Chapter 90

Qualifications

Author's Note: Dear Lord I just can't focus on writing nowadays. Well, I finally got this sucker done, hope you enjoy it.

XXXXX

"This is it," Ashley said, glancing at Jane. The two of them were standing at the Normandy's airlock, it having just docked with a space station in orbit over Moreia.

"Everyone else is on leave," Jane said softly, not looking at Ashley. "You should head down to the surface with them. We don't have much time left to relax."

"Sorry, but I'm not going anyway...Ma'am," she added lamely. An awkward moment paused. "So, how come this General wanted to meet you all the way up here instead of down on the surface?"

"I don't know," Jane answered simply. "I think she might want to meet me on neutral ground. Or maybe she just wants to keep me at arms length until she trusts me."

"Maybe," Ashley said. There was a loud clanging noise and the airlock slowly shifted open in front of them. Five Moriean shock troops were standing on the other side, four of them with rifles in hand. The fifth stepped forward, extending his hand.

"Ah, Captain Shepard. A pleasure to meet you," he said. Ashley blinked as she looked at him. There was something odd about his voice. There almost seemed to be some kind of an echo to it, in addition to an almost musical tone. The man noticed. "I get that look a lot," he said, reaching up and pulling off his helmet. He was a Necro-Human, but he was no ordinary Necro-Human. His skin was bright green and seemed to shine with its own light. "I'm a Glowing One," he said. "Colonel Curtis Decker. Second in command on this planet." He slid his helmet back on. "General Hill is waiting for you."

"Lead the way," Jane said. Decker nodded as he turned on the spot and began to walk deeper into the station, the others following him. "Colonel, be honest with me, what can I expect from General Hill?" Jane asked. "She has a rather low opinion of me, but apart from rumors I know nothing about her."

"Normally I would say don't put stock in rumors, but in the case of the General they do get a fair bit of it right," Decker replied. "General Hill is the kind of person who gets the objective done no matter the cost, and she really couldn't care what issues you have with it. I have first hand experience of that, I've been her number 2 for a while now. I've been opposing her on just about everything, from her torturing of prisoners to her utter disregard of our casualty rate. I feel like most of the time she only lets me talk so she can honest say on her report that she had an advisor."

"Hard to work with huh?" Ashley said dryly. "Didn't see that coming."

"Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover," Decker said. "My advice is that you just avoid getting on her bad side, it'll make things a lot less miserable. Hold on, we're almost there...wait a minute." He stopped as he neared a sealed metal door, a dark skinned woman in a business suit standing outside it. She was looking down at an active omni-tool, an annoyed look on her face. "Ms. Kamara, you're still here? I thought you would've finished by now."

"So did I," the woman said, "but some reporter came barging in before I could even talk exact numbers. She said that she only wanted a few minutes of the General's time, but it's been a lot longer than that."

"Sorry, you are?" Ashley said.

"Aafreen Kamara, CEO of Nezo Transportation," the woman said. "The Coalition recently signed a contract my company, we're producing shuttles for them, ones with some armor plating and ordnance. Turns out most of them are being shipped out to this planet, I came out here to talk to the commanding officer about the arrangements for delivery. I-" she stopped as she looked at Jane. "Wait a minute, I saw you on the news. Jane Shepard, Captain of the Normandy. Your men saved me on Demeter." She took a step forward, an excited look on her face. "Adam, is he still with you? I never got a chance to thank him."

Jane gave a warm smile. "I'll make sure you get his contact information."

"Thank you," Aafreen said. "I'll talk to him after I speak with the General, which I should be about to do. At least I was before I was interrupted," she said bitterly.

"Hold on, I'll see what I can do," Decker said. He stepped in front of the door and typed in a code to a keypad on the wall next to it, his fingers idly gliding over the keys. He pressed one last key and the door slid open, revealing a well furbished office room within. Hill was sitting behind a desk, looking bored out of her mind as she idly flicked a lighter that she was holding open and closed. In front of her was a woman in a blue and orange dress, reading off from a datapad as a drone floated next to her head.

"And do you have anything to say about the many accusations that the soldiers on your planet regularly abuse citizens?" the reporter asked.

"That it's a lie," Hill said idly, flicking her lighter open again and pressing down on it. It sparked and ignited, the smallest flicker of a flame appearing. Hill's eye was focused on it instead of the reporter, her pupil narrowing, almost as if she was forcing herself to look at it. "Our job is to protect these people. If I were to ever catch one of my men attacking a citizen, I'd make him realize what an unfortunate mistake that he made."

"It is interesting that you attempt to claim the moral high ground General, as there is hard evidence of you signing off on allowing the rape of prisoners," the reporter continued. As she spoke, Hill's grip tightened around her lighter, so much that it quivered slightly in her hand.

"I don't claim to be a perfect little princess," Hill said, sounding as if she was holding back every last cuss word she had ever learned. "I get my hands dirty, it's my job. But I get my hands dirty to get things done. Rape gets nothing done. So if its not too much of a bother to you, could you stop throwing all these accusations at me and try to ask a few questions that are at least somewhat rooted in reality? If its not too hard?"

"General, you brought this on yourself," the reporter replied, a smirk spreading across her face. "Your reputation echoes across the entire galaxy. As if my previous topics weren't enough, there is the rumor that you have been taking bribes from-"

"Question," Hill interrupted, closing her lighter and putting it down before reaching under her desk. "Is this live?"

"No, I'm only recording it," the reporter said. "I will broadcast it in good time. Now General, please stop deflecting-" she was cut off as Hill idly drew a pistol. The reporter barely had any time to blink before there was a loud bang. There was a loud cracking noise as the bullet Hill fired hit her drone, causing it to shatter and the fragments to fall to the ground. The woman looked down at the remains, horror in her eyes. "You," she said, half angry half terrified as she faced Moore. "You're-"

"A massive fucking cunt, I know," Hill said. Her eyes swiveled to look at the open door, noticing Jane and Decker. "And thanks to you I'm also behind schedule," she said. "Out."

"That drone is Westerlund News property!" the woman said angrily.

"Send me a bill," Hill said in a disinterested tone. "Now get out."

The woman glared at Hill before storming out of the room shoving a shock trooper out of her way as she did. Jane and Ashley slowly stepped into the office as she did, Decker right behind them. The air was heavy in the room as she looked at the General, who still had a firm grip on her pistol. She wasn't quite sure what to say.

"What was that all about ma'am?" Decker asked, his tone polite and just a little bit forced.

"Someone trying to do a smear job," Hill said, either not noticing the rigid element to Decker's voice or simply not caring. "Khalisah al-something something. Biggest waste of my time. Do me a favor and tell the suit that she's going to have to wait a bit longer now that our guest of honor is here." Hill's good eye narrowed as she focused on Jane, barely spotting Decker as he saluted and exited the room, closing the door behind him.

"So," Hill said, leaning back in her chair and flicker her lighter open again. "This your first trip out to the frontier?"

"No," Jane said. "I've been this far out one time before. I took part in the counterattack we launched after the Blitz."

"I read about that," Hill said, idly reaching forward and pressing a button on her desk. Holograms materialized over the desk, many of them formal military reports, but a few of them were news articles. "In and out, kept to your objectives, even managed to pick up some help from a Krogan mercenary. And before that, you raided a Batarian frigate on Elysium, captured a few four eyes for interrogation, saved lives and learned that the Hegemony was responsible for the attack in the first place. I mess anything up?"

Jane shook her head. "No, that's all true."

"Well, there's a couple of gaps that I was hoping that you could fill in," Hill said. "You saw what the Batarians did to us on our turf, you saw how they treated us like cattle on theirs. You know how cut throat it is out there, and how the Hegemony would like nothing more than for us to all be in cages with their brand on our backs. So exactly why did you decide to do every last stupid thing that you did in the last year that got us in this mess?"

"The Rachni and the Krogan?" Jane asked, sounding as if she already knew the answer.

"Is there anything else that I could be talking about?" Hill asked bitterly. "A year ago I would've called you a model of everything the military should strive to be. You protected our people, you eliminated threats, and you did so quickly and efficiently. Maybe that's the problem, you had such a good track record that you let it go to your head, you didn't think it was possible for you to do any wrong."

"I never thought that," Jane said, her voice polite but with an edge of weariness to it. "I only did what I thought would be the best in each situation."

"You overstepped your authority," Hill said. "Your mission was to hunt down Saren on Noveria, and your mission on Tuchanka was to destroy the cure, the exact opposite of what you did."

"Admiral Marcus approved of my actions on Tuchanka," Jane said, her voice shaking a little bit as she spoke.

"Because you convinced him that it was a good idea, and look how well that turned out," Hill said. "We're at war. Within the next day, either we're going to hit the four eyes with everything that we've got, or they're going to hit us." She flicked pressed another button and the holograms of the reports disappeared, replaced with soldier profiles, each one of a Normandy crew member.

"You had a unique crew, one that managed to prove themselves," she said, scrolling through the profiles. "I couldn't help but notice that one of them is one of my boys. Roger Andrews. Did you ever ask him how he feels about his homeworld being turned into a front line in a war that you started?" Jane didn't say anything, but merely bit her lip. "He had both legs when he set foot on Noveria. He didn't have them when he was leaving though. The Rachni bit it off. The same one that you let go free."

"They were feral!" Jane protested. "And Matriarch Benezia joined minds with the Queen. She said that nothing like the Rachni Wars would ever happen again."

"As if she has a choice in the matter?" Hill asked. "The Council will hunt the Rachni down so long as they aren't extinct, they're terrified of them. That Queen is going to war, whether she likes to or not. You're too damn naive about this, expecting the Queen to just get along with everyone. Same with the Krogan."

"Wrex is a friend of mine, he's going to be keeping them under control," Jane said. "I know him, I can trust him."

"And what happens when he gets assassinated?" Hill asked. "What happens when a power hungry warlord kills him and takes control of the tribes? Or if they ever relapse into civil war? What'll stop them from expanding violently across the galaxy again?"

Hill's eyes narrowed as she glared at Jane. "It doesn't really matter though, no matter how correct or incorrect your reasoning was. What matters is that you are a Coalition soldier, your job is to protect the people of the Coalition, not the Rachni, not the Krogan, the Coalition. You FAILED that objective. You put your crew, your mission, and your entire species at risk! And for what!? So that you ease your conscious knowing you did the right thing? In case you didn't notice, people in our position don't get that luxury!"

Ashley's eyes narrowed as she glared at Hill, but she kept her mouth shut. "General...I don't know what to say," Jane said.

"I'm going to be keeping a close eye on you for the next 24 hours," Hill said. "You're going to be on a mission that could very well decide the fate of this planet. I'm going to make sure that you're up to the job. If I see anything that tells me that you're a liability, the Normandy is going to be getting a new Captain."

She paused, looking directly at Jane. The Captain's head had slowly tilted down throughout their conversation, to the point where she was now looking at the ground. "I heard about what happened on Tuchanka," Hill said. "It might be in your best interest if you just willingly step down. We could use you as a military adviser. You may have messed up, but I'll gouge my good eye out before I even think about letting the four eyes get you."

Jane nodded. "I'll keep that in mind," she said softly.

"You'll be kept safe and comfortable, anyone goes after you gets my gun barrel in their mouth," Hill said. She got to her feet, sliding her lighter into a pouch and activating her omni-tool. "The platoon that the Normandy will be ferrying is the 57th, they're stationed on the surface. New Ottawa, Fort Cadia, capital city of the planet and the HQ of the Moriean shock troopers." She typed into her omni-tool. "I'm sending that information to all of your crew, and I'm giving them access to the fort." She hesitated for a second, as if she was reaching for the words in her next sentence. "They should...mingle with the 57th...if they want."

Hill lowered her arm, turning off her omni-tool. "That's all. I want you to escort me down to Fort Cadia. Step outside and talk to Colonel Decker for now though, I still need to talk with the suit." Jane nodded as she turned and walked towards the door, Ashley following after looking at Hill for a few more seconds.

XXXXX

"Roger, mind telling me exactly what this thing is?" Nora asked.

"It's my car, what do you think it is?" he replied.

"No, this isn't a car. A car is a complex machine put together by skilled engineers. This thing is a hollowed out metal cube with an engine slapped on," Nora said

"Look, when both of your parents are miners and you can only get part time work before you join the military, you have to make due with second-hand," Roger said. He was sitting in the driver's seat of a simply designed four seater car, driving in the domed city of New Morelia. It was black with not many noticeable features, with the exception of more than a few dents. Nora was riding shotgun while Sheryl was sitting in the back, all of them in their combat gear. The three of them had gone down to the planet's surface not long after they had arrived, and the first thing Roger had done was take them to a warehouse to get his old car out of storage.

"You mean this is only second hand?" Nora asked. "I think more than one person used this before you."

"Oh stuff it already," Roger said. "I know this thing is a piece of shit. It was the only thing I could ever afford, it was a nightmare keeping it running. Thing looks like it got dusty as Hell in storage too."

"So, next stop we're gonna be saying hi to Mr. and Ms. Andrews?" Sheryl asked.

"Not quite, I want to make a little bit of a pitstop first. Hold on, can I?" He glanced down at the glowing interface on his dashboard, taking note of the time just above his KPH. "Oh perfect timing. So yeah, we're just gonna be going a little out of our way."

"Where to?" Nora asked.

A massive grin spread across Roger's face. "Local high school," he replied. "My sister normally walks home after school. Thought I'd give her a ride."

"So we're gonna be letting your sister know the news first?" Sheryl asked. "I'm not sure if I want to do that. I mean, how old is she?"

"What? Oh no no no no," Roger said. "I mean I do want her to know, but I just wanted to give my little sister a ride home, you know, surprise her."

"I know," Sheryl said. "I'm just kind of nervous about this whole thing in general."

"Aw geez," Roger said. "Look, you don't have to do this if you don't want to. I mean I get it, this thing we've got going on we've been doing for a few days and I sprang this on you. Sheryl, I swear I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable, if you really want me to pull the plug on this just say something. Christ, I really didn't think this through did-"

"Uh, Roger?" Nora said. "Relax. She said that she was nervous. Not that she was terrified, not that she was dreading this, she said that she was kind of nervous. I imagine she's looking forward to meeting your parents." She turned to face Sheryl in the back seat. "Am I right?"

"Yes," Sheryl said softly, wringing her hands. "I'm just not sure what to do. I've never exactly been invited over someone's home before."

"Well, I'd say just be polite," Nora said. "Not much else you can do really."

"Just don't break anything and really nothing will go wrong," Roger said. "Just to clarify, you really want to do this? We can always back out, we still have time." He looked at Nora out of the corner of his eyes. "Same with you. If you really don't feel up to-"

"Will you just shut up?" Nora asked. "I mean, where is this coming from? We had this conversation on the Normandy already! We're ok with this, we think its a good idea. You don't need to make this more complicated, we're just paying a visit."

"Sorry," Roger said. "I just...I want this thing to work."

"We all do," Nora said. "So relax. Don't worry about it so much. We're not going to lose patience with you and ditch you the second you piss us off. Trust me, you've pissed me off a lot and I'm still sticking with you."

"Right," Roger said uncertainly, coming to a stop before a turn in the middle of downtown. "I just want to make sure that the three of us-" He was cut off mid-sentence as Nora let out an annoyed groan, grabbed him by the collar, pulled him forward, and gently brushed her lips against his.

"Roger," she said, letting go of him. "Re-lax." Roger merely nodded, flushing slightly. "So, where is this little sister of yours?" she asked, leaning back into her seat.

"Uh, she should be around her somewhere," he said, taking a left turn. "This is the fastest way back to our place from the school. She should-ah. There we go." A smile spread across Roger's face as he spotted a Hispanic teenager walking along the sidewalk ahead of them, a bag slung over her back.

"That's your sister?" Nora asked, rolling down her window and leaning her head out. "Not to be rude, but what the fuck is she wearing?" The woman in front of them had an interesting wardrobe to say the least. Her pants were a dark leather, several short chains attached to her pockets with the ends of a few sewn into the leggings, a set of keys noticeable on the end of one. Her shirt was a simple black t-shirt with a skull on the back, it's mouth wide open and green fire spilling out and with charred coals for eyes. Her short hair was jet black and rather messy, possibly intentionally so, and had a few rather random looking streaks of pink in it.

"Oh look who's talking Charley Parkhurst, you got any cattle to round up?" Roger asked playfully.

"Hey, Charley Parkhurst only had one eye," Nora said, smirking as she pressed her finger under her right socket. "Who's more like her?"

"Got me there," Roger said. "She was well endowed too, you seem like a B-cup at best. Bad comparison."

"Are you two done yet?" Sheryl asked dryly from the back seat. "I swear you two act like five year olds sometimes."

Roger let out a laugh. "We're on leave, you're supposed to unwind. Besides, what's the point of life if you can't do something harmlessly stupid every once in a while?

"Well that explains your sister's wardrobe," Nora said. Sheryl rolled her eyes. A small smile slid over her mouth as she did though.

Roger pulled up next to the woman, looking out of Nora's window. "Pardon me miss, but do you need a ride?"

"Fuck off," she said, "if you want someone to jerk you off go find someone who can...wait." She stopped dead in her tracks, head snapping to look at the car. "Roger?"

"Starting to see some family resemblance," Nora said as Roger pulled the car up to the curb, turning it off and stepping out.

"When the Hell did you get back?" the woman said, taking a few nervous steps forward and Roger rounded the car, looking like she was afraid he was about to disappear.

"Today," he said, smiling as he stopped in front of his sister. "Got a day's leave. How are you Ally?"

"Mom and Dad are fucking assholes," Alice grumbled, pouting slightly as she slid down to sit on the sidewalk.

"Oh boy," he said, sitting down next to her. "What happened?"

"They got angry when they saw my hair," she said, pointing to the strands of pink. "They don't like what I've been wearing lately in general too. They've got their heads so far up their asses its laughable."

"Ally, I've been keeping up with their letters. Times are tough for both of them," Roger said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"I know!" Alice snapped. "I've seen Mom fall asleep at the kitchen table studying! I've seen Dad so tired when he comes home from work that he can't even make it up the stairs, he just falls on the couch and passes out! But why the fuck do they need to take it out on me!?"

"Ally, do you remember when you told me that you were going to get your tongue pierced even though Mom and Dad didn't want you to?" he asked. She nodded. "And remember how I talked you out of it? Told you that you weren't thinking things though?"

"Look, I was stupid then, I'll admit that. But there's a difference between poking a hot rod through my tongue and dying my hair pink. This isn't that big of a deal," Alice said.

"Could've sworn you said the same thing about the tongue piercing," Roger said, giving his sister a playful shove.

"You're an ass," Alice grumbled, smiling a little bit

"She's got a point you know!" Nora called from the front seat.

"Nora, I'm having a big brother moment right now, could you please shut it?" Roger said.

Alice did a double take at Nora. "Wait. That's not a guy?"

"Long story," Roger said. "Getting back on topic, Mom and Dad are just looking out for you. They're worried about you and that you might do something stupid."

"But they overreacted here! I'm not putting dangerous chemicals in my eyes, I'm just dyeing my hair!" she said, sounding frustrated.

"They probably overreacted with this one, I can see them doing that. Would you like me to talk to them about it?" Roger asked.

"Please," Alice said, nodding her head.

"All right. Just remember that even if they make mistakes, they're just trying to look out for you."

"I know that, it just gets frustrating when they get like this. Alice, don't do this, Alice, don't do that. I mean, they can't baby me forever."

"They're scared," Roger said. "They don't want something like your accident to happen again."

The frustration practically slid off of Alice's face. "Yeah...and I don't think they forgot what happened to you either." Looking at Roger's cybernetic leg, she reached out and softly touched it. "You lost another one huh?"

"Yeah," Roger said. "Thing got bit off."

"If I had just looked both ways that day, I could've seen the swerving car. Maybe you wouldn't have-"

"Ok, going to have to stop you right there," Roger said. "Whatever it is your thinking about what happened to me being your fault. No. Just drop it right now because it's a load of horse shit. You didn't do a damn thing, don't even pretend otherwise. I went to Earth because you're my little sister and I wasn't going to let you stay in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. I lost my arm because of a mistake I made. There were people that I thought I could trust, but it turns out I was wrong. I wasn't your fault"

Alice let out a weak laugh. "I know. My mind just...goes there, sometimes."

"All right, I haven't been home in a long time and frankly I'm looking forward to it," he said, getting to his feet. "I say we take a drive over, have a little reunion, maybe a bite to eat and then I talk to them about your hair. Sounds like a plan?"

"A damn good one," Alice said, getting to her feet as well. She hesitated for a moment before stepping in and grabbing Roger in a hug. "I missed you," she said softly.

"I missed you too," Roger said, returning the hug. "I missed all of you. I wish I could stay longer."

"Well, since you can't, we really should be making the most of it shouldn't we?" Alice said.

"You got that one right," he said. "One more thing though. Ally," he said, gesturing to his car, "Sheryl and Nora. You can call them co-workers and...well we'll get to that when we get home. Basically they've been serving on the same ship as me. Kind of invited them over." Sheryl gave a small wave while Nora tipped her hat.

"I take it Mom and Dad don't know that you're back yet," Alice remarked.

"Nope, I'm going to go wit the pleasant surprise route," Roger said.

"Well, it'll be interesting to see the looks on their faces," Alice said, walking around and opening the back door to the last free seat.

"You don't know the half of it," Nora said under her breath, watching as Roger climbed back into the driver's seat.

"So..." Alice said, looking at Sheryl as she sat down next to her. "Where are you from?"

"Alaska," Sheryl said. "Lived there for most of my life. Got out of there as soon as I got the chance."

"Did you meet Roger on Earth? Is he how you got off?" Alice asked.

Sheryl gave a small chuckle. "No, I left a few years before I even met him. I only met him recently, on Eden Prime."

"Oh. Well, how come you left anyway?" Alice asked.

"My skin," Sheryl answered simply. "People like me were hated back there."

"Why?" Alice asked. "Your skin makes you look awesome."

Sheryl didn't answer for a second. "What makes you say that?" she said, trying to keep the shock out of her voice but still letting a little of it slip in.

"It just is really," Alice said, looking as if Sheryl had just asked for confirmation of the color of the sky. "Why? What's the big deal about it?"

"Nothing," Sheryl said. "Just...thank you."

"Note to self, compliment Sheryl's looks better," Roger whispered, so that only Nora could hear him.

"I'll keep that in mind," she whispered back.

XXXXX

"So this is Moreia huh?" Cornelia said, walking through the streets of the New Ottawa, looking around. The dome of the city stretched far above their heads, see-through and allowing a view of the stars. A significant portion of the buildings were pre-fab units, but countless others had been added over the years, from tiny one room shacks to towering skyscrapers that stretched up towards the dome.

"It certainly looks impressive," Adam said. "Fifty-million people live on this planet, even though they can't breathe. Even if there's an atmosphere now, there's not going to be enough oxygen in it for these domes to come down for decades."

"Certainly got a big of a rugged feel to it," Cornelia said. "They're probably more focused on making sure that everything works properly instead of making it look nice."

"I can't really argue with that," Adam said. As he spoke, he spotted something that made him stop in his tracks. "Although, that place looks like someone spent a good chunk of money on making it look good."

"And what would that be?" Cornelia asked, looking where Adam's head was turned. Not far from them was a two story building that, while made out of the same rigid metal as the other buildings, was painted to a sheer white sheen and had countless banners covering the front of it. All of the banners were of bright varied colors, and right above the door was a pair of words. "Inuus' Services?" Cornelia squealed, with the tone of a child who had just found a hidden bag of candy. "They operate all the way out here?"

Adam blinked in confusion. "What? Who are they?"

"Hold on a second, I gotta check out the inside," Cornelia said, striding forward with a massive smile on her face and pushing the double doors open. Adam hurried after, just in time to slip in before the doors slid shut. The inside was very well lit, with countless people milling around the lobby that they were in. There was none of the standard metal furniture typically found on colonies, every last chair, table and desk was carved out of fine wood.

"Seriously, what is this place?" Adam asked. "It looks rather high class, how can someone afford all of this, this deep in space and so far away from the rest of the-" he trailed off as he saw a woman lead a man into a room where two men in suits were standing guard. The woman was wearing a long flowing dress that she had slipped out of slightly so that one of her shoulders was bared, while the man's face was bright red and plastered with excitement.

Adam put two and two together. "This is a brothel, isn't it?" he asked, looking at Cornelia.

"Yup!" she said cheerfully, walking towards the front desk, passing by several employees in fine clothing talking in low husky voices to potential customers. "Innus' Services is one of the biggest, well, 'providers' in all of Coalition space. It helps that not only do they have some of the best damn people in the industry, they have through the roof safety measures as well. You're pissing in a cup before you get alone with any of the workers, and guards step in if things get a little too rough."

"I see," Adam said slowly as Cornelia stopped in front of the desk.

"Men or women today?" the man at the desk asked.

"Oh I'm just looking," Cornelia said. "In fact, is there any chance that I could get a flyer? I'd like to see what you offer and the prices."

"Certainly Ms.," the man said, taking a data-pad out of a rack to his left and handing them to Cornelia.

"What they're offering?" Adam asked. "Why? What do they normally offer?"

"It'd be easier to say what they don't," Cornelia said. "A lot of people have rather unique ways of getting hot and bothered, and sometimes special workers are needed to fulfill their needs. Thing is, sometimes they can be hard to come by, so the company sometimes charges extra for them. Supply and demand and all that."

"I'm not sure I follow," Adam said.

"Well, how about some examples," Cornelia said, scrolling down the list on the datapad before lifting it up and showing it to Adam. "Some people find stuff like this really hot, so they pay extra to have someone do it to them."

Adam's eyes widened as he read. "I can...see how not many people would be into that," he said.

"Ah, is this your first time visiting one of our establishments sir?" the man asked. "I know a woman who's very good with introductions and doesn't mind doing older men. I could call her over and give you a first time discount."

"I appreciate the offer, but I'm not interested," Adam said before turning back to Cornelia."So, I take it you know this place because you partake?"

"Yup," she said cheerfully. "Sometimes there's an itch that I just can't scratch myself. The guys at this place though? Let's just say that they've got magic fingers." Her happy demeanor faltered for a moment as she frowned. "You've got a problem with this don't you?"

"I won't lie, there's something about this that's making me uncomfortable," Adam said. He hesitated for a moment before continuing. "You do use protection right?"

Cornelia blinked. "Wait that's it? No getting on my rear for wanting a good screw, just making sure I'm doing it safely?" Adam nodded. "Adam, just so you know..." Cornelia continued. "You are freaking awesome. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying." Adam chuckled as Cornelia's bright smile returned. "Yup, I use protection. Heck, I don't have a choice in the matter because it's standard issue for this place. They really keep themselves to a higher set of standards, it's the only reason the Coalition lets them stay open."

"I think taxes might another one," Adam said, the edge of his lip creeping up ever so slightly.

Cornelia let out a laugh. "There's that too. They're probably making a fortune out of this place. Probably because when you open up a business, you need to have a stable audience for your product. And what do you know, it turns out there's a pretty damn big group of people who like rubbing their reproductive organs against someone else's."

"One way of putting it," Adam said. "So, are you planning on...buying today?"

"Nah," Cornelia said. "We're on shore leave, but frankly now really isn't the time, I just wanted to check the place out in case I got a chance when we came back. It's too close to when we ship out again, and I'd rather be professional about this." She slid the datapad back across the desk. "Thank you very much." With that, she turned around and walked out of the brothel, Adam right behind her.

"So, you really aren't into sex at all?" Cornelia asked.

"Nope," Adam said simply. "Tested myself not to long ago. Spent an hour looking up pictures of naked women. Spent another our looking up pictures of naked men just to be safe, and even dabbled in some alien porn sites. I wasn't even slightly aroused at anything I looked up."

"You're really asexual aren't you?" Cornelia asked.

"Oh, I don't know, are you really heterosexual?" he asked, smiling softly.

Cornelia rubbed the back of her head, blushingly lightly. "Guess that was kind of insensitive of me," she said. "Just wanted to make sure it wasn't something that you were putting on because of the whole Priest thing. I just never really saw the point of it I suppose...I'm being even more of a dick now."

Adam chuckled. "I suppose it is a bit of an old fashioned life-style that I lead. Ever since we learned about the Prothean cache on Mars, many people doubt that God think that God was just a Prothean we mistook for a higher being. A good chunk of the population."

"Aheheh," Cornelia giggled nervously, raising her hand slightly. "Hate to say it, but I'm kind of an atheist. Don't get me wrong, I'd love the idea of an all powerful being that wants the best for us, but I just had a hard time swallowing it." She frowned. "And sometimes when I bring it up, people get really pissed at me. Like me daring to not worship the same God as them is a insult that I need to pay with my life for."

"Are you a good person?" Adam asked. "Do you lead an honest life?" Cornelia nodded. "Well, that's good enough for me then. I worship God, you don't. Really, who cares? Just do the right thing. That's something so many Christians seem to miss in favor of following the exact letter of the Bible instead of the message behind it that it makes me sick."

"Really wish I met you a long time ago," Cornelia said. "I can only hope I'm like you when I'm your age."

"Oh, when's that, three years?" Adam asking jokingly.

Cornelia laughed. "Getting cocky are you? I'd watch it if I were you, I've learned more than a few comebacks over the years."

"Well I-ah, that must be it." Adam stopped and pointed. A massive military facility could be seen not too far from where they were. Dozens open dozens of buildings were stretching upwards, and the sounds of soldiers marching in unison could be heard even from their distance.

"Fort Cadia," Cornelia said. "Big place. Well, we have access, might as well stop in." She made a few steps forward before stopping and turning back to look at Adam. He waited a second before shrugging and walking after her. Cornelia smiled as the two of them fell into step, heading towards the entrance to the fort. Several shock troops holding rifles were standing guard in front of a traffic barrier near the entrance to the fort. The stiffened as they saw the two approaching.

"Hold it," one said, holding out a hand and walking forward. "This is a restricted military facility. I'm going to have to ask you to turn around."

"Wait, we have authorization, direct from General Hill," Cornelia said, bringing her omni-tool online and bringing up a holographic projection of a file of herself and Adam. "We're with the Normandy crew."

"Give me a minute," the shock troop said, activating his own omni-tool. Looking down at it, his eyes scanned over a readout before looking up. "Sorry about that, standard procedure."

"No problem," Cornelia said, smiling brightly. "Any chance you can point us in the direction of the 57th?"

"You're talking to one," another shock troop said. "If you want to talk to who's in charge, our LT is busy right now, but I'm one of the Sergeants in the platoon. Name's Louis Heartly. Guess we're going to working together."

"Um...hi," one of the shock troopers said, the voice soft and feminine. The shock trooper stepped forward, a few inches shorter than the others, holding her hands out. "Nice to meet you."

"Yup," Louis said, reaching around and putting his arm around the shock trooper's shoulder. "Give them a little bit of breathing room Maria, they probably just had a long trip."

"Right," Maria said hastily. "Sorry, I wasn't thinking."

"No worries," Louis said. "What do you say we go find the LT and introduce each other."

"Ok," Maria whispered as Louis turned the two of them around and began walking away.

"Bit of a personal space violation don't you think?" Adam asked.

The shock troop that had stopped the two of them looked from one side to the other to make sure that no one else was listening before leaning in and whispering. "The two of them are an item."

"Aw, that's sweet," Cornelia said.

"Yeah, they are kinda cute together. Any chance you can not talk to anyone about it? Anti-fraternization regs may be pretty relaxed in the Coalition overall but General Hill is pretty harsh about enforcing them."

"Lips sealed," Cornelia said drawing a line over her lips with her finger.

"Great," the shock troop said. "My guard shift should be over soon. When it is I'll show you around the fort."

"Sounds like a plan," Cornelia said.

XXXXX

Author's Note: Ok, I think it's no surprise that From the Ashes is getting into the final stretches. If it was a video game series like Mass Effect, we'd be getting into Mass Effect 3 by this point. Needless to say, I've been working on this for awhile and while I do love this story, I do kinda want to start working on something else. So, here are some ideas for stories that I have come up with. Please tell me which ones you would like to see the most. This isn't a vote to decide what I'm going to write, it's just going to give me something to think about

A Strike Suit Zero fanfic

A Hotline Miami fanfic

A Metro Last Light/Bioshock Infinite crossover.

A Dark Souls self insert

A Dark Souls/Attack on Titan crossover

A Mass Effect/Endless Space crossover (Limited audience there, huh)

Just tell me what you think about those ideas.