Author's Notes:

Hey everyone, and welcome to my story. It's been over two years in the making now and I'm still far from finished; so if you're looking for a long read, then this is definitely for you. For those who may be put off by the length, please don't be. I'd like to think that it's worth your time reading this, and if you enjoy it as much as I hope you do, you'll be at the end in no time :)

I started this story well before Mass Effect 2 came out. Certain things that are revealed in ME2 and ME3 (Tali's father's name for example) I have retconned to be correct, but other things were already so well established in the story that I couldn't go back and change them. I've also taken a few liberties with the plot of ME1, so if you're looking for something that sticks totally to the game storyline without deviating at all, this isn't it. I haven't made any drastic changes however, so don't let that put you off; everything is still basically the same.

With those things said, I hope you enjoy the story. If you like it (or if you don't even), please, please review. I love getting reviews, and they're a major inspiration to write the chapters and get them published.

Three Little Lovebirds

Chapter 1 – Trust Me, I'm A Doctor

Dr. Liara T'Soni pursed her lips and softly blew on the miniature figurine she held gingerly in her hands. A cloud of dust rose from the small, carved piece of stone and circled lazily into the cave air. Removing the tiny laser carver from her belt and setting it to the lowest setting, she proceeded to run it briefly over the statue's contours. More dust came away, stripping off in layers to reveal the surface beneath. The model was of a Prothean, or at least Liara assumed it was a Prothean, sitting on a small, stone dais. The figure's long, spindly arms rested on its knees and its head was in its hands, hiding the face. Liara pondered the sculpture's pose. Was it one of tiredness, or despair, or maybe even embarrassment? It was impossible to tell. She'd never been too good at reading people, let alone a small, eroded figurine.

Running her laser brush over it once more, she recorded the discovery on her datapad and then proceeded to place it carefully in a crate with the other finds. Most of what she'd found so far appeared to be simple, personal effects like one might expect to find in any household. Indeed, the structure did appear to have many similarities to a high rise apartment building, only burrowed into the ground. Still, if her hypothesis was correct, this cavern had formed in the centuries since the Prothean extinction.

There was certainly plenty of evidence to support her theory. A central lift system led to lots of small, tiled alcoves that honeycombed the walls. They appeared too small for anyone to comfortably live in, but it was possible that larger rooms lurked on the far side. A mining laser had been shipped down a few days ago, and the plan was to tunnel through to the unexplored caverns within the next week. If the penetrating scans of the mountain were correct, the section they had here was just the tip of the iceberg. It was enough to make Liara feel heady with excitement, but she reeled herself in.

'A good scientist is passionate about her field, but maintains a clinical detachment so as to more clearly understand the evidence,' she reminded herself. She realised she had said it out loud; most embarrassing had anyone been there to hear. It reminded her why she preferred the solitude of an archaeological dig.

"People can be so unpredictable, there's no logic to them at all," she said out loud again, as if the rocks might nod their chiselled chins in agreement.

She knew that she should turn in for the night. The idea of snuggling down into a cosy camp-bed was appealing, but her scientific curiosity begged her to go and re-examine the structure beforehand. She strolled back to the entrance, her footsteps echoing loudly against the cavern walls. The most interesting thing about the facility was the fact that some of the technology still appeared to function. There were several old control panels that, whilst they were faulty and unreliable, appeared to control security devices in the main facility. There was a second panel that she guessed activated the lift, although she had not yet been able to decipher the controls.

A clicking sound came from behind her, its position impossible to pinpoint thanks to the acoustics of the cave. Liara spun round, her biotics powering up out of instinct. They offered her little comfort as she fearfully crept forward a few paces. That had not sounded like anything she'd ever heard. For a few minutes, deathly silence reigned, broken only by Liara's heavy breathing. Eventually, she began to relax. It was probably just her tired mind playing tricks on her; maybe it was time to get some sleep after all.

The noise sounded again, possibly closer though it was difficult to tell. This was no trick; someone else was in here with her.

"H-Hello?" Liara called, her voice wavering with uncertainty. It occurred to her it may not have been the wisest idea to announce her position to whoever it was.

'Probably just one of those young human males from the dig team having a joke at my expense,' she thought to herself. It sounded unconvincing even to her; she'd never heard a human make that sort of noise.

"If this is a joke, it's not funny!" she called out, wincing at how loud her voice sounded in the still atmosphere.

Holding her breath, and wishing she could stop her heart from pounding in her chest, Liara peered out of the entrance, up at the network of walkways above. A solitary figure stood several floors up. It was silhouetted in the dimness of the upper cavern, its black body broken up only by a single glow emanating from what appeared to be its head. Definitely not human.

The creature did not move, and Liara guessed it had not yet spotted her. 'Makes sense.' she thought, rather than spoke, this time. 'The same acoustics that prevented me from locating it would stop it from finding me by voice alone.'

She took a moment to try and determine what it was. It was too bulky for a Turian, too lithe for a Krogan. Indeed, it looked a little bit like a Quarian, save for the glowing head. Something clicked in the back of Liara's mind and a jolt icy dread ran down her spine. Images from when she was little, sitting at her mother's knee as her mother taught her galactic history jostled with fear for a place in her minds eye. It was a Geth.

That was the moment that the mechanical neck swivelled her way. The aperture of the light narrowed as the Geth soldier focused on her. The cold gaze was simultaneously baleful and completely incomprehensible. The cavern was flooded with a metallic screech as the machine raised the alarm to its nearby compatriots. The noise grated at the base of Liara's skull, piercing her head and driving all rational thought from her mind. She fell to her knees, trying to focus enough brainpower to bring up a biotic barrier to block whatever it was from entering her head. With a force of will that squeezed tears from between her scrunched up eyelids, she erected a biotic shield and cut off the cacophony.

There was no time to rest on her laurels; the cave was now alive with Geth activity. Nimble hoppers scurried and leapt across the rock face like grotesque tree-frogs. Their slower allies rushed headlong down the walkways, chattering and squealing to each other as they came. The whole din sounded like the most awful feedback imaginable.

Liara's mind was running, sweat trickling down the crevasses between the crests on her head. Escape was not an option; the Geth blocked her only viable way out. She could try the Prothean elevator…no, there was no time to try and decipher the controls now. Her only option was to activate the barrier curtain. That would at least offer some protection until she could figure out another, less temporary solution. The Geth were closing fast, their long, double jointed legs propelling them at a ruthlessly fast sprint towards the young Asari. They evidently realised her intentions.

'Strange that they have not yet fired,' Liara mused, before forcing her mind back to the panel in front of her. What did the symbols mean? She had left her datapad with their translations at the camp…her mind was blank! Think, Goddess…think!

She remembered the combination just as the first Geth passed the threshold of the oval entrance. With a low hum, the barrier curtain raised, slicing the leading Geth clean in half as it did. The synthetic scanned the area momentarily, as if surprised or confused, before crumpling to the ground. Coolant and other mechanical fluids leaked across the tiled floor, sinking into the cracked grout and pooling at Liara's feet. She felt a small pang of regret for the robot which now lay twitching in front of her. It was most probably mindless, simply following orders from a higher power. It had no control of its actions.

Higher power? Liara felt shaken to her very core. Who could possibly want her dead? She was a humble scientist, nothing more. 'I guess I do have certain knowledge of the Protheans…but nothing that could help the Geth or any other power hungry megalomaniac.' she thought aloud, still nervously looking at the dead Geth as if it would miraculously spring to life.

Liara suddenly realised that the cavern was completely silent. The Geth were not pounding at the shield or looking for a way to bypass it. Nor however had they left. They simply stood outside in perfectly ordered, military rows and stared. Their bodies were silent and still as the grave, no breathing, no shuffling, no blinking; just hard, cold, inhuman gazes. She squinted slightly against the combined brightness of their eyepieces. There was no way out, the barrier shield was enabled on all levels. Even if she could get the lift operational, she would be stuck as there was no way to open the barrier up above. No, best to stay near the commotion; someone was more likely to find her.

'Who though?' she said, the full severity of her situation washing over her. 'If the Geth are inside, the dig team is either dead or captured. No one else will miss my absence. I'm…alone."

It was tempting to give in to panic; she could feel it creeping up on her, like a hungry predator just waiting to pounce and devour her sanity. Of course, she knew all too well that she'd eventually go crazy, but not before starving to death.

'No,' she said resolutely, trying to inject some confidence into her weak voice. 'I'm still alive and I've still got my mind, there must be a way out…there has to be.'

A woozy feeling swept over her, nearly sinking Liara to her knees again. She hadn't realised just quite how tired she was. Maybe it was best to approach the problem anew after a bit of rest. Fortunately, she had her small pack with her that contained a few scraps of food and most importantly right now, a micro thermal blanket. She opened it up, aware of the Geth's stares as a tingling feeling on her spine. She hoped she'd be able to sleep with their unnerving presence.

'Perhaps that is their goal,' she mused as she took out the small blanket capsule. 'Maybe they think I will crack and open the barrier myself.' She laughed nervously.

'Oh Goddess, I'm going to die in here!' Liara whispered sadly as she opened the container, letting the blanket spill out onto the ground. Wrapping herself in its insulating, padded folds, she tried to get comfortable on the hard, stone floor. The malevolent Geth presence loomed behind her like an unspeakable nightmare. Huddling as far into the blanket as possible, tiredness overcame her nerves and she soon fell into a restless, uncomfortable sleep.

Mechanical monsters, everywhere. They swarmed over her mother's home, killing all in their path. The lush greenery of the garden was strewn with corpses and Asari bits. She saw her childhood friends butchered in front of her, their azure blood bathing her face and hands. Screams punctuated the crackling roar of burning buildings, the entire planet was burning. Cold, metal fingers reached forward, an insane chattering filling her ears. She cried for help, but there was none.

Dark shadows closed in and she was falling, falling down…down…down, down the central shaft of the Prothean ruins. Only there was no end, just a constant blur of motion on all sides. A voice cackled in the background and the leering face of Benezia loomed from the turmoil. A sadistic grin pulled her lips into a snarl.

"My dear Liara, my poor sweet child." She cooed with mocking sarcasm "Whatever is the matter? Why do you cry so?"

"Mother!" Liara cried, sobs choking her voice "Help me…please help me!"

"Help you? My dear, what makes you think I could possibly care about a pureblood scum like you? You were never anything but a disgrace to me, an embarrassment."

"I…It's not true!" she yelled, tears of hurt streaming down her face. "You loved me, you…you…left me." Her mother's laughter filled the air, mocking her only daughter. Liara was curled in a ball, sobbing on the floor. "You're not real!" she whimpered over and over again.

A hand touched her back, gently, soothingly. She could feel a presence behind her, but dared not look up. Strong arm encircled her, lifting her body off the floor and into their powerful embrace. The stranger held her, stroking her back tenderly. Liara could no longer hear her mother's cruel words, the figure had blocked them from her mind. She tried to look up, to see the face of her enigmatic protector, but it was already slipping away. The scene dissolved, leaving Liara alone once again.

Liara awoke with the warmth of her guardian's embrace still lingering on her skin. She couldn't remember the dream, but the dried tear stains down her cheeks indicated it hadn't been good. Flexing her muscles to alleviate the stiffness, she rose to her feet and tucked the blanket back into her pack. Remembering the events of the previous day, her head whipped around sharply. The Geth still stood there, immobile, but their pattern had changed. They now stood on either side, flanking the barrier and making a passage between their rows. It was as if a double door had been opened to admit entrance.

That was not all…there was a figure approaching. It sported the same flashlight head of all Geth, but it was bigger by far. It towered a head and shoulders above the others, its polished white carapace glinting in the constant, artificial light. Its powerful legs flexed with each footfall, raising dust clouds from the cavern floor.

The Geth Prime ascended the incline to the entrance, passing between the parallel rows of lower Geth. Every robot stood rigidly at attention, giving no indication that anything had changed. The leaders gaze bored a hole right through Liara, as if its aperture was searching and cataloguing her every thought. The Asari stood her ground; it was easy to feel defiant when there was an impervious barrier between her and her adversary.

A smaller, shadowy figure stepped from behind the Prime. Liara could not make out its features, but bits of its body were highlighted by a tubing that glowed faintly blue. It was of humanoid shape and proportions, but when it entered a puddle of light, it was most definitely not human. Liara felt sick at the sight of the cybernetic reanimated corpse before her. It had once been Asari but those days were long gone. The rich blue of her race's skin had been dulled to a mute grey and its withered frame was kept upright only by the mess of machinery that replaced organs and muscles. The face stared at her, empty pits of blue light shone where eyes should have been.

Liara stared transfixed, she…she knew this Asari. She recognized the tribal tattoo that was still visible on the head crests. It was Thormina, a disciple of Benezia and childhood friend to Liara. She had not seen her in many years, but there was no mistaking the trademark tattoo. Indeed, she was the only tattooed Asari Liara had ever seen, the vast majority of her race had a violent allergic reaction to the inks.

She stumbled forward to where the creature stood, just the other side of the barrier. Forcing herself to meet its gaze, Liara raised her hand, brushing the shield in front of her.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered.

The undead Asari stared blankly at her, its moth hanging open to accommodate nutrient tubes. Then, with a rattling rasp, it began to speak. Its perished voice box was unable to produce the full range of sounds necessary, being replaced by synthesised noises when needed. The strange staccato speech pattern was utterly alien, holding no trace of the music or grace typical of the Asari.

"Li-a-ra…it's…me." She recoiled; this thing was addressing her by name.

"W…W…Who…What are you?"

"This one…remembers. She was a…servant of Benezia. She followed her when she joined the master. Her impertinence…she spoke out…rebelled against the master…for that…she was punished."

The words clearly caused the creature great effort. Liara didn't know what to do. Did the machine truly remember who it once was, or was this another trick?

"We did not wish to obey…" Thormina continued, "…the reaper god and it's…man puppet demanded servitude…in exchange for existence."

"You're speaking for the Geth," Liara whispered, comprehension dawning.

"Please…let us in…let me in. It's…cold, so…cold."

Liara was wracked with uncertainty. Every logical fibre in her body screamed it was a trap, screamed that the Geth were manipulating her. If her mother was working with 'The Master', they knew all her weaknesses, knew how to exploit them.

On the other hand, could she leave this poor wretch to her cruel, grisly fate? If there was still the slightest bit of her old friend left, was it not her duty to help her? What if it was true, what if the Geth too were being manipulated? Could she turn down this alliance and condemn an entire race, however malevolent, to death?

A war raged in her mind as her fingers hovered uncertainly above the control panel. Silence reigned supreme as she struggled with her conscience. Slowly, her finger descended towards the button that would lower the barrier. It was nearly there, inching closer and closer.

"No!" she almost screamed at the last second, sliding her finger to the side as she pressed. The digit missed the release button and hit the adjoining symbol. Liara froze; she had not yet been able to figure out what that button did. This didn't bode well. A deep rumbling of ancient machinery told her something was happening. The ground began to shake slightly and suddenly the walls were sliding apart. Crackling filled the air as the chamber she was in flooded with dark energy. Sparks played off the control panel and the energy barrier, fizzing and dancing with bright bursts of light.

Liara tried to bring up a biotic shield against the energy, but it was already inside her. It flooded her neurones, damping her own powers. It felt like someone had enveloped her in a wet towel, smothering her senses. She felt her feet leave the floor as the field coagulated into a visible bubble of power around her. It pulled her helpless body to a position a few feet above the floor. Liara tried to struggle, straining her muscles against the force but it was like trying to swim through impossibly thick treacle. The effort exhausted her before she could get anywhere.

The Geth were moving, sensing that their way inside was now unable to aid them. The Husk-Thormina simply collapsed to the ground, the blue sparks of life in her eyes extinguished. A dazzling flash later, only a pile of carbonated ash remained.

Liara had never felt so helpless. At least before, she had the pretence of formulating a plan to keep her mind off her incarceration. Now, any attempt to escape was thwarted before it had even begun. Her muscles ached from being held at such an awkward angle but there was no way to relieve them. There was nothing she could do now but offer prayers to the Goddess that someone knew where she was and would come looking. How long would it take? Days? Weeks? Months? She'd be dead if they did not come within a week.

"Please Goddess," she begged. "Let someone find me before…before it's too late."

It wasn't until a few days later that something intruded upon the mind numbing monotony of Liara's current existence. The young Asari roused herself from her meditation, trying to suppress the flutter of hope in her chest. The last thing she needed was to have her hopes raised, only to be crushed by the appearance of more Geth. It was so hard not to be cynical when things had so far gone consistently from bad to worse. Still, the sounds of fighting were drawing closer. Whoever it was, they appeared to be winning.

Commander Shepard sprinted down the inclined walkway, spraying the air before her with bullets. Behind, the report of Chief Williams' AR sounded loudly above the chaotic din of battle. Their combined firepower scythed down the Geth troopers ahead, coating the walls behind them with sickly green fluid.

Shepard dove behind a crate as a rocket past. She was quickly joined in cover by Tali, the shotgun she bore looking oddly out of place on her lithe frame.

"I'm gonna take this bastard," Shepard panted, gulping down air to quickly re-oxygenate her aching muscles. "Be ready to cover me."

The young Quarian nodded, silently wishing the Commander luck. A few metres ahead, the blood-red Geth soldier stalked forward, priming another missile. It was out of Ashley's firing arc, time to act.

Shepard charged her nervous system, the dark energy flowing freely to her call. The pulsing feeling at the base of her skull was comfortingly familiar, helping the Commander steel herself.

Rolling out from behind the crate, Shepard instantly located her adversary, a Geth rocket trooper. A flick of the wrist, and her biotic power was unleashed, exploding in a concussive blast behind the synthetic. A whirr of alarm emanated from the Geth as it was thrown off its feet at bone-shattering speed, right at the Commander. Shepard drew back her fist, feeling the motorized exoskeleton move with her. Then, just before her enemy sent them both plummeting to their deaths, she smashed her armoured gauntlet into the trooper's head. The exoskeleton enhanced her strength to the point where her fist passed right through the unlucky synthetic. The robot's head exploded into a pulverised mush on the ground.

Steadying herself against her thighs, breathing heavily, Shepard motioned her two squadmates out of cover. Ashley made a point of stepping on the dead Geth as they passed.

"Orders, Commander?" she asked, holstering the AR onto the hard-point on her back.

"The dig camp is at the base of this cavern," Shepard explained. "It's as good a place as any to start our search. There should be a…"

The Commander broke off, military senses overriding her inane chatter. A red mote of light, so small it was nearly invisible, was tracing its way lazily over the swell of Tali's chest. It hadn't been there a second ago and clearly it wasn't part of the suit. That could only mean...

"Er…Shepard?" the Quarian inquired, shuffling her feet nervously under the intense scrutiny. Having the spectre staring so openly at her torso was somewhat...unexpected.

"Get down!" Shepard suddenly yelled, diving at her friend. The loud crack of a sniper rifle broke the air, ripping all thoughts of self-consciousness from Tali's head.

The Spectre tackled Tali to the floor, but not fast enough to avoid getting hit herself. The high calibre round impacted her shoulder plate hard, ripping through her shields and body like a knife through butter. The sheer force blasted her off the Quarian and sent Shepard reeling into a crate.

Ashley already had her own sniper rifle in hand and two quick shots later, the would-be assassin fell with a mechanical rasp to the cavern floor 50 metres below. Tali was already at Sheppard's side, instinctively running through first aid procedure in her mind. The Spectre clutched at her wound, gritting her teeth against the pain.

"You're okay, Commander," Tali said, not quite managing to hide the overwhelming relief that she felt. "The bullet passed right through, all you need is a little medigel."

Unclasping Shepard's shoulder plate, the young engineer smeared her shoulder with the healing salve. Shepard winced as the cool gel filled her wound, stinging intensely. The pain quickly subsided however and the Commander rose unsteadily to her feet.

"You scared me good there, Commander," Ashley said shakily, still scanning the area for any more snipers "You still mission fit?"

"Yeah, I'm fine…thanks Tali," the Spectre replied, retrieving her rifle from the ground.

"It was my fault," the Quarian began to apologize. "I should have been more observant."

"Nonsense. I should have moved quicker, that's all."

The Commander emphasised her point by clumsily drawing Tali in for a reassuring hug with her good arm. Had she not been distracted by the mission, Lucy may have noticed how quickly and eagerly the engineer accepted the embrace, or possibly heard the small sigh that escaped through the young girl's air filter. It was over all too soon and before Tali could respond, the spectre had broken off and disappeared down the walkways.

Shaking her head firmly and trying to remain focused, the Quarian jogged after the other two women. Her fantasies had nearly got Luc...Shepard killed; she couldn't let it happen again.

Liara could not help but be curious. The crumpled Geth body plummeting to the floor had come as somewhat of a shock, but not an unpleasant one. Someone was definitely on the attack and apparently they were no friend to synthetics. A grinding of gears and screeching metal as one of the rusty lifts creaked into motion confirmed her hypothesis. The sound came to a stop a small way above the scientist's position. She could hear voices, conversing in what seemed to be a military fashion. At this point she didn't care who they were, for one of the few times in her life she was simply glad she wasn't alone.

"H…Hello? Anybody out there? I need help!" she called as loudly as she could. Her voice was weak and croaky, courtesy of dehydration.

Footsteps approached her position.

Lucy Shepard dropped off the broken platform, a whir of joints cushioning her fall. Behind she heard twin grunts as her companions also descended. She quickly identified the voice she'd heard as coming from the young Asari in front of her. She appeared to be trapped in some kind of energy bubble. Cautiously, Shepard approached.

"Can you hear me out there? I'm trapped, I need help!" the scientist, presumably Dr. Liara T'soni, called.

"I hear you," Lucy said, giving Liara a reassuring smile. "I'm Commander Shepard. I'm a Spectre."

"Please, you've got to get me out of here!" the Asari said, panic touching her voice.

"I'm happy to assist," Lucy replied quickly before Liara got carried away. "But first, you've got to tell me what to do."

"Oh…oh right, of course," Liara stammered. "The button to shut this off is on the console to my left, but you cannot access it from outside. You'll have to find some way past the barrier curtain."

"I understand," the Spectre said, sizing up the situation. "We'll be back for you as soon as possible. Don't go anywhere."

Lucy chuckled slightly at her own joke before setting off towards the camp. Ashley jogged up alongside her, uncertainty evident in her expression.

"Commander…sorry if I'm out of line but, can we really trust her? I mean, her mother's an ally of Saren."

Lucy looked at her like a parent may look at a naughty child. It was kind of patronizing, but Ashley had gotten used to it.

"Innocent until proven guilty, chief. Besides, it's not like she can do anything until we release her."

Williams nodded, falling back into position behind the skipper. She sometimes wondered if the Commander trusted too easily. She always seemed ready to assume the best of anyone. It was an admirable trait, even if Ashley's cynicism prevented her from thinking the same. If people wanted her trust, they had to earn it first.

"What do you make of her, Tali?" she asked, glancing at her Quarian friend. Tali was staring fixatedly ahead, lost in a daydream.

"She's breathtaking…" Tali whispered reverently, so quietly that Ashley barely caught more than a sigh.

"You okay? You seem a bit out of it." the Chief asked, giving the engineer a sidelong look. She'd been acting kinda funny the entire mission.

The young Quarian jumped as if struck by lightening, apparently she hadn't realised how close Williams was.

"What? I…no, I'm fine." Tali blustered, suddenly becoming incredibly fascinated by a nearby packing container. Ashley smirked to herself; the pieces were slowly falling into place. If she was correct, the engineer had most definitely not been referring to little miss Prothean expert.

Liara was still struggling to hold back a panic attack. It was odd that she only started to feel scared now that someone was here. It was the same before any social interaction. She always managed to muddle through somehow, but the fear of saying something embarrassing never failed to cause butterflies at the pit of her stomach. It was not just that however. She'd just been able to hear what the other woman had said as the group walked off. What if they didn't trust her? Would they just leave her here, simply for being a traitor's daughter?

'Your mother is no traitor,' she chided herself. 'You just don't have all the facts yet, that's all. You're jumping to conclusions.'

It wasn't long before a huge explosion shook the ruin to its very roots. A sound of thunder rolled through the air, dislodging dust from the ceiling. It sprinkled on Liara's lab coat, forcing a sneeze from the young Asari. The sound of boots on tiled floor sounded behind her. The doctor craned her neck, trying to peer over her shoulder. She was relieved to see Commander Shepard and company emerging from a cloud of dust.

"How did you get in here?" Liara enquired, searching for something to say.

"We blasted our way in with a mining laser." Lucy said, still smiling that warm smile.

"Oh. Yes, that makes sense." Liara fumbled over the words, that woman's smile was so disarming. Was she always this friendly, or was it intended sarcastically?

'I know so little about these humans, I wonder if I shall ever understand them?'

She certainly found their customs fascinating, but struggled to emulate them with the ease that came naturally to so many of her kind.

'So much for the graceful, mysterious image of my race,' she thought bitterly.

While her thoughts wandered, Lucy was busy trying to make sense of the Prothean control panel. The symbols were completely alien to her, and not arranged in any logical pattern she could decipher. Her brow furrowed in concentration; one wrong push and they could all be trapped.

"Perhaps I can help," Tali volunteered brightly. She shuffled up alongside Lucy, rubbing shoulders with her in order to get a better view. With a 'wharp', a holographic omni-tool enveloped her hand. Slow minutes passed as the two focused on the bizarre holographic interface.

"I think it's this one," both said at the same time, going for the same button. Lucy's five-fingered hand met Tali's three-fingered one a centimetre above the display. The engineer held it there for about a second longer than was strictly necessary. With a furtive glance at Lucy, she withdrew it quickly.

"Sorry, Shepard. Go ahead…I'm as certain as I can be that it's correct."

"What is the symbol?" Liara piped up from behind.

"Er…it's two overlapping semicircles with a dot in the centre," Lucy replied.

"Good, that is the right one…at least I think it is."

"Only one way to find out."

The Commander pushed the button, tensing and half expecting rotating blades to slice her in half or flames to burst from the walls. For a few long seconds, nothing happened. Lucy realised that Liara was several feet above the ground, and turned just in time to catch the falling Asari as gravity re-asserted itself over her. She felt so light, but that was probably the exoskeleton bearing some of the load.

For Liara's part, she hadn't been expecting Shepard to catch her fall. It was nice though; there was something lingeringly familiar about the feel of those strong arms on her body. Asaris are naturally empathic, and Liara had learnt that her intuition was rarely wrong. She was almost sorry when the Commander lowered her onto her own feet.

"Are you okay? Can you walk?" she asked, effortlessly supporting the Asari maiden with one arm.

"My legs are a bit weak from my imprisonment, but I should be okay," Liara replied with a tentative smile.

No sooner had Shepard released her, than a seismic tremor nearly sent them all sprawling on the floor.

"We need to go!" Liara cried urgently. "That mining laser must have destabilised the ruins."

"We'll go out the same way we got to you, via the central elevator!" Lucy shouted above the din of disintegrating masonry. Liara was about to tell them that she did not yet know how to operate it, when the circular platform began to accelerate upwards.

"How did you do that?" she asked, slightly incredulously.

"Just got lucky, I suppose," Shepard quipped with another cheeky smile. Liara couldn't help but smile meekly too; Lucy's good humour was infectious.

"I suppose I should thank you," the Asari continued. "If you hadn't come when you did…I owe you my life Commander Shepard."

"You don't owe me anything." the Spectre said firmly 'Except maybe a drink sometime'

The rogue thought flashed through her head, threatening to spill onto her tongue. Whoa, where in god's name did that spring from? Lucy couldn't make sense of it; surely she wasn't...

The jolt of the pedestal locking firmly into position shook her from the stupor just in time. A Krogan stood between them and their exit with a big smile on his reptilian face and an even bigger gun hanging casually from one hand. Geth lackeys chirped behind him, lining up for a clear shot.

"Well now, what have we here?" he chuckled, effortlessly making himself heard over the rumbling. "It seems you girls are making off with Saren's prize…I'm afraid I can't allow that."

Shepard looked disbelievingly between the Krogan and her allies. Who the hell would pick a fight at a time like this?

"In case you hadn't noticed, this place is falling apart!"

"Exhilarating, isn't it?" the battle-master returned, completely undeterred. "Now hand over the doctor!"

"You can't!" Liara pleaded "You wouldn't, would you?"

"If you want her, you're gonna have to come through me!" Lucy snarled, summoning her biotic powers in preparation.

"I was hoping you'd say that," the Krogan crowed. In a flash he was charging with a speed quite incredible for a creature of his bulk. The Geth opened fire and the fight was on.

"Ashley, protect Dr. T'soni!" Shepard yelled, scooting to one side of the Krogan as he trampled past. The Chief nodded, planting herself firmly in front of where Liara crouched. Bullets impacted against her kinetic barrier, sending ripples of distortion blossoming over her torso. With expert precision, Williams downed several Geth with short sharp assault rifle bursts.

Confident that Liara was in good hands and Tali had her back, Lucy turned her attention to the battle-master. He was closing fast, this time blasting away with a shotgun as he came. The shots were inaccurate, but they forced the Spectre into cover behind a huge support beam. Trying to remain calm as the heavy footfalls pounded closer, Shepard began to swirl dark energy into her open palm, coagulating the roar psychic force into a visible orb of warped light. There was enough power contained in her hand to rip most creatures limb from limb.

Lucy slipped around the shadowy side of the pillar. The second it took the Krogan to spot her was more than enough to hurl the destructive orb at his exposed flank. A startled roar escaped his lips, but the attack proved less fatal than the Spectre had hoped. The battle master had managed to throw up a crude biotic shield that had just enough power to absorb the blast.

Shepard's composure slipped for a moment; she hadn't been expecting a Krogan biotic. They certainly existed, but were few and far between. It was a disturbing reminder of Saren's influence. No time to dwell on that now, though.

The battle-master roared another challenge, unleashing another salvo of shells. Lucy gave ground readily, keeping out of the weapons range. Perhaps if she could lure the Krogan in…a plan began to form in her mind. She kept backpedalling, her shields absorbing any rounds that happened to reach. It wasn't long before a shrill whine signalled that his gun had overheated. Discarding it in disgust, the Krogan continued to advance, biotics readying for a fatal shockwave. He was focused solely upon tearing the wiley human into meaty ribbons…perfect. With all his efforts focused on offence, he'd neglected his shield's strength.

Shepard swept her arms upwards, her own power surging forward and enveloping the surprised reptile in a mass-effect field. Suddenly lighter than air, the helpless warrior was borne aloft by his own momentum. Lucy grabbed him as he floated by like a grotesque balloon. Priming a Frisbee-shaped grenade, the Commander latched it firmly to the battle-masters armour.

Lucy grunted, thrusting the Krogan skywards. He flailed wildly, trying to remove the explosive, but it was too late. Shepard thumbed the detonator and was rewarded with a light shower of red mist...all that remained of the Krogan. She couldn't help but let out a whoop of victory which was echoed by Ashley as she gunned down the last Geth soldier.

"You two okay?" Lucy asked, offering Liara her hand.

"I am unhurt…and in your debt once again Commander," the Asari replied, gripping Shepard's hand tightly as she rose. A little…too tightly?

"There'll be time for tender moments later!" Ashley barked, temporarily forgetting the chain of command in her desire to escape the stony death-trap. Both women recoiled faster than a striking cobra; the moment was gone as if it had never existed.

Lucy regained her nerve first. "Alright, everybody get moving. We're getting the hell off this planet!"

Liara felt awed by this mysterious woman. The grace with which she wielded her power in combat would put many of her own kind to shame. Shepard made the entire, desperate struggle into a dance, one in which she out-competed all her rivals.

'Only an Asari mind could wield that much power so…elegantly,' the doctor thought as Lucy rolled more waves of energy off her fingertips. 'What if…what if she has joined in Union with another..?' Liara pondered. The thought hurt her much more that she'd expected, stabbing right through her heart.

'You're jumping to conclusions again.' This was crazy, she barely knew this woman. It was lack of sleep…yes, a lack of sleep, drink and food. Of course…that made sense.

The fighting had stopped. Lucy was striding in her direction, her ever-present smile beaming in her direction. She offered the Asari her hand which Liara accepted eagerly. It was so warm; her grip was strong without being tight. Her touch was distinctly…feminine, even through the skin-tight armour padding.

Liara could faintly sense the Commander's spirit, something of a surprise in itself. Asari philosophy was one of an inter-connected universe where it is possible, through meditation, to reach out and touch others, get a glimpse of their soul. If the Union was like immersing yourself in a bottomless lake, this was more akin to dabbling your toes. It hinted at their character without being invasive. The fact Liara could feel Shepard's presence without even focussing spoke volumes. It was so confusing…she needed time to think, alone.

Something was wrong. Ashley and Liara were already running for the exit shaft, but there was no sign of the Quarian. "Tali!" Lucy shouted desperately. No reply.

Ahead, the doctor and the Chief had slowed, beckoning to Shepard. "Go, get to safety! I'll catch you up!" Lucy would never forgive herself if she abandoned the young girl. She had to find her!"

"Tali, where are you!" she yelled again, shielding her eyes from the dust that was now falling in sheets from the roof.

"Sh...Shepard?" a weak voice sounded close by. Lucy fought her way through the choking air and was horrified by what she saw. The engineer was lying propped against the wall, surrounded by dead Geth. Her weapon lay discarded a few feet away from where the Quarian clutched at multiple wounds to her stomach. A bright red liquid flew freely from the numerous holes.

"Tali!" Lucy was at her friend's side immediately, fumbling with the catch on a vial of medigel. She'd seen her friends risk their lives plenty of times before but somehow this was different...not just because of the wounds severity. The spectre was surprised to find her self choking down a lump in her throat as she layered the salve copiously onto the young girl's belly, pressing it into the wounds as best she could. If something happened to her…don't think about that.

Tali raised a hand feebly and gripped Shepard's as tightly she could. "Don't leave me, Lucy…" she croaked, her voice choking with unseen tears.

"I never would Tali, I never ever would!" the Spectre replied, trying to force images of a flat-lining cardiogram from her mind.

Lucy lifted the barely conscious Quarian in her exoskeletal arms, and began staggering to the exit. The dust made it impossible to see if Liara and Ash had gone on ahead or waited for her.

"Lucy…" Tali whispered, her voice barely audible as she slipped into unconsciousness. "If I don't make it…there's something I…I…"

"You will make it." the Spectre ordered, cutting the girl off...she didn't want to hear any last words today. Lucy could feel her own strength beginning to fail; the suit motors were too choked with dirt to work properly. Dredging up her last reserves of energy, Shepard summoned a weak biotic shield over the prone Quarian to keep the dirt from her wounds. Every fibre of her body was burning with the force of carrying her friend and maintaining the barrier. She felt ready to drop, ready just to collapse and let this blasted ruin become her tomb. It wasn't an option though, not as long as Tali still breathed.

Lucy felt rather than saw the two figures close in on either side. She was aware of her burden being lightened, and of a blue hand twining round her shoulders to aid her own unsteady legs. She returned the half-embrace that helped her stumble, coughing and choking from the doomed excavation. The sunlight pierced her lids, harsh and unforgiving, but also the most welcome sight imaginable. At that moment, Lucy would have accepted support from anyone...somewhere in her addled mind however, she felt glad it was Liara.