was actually rather frightening. "I never thought I'd ever be in such an opulent place."
Tali waved a hand at her room, unsure where to put her hands. "With the money it cost to outfit this entire room, you could keep a liveship supplied with new air filters for an entire year. With what the hotel cost... you could just buy a new liveship."
"Yeah, trillionaires are fun." Shepard smiled, and Tali wondered just what it was that she was thinking about. Before she could even wager a guess, Shepard put a friendly hand on her shoulder. "Get some sleep Tali. Enjoy the bed. We've got to be up bright and early tomorrow."
Shepard knocked at Garrus' door once, twice, then a third time.
Garrus didn't even notice, and the loud snore that rang from his room made Shepard giggle as she walked away. No reason to wake the man when they'd have such an early morning.
Shaking her head, Shepard stepped away from the door, only to walk right into Liara. She was able to catch her own balance easily, but the Asari toppled to the ground with a surprised yelp and an oomph.
"Oh shit, Liara." Shepard held her hand out to Liara, who took it, and Shepard hoisted her relatively little weight up so fast that it actually made Liara wobble with vertigo. "Sorry about that."
"It's fine." Liara waved away Riley's apology, and it truthfully was fine. Liara realized she had to look ever so slightly up to meet Shepard's eyes.
"Did you need something?" Shepard asked after Liara just stood there, nervously watching her.
"Oh…" Liara shook her head, clearing her thoughts. "Um, yes, I wanted to speak to you before tomorrow."
It was Shepard's turn to stare at Liara for a time, until she finally gestured for Liara to follow her into her room, after swiping her key-card through the card reader.
Pushing the door open, Shepard led Liara into her room. Watching her from the corner of her eyes, Shepard saw that Liara wasn't for a moment distracted by the riches of the room. It made sense, Shepard figured. She'd lived in better for most of her life anyway.
She would never admit it, but Shepard had done some researching on the Asari on the flight to Noveria. Her home on Thessia was singularly impressive.
"What did you want to talk about?" Shepard asked, leaning against the large fire place set across from her bed.
"It's…" Liara frowned, walking over to the window and staring out at the blizzard. The snow whipped around in patterns that disappeared almost too fast to see. "My mother is a very powerful woman. Asari from across the galaxy come to hear what she has to say, and she has more supporters than some nation states. I don't know why she's working with Saren, but she has to have a reason."
"Liara," Shepard said warily, straightening ever so slightly. "If you're not able to go through with this mission…"
"No. No!" Shaking her head, Liara fully turned to look at Shepard, doing everything to get her point across. "That's not what I'm saying, Riley."
"Calm down, Liara." The fact that the two of them could get so worked up over thinking about what the other was thinking about them was rather silly. Shepard laughed, shaking her head. "I'm listening. Take your time."
"Right, yes, thank you." Liara took a deep breath, turning so she was half facing the window, able to keep part of her gaze on Shepard. "My mother is extremely well connected. She's spent centuries cultivating her relationships with worlds and families, and garners a lot of loyalty."
Rubbing her forehead, Liara bit her lip, rubbing her chin with thin, slim fingers. "If there's even a chance that Saren is manipulating her, blackmailing her, getting her out from under his control could be a massive coup against him."
"Liara…" Shepard took a step forward, sympathetic. She wished there was some way she could be more reassuring, that she could promise Liara beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would rescue Benezia…
But she couldn't. The galaxy didn't work with absolutes. There was no black and white, just shades of grey in an ever increasingly confusing state of reality.
"I know that I might be wrong, but if I'm not. Riley…" Liara took the few steps, getting close enough to Shepard to put a hand on her arm. "She is my mother, and I know her. She isn't like this. She's not a radical, and she would never support someone with Saren's ideals. It goes against everything she believes, against everything that she ever taught me."
Shepard took Liara's hand from her arm, rubbing the back of it with her thumb. "If it doesn't compromise mission security, and if she gives us the choice, I promise you, I will do the best to make sure your mother makes it out of this alive."
"Thank you, Riley." Liara smiled, despite the dark thoughts that clouded both their minds, a giggle escaping her lips. She ducked her head.
Liara hesitated for a moment, drawing closer to Shepard, but thought better of whatever it was that she was about to do and drew away.
"I'll see you tomorrow," she murmured.
Liara backed out of the room, never taking her eyes off of Shepard, managing to almost trip over the back of the bed, but she managed to catch herself.
Shepard laughed to herself, and began to get ready for bed.
It was always raining, and it had been from the beginning. That's what it felt like at least, as Riley turned her four eyes to the heavens.
She sighed, clutching her rifle anxiously. It was wrong. It was all wrong. Their gods had abandoned them, and all hope was gone. She would die, away from her family, her husband, and her children, dead though they may have been.
Rolling storm clouds sat above her, like seeing the top of an ocean that she could never escape. Flashes of angry red lightning streaked across the sky, just above the clouds, diffusing the light down on the world below.
And then, out of the clouds, one of the empire's finest ships fell, nothing more than a burning wreck. Riley recognized it as Death and Gravity, the flagship of the fleet above, a super dreadnought with no equal.
Riley could do nothing but despair, a wretched howl escaping her throat. How had it been so easily defeated?
Before her thoughts could rail against her any longer, Riley watched as a massive Reaper descended down from the sky, landing atop the wreck with such force that Riley could feel it even from her great distance. It started marching towards the city in the distance, its great weapons tearing the buildings to shreds.
Lifting her rifle, Riley took a deep breath (and she morbidly noted that it was one of her last), feeling the reassurance of her two hearts. She will give her life to protect the empire.
Riley sat in the living room, the rain outside a comforting presence. Next to her, her little sister Jane, lay across the couch with her head in her big sister's lap. Riley had a book in her hands, but she couldn't for the life of her see the title.
Rainbow trotted in, followed by Firefly and her father. Firefly sat chatting happily with Hannah, and her father and her human father talked excitedly about the Wonderbolts and the NFL both.
Wiggling her rear, Rainbow jumped up onto Jane, chatting happily with her. A feeling of such content fell over Riley, but she couldn't ignore the small pit of fear that was always present.
Her mothers were gone. The room was dark, and it hadn't been occupied for years, if not decades, telling from the dust on everything.
Sitting up, she saw the shadows of her fathers, blasted against the wall, a testament to all eternity of their existence.
All that remained of her world was shadows, and the world melted apart around her, giving way to a deep heavy ocean all around her, suffocating, cold, angry.
She was being watched, and she knew then that she'd never escape.
Riley did the only thing she could do, and she drowned.