Ashley was never sure if she should thank Captain Anderson or Commander Shepard more for putting her on board the Normandy. Maybe bake one of them a fruitcake or something equally sappy describing her immense gratitude. Before that she'd been shipped from one bad assignment to another. Always groundside and never on a ship. And unless she got a sudden urge to shoot the colonists, Ashley had nothing to do on most of her assignments.

Eden Prime was supposed to be peaceful and no big problems, most of the soldiers there were there by choice or because they didn't have the proper training to do anything else. Ashley was there because she was a Williams and her last commanding officer had really pissed her off.

It was strange at the end of it all to remember Eden Prime, other than her last days there and the death of her entire squad, it had been pretty boring. Dull.

But it had been beautiful. Ashley used to love just leaning against the wall out near the back outpost and staring out into the scenery. Probably what Earth used to look like in the good old days, before pollution and overpopulation got the better of it. Almost a damn Paradise.

Maybe, in the seconds Ashley was trying to figure out where the pulse was on the obviously dead Salarian Captain while they still had that barrier up, that's why she thought of it.

Because damn if Heaven wasn't like Eden Prime before that bastard Saren and the Geth hit it -- well then Ashley might be okay with that.

The only thing better would be if it was like being back on the Normandy under the skipper. Heh, under the skipper. She'd never got to do that either. He was good looking that was for sure, but mostly she just respected him. More than she had any other superior officer.

He'd judged her on her skills, never mincing words with her, but never letting them be based on anything other than Ashley's own actions.

There was something about all the crew that was different. Probably Shepard's fault the way he put them together. Ashley Williams had never felt that comfortable on a crew or squad in her entire career. She was damn sure Dad never had.

"Williams," Commander Pollan barked out. That tone of his was all business, nothing like the usual rough laugh he had for most of his squad.

Ashley straightened her posture out from where she had been taking a break with a couple of the ensigns just assigned on this moth ball craphole of a planet. They'd been playing poker with a deck of cards Ensign Chandrasekhar claimed he'd gotten from the Citadel itself. Ashley just thought he'd made them himself and wanted to explain away why the numbers were off. But let the kid think he was big stuff.

Not like Ashley could correct him. Only time she ever got to be on a ship was when she was moving to a new location. Let alone the Citadel.

Ashley placed her hands at her side. "Yes, sir?"

Commander Pollan had nice eyes for an old guy. He probably should have been an Admiral by now, but he seemed to like traveling the traverse too much to settle for what was inevitably a desk job. The days wasting away on this little backwater colony really got to him. Ashley got that, it had been her life after she'd join the Marines straight out of High School. She knew he was heading back up for a new Fleet Assignment soon and she'd practically begged her way on board.

"Got in a little recon from your last assignment on Cassandra. Captain Santos says you've got a bit of a famous history, Williams." In the time since she'd been under Pollan's command, Ashley had never hated that smile. Now she just wanted to punch him right in the teeth.

"And, sir?" Ashley said, gritting her teeth. Once again, no Fleet for Ashley Williams. She could take her week's leave and visit the family, check up on Sarah, but the news she brought home would be the same. Top scores, top qualifications, and damn good marksmanship, but Ashley Williams was just a little too much of a bad name to have on a crew.

God Damn Albatross the last Officer that had the guts to tell her why she was getting turned down told her. Ashley tried to correct him about that Coleridge poem, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, that the Albatross was good luck, just the dumbass Captain that shot it was the problem.

It had almost got her Court-Martialed.

One way or another it always came up. Sometimes right off the bat, which in a lot of ways was easier. Sometimes in a few weeks. Bu no matter what someone remembered or found out. Somehow it always came up.

Ashley didn't deck superior officers, but Pollan's smirk was making her want to.

"I've decided to reassign you from weapons, Ash," Pollan laughed, the wrinkles on his face stretching with a sickening full lipped smile. He'd earned some of those scars in missions, there was still no doubt he could have ranked higher.

No reason to get pissed he was calling her Ash. Like they were all old friends, like he wasn't just condemning her to another year of working a back water world with no action. No reason at all.

No reason to flip him off or lay him out. Just keep your chin up, Ash. Keep it up and stare him down.

`God save thee, ancient Mariner !

From the fiends, that plague thee thus !--

Why look'st thou so ?'--With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

"Where to, sir?" Ashley said crisply.

"Down in Mess, I think. You and our little Salarian worker should get better acquainted. It's not a Turian, but I'm still sure you're used to taking orders from their kind too. Must run in the family."

Funny. Pollan used to be kind of funny, but this was pathetic. Ashley had heard better slurs, better insults on the last six Squads she'd been on.

But this squad, even the two ensigns she'd just won three hundred chips off of were laughing. Hard and loud. The ones who weren't had confused looks on their faces. Then the person next to them filled them in.

Ashley was used to it. Whatever, she'd deal with the stupid Salarian lizard and either get reassigned to some other shithole or transfer when her required six months were up.

She'd get on a god damn ship. She had to. She wasn't going out like Dad.

"Anything else you need, sir?" Ashley still really wanted to deck him. She had to clench her fists. Picture exactly how he'd go down. Pollan was still in good shape for the most part, but he had a bum knee and Ashley was half his age.

But being Court-Martialed would just be the tipping point of the William's legacy, so Ashley just kept the urge to herself.

"Giving up that easy, Williams?" Pollan laughed again. He shook his head and took a breath. "Don't worry, you won't be here much longer. I'm stuck in charge here for now, so you can get your stuff and get on the next transport when a suitable assignment comes up." His voice was a little disgusted, it matched that wrinkled sneer of his, "I wanted Alliance Elite on my future crew, Williams. Not the granddaughter of the Alliance's biggest quitter."

"Sir," Ashley managed to get out before turning around and walking as fast as she could in the other direction.

Screw him. He could give her a demerit for not being dismissed officially, but it was better than knocking him flat on his ass.

At least in terms of demerits.

Ashley wiped the sweat off her brow and pushed harder against the brick wall she was taking cover from. Alenko was the superior officer, he should have been rescued. Shepard knew which was the better option. Besides that bomb had to go off. There was nothing more important than the mission.

LT was more useful. He had all that Biotic stuff going for him, not to mention being an L2. Pushing through major migraines to blast open Geth heads. He'd be much more useful than a Gunnery Chief that didn't know how to stop looking at her commanding officer's fine ass.

Even if some small part of Ashley, smaller than the part of her that would have been majorly pissed off, wished Shepard had chosen her.

When it came down to it. Ashley Williams didn't want to die. But at least the Normandy crew would remember her. At least they'd call Abby, Lynn and Sarah and tell them that their big sister was a great hero. That she worked with the Salarians and gave her life to save the Universe.

Shepard better save the damn universe. If he didn't, Ashley was going to give him hell when they both got to Heaven.

One of the Salarian officers was murmuring something to himself as he loaded up his assault rifle again. It was in one of those alien languages, so Ashley was out of her depth, but she could see the words forming.

These officers had fought as hard as any other solider. Not that she still couldn't really wrap her mind around pupilless eyes and lizard skin, but they were a solid crew that could work with the Alliance any day.

If they weren't all about to die.

"What are you saying?" Ashley was probably the commanding officer now. She'd taken charge like she was anyway. Captain Kirrahe had gone down in that last attack. Geth had swarmed over them and instead taking the easy way out like some of her other superiors, he'd dove right in there to save his men-- or whatever the Salarians called their soldiers.

Shepard would have done that. If her radio contact hadn't gotten out a while ago, Ashley would have told him how much she respected him. How much she--

Damn it, Ashley keep it together. Don't start the hysterics; you'll never get through this.

"What are you saying?" Ashley repeated, this time kicking the Salarian with her boot to get his attention. There was a blissful silence for the moment until the Geth found their way through that barricade. It wouldn't be long now.

The Salarian looked up and Ashley was really pissed off that she didn't know his name. She wanted to know the names of the soldiers she was dying with.

"A prayer," the Salarian solider said, he looked a little wary, almost ashamed of it, like religion was a bad thing or that Ashley'd judge him for it, "for my brothers at home. Do you have any brothers?"

Ashley knew some of the aliens believed in goddesses and some believed in gods and she was pretty sure most Salarians believed in the Circle of Life or the Wheel, one of those things that reminded her of the old classic The Lion King 7 discs Lynn loved when she was a kid.

"Sort of," Ashley said, she'd been trying not to think of Sarah, of Lynn, and Abby, but it was hard. "I raised my sisters. They're like my k--"

Please be safe. Please be stupid and get in trouble and live through it. Please God protect them and don't let this break them. Let Shepard tell them their big sister loves them. Let him say all the right things to make them feel better. Let Sarah understand, because she doesn't remember Mom. Let Abby and Lynn remember enough to save her the grief we had.

"What's your name?" Ashley said, taking a calming breath. The adrenalin always started to run down the second there was a break in fighting, but the anxiety that rode through her spine was still there. They'd set the bomb off and if Shepard wasn't a complete idiot, Alenko and them would get the hell out off this rock.

It was gorgeous though. Virmire was a lot like some of the spots on Eden Prime. Hopefully the bomb didn't take much of it out. Hopefully Ashley went down taking a few hundred Geth out instead of in a nuclear blast.

Then she could go somewhere like Virmire. Somewhere like Eden Prime. Somewhere like Amaterasu even. Paradise. Heaven, maybe. A couple of beers with Dad and Grandpa. Meeting up with Mom and remembering what she was really like before Ashley had to become her. A couple of wispy clouds, the whole deal.

"Cammos III Mannovai Thisla Uina Roe Sarreh," the Salarian said. The way he said Sarreh sounded so much like Sarah that Ashley had to look away so she didn't blubber like a goddamn baby.

Her baby sister was strong, would be strong, but it didn't stop the anger that Ashley wasn't going to be there to protect her. Or the relief that maybe, just maybe, this sacrifice would finally clear the Williams name. Maybe Sarah Williams could join up with the Alliance and wouldn't have to scratch her way to even get on a decent ship.

Only to finally get on the best one ever. Ashley knew Heaven had to be great, but the Normandy wasn't a slouch either.

She was going to miss all of them, even Liara, stupid nerd Asari too focused on her research to remember to eat until someone got her. And Wrex, who she'd almost shot after he'd held that gun at Shepard on the beach today. It would have been a stupid move, but stupider would have been letting the Krogan shoot the Commander.

But Ashley would miss him too. He'd been funny most of the time and he'd followed orders for the most part. Garrus had too, they'd talked about guns and Ashley had to admit that the Turian had one hell of a sniper rifle.

Tali saw everything through eyes that had finally gotten off the flotilla and it made Ashley take a second look too. And Joker was never short of a joke or a smart ass comment that even topped Ashley's best ones. Alenko was a great pal and he said the dumbest things sometimes, so dumb you had to laugh and call him on it. And he called you right back if you managed to slip up.

And Shepard. How to describe Shepard? He was everything she wanted to be. Yeah she liked him, a lot. Maybe more if they'd gotten a time without duty and regs, but mostly she just wanted to be him. He was strong, followed rules when he had to and bent them when he didn't. He brought the crew together and laughed with the rest of them, but got down to business as soon as things started to heat up. She'd miss him the most, but in the end of things Ashley would miss all of them.

She hoped they'd miss her.

It might have been selfish, but Ashley wanted LT to feel a little guilty. She wanted Joker to not be able to give off a smartass comment for a week. She wanted Wrex to talk about her sniper shot, for Garrus to clean her guns, for Tali to get out of Engineering long enough to look around where she used to stand in the Garage. For Liara to be unable to read a book on the Protheans and maybe unable to try and get into Commander Shepard's pants.

That'd be nice too.

But mostly, Ashley wanted Commander Shepard to remember her. Remember that she'd been as good as she'd said she'd be to every Captain she'd ever tried to get onboard with.

To think about what might have been if they'd had some leave and weren't teasing the rules of fraternization. To think about a situation and ask what Ashley would do.

To miss asking for an opinion of the heart.

Ashley sure as hell wasn't going to cry, so she checked the rounds in her rifle again. "Can I call you Roe?"

The Salarian nodded, looking down at his gun. "We should recheck the proximity mines before they break through."

"We've done it twice," Ashley said, a tone of command in her voice. Funny, the last squad she'd led had died too. All of them on Eden Prime.

They'd all had glowing recommendations for her; of course maybe if they'd known Ashley wasn't good enough to keep them alive, they would have changed their minds.

"Right," Roe nodded back at her and went back down to staring at his weapon.

Ashley did the same.

"Chief Williams!" Commander Rentola's voice was unexpected; his team had gone towards the South End. They'd lost all contact with them once they'd made it to the main complex.

Ashley lifted herself off her position from the wall and checked once quickly to make sure the barricade was still in place before facing the Salarian. "Yeah?"

Another Salarian answered, Ashley didn't know his name either. "There's a backway out if we take the elevator, I think we can make it to the Normandy in time."

Retreat. Give up. Let's those bastards Geth get an edge and mess with the bomb.

See Shepard and the rest of the crew at least one last time.

Ashley shut her eyes and looked back at the barricade. There were cracks of light where it was breaking down and she could already hear the noises that still haunted her dreams, of Geth coming out of nowhere and putting her squad members on pikes. "Are you sure?"

Commander Rentola nodded. "Our Intelligence of the breeding labs give a clear way out, we need to evacuate--"

There was a burst of blue energy that crashed through the barrier and one of the Geth's arms slipping through. It'd be seconds, minutes if they were lucky.

"We won't make it in time," Ashley said, loading her gun and firing one good shot right between where a normal creature would have sinew.

Still must have hurt, because that stupid flashlight-head Geth screeched in pain.

Ashley lips turned up in a smile. "Go," she said before they could respond. "I'll hold the barrier. Tell Shepard--"

Tell him to remember me. Tell him that Ashley Williams doesn't surrender. Tell him that he'd better not sleep with that damned asari five seconds after he finds out I'm dead. Tell him I'll see him in Heaven.

"Chief Williams," Commander Rentola started to protest while aiming his own gun at the barrier. His aim was good and he got another Geth arm that was poking through.

"That's an order," Ashley barked at him in the best command voice she'd gotten from Shepard. One to really make them fall in line.

Commander Rentola stared at her, but it was hard to tell what he was thinking, most of her attention was still at the barricade and those black creepy eyes didn't tell much. "Come on, men. Make for the elevator. Chief Williams--"

"Just go," Ashley said again, softer this time. She had to focus on the barricade, her shotgun was at her leg and her pistol was on her back. The sniper had lost it a couple miles back, but she still had a few good rounds in the shot gun. She'd take as many out as she could with the assault rifle and then the shotgun. The pistol would be last.

She always wanted to die with a pistol in her hands like in the old vids.

There were footsteps towards the elevator in the back, but they were mostly muffled by the sound of laser, gun fire, and those damn biotics throwing parts of the barricade at Ashley. Damn biotics.

Damn Alenko, stupid comments and that really great smile. She'd miss him.

God, God, God, please let them get the bomb off. Don't make this for nothing. Make it count. Please God make it count.

Ashley was out of bullets in her assault rifle by the time Geth broke through the barrier they'd thrown up. As she reached for her shotgun and looked out the space the Geth left behind them she could see the Normandy taking off from the direction the Salarians had gone.

Ashley smiled and cocked her shotgun. And blew those Geth to hell.

And she died with a shotgun in her hands.

The self-same moment I could pray ;

And from my neck so free

The Albatross fell off, and sank

Like lead into the sea.

- Samuel Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner