Noveria.

"Faster! Run faster!"

Holding the shotgun in both hands, she runs through the door, hearing the stomping of metal boots close behind her. Flickering and chittering sounds surround her, glowing eyes under the faceplate seeing the hint of motion before they drop in front of her. Chittering, hissing with acid fangs, they stand on eight outstretched legs to pounce.

Screaming, she swings the shotgun and fires, blasting one, swinging the barrel into another as it leaps, sending the crittery crawly thing flying and splattering into a wall. She turns, running backwards as the roaring thing rears up on four legs, swinging out its toothed dagger things of tentacles, hissing at her as it chases with several of its friends.

A hand grabs the back of her hood and pulls her in, dropping to the cold metal floor as the cock of the shotgun is followed with a blast, and the door closes in front of the headless thing which was once one of the monsters of this doomed lab.

"Gotcha," Kal'Reegar says, extending a hand, "You okay, Ma'am?"

Tali takes his hand, letting him help her up. Which is when five more of the crawly small things drop around them.

"Spiders! Spiders spiders spiders SPIDERS!"

Each scream is punctuated by a blast from her shotgun, five green puddles surrounding her. The two Quarians suck in breath, leaning against each other.

"I hate spiders," she says, "Especially evil homicidal spiders."

"Yeah," Kal responds, "You and me both, Ma'am. Get the elevator, I'll see if I can check in with Shepard."

It's no secret that Tali'Zorah nar Rayya vas somethingsomething hates elevators. It is no secret that she hates spiders.

So, the scream she lets off is to no one's surprise when the door opens, and the elevator is revealed to be filled with Rachni.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.


...


"We just killed a Reaper."

Garrus' mandibles twitch as he says those words. Next to him, Kaidan Alenko nods, rolling his neck.

"Hells yes."

Next to Kaidan, Ash Williams sways back and forth on her heels, and claps her hands together.

"Few more and we're done."

The three stand outside the main airlock. Purple light from Widow filters through the artificial atmosphere and UV screens surrounding the dock, peaking through the arms of the Citadel. Not five minutes after docking, a human admiral with a stick up his ass that would make a turian proud appeared and demanded to make an inspection.

"What do you think?" Ash asks, "Think he'll snap at the Krogan squatting in the shuttle bay, or the two dozen quarian marines doing chinups in engineering?"

"I'm going to guess," Kaidan says, tilting his head, "The 'drell' with the weird plastic surgery. And the other drell following him around."

Garrus twitches his mandibles.

"I'm guessing he'll ask where the Mako went off to."

Kaidan shudders. Ash grins.

"Ten-hut!"

Kaidan and Ash straighten up. Following their cue, even though he technically outranks them, Garrus does as well. Boots on metal, and walking down the walkway comes someone in the uniform blues of an alliance officer.

Red hair cut to above her shoulder, some gray in it. Green eyes, crows feet faint and smile lines at the corners of her mouth. Her face, otherwise, is the same as her daughter's. Strong, classy, an almost ever present smirk pulling at the right side of her lips.

If David Anderson were made the first human Spectre, it was more or less accepted that Hannah Shepard would be the captain of the ship that would take him from world to world. The years have been kind to her. As loose as her blues are, she doesn't have the paunch, doesn't have sag a woman her age would be entitled to. This, at least, is what Garrus muses. But he knows Chloe and Jane would kill him for continuing this line of thought.

For different reasons.

"At ease," she says, the three relaxing, "Alenko. Williams. Where's the CO?"

"Rear Admiral Mikhailovich has requested an inspection tour of the Normandy, Ma'am!" Ash responds, "Commander Shepard is escorting him."

Hannah nods, fixing the cap on her head.

"...quarians? What is a company of quarian marines doing onboard the Normandy?"

The airlock opens. The unshaven, dress uniformed man locks eyes with newest arrival. Rolling her eyes, Jane Shepard clicks her heels and salutes her mother. Silently, Kaidan hands a rolled up bill to Ash.

"Admiral," Hannar says, saluting, "Sorry to interrupt. Orders from brass. I need the Commander, now."

Admiral Peter Mikhailovich salutes, and nods.

"Understood. As you were."

And he walks off, muttering. Shoulders slumping, Jane shakes her head, nodding to her officers and VIP, before turning back to Hannah. And spotting the gold pips on her collar.

"Captain pips?"

"Farragut's being promoted upstairs," Hannah responds, "I'm now the CO of the SSV Kilimanjaro. And on order of Admiral Hackett and Ambassador Udina, your ride until the Normandy's patched up."


...


"So give it to me straight, Pressly. Did Joker actually manage to break the damn ship?"

The bald man chuckles, shakes his head, and ducks under a loose pipe, and continues walking through the hallway as he considers Kaidan's question.

"No, Alenko. The term we use is structural compromise. Joker's stunts structurally compromised the Normandy. Which was never designed to, say-"

"Pull dime turns in an atmosphere, dodge an angry mechacthulhu and run through a canyon that's barely big enough for a fighter."

"So you saw the tapes?"

"Ash insisted. She brought popcorn."

"So it's Ash?"

A choke on the other end. Muttering.

"I hate you so much. So how long until the Normandy's repaired?"

Walking down the neck of the Normandy's CiC, Pressly taps the green circle and the door opens. At the pilot's seat, as always, is Jeff Moreau.

"Adams said a week," Pressly responded, "They need to take out everything, flood the ship with omnigel to reinforce the structure, and then put everything back in. That's at least how he explained it to me, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Greg's full of shit."

"Yeah. And you're supervising?"

"Someone has to while Shepard does the galactic hero thing. And look on the bright side, now you have two Shepards to stare at."

"Hate. All my hate, Pressly."

"Love you too. Pressly out."

The link closes, and Pressly taps open his console and turns over to Joker.

"C'mon baby," Joker says, tapping the transparent screen, "You know I'd never hurt you. What's the safeword?"

A red warning sign appears on the screen. Joker leans back in the seat.

"That's my girl."


Chapter 5:

Breather


This is Tali Zorah vas undecided nar Rayya. She is currently confused. And perhaps a little flustered. She has also realized that she may be most responsible for killing an ancient machine god from beyond the galaxy, but that is something a bit too big for her to take in, right now.

What is important is that she is in the FTL comm room, alongside Kal'Reegar, who is standing ramrod straight, puffing out his chiseled chest, tightening his weaponized buttocks, jutting out his most likely pronounced chin underneath his polished, pockmarked helmet which has seen battles like she can't imagine and warning body temperature rising would you like cold water circulation?

Ancestors, yes.

And on her other side is Commander Jane Shepard, also standing ramrod straight, hands folded behind her, puffing out a bust she wishes she had, standing with a self confidence she wishes she had. She isn't sure if she has a crush on her or if she wants to be her. Because she can talk to the man currently standing as the flickering blue hologram in front of them without flinching.

"...though I am curious how your shuttle managed to crash land on Therum," Admiral Rael'Zorah vas Rayya nar Idenna says, "Reegar, have you gone over the logs?"

"What we could recover, yes," Kal responds, "Seems we got some sort of virus. We're going over it now, but we're guessing we got an electronic attack by the Geth fleet that was in orbit at the time."

"Understood. Also, I've looked over your request. You wish to be temporarily assigned to Shepard's crew?"

"Think it's a good idea," Kal responds, nodding, "Shepard and I talked it over. Think of it like a cultural exchange. I'm going to take five of my boys, we're going to work with Shepard and her crew" Stands a little straighter. More official. "The seven of us can provide tactical information on the Geth, and in return we get to study ship designs and tech we can bring back to the fleet. Like a sort of extended, second Pilgrimage."

Rael nods. His gaze centers on Tali.

"I see."

"They've both been a big help," Jane chimes in, "Reegar helped us with a Geth attack on Therum, and," she gestures to Tali, "Tali's the one who found the weakpoint that took down Sovereign. Also, she's been helping Engineer Adams in maintaining the Normandy's drive core, and has contributed to boosting the efficiency overall of the ship."

Rael makes a sound. She isn't sure if it is an approving sound.

"Understood."

"Also, have you gone over the proposal I had Reegar send over?"

Rael nods.

"Explain to me exactly what you want to do."

"I'm going to be encountering a lot of Geth," Jane says, "So I thought we could send back inert parts. Weapons, cores, tools, which we would leave at drop off points for the Fleet to pick up. I figure it could help you study how the Geth have evolved, and maybe develop a countermeasure or communication protocol with them."

Rael nods. Beneath his helmet, he furrows his brow.

"A good idea. If we can study them...yes. Perhaps. It could give us an advantage if we go to war with them."

"Or if you want to talk to them."

"Yes. Help appreciated, Commander Shepard. Rael'Zorah out."

The image flickers, and disappears. Tali's shoulders slump, half turning her head as Kal salutes the both of them.

"Ma'ams. I'm going to go to the men and pick a squad. The rest will be shipping out later today."

He walks out, door hissing closed behind him. Tali slumps her shoulders, and quickly straightens up whens he realizes Jane has turned to her.

"That went well," Jane says, "So, what's your plans?"

Tali blinks. She glances from side to side.

"Plans?"

"We've got about eighteen hours before the Kilimanjaro's ready to launch," Jane responds, leaning against the railing, finding it tilting again, "Damn it. Anyway, Kilimanjaro's staff is going to transfer our things over, so we have shore leave. What're you going to do?"

She blinks again. She glances from side to side, again.

"So," Jane says, "Who's your friend? The one who got us Sovereign's weak point?"

"Mahrek?" Tali asks, "He...um...he's a friend. I take classes on the extranet. He's a classmate."

Jane nods.

"I..." Tali fidgets, lacing her fingers together, twisting them together, "Well, he tells me he lives on the Citadel. I think...maybe...well, I'm going to see if I can meet him."


...


The elevator comes to a halt, and the doors lower with a loud snap. Two toed feet started marching across the walkway. Ash Williams found her musing of how to paint a large squid onto the side of the Normandy interrupted by a loud cough.

"Commander Shepard?"

Eyebrow raised, Ash turns on her heel. Either Skipper needs to get more photo ops or this isn't someone who's human. Which is exactly what it turns out to be. Clad in a navy, red trimmed encounter suit, roughly as tall as her, faint pink glow from behind his mask, the quarian in front of her gives off a sigh and scratches the back of his head.

"Yeah, no," Ash responds, "What do you want?"

"Kal'Ossen vas Citadel," the quarian says, extending a hand, "Admiralty board wanted me to help with the repair and resupply since you've got Migrant Marines onboard."

"Uh huh."

"Y'know, set up a clean room, make sure you have Migrant Fleet approved gruel," the quarian responds, shrugging, "Everyone keeps assuming we eat what the turians eat. Well, not exactly true. See, here's the thing;"

He began explaining. She is, in all honesty, not sure what he was explaining. Because it apparently had something to do with proteins, and how proteins on one side don't always match up. And how too much bacteria can get in bad places. And how turian proteins and quarian proteins can, if one is not careful, create what he refers to as the Gravy Train.

"...and then no one's laughing, because no one even wants to look him in the eye. Got what I'm saying?"

She does. God help her, she does.

"Reminds me of this one time on Illium," he continues, rubbing the back of his helmet, "Saw a Krogan drink a liquified Turian. Technically Krogans can eat anything, right? Well, no one left that place looking pretty."

The bulkhead rises. Synthetic voice chimes on about recycling air and equalizing pressure, and the door opens to reveal one Commander Shepard, one Doctor Chackwas, and one Lieutenant Alenko.

"...doesn't make any sense!"

Ash cocks an eyebrow. Exactly what they were arguing about she isn't sure, but she wants in. It might help pass the time.


...


The skewers, made from something called fishdog, and hence completely unappetizing towards Kova, sit bare and cleaned on the plate next to the seat cushion, the only sounds in the room the incessant taptaptap of fingers on the holographic keyboard. Her back is to him, and she has, apparently, not noticed him. At all.

"Excuse-"

"Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Almost updated."

Hunched over the computer, she scans over something, and after a long moment turns as the screen blinks off. Two fingered hands and two toed, sock clad feet brace on the floor and the other occupant of the room rises, red strands falling around the shoulders as she stands, wobbles, and falls to the floor with a groan.

"Ow. Sitting too long."

"Sitting for hours."

A muttered swear, one which he doesn't recognize and may have fallen out of use by his time. Shaking his head, he enters, snaps his fingers, and the overhead lights flash on to her pained moan.

She is now rubbing her ankles. Trying, she protests, to get blood flowing to her feet again. The short, gangly girl flexes her legs, shakes her feet, and looks up at Kova with a barest hint of annoyance. One couldn't blame him, in all honesty, for the way he's staring at her.

He hasn't seen a female Prothean in a long time.

She's short, gangly. Her gray skin has traces of blue and silver in its coloring. Her head is narrower than his, her angular dome softened by the red hair falling in cords over the top of her head, tapering off to soft strands down the back and sides. Yellow, green flecked eyes, two on each side of her short, flattened nose glare at him, but he shrugs.

Her clothes, the ones they found her in, are still being washed, studied, and if their Hanar hosts are to be believed, historically documented. They still need to investigate why she's here, why she was found here, and why the single, solitary stasis pod had her in it and not someone important.

For right now, they consist of a white shirt, dark blue zipped hooded sweat shirt and dark blue pants and white socks. She has yet to put on shoes. They may need to find them, at some point.

"Are you done?" Kova asks, "Because if you are, we can start investigating."

"I've only gotten through pre-Asari history, honestly," she responds, hands on her back, stretching her back, Kova's gaze glancing at her chest before back to her face, "Uh...still have to study up on turians, salarians, earthans-"

"Humans."

More muttering, as she braces against the floor and stands, shakily bouncing before rolling her neck.

"So, then what?" she asks, "I really really wanted to get back to studying. I know I honesty don't have any projects due anymore because it's been fifty thousand years but I really wanted to find out about everything around here. Do we really have to go now?"

Kova stares at her. He blinks.

"You are...not concerned. That it's been fifty thousand years, and everything you know is dead?"

The girl...shrugs.

"My family died years ago," she says, "I was up to my eyes in student debt, apprenticed to a miserable old learnmaker who stared at my ass, and trying to get a job so I wouldn't have to sell redundant organs to make rent. What am I missing?"

She taps the bracelet on her left wrist. An old green hologram, a single globe surrounding her fist, appears. The computer clicks off, and she taps it closed.

"Meanwhile, I don't even know what killed off the 'Empire,'" she says, twitching both fingers, "Or why I got stuck in the single stasis pod at the study site, or why no one bothered to defrost me thousands of years ago. So the same 'Empire'," air quotes, twitching fingers, "That jacked up my debt, let my parents die, and left me to rot on Kahje's gone? Sweet."

Kova sighs. He shakes his head, glaring at the girl as she picks up the plate and walks past him. He was exuberant. He was overjoyed. Then he began talking to the solitary inhabitant of these ruins, that the Hanar had not found without his help. And of all the ones to find, he did not find a scientist, or leader, or great wise mind of the past.

Instead, he found a child.


...


It started all the way down in the med bay. Placed flush against one side of the ship, it serves as the home base, mobile surgery wing, office, and treatment center run by one Karin Chakwas. In the words of her ex-husband, 'A goddamn Helen Mirren beauty,' a woman who could probably match a Krogan drink for drink, and also someone who, while understanding that being a Spectre is a big deal, does not make one immune to her pronunciations of health.

"You're taking time off. Immediately."

"Make me."

The doors to the medical bay open. The soldier stationed at them summarily salutes, and is summarily ignored, as the CO and CMO walk by him. Well, the CO walks by him and the CMO walks after her.

"Commander," Chakwas says, "I don't need to remind you that you've just taken three rounds to the chest, which would have killed you if your life support systems didn't come online."

"And yet here I am, alive, with minimal scarring!"

"You were clinically dead for ninety seconds!" She grabs Shepard's shoulder, turning her around. "God help me, Commander, if you fight me on this I will have you sedated, put in a straight jacket, placed under armed guard and locked in your quarters until the Kilimanjaro's ready to launch."

Jane folds her arms, her lips a straight line.

"And I'm going to back her up on that."

She turns, leveling her gaze on Kaidan as he walks over.

"Commander, the Doctor's right," Kaidan explains, "We're not relieving you of command, and we're not mutinying, but you're stressing out and we're concerned."

"Kaidan-"

"You got shot three times," Kaidan interrupts, "You got up, you started pulling biotics the likes of which I've seen in superhero vids, and you tell us you're fine. But that's not fine, that's you getting shot three times in the chest."

In the mind of Kaidan Alenko, such a pronunciation should instantly get the attention, respect, and agreement of his commanding officer. In the deeper part of the mind of Kaidan Alenko, which does not dwell on such things as military regulations, the chain of command, and Alliance protocols, it should also get him tongue.

"We're not relieving you of command," Chakwas continues, walking towards the stairs to the top level as Kaidan starts and walks after them, "We're asking you to take eighteen hours of shore leave. Take time off. Pressly- Charles- has the Normandy in hand."

"Saren-"

"Is being hunted down, we don't have a ship, and if we want to not have the Captain of the ship we're guests on intervene, I suggest you take my recommendation."

Kaidan clears his throat. Chakwas turns, glaring at him.

"Doctor, please tell me your threat was not just, 'I'm going to tell your mother on you'."

If looks could kill, Karin Chakwas would have cost Jane a Staff Lieutenant.

A sigh, and Jane shrugs, nodding as she walks past the tilting map, past a smugly smirking Pressly, and towards the airlock.

"Fine," she says, "I'll take some leave."

"She's going to go down to a firing range and shoot things for eighteen hours," Kaidan observes, "We need to assign someone to make sure she relaxes. An escort, if you will."


...


The bulkhead slides open. Ash watches as the CO, the LT, and the CMO walk out, still arguing, still debating. Cocking her head slightly, she turns to the quarian and finds him staring. At the CO.

"What."

Kal'Ossen shrugs.

"I can't look?" he asks.

"But..." she scratches her head, "You're quarian. Right?"

"Have you ever seen a quarian woman naked?" Ash blinks, shakes her head. "Me neither."

Turning back to his datapad, the quarian continues muttering supply numbers to himself. Ash perks her ear. Something about Skipper needing time off. Needing to go out. Needing someone to escort her, and now LT, all six feet of beef that he is, furiously denying that he suggested himself.

Cute. Even with the sideburns.

"I tell you, if I'm anything to go by, we probably all look like grey wrinkled sausages," Ossen continues, "Why shouldn't I stare at the humans? Hips aren't as big, but the only other dextro-amino acid females are turians, and I think they're like those earth animals, the hyenas. You know? The ones with the-"

"Hold that thought," Ash says, "Hey! Skipper!"

The bickering stops, and the CO walks over. Ossen blinks, turns to Ash, and then turns to Shepard as she walks over, clicking off the PDA and saluting. And hitting himself in the helmet with the PDA.

"Our new supply guy for the quarians," Ash says, "Kal'Ossen, this is Commander Shepard."

"Ma'am," the quarian says, "Sorry. Miss. Misses? Not sure. You're obviously not old enough for 'Ma'am,' ma'am. Miss. Shepard." He coughs. "Commander."

Jane cocks an eyebrow. Ash nods. Kaidan stares, mouths a question, and stops before he can ask it. Mainly due to Chakwas interrupting.

"Ah, yes," she says, "Good idea, Williams. I'm sure there are plenty of places in the Presidium that serve both Levo and Dextro food. And it would be good for her to not be surrounded by the same people."

"You're serious," Jane says, glancing at the doctor.

"Deadly serious."

Ossen glances at the doctor, then turns his gaze back to Jane.

"Uh...okay. Miss. Uh, Shepard." He coughs. "Commander. Exactly what..."

Ash clamps her hand down on Ossen's shoulder. She smiles, all teeth.

"Here's the thing. Our CO needs some shore leave. We want to make sure she doesn't do anything stupid or violent. What're you doing, tonight?"

Ossen blinks. Stares at Jane. Keeps his eyes on her face.

"Movie."

"Good. You're taking her. Skipper, you've got a date."

Jane shrugs.

"Fine," she says, "I'm checking in with Udina and Anderson. They'll give you the presidium apartment address. Pick me up in ninety."

Jane turns, muttering, and walks off to the elevator. Blinking, trying to avoid obviously looking at the retreating officer's legs, he settles to gazing at the stone faced human male soldier. Who he hopes isn't going to make an example out of him.

"No funny stuff," Kaidan warns.

Ossen shrugs.

"Don't worry about me," he says, "I have no desire to piss off the senior staff of an Alliance ship. Sides which, look at me. I'm quarian. Do you have any idea how long it's been since I've seen my own genitals, much less a human's?"

Chakwas purses her lips. Kaidan stares. Ash snickers, and slaps Ossen on the back.

"He's perfect."


...


"...so by preventing a heat discharge, what the drive core does is significantly reduce the thermal image of the ship to sensors. Since sensors are, by and large, the main method of ship to ship detection, the reduced thermal electromagnetic imaging makes the ship highly stealthy, and outright invisible to most conventional warships."

Her suit responds like it is programmed to. Upon a lengthy explanation of some fascinating feat or piece of technology, a straw comes out the side and into her mouth, dispensing an herbal tea solution which she sips on. Just in case she has to begin the lecture again.

The turian blinks, staring at her. The elevator continues its steady climb to the Presidium, and in that time Garrus Vakarian, Citadel Spectre, has shown that he understands not a single word out of the quarian girl's mouth.

"So wait," Wrex says, "If the thermal masking reduces sensor signature, what about visual profile recognition?"

Garrus glances at the krogan behind them. Then back at Tali.

"The vast majority of warships don't have windows that can be used as visual ports," she explains, "And besides which, space combat is generally done at a range of tens of thousands of kilometers."

"Didn't help the Normandy today," Wrex responds, shrugging, "From what I saw, it was the tens of kilometers. Besides which, Krogan ships got into knife fight range."

"But there is no Krogan spacefleets anymore."

"Not officially," Wrex responds, and glances at Garrus, "Ask Vakarian."

"Wrex..."

"Blood Pack," Wrex continues, ignoring Garrus, "Clan Weyrloc runs them, but the way Guld has his head up his own ass I wouldn't be surprised if the Vorcha run'em in a few years. But they have ships, and their ships knife fights. If the Normandy got into a fight with a Blood Pack squadron, the stealth system wouldn't do squat."

The elevator dings. The door slides down, revealing the white walkways and lakes of the Presidium.

"Anyway," Wrex says, "Great talkin' with ya, Tali. I gotta make a Wards run."

"Wards run?" Tali asks.

"I got a black market contact I use for equipment and mods," he responds with a shrug, "See you on the Big K."

The krogan walks off, waving at them as he heads towards the financial district, and the elevator leading to the Wards on the Citadel's arms. Shrugging, Garrus walks out, Tali following him, before speeding up her pace and walking alongside him.

"Thanks for helping me with this, Mr. Vakarian."

"You can call me Garrus," he responds, twitching his mandibles, "I know I'm a Spectre and that apparently makes me important, but I'm not that much older than you."

"Really."

He nods. Walking along the white walkways, they walk past the embassies, uniformed humans and turians in the blue and black of C-Sec saluting as he passes.

"I've been in the military since I was fifteen," he explains, "Instead of becoming a lifer, I followed Dad into C-Sec. I was offered Spectre training, with the idea that I might end up as a Spectre. Dad wasn't happy."

"Why?"

"Spectres write their own rules," he explains, walking through a garden lined square, "And when your species' prominent Spectre is Saren Arterius, you get a bad impression on what that power does to someone. So, I did research. Found better examples than that barefaced son of a bitch. And promised I'd live up to their examples, not Saren's."

Tali nods. She wrings her hands.

"Have you?"

"I don't involve civilians," he says, "I don't kill unless it's a last resort. Spectres enforce the law. They aren't the law. That's what I go by. So, enough about me." His mandibles twitch. He grins. "Who's your friend?"

"Mahrek and I met on the Extranet."

"Ah..."

"'Ah,' what?"

"Old saying," he says with a smirk, "The Extranet: Where the human males are human males, the human females are salarians, the asari are hanar, and the underage quarians are Spectres."

"That's...not reassuring."

He shrugs.

"Your boyfriend managed to contact you during a closed circuit combat situation," Garrus responds, "For all we know, he's a Geth. I've gone undercover as a quarian teenager myself, too. Mainly to lure out this batarian pedophile."

"Again. Not reassuring," she says, and sighs, "Father likes me using the Extranet to take advanced courses, not as much for socializing. Especially with quarians who never return from their Pilgrimage."

"Who could be batarians."

The points of light underneath the mask rise, move to the side, and fall. Tali has just rolled her eyes.

"Anyway," she says, "Mahrek works at a Sirta office on the Presidium. He does cybersecurity work, or so he told me."

Glass doors open, passing civilians, hanar preachers, flirting asari. Two humans arguing loudly nearby, someone running up to them. Garrus isn't sure, but he could swear that it's Shepard, but files that away for later.

Noise hits them like a physical thing. Bartering, debating, storefronts and offices flashing with lights. Working through a crowd, a throng of every species, the two work their way towards a door on the far end of the shopping center. Garrus narrows an eye, the blue screen over it flickering.

"Is the armor necessary?" Tali asks.

"Quarian kid, living on the Citadel, breaks through a closed circuit combat grade cybersuite? I like to be prepared."

The door opens. A reception desk, offices in the back, wall screens with news and stock information. An asari at the desk, young and probably in Maiden stage who decided to check the 'clerical worker' box instead of the 'mercenary prostitute' box on her life plan. She looks up from her computer, stares at the two.

"Welcome to Sirta. What can I do for you?"

"Mahrek'Noktem vas Citadel," Garrus says, "Spectre Authority."

"He's-"

"Mister Harper, I understand your concerns, but I'd rather meet in person or on visual FTL comm if you're asking for an upgrade on this level."

Quarian, accented. Sounds like Tali's accent, Garrus notes. Along with the voice, the owner of it enters the room. The owner in this case is a quarian, male, taller than Tali but shorter than Garrus. His encounter suit is dark brown, lined with black, reddish black boots on his two toed feet and dark brown, leathery gloves. His face mask is dark blue, a pair of glowing sky blue eyes and the outline of a nose visible, his mouth piece flickering. He lacks the belt and harness Garrus saw on the marines Reegar was with.

He also doesn't seem as built, or stocky as them, either.

"Mister Harper, this isn't a small thing you're asking for. We're talking top of the line stuff. I'd have to personally install most of the components myself, because this is custom made. I mean I-"

And he walks straight into Garrus' chestplate. He looks up. Garrus smiles. The quarians screams, shrieking high pitched and powerful, much like a little girl. But, much to Garrus' surprise, he doesn't run.

"Am I in trouble?" he finally asks.

"No," Garrus responds, "Not yet."

And Garrus is none too gently shoved aside, Tali pushing up and into the boy's line of view.

"Mahrek?"

He blinks.

"Tali?" he asks, and nods to Garrus, "He's a Spectre."

"Yes."

"Why do you know a Spectre?" he asks, "Am I in trouble? Your father found out about me and wants me killed, doesn't he? This is half the reason I left the fleet, you know, because I know he's the only father you have but he's two seals short of a full suit-"

She grabs his helmet in both hands, and forces him to look directly at her.

"Shut up," she says, "I want to talk with you. I'm on the Citadel, we've chatted on the Extranet, and you helped us destroy a 2 kilometer long dreadnought that wanted to kill everything forever."

"I did?"

"Yes," she responds, "Also, you're not a geth, a hanar, a krogan, or a batarian pervert. So I think I at least owe you lunch." She tilts her head towards Garrus. "Which he's paying for."

Mahrek nods. Garrus shrugs.

"Rysa?" Mahrek says, and clears his throat, "Could you take messages for me? I'm going to take lunch, now."

Before he can hear a response from the secretary, Tali grabs him by the forearm and drags him out. Garrus shrugs.

"Could've sworn she had a thing for Alenko," he says, and ambles out. Probably have to keep them out of trouble, anyway.


...


"So, Liara. Let's count the ways things just went and screwed up."

Tips the glass back, feeling the blue...liquid? Is it liquid? It's her third shot, so she has no idea. Tipping the glass back, she feels it burn her throat, the dim red and blue lights of the corner booth she's occupied at Flux- the most expensive bar in the Wards she could find that doesn't smell like Krogan- helping to disorient her more.

At least her personal funds weren't frozen, even if Benezia's were. So she can go and get herself absolutely hammered after today's events.

"First," she says, leaning on her hand, fingers splayed over her freckled blue face, "Mother has gone and joined a genocidal turian Spectre who wants to kill everything."

She downs another shot. She's not quite sure what she ordered, outside of telling the waiter 'Enough to kill me, and take away two.'

"Also, the theory you had? About genocidal outsiders who wiped out the Protheans? Turns out to have been absolutely right. Except they're also 2 kilometer long dreadnoughts, there are thousands of them, and Mother is now allied with the genocidal turian Spectre who is allied with them."

She downs another shot. Mother, Mother, Mother, she thinks, She probably has to find this amusing. Eager and intelligent Liara, celebrating her theories being right by getting herself shit faced at a high class bar on the Citadel.

"Oh, yes," Liara says, downing another shot, coughing, "You also met a Prothean. Who knows nothing about Prothean culture, history, science, or anything other than this 'cosmic imperative' that you read about in a Krogan love letter on Illium. So no, the Protheans may have been a wise, intelligent, guiding race. But the Prothean that survived to the present day? An asshole."

She downs another shot.

"And on top of that, Mother, or her genocidal turian Spectre boyfriend, may have sent Geth and a Yahg to kill you," she says. She sighs. "I should have been a dancer."

She downs another shot. Leaning forward, she presses her palms against her forehead, slowly massaging her face. In the past day she has been shot at, trapped, had her entire world shaken, and learned that she, while smart, is not wise. She has been enlisted into a fight against the forces of evil- which now include Mother- and has been nearly killed so many times in the past day that she can't count them all on one hand.

"Ma'am."

She peaks a blue eye out from between splayed fingers. A quarian, one of the quarians on the Normandy that they picked up on Therum, is standing at her table.

"Yeees?" she slurs.

"Seems to me you've been having a rough day, ma'am," he says, sliding into the booth, "Just wanted to make sure you didn't get yourself hurt."

She blinks. She smiles, albeit shakily. Or perhaps she is shaking, and swaying a little.

"Don't think we've met," he says, "Kal'Reegar."

He extends a hand. She smiles, takes his. Not sure if she's shaking his hand or just shaking.

"Liara," she says, "I...well, I can handle myself."

"More's the merrier," he responds with a shrug, "Sides which, that turian over by the dance floor was saying her was going to make a move on you."

"The one with the black eye?"

"Yep," he says, bringing up two fingers on his right hand, waiting as the waiter comes over with a smaller tray of two drinks, "Talked him out of it. Pretty sure we need to both be, y'know, at our best tomorrow so I thought you'd need a designated walker."

She nods. Walking may not be her strong point, right now. Or sitting, she realizes, as she collapses sideways, her head on the shoulder of the quarian marine as he pops the straw out of his mouthpiece.

"Never got drunk before, have you?" he asks.

"Nope," she mutters, "Mum never went evil before, either. I think today's gotta lotta firsts."


...


"...so, your brother's been busy doing security work, and I think he has a new girlfriend. Not sure, because he refuses to name her. Meanwhile, the big news? Jenny's pregnant!"

She peaks her head out of the shower stall, and to the orange screen floating over the bathroom mirror, with the name H SHEPARD, SSV KILIMANJARO underneath.

"Seriously? Cousin Jenny? From Mindoir?"

"Yes, the Cousin Jenny who lived with us on the Einstein for two years. She's expecting in about six months. Only got in touch with me last week. They're living on Terra Nova, now. She's doing mining work in orbit."

"Cool, cool. So, since she's, basically, your god daughter..."

"Nope. Not letting you or James off the hook."

"Curses."

"You're hitting thirty, I'm approaching sixty," Hannah responds, Jane reaching for the shampoo with a smirk, "And I ride James just as hard for this. He's not military, so he doesn't have an excuse for asking the next pretty young thing for a date or marriage. And I know that half the men on your ship would jump at the chance if you weren't their CO. That beefcake LT, for example."

"Alenko."

"Read his personnel file. It's like a harlequin romance novel. Boy meets girl and defends her from evil spikey monster. Although, since he's your crew you can't. But what about that nice Asari girl you picked up? She looked interested, if you know what I mean."

"Mom. Seriously."

"Hannah cares not from whence the grandbabies flow, only that there are grandbabies!"

"That was perhaps the most seriously creepy thing I've ever heard you say, Mom," she sighs, rinsing her hair, "How'd we get to this topic, again?"

"By you going on a date after getting your arm twisted into it. Cute guy. Nice and awkward. Snap them up quickly, I'm on a dry spell."

Jane rolls her eyes, stepping out of the shower.

"Thought you were hitting sixty, Mom."

"Sixty's the new forty. Why're we on audio only, anyway?"

"Because I just stepped out of the shower and am naked?"

"Nothing I haven't seen before, kiddo."

"How about the bridge crew?"

"You think they've never seen your baby pictures?"

Jane rolls her eyes, grabbing the towel, roughing up her red hair. She stares at the mirror. Below her breasts, three faint white marks, discolorations. The last of the scarring from an emergency dose of medigel.

"We going to keep discussing my non existent sex life while I'm aboard the Kilimanjaro?"

"Only if you keep me from being a grandmother and keep surrounding yourself with sexy, sexy crew members. I'll let you get to your primping."

"Love you, Mom."

"Be careful. If you can't be careful, be safe. And if you can't be safe, name it after me! Captain Hannah out."


...


The blue light coalesces, forms, and becomes a three dimensional hologram. His colors washed out in blue, nonetheless she knows who he is. The roundness of his face, the set, stony features despite the girl climbing onto his back, the lips twitching at the corner as he sees her face. Irikah smiles at her husband, and to the almost eight year old girl hanging onto his shoulders.

"Mom!" Lyta Krios says, "Are you really on the Citadel? What's it like? Did you buy my anything?"

"Yes, busy, and yes," Irikah says, "Thane, how's things on Kahje?"

"Busy," Thane Krios responds, reaching over his shoulder and picking up his daughter, turning her around, and cradling her in one swift motion, "We went on an expedition. Found something interesting, How about you?"

"I've had an interesting few days," she says, "Where's Kolyat?"

A head peaks in from the side, fizzling out around the neck.

"Right here, Mom," he says, blinking double eyelids as Lyta begins trying to push him out of the picture, "Hey! Brat!"

"I heard reports. I'm a little worried, Siha."

"We're fine," Irikah says, and raises a hand to silence him before he can protest, "Really. I can handle myself, Thane. Don't worry about me. How about you?"

Thane glances at her. He glances at the children. They quickly exit, disappearing, the faint disconnected sound of a door closing.

"Siha, I had a checkup. I had Kepral Syndrome."

Irikah's heart skips.

"No."

"Had. It's cured."

She blinks.

"What?"

He glances from side to side. Balls his hand, clears his throat.

"It was early onset, and a benefactor had figured out a treatment. In return, I'm doing work for them. No wetwork, nothing violent. Reconnaissance, information gathering, and treasure hunting. I'm going to have your brother look after Kolyat and Lyta for a few weeks. It would be easier if you were here."

She places her hands on her hips.

"Understood. I'll be careful as long as you are."

"I promise, Thane. I'll send as many letters as I can."

"I will hold you to that, Siha."

He clears his throat, and a door opens in the background. And an eight year old Drell girl as atop her father's shoulders again almost as soon as the door opens, and the family conversation continues.


...


"A doctor? Seriously? He has a PhD?"

She stares at the screen.

"Seriously. I would've figured him to be a college dropout or something from the way he stalked me. Still, could use this. Keyboard?"

She has five minutes until the date arrives. She has to talk with Ash about this. This has to violate a huge amount of regs. Matchmaking ones commanding officer should be against something. Although they are right, she has been riding herself hard. Especially with what's to come, but she just feels at...peace...more than she has in years.

"Dear Doctor Conrad Verner," she says, fingers typing in time with her speech, "My name is Jane Shepard, and I have been studying your doctorate paper. I wanted to get your input on a recent mission which may support your doctoral thesis."

She snickers. She can only imagine what his reaction to this would be. Then she blanches, imagining what his reaction would be.

"I will be on the Citadel for the next day," she continues, "If you have the time, I would like to talk with you. Thank you for your time, Jane Shepard."

Hits the send button and pushes away from her desk, wheels of the desk chair squeaking as she stands up. Piles of clothing are on the cot of the Presidium apartment set aside for her during her brief, enforced leave, her duffle propped up against the wall and pulled open.

Turns, stares at the full wall mirror next to the desk. Black sweater, tan skirt down to her knees, shoes. She turns to her side, hands on her hips. Sweater's snug, but not tight. She grabs her breasts, pushes them up, running a hand through her hair and deciding against actually stylizing it. Comb works just as damn well.

Looking down at the skirt, she frowns. Technically, it's a good skirt. Probably stylish. At least, not ugly. She's been wearing military fatigues since she turned eighteen. Probably been that long since she had a damn date. Turning to the mirror, she rears back and kicks, aiming her foot to an imaginary head. Just in case.

"Fuck," she says, "That's like a free show. Fuck it, we're going with pants."

The skirt joins its kin on the bed, and she buckles the belt, a pair of tan pants going with the black sweater. Staring at the mirror, she turns to her side. Pants are loose. She doesn't do tight, though. What's the point of tight clothes when you spend most of your time on a military ship?

"Fuck," she mutters, "How long has it been since I've actually had a date?"

She's already hit thirty, if she counts the three years she still remembers. Given, she was either dead or in a stockade when she hit the 3 and 0, but still.

The door chimes. Checking the time, she rolls her eyes, slips on her shoes, and walks across the room and taps the green circle. The door opens, Ossen hastily clicks the screen on his omnitool closed, light on his mouthpiece blinking with his cough.

"Ah. Hello." He reaches behind him, bringing up a mass of hastily tied together flowers. Some of which still have leaves, and if she looks closely, roots on them. "Sorry, I don't really know that much about human customs. I...well, thought that this was appropriate, considering that the other human insisted this was a date."

She hates flowers.

"They're fine," she says with a smile.

She does, however, have to give him points for effort. It is kind of charming.

"So," she says, "Where're we going?"

"Movie," he responds, "Hope you don't mind. I'm...uh...something of a geek."

He looks, sees a cup of water at the desk next to the door, and drops the flowers in.

"I was going to go to the Cinema and see Star Wars, actually. The new one."

She cocks an eyebrow.

"They made a new one?"

"Nah, just remade the old ones," he responds, shrugging, "Only they replaced the cast with Elcor. Heard it was pretty good."

She shrugs, nods, and walks with him. Walking beside her, he taps his omnitool closed, folding his hands behind him as they walk from the apartments and into the Presidium itself.

"I hope you don't mind," he says, "But, well, I have been studying up. Even if this isn't the typical customs, I do insist on paying."

She smirks. Rolling her head, rolling her shoulders, she takes in the quiet moment as they walk towards the elevators, and the lift towards the cinema and her first night off in god knows how long. And as the doors close in front of them, she glances out over the Presidium.

And she swears, for a moment, that she spotted Wrex on a dingy, fishing.


...


OMAKE:

Dark Space. The void between galaxies. The only light in this small patch of the void are the blue lights which run the length and breadth of their forms, the blue and red lightning which travels the lengths of their consciousnesses, and the golden lights of his eyes.

He is the Resplendent Harbinger of Ascension. Oldest and wisest of them, their leader in absentia of their creator. He is the One who sits above the Many. But He is only the one.

He is not the many.

Nazara has been destroyed. Our vanguard has been lost. We must seize the initiative and attack now, before the Cycle is broken.

Blue lights before Him, the eyes and lights of many of the great Mechanism. One of them, long opposed and antagonistic to Him, uncoils his tentacles and twitches his optics at the others flanking him.

"Harbinger," the Reaper, Venerated Harmonious Rejoinder, says, "How are you aware of this? What could possibly have destroyed one of our own? The organics can not possibly have created something that could destroy one as resourceful and powerful as Nazara."

I have seen it through the memory downloads of Nazara. Shepard will find a way to break the Cycle unless we stop her.

Perfect Blossom of Bridging, to the left of Rejoinder, rolls the eight blue optic ports.

"Ah, yes," Rejoinder says, twitching the two tendrils closest to his face, "'Shepard'. The supposed time traveling organic who has destroyed several Destroyer-class Reapers, one of whom she did on foot with a single gun. We have dismissed this claim."

And with that, the lights fade on Rejoinder, Blossom, and the other Reapers as they resume their millennial slumber. Harbinger sighs, turning back to the galaxy. He'll have to think of something.