Ashley approached Shepard with an awkward smile. "We-We thought you were dead, Commander. We all did." There was a slight pause, and then she gave Shepard a hug, he returned the affection. They pulled away.
Shepard smiled at his old friend. "It's good to see you, Ash. How've you been?"
Ashley grind her teeth and said, "'How've you been?' Is that all you have to say? You were gone for two years. You were more than a Commander to us. Why didn't you try to contact us? To let us know you were alive."
"It wasn't my choice. I was in a coma for the last two years while Cerberus rebuilt me."
A look of disgust came across her face as she took a few steps back. "You're with Cerberus, now." She looked to Garrus. "Garrus, too. So the Reports were right."
"Reports," Garrus said in surprise. "You mean you already knew?"
"Alliance intel believed Cerberus were behind the colony. Anderson stonewalled me, but there were rumors that you were alive and you were working for the enemy."
Shepard's fists tightened. "Again it was not my choice. I went to the Council for help against the Reapers and the Collectors. They are completely ignoring the real threat. For the time being I have no choice but to accept their help. But I assure you that I'm not Cerberus. Look around you. The Collectors are abducting human colonies and they're working for the Reapers!"
"Do you honestly believe that?" she screamed. "What if the Collectors are working for Cerberus?"
"Damn it, Williams!" Garrus roared. "You are so focused on Cerberus that you are blinded to what just happened."
"And what they hell are you doing working for Cerberus, Garrus?" Ashley pointed to him.
"I work for Shepard!" Garrus countered. "I've seen enough to know that Cerberus is right this time. The Collectors are working for the Reapers. The fact that I'm here with Mordin Solus should say that something more is going on than some sick Cerberus experiment."
"I can't trust Cerberus, Shepard. It scares me that you do."
"I never said I trusted them. But at the moment the Council and Alliance are ignoring these colonists. Sadly Cerberus is the only one doing anything about it."
"You don't honestly believe that. You what they're like, what they're capable of!"
"Don't you dare lecture me about what they're capable of!" Shepard roared. Williams almost fell backwards from the sudden outburst. "I was once a Cerberus test subject, Ash! Remember Akuze? That was Cerberus. I watched as my squad died one by one by Thresher Maws that Cerberus led my squad into. It pains me that I have no other choice but to accept their help. But I have to put my personal feelings aside for the greater good."
"I-I didn't know..." she whimpered.
"No, you didn't. Ashley I can understand your mistrust of Cerberus, but I wasn't asking you to trust them. I'm asking you to trust me."
"I-I don't think I can, Shepard. It's just after you being gone for so long, this feels like a slap to the face. This is a betrayal. I don't even think the Collectors are really working for the Reapers. What if Cerberus is manipulating you with the threat of the Reapers into working for them?"
"You want to talk about betrayal and manipulation, Williams?" Shepard said in an accusatory tone. "I saw the recording of your eulogy at my funeral."
Ashley stood straighter with only one thought in her mind, 'Oh shit.'
"'He was over worked?' 'The stress just got to him?' 'The Reapers were a manifestation of all the wrong he saw in the galaxy?'"
Garrus' mandibles twitched as he recalled that memory. He wanted to kill Ashley for betraying him at his own funeral. Only Joker, Chakwas, Tali, Wrex and he were there to defend him and his warnings.
"You want to talk about a slap in the face? Betrayal? Manipulation? That was a betrayal. The Alliance and Council manipulated you into declaring everything I warned them about, as a delusion. Don't you dare call me a traitor! Do you even believe the Reapers are still coming?"
Ashley couldn't answer.
"You're not sure what to believe. Joker, Chakwas, Garrus and Tali believe in me. Why can't you?"
"Tali!" Ashley exclaimed. "Why would she trust you? Cerberus attacked the Flotilla over a year ago."
"I know," Shepard grumbled. "But she believes in me and my motivations."
"She's even joining us after her current mission," Garrus added.
Ashley just didn't know what to say. "I-I'm sorry. I'm just feeling upset. I just don't know what to believe."
"All I'm asking is that you trust me," Shepard pleaded.
"I need time to think, Shepard. I need to report to the Council about what happened here, but I wish you luck." Ashley walked away leaving Shepard on his own.
"Joker, bring in the shuttle, I've had enough of this colony."