"So long, Wrex," the Commander said with a little humour in her voice. Standing pretty close, Ash had listened to the whole conversation about the old krogan's hatred of, and betrayal by, his father. There was little in his words that Shepard would find funny, so it was clear that she was just in a good mood today.
"Shepard," Wrex replied, solemn as ever but slightly confused by the Commander's smile.
It was impossible for Ashley not to listen in when Shepard interrogated Wrex. Of all the aliens onboard, he was the one she had the least trust for, so it was good to know his story. As well as that she was only a couple metres away from them, and her computer screen and maintenance jobs just weren't that interesting.
She had been taking a little break when Shepard had descended the elevator. In fact she had been checking her personal mail, sent to the Normandy in regular extranet bursts. This morning their bundle had come and Ashley was particularly eager to see hers. There were a few written mails in her inbox from friends and relatives expressing concern about Eden Prime or wishing her luck on her new ship. There was a short one from Samesh Bhatia too, which she had read first.
The mails had reinvigorated her. Now that she had been reminded of her loved ones, she felt stronger than she had all week. As soon as she was done with Sarah's vidmail, and once Commander Shepard had finished her rounds, Ash would get right on with her duties and have them all done within four hours.
Maybe the mail burst was the cause of Shepard's good cheer, too. Either way, it was good to see her happy again. During their brief conversation the night before, the Commander had been looking pretty grim. Either the night's sleep, the mail, a talk with the LT or just her own incredible resilience had completely refreshed her.
Still looking at her screen, Ashley closed a few panels. No doubt the Commander would want to talk to her next, unless Vakarian was first. She wanted her desktop to look tidy, either way, so she cleared up the mails, telling herself she would read them all again when her work was done. She left one open, the vidmail from Sarah, which she hadn't heard the end of. Once the Commander's rounds were done with, she could finish that. She left it on pause and shrank the panel.
It was great to hear Sarah's exuberant, excited voice out here in the depths of space. More than once on this mission she had wondered if she'd ever see her crazy little sister again. These thoughts were always fleeting and there was no way she would let them come true, but it was hard not to treasure this correspondence with her sisters.
Living on a ship was different to her previous postings. This ship especially. She had so much more downtime, but she had barely gotten to know anyone. Most of her day was spent just keeping an eye on the krogan and the turian, or else polishing her guns. She'd had a few chats with the LT and the Commander and found she liked them both, in an odd sort of way, but that was about it.
Seeing Sarah's face leaning conspiratorially into the cam reminded her of the one upside to being a Williams. They were never alone. Out here on the edge of the Terminus systems, surrounded by strangers and aliens, it felt wonderful to hear Sarah chatting about college and bitching about Lynn's new boyfriend. It was nice being reminded that there were people who cared for her.
Ash was still lost in her thoughts and absently adjusting her screen when Shepard appeared behind her.
She spun around. "Commander," she said quickly and attentively, vainly hoping she'd be picked for the mission today.
"Do you have a few minutes to talk, one on one?" Shepard sounded less severe than usual.
"Sure," Ashley replied happily. "I was just watching some mail from home."
Shepard opened her mouth to reply but stopped when another voice interrupted them.
"Oh, before I go..." Sarah's recorded voice chirped, right on cue, as if butting in between them.
There was little time to react, and rushing to stop the recording would be pretty embarrassing. Holding her composure, Ashley decided to ride the message out. She knew there were only a few seconds left in the mail.
"We saw Kaidan in a news vid about the Normandy..." Sarah continued, oblivious. Ash was staring at the screen but she knew the Commander's flat, emotionless eyes were burning into her now.
This might not be good. Maybe she could just spin around and stop this before it got any worse.
"He's cute! Later sis."
Mercifully, the vid ended and closed itself. With an awkward laugh that was almost a sigh, Ashley dragged her head over to face Shepard again.
"Let's just pretend this never happened," she tried.
No such luck. "Are you interested in the lieutenant, Chief?" The skipper's tone had suddenly lost its lightness.
She shook her head instinctively. The LT was a good man, maybe even as cute as Sarah had made out, but the thought had barely occurred to her. "No ma'am," she replied.
For a fraction of a second Ashley could hear the commander exhale as she tilted her head.
"Besides," she followed, hoping to move this conversation onto something, anything else, "scuttlebutt says he's... already sweet on someone."
Shepard did not react.
As the tension dissipated, Ashley wanted to grin. Those two sweethearts would make a really nice couple one day.