Author's note: Hello again everybody, it's been quite a while hasn't it? I'm really, really sorry about the wait, but the will to write just hasn't been there. Hopefully this chapter is a sign of change, and that I will begin updating again on a regular basis. No promises though.
John stood there, breathing heavily, sweat dripping off his skin. Ash was standing opposite him in a similar state. John had honestly not expected this result; she had obviously been practicing. Their first sparring match had ended in a resounding victory for himself, whereas this time the match had to be called a tie before any serious damage was done. He looked over at the t-shirt and jacket he had taken off before the fight and decided it would be prudent to shower before putting them back on. The spectators began filing out of the room, most of them seeming extremely disappointed at the outcome except for Joker, who appeared unusually smug for some reason. Ashley walked over to him, having donned her overalls.
'Well that was fun. Shame they called it off though, I was really close to winning.' she said, a small smile on her face.
'Really? I reckon you're more tired than you're letting on. Another five minutes and I'd have won.' Ash raised an eyebrow.
'You think so? I can show you just how much energy I've got left.' John smiled as his eyes began to sparkle mischievously.
'Be careful Ash, I just might take you up on that offer.'
'We'll have to take a rain check on that tiebreaker: looks like the skipper wants to talk to you,' she began to turn away. 'Maybe next time.' she said with a wink. It was then that John noticed Shepard walking over to him.
'Damn, that was close. Never seen anything quite like it. You starting to get rusty?' John let out a short laugh.
'Far from it; Ashley has gotten much better and I have no idea how. From the look on Joker's face after the fight though, I'd bet he was in on it.'
'It wouldn't surprise me; nothing goes on here that he doesn't know about.'
'I'll have to ask him about it later, right now I really need a shower.'
'I noticed.' Shepard shifted slightly, 'Are you feeling any better? You seemed pretty down when Toombs left.'
'Much better, actually. That fight helped clear my head.'
'Glad to hear it. Anyway, I'll let you go now. Got some Spectre stuff to do.' Shepard said, turning towards the elevator. John made his way over to the showers, quickly washing himself off before returning to his terminal on the engineering deck. Before he could get anything done, however, Tali walked over to him.
'Thompson! This is the first time I've seen you here since…well…' she seemed to falter for a moment.
'Since I killed the Cerberus scientist?' Tali looked a bit sheepish upon hearing that.
'Yes. Does this mean you're feeling better?' John smiled slightly, trying to make it look honest.
'I'm fine Tali, no need to worry about me.'
'Is something wrong?'
'No, it's nothing, just forget I said anything.' She began to turn away. John grasped Tali's arm with his cybernetic hand, causing the quarian to recoil slightly, clearly not expecting the contact.
'Please Tali, if there's anything else…' John could see her eyes darting about behind her mask, belying her hesitation. For a moment, she looked like she was going to ask him something, but instead she shook herself free.
'Really, it's nothing. Now if you don't mind, these computations won't solve themselves.' John watched Tali as she walked back over to her terminal, refusing to look back at him. He shook his head, muttering under his breath about women.
'How're you holding up?'
'About as well as can be expected for a member of a dying species whose arch-enemy has been released on the galaxy.' Shepard rolled her eyes.
'Why can't you ever talk about anything nice?'
'Why do I even talk? Never solves anything, learned that the hard way.'
'You're such a downer Wrex. Would it make you feel better if we talked about fighting?'
'I'll try it anyway.'
'If you must.'
'What did you think about the duel?' Shepard wasn't sure, but she thought she could see an odd gleam in the old krogan's eyes.
'Thompson's good, I can see why he survived on Tuchanka. It's a shame he's holding back though.'
'What makes you think he's holding back?'
'I've seen him in battle: he can punch through solid metal with that arm of his, but he doesn't use his strength in his duels.'
'Probably because he doesn't want to kill Ash.'
'Still a shame; that would be a fight worth watching.' Shepard folded her arms, a slight smile creeping onto her face.
'Who do you think would win in a fight between me and you?' Wrex looked startled at this, hesitating a moment before answering.
'You are a good warrior, but in a fight against a krogan good isn't enough.'
'Oh really? Would it help if I told you that I know how to remove a krogan's head-plate with a knife?' Wrex's eyes grew wide and he almost took a step back.
'How do you know that?' he said in a very low voice.
'Thompson taught me, one of the little "tricks" he picked up on Tuchanka.'
'If we ever get in a fight, I'll have to search you for weapons then.'
'Good luck getting them all, I can be very… resourceful.' Shepard turned to leave, 'See you later Wrex.'
'Before you go.' Wrex said, 'I could do with a favour.' Shepard was intrigued by this.
The big krogan shifted nervously.
'A turian called Ton Actus stole something from my family, some armour. I just found out where he's keeping it.'
'Send the coordinates to Joker, by the time we're finished with him he'll need a surgeon to remove the boot from his ass.' Wrex nodded, looking slightly relieved.
'Thanks Shepard. I owe you one.'
'Anytime Wrex. Anytime.' Shepard turned towards Ash, who was standing at her usual post. She was heavily favouring her left side, a hand placed upon her hip as she took slow, deep breaths; it appeared as though she had taken more damage in the fight than she was letting on. As Shepard approached, the Gunnery Chief straightened in an effort to conceal her pain.
'If it's that bad Ash you should go see Chakwas.' Shepard said, an almost imperceptible smirk on her face.
'I'm fine skipper; just a little winded is all. It won't affect my performance.'
'I'm not worried about your performance Ash, I'm worried about you.'
'Honestly Shepard, nothing a little sleep can't fix.'
'If you say so.' Shepard murmered dubiously. She could see a faint glimmer of pain in Ashley's eyes, meaning Thompson dealt out a lot more damage than he took.
'I'm tougher than I look you know.'
'Oh believe me, after those fights there isn't any doubt.'
'I'm glad Thompson decided to fight me, it seemed to help him get over Toombs.' Shepard gave her a curious look, prompting further explanation, 'Before the fight he seemed really distant, as if his heart wasn't in anything anymore. During the fight though, he seemed to focus, cleared his head and actually began trying to do something. I'm not good with words, so I'm glad that I managed to help him in my own way.' Shepard began to smile; she hadn't thought of it like that.
'Ash, you can be really sneaky when you want to be.'
'It's an advantage I have, people don't expect it. I'm just like old Wrex there: people see him and just assume he's a brute, but there is a brain in there. Somewhere. I think.'
'I'll try and keep that in mind.' Shepard chuckled as she began making her way over to the Mako, 'I'll see you later Ash.' The Gunnery Chief simply nodded her head before turning back to the guns spread out across her work station. Next, Shepard walked over to Garrus, who seemed thoroughly engrossed in an extranet search, though she couldn't tell what for. As the turian saw his Commander approaching he quickly shut down his omni-tool and turned to greet her.
'Shepard! I wanted to thank you for helping me with Saleon.'
'What, again?' Shepard asked, looking at him dubiously; he seemed agitated over something, but she decided not to ask him about it.
'I was just thinking about how you didn't have to help me but you did anyway. Not many officers would do that for a member of their crew, never mind an alien.'
'We've been through this Garrus: you're part of my squad now.'
'I suppose, but I still wanted to thank you,' the turian glanced to the side. 'Do you know why Thompson acted like he did with that scientist?' Shepard blinked a few times.
'That sort of came out of nowhere.'
'I've been thinking about it for a while, I just kept forgetting to bring it up.'
'You're the first person to ask me, I would've thought people would be more concerned about it.'
'They are, they just don't want to ask.'
'Right, well if Thompson hasn't already told you then I won't. If you want to know what happened then you'll have to go to him.' Garrus' mandibles tightened after hearing that, seemingly in disappointment. For some reason, this prompted Shepard to continue, 'He probably hasn't told anybody about it because nobody's asked. Thompson doesn't go out of his way to tell people about his past, but he's never turned anyone down if they ask. The way he sees it there's no reason to hide what he's done.' Garrus' mandibles once again stretched wide, his eyes gleaming. Something about his expression made Shepard return the pseudo-smile.
'I might do just that. Thanks again Shepard.' the turian said before, leaving for the engineering deck.
Shepard watched him go with the smile still clear on her face. She was glad to have Garrus on her crew; his constant cheerfulness and sharp one-liners made a refreshing change from the battle-hardened veterans she was used to dealing with. Maybe after all this Saren business has been dealt with we could keep in touch. Shepard thought, her mind drifting to her old friends or rather the precious few she had left. After several years of turmoil the group had been whittled down to the point where she could count all of her friends on one hand. She dearly wished that she could count Garrus among them; for some inexplicable reason he always seemed to cheer her up, despite the insurmountable odds they were facing.
Shepard sighed as she walked over to the elevator, wondering if Garrus would be quite as cheerful after hearing Thompson's story.
'You sure you want to know?' John asked. They were standing away from the rest of the engineering crew, to prevent being overheard.
'Yes, otherwise I wouldn't be asking.' Garrus responded. A faint smile touched the edge of John's lips.
'Fair point. Alright then, what exactly do you want to know?' The turian seemed taken aback.
'What, you're going to tell me just like that? No arguing? No stalling? No "you wouldn't understand?"' John's smile grew.
'Of course not, what kind of person do you think I am? You're a crew-mate; you have a right to know. Besides, I'm sure that you could find it all out by looking at my record.'
'I thought your record would be sealed?'
'Shepard's the Spectre, my record's still more or less public. Well, apart from the stuff in project Vindicare.' Garrus sighed in irritation.
'Never thought of that. Would have been much easier than working up the courage to ask in person.' Upon hearing this, John began thoroughly grinning.
'What's this? Our resident turian recruit is afraid of the big bad human? Shame on you Garrus.'
'Hey, I'm only doing this because nobody else wants to; I do have a reputation to keep.'
'You have a reputation?'
'Of course.' Garrus feigned an indignant look, 'I'll have you know that I'm well known for my good looks and style.' John barked out a short laugh.
'You were wasted at C-Sec Garrus, with bullshitting like that you could have been a politician.'
'Where's the fun in that? Not many politicians get to fly around the galaxy on a hunt for a rogue spectre. I'd say this beats any job on the citadel.'
'I hear that, you can't lead a good life from behind a desk.' John paused, looking back at his workstation, 'But that's not what you're here for. Tell me, what do you know of the planet Akuze?'
'Apart from what I've heard from Shepard, nothing.' John was about to reply, but before he could Shepard's voice sounded over the intercom.
'We've picked up a signal from a distress beacon, I want the ground team combat ready in ten mikes. Shepard out.' John could hear Garrus sigh.
'Looks like we'll have to discuss this after the mission, let's get ready.' he said to the turian. The two soldiers walked over to the lockers, where Wrex and Ashley were already preparing for the mission. John opened his locker and pulled out his helmet. He stared into the jet-black visor for a few moments, remembering the last time he picked up a distress beacon.
It was quiet on the wind-swept plateau of rock that could have been an island in the long distant past, surrounded by a shallow lake of cool, clear water. John could almost see it in his mind's eye: clean water rippling softly in the breeze as the maroon star slowly made its majestic trek across the sky. He sighed, bringing himself out of his momentary daydream before turning towards his squad and the Grizzly that had been dropped off for their use.
'Private Hawkins, I want you to man the gun. Corporal Toombs, you're driving. The rest of you, pile in the back.' With a quick "yes sir" the squad embarked on the transport, and John sat himself down near the entry point and looked over his men. He almost let out a laugh at the thought; after having spent so long with barely any human contact he was now in command of his own squad. John cast his thoughts back to the events that had brought him to this point as the Grizzly took off towards the location of the beacon. Lost in his mind as he was he barely took any notice of the long journey; the silence was unbroken, his men seemingly more than usual. John was snapped out of his reverie by the feeling of the Grizzly grinding to a halt. Disembarking from the transport, John was faced with an odd scene: a distress beacon sitting in middle of a large, flat area of ground. Signalling his squad forward, he walked over to the beacon. It was on auto-repeat, with no sign of who left it there. With a start, John realised that something was seriously wrong. He turned, about to scream at his squad to get back to the Grizzly, but he never had the chance.
Tali was confused. She just couldn't process what she was seeing. An entire squad of Alliance marines lay dead in the silicate dust, their armour seemingly dissolved in a number of places, leaving the ruined flesh underneath open to the atmosphere. The only thing she could imagine that could cause such wounds were Rachni, but they wouldn't have just left the bodies as they were. Besides that, the Grizzly that the squad had used was untouched. Next to the vehicle stood an Alliance distress beacon, whirring softly as it continued to emit its signal. Tali sighed to herself as she looked around at the perfectly flat, circular depression they were in. The whole situation felt wrong to her; why would these marines get out of a perfectly good tank to set up a beacon, and what had killed them? She glanced over at Thompson, who was standing next to the Mako, where they disembarked. His hands were clenched into fists as he stared straight ahead, whatever expression he held being hidden by his helmet. Tali frowned, something about his demeanour seemed…off, like there was something bothering him beyond what was immediately evident. She decided to find out what was wrong. Walking up to the silent soldier, Tali noticed that he was shaking slightly.
'Thompson, what's wrong?' she asked, trying to snap him out of his reverie. For a few seconds, he didn't respond, and continued to stare straight ahead. As Tali was about to ask again, she heard him begin to speak.
'Get everyone back to the Mako.' Thompson said, his voice barely audible above the sound of the wind.
'What?' Tali asked, wondering if she had heard him right.
'Back in the Mako, now!' he shouted, causing everyone to turn as he grabbed Tali and rushed her towards the rear hatch of the vehicle.
'Thompson, what's going on?' Tali asked. Thompson looked like he was about to answer, but paused as the ground began shaking violently. All hesitation was lost as everyone scrambled to get back to safety. Tali felt herself being pushed into a seat as Thompson slammed down opposite her. Shepard threw herself into the driver's seat and began hitting buttons. Just as the door to the Mako closed behind Liara, the ground buckled underneath them, causing the entire squad to lose their balance, hitting the metal floor hard. Tali groaned as she managed to get back into her seat and, with a great deal of effort, buckle herself in while Shepard fought to gain control of the unruly Mako. Just as the vehicle began moving forward, a great rent appeared in the back panel, and it tore off with a deafening screech. The Mako jolted again as it managed to gain some speed. Time seemed to slow down as Tali watched Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams get thrown to the floor before being flung out of the gaping hole.
'ASHLEY!' she heard Thompson shout, as he leapt out of his seat and through the void after the soldier.
Tali could scarcely believe what had just happened, her mind struggling to understand the circumstances. Thompson and Ash were out there, with that thing. Whatever had killed those marines was here, and it had Thompson! Tali began desperately fumbling with her safety harness, only one thought going through her mind, but she met with failure as her hands refused to do as they were told. Dimly, she could hear Shepard speaking.
'Joker, we need evac now! We have a thresher maw!' she yelled into the radio as Garrus hauled himself into the gunner's seat.
'Roger that Commander, we'll be there in three, just hold on!' Tali began hyperventilating, still not giving up with her harness. Oh Keelah, this is bad, she thought, catching a glimpse of a colossal creature through the hole in the hull. It seemed to be getting ready to attack the Mako, but just before it could do so, it was hit in the side with a large explosion. The shot came from the other direction. From where they had left the Grizzly.
'Shepard! Ashley and I have commandeered the Grizzly, we've got your back!' came Thompson's voice over the radio. Tali had never felt quite as relieved in her life as she did in that moment. And yet, there was something wrong. In all the battles they had been in, Thompson had been the very image of calm control, but here, now, he seemed afraid. For the first time, he seemed truly scared. Tali could hear Shepard respond, but she didn't listen, being too occupied with her thoughts and trying to stay in her seat. With an unholy screech, the thresher maw lunged at the Mako.
Garrus was standing in the engineering bay, looking forlornly at the ruined Mako. Shepard was there next to him, frowning as she looked over the damage.
'The Alliance isn't going to like this,' she muttered under her breath.
'Forget the Alliance, what about me?' Garrus shook his head, 'Think of how many calibrations I'll have to do to get the next one operational.' Shepard gave him a sly look.
'You'll just have to pull some all-nighters. I can imagine it now: just you and Mako, all alone, with nothing but the light of your omni-tool for company.' She chuckled softly to herself, 'It'll be romantic.'
Garrus' throat went dry: he would never have expected his commander to say something like that. He blinked a few times, desperately trying to find something, anything, to say.
'It might have to wait a while, I mean, there's such a long line. I wouldn't want to get its hopes up.'
Shepard began laughing, a wondrously light, hearty sound that widened Garrus' mandibles in a smile.
'With a wit like that, it's not hard to imagine.' Garrus was about to respond when a voice sounded over the ship's intercom.
'I've got Admiral Kahoku on the line Shepard; I figured he'd appreciate it if you told him yourself.' Shepard sighed before turning towards the elevator.
'Duty calls Garrus, we'll have to continue this later.'
'You know where to find me, it's not like I've got anywhere else to go.'