Chapter III

„It's a beautiful ship," said Miranda, who had also entered the cockpit in the meantime. All three watched the Orizaba through the windows getting bigger and bigger while the Normandy rapidly approached the Dreadnought.

„Come on... granted, it looks nice, but it's nowhere near as beautiful as the Normandy," added Joker.

„That's what i expected to hear from you," said Shepard.

„To be honest, i'd say it looks more like a beast," the pilot continued. „Look at all those weapons."

„The Kilimanjaro class is armed with 156 broadside mass accelerator cannons, 78 on each side," noted EDI. „It's broadside guns are each as long as 40 percent of the ship's total width."

„I'm surprised they're sending the flagship of the Fifth Fleet," said Miranda.

„The Alliance didn't excatly know what was going on at first, so i'm not really surprised. Could have been anything. You never know with the Batarians," Shepard replied.

„Normandy, this is the Orizaba. Captain Shepard would like to come aboard your ship."

Jolene stepped forward and anwered the call. „Confirmed. We're opening our hangar for the shuttle. Normandy out."

She turned around, thinking for a brief moment. „Miri, please do me a favour and welcome the Captain. I'll expect her in my cabin."

„Sure," said Miranda and nodded. When Jolene left the cockpit, Miranda gazed after her, looking worried. She wasn't the only one who realized that Shepard had changed after what happened at Bahak. Although she could understand her in a way. The pressure on her must have been immense. They were still looking for something that would help them against the Reapers, who for their part lurked somewhere in the galaxy, looking for a way to start their invasion. And then there was also the upcoming trial Shepard had to face. Miranda wouldn't want to be in her shoes right now, despite she tried to support her as much as she could.

„Bring us alongside the Orizaba," Miranda said to Joker and set out for the elevator.

Once Shepard arrived at her quarters, she just stood in the middle of the room, thinking about what she might possibly say. Since Cerberus brought her back she hadn't spoken to her mother. She thought about contacting her a few times during the last months, but always kicked it down the road again. And now, in a few minutes, Hannah would stand right in front of her. No more excuses, no more runaround. Jolene grew more and more nervous with every second.

When Miranda stepped out of the elevator, the Orizaba's shuttle just landed in the Normandy's hangar bay. Miranda stopped a few meters besides the shuttle's door and sort of assumed an attitude. She didn't have to, after all she wasn't part of the Alliance, but she wanted to show some respect to Shepard's mother. The door opened and the Captain hopped out of the shuttle. She was alone and moved right away towards Miranda.

„Welcome aboard the Normandy, Captain Shepard. It's a pleasure to meet you," Miranda said.

Hannah first sort of examined her from head to foot, before she broke her silence. „You must be Miss Lawson, i assume."

„Correct, Ma'am. Commander Shepard is already awaiting you in her quarters. If you'd like to follow me," answered Miranda and moved towards the elevator.

„How's my daughter doing?" Hannah asked while she followed Miranda closely.

Miranda pushed a button on the control terminal, whereupon the elevator's doors opened. „To be honest, i'm a bit worried about her," she said as she stepped into it. „There are lots of things she has to deal with. Maybe too much at times. But i'd say you better ask herself. I'll hop out at the CIC, the elevator will then automatically move on to the captains quarters."

Hannah nodded, saying, „Thank you for your honest answer, Miss Lawson. I appreciate it."

Miranda smiled in return, but said nothing more.

Shepard was already waiting next to her fish tank when the door finally opened and Hannah entered the room. She assumed a formal attitude, saluted her and said, „Welcome aboard, Captain." Right after that, she more or less realized that this must have looked rather stupid.

„Please don't be so formal," Hannah just answered.

Jolene smiled and gave her mother a hug. Hannah for her part enfolded her daughter in her arms, not letting her go for like half a minute. For Jolene this moment almost felt like an eternity and she also didn't want to let go. She breathed a sigh of relief and tears began to ran down her cheeks. When Hannah ultimately released her, she raised her hands to brush the tears away and smiled at her daughter, giving her a good feeling by doing so.

„Why didn't you get in touch with me?" Hannah softly asked. „I sent you a mail when i heard some reports about you."

„I...," Jolene hesitatet and sort of hang her head in shame. „I just... i didn't know what to say. I've received your letter, read it a dozen times or more. I didn't … i couldn't find the right words. I'm so sorry."

„It's okay, it's okay," Hannah said, stroking Jolene's cheek. „You're alive. I couldn't ask for more."

„I've heard that before," Jolene answered with a smile. „Please, sit down."

Hannah moved down the steps and headed towards the sitting area. Her own cabin on the Orizaba was a little bit larger than his, but she liked it's design. Before she sat down, she looked around the quarters, whereby especially Jolene's old N7 helmet and Liara's picture on the desk catched her eyes.

„You want a glass of brandy?" asked Jolene.

„Yes, please."

Jolene grabbed two glasses out of the shelf and placed them on the desk next to Liara's picture. She looked a couple of seconds at it, then half filled the glasses with brandy. Hannah observerd her closely and she could see some kind of sadness on her face while staring at this picture.

„How's Liara?" Hannah asked her.

Jolene looked surprised at her, saying, „You know about us?"

„I do. Liara contacted me after... well, after the Normandy was destroyed. She told me about both of you, explained me what happend to you... That meant a lot to me. At least it was more than the standard death message and the letter of sympathy you receive in such a case."

Jolene picked up both filled glasses and sat down closely to Hannah, handing one of them to her. Once she picked it up, Jolene put her head on her mother's shoulder. „She never told me that."

Hannah wrapped her arm around Jolene, holding her tight and stroking her shoulder. „She seemed very nice... and i could see that it affected her deeply. As much as it did affect me."

„I can't imagine how it must have been," Jolene said, taking a pull from her glass. „I gave my life to save the crew... Joker saved my ass more than once, i couldn't just leave him behind. And after all, the Captain goes down with the ship. That's what they say, isn't it?"

„They say many things," Hannah countered. „That doesn't mean you have to follow these words."

„Believe me, i didn't rejoice while doing so," said Jolene. „At the end of the day, payback's a bitch. We destroyed the Collectors base and with it the Human Reaper they built. I killed two birds with one stone, if you like."

„But you're not going renegade now, aren't you? Working with Cerberus..., " Hannah said.

„No, of course not. Although i have to admit i felt a lot of satisfaction when i blew this base into millions of pieces. But i'm not sure if i should allocate this feeling to having my revenge, saving the colonies or breaking up with Cerberus afterwards. Maybe something of everything."

„So... how do you feel, honey? I'm worried about you. And i'm obviously not the only one."

Jolene silenced for a few seconds, thinking about if she should tell her everything. But if not her, then who? She felt her mother was the only person besides Liara where she could show her true feelings. In front of everyone else and on missions she appeared tough, professional. She had to, not only for motivational reasons. If she wouldn't focus completely on her duty while being in a dangerous situation, someone might suffer from it.

„I've had better times," she said. „So much has happened during the last years, so much things you wouln't even imagine. I have a few good friends among the crew, but i'm still feeling somewhat lonely, like there's some kind of emptiness inside me. Am i really the only one who can save this galaxy? Is it all up to me? Sometimes i wish i could just pack it all in. I want to pick up Liara and go somewhere where i can leave everything behind me. I don't want to be in the thick of the action."

„Oh sweetie," said Hannah, kissing her daughter's forehead. „When this mission is over, take some time off. I know about your upcoming trial and getting some peace before that won't harm. Spend some time with Liara, i'm sure it would do you good."

„That was the plan," answered Jolene. „But i'd love to spend some time with you, too."

„We can make up for that later. You'll need her more than you need me right now. And if you pay me a visit, bring her along. I'd like to meet her in person someday."

Jolene smiled. She was glad her mother felt his way, given the fact what she heard about some other families here and there, where parents broke contract to their child because of a relationship with an alien. After all, humanity didn't seem to have changed that much since they were able to travel throughout the galaxy. And she doubted they would ever do.

„Will do."

„Sorry to interrupt," Joker said over the comm channel. „The Orizaba's XO wants to speak with Captain Shepard."

„Put him through," both replied at the same time, followed by some laughter.

Joker rolled his eyes and then shaked his head, before he confirmed. „Yes... Ma'ams."

„Captain, i just wanted to inform you that our probe has transmitted it's data from Terra Nova," the XO said after being redirected.

„Submit them to the Normandy, we'll take a look at them over here," ordered Hannah.

„Yes, Ma'am. Transferring data now."

Jolene took both the glasses and placed them on the table, before both of them stood up.

„Let's go to the briefing room, we'll finish our talk later," the Commander said. „EDI, call for Miranda, Jacob and Garrus."

Two minutes later both Shepards stepped into the briefing room, followed by Miranda, whereas Jacob and Garrus were already waiting there.

„Two Shepards, now i feel somewhat intimidated", Jacob whispered to Garrus, who tried hard to suppress a laughter.

„EDI, show us what we've got," said Jolene. Moments later a top view of the research outpost and it's environment was projected in the middle of the room. „Tactical analysis."

„There are several batarian ships in the landing area next to the base," EDI started. „Nine of them, to be more precise. Judging by their size, there seems to be a considerable amount of Batarians down there."

The projection switched to infrared, showing more details about the amount of lifeforms down on the surface. „According to the infrared recordings, there are at least 55 enemies in and around the base. Possibly more if their thermal signatures have mixed. They apparently established two smaller outposts to the south side, one more to the north side. A few enemies are obviously guarding the back side which leads to the lake. The others are spread across the base and the landing site."

„They likely hold the scientists as hostages," noted Captain Shepard.

„Good point. That rules out a frontal attack," Jacob added.

„I'd suggest we land on the south side, take out these two outposts silently and then move on to the backside. It's more accessible from there. Once we're in, we quickly get those scientists out. Then we can bring in reinforcements," said Garrus

„Sounds good. If you have nothing more to add?" the Commander asked, specifically looking at her mother.

„Nothing to add," she responded.

„Picking up another ship on LADAR," interfered EDI. „IFF confirms it as Alliance Navy. It's the Einstein."

„The Alliance is really showing strength," said Miranda.

„That's Captain Hernandez' ship," Hannah noted. „I will coordinate with him, the Einstein can provide air support if needed."

„If that is all...," Jolene said. „Prepare yourself. We'll start in 20 minutes. Meet you at the shuttle."

„Be careful down there," said Hannah, looking at her daughter, then turned around to the others. „This also applies to everyone else, of course."

Jolene smiled at her mother in return, before they all left the briefing room.