(Abby)

It wasn't long before Anderson's distress message blared over the Normandy's comms. Before that, Joker had been flying interference for the smaller shuttles to get away safely, but we couldn't take down a Reaper by ourselves. Joker tried to warn the other ships to no avail. The explosion of one of the larger capitol ships in the atmosphere was bright enough to flash all the way down the middle of the hallway. We were about twelve miles from Shepard's position when the call came - that was an easy number, a piece of cake, but there were several Oculi on our tail. Joker couldn't pull a fancy maneuver and crash them into a building without casualties, nor could he turn around and shoot them head-on. The Thantix Cannons would hit the Oculi with EDI's support, but the battlefield was too hazardous to do so without potentially harming the other ships as well.

He managed to set up an ambush two minutes after the call, leading the Oculi into a group of Alliance fighters. As soon as they were otherwise engaged, Joker did a turn that would've sheared the hull off of any other similarly-sized ship and gunned it. Kaidan and James quickly changed positions and the former ran for it, presumably to give the Commander some cover fire on her way up. From my seat, I heard Joker let out a cry of victory. "Cavalry's arrived, people!" I couldn't hear the explosion beneath us, nor see it, but it was comforting to feel the ship slowing down.

"Now," EDI said.

"Opening the cargo hold," Joker said. "Keep it steady..."

I unbuckled myself from my seat and walked up to Joker's seat to peer hungrily over his shoulder. A fist seemed to be in my chest, squeezing it tight, and I was having trouble breathing with excitement. He zoomed in, splitting his attention between there and the rest of the battle, and I saw the face of a woman I never thought I'd see again. Her red hair had grown out in that six months, but that was all I could see at the moment. I watched her standing her with her assault rifle, looking more and more distressed as the conversation between her and Anderson continued. Anderson was merely a speck in the background.

I couldn't see HK or Sarah with her. My stomach dropped.

Anderson threw something. She caught it and glanced at it briefly before the speck that was him on the screen turned around and retreated back the way he came. "Wait, is he not coming with us?" Joker asked, doing a double-take. "What the hell is that garbage?"

"He's going to organize the resistance," I said, trying to control my voice. "Leave him, close the door."

"Uh... I don't know."

"Joker, close the bay door!" Kaidan's voice shocked both of us.

"There is a Reaper approaching," EDI said urgently. "I am sealing the door."

James got out of his seat and, without a second look at us, ran for it. I watched him disappear into the elevator, his shoulders twitching angrily like he was getting ready for a fight. "Get us out of here, Joker," I said, gripping his shoulder. He gave me this look, like he wanted to believe me but he wasn't sure if he should. "Set a course for the Prothean ruins on Mars," I ordered, and ran after James.

I must have been a sight - I wasn't in uniform and, while I wasn't exactly shorter than the people aboard, I was obviously a lot younger. I pushed past a group of people congregating at the technical readouts in the center of the CIC and waited impatiently for the elevator to come back. I was almost tempted to go through the vents again, and I would have had the elevator not suddenly opened in front of me. I boarded and punched in Deck Five, rocking back and forth on my heels until the door opened, revealing an irate Commander Shepard and James in a heated conversation.

No Sarah. No HK.

I held back an involuntary groan. Had we just left them on Earth? Had they made the trip at all? Was I dreaming, or was this reality?

The three of them broke off their conversation and just looked at me.

I ignored him and focused on Shepard. "Mars," I said simply.

"Commander!" Joker's voice shouted over the comm, taking on a tone of urgency.

"Joker?" Shepard said, seeming slightly surprised. She must not have noticed Kaidan speaking to him earlier, or his brief line when we came to the rescue. I could understand why she didn't. "That you?"

"Alive and kicking," Joker answered. He sounded a little tired already, but alert. "Got an emergency transmission from Admiral Hackett for you."

"Patch it through," Shepard ordered, punching in a few buttons on the console in front of her.

Within a few seconds, Admiral Steven Hackett's face appeared in front of the console, but the connection was barely there at all. "Shepard," he began, his voice blipping in and out. "...sustained heavy losses...force was overwhelming...no way we can defeat them conventionally."

"Anderson's already ordered me to the Citadel to talk to the Council," Shepard informed him, maintaining her composure, as always. Her ability to remain controlled in emergency situations definitely hadn't faded, but I knew that already. But even she looked... shaken.

"First I need you to...iance outpost on Mars...before we lose control of the system," Hackett said. The link with him was getting worse by the second.

The Commander saluted. "Yes, sir," she said obediently.

"We've been researching the Prothean archives with Dr. T'Soni...found a way to stop the Reapers. Only way to stop them," Hackett continued, before everything he said began to blip out. "...contact soon. Hackett out."

While we all watched, Shepard shut off the comm, and began to walk away from it. "Joker, set a course for the Mars archives."

"Mars?" Joker asked, uncertain.. "Er, right - Roger that."

"This is loco," James muttered, standing beside Kaidan as they both looked on with confusion. "Whatever," James muttered, and walked away angrily towards the spot that would become his home for the remainder of the story.

"Your armor's on the bench to the right," I said quietly. Shepard barely glanced at me and went over there, grabbing her plates. She began to dress up without taking off her original clothing, but it seemed to work. I'd never seen her do that before. Normally she wore some kind of casual outfit beneath or a black jumpsuit.

"Start talking," she said briskly.

I wasn't going to be going on this mission, I guessed. I didn't really want to, anyway. The absence of HK and Sarah was scaring me. "Cerberus is on Mars raiding the Prothean facility," I said. "You have to get past them before you can find the artifact. Liara will meet you as soon as you get in, and you'll send James back to the ship. There's a storm brewing, so communications will be iffy." I was shaking. Why was I shaking? Fight or flight was really kicking in, now. "You need to take the trams over, but you'll find those just fine. Kaidan will have a good idea, so you should go with that. Watch out for that giant turret outside the tram control station. I think it's the tram control, anyway. The Illusive Man will speak with you once you hit the Prothean artifact... but as he's speaking to you, Doctor Eva will be wiping the artifact. You'll chase her and she'll get away in a Cerberus shuttle. Luckily, James will be in our shuttle and he'll take her out. Doctor Eva, she's, uh..."

"Three minutes out, Commander, make it fast!" Joker said.

Shepard put on her helmet and grabbed weapons from the bench. I took a deep breath and continued, saying, "She's an AI, a spy robot. Liara doesn't know. But Eva's the one that circumvented security to let the troops in. The crash won't kill her, but..." Tell her, don't tell her, tell her, don't tell her... "You need to take her out."

Kaidan, already armored, was looking at me suspiciously. "And who are you, may I ask?" he asked somewhat sharply.

"I'm, uh... I'm... I'm Abby," I stammered. "I helped her out last time."

"Where's HK?" she asked curtly. "Did he make it, too?"

My eyes filled with tears. "I don't know," I whispered. "I... I think we left them on Earth, Commander."

"Them?"

"Sarah's -"

"Not to cut it short, but you need to get out right now," Joker said. "Everybody else, on to the shuttle - we need to hurry."

Shepard turned away from me and I felt dismissed. I looked up and saw that James had already gotten dressed and was opening the latch on the shuttle. "Good luck," I whispered, staring at Kaidan's feet, and I jogged back to the elevator. They were on a schedule, and all I was doing was delaying it.

"Stay in the cockpit," Shepard said. That was her goodbye.

The elevator closed, but I didn't punch in a number. I just stood there, shaking as if I had a fever. A sob escaped my throat and suddenly I was bowed over, my hands pushing into my face. The thought that I'd left HK and Sarah back on Earth was overwhelming. I knew that when we died, we would, well... But even so, dying was a horrible, horrible experience. The thought of abandoning Shepard and the others was horrible. That's exactly what I would be doing if I died. I supposed, if HK and Sarah died, I could just kill myself and go back with them. But it would be a betrayal to Shepard, who was probably going to physically assault me when she got back. And the thought of taking death so easily...

I would always be afraid of dying.

And Kaidan... I didn't tell her about Kaidan. I couldn't. Because if I did, something might happen differently. He might slip up - he might die.

But what if he didn't? What if he took that information and just reacted better because of it? No head trauma, but one dead spy-bot.

Was it worth it?

"I'm sorry," I said into the air. "I'm sorry."

Anderson would be the best bet to finding out if HK and Sarah had made it down there. I refused to believe that only I had come in - that would be completely unfair. They had to be around that area - I had come in only blocks away from that government building, after all. Maybe if I'd waited instead of going inside, they would have found me and we could've gone in together.

I had a vision of HK and Sarah reuniting at that building and not knowing that it was the building they were looking for. I pictured them walking on and on, looking for me or the little boy, trying to find Shepard, and then getting caught in the crossfire.

And it would be my fault.

I wanted to scream. To pound my hands against the door. I couldn't lose them. Not again.

I took a couple of deep, calming breaths and wiped my eyes with my shirt. I had to keep it together for their sake. I'd go back for them. I wouldn't leave them there to die.

The elevator brought me back up to Two... and I walked into what looked like a standoff. A group of the new crew members were gathered in the hallway leading up to Joker's chair, and through the gap in the people I could see Joker standing in a tense, get-away-from-me stance. We were in orbit around Mars now - I could see the red planet through the screen, and if the circumstances hadn't been so pressing I would've been blown away at the beauty of it.

I've gotten this close to Mars. Crazy.

Joker had his voice raised, explaining why, exactly, they were here. "Look, it's Hackett's orders," he said. "If you have a problem with that," he pointed at the airlock, "there's the door. But Shepard knows what she's doing. We wouldn't be leaving if we weren't going to come back."

One of the men stepped up and stood next to Joker. "I've worked with her before," he said calmingly. "I have family back on Earth and I'm just as unhappy as you are. But we need to be a unit here. We'll come back and kick their ass."

"Get back to your posts, people," Joker said. "It's going to work."

"So we're going to the Citadel, then?" somebody asked.

"Right after we're done here," Joker said. "I promise - it's going to be okay." He looked at me. "It is going to be okay, right?"

No. "Yes."

"And who are you?" a woman asked.

"I'm... uh... I help out with stuff."

I thought Joker would step to my defense, but he didn't. He still looked uncomfortable around me. I wondered if he'd been sad when I died. And what did he say before about empty caskets?

"Abby was assigned to the Normandy as Mister Moreau's co-pilot," EDI said. "The orders were forwarded to my databases from Admiral Hackett."

So I'm now Shepard's niece with permission from the most militarily powerful human in the galaxy to co-pilot the most advanced warship in the Alliance Navy? Sure, why not... I pushed my way to the front of the crowd and took my seat next to him. "That's right," I said. Oh my God. "Now are we going to sit here discussing this stuff or can we actually get our jobs done, people?"

"You heard the lady, go do something productive," Adams said. I turned around to look at the holographic interface and heard the sound of many people walking away. I took a deep, steadying breath.

Oh my God. "Thanks, EDI," I whispered.

Joker slid back into his seat with a groan. "If you touch anything," he said darkly, "I'll space you myself."

I swallowed. "Got it."


(Sarah)

Have you ever had one of those days where it feels like it's just going to be lousy… only to discover it was merely the tip of the iceberg? That's exactly the kind of day I was having.

First of all, I'd had a bad morning. Just little things mostly, like I dropped or knocked over nearly everything I touched or tried to pick up. Then my feisty gerbil bit me on the finger, just enough to break the skin a little, and then I cut my hand on a pair of scissors when I was trying to work on one of my craft projects.

This gave me the impression that I was going to have a bad day at work, too. The strange thing was… I never got there. I'd literally just walked out the front door of my home to begin my walk to work when I found myself standing in the middle of a very, very different setting. Instead of seeing the smaller, gray house across the road, or the driveway surrounded by grass on both sides, or the large tree at the corner of the driveway… well, I saw what seemed to be the complete opposite.

It was as if I'd stepped through a portal into Narnia or something… only this wasn't Narnia. I didn't see any hint of greenery or… anything, really. It was just endless gray rock and dark-colored soil in all directions. The sky was star-filled and the area was dark, as if it was nighttime.

And then when I looked up, I could see an enormous planet looking above in the sky. And still… I wasn't quite sure where I was. At least, it took my stunned brain a few moments to process where I'd ended up… and convince myself that I wasn't dreaming.

I was back in the Mass Effect universe… that had to be it. Where else could I be, and how else could I simply end up in an unexplained place for absolutely no reason? I gingerly touched my throat, feeling the area where the spider husk has attacked me the last time throbbing. The skin felt a little different there… I assumed I had some kind of mark or scar. Otherwise, it didn't really bother me much.

It was a miracle, plain and simple. I had died here, and yet now I was back… apparently because my true life-force still existed back home, or something like that. I still didn't understand it myself.

Emotions surged through my chest as I sank down onto a nearby rock. I took a moment to breathe deeply in and out a few times, attempting to sort out the whirlwind of thoughts and feeling. On the one hand, this was the very last place I wanted to be. I didn't want to return here! Let HK and Abby come back if they wanted to; I was done with this insane universe. Who wanted to be back here, right smack-dab in the middle of a Reaper invasion?

Yet at the same time… I felt an odd confidence in the fact that if I died again… (man that sounded so weird) I would just return to the source of my life-force. I would just go home.

That didn't mean I was going to do anything stupid, crazy, or suicidal… I had no desire to get myself killed over nothing, and I didn't want to do anything dumb to get myself confined to a brig or a single deck on a space ship again. Still… I guess that meant I didn't have to fear dying, at least. I had a luxury that nobody got normally; a chance to live again, and to do things better this time. I had a feeling that whatever force was behind this didn't want me to squander it.

"Abby?" I said out loud, looking around. "HK?" Wait a minute… the last time we popped up into this universe, it was over a stupid chain-email and we'd popped up in the Normandy's cargo hold. Why was I here, and where were they?

I tentatively called out their names a couple more times, looking around in every direction as I did so. Finally I got desperate and literally screamed their names at the top of my lungs. "ABBY! HK! WHERE ARE YOU?"

Okay, I was starting to feel really scared now.

I glanced up toward the looming planet overhead-and then I noticed the growing orange spots. The areas that were like orange-red fire, beginning to consume some areas of the planet. This was it-the Reapers were attacking. That planet had to be Palaven, the turian home world… which meant that I was on the moon somewhere.

And here I was, dressed in nothing but a pair of purple sweat pants, a black shirt, and a pair of white shoes. Well, at least I was wearing a bra this time.

An explosion sounded somewhere nearby, and I began to hear the harsh, dull roars of husks. I then did what any self-respecting civilian with no military training did; I began to run like a scared rabbit in what I hoped was the opposite direction. I ended up stumbling and falling flat on my face a couple of times as I went, but I managed to pick myself up and keep on going.

Okay, I didn't have any military training worth squat… and what little Shepard, Garrus and Jacob had managed to drill into my brain wasn't much, either. But even I knew that I needed to keep moving and keep silent. Screaming for HK and Abby at this point wasn't going to help me or them. If nothing else… I just needed to find the turians. I knew they had to be here, somewhere. If HK and Abby were here, they'd just have to fend for themselves like I was, and they'd probably be heading for the same general destination.

Unfortunately, a trio of human-husks found me first. They spotted me as I neared a small rock formation, and they emerged from behind it. I gave a little scream as they bellowed and charged right at me. I ran as quickly as I could, trying to keep from stumbling on the rocks.

However, I did end up tripping in the end. And as I fell face-first in the soil and began to scramble along the ground, desperate to find my balance, I couldn't help but wonder if this was it. Had I come all this way, returning from a death and a deadly husk bite just to get torn apart by more husks? I knew I would just go home again if they got me, but somehow this just didn't seem fair.

Shots were fired all of a sudden, the sound exploding through the dusky air as husk flesh was ripped into behind me by powerful gunfire. I yelped and went limp against the ground, putting my hands over my head. I was trying to make myself as little a target as possible.

Then all was silent, until I heard footsteps approaching. "Hey," a feminine voice above me said, and I felt what seemed to be a metallic boot giving me a tentative poke in the side. "You alright?"

I guessed that meant that I looked different enough from a husk as not to be shot on sight. I moved my arms off of my head and slowly sat up, getting off my belly and getting my face out of the dirt. I had to wipe grit out of my eyes and spit a gross mix of salvia mixed with dirt from my mouth, but then I looked up.

It was a female turian, dressed in light armor and wielding a powerful rifle. Her skin was very light gray, almost to the point of being white; I wondered if she might have been an albino… if there were any turian albinos. She definitely wasn't anyone I knew. She had no facial markings to speak of.

I didn't care about anything much right now. My heart was thudding in my chest. I hadn't realized how scared I was.

The turian opened her mouth to speak-it sounded like she was asking me a question. Maybe she wanted to know who I was, or how I'd gotten there. I couldn't quite hear her. The only thing I knew was that it felt like everything was fading away.

And that's when I fainted.


When I awoke, I found myself at what appeared to be a turian camp. I was lying flat on my back on a cot that seemed a bit too hard for human comfort, and the pillow under my head was only slightly better. I already knew that I was going to feel stiff when I got up from here. I glanced around and quickly realized I was in one of the small compounds; it had only a couple of complete walls, but it was built something like a trailer and at least there was a roof over my head.

"Easy, now," a turian said to me. I looked to see him sitting next to me; I had to assume that he was perhaps a medic. "You're in our camp; one of our scouts found you."

"Yeah… okay," I replied numbly. I vaguely remembered being attacked by husks, rescued, and then passing out afterwards. Apparently I was a typical damsel in distress who had to be rescued. Too bad it was some female turian rather than Garrus in shining armor…

Garrus. Ah, he had to be around here somewhere, right?

"Were you alone out there, or were there others with you?" he asked me.

I gave my head a slight shake. "I don't think there was anyone with me." Then again, what if HK and Abby were out there somewhere? Last time we'd all popped up together on the Normandy. I couldn't be sure if they were on this world as well, or somewhere else. "I'm not sure where my friends are," I whispered, still feeling dazed.

"When was the last time you saw them?" the turian asked. "Did you arrive here together?"

"Uh… I don't know where they are," I said.

"Are they still on the moon?"

"I don't know if they are here or not." I looked at him hopefully. "Have you found any other humans out there? A boy or a girl, both a little younger than me?"

"I haven't seen any other humans brought here," the turian said, and then he frowned. "Why are you here? How did you arrive?"

"I… don't remember," I fibbed. Sometimes it was better to just play stupid, or pretend I had a memory problem. After all, Abby wasn't here to fill in the gaps with better explanations; I'd just make things worse if I tried being creative.

"Do you have a head injury? I saw no evidence of one when I examined you," the turian said. "Although… I must admit that I don't have much experience with humans."

"I don't know, my head kind of hurts."

The turian sighed slightly, and gave a little nod. "Just take it easy," he said. "And we'll see if we can get you some proper help… as soon as possible." The hesitation told me that "as soon as possible" might mean a good long time from now. Especially since… you know, the Reapers were attacking.

"What is your name?" the turian asked me.

"Sarah."

"Last name?"

Come to think of it… I'd never told anyone in this universe my last name. I don't think HK or Abby did, either. But did anyone really need to know it? The less information the better; that was the rule when it came to some info. Besides… I didn't legally exist in this universe anyway. "Sinclair," I fibbed. I went by "Bonnie Sinclair" on Deviant art, below the username "troutylips", so why not?

"Alright, Miss Sinclair," the turian said, "just stay right here and I'll be back in a minute." The medic then left, maybe to go report to his superior officer, or to check on other patients, or maybe to go take a piss in a chamber pot for all I knew. I really did not care. I wanted to go home. I didn't want to be here.

The stakes were higher now than ever. I wasn't stupid. I really was going to die this time… or worse. I'd already been turned into a husk, and HK and Abby had been captured before. We had all the answers, and I guess we were sent here to help make sure Shepard and her crew did everything right, but… if people knew that we knew the future, that we had the key to getting the best outcome, everyone was going to want us. People might try to capture us, or they might try to bribe us, or some people might even try to assassinate us. This was a very, very desperate time for everyone.

Still… I knew that I was luckier than most. I had died, and I had come back, because all I did was go back home to my own universe when I died. I'd do the same again once my time here was done. Maybe the reason I'd died was to give me a better perspective on things… I don't know. Still… I suppose I should just thank God and my lucky stars that I would have another crack at life after this. That wasn't something that most people could say…

I gritted my teeth and stood up, feeling my determination drive me forward. Okay, okay, relax… yeah I'm save for the moment, don't need to have a panic attack. The husks won't overrun the camp for a while. I left the little compound and looked around, trying to get someone's attention.

A nearby soldier spotted me, and approached me. "You should get back to your compound," he told me in a quiet tone. "This isn't the time for a civilian to be wandering around a military camp."

"What makes you think I'm a civilian?" I asked.

"You weren't wearing any armor when you were found, and you had no weapons to speak of. It didn't take a genius to figure it out. I don't know why you're here or how you got here, but you should remain in one place so that we know where you are. One of our superior officers will have some questions for you when he gets here."

"I'm here on official business," I fibbed, hoping that I wasn't getting too big for my britches. Then again, if I was truly Sarah the Psychic, here on behalf of whatever force wanted me here to help keep things on the right path… maybe I was here on official business in a way. "I was very lucky to get through at all; I need to speak to Garrus Vakarian. "

The soldier blinked. "Vakarian is speaking with Lieutenant Victus at the moment," he said. "They are both discussing the Reaper situation."

"That's what I'm here to talk to him about, I have important information on the Reapers!" I exclaimed. "I know how to stop them, I know why they're here, and… and… I just need to talk to him!" I hoped I didn't sound like a babbling idiot. I just knew that if Garrus could come and see me, he would recognize me right off.

The turian seemed to be debating whether or not I was telling the truth, or if I was simply desperate or maybe a little loony. Finally he gave a slight nod. "Well," he said, "I don't know how else you could have gotten here unless you knew what you were doing. You must not have come here alone… did you lose the rest of your team?"

"I'm separated from my team," I answered bleakly. "I don't know where they are. But they'll find me, don't worry." They have to.

"Very well… wait in the compound, and I will see if I can bring Vakarian here." He seemed to buy my story for the moment. I suppose I had one factor on my side; Garrus was the "Reaper expert" here, so I guess it would make sense that a secret agent with Reaper knowledge would seek out the Reaper advisor, right?

I quietly returned to the little compound and sat down on the makeshift bed. I rested my chin in my hands and waited as patiently as I could, trying to prepare what I was going to say and freshen my mind to the facts. I wasn't as good as this as Abby was, but… I could try to make sense, at least.

I must have drifted off after a while, or at least looked as if I had, because I spaced out and the next thing I knew someone was tapping my shoulder. I glanced up to see the same turian soldier looking down at me. "Vakarian is here to see you," he said, and then I looked up to see Garrus staring down at me.

Garrus looked a little worse for the wear; his armor was battered and almost cracked in places, plus he had a sweet scent that I recognized as turian sweat. But the main thing that I noticed was the look of absolute shock on his face; his eyes were as wide as they could go and his mouth hung open, revealing a row of sharp teeth. I could swear that even his trademark visor shimmered slightly in response to his shock and surprise.

Why did I suddenly feel like I was already in trouble? I hadn't even done anything… yet.

"Sarah?" Garrus's voice cracked over my name, as though he was almost too stunned to speak. "Sarah-no, this is not possible." He shook his head. "You're dead. We saw you die on the vid-cams and I saw your body."

"Sir?" the turian soldier said, his eyes darting between me and Vakarian. He seemed quite puzzled all of a sudden, not that I could blame him.

"Garrus," I said, pushing myself off the cot and into a standing position, "it's me, trust me."

"You were turned into a husk," Garrus said, never taking his eyes off me. He was already holding his rifle when he approached me, no doubt because a war was on and self-defense was required. And he didn't exactly point it at me, but I did see his hands tense and his grip on the weapon intensified. "How do you explain being here now?"

"I can't," I answered lamely. "I'm back and I'm going to help you beat the Reapers. That's all I can say." I looked straight into his eyes as I said this, and I held his eyes with my own. I was trying to communicate my sincerity.

His mandibles twitched. "Well," he finally said, "Collectors killed Shepard… and she came back just fine in the end. I suppose that seeing you return isn't a far stretch when you think of that. But how can I be certain you're not indoctrinated, Sarah? How can I know it's really you?"

"I'm me," I answered stiffly. "And I think that Reapers are scum who need to be wiped out." I stamped my foot on the ground for emphasis… for whatever good that gesture did. "You'll never see me working for them."

"Alright," Garrus said tentatively.

"Do you trust her?" the turian soldier asked.

"Hmm." Okay that wasn't exactly a yes, but it wasn't a no either. "I'm just trying to make absolutely certain," Garrus said after a moment. "Seeing her arrive at the same time as the husks is a little suspicious." He then turned back to me. "Sarah, I need to know for certain that it's you. Can you give me proof?"

"Look at her throat," the soldier said suddenly, pointing a single talon at me. "That's got to be the worst scar I've ever seen on a human."

"Yes… I noticed that." Garrus stepped toward me with almost a bit more cautious than he'd ever approached me before. "Sarah, look up for me," he requested. "Let me see that injury."

"I think Rytok mentioned something about that," the solider said.

"Rytok?" I asked as I leaned back a little and lifted my chin, allowing Garrus to peer at my neck. I wasn't exactly sure what he was looking at, but I had a pretty good idea.

"The medic who examined you," the solider supplied.

"That's where the husk spider attacked you," Garrus said. "Looks pretty well healed now, except for the enormous scar."

In spite of myself I grinned. "Now we have something in common!" I said.

He didn't laugh, but he did smile slightly. "I guess we do." He looked as though he wanted to say something more, but then he turned and looked at the solider. "Jarlok, could you excuse us for a few minutes?"

The other turian nodded. "Certainly, sir."

After Jarlok left, Garrus turned back to me. "I need a full explanation," he said. "And I need answers."

I sank back down onto the cot. "Okay," I said.

"First off, how did you survive?"

"Survive?"

"Yeah, and how did you get back to normal?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know exactly what I mean, Sarah. Our security vids on the Normandy recorded you dying and Chakwas confirmed it. Kasumi was there when you died, and then when the Collectors took the crew, your body got up as a newly formed husk and took HK. How do you explain that?"

I shook my head slightly. "I can't."

"You can't, or you won't?"

"I really can't."

Garrus sighed. "Alright, we'll leave that alone for now," he said reluctantly. I wasn't sure if he just wanted to move onto more important matters, or if he simply didn't want to stand around playing twenty questions with me. I knew that I could be… cryptic at times. Call it a bad habit, or a hobby.

"Do you have information on the Reapers? And… are HK and Abby alive as well?" He sounded very, very hopeful.

"HK and Abby are alive, I just don't know where they are. And yes, I have information on the Reapers," I informed him.

"Finally, a straight answer," Garrus commented. He sat down on the edge of the cot next to me, holding his rifle in his lap. Thankfully it was pointed in the opposite direction from me; that was a good sign. "I need to know something right now," he said. "Are we going to win this war? Will my people survive?"

"There's going to be a lot of death and destruction no matter what," I said.

His dark eyes narrowed fractionally. "Tell me something I don't already know, Sarah."

I inhaled, taking a moment to formulate my response before saying anything. I knew that I needed to be very, very careful here. "It depends on how much you prepare, and how well you prepare. Shepard will help you."

"Shepard?" Garrus looked intrigued. "I knew she would get involved with this. Is she on her way?"

"I'm not sure yet. I think she might be out of custody by now… maybe even off Earth and on her way from the Citadel. I just know that she needs to finish talking to the Council first."

"Then you know how to defeat the Reapers?"

I swallowed and looked away. "Yes," I said. I couldn't afford to say anything, or risk changing anything, especially not before talking to HK and Abby. Wherever the hell they were.

"Then tell me." Something about Garrus's tone made me flinch. It sounded like he was giving me an order, one that was laced with pain and desperation. Then again, could I really blame him? His home was burning, and his father and sister were in danger.

I really could not look at him right now. Hell, I loved him. The selfish part of me began to feel angry that he was putting me on the spot like this. I just couldn't give him what he wanted-what he needed. At least not yet.

When I said nothing, Garrus did something that surprised the daylights out of me. I heard a motion like he had jumped up from the cot, and then I felt myself being grabbed and pulled off of the cot and he forced me to look at him. He wasn't being rough, but he did have a firm grip on my un-armored shoulders, and he looked straight into my face.

"I don't have time for your games, Sarah," he said tersely. "This time around you can't sit on your ass and give information whenever you feel like it, and Abby and HK aren't here. Billions of lives are at stake, including my own people. If you know how to stop this madness, you need to tell me now."

My eyes widened into saucers. I'd never seen Garrus act like this before-well, maybe around Harkin, and thankfully he wasn't being that aggressive around me-but he'd never done demanded information out of me before.

The Citadel, I desperately wanted to blurt out. The thing responsible for all of this is somewhere in the Citadel. How aggravating it was, to know that the answer was right under everyone's damn noses. But nobody knew it, and it was nothing that anyone could guess.

I tried to shrug my way out of his grasp. "I'm sorry, I can't," I said, turning my face away.

"What the hell do you mean you can't?" Garrus's hands moved away from my shoulders, but he did grab my arm as if afraid I might try to slip away. "Sarah," he practically pleaded, holding me in place by one arm. I had to look at him then, and the look on his face…

His world was burning, his home. How could I say no to him, especially since he was the best turian ever?

Before either of us could say anything else, I was spared this awkward confrontation by the most unwelcome bell; husks were attacking the camp. Shouting could be heard and shots were being fired. I could even hear the dull roar of husk battle cries.

"Vakarian!" someone shouted.

Garrus practically snarled. "Come on," he said abruptly, raising his rifle with his free hand. I suddenly found myself being pulled along with him as if my arm had become a leash. Apparently he wasn't going to let me out of his sight-and I knew he wasn't going to forget his line of questioning, either.

"They're overrunning the camp!" someone yelled. I stayed close to Garrus-not that I had much choice-as he fired off a few shots at some husks and cannibals that got too close to us.

"I'm gonna die!" I cried out.

"Everyone," Garrus said into his commlink, "we need to withdraw to our other camp. If we stay here we're going to get our asses handed to us-we have a better chance there. Let's move!"

My brain barely had any time to register the fact that this wasn't the main camp. We then began to move so quickly that I was nearly yanked off my feet. I felt as though my arm was going to be yanked out of its socket.

Gunfire was erupting all around me as the turians tried to fight off the invading husks, but it was of no use. They were overrunning the place fast. I watched nervously as Garrus fired a few shots into an approaching cannibal. "You chose a prime time to show up, Sarah," Garrus commented as we continued to run.

I tried to force my legs to move faster as he continued to pull me along. How he managed to keep a firm grip on my arm and aim his gun at the same time I had no idea. Then again... I was the one who couldn't even hold a gun or fire it well with both hands.

"Just don't let me die!" I blurted out. I tried to keep my eyes on his armor so that I wouldn't look at the carnage around me or get distracted. Then again, what was I complaining about? I'd just go home if I died again... but I just didn't want to die to husks again.

"I'll try my best," Garrus said. It seemed that his mood had changed slightly; he'd been shocked and slightly frustrated, but now, it seemed that he was almost entirely in some kind of battle mode. Then again, that shouldn't be surprising, considering how many times he's already had to do that

I could tell that we were reaching the exit for this camp; many of the turian soldiers were charging out in that direction, firing wildly at the oncoming husks. Garrus and I were caught right in the midst of the action. He ran out, with me in tow, and fired quickly, taking several husks down. He led me over to some cover and crouched down, waiting for another chance to strike.

We were out of the camp, but not out of the woods, it seemed. Turians surrounded me, firing at the Reaper forces.

"Could you at least give me some tips on a quicker way to kill these things?" Garrus asked. He almost sounded sarcastic, but he seemed serious.

Before I could say anything, the fighting grew intense once again. This time I could see turian husks accompanying the cannibals and human husks. And one of them threw a grenade in our direction.

The turians were already spreading out behind more rocks in order to get more ground to strike from, and Garrus's head was turned away from me because he was aiming at a turian husk. So he did not see the grenade tossed toward us... and he didn't even see me absent-mindedly catch it in my free hand.

I stared at it for a moment, almost stupidly, as it began to beep and heat up. At my sudden shriek Garrus looked at me sharply, just in time for him to see me throw it. It just happened to land between two cannibals that were almost too close, blowing them up rather spectacularly.

I slumped down against the ground, shaking a little. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest. "Guess that's one way," I whispered timidly.

"Been practicing in your time away?" Garrus asked. Again, he sounded slightly humorous, yet almost like he would've been impressed were the circumstances different. "But...thanks. Two less for us to kill."

The onslaught against the husks continued, and we continued to press our way throughout the moon. We encountered a lot of husks, determined to stop us, but the turians managed to continue on. I saw a lot of turians die along the way, but finally, we managed to reach the other camp.

Garrus seemed to give a small breath of relief as we all walked inside the next camp. Many soldiers tried to come and speak to him, but he motioned them away.

Looking at me, he said, "No time to waste. Now, where were we?"

I tried to step back a little, huffing and puffing in spite of myself. "Could we sit down somewhere?" I panted. "And... could you... let go of my arm please?"

"Yes," he replied, obliging and letting go of my arm. "Let's go over here. It's somewhere a little more private. I still need answers."

He led me towards a small area that seemed to be for the soldiers to take a small moment and restock, as much as they could; right now, it was becoming more and more empty as the soldiers that had just arrived got back to work. Garrus motioned for me to sit down on one of the rocks, and he took a seat on the other.

"Now, I need those answers."

I slumped on the rock, my shoulders lowering and I leaned forward, staring down at the ground. I took several deep breaths, in and out, to regain control of my breathing and slow my rapid heartbeat. "What answers?" I finally asked blandly, stalling for time. And hoping I didn't make him lose his temper with me.

"Sarah..."

I squeezed my eyes shut. "Well... you wanna know something about the future, umm..." I searched my mind for minor, harmless facts. "Liara meets her daddy," I supplied uselessly.

Garrus sighed. "At least that shows that we'll be living a little bit longer," he said. "Listen, Sarah, you gave me information on Sidonis that I might not have found out otherwise...and that wasn't half the situation that this is. My entire planet is going to burn and my entire species is going to die if you don't tell me what you know."

"But I haven't had a chance to confer with HK or Abby yet," I protested. "I'm not sure what they would want me to tell you... I mean... we need to figure out what is safe to tell." I wasn't sure if I could make Garrus understand, but... if I gave out too much information too soon, there was no telling how badly things could turn out. Especially if the Intel fell into the wrong hands.

"How do you even know that they're alive? You are aware that they died, right?" Garrus quizzed curiously.

"Oh they're alive, I talked to them before I... came here. I guess you could say we came back to life, and we went home for a while. But now we're back," I told him.

"Did the attack on Earth force you to come back?" Garrus asked.

"I just kind of... ended up here," I answered cryptically. "It doesn't matter how I got here or why I came. Right now I'm just thankful to be alive."

Garrus sighed. He was silent for a moment, rubbing his temples. All of this had obviously taken its toll on him. "Alright, Sarah. Is there anything you can tell me? Anything at all?"

"Shepard will be coming... hopefully soon," I said. "Um... also the current Primarch is going to-" I stopped.

Was it really a good idea to say that the Primarch was going to die an hour before Shepard arrived? Maybe Victus was meant to be Primarch; I could easily tamper what is meant to be if I said something wrong now. I bit my lower lip to prevent more words from pouring out.

"What was that about the Primarch?" Garrus asked, suddenly becoming more alert, as if he wasn't before.

"Please stop asking me these questions now." I turned away from him sharply and stood, trying to suppress my feelings. Why did I feel really sad all of a sudden? I couldn't afford to let this war, or the things about to happen, depress me.

Gosh... I was going to let somebody die when he could be saved. I really was a monster.

Again, Garrus was silent. "I know all of this isn't exactly pleasant to watch...if I look up into space right now, I see the Reapers harvesting my home. And I don't know what the hell happened to you, how you came back, but I know this is...difficult. Are you alright?" he asked.

"I'll be fine," I said simply, turning back to face him. "I died once, so I really don't care what happens to me this time around. Just..." I looked away again. "If you see the Primarch..." My voice trembled. "Tell him I'm very sorry."

"I want to ask for more, but it's probably of no use," Garrus conceded. "And for the record, I'm not sure what to think of this right now, but you should care what happens to you. Your death affected a lot of people, including me."

I turned to look at him. "Really?" I said, feeling touched. "I mean... I know I drove you and the rest of the crew kind of crazy sometimes."

"Sarah, there were times that you did, I admit, but we all mishandle things, and I probably mishandled some things at that time, as well. But your death was a sad thing, no matter what. I... truly believe that you are a good person. Despite all that is going on, it is slightly nice to see you back, but unfortunately, a lot of that is clouded right now by everything else. Now I'm just hoping I'm not hallucinating."

"Thanks, Garrus," I said sincerely, sitting down on the rock again. I sighed heavily. "I can't tell you how to stop the Reapers... yet," I said, "but... I will give you an important piece of information." I knew I really shouldn't be doing this; I could be screwing everything up for all I knew. But I felt like I needed to give something to the turian people to help them out, since I was with-holding information.

"Yes?" he said, looking extremely interested.

I closed my eyes. I'm sorry, HK, Abby, I thought to myself. "The Primarch is going to die," I said quietly. "I don't know when... all that I know is that it is an hour before Shepard comes."

Garrus' eyes went wide again, for a moment, before he attempted to collect himself. "I...that wasn't out of the question, but...I need to warn the others about this," he remarked.

"Yeah, you should do that," I said with a nod, still not really looking at him. "And don't worry, as long as Shepard moves quickly enough... your father and sister will be okay. If she gets the krogan to help."

"The krog-wait, I have bigger things to attend to. I need to tell the general about this," Garrus said, standing up. "I don't want to leave you alone, though. For your sake, and I really, really don't want you getting into trouble. The Normandy is one thing, this is another."

Garrus turned and looked out into the camp, where the turians continued to run around, trying desperately to combat the Reapers. He looked at the officer that was closest by. "Lokam! I have a special job for you."

The turian came forward at a quick pace. "Yes, sir?" he asked.

"I need you to watch this woman, Sarah. She's...a friend that happened to end up here, and I have some urgent news to deliver to the general. Make sure that she stays safe and out of trouble," Garrus said; despite everything, he was still very calm and ready to deal with anything.

"Sir, how did a human end up-"

"There's no time. I need to get to the general," Garrus interrupted.

The turian soldier nodded, and saluted. "Yes, sir!"

Garrus looked back at me. "Sarah, this is Irren Lokam. He'll watch over you while I'm gone."

Did they really need to make it sound like I needed a babysitter? "I'm not gonna wander off or raid the weapons supplies or anything," I said, voicing my indignity.

"Don't argue." He looked back at this Irren. "Don't...let her touch any weapons. She's not trained properly; she's more of a civilian."

"Sir, the way you are talking about this woman makes her sound dangerous," Irren said, staring at me with partial confusion.

"She's not dangerous; actually, she's a fairly good person. I don't have time to explain it now...we all have our moments. Hers can just generally consist of suddenly pointing a gun at you or taking exposing photos."

I felt my cheeks heating up as Irren's expression became all the more puzzled. "Oh gosh... don't tell me you found the one Kasumi took of you while you had your pants down..."

Did I really just say that out loud?

"Um, sir..." Irren began, looking more baffled and lost.

"Yeah...we'll go over that later," Garrus said, brushing that topic aside. "Right now, I just need to get to the general. Sarah, stay with Irren; Irren, keep your eye on her."

And with that, Garrus left.


(Abby)

"...and then they asked me for my last name. So I'm like, 'It's Shepard.' They're like 'whoa, no way, are you related?' So I said I was her niece... kind of. They bought it. I think Shepard's file is so classified that they didn't even bother checking the records. Having somebody like Anderson on your side really speeds up processing, heh."

Joker wasn't really paying attention to me - or he was trying to look like he wasn't paying attention to me, at any rate. He was frowning over readouts from Earth, but he occasionally asked a pointed question that let me know that he was paying attention. Maybe a little too much attention.

"And now," I continued, trying to lighten up the tension, "I'm not only Shepard's blood relative, but I'm also your sixteen year old co-pilot."

"No, you're not," he said flatly. "We're telling the crew after Shepard gets back. We're not keeping you a secret."

I hunched over a little voluntarily. He'd been nothing but acid to me for the entire thirty minutes we'd been up here. "I'm sorry," I said. "I'm trying. I just... I don't know. I'm sorry."

I didn't ask Joker what he thought I was. He had to be confused. I would be, in his place. Shepard was one thing, but I'd been dead for a while. And to suddenly pop up on the Normandy, unannounced, like this... He wasn't the only one freaking out. But Earth, as beautiful as it was, wasn't truly my home. I felt horrible about it, but it would never match the depth or the intensity of pain that every crew member aboard had to be feeling right now.

Every human in the galaxy...

"Joker... you said there weren't bodies in the caskets," I said slowly. No answer. "What did you mean?"

It was EDI who answered. "When the Alliance crew took possession of the ship, they opened your caskets to take a DNA analysis test. There were no bodies within them. My records did not indicate any tampering. I was... puzzled."

I frowned. My body had disappeared? How did that happen?

"And now you might be a Reaper minion coming to blow our brains out," Joker said scathingly. "Hoo-effing-ray. Just because you're back doesn't mean I'm going to trust you. You know, you might win Shepard over, but I'm watching you. Touch anything and I'll kick you off this ship faster than you can say 'Reapers.'"

I looked down, hurt. That was... proper, I supposed. I should have expected that. But how could I get him to trust me again? How could I get anybody to trust me again?

"Uh oh," he muttered. "Reapers in the area - oh, great, they're migrating over. Where's Shepard? EDI?"

"Scans indicate the shuttle is approaching, Jeff. I am opening the bay doors."

We watched the shuttle dock, and as soon as the doors were closed we were off. I couldn't tell which signals were the Reapers, but I supposed it really didn't matter. I doubted I would be up here again anytime soon. "Kaidan's hit," I said, standing up. "I'm going to run down and help."

I had to wait for the elevator to be available, as Shepard and the others were already on it. I waited for three agonizing minutes before it appeared. I took it down to Three and jogged into the MedBay... and right into Shepard, who pushed me roughly out of the way and went right back into the elevator I'd just gotten out of. I dithered on the spot for a moment, then peeked into the Med Bay. James and Liara were looking after Kaidan - it turned my stomach. They were putting a shunt in his skull.

I wouldn't be able to stay for that one. I backed out and followed Shepard up to the CIC, passing through the security check easily since I had no weapons or metal bits on me. Mordin's old lab had been refurbished into a conference room, and I took a quick step through the door and into the War Room. It was even more impressive than in the game. Some people looked up at me curiously, but I kept walking. Slowly, as stealthily as I could manage, I took a few steps up to Shepard's communication room. Sensing me, she turned and waved me away angrily. I backed up, holding my hands in the air as a sign of submission. I decided to wait until she was done.

I sat down on the stairs and waited for her to finish. Liara entered a few minutes later, limping badly but still retaining composure. She paused and looked at me, blinking quickly. "Oh. This is a shock."

I nodded, standing to shake her hand. "Hi, Liara."

"The Commander told me that you and your two friends were killed," Liara said. "How did you survive?"

"We didn't," I explained. "We were sent back to help you. I don't know where the other two are, though, and that's what I'm hoping to find out."

"You will have to explain that to me later," Liara said. "But if you will excuse me... I believe the Commander is finished."

Shepard appeared at the top of the stairs, looking like the epitome of tired. I bit my lip and observed the two of them for a moment. "I'll just... be in the lounge," I said lamely, and backed out, my ears turning red.

I left them there, crossing my arms against my chest.

This hadn't exactly been the most ideal way I'd been hoping to come back to the Normandy. I had a feeling I would be alone in the Lounge for a long time.

I was right.