"Go make sure he's dead," Shepard ordered as she continued to work on opening the station arms.

"Aye ma'am," Williams replied. She and Garrus turned and headed off the promontory, working their way down to drop into the small decorative garden where Saren had fallen. Liara remained, lingering at the commander's side.

"We did it, Shepard."

"Ain't done yet. Not until Sovereign falls," Shepard told her, glancing up momentarily at the huge windows that flanked the chambers.

"They will have to believe us now," Liara told her. A breath later, a single gunshot echoed through the room.

"Citadel arms opening now," Shepard murmured as the console flashed green. Then she touched her helmet as Ashley's voice filled her ear.

{All he needs is tagging, Skipper.}

"Affirmative. You two get back up here. We're going to secure the chambers and then see if we can't start clearing the geth from the station. We-"

Despite her hard-suit, Shepard suddenly felt every hair on her body suddenly lift, her very skin seeming to vibrate. Liara stumbled, grasping her arm, and instinctively the commander caught her.

Arcs of red lightning filled the room, spraying from the console, from power conduits hidden in the walls, from every electronic device within a hundred yards. The remainder of the glass covering the decorative garden suddenly shattered with a hollow boom, and the promontory rattled. There was the groaning tear of metal and suddenly the ground beneath their feet gave way.

Shepard found herself tumbling, sliding. The console supports slipped past her fingers as she tried to halt her descent. A breath later she was crashing to the ground…a ground that was still shaking, still flashing with crimson light.

Scrambling to her feet she grabbed Liara and bodily hauled her up. A snap of lightning sailed past her face and she whirled around, staring in shock.

Saren's body was lost in a halo of fervent energy, suspended off the ground. Despite the fact half of his skull was missing, he was howling and shrieking in seeming agony as thick chunks of flesh ignited and fell away to ash.

A brighter flash. The four threw their arms up instinctively, shielding their eyes against the painful blast of light that was almost immediately followed by a rocketing boom that sent them all flying off their feet again.

Dazed, ears ringing madly, Shepard realized first that her HUD was gone, completely shorted out. Gripping her helmet she hauled it off and tossed it aside, the acrid smell of burning and smoke immediately filling her nose.

Fumbling her machine pistol out she weakly rolled over into a sit.

A form moved through the smoke, too tall to be one of her crew, even Garrus. A small pair of yellow lights cut a blazing path through the smoke, shimmers of blue flaring through the darkness. Coughing, she lifted her pistol and aimed.

The figure stepped forward, coalescing out of the gloom.

It was Saren…and yet it was not. He had not lied when he said Sovereign had implanted him, but this was no mere accessorizing with bio-electric implants. Only part of Saren's skull showed this had once been a turian male. His entire skeleton seemed to have been replaced by metal and synthetics, fueled by that strange red electro-plasma that had to have come through the station itself from Sovereign. The Reaper had sensed Saren's death, somehow…and empowered his 'backup'. There was nothing organic about him left, all of it except a random bone here and there having been burned away.

Gritting her teeth she fired. The bullets flashed off of the metal chest-plate fused around yellow-gray ribs, and the mouthless thing somehow shrieked, dropping to all fours. Some kind of watery mucus dripped from tiny tubes at the base of its skull. As the mucus struck grass, smoke rose with the unmistakable hiss of acid.

"Oh fuck no," Shepard murmured, scrambling to her feet, tossing her pistol in favor of her more powerful rifle.

As she opened fire the thing shrieked again, darting to a wall with all the ease and finesse of those damn geth leapers.

More fire bloomed from the swirls of smoke, its reflecting light painting over Ashley's determined face.

The Saren thing leapt again, moving so quickly she could not track it. It was almost impossible to see through the smoke. Not daring to lower her rifle she scanned in a circle, calling out.


"Here ma'am!" William's voice called from the gloom, somewhere about four o'clock.


A pained groan, and then the turian replied. "Here! I'm here!" Nine o'clock.



"Liara, talk to me damn it," Shepard barked, then coughed again. Her eyes were streaming as she searched through the flooding clouds.

"Here! I am here, Shepard!"

High noon. Relief thundered Shepard's heart, but there was no time for it.

"Everyone get your backs to a goddamn wall," Shepard barked. "This thing is-"

She saw the eyes again a breath before something hit her like a runaway train. She sailed back, pain rocketing over her spine as she crashed hard into the wall, the weight of the abomination enough to make her armor creak dangerously. Her gaze filled with glistening skull, broken from two head shots, light beaming from its sockets. She only just had time to remember the acid when she heard the hiss, wet splashing over her.

Most of it landed on her breastplate and shoulder guards. Insane heat filled the corner of her jaw as it splashed up on her skin, seeming to lick flame up to her eyes. She hollered, levering all her strength to throw the thing backward and away from her. As it hit the ground it recovered itself with lightning speed, bunched to leap again…and was caught in a biotic bubble.

Only swiping one gloved hand over her cheek in an attempt to get as much of the acid off her skin as she could, Shepard leapt for her dropped rifle, snatching it up. Rolling on her back she opened fire on the monstrosity hanging helplessly overhead. She didn't even notice her hand starting to burn as well, the shreds of her glove breaking apart and falling away.

Gunfire lit up the smoke from two other quarters, all focused on what used to be Saren Arterius. For several seconds it didn't seem as if the weapons were causing any damage, and Shepard didn't know how long Liara could hold him suspended. She had already strained herself with various biotics on Ilos, not to mention catching six tons of rock and holding it for their escape. She had to be reaching the end of her strength.

Pausing only long enough to pop out her heat sink and slam another into place, she struggled up to her feet, not letting up on the barrage.

More of the skull split and shattered and it shrieked once more, metallic claws lashing out. Finally seeing traces of damage she shouted, "Keep it up! Just a little longer!"

Ashley's fire halted and then resumed as she also discharged a heat sink. Suddenly the biotic bubble disappeared, the creature slamming to the ground. Writhing, it seemed unable to get up. She could see more of that mucus bubbling up from his chest, and barked out a 'hold!'

The gunfire halted. Liara, Garrus, and Ashley moved forward like ghosts out of the gloom, staring as the mucus bubbled and spilled over the remains, the acid eating them away with swift, ravenous urgency.

Never tearing her eyes away, Shepard reached up and unsnapped her breastplate, hauling it off and dropping it to the side. The goop had almost completely eaten through the reinforced padding and would have reached her skin in moments.

The last of Saren's twisted remains disappeared, the acid slowly burning the grass beneath him away, eating through the dirt. Shepard could feel blood on her neck, the side of her face throbbing. Almost idly she peeled off the last of her glove, looked at her hand.

Only a trace amount had actually come in contact with her skin. The flesh was angry, burned badly in a patch about the size of two quarters. Looking up she glanced first at Ashley's dust covered face, then Garrus. He had a pair of broken teeth, saliva foamed with blood dripping from one mandible, but otherwise seemed intact. Liara had another gash on her head and looked a little pale, but steady.

"We have to get out of this smoke," Shepard urged, eyes still streaming.

"There's a way up, over this way," Garrus gestured, sounding just as rough and haggard. Moving gingerly, the four managed to climb back up the crumpled promontory and out of the burning garden.

Coughing heavily, streaked with soot, blood and grime, they all but collapsed at the top of the stairs.

Damp, gritty hair hanging over her face, Shepard crouched in front of Liara, checking her head, then looked around at the huge windows. Rising, she watched several ships flash past and accessed her radio, struggling not to cough as she spoke. "Normandy, report!"

{The Destiny Ascension is clear!} Joker's tense, breathless, yet triumphant voice filled her ear. {We've taken massive casualties but Sovereign's shields and weapons just went down!}

In the bleed-over, Shepard heard Hackett's faint voice. {All ships, concentrate on Sovereign! Hit him with everything you've got!}

Leaving the exhausted three behind her, Shepard headed over closer to the windows. Through them she could see floating wreckage, destroyed ships…far too many destroyed ships. Even as she took in the scene, a massive flash of light blanked out her sight, and Joker all but screamed in her ear.

{WHOOHOO! Sovereign is down! I repeat! SOVEREIGN IS DOWN!}

Shepard couldn't help the grin, even with a cheek that still felt aflame. They'd done it. They'd stopped Saren, stopped the invasion. They'd goddamn motherfucking won.

"I'm buying the entire goddamn fleet drinks," she called into the radio. "And a whole bottle of whiskey just for you, Jeff-"

{Commander! Incoming debris!} Joker suddenly belted out, alarmed.

Shepard's eyes widened as the window suddenly went dark. For a split second she could see the huge black chunk of metal and electronics perfectly…a speeding projectile half the size of her ship.

Sovereign's last insult. It was going to crash right into the council chambers.

Turning, eyes wide, she only had time to bark one word at the three crewmen huddled right in its path.


In a roar of fury, the world came down.

Death was not quite the way she'd expected it to be.

There was no light, for one. And that wailing sounded less like choirs of angels and more like an alarm klaxon. Pain still existed too, as well as lungs that felt as if they'd been sandpapered.

Slowly, Ashley Williams came to the conclusion that she was not, in fact, dead…and gingerly uncovered her head, shock and the ringing in her ears slowly fading, replaced with memory.

The great windows had imploded with the impact of the debris, the size and force of it tearing through the walls as well as it raped its way into the chamber. All three of them had ducked, covering their heads instinctively but Liara…

Yes, it was Liara. Exhausted, strained beyond belief, the asari had still managed to throw up a biotic barrier over the three of them. In her mind's eye, Ashley could still see the largest of the projectiles bouncing off that barrier. The force of it had been enough to slam Liara down on the ground, her biotics dying in the same motion, but it had done its work. The chunk had skipped enough off the field to miss the three of them completely. Had it not been for Liara, they would have been crushed.

Gingerly she tried to push herself up, giving a faint gasp of pain as white heat rocked through her arm and shoulder. Liara had deflected the largest piece of debris that had come their way, but they had still been pelted with hundreds of smaller shards. Groping around, Ashley grimaced as she realized one had sliced right through her armor plating, spearing her through the shoulder.

Grimacing, she turned around until she was sitting, trying to take stock. Beyond the shoulder, her smoke-abraded lungs, and a head that felt like a half-inflated football, she felt more or less all right. All she could see in every direction was broken metal and debris, only faint light coming through. Clearly the station field generators had kicked on, however…given that she was alive and breathing. The moment the windows were compromised they would have been open to the atmosphere of the nebula. The generators would have sensed the sudden change of pressure and immediately put up an energy barrier to prevent explosive decompression.

She was bleeding, but not badly. The shard was plugging up the wound, preventing too much from escaping. Fumbling for her omni-tool she activated the light, and started it scanning around. Almost immediately she saw a dazed Garrus. He looked like he was just waking up as well, blue blood staining his mouth and the side of his head. One wrist looked broken, and he blinked weakly as he prodded it.

"Garrus," Ashley panted, casting aside a small panel and scooting her way over toward him. He blinked at her, wincing.

"Ashley…good to see you in one piece, more or less. How did…how were we not crushed?"

"Liara put up a barrier," she replied, coughed, and continued to scan around with her light. "Do you see her?"

"No, I…no, there!"

Crawling forward, he took hold of a flat hunk of metal, shifting it away from the limp asari it had been covering. Moving as carefully as she could, trying not to dislodge the shrapnel in her shoulder or allowing it to cut deeper, Ashley tried to get closer.

"She alive?"

As Garrus touched Liara's throat, the young woman groaned and shifted, eyelids fluttering.

"Hey, take it easy now," the turian murmured, gently touching her shoulder. Liara blinked, then hissed in surprised pain, one hand groping down.

"My leg…"

"It's still there," Garrus told her. "Probably broken, try not to move too much."

"N-no, I don't think it's broken, just…sprained…I think I sprained my knee…" she murmured. He helped her to sit up and she pressed a hand to her head, then glanced at Ashley, brows knitting.

"You are hurt."

"We're all hurt," Ash replied. "I'm alive, thanks to you."

"I…it was just instinct, I…" Liara murmured, glancing around for the first time. As Williams, all she saw was debris surrounding them. Suddenly her eyes flew wide. "Shepard!"

"Hey, no no no, stop!" Garrus grit his teeth as he snagged the asari around the waist, halting her surge to her feet. Weak, exhausted, the asari still slammed a fist into his shoulder, struggling against him.

"Let me go! Shepard!"

"Liara, stop! There are literally tons of debris blocking us in. You cannot shift it all to get to her. Liara…she was right underneath those windows-"

"No!" Liara snarled with surprising vehemence. "No, Shepard's all right! I can move it!"

Freeing an arm, Liara reached out with a hand wreathed in blue. A hunk of the debris blocking them in shimmered a little, then shifted only a centimeter before the field died, Liara slumping against Garrus weakly.

With a soft sob, she closed her eyes. "Shepard can't …she wouldn't-…not like this…"

Garrus held her close, glancing over her head at Ashley, who was watching solemnly. The human chief cleared her throat, then turned her light on the rest of the debris.

"We're not diggin' out of here, not in the shape we're in," she murmured. "We just have to sit tight. They'll find us soon enough."

Ash had managed to seal the wound around the shard a little with some medi-gel from her belt, but could do no more without risking tearing it further. Propped up in a sit, she half-dozed. Someone had finally shut the alarm klaxon off. The silence was thick and heavy.

Liara had drawn away from Garrus and was sitting a few feet away. Occasionally she coughed but she didn't speak, and what tears she had shed had dried. Her jaw was set, her eyes weary and far away. Ashley watched her a little, between nodding off, her thoughts a jumble.

She thought about her family, as she always did after a hard mission. She was thankful she'd be able to see them again, hear their voices. This Christmas at the Williams house wouldn't be spent in mourning grief, lamenting her loss. Despite the acrid smell in the air, the pain in her chest…every breath felt like spring, a celebration to being alive.

Yet the celebration came with guilt. Shepard had been right beneath those windows, right in the path of the avalanche. Ashley remembered her turning and shouting at them a breath before hell broke loose. Were it not for Liara's quick reflexes they would never have lived. Shepard had neither biotics nor even the few precious seconds her warning had brought her team.

Don't you give up on her, Williams. They'll find her. She'll be all right.

Moving as carefully as she could, she shifted inch by inch over until she sat beside the asari. Lifting her good hand, she draped it around the woman's shoulders. She said nothing, knowing no words would help at this moment.

"Hey, I hear something," Garrus murmured a moment later. Turning her head, Ash listened.

Voices, faint…and moving metal.

"It's a search party," she grinned, and then called out as loudly as she could. "Hey! Hey, we're over here!"

A few minutes passed, the shifting sounds growing closer, before they heard a muffled voice. "Can you hear me?"

"Captain? Captain Anderson, we're over here!" she called again. "Over here!"

There was a groan and the wall of detritus to the left shifted and moved. She saw a flash of light, hands grasping through the gap to get a better grip, before more shifted. A few seconds later, faces could be seen.

Anderson, dusty but unharmed, moved through the gap followed quickly by a pair of C-Sec agents and then Dr. Chakwas herself, leading some medics. Zeroing in on the one that most obviously needed aid, Chakwas hurried to Ashley's side, gingerly touching the ragged metal spike in her shoulder.

"It's all right now," Anderson said, crouching nearby, playing his light over the pair, then turning and looking at Garrus. "You're all safe now. We're getting you out of here."

Chakwas injected Ashley in the neck, then checked her pupils. "Your vitals are stable. I think you can walk a short distance," she said. "Move carefully. We're going to have to get you to an infirmary before we can get your breastplate off and take this out of your shoulder."

"Dr. T'Soni," Anderson smiled, gently taking hold of the asari woman, before he frowned and looked around again. "Where's Shepard?"

At the thick silence, he glanced over at Ashley. "Williams?"

The Chief wearily met his eyes. "She was right beneath the windows, sir," she murmured.

The captain's face turned grim in understanding. "Let's get you three out of here."

He helped Liara up to her feet, Chakwas carefully bracing Ashley as they moved through the gap in the debris they had cleared away. The dented staircase was slow going but clearer, the rescue shuttle waiting at the taxi terminal just at the bottom. Two more medics raced up to help Chakwas with Ashley, one taking hold of Garrus.

As they reached the shuttle, Liara turned her head and looked back up at the chambers. She could see the top of the shattered wall now, the shimmer of the energy barrier a faint gleam. The rest was merely a tangle of refuse and ruin, the tiny lights of the rescue workers creeping over and through it.

"C'mon," Anderson murmured, urging gently. Liara started to turn back toward the shuttle, then halted, eyes flying wide.

"Goddess…" she breathed. Anderson frowned, looking back.

"What? What did you see?" he asked. The activity at the shuttle halted as nearly everyone turned.

Breaking away from the captain, Liara weakly limped back toward the stairs, ignoring her sprained knee, her exhaustion. Trotting after her, more alarmed that she'd hurt herself worse, Anderson quickly halted, staring in surprise.

A form limped out of the swirls of smoke that still spun through the air in lazy eddies. Reaching the top of the stairs, the form staggered a little, slumped down into a sit.

Liara stumbled on the steps, catching herself with her hands. Not injured or nearly as exhausted, Anderson reached her side, helping to haul her up as he heard Chakwas rushing up behind him. The doctor didn't stop, moving past and immediately to the form's side.

To Shepard's side.

Supporting Liara, Anderson hurried up the remainder of the flight, not surprised when the asari once again broke away from him, almost falling once more. As Liara reached the commander's side, flinging her arms around her with a sob, Shepard winced in pain before relief appeared on her blood-streaked face. Looking up at Anderson over Liara's shoulder she gave a lopsided grin.

"So," she rasped. "Anyone got a smoke?"

"Commander Delilah Shepard."

"Oh, can we please turn that damn thing off," Shepard grumped around her cigar, glaring up from the pool table at the screen above the bar. On the vid they were playing footage from the awards ceremony again.

"No, I like this part. You look like you bit a lemon and are trying really hard not to show it," Williams smirked from nearby, beer bottle in her right hand. Her left was still in a plastic sling, and would be for a few days yet.

Shepard scowled, regarding the holographic pool balls in front of her, shifting her smoke from one corner of her mouth to the other as she lined up her shot. On the vid, a stiff and stern version of herself was bowing forward slightly as a medal was slipped over her head to rest against the chest of her dress uniform. A few of the marines and civvies at the battered bar hooted and clapped.

"They used my first name, and I'd been sitting there listening to speeches for goddamn hours," Shepard huffed. She cursed as she missed her shot, straightening and tapping the ash off her cigar into the nearby hovering ashtray. "Course I looked sour."

"I have to hand it to you, Skipper," Williams shook her head. "You're the only person I know who could steal an Alliance frigate and come out with a medal."

"You stole it with me," Shepard pointed out. "And you got a medal too. Your shot, Tianlán."

Liara rose and began to line up her shot. As she bent over the table, squinting in concentration, Shepard stepped behind her and goosed her sharply. Liara jumped, missing the shot.

"Oops," Shepard grinned, picking up her whiskey.

"That is cheating," Liara protested with amusement.

"You'll have to punish me later," Shepard smirked with a wink. Ashley rolled her eyes.

Shepard lined up her next shot, the small, fresh scars on her hand wrinkling a little. Only a few small twists remained of where the acid had burned her there. The more ugly scar was on her face, a good four inch portion of flesh still an angry red swirl of healing tissue. The jaw beneath it had been partially eaten away and had to be replaced by metal. Chakwas had wanted to correct the scarring with cosmetic surgery but Shepard had put her foot down. Her scars were her medals, more meaningful and more important than whatever pointless hunk of metal they wanted to hang around her neck.

"I have to say, Earth is not entirely as I expected," Liara commented as Shepard sank two of the pool balls in one shot.

"Well, this is hardly the most ideal part of it," Ashley replied. "Leave it to Shepard to find the deepest, dirtiest dive in New York to hang at. We could be at a banquet right now, Skipper. You know, more prime rib…fewer rats."

"Stuffed shirt bureaucrats, overly starched dress uniforms, pedantic small talk," Shepard mumbled around her cigar, regarding the table. "I'll take the rats, thanks. And this is not the dirtiest dive. I could show you one that makes this place look like the fuckin' Marriot."

"The brass are going to be mad that we skipped out after the ceremony," Ashley warned.

"They can kiss my ass…like the Council is doing," Shepard told her. "You should have seen it, Ash. They were choking on humble pie. Fuckin' turian bastard started making this long speech about how noble it was that the Alliance had sacrificed so many in order to save their lives…their lives, mind you, just the Council. He said how their sacrifice would never be forgotten. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I told them it hadn't been done to save them, but the thousands of other people on the Ascension. Self-involved assholes."

"It does not matter," Liara said matter-of-factly. "They will have to take the Reaper threat seriously now. You proved to them that everything you told them was the truth. Everyone that died in the attack is on their heads, and they know it."

"Yeah, I hope so."

She stretched her back and neck, then jerked her chin a little at Williams. "You staying much longer?"

"Nah, Mom's going to call me tonight after they watch the ceremony vid," she said. "She was so upset she and the girls couldn't make it to New York in time to come. Probably a good thing, otherwise I really would be stuck at that banquet right now…likely in heels. I hear Tali is leaving in the morning?"

"Not just Tali," Shepard nodded. "Wrex is going too, back to Tuchanka. Garrus is talking to C-Sec but I get the feeling he's going to be hanging around on board for a while still."

"I hope so," Ashley replied. "It's bad enough Tali and Wrex are leaving, though I understand why. They kind of grew on me. I'm going to miss them."

"Yeah, me too," Shepard murmured. "But Tianlán is sticking around for a while, ain't that right?"

She smiled as she put an arm around Liara's waist. The asari lifted an eyebrow .

"Oh, I don't know," she hedged. "I heard they are sending an excavation team to Ilos. Now that this excitement with Saren is done with I think I'll go with them."

"Yeah right," Ashley snorted. "You're still a terrible liar, T'Soni."

"I'm better than dust and old statues anyway," Shepard smirked, then leaned in and planted a loud, dramatic kiss on her lips.

"All right, I'm getting out of here before I get a damn cavity," Ashley huffed, throwing up her good hand in surrender.

"If you're jealous, Williams, there's a volus on the Citadel that's pining for you," Shepard joked. Ashley barked a laugh, slapping the commander in the shoulder as she walked past for the door.

"Good night, Skipper. Don't stay up too late, we have to be at the shuttles at 0800 if we want to say good-bye to Tali and Wrex."

"We'll see you there," Shepard shouted after her, then grinned at Liara, kissing her cheek. "She's right, Tianlán, it's getting late. You'd best head back to the Normandy."

"Alone?" Liara asked.

"Yeah, I got some business I got to deal with. I'll be back to the ship soon enough."

"Are you sure?" Liara asked, brows knitting. "I do not mind coming with you."

"Yeah, it's no big deal. Boring bullshit. I won't be long, I promise."

Liara nodded but did not look entirely convinced. Lifting a hand, she cupped Shepard's cheek, then kissed her, lingering a long moment before she pulled back a little. She could feel the scars beneath her fingertips, and closed her eyes a moment, before she smiled softly.

"Do not take too long, Shepard…I do not want to get lonely," she whispered meaningfully. Shepard grinned, and kissed her again briefly.

"Believe me, I won't be able to stay away," she replied.

Shepard turned and leaned on the pool table, watching as Liara went to the door and then slipped outside. Slowly her faint smile faded into a much darker, more brooding expression, silent thoughts moving behind her eyes.

Reaching out, she picked up her swagman from where she'd hung it and pulled it on, the shadow it cast turning her gaze from brown to black.

She coughed, clear fluid spilling from her mouth and lungs, pooling around her, then gasped for air. Something warm and soft descended, draping over her shoulders. Trembling, she looked up.

"There, take it easy," Gellian smiled affectionately, stroking a hand lightly over the pale blue cheek.

"M-mother," she murmured, her first word still hoarse with the nutrient fluid. She coughed a little, sat back. Her blue eyes shone like the pools from the Ilvecti Caverns, clear and depthless.

"Take it easy, little one. You are all right. You're safe here," Gellian soothed, rubbing the towel over the newly born asari girl's shoulders and arms. Nearby, Thug watched in silent fascination.

Timidly, shivering, the girl held the towel around her, then allowed Gellian to help her to her feet. She swayed a little, taking in her surroundings.

"You are Mother," she whispered, then looked at the silent krogan. "That is Thug…that is my brother."

"Yes," Gellian grinned, pleased. "Do you know your name? Do you remember?"

Slim brows knit a moment, before the asari girl nodded. "My name is Eír."

A snort of amusement came from the work-desk nearby. Gellian didn't bother to even glance around at Not-Shepard, who was perched there.

"Eír? Really?" Not-Shepard mocked. "Of all the valkyries you picked that one? The one associated with medicine and mercy? Seems kind of silly considering."

"Shut up," the human geneticist hissed under her breath.

"I didn't say anything," Thug rumbled.

"Bring me her clothes," Gellian snapped at the krogan boy. He carried them over. Helping the girl to dry herself, Osco then helped her dress.

"Eír, look at me," she said gently, cupping the girl's face. Still a child in physical form, the young asari looked no older than a ten year old human might, far more immature than Thug had when he had come out of the tank. Gellian searched the girl's eyes, checking her vitals.

Though grown mostly from Benezia's DNA, the girl did not resemble the Matriarch, nor Benezia's true daughter, Liara. Her skin was of a darker shade, her eyes so light they were almost clear. She was as beautiful as a storm, as a tempest…a natural force of destruction.

She was not pure asari, either. Though she looked indistinguishable from any other born of Thessia, Gellian had so manipulated her genetic code that in truth, she was a unique species all of her own.

She had some growing to do still, some training. Her biotic strength would be incredible, Gellian having put all her knowledge gleaned over years of trials with her first 'daughter' to work. A perfect warrior, a perfect assassin, a perfect being…the most perfect being the galaxy had ever known or would ever know.

"You ask me, you went a bit overboard," Not-Shepard commented, scratching at the raw edge of the ragged wound in her forehead. "All of that work, that perfection, just to kill me and a weak little archaeologist. And then what? Are you going to have her topple governments? Destroy whole armies, whole fleets? Is she going to rule the known universe, Jelly? Is that your plan? Is that your perverted little legacy to Benezia? You know…and mind, this comes from your own hallucination…you really are fucking bonkers."

Osco only smiled.

The room was small, hot, and smelled of piss, mold, and red sand. The only light was from the neon outside the window, casting green, blue and hot pink bars across the stack of credits on the table.

Sperry counted out four more chits before he lifted the spoon of sand to his nose and took another small hit. A half-eaten dish of some gray chicken casserole sat near at hand. A pair of flies circled it like restless vultures. Whenever they dared to light, he waved them away with a careless flick.

A vid screen on the wall was showing that goddamn awards ceremony again, muted. Sperry's over-bright eyes lifted to watch as that bitch Shepard accepted her medal, shaking hands with the president.

The goddamn fuckin' president, do you believe that shit? How the fuck is that fair?

Leaning back in the chair he plucked the small pistol from the table top and aimed it at the screen. He mimicked the sound of a gunshot, as if shooting the woman whose face filled the screen, then grinned.

Fuckin' bitch.

Waving the flies away again, he set the pistol down and took another forkful of the casserole before filing through his chits again. This take was good. He-

The screen popped off with a snap, and he looked up at it, blinking. "…the fuck?"

Rising he strode over, smacking it lightly. "C'mon, you old piece of shit. Work, goddamnit!"

The neon outside, flashing its incessant message, suddenly dimmed and died, casting the room into near perfect darkness.

"Aw, you're fuckin' kidding me," he grumped, stalking over to the window. Power on the block must have gone out. Most of New York was on the consistent National Grid, but some of the more run-down neighborhoods, like this one, still ran off an ancient power plant.

Opening the window he leaned out and grimaced at the sign. "C'mon you fuck!" he shouted at it, slapping his hands down on the sill with the indignation only a man high on sand could display toward an inanimate object.

When the sign didn't oblige by immediately switching itself back on, he cursed again, then slammed the window shut.

"Fucking garbage," he snarled, turning around.

He jolted to a halt. While the apartment was mostly lost in darkness, there was enough light to see the form sitting in the beat-ass old chair beside the front door. He stared at it before his eyes flickered to the pistol still sitting on the table nearby, then back again.

"The fuck are you?" He demanded.

"Try it. Grab the gun, I dare you," a low voice murmured out of the darkness.

"Who is that? Torrel? No, it's Jinsette isn't it? Fucking Savon Avenue bitch. The fuck you want?"

"I want you to try and grab the gun, Sperry."

Grabbing himself lewdly instead, he grinned. "This is the only gun I need, Jinsette. How 'bout you try and grab it you feeble little junker?"

A match popped in a flare of light, illuminating a face beneath a swagman hat. As the flame touched to a cigar, Sperry squinted…and then paled.

"Shit…" he breathed, his bravado vanishing. The match snuffed out, only the faintly glowing cherry of the cigar remaining.

"You remember Paul, Sperry? I do."

With a grunt of desperation, Sperry leapt for the gun.

Though she had been determined to wait up, Liara had dozed off, one hand curled around a softly illuminated book-pad. Reaching out, a hand picked it up and set it aside, before gently touching Liara's cheek.

As Liara stirred the bed creaked, followed a moment later by the thump of one boot, then another, before a warm body lay down beside her. Turning, Liara enveloped herself in the smell of soap and cigars, humming happily as arms wound around her, Shepard's soft voice whispering in her ear.

"I'm back."


Author's Note:

Yay! That's the end of Dark Energy #1! Hopefully the ending wasn't too lame.

Dark Energy: Path of Shadows will start come tomorrow, and will follow Del Shepard through the events of the second ME game. It will be a seperate story file so those of you following this one and relying on alerts to let you know when its updated, keep an eye out and make sure you do the same with the next one, so you don't miss anything.

I'm also expecting that DE: PoS (um, maybe I ought to rethink abbreviating that title, PoS has other connotations I really hope don't apply to my writing) will end up being longer than DE was.

So for those of you who managed to read the whole thing, thank you very much for your time and I hope I didn't waste too much of it.

Now, as Shepard would say...enough of that bullshit, I got work to do!