"Two more minutes." The girl tapped a control and a set of blast shields retracted, revealing the blackness of space outside the cockpit. She touched another glowing, holographic button, and the lights in the compartment dimmed until Chasca's night side was clearly visible off to the left.

The Sulaco appeared as the girl's ship orbited around to the day side.

"Thanks for the lift," Chula said. She turned toward the girl, but those steadily glowing red eyes made her shiver and turn away again. "So ... are you planning on telling us your name?"

"Call me Ghost."

"Uh ... okay." Chula stared out at the rapidly approaching Sulaco. "I can't help being curious-you've got a ship built by Cerberus and your modifications were most likely done by the same bunch, and they're keeping you supplied, but your job is to destroy Reaper technology? I figured they'd be more interested in acquiring Reaper tech for their own purposes."

"Depends on which cell you're talking about," Ghost muttered.

Chula waited, but the girl remained silent. After a few more seconds, Valeria spoke.

"Cerberus is made up of independently-operating cells. The entire organization is run by a human who calls himself the Illusive Man. He's the only one who knows what each cell is doing." Valeria glanced over at Chula. "They've been on the Spectres' ladar for a long time. Long enough to know that each cell is kept in the dark as to what the others are up to, and that some of their operatives are fairly decent people."

"I'll believe that when I see it."

"Two in particular came to our attention recently, Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor. They served on the Normandy SR2 since its launch, and once their mission was completed, they resigned from Cerberus and continued serving under Commander Shepard. So did the rest of the all-Cerberus crew. Shepard hasn't rejoined the Systems Alliance, but he and his entire crew are no longer affiliated with Cerberus, though I've heard that he's convinced the Illusive Man to continue providing intel and resources."

"Huh. I'd heard about Shepard ditching Cerberus, but I didn't know the whole crew stayed with him." Chula cocked her head at Valeria. "What else do you know about Cerberus?"

"It started as an Alliance black-ops division, but went rogue. We've only recently been able to run down the Illusive Man's actual identity-a former mercenary named Jack Harper. He disappeared shortly after the end of the First Contact War, and was never seen or heard from again. Around the same time, the Illusive Man appeared. His organization has done a lot of reprehensible things since then, but they did get something right a few months ago, when they recovered Shepard's body, put it back together and revived him, built the new Normandy, and sent him off to deal with the Collectors. Good thing, too, since the Collectors were abducting entire human colonies in the Terminus Systems and had set their sights on Earth."

Chula shuddered again. "Shit."

"Yeah."

Chula crossed her arms over her chest and flicked another glance at Ghost. "Looks to me like enough Cerberus operatives are still complete bastards, though. Experimenting on a child like this-"

"It was my idea." Ghost turned those glowing eyes on her. "I had nothing to lose by then. Some of the Cerberus people tried to turn me into one of their tools." Ghost held Chula's gaze without blinking. "Let's just say I gave them my opinion. After that, the rest were more than happy to let me do my own thing and even give me whatever I needed to do it."

Well. Damn. Chula turned to stare out the window again.

Weyland activated his Omni-Tool and scanned Ghost. She barely glanced at him as she matched the Sulaco's velocity and turned her ship to align its airlock with the freighter's.

"You might want to contact your ship once you finish scanning my DNA. They won't be able to see us unless they look out a window."

"Acknowledged." Weyland opened a channel. "Sulaco, we are preparing to dock."

"Still can't see anything," Magnum replied.

"We are approaching the forward airlock. Docking umbilical is extending."

Ghost nudged the thrusters once more and the umbilical locked into place with the slightest bump.

"Ah, I guess that was you. Is Chula flying that ship?"

"No," Chula said, "but the pilot's almost as good as I am." She waited for Ghost to glance at her, and then winked. A smile tugged at the corner of the girl's mouth before she turned back to her console.

Valeria stepped toward the airlock, paused, and stared at Ghost. "Is there anything you need? Anything I can do to help you out?"

"I'm good, for now."

"Okay. Well ... see you around, then."

"Maybe." Ghost nodded, faced her console again, and waited.

Chula suppressed another shiver until she'd walked around the corner and entered the airlock. Once she and the others had boarded the Sulaco and the hatch closed, a muffled thunk reverberated through the hull as the umbilical detached.

The inner hatch opened, revealing Magnum and Irving. He squeezed through the doorway before it had opened completely, and Magnum grinned. Irving rushed over to Valeria, smiled, and put his arms around her. She embraced him, closed her eyes, and released a long, slow breath.

"Exactly what I needed, honey," she whispered. "Thanks."

"Anytime." He kissed her and then nudged his forehead gently against hers.

Chula smiled, adjusted the angle of her hat slightly, and turned to Weyland. "If we're done here, I'll go set a course back to the Citadel."

"Acknowledged." Weyland nodded, turned back to Val and Irving, and watched for a few seconds with his head cocked to one side. Then he turned and walked with Chula to the end of the corridor. "We will inform the rest of the team that we are on the way."

#

Once they caught their breath, Valeria realized the comm panel had been beeping for at least twenty seconds. She raised her head from Irv's bare chest, reached for the glowing panel, and then scooted a few more centimeters until her talons contacted the flashing button.

"Yeah?" She took a few more gasping breaths, settled back into Irving's arms, and sighed.

Chula appeared in the holo-display. "Oh. Uh, sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt."

"You didn't." Irv grinned. "We finished a minute ago."

"Ah. Well, I guess that explains the delay."

Val nodded and giggled. "What's up?"

"We've reached the Citadel and will be docking in a few minutes."

"Already?"

"Like the human saying goes," Irv said with a wiggle of his eyebrows, "time flies when you're having fun."

"It certainly does." Val glanced at the panel. "We'll be ready."

"See you in a few." Chula's image faded out.

Val tapped the button again, let out another sigh, and lowered her head back to her husband's chest. Just another moment.

He held her silently, giving her all the time she needed to get herself back into the proper headspace for her Spectre duties. After the things she'd seen on Chasca, she'd needed a few hours of passion and tenderness, and didn't want it to end.

Irv smiled and traced a fingertip over her bright red facial tattoos, moved up over the plates on her forehead, over the crest at the top, and along one of the long horns that swept past the back of her head. She shivered, laughed softly, and reached up to caress his cheek. Human skin was so soft-it had been slightly off-putting when they'd first met, though once she'd gotten used to it, the effect it had on her was quite the opposite.

Aw, hell, if we don't stop now, we'll stay here for the rest of the day. She kissed him and slid over to the side of the bed with a reluctant moan.

"Duty calls, eh?" Irv sat up, leaned over, slipped his arms around her waist, and rubbed his cheek against her mandible.

"Yeah." She reached back to stroke his hair. "But don't worry, tonight we can rent a room and catch up on what we've been missing." They usually had sex at least four or five times every day, but recent events had thrown them off their routine. Can't let the job get in the way any more than it already has. The last time she'd been a Spectre, it had become all she was.

Not this time.

She sighed yet again, patted his hand, and hauled herself off the bed. She picked up her armor from where she'd tossed it, put it back on, and paused to blow Irving a kiss on her way out the door. "I love you."

"I love you, too." He smiled and kept his eyes on her until the door closed.

Okay. Back to business. Valeria met the rest of the crew at the airlock. Chula, Weyland, Magnum, Quint, Bailey and his son, and the surviving mercs from Chasca had gathered around the inner hatch.

"Sorry. Hope I didn't keep you waiting long."

"Don't worry about it." Chula laughed softly. "First things first, and all that."

"Heh. Yeah."

Weyland opened the airlock and everyone stepped inside. Bailey's son and the merc captain's daughter, Valeria noticed immediately, were still holding hands.

"So," Val said as the inner hatch closed and the outer one opened, "what are your plans?"

"I've got reports to file," Bailey said. "And I need to figure out how to tell Scott's mother about all this. And spend some quality time with him, assuming he's not too busy with his new girlfriend to talk to his old man for a while."

"Garusha and I used the last few hours wisely. I think we'll be okay on our own for an afternoon or so." Scott wiggled his eyebrows. "By tomorrow I'll probably be sore all over. From, y'know ... overexertion."

Bailey grimaced and rubbed a hand over his face as everyone walked down the corridor toward the C-Sec headquarters. "I really don't want to hear about it."

Garusha's father burst out laughing. "I'm not a fan of it, either, but I have to admit I'm enjoying the discomfort it's causing you."

"Eh, I'll get over it." Bailey nodded at the guard stationed at the far end of the corridor. "What about you guys? Where are you going from here?"

"The first thing I need to do is get some unpleasant duties out of the way. I have to notify the families of the people I lost."

Bailey winced. "I've been there, myself, more than once. Comes with the job, but that doesn't make it any easier."

"Sure doesn't." The merc captain sighed.

So did Valeria. "I need to do the same thing for the Cerberus researchers who died. In fact, I should head straight to the Spectre office and take care of it immediately."

"I'll go with you, if that's okay." Chula adjusted the angle of her hat again. "I have some unfinished business with Tela Vasir."

Ah, shit. I forgot all about that. Valeria sighed. "You don't have to go through with it. Vasir's a twat. What she thinks about you-or anything else-doesn't matter."

"This is a chance to correct people's impression of quarians as weaklings. I couldn't care less what Vasir thinks, but if I back down from her challenge, I'll end up perpetuating that image others have of us."

"You sure you want to do this?"

"Yes."

Val sighed again. "Alright." She nodded at the others as they entered the C-Sec office. "Guess we should get it over with, then. We'll see you later."

Everyone said their goodbyes and Valeria and Chula made their way to the Spectre headquarters.

Maybe Vasir isn't here. Maybe she's on assignment, or having lunch, or something. Maybe this won't have to happen.

She stepped through the door and found Vasir standing at one of the terminals. Valeria winced.

Shit. She put a hand on Chula's shoulder.

"Listen, if you're hell-bent on going through with this, just be careful. Vasir fights dirty."

"I bet I fight dirtier. There's a certain batarian merc I fought on Omega who could tell you that. Well, except he's dead, so he actually can't." She strode over to Vasir.

Valeria sighed and hurried after her. I guess notifying the families will have to wait. I just hope I don't have to add another family to the list.

Chula stopped beside Vasir, leaned over, and braced her hands abruptly on the console. Vasir twitched and whipped her head to the left. When she recognized Chula, her brows shot upward and her jaw dropped. She recovered her composure quickly, and smirked.

"Well, I have to admit I didn't expect to see you again."

Chula merely leaned closer and snarled into Vasir's face.

"It's time."

#

"Hey, babe!" Dakka grinned and waved at Quint and the rest of the gang. He turned, spotted her across the marketplace, and smiled. They rushed toward each other and embraced.

"Good to see you back on your feet." Quint gave her a quick kiss and raised an eyebrow. "Should you be up and around so soon, though?"

"Aw, I'm fine. Barely a scar." She put her hands on his shoulders and stared into his eyes. "You okay? You're smiling, but I'm getting the feeling there's something else going on behind it."

"Well, after what we saw on Chasca ..." He sighed and clasped her hand as the rest of the crew caught up with them. "The whole research team was dead before we arrived, plus a bunch of mercs. The only survivors were Bailey's kid and a few of the Blue Suns Cerberus hired to guard him. And that was only the beginning."

"Damn, dude. Are you gonna be okay?"

"Eventually. I'll tell you all about it later. I hope things were a lot more uneventful here."

"Uh, yeah." She chuckled. "About that ..."

Quint frowned and everyone else stopped and stared at her.

"The situation with Elias Kelham took an interesting turn right after I got out of surgery. The wife of the turian he ran over showed up with a huge Eclipse team and tried to drag him out of C-Sec headquarters. They ended up in a standoff with all the C-Sec officers present, until I showed up."

Quint gaped at her. "You took on an Eclipse squad after you had surgery?"

"It didn't actually come to that. I managed to talk her down. She left peacefully. She's letting the courts handle it-for now, at least."

"Wow. A krogan taking the diplomatic route?" Magnum grinned and nudged Dakka's shoulder. "Now you've aroused my curiosity."

"I'll fill you all in as soon as there's time. Yutani's just told me that we're meeting with our clients from Bekenstein, a science team, and Commander Shepard when the Normandy arrives later this morning. It's about the artifacts Malcolm and Benny found there." Dakka grinned. "Or you can wait until my interview with Emily Wong airs to hear about the standoff."

"Uh, interview?" Quint raised an eyebrow.

"Yep. She tracked me down right after I headed off to grab something to eat. She overheard people talking about it and really wanted a scoop." Dakka laughed as they made their way through the marketplace. "She mentioned some newcomer named Diana Allers being her main competition."

"Never heard of her."

"Allers does a show called BattleNet, or something like that. She seems to be trying to make a name for herself by covering conflicts-pirate attacks, merc operations, military skirmishes, that sort of thing. All while wearing nothing above the waist but really tight sports bras. Around the office, they call her 'Battletits.'"

Quint snorted and Magnum burst out laughing.

Dakka grinned again, glanced around and raised a brow ridge. "Hey, where are Chula and Valeria?"

"Taking care of some business in the Spectre headquarters." Quint sighed. "I don't know how this got started, but Chula mentioned some 'unfinished business' with a Spectre named Vasir. I got the impression that they were going to have some sort of confrontation."

"Initiating search on Spectre Operative Vasir," Weyland said. "Records found. Tela Vasir. Spectre file heavily redacted. However, her public file includes three hundred sixty-one years of military training and service prior to joining Special Tactics and Reconnaissance."

"Oh, hell," Quint muttered. "Chula's got a natural talent for combat, but she's still learning. Any of us would have a hard time against someone with that much experience."

"Well, Valeria's with her." Dakka put her arm around his shoulders. "She won't let Vasir go too far."

"I hope you're right. I wouldn't mind being there to keep an eye on whatever she's getting into, but we're probably not allowed in there."

"Hmm. Well, we can try. Maybe Valeria can authorize us temporarily."

Weyland turned his head suddenly. Dakka glanced in the same direction. After a few seconds, she managed to pick out a child crying amidst the hum of multiple conversations all around her. She zeroed in on a human child standing in the middle of the crowd, glancing around frantically, and wailing.

"Aww," Magnum said, and hurried through the crowd to the kid. The others followed her. She kneeled in front of the little boy and said, "Hey, what's wrong? Can't find your parents?"

He nodded and pointed over his shoulder. "I wanted to see the fishies over there. Then I ... then I ... I can't find my mommy!" He took a deep breath and resumed crying.

Weyland glanced at Magnum. His head-flaps raised and lowered, and he turned his single optic back to the kid. Then he sank to his knees, mimicking Magnum's pose, and reached out slowly to touch the kid's shoulder.

"We will help you find her. What is your mother's name?"

The child sobbed several more times before finally whimpering, "Mommy!"

"Oh, boy." Magnum sighed, but quickly replaced it with a smile. "Well, we can go to the Citadel Security office right over there, and they can help you. Maybe they can page her over the speaker system."

Weyland remained motionless for perhaps a second, then his Omni-Tool interface appeared around his left arm. He prodded at it and stood. "I will scan the people around us and show you their faces. Tell me when you see your mother."

"O ... okay." The kid sobbed, sniffed, and wiped tears from his cheeks.

Weyland turned his head slowly and a series of faces appeared in his Tool's holo-display as he zoomed in on one and then another. The child stared intently at each one.

Aww! Dakka smiled and gave Quint's hand a gentle squeeze. He smiled back and they waited silently for several minutes before the kid pointed abruptly at a frantic, tear-streaked face.

"Mommy!"

The image zoomed back out until a set of holo-signs and advertisements filled the background. Magnum stood and nodded at Weyland.

"Nice work. I'll go find her." She weaved her way through the crowd and returned about thirty seconds later with the woman in tow. The woman rushed up to her child, dropped to her knees, and threw her arms around him.

Magnum smiled and gave the others a double thumbs-up.

Once the woman calmed down, she stood and wiped her tears away with one hand while keeping the other clamped onto her son's hand. She turned to Magnum and said, "Thank you so much! I don't even know how to thank you!"

"We're just happy to help. And all I did was bring you over here." Magnum waved a hand at Weyland. "He's actually the one who found you."

"Oh." The woman glanced back and forth between them several times, and finally aimed a shaky smile at Weyland. "Well, then ... uh, thank you."

"You are welcome."

"I ... we should head home now. But thank you again!" She turned, but the kid pulled away and scampered over to Weyland. He smiled and hugged the geth's leg.

Weyland raised one eyebrow-flap, glanced at Quint and Dakka, and reached down to pat the kid's shoulder. The kid grinned, let go, and hurried back to his mother. He waved before both of them turned to vanish into the crowd, and Weyland mimicked the gesture.

Magnum grinned and patted Weyland on the back.

"Awesome." Dakka beamed in the direction the mother and son had gone.

"So," Magnum said after they'd continued walking, "what's the Normandy's ETA?"

"A little under two hours, last I heard. Should be enough time to hook up with Lia, Yutani, and our clients, and catch each other up on recent events before we have to get into the heavy stuff. Maybe drop by the Spectre office and see how Chula's doing, too."

Quint smiled and nodded. "Lead the way."

#

"Over here!" Lia waved at the others. They turned, glanced around, spotted her from the hospital door, and waved back. Once they made their way to the outdoor cafe, Lia and Sidonis stood and greeted them. Lia glanced at each of them and cocked her head. "Chula and Valeria aren't with you?"

"They're okay," Quint said. "They just had something to take care of. Irving and General Kurakova headed off to contact their family to let them know that they're both alright."

"Oh, good. So, was your mission a success?"

"Mostly. Bailey's son is okay, and we rescued some of the mercs Cerberus hired to keep him secure." Quint sighed. "We'll fill you in on the details later. How're things going here?"

"You sound like you're feeling better," Dakka said.

"I am, yes. Quite a lot, in fact. Thank you for arranging my meeting with Trent."

"Ah, I was hoping you'd get some." Dakka grinned and Lia laughed.

"It didn't go quite that far, but ... well, I'll tell you about it later. For now I'll just say that I'm feeling better now than I have in well over a year."

"Glad to hear that." Dakka beamed and then glanced over at the hospital. "How's Kenn, by the way?"

"Out of surgery," Sidonis said. He pointed at one of the windows on the hospital's fourth floor. "He's not awake yet, but we're told he'll recover. His family is on the way from the Flotilla."

"C-Sec is guarding his room, just in case." Lia shrugged. "I'm not really confident about their willingness to protect a quarian, but ... "

"Well, Bailey feels like he owes us for helping him rescue his son, so he said he'd make sure Kenn stays safe." Magnum smiled. "So, you two are free to join in our meeting with Malcolm, Benny, the science team, and the Normandy's command staff when they arrive, if you want."

"Ehh ... " Sidonis sighed. "It's probably not a good idea for me to get anywhere near the Normandy crew. Garrus is probably still onboard, and last time he and I were on the Citadel at the same time, he almost blew my head off-and I can't really fault him for that. Commander Shepard barely managed to talk him out of it. If Garrus sees me again ... "

"Ah. Well, if we run into Garrus, we'll put in a good word for you." Dakka clapped him on the shoulder. "We'll tell him how you risked your life to save Kenn from those mercs, and how you're still looking out for him."

Quint nodded. "Yeah, we'll do what we can to convince him that you're trying to make up for what you did before."

"I'll never be able to make up for that, but I'm definitely trying to do better from now on." Sidonis nodded. "Thank you."

"Any time." Dakka turned to Lia. "Well, since Kenn's in good hands, wanna come to the meeting with us? From what I've heard already, there's some hefty stuff we're gonna be talking about."

Oh, hell. The Reapers. Lia's good mood started to fade, but she shook it off. I've made too much progress to slip back into fear and depression now. Whatever is coming, I'll face it head-on and find a way to deal with it. She nodded.

"Sounds interesting." She glanced at Sidonis. "If you don't mind ... ?"

"Not at all. Go right ahead." He sat and picked up his drink. "Honestly, I like the thought of just sitting here and doing nothing for a while. It'll be the first chance I've had to relax and clear my head since before I traveled to Omega."

"Okay." Lia smiled. "We'll catch up with you later, then."

"First we'll meet up with Malcolm and Benny and the science team." Quint waved a hand down the street as they began walking. "They'd already discovered some pretty serious shit yesterday, and Dr. T'Lura's team stayed up all night with the artifacts and records."

Uh-oh. Lia nodded. "Can't wait to hear what they've found out."

#

"Well, this is hardly fair." Vasir stood in the center of the mat and waved a hand over her dark gray tunic and pants. "Your quarian pet is wearing that helmet and envirosuit, yet all I have is this simple outfit."

"Quarians can't take their suits off unless they're in a completely sterile environment, and you know it." Valeria crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Vasir. "Besides, since when do you fight fair? If the dead could speak, I'm sure there are several large encampments filled with your victims who'd be happy to tell us all how you slaughtered them even though they were unarmed."

Vasir's eyes flicked toward her and she sneered before locking on to Chula again. Chula glanced at Valeria and her glowing eyes widened a bit.

Oh, shit. If that's typical of Spectres, it's no surprise Val wanted out. She returned her attention to her opponent and shrugged.

"Tell you what. I'll take off all the hard pieces of my suit. Everything under the armored parts is a soft, flexible material. I'm afraid the helmet will have to stay on, but the rest of my body will be as vulnerable as yours." Chula placed her hands on her hips. "Or I could wait for you to put on your own armor. Or if you're really feeling inadequate, I could take everything off and fight you naked despite the risk of infection. I'd still win, by the way."

Soft laughter rippled around the room. Chula glanced around at the half-dozen other Spectres and support personnel who'd come to observe the "sparring match." She wondered idly how many of them had worked with Valeria the last time she was a Spectre, and how many had joined since her departure.

Vasir snorted. "Dream on. I'll face you in whatever you want to wear, and I'll make sure you spend the next year in Huerta Memorial-if you somehow manage to survive the next few minutes."

Chula rolled her eyes and detached the armored outer layer of her suit. One of the other Spectres, a salarian, stepped forward to take them from her. He smiled, leaned forward, and whispered, "I'm rooting for you. I've never liked that bitch."

"Thanks." Chula chuckled. "I'll give her a few extra punches just for you."

He started to speak-but then he glanced at something behind her and his eyes widened, his mouth opened, and he gasped.

Valeria suddenly sucked in a quick breath of her own. "Chula!"

Chula spun around to face Vasir just in time to catch a boot in her gut. Her lungs seized up and she doubled over.

Shit! Shit shit shit! Breathe, damn it!

She slumped forward and rolled onto her side.

Vasir leaned over and grinned. "You're not the first quarian I've fought, you know. There was this one a few years ago. I found him working with a gang of mercs. He claimed he was under duress, but it didn't matter."

Chula finally managed to draw a gasping, burning breath. Tears trickled down her cheeks.

"He was just as helpless as you are now," Vasir continued with an even bigger grin. "I ripped his helmet off and coughed in his face, then I just let the allergic reaction do the rest. The last thing he ever saw was me laughing at him."

"You b-"

Vasir cocked her right leg back and kicked her. The impact scooted Chula across the floor and caused her to curl up again. Vasir planted her hands on her hips, chuckled, and waited for Chula to suck in another raspy breath.

"Not even worth my time. Pathetic, weakling quarian."

Oh, you're gonna regret opening your fucking mouth. Chula deliberately mumbled something incoherent.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I couldn't hear that." Vasir cupped her right hand to her auditory orifice and leaned closer. "What was that you said?"

Chula mumbled again, and Vasir laughed and leaned in even closer.

"Still can't-"

Chula whipped her right arm out like a cobra striking. She clamped her hand around Vasir's left breast and squeezed, bearing down with every last ounce of strength she could muster. Before Vasir could do more than open her eyes and mouth wide in sudden shock, Chula twisted it, rolled her body over to wrench it even farther, and finished off with a violent yank. Vasir shrieked and staggered away, clutching at her chest. She dropped to one knee before getting back on her feet and stumbling to the edge of the mat.

"Fuck this," Chula grumbled. She strode back to the salarian and held her left hand out. "Give me back my boots. They've got some stompin' to do."

He stared at her, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, and nodded. As he handed the boots over, Chula caught a glimpse of Valeria gaping at Vasir and holding her hands to her chest.

"Augh! I don't even have boobs, but I swear I'm having sympathy pain!"

I'm barely getting started. Chula laughed softly as she put the boots on and latched the buckles. She stormed back across the mat and Vasir growled and cocked her right fist back. She lost her balance and moved her feet apart to stabilize herself.

Exactly what I needed. Chula feinted a punch of her own-then she pulled her right leg back and rammed her boot into Vasir's crotch-again, putting all the strength she had behind the blow.

Vasir released an ear-shattering howl, doubled over, and pitched forward. Her face plowed into the mat and slid forward as she collapsed. She let out a soft moan and turned completely limp.

The salarian cocked his head, walked over to Vasir, and scanned her with his Omni-Tool. "Well. She's blacked out." He turned to aim another awestruck stare at Chula. "And I think I'm in love."

Hah! Chula fired up her Omni-Tool. Salarians don't often have casual flings, but maybe working with so many species has broadened his horizons. "I'll give you my contact info, then. Call me sometime."

He grinned and set his Tool to exchange info. "I might just do that."

Chula glanced at the text appearing briefly on the surface of her Tool interface as the device accepted the transfer and saved the file. Nice to meet you, Jondum Bau.

Bau handed over the outer layer of Chula's suit and she reattached the pieces.

"I thought that only worked on males," one of the support personnel muttered.

"Guess not," the one beside him said. She shuddered and turned away. "Seeing that actually nauseated me. Not that Vasir hasn't had it coming for a long time."

"Yeah. I'm thinking we should get a med team in here. Looks like Vasir's the one who's going to be spending some time in Huerta." He grinned. "Gotta say, though, that was awesome. First time I've ever had naughty thoughts about a quarian. After all this is over, I'm gonna need to crank one out."

The other snickered.

After finished putting her outer layer back on, Bau smiled and bowed.

"Witnessing this has been an honor and a privilege."

She returned the gesture. "It's been quite an honor for me, too, given the things I've heard about Vasir."

He chuckled. "Well, I should see to the med team. I hope to see you in action again, someday." He joined the other two at the door.

Chula grinned and walked over to Valeria. Val picked up Chula's duster and hat from the console beside her and handed them over. Chula winced at her aching belly, but grinned at Val.

"I told you I fight dirtier."

#

"Looks like we all had the same idea," General Kurakova said as she and Irving joined the others in the docking bay. Also present-the entire Sulaco crew minus Chula, Malcolm and Benny, Dr. T'Lura and her team, and Goresk.

"You're just in time." Dakka smiled at them before turning back to the huge viewport. "The Normandy should arrive sometime in the next few minutes."

"Good. I'm looking forward to this. I've been keeping up on Shepard's adventures ever since he became the first human Spectre."

Irving glanced around. "Is Val on her way?"

"Just arriving," Valeria called out from the door behind everyone. Irving turned, grinned, and rushed into his wife's arms.

"Hey." He kept his hands on her shoulders and gazed into her eyes. "I know that look. What's wrong?"

"I just finished sending out a long list of depressing emails." Val sighed, put her arms around him again, and nuzzled his cheek. "Informing the families of the Cerberus team and mercs who were killed on Chasca."

"Ah. I'm sorry."

"Me, too. I've always thought that sort of thing was one of the hardest parts of this job."

As they held each other, Dakka glanced at Chula and frowned. "Hey, you alright?"

Chula nodded, but kept one hand on her midsection. "I'll survive. Just had a little 'sparring match' with one of the Spectres."

"Oh, yeah, we heard about that. How'd it go?"

Valeria chuckled. "She fought Tela Vasir. It lasted less than two minutes, but Vasir probably won't wake up for at least a few hours."

"Oh, really?" Dakka grinned.

"Huh." Goresk stared at Chula. "I've heard of Vasir. She's one vicious bitch."

"Yeah, she tried to fight dirty right from the start." Chula shrugged. "Turns out she's kind of an amateur at that sort of thing."

"Oh." Dakka rubbed her hands together. "Details, please! How did you take her down?"

"Titty-twister from hell, followed by a weapons-grade kick to the crotch." Valeria clapped Chula on the shoulder. "It was truly horrifying. I can't stand Vasir, and it still hurt me just to see it. Made me glad that turians don't have breasts."

"No kidding. Just hearing about it makes me glad krogan don't have 'em, either."

"Yeah. And seeing the groin attack just made me want to cry." Val shrugged. "Couldn't have happened to a better asshole, though."

Goresk stared at Chula again, all four eyes widening, and finally shook his head. "Well, I sure as hell won't ever underestimate a quarian again. Maybe even avoid fighting them at all, if that's how they are in combat. I'd really like to go through the rest of my life without having my testicles ruptured."

Chula laughed and bowed theatrically.

"Ah, here it comes," Dr. T'Lura said from her spot directly in front of the viewport. She pointed at an approaching ship. "The Normandy's about to dock."

Everyone else stepped up to the window. Chula cocked her head.

"That looks just like Ghost's ship, only a lot bigger."

"Yeah." Valeria clasped Irving's hand as they watched the Normandy ease into the docking clamps. "Where are we having the meeting? C-Sec? Or the Spectre office?"

"Commander Shepard invited us aboard, actually." Kurakova grinned and walked over to the airlock. The others joined her as it pressurized. When the doors opened, she waved a hand inside. "Shall we?"