Normandy Snapshots

Grunt paced back and forth in his "room." He couldn't stand still for reasons he couldn't explain. Most of the time he was content to simply stand in front of his tank, going through all of the memories and information that Okeer had given him. Failing that, he would check his weapons or get something to eat. Now though? He couldn't help but walk from one end of the room to the other, feeling the need to constantly be moving.

He snarled in frustration. The only time something like this had ever happened was the prelude to his Rite. Even then though, things weren't the same. Back then, he had been restless, but he had been angry. He had wanted to fight, to shoot, to kill something. To grab a Turian by the head and bash its stupid split-jaw face in. This time, he felt an odd twisting feeling in his stomachs, and both of his hearts were pounding. The feeling was uncomfortable, gnawing at him, and wouldn't go away no matter what he did, and the beating of his hearts made his hands shake.

Fighting back the urge to put another dent in the wall, he forced himself to go back over what he had learned in the tank. Looking back at the history of his people, he tried to find times when Krogan had acted the way that he had. For ten minutes, he looked without finding anything. There were no Krogans with shaking hands during the invasion of the Rachni homeworld, nor were there any when they had dropped asteroids on Turian planets. He stopped for a second, watching all three of the asteroids connecting, letting out a chuckle of amusement as he did.

After realizing he wouldn't find anything in the Krogan's greatest victories, he switched to smaller battles. Skirmishes with the Rachni, the Asari colonies they had taken before the Krogan Rebellions had officially begun, even Urdnot Wrex's Rite of Passage, the only other time a Krogan had killed a Thresher Maw during their Rite. Until he and Shepard had happened that is.

Grunt growled in frustration. There was still nothing. No Krogan pacing uncomfortably with their hands trembling. All the warriors that he saw were smirking, laughing, and drinking. They were celebrating their victories and their achievements, not stewing in discomfort like he was. Then something occurred to him. He was looking at Krogan who had won either overwhelming or solid victories. He had naturally looked to those. What he if he looked at battles where the Krogan had only just barely won? Or had even lost?

After a moment's hesitation, he looked. He found what he was looking for almost at once. The twilight days of the Krogan Rebellions, the first few times they had fought in the Rachni Wars, and even further back. Artificially recreated footage that showed early Krogan surviving on Tuchanka, long before gunpowder had ever been invented. All of them were fighting desperate, losing battles, and they all looked exactly how he felt.

Grunt paused directly in front of his tank. He finally understood. He was afraid. The Collectors were second only to the Reapers in terms of how dangerous and deadly they were. Shepard was the greatest battlemaster that he could've hoped for, and even she had been defeated by them. They had actually killed her, killed her with her not being able to put up a fight. They scared him.

He grinned. He knew enough to know that most people, Krogan or otherwise, wouldn't react to being scared by smiling. He couldn't help himself though. He had known for a long time that the odds were stacked against the Normandy, even though his battlemaster had been gathering strong warriors from all over the galaxy. He knew what they were fighting, and he was actually glad that he was scared.

He took another look at the battles with scared Krogan. In every single one of them, even though the Krogan were terrified, they fought viciously. More viciously than they would've normally fought if they had thought they were going to win. He liked that. He liked that a lot. He could punch hard and move fast, but how hard could he punch and move when he was afraid? He didn't know; he wanted to find out.

He felt the urge to pace again, but he managed to suppress it this time. He was afraid and he wanted to stay that way. They had an enemy in front of them that seemed unbeatable. Either they would beat them or they wouldn't, either was good for him. So long as he put up a good fight, he would be happy. And with how afraid he felt, he was certain that he would do just that. He smiled as he stood there and waited, letting the fear course through him.

XXXXX

Every last bit of Jack was screaming that this was wrong. That she should make a beeline for the shuttle bay, shoot everyone that got in her way, and get the fuck out of here. Despite this, she was laying on her makeshift bed below engineering, idly staring at the ceiling.

Years upon years had built up a very strong fight or flight instinct in her. If she spotted something that was a threat, she either put it through the wall or got the hell away from it. Right now, the Collectors were looking like they were a bit more than she could could force through a bulkhead. Yet here she was, about to head into a fight with them, doing nothing to get away from it.

"You're going soft in the head," she whispered to herself. "Those idiots got their asses kidnapped by Collectors. Whatever they're doing is probably going to made Cerberus look like daycare. No one came for you then, why should you go to them now?" She couldn't come up with an answer, all she could do was continue to look upward.

"Look, Shepard is the one who loves playing hero. That's one of three things she does. Rescue people, give speeches on the values of tolerance, the diversity of species and other kiddy crap, and never knowing when to fucking quit. This is her job, not mine. Why did I agree to this again?" Because Shepard had promised her access to Cerberus files in exchange for her help. A promise that Shepard had followed through on, much to her surprise. She had even gone the extra mile and helped her torch that godforsaken base she had grown up at.

She shuddered. She had let Shepard get under her skin. "God damn it," she whispered to herself. "You know what happened last time. He was stupid and died because of you, and NOTHING was better because of it. Shepard is stupid enough to think that she can take the Collectors after they walked all over her crew and she's dragging you down with her."

Ever since she had come aboard the Normandy, she had been expecting Shepard to abandon her at every turn. This hadn't looked like a team that was designed to survive in the long term with how very loosely it was organized. She had done everything in her power to make sure that she didn't have her guard down on ground missions, not giving anyone any chances to stab her in the bac. Figurative or otherwise.

Now she knew that Shepard was too soft to even think about killing someone that she had allied with. It was almost laughable really. She kept trying to act as some sort of beacon of light and reason, even though she was sharing a ship with Zaeed Massani. A co-founder of the Blue Suns, a group that made its living off of using people as canon fodder. If Shepard wanted a team to save the day with, she had picked a damn lousy crew.

And yet, here she still was, riding the ship heading to the Omega-4 Relay. For some reason or another she hadn't bailed. She hadn't ditched Shepard when they were in port, nor had she made a move for a shuttle. The more she thought about it, the more she couldn't tell herself why. Why was she still here?

Maybe it was because she felt like she owed Shepard. Maybe it was because the Collectors reminded her of Cerberus and she felt like it would be fun to crush their skulls. Maybe some part of her wanted to fight against the Reapers to preserve her life in the long run. She let out a laugh. "Right, I want to go on the suicide mission because I want to live. God, just when I think I have it figured out how fucked I am in the head."

A sudden and irrational impulse swept over her as she spoke. Slowly, she reached down and grasped her pistol. Lifting it up, she pressed it against her temple. She didn't have her biotics up, so a single shot would be enough to tear through her skull, shredding her brain. "I mean, it's a suicide mission. What's the difference between a suicide mission and actual suicide?" she said.

She had no idea what she was trying to prove to herself. She didn't want to die, that was certain. The gun being pressed against her head was making her heart hammer in her chest. All the fucked up things Cerberus had done to her, and they still had had the courtesy to leave her instinct to survive alone. Groaning in frustration, she holstered the pistol. What the hell was wrong with her? Why had she agreed to this in the first place? And why was she still willing to see this whole thing through to the end?

"Fuck Shepard," she said, a wry grin on her face. "Cerberus has been trying to kill me for years. You got me to do it myself." Maybe if she survived, she could burst into that Yeoman's office and demand an explanation for all of this. Maybe. If she could be assed.

XXXXXX

"Have we been here before? I feel like we've been here before." Tali snorted as she looked at Garrus from across the table that the two of them were sitting at. He was pouring something that was a very dark shade of green into a pair of glasses. Hers had an EIP sticking out of it, one that she had only recently acquired and had fitted to her suit. Specifically designed for the consumption of alcohol.

"You're going to have to be more specific," she said, scooping up her glass and connecting the EIP to the "mouth" of her suit. Thanks to the way the speakers broadcasting her voice worked, she was not muffled at all by the EIP. "Are we talking about the bare bones assault on Feros, the time Shepard went AWOL and stole 120 billions credits worth of Alliance property, or something more recent like when we climbed aboard derelict Reaper to pull out part of its circuitry?"

Garrus gave a sarcastic laugh. "Illos of course. Of course, I would've accepted the time we had to deal with the giant tentacle monster on Zhu's Hope." Tali shook her head as she gave the EIP a healthy suck. It really was overwhelming to think about it. Her adventures with Shepard seemed to fill a lifetime. A lifetime of events that was completely separate from the life she had come to know and appreciate before she had left the Migrant Fleet.

"It's overwhelming," she said. "How do we keep doing it? How does she keep doing it? Always being positioned against impossible odds and managing to come out on top?" It had always felt like something out a dream. The feats they had accomplished, the threats they had eliminated, it seemed like the kind of thing that could only exist in legends. But she had seen all of it. She had helped make it a reality. Now here they were, trying to defy all expectations again.

Garrus shrugged. "Been asking myself that question ever since we started our hunt for Saren. Maybe it turns out we're really just that good. Maybe Shepard has a natural talent for mixing and combining talents. After that, there's always the possibility that our enemies aren't as tough as they made themselves out to be." He gave a bitter laugh. "Then again, there's always the chance that we just got lucky."

"Rather long streak of luck, wouldn't you say?" she asked, sipping on her drink again.

"Not really," Garrus said, idly gesturing to his face. Tali winced. A good portion of his right mandible was still missing, and the burn scars weren't exactly soft on the eyes. She initially considered apologizing but decided against it. She knew Garrus; he wasn't offended. "Let's be frank, there's been more than a few bumps in the ground, as Shepard likes to say. And I'm not just talking about her dying. Feros comes to mind."

Tali didn't say anything, she merely lowered her head and stared into her drink. The reflection of her helmeted face stared back at her. Kaiden Alenko had died on that planet, died preventing Saren from cloning an army of Krogan. She had liked Kaiden. He hadn't been a very striking person, not someone who left you feeling awed, but he had been very polite and pleasant to talk to. When she had been on an alien vessel, not a single one of her own kind around, it had been a very comforting thought to know that there was someone like him around the corner. She still had a hard time realizing that she was never going to talk to him again.

"Random question, how do Quarians view people dying?" Garrus asked abruptly. "Not by natural causes, when you lose them in combat." Tali was jolted out of her thoughts by Garrus' question. She hesitated for a moment before she replied. She certainly didn't have a lack of experience dealing with violent Quarian deaths. She felt a little queasy as she remembered Haestrom and the Alarei.

"Every death is a tragedy," she replied, "we try to avoid deaths at all costs."

Garrus nodded. "It makes sense. With your low population you can't really afford to lose anyone. What I find kind of weird is that humans are the same way. They fight with everything they've got to try and save everyone. It's why Cerberus sank so many funds into bringing Shepard back. It wasn't just them trying to get another asset to protect humanity, they wanted Shepard to be alive. They wanted to save her."

"Well, that makes one good thing that Cerberus has done," Tali said bitterly. "I don't count the good that this ship has done to be Cerberus' work. That was Shepard, not them."

"No argument here," Garrus said. "I've just been thinking. Turians have a different approach when it comes to saving people. Say there's a hundred people in a building, and terrorists have hijacked a shuttle with ten people on it. They're going to ram the building and kill everyone in it. Turians would shoot the shuttle down and kill the ten innocent people on it to save the hundred innocent people in the building. We wouldn't like it, we'd look for another way out first, and the people involved in it would hate themselves, but they'd do it without hesitation."

"What are you trying to say?" Tali asked, not sure she wanted to know the answer.

"I've just been thinking. Three-hundred thousand colonists were abducted at Horizon. We managed to stop the other three-hundred thousand from being taken, so that was a victory. But the people from that colony, all the other colonists, and the crew from this ship, they're all going to be at the Collector base." He raised up his arms in a helpless gesture. "Are we really going to be able to save all of them?"

Tali gave a suck on her EIP to give herself some time, only to have the drink go dry within a couple of seconds. After futilely sucking on dry air for what felt like half a minute, she answered. "I don't know," she said honestly. "I'd like to save as many as we can. We've managed to do that so far. With Terra Nova we pulled it off. But stakes are so much higher here."

"Yeah. They are," Garrus said, downing his drink with one go. "That's what this is for." Laughing weakly, Tali disconnected her EIP and held up her glass for a refill.

XXXXXX

Zaeed idly flicked his wrist. For the fifth time that minute, a knife was sent soaring across the room and was embedded in the far wall. He had been doing this ever since he had set up shop in this cargo room. Although the picture of Vido that he had plastered over his usual target board was a recent development.

So, it had all come to this. He had to admit, he felt rather relaxed despite everything that had happened and was about to happen. He was particularly surprised by that. He had been in this field of work for a long time, far longer than everyone on this ship (minus the Asari). The target might be bigger, the risk might be greater, and the stakes had never been higher, but the basic concept was the same. It was another mission, another job, and that was something that he knew. Concept wise, this was around as basic as missions went.

What the Normandy was planning to do was about as simple as an assault on an enemy headquarters could get. Smash it and take what they wanted. He was fairly certain that these motives and this approach was so basic that they could be traced back to the first wars every intelligent species had ever fought. As such, he found it rather hard to get worked up over this mission, and couldn't help but smirk when he saw the others not sharing this approach.

They kept calling it a suicide mission, but that was a worthless term. A mission with a high certainty of death that might end up being pointless in the long run? He had a term for that. It was "standard work day." He smirked. He couldn't help himself, he really was working with a bunch of goddamn kids. It was borderline endearing.

Shepard had actually died, she had flatlined for two years, she of all people should know how easily death came. Then again maybe that was the problem. After being dead for that long, you might walk away from it with a skewered perspective. It wasn't something he could claim to have experience on. The others really should know better though.

Archangel had been giving all three of the major mercenary groups hell for months. Being on their collective bad sides was equal to being a target of the Collectors in his book. In some ways it was actually worse, you didn't have to bend over backwards to find a merc group in the Terminus Systems. He wasn't exactly sure why, despite this, the Turian was treating the upcoming assault on the Collector base as anything other than business as usual.

It made more sense for some of the younger ones. The Quarian looked like she was still figuring out how things worked on the rough side of the galaxy, so it made sense that she would approach this situation with a bit of fanfare. He would even cut the thief some slack, as she seemed more like the one to avoid a fight all together. The rest of them though? The Cerberus operative? The Justicar? The Drell that was living on borrowed time? Acting like a bunch of secondary school brats

Luckily for them it ended up looking kind of cute. So long as they didn't choke when they were in the field, then this would end up being nothing more than a mild amusement. He would probably give them a nice ribbing if he got the chance. Of course, there was always a chance that a round would go straight through his face the second they landed, but that thought didn't concern him. That had already happened to him once. He was a mercenary, it was an occupational hazard. At least this time the shot would be coming from someone who hadn't pretended to be his co-worker.

XXXXX

Samara tried to relax. She forced herself through the breathing patterns that she had been taught during her training. There were one-hundred and fifty-seven in total, and she had already managed to work her way through most of them. Despite this, they had done very little to calm her nerves. A datapad was lying on the table in front of her, a half completed letter having been typed on it. A letter addressed to Falere and Rila, her youngest daughters.

Although truth be told, calling it half finished was being very generous. She had been working on it for the last three hours, yet she had barely gotten beyond a page. It had been well over a century since she had spoken to her daughters, her life up until now had been dedicated to the Justicar code and Mornith. Now that Mornith was dead and there was a very real probability of her following the same path, she had felt that she owed Falere and Rila one last letter from their mother. They had sacrificed their lives to live in isolation for the safety of others. The very least she could do was tell them what had happened.

The problem with that was where was she supposed to start? How exactly was she supposed to tell them that their eldest sister was dead? When they had all been children, they had both looked up to Mornith, who had acted as their de facto commander in mischief. Sneaking sweets from the kitchen, leading them out well past their bedtime, and at one point managing to get one of their friends into their bedroom without Samara noticing until the next day.

Samara still couldn't help but smile as she remembered these better days. Her daughters' acts of rule breaking had paled compared to what she had done when she was younger, and she couldn't help but find them rather endearing. Because of that, she had been rather lenient with them, possibly allowing them more freedom then she should have. Then it had all changed, and those days had vanished forever.

She turned her head. Thane was sitting right next to her, his fingers flying across the keypad as he typed out his own letter. It seemed that he wasn't facing the problem that she was, quite the opposite. He seemed to have a bountiful supply of matters that he wished to talk to his son about. To the point where he seemed to be writing more of a novel than a letter. They had both started to write their letters at the same time, and since then there had barely been any lulls in Thane's typing, while she was barely making any progress.

Thane noticed her looking, and lowered his datapad. "Am I bothering you?" he asked politely. "If I am please say so. I thought us working together would be helpful. I did not intend for it to be distracting.

She smiled softly. "No. I simply find myself at a loss for what to say." It seemed laughable really. She was a thousand years old, ancient even by Asari standards. She had seen the galaxy undergo radical developments and watched the political landscape change over and over again. She had fought thousands upon thousands of opponents and walked away while they had not. Yet, despite all this, she was incapable of doing something as simple as talking to her daughters.

Thane laid his datapad down on the table, looking thoughtful. He sat there for a moment, before his body went rigid. "A dim light," he whispered, "faulty wiring. The teacher, old and worn, her desk, battered and rusted. 'He's been fighting,' she says. 'Broken noses and ribs. Two boys and a girl are in the hospital.' Sadness in her eyes." Thane shook his head. "My son," he said slowly, "feels betrayed by me. He has a right to be. I wasn't there when he was growing up, and when his mother died I wasn't there at all."

"What are you writing to him about?" Samara asked, feeling rather curious. Thane was unique in that he was the only other person on the Normandy that was a parent. She respected and admired everyone on this crew, even some of the less savory ones, but she could talk to Thane in a way she couldn't talk to the others. He could understand matters that no one else could, that only those who had nurtured a life could. No matter how poorly he and she might have performed.

"Everything," Thane said. "Everything I never told him and should have. Why I left, where I went, who I killed, why I killed them, who killed his mother." His hands tightened into fists. "How I killed them."

Samara's thoughts drifted. She imagined herself telling Falere and Rila everything that had occurred in her century long hunt for Mornith. The villages Mornith had corrupted and twisted, the young innocent lives she had snuffed out, and everything their mother had done to mitigate the damage. Her blood ran cold. She had long since made peace with the morally ambiguous actions Justicars were required to perform, but the idea of her daughters learning about them still revolted her. Part of her was a mother first and a Justicar second, no matter how deep down that part of her had been buried.

"You don't want to tell them too much, do you?" Thane asked. Samara nodded without looking. This was why she was talking to Thane and not Shepard. This was the connection between parents that she had so badly needed. "In my experience, you owe them the truth. The truth may be ugly, but they deserve it. After all, they more than any other ,have a right to know who their mother truly is."

Samara mulled this over. It hadn't been a secret that she had become a Justicar because of Mornith, nor had it been well hidden what Mornith had become. Mornith had become a master of disguise and deception with age, but her first acts of murder had been clumsy and well publicized. A pair of young maidens had been found in the middle of a city square, with Mornith's finger prints figuratively and literally all over them. Word had easily reached Falere and Rila, despite the monastery's best attempts.

"Will you help me?" She spoke the words without thinking. A smile flitted across Thane's face, and he nodded.

"Promise me one thing in return. Go and see them when this is all over. Be a better parent than I was." Samara nodded. She really should. It would be one thing to send them a letter saying what had been left unspoken for so long, but they deserved to hear it in person. As Thane moved closer, she pressed a few buttons. A dead man's switch was activated on the letter. It would only send if she did not cancel it within seven days. She intended to cancel it the second this mission was over. If she died, however, her daughters would have something.

With a pang, she realized she would have to edit the letter to clarify that she was dead. A sad smile flitted over her face. She wondered if they would be glad that the mother that had left them had died. If they were, they would have a right to be. She had to get back to them. She doubted she could mend the broken ties between them, but they at least deserved closure.

XXXXX

Miranda's hands idly hovered over her terminal as her eyes scanned the screen. She had been over the Normandy's ready status five times in the last few minutes. Engines were operating at full capacity, fuel reserves had been topped off, all operatives were accounted for, and life support was functioning normally. Well, of course everything was running smoothly. EDI had been doing a spectacular job running the ship, better than even she had expected.

She leaned back in her chair, looking up at the ceiling. The old saying about the calm before the storm had always proved to be a rather accurate one. She had experienced enough that she had grown used to it, but it still gnawed at the back of her mind. It was something she couldn't fully overcome, though that was probably for the best. Even then, this was worse than the other times she had experienced it.

She continued to look at the ceiling. There weren't any prizes for guessing why she was more on edge this time. With the exception of Joker and the operatives for the suicide mission, this ship was deserted. Everyone, absolutely everyone, was gone. There was a feeling like an unbearable itch that seemed to be digging underneath her skin. It ate at her, along with the usual uneasiness that the eve of battle always brought.

It had been a stupid move. A stupid, stupid move. Bringing all of the operatives on a shuttle to the mission to the Heretic Geth station. What the hell had she been thinking? Her train of thought was broken as the door chimed. "Come in." The door slid open and Jacob entered.

He hesitated as he saw her. "It's…not too important if this is a bad time," he said hesitantly.

"No, come in. For once, there's nothing to do aboard this ship." Slowly, as if afraid she would kick him out if he made any sudden moves, he moved forward and sat in the chair across from her. She raised an eyebrow. He had done that on purpose. He could have easily walked around the desk and he knew it. Still, Jacob had always been the type to keep things professional. She really shouldn't have expected anything else. "How are things?"

He gave a noncommittal shrug. "My father's sentence has been passed. Life without parole. The Alliance believes in rehabilitation over punishment, but at least he can't hurt anyone over again. His former cremates are showing good signs of recovery as well, now that they're eating regular food again." He sighed. "It's just hard thinking about it. I thought my farther had died with his ship for the longest time. Now I wish he had. At least then I could remember him fondly."

Miranda nodded. "Fathers have an odd role with their children. If they do a good job as parents, it's simple. But if they don't, part of us end up wanting their approval and love, even if we know what terrible people they are." Memories of Henry Lawson flew to the forefront of her mind.

"Miranda, your curfew was strictly 1800 hours, not 1805. Give me your keys, you haven't earned them yet. Miranda, I was very specific with you about your portions. That was a hundred calories over the limit. You'll manage without dinner tonight. Did I say you could talk to that boy? You're not going to be seeing him ever again." Her jaw clenched for half a second. She had meant what she had said. Despite everything her father had done, part of her had wanted to love him, to make him happy. Thankfully, she had wised up in the end.

"How's Oriana?" Jacob asked, folding his arms and looking interested.

A ping of pride shot through Miranda. "Fine. She's adjusting to her new school nicely. Made quite a few friends. Found a boyfriend as well."

"Ran a couple of background checks on him?" Jacob joked, grinning slightly.

Miranda forced out a laugh. "No," she said, although she quietly thought to herself that the one had been sufficient. "He seems fine. A little average, but apparently she sees something in him." She tilted her head to the side. "Why do you ask?"

Jacob shrugged. "Just wanted to see how things were. Not much else going on. Nothing to do but kill time until we hit the Collector's. We can stop if you want."

"No," Miranda said. It kept her mind off of everything, which was a nice change of pace. "So tell me more about your father. You never did tell me much." Jacob hesitated for a moment, but then continued to talk.

XXXXX

Kasumi gave an idle whistle. This really wasn't what she was used to. Full frontal assaults and rescue missions weren't really her forte. Sure, she could adjust to smuggling a couple of people out of enemy territory without any problem, she had done it before. If Shepard had wanted her to do that, or just slip into the Collector base and sabotage their defenses, she could've done that. But this?

She was a a thief, the galaxy's greatest thief. She hadn't earned that title by kicking down the front door and shooting anything that moved, which would most likely be Shepard's approach to this mess. She twiddled her thumbs, idly glancing at Keiji's Graybox. Half of her wanted to not think about this right now, to escape into better memories. She knew that this was a bad time though, and she couldn't afford to get too nostalgic.

It was weird to think about. She was rather self-indulgent, it came with stealing things for a living, yet here she was, off to save people. She wouldn't go so far as to say she was a bad person, she didn't like seeing people hurt unless they deserved it. At the same time though, she couldn't exactly call herself a hero. She would help people on occasion, but she didn't exactly go out of her way to do it, and even then she preferred to get some kind of reward for it.

This whole adventure was a good example of that. She wanted to help all of the colonists, sure, but she mainly had signed up to get the Graybox back.

Well, one way or another there was no going back now. She had given her word, and while she wouldn't go so far as to say there was honor among thieves, being able to give your word was a universal plus. Breaking it made people less likely to trust you, whereas keeping it made people willing to cut deals. Even with thieves.

After this, she was certain job opportunities would come flooding in. Would they? Actually there was a good chance that they wouldn't, considering that she had essentially contacted herself out to Cerberus. Well, she could leave that particular part of the deal out, rephrase it so that she worked for Commander Shepard. She could probably spin that a bit better. It wouldn't be a lie, just not the whole truth. It would be enough to get her some very lucrative jobs.

"Maybe I should start considering an exit plan," she said. A moment of silence followed these words. "Oh who the hell am I kidding? I want to live, but I want life to be interesting too. Money wasn't the only reason she stole. Granted it was a big reason, just not the only one. The thrill, the excitement, the challenge, all of these were things that make the heist worth performing.

When she got down to it, there had been an element of that there when she had signed up for this as well. The thrill of a challenge always perked her interest. And it wasn't like heists were free of danger, Hock had proven that all too well. "Just think of it this way," she said to herself. "It's the same thing you always do. Just with more security and a bigger payoff. Plus you get to save the galaxy. I mean not the entire galaxy, but that's how people tend to word these kinds of things." She grinned.

XXXXX

Mordin's fingers were a blur as they flew across the keyboard in front of him. He was making last second adjustments to the countermeasures for the Seeker Swarms. They may have undergone successful field tests, but he still felt that he could get a little more out of them.

Half formed ideas regarding a deployable field from a larger scale generator had formed in the back of his mind, but he had been forced to shove them aside. He didn't have the time nor the resources to put something of that magnitude together. It was a shame too, because if he had three weeks, two days and three or four assistants, he could have easily had gotten it done.

He made a tiny adjustment to the fields of the countermeasures. This would reduce the effective range of them by 0.4 meters, but it would allow them to deal with a greater density of seeker swarms. To what extent, however, he didn't know. The only field information that he had was from Horizon, He would have to make notes during the mission itself and make further adjustments. After all, there was always the possibility of Collector holdouts elsewhere in the galaxy. Not guaranteed, but there was always a chance that the Reapers would be redundant, even if they hadn't been with the Keepers.

He hesitated. If he overcharged the countermeasures, there was a possibility that they would be able to overload the Seeker Swarms, causing them to malfunction. But no, that would be far too risky. With overclocking came inevitable long term damage to hardware. He made a mental note on the possibility however. If they ever encountered a swarm too large to be handled within safety parameters, it could be a useful last ditch effort.

He had seen a large amount of stress throughout the Normandy's crew, ever since it had been made clear that they were finally about to embark on their long awaited mission. He understood it, yet at the same time he couldn't claim to share it. He was rather old, on the wrong side of 30, and there was one decade left in his life. It wasn't unheard of for Salarians to live past 40, but it was very rare. He had long since realized that, one way or another, his life would end before the dawn of the new century. In the past few years, he had made peace with that.

He wasn't in a hurry to die, he had been perfectly honest when he had told Shepard he'd like to retire someplace sunny, but he was willing to if the situation called for it. The Genophage was necessary, but at the same time it had left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. Mordin had to stop himself from running the calculations on that as he thought of the biological weapon. The potential Krogan expansion, overrun Council colonies if they were allowed to spread freely, the possibility of Krogan famine if they were not, the projected numbers of a second Krogan Rebellion. Ever since he had been a part of the Genophage project, he had run those numbers through his mind at least twice a week, in order to convince himself that he had made the right choice.

It was why he wasn't afraid of the idea of attacking the Collectors head on. Afterwards, it would be a tangible, unambiguous good for the galaxy. The last of the Protheans released from their torment, a shallow mockery of a magnificent race eliminated. Millions of human colonists able to sleep soundly at night, without being afraid that they would never wake up. And most importantly, a valuable asset of the Reapers destroyed. Something that he would be proud to have been a part of. Something worth dying for.

He smiled. "Interesting crew. Interesting Captain. Unorthodox philosophy. Loose on military regulations. Would fail every inspection. Wouldn't change a thing if chosen to lead." With that, he continued to work on the countermeasures.

XXXXX

Jane Shepard lay face down in her bed, her face buried in a pillow. Her mind was a blank slate, not a single thought, positive or otherwise, filling it. She had been laying there for the last three hours. They had a good twelve more to go before they hit the Omega-4 Relay, and she had absolved to try and get some sleep. It was proving to be an exercise in futility.

She idly considered shifting her weight so that she was lying on her left shoulder instead of her right. Then she remembered that she never slept on her left and couldn't stand it. At that point she gave the whole thing up as a bad idea and got up. Rubbing her eyes as she adjusted to the light, she crossed her quarters and stepped into the bathroom. Pouring herself a cup of water, she allowed her mind to wander.

Plenty of the crew were scared or at the very least nervous about this mission. She couldn't blame them, yet at the same time couldn't quite join in with them. No matter how many times she went over the destruction of the Normandy, the attack on Horizon, or her narrow escape from the inside of the Collector ship, she couldn't feel even a tinge of fear.

She let out a snort of laughter. Maybe dying and coming back to life messed with your ability to feel fear. "I mean, if I die here Cerberus will just cough up another 4 billion and I'll be up and at em," she said to no one in particular. She looking down and saw that her cup was overflowing. Hissing, she pulled it back and turned the faucet off.

Heading out of the bathroom, she dropped onto her sofa, idly staring at the fish tank. The Illusive Man had made it clear how dangerous this was, but for some reason it just wasn't sinking in. Shepard had wondered for a good long while why that had been the case. From the very moment she had been given this mission, she had tried to piece it together. Finally, after months of running around the galaxy, she thought she had it down.

"How is this any different?" she asked wryly. How was it different from a desperate assault on a Krogan cloning facility? How was it different from forcing her way through a Rachni infested laboratory? How was it different from stopping the Reapers from activating the Citadel? From Overlord? From Nova Prime? She had been jumping from dangerous situation to dangerous situation for as long as she could remember.

The moment she thought of this, she frowned. She really had been doing this longer than she could remember. Battle after battle, enemy after enemy. It was her life. She had a hard time recalling times from BEFORE her life had been like this. Even the Blitz and Mindoir seemed like distant memories.

Shepard took an idle sip of her drink, but only half paying attention to it. If she had to be honest with herself, her life had not gone the way she had expected it to. She had planned on joining the Alliance, becoming an officer, and serving until she eventually worked her way up to being a high ranking officer.

Somewhere along the line that plan had died. Now she was starting from one end of the galaxy, saving planets and maybe more from ancient threats on a nonstop basis. First Saren, now the Collectors, with both of them being the vanguard for the Reapers and with dozens of tinier threats scattered about. That more or less seemed to be her life now. Even the temporarily reprisal that had come after Saren's defeat had seemed like it had barely lasted. Death itself had merely felt like a break before going back to business as usual.

Slumping back, Shepard tried to make sense of it all. Was this how her life was going to be? Constantly finding new and deadly threats and then stopping them? Barely enough time to catch her breath before moving onto the next one? The idea disturbed her, but not in the way she thought it would. She wasn't bothered at all by this prospect. And that was exactly the problem.

She held up her right hand, looking at the palm. How many lives had this hand taken? Sentient or otherwise? How many more lives would it take? Were they even countable? And why did the prospect of them not being countable come so easily and calmly to her? Shepard continued to let these thoughts race through her mind.

Shepard gave her head a healthy shake. For some reason or another, an unusually large burden had been placed on her shoulders. She didn't understand why, but she was able to carry it, even if she stumbled at times. Why her? Why could she hold it up? She would figure that all out when this was over. People were counting on her to keep going. Countless people she didn't know, but also people she did.

She smiled. "Little blue children."

XXXXX

Author's Note: This was a little tricky at some points. The problem I have with Jacob is the same problem that I have with Kaiden. I just really struggle to come up with anything for them to actually do. I had to play off of his relationship with Miranda to really get any mileage out of him in this story. And sadly, I couldn't find a way to fit in Legion. I'm sorry, but I really just couldn't get inside that character's head for this story. Kind of a side effect of him just really showing up towards the end of the game and acting as a window to Geth culture more than anything else. Don't get me wrong, I love him and what he stands for, but he's not an easy character to get my head around. Maybe one day I'll add a small expansion to this chapter if I get a brainwave, but sadly this is all I've got. I hope you enjoy it.

I would like to thank my Patrons SuperFeatherYoshi, xXNanamiXx, and Ryan Van Schaack for their amazing support.