Ashes 91

Next

XXXXX

"God damn it I haven't seen this place in a long time," Roger said as his car slowly drifted to a halt in front of a two story pre-fab building. It looked rather worn and torn, and was noticeably not very far from the edge of the dome that stretched overhead. "It feels good to be home."

"So Roger, not to be rude, how come you brought these two with you?" Alice said as the car's engine died and doors slid open. "Are they part of that mission you said you were on but couldn't talk about?"

"Technically yes, but that's not why they're here," Roger said, shutting the driver's seat door and locking the car as Nora and Sheryl also got out. "I'd rather wait till we're talking to Mom and Dad to explain it, I'd really not have to repeat myself. It's kind of complicated."

"Oh," Alice said, glancing at Sheryl. "Is he ass fucking you?"

"WHAT!?" Sheryl shouted, her eyes bulging and her face flushing deeply. "I…no…I don't even-where did that come from?"

"Whoa, whoa, easy," Alice said, holding her hands up in defense. "I was just kidding. I mean yeesh, it wasn't that bad."

"I'm starting to think there might be a common trait in your family," Nora muttered, positioning her head right next to Roger's ear. He smirked.

"Well Ally, I don't know about you but personally I'd rather get straight to the point," Roger said, heading towards the front door of the building. "You coming?"

"Yup, I'm coming," she said, falling into step with her brother as Nora and Sheryl followed close behind. She leaned in slightly covering one side of her mouth with her palm, a concerned look on her face. "What was up with Sheryl freaking out? I didn't offend her did I? I mean, I just like to be crude and dark, I don't want to upset her if she has a bad history or anything."

Roger chuckled. "Trust me Ally, that's the exact opposite of what's going on. Like I said, I tell you when we're with Mom and Dad." He stopped at the door and reached to the side to press a holographic panel, intending to ring the doorbell. He was halfway there when the door flew open. A hispanic man was standing on the other side, wearing grime coated working clothes and with a short cut head of black hair, but a massive smile on his face.

"I thought I might've been seeing things when that piece of shit of yours rolled up," he said, taking a step forward. "But you're really here. Son of a bitch."

"Hey Dad," Roger said, smiling warmly before gesturing to Sheryl and Nora. "Hope you don't mind but a brought a few friends of mine along, wanted to introduce you, Mom and Ally to them."

"Not a problem at all," his father replied, his eyes refocusing on the two behind Roger. "A pleasure to meet the two of you! I'm Sergio Andrews, I trust my son has been treating the two of you well?"

Sheryl and Nora glanced at each other, the look that they gave each other very clearly wondering if they should give Sergio the full and honest truth. Roger noticed and saved them the trouble. "Things between us got off to a rocky start," he said. "In fact that's an understatement, Nora and I damn near got into a full blown brawl over something really damn stupid." He craned his head to look behind him. "What was that over again?"

Nora frowned for a moment, trying to bring up memories of her earlier days on the Normandy. "I honestly can't remember," she said. "Maybe that's for the best though, just let it stay in the past."

"Right," Roger said, turning back to his father. "Like I said, that's Nora, the other one is Sheryl."

Sergio nodded at both of the women. "Well don't just stand out there, come in! Sorry that I look like such a mess, I just got off work in the mines and I didn't even have time to change. House is a bit of a wreck too, I would've cleaned up a bit if Roger had called ahead, but apparently he wanted to be an asshole about things," he said, a playful tone to his voice.

Roger grinned. "You know it."

"Well, I'll see if your mother is still awake," Sergio said, gesturing for everyone to follow him inside, which they did, someone all managing to squeeze through the front door. The inside of the house wasn't much different from the outside, standard pre-fab design. There were a few more personal touches here and there, a cheap vase holding flowers that looked like it had been bought from a garden supply store was on a table near the front door, and a framed picture of the Andrews family was hung by a doorway into another room.

"She should be here," Sergio said, heading through the front hall and making a right turn with the others behind him. They found themselves in a kitchen, with more than a few unwashed dishes in the sink emitting a faint but still noticeable foul smell, and several data pads scattered randomly across the table. A woman was sitting there, her face resting on the table as her body slowly rose up and down, snoring lightly.

"Martha," Sergio said, reaching down and gently shaking her. "We have company."

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE AN EXAM TODAY!?" Everyone jumped back slightly as the woman's eyes snapped open and she snapped to a proper sitting position in her chair, her eyes darting from one end of the room to the other wildly. "I didn't," she paused as she wildly looked around, her actions slowing and her eyes widening with understanding as she realized where she was. "Oh thank god it was just a dream," she said, letting out a sigh of relief. Rubbing her eyes and letting out a yawn, Martha Andrews turned to look at her husband, opening her mouth to speak. She didn't even get a word out before she spotted Roger.

"Oh Roger," she said, weakly getting to her feet and crossing the room before enveloping her son in her arms. "I didn't know you were coming back."

"Wanted it to be a surprise," he said, not hesitating to return the gesture of affection that his mother was showing him. "Is school treating you all right?"

Martha smiled as she released her son and took a step back, her eyes filled with weariness but still sparkling with a life of their own. "Things are going pretty well for me in school. I should get my degree in another year, after that I should be able to make more than enough money to keep this family going. You can retire, you don't need to keep putting your safety at risk."

"Thanks Mom," Roger said, his tone soft and thankful.

"Higher education huh?" Nora said, looking at Martha. "I hope its a field where there's a stable job market, I've heard a lot of nasty things about people who burn all that money on school and then can't get a good one."

"Don't worry, I've been studying medicine, that's a pretty high demand area," Martha said. "Though you do have a point. I had to quit my job in the mines to pull this off. If it works though, our family won't have to hang on by a thread anymore."

"Wait, exactly how bad are you doing finically?" Nora asked,.

"Oh, it's nothing that bad," Martha said, her voice suddenly strained, as if she wanted to change the subject. "Roger's military paychecks and my husband's mining checks are enough to keep us afloat."

"From the sounds of it, barely afloat," Nora said, folding her arms and staring directly at Martha. "You need any help with money?"

"What? Oh no dear I couldn't take any from you," Martha said, sounding pleasantly surprised but also rather taken aback. "You must work just as hard as my son to make what you do, I can't take all of that away from you."

"Look, I'm gonna be blunt with you, my father was the CEO of Hawkins Industry, the little bastard that got arrested not too long ago?" Nora said. "I got the Hell away from him as soon as I could, but before I did he was really loose with spending money for me. Set up a separate account just for me, and I transfered all of it into a private one when I ran. I've been hanging onto it for awhile now, and while I've had to spend a good chunk of it, I've still got some of it left."

"Wait a minute, your Dad was a slave trader?" Alice said, looking at Nora in surprise. "Jesus. Um,sorry to hear that," she said lamely. "Were you on good terms with him?"

"No," Nora said simply, her voice having a slight edge to it.

"Oh sweetie, that's very kind of you," Martha said. "But I still couldn't take that from someone I just met. I hope you don't offer massive amounts of money to everyone you meet, you'll bankrupt yourself."

"No, it's not a random person thing, I just want to help you because your Roger's family," Nora said. "Look, it sounds like you're in trouble with money and I just want to help you keep your head above water. Really it's just…" Nora paused for a moment, taking a deep breath, and then continuing. "Your son and I are kinda together and I want to help out his family."

"Whoa, really?" Alice said, her eyes focusing on her brother. "Bro, I didn't know you were back in the field again. It's good to see you're finally past Rachel." She stepped forward and gave him a teasing pat on the back. "A lot of fish in the sea bro, you can't stay all worked up over one that got away or came out wrong. Glad you see that now."

"It's more complicated than that," Sheryl said, her face so red that it seemed to practically be glowing. "I'm with your son too. And with her. We don't really know what we're doing, we're just doing it."

A moment of silence filled the Andrews household, all three members of the family having their eyes fixed on the oldest child. Sergio was the one to break it with a deep booming laugh. "And you didn't believe me when I said that you were so good looking that women would be ripping each others throats out to get to you."

"Yeah, it's a little bit more complicated than that," Roger said, nervously rubbing the back of his head, a slight flush to his cheeks. "I'm still trying to figure out exactly how I got in this situation."

"Sometimes things just happen sweetie," Martha said, beaming at her son. "Just treat these ladies respectfully and you've got no issues on my end."

"Ok then, you can't just drop a bombshell like that and just leave me hanging," Alice said, rubbing her temple as she pulled out a kitchen chair, sliding onto it and letting herself slouch. "You. Two women. A little context."

"Not the way I would put it," Sergio said, "but I agree, I would like to hear exactly how the three of you even got in this situation."

"Where to begin?" Nora said, putting both of her hands back on the neck and looking up at the ceiling, letting out a sigh. "Well, I was the last person to get on our ship. Therum was where I joined up, that whole incident with the Eclipse mercenaries."

"There were Eclipse mercenaries on Therum?" Sergio said, "I don't remember hearing anything about that."

"No, I don't suppose you would've," Roger said. "Things came way too close to getting really ugly back there, not surprised that they Coalition wouldn't want people to know about it. Especially right after Eden Prime. Keeping a Geth invasion under wraps is damn near impossible, but the Eclipse incursion was small enough to keep under wraps, or at the very least got stopped before it escalated. Maybe they didn't cover it happening up but at the very least they kept quiet about how bad things could've gotten. I wouldn't know, I don't keep up with the news very much."

"I don't think an Eclipse raid would've been very big news out here," Martha said. "We're such a common target for raids that what seems like headline news for one planet is just run of the mill news for us. Birds fly, fish swim, and another slaver band gets gunned down while attacking Moriea." Martha shook her head, running her hand through her head wearily. "Sorry about that. You were saying?"

"Right, Nora joined up on Therum, I got shipped off to Eden Prime to guard the Prothean beacon that got dug up there and met the rest of the crew when they came to pick it up," Roger said. "Or rather, when they tried to come and pick it up and the Geth came and did their thing. I actually got into a firefight with Saren when he went after the beacon. Walked away with a couple of holes in my chest for my troubles."

The other three Andrews all shifted uncomfortably as Roger spoke. He realized far too late what he had said. "Exactly how badly hurt have you been?" Alice asked, sounding as if she didn't want to know the answer.

"I'm fine," he said, trying to make his tone reassuring as he took a step forward and put a hand on his sister's shoulder. "It was nothing a bit of medi-gel and a few days rest couldn't handle It was practically a scratch."

"You're always getting hurt," Alice said, her tone a whisper as she looked down at the ground.

"Ally, I'm fine," Roger repeated, giving her a comforting squeeze. "I'm still here aren't I?"

"Yeah," she said, looking up and giving a weak smile. "You are."

"And…um…I met the rest of the crew on Elysium," Sheryl said awkwardly, sounding as if she was unsure if she wanted to interrupt the siblings. That was a few years back though, before we even got our ship." She rubbed the back of her neck uncomfortably. "In a way, Nora and Roger were the new guys on our crew."

"Well, we had a lot of people added on after Eden Prime," Nora said. "Though the two of us where the only official Coalition soldiers added around then.

"So, exactly how did things turn out they way that they did?" Martha said. "I mean, my relationship with Sergio is a little…vanilla compared to what you three have going on. I mean, how do you three even fit into the same bed?"

"Uh," Roger said, his face flushing deeply. Sheryl's face did the same while Nora hastily grabbed her bandana and pulled it up over her nose, hiding everything below her eyes. "We exactly haven't gotten to that."

"Really?" Martha asked. "Huh. Would've thought that at your age and with the army of Geth hiding around the corner you might've indulged in a bit of quick desperate fucking."

"Oh God," Sheryl said, burying her face in her hands. "Ms. Andrews, you're a nice woman, but please stop talking."

Martha blinked before giving a small smile. "Sorry. I was never the type of person that got that upset when talking about rubbing reproductive organs together."

"Kind of wish she told me that a lot sooner when we were dating," Sergio joked. "Would've made things a Hell of a less awkward for me."

"Ok, standard rule of thumb, most people don't want to hear about the sexual exploits of their PARENTS!" Alice practically screeched. "I mean is this really something that I need to explain to you two?"

"Good fuck how did we get here?" Roger said, pressing his fingers to his temple and looking like he was fighting back the urge to slouch into the nearest chair and bury his face in the table.

"Right, not to interrupt or anything," Nora said, sounding like she was not being very truthful in her comment, "but the three of us. Right, where were we. Well, it was after we picked up an Asari VIP that the three of us all met. We didn't really get along that well, but we still had to work together. That's the funny thing about all of this, even though we wanted to go at it until we were all lying bleeding on the floor, we still had to watch each other's backs. Sheryl and Roger dragged me to safety when I was bleeding out and we had to hide out for half a day in enemy territory."

"And?" Alison asked, looking rather wary about the potential answer.

"Well, we just talked," Sheryl said, almost matter of factly as she nervously raised her head. "We got to know each other better, we watched each others backs and…I don't know things just fell into place. I don't know why. I don't know why I like to carve, I don't know why Nora likes to dress the way she does, I don't know why we all feel the way we do. It just is."

Martha sighed, a slight dreamy look on her face. "The wonders of being young," she said. "You just follow your heart."

"Don't get too sappy on us Mom," Alice said dryly.

"Alice, behave," Sergio said sternly, before turning his attention back to the three soldiers in front of him. "Well son, if it works for you, it works for you." This earned him a small nod and a nervous grin from Roger. "Now, could you do us a favor? It's been awhile since we've had a really good home cooked meal, I was hoping you could get that."

"Oh thank God, Roger's making dinner," Alice said, looking as if she had just been given a new car. "I'll be able to eat properly again."

Roger chuckled. "Well, I'll see what I can do. No promises though, I'm a little out of practice on this one."

"I'll give you a hand," Nora said. "After all I-" she was cut off as she stumbled slightly. She hadn't been the only one, a shockwave swept through the house, causing everyone to momentarily lose their balance and take a step back, the house itself rattling. For a moment, no one spoke.

"The Hell was that?" Roger asked, his voice tense. No one answered.

XXXXX

"So, what's it like being stationed at this fort?" Cornelia asked. She and Adam were walking through Fort Cadia, the Moriean shock troop that had meet them at the entrance leading the way. Hundreds of soldiers were milling about, some of them firing shots down a training range, others loading supplies on and off of trucks, and there were even a few tables where weapons and armor were being issued to soldiers. There was no mistake, they were preparing for war.

"Pretty taxing at times, a little boring at others," the shock trooper said. "It's unpredictable as it gets. We've gone six months without any action at one point, and at another we had six different operations in one week. Anything can happen and you need to stay on your toes. It can be really stressful at times, I won't lie to you, but it helps knowing that there are countless other soldiers around you that have your back."

"I can see how it would," Adam said. "By the way I don't think we ever caught your name."

"Oh that's right, sorry about that," the man said, stopping mid step to turn around and face the two. He lifted both hands up and firmly grasped his helmet, pulling it off and revealing his face. His skin was a deep dark color that almost looked like chocolate, while his hair was a barely there butch cut. He also had a small, neatly trimmed goatee that was surrounding a warm smile, just below a pair of friendly eyes. "Name's Gabriel. Gabriel Morris."

"Nice to meet you Gabriel," Cornelia said, reaching her hand out with her palm open. Gabriel glanced down before reaching forward and grasped her hand, shaking it firmly. "I'm Cornelia, and my friend is Adam." Both of them released their grip, their hands falling back to their sides. "So, what's your role around here?"

"Front line fighter," he said. "I've been here for, hold on a minute," he said, gently scratching his goatee, a thoughtful look on his face. "Three years, I've been here for three years as of last month. Been on around two dozen missions, didn't see combat on every last one, but I've seen my fair share of action. Took a couple of bullets that my barriers couldn't handle, but never really been seriously injured. Oh, and I suppose my combat role would be that I'm a CQC specialist."

Gabriel ran his hand over a combat knife at his hip, before also pointing at the shotgun on his back. "Hang on to both of these in addition to my rifle. Always be prepared, you know? You two look like you're CQC too with those swords of yours."

"I suppose I qualify," Cornelia said, fondly fingering the hilt to her short sword as she spoke. "SMGs are weapons that require you to get a lot closer than rifles. They can get a good bit of range, they're a lot like shotguns in that respect, but they were definitely meant for much closer combat. So yes, I suppose Adam and I stick to CQC. Hard to do much else with blades."

"I've yet to use these in combat," Adam admitted, gripping the sheaths of his bayonets. "I've never had a chance to. Also, I won't deny that I'm rather happy that I haven't. They're ugly things. Killing is ugly in general, but at least guns are quick."

"Fair enough," Gabriel said. "I don't use my knife that much either. Guns are just a preferable alternative, there's a reason we traded swords in for them in the first place. Blades are just about always emergency weapons that you only use when the opportunity presents itself. Kind of frustrating considering all the knife training I have to do to make it so that I don't get rusty, but like I said, always be prepared."

As he talked, a roar filled the air, causing all three present to turn instinctively to face it. Around a dozen shock troopers were clustering together in a circle, bellowing at the top of their lung at what appeared to be a fight in the center. "Ah shit," Gabriel said. "We can't afford to have someone doing anything stupid right now. Things are going to get ugly if we've got two people trying to knock each other's teeth out in there." He began to start towards the cluster, and as he did, a shout made its way to his ears.

"Come on! How much does this son of a bitch weigh!? PUSH! I've got money on this!" a voice cried out, sounding as if it was in a panic. Gabriel made it to the center of the throng, and was not prepared for what he had found. Two shock troopers had their arms wrapped around Wrex and were pushing with all of their might against them, their faces a crimson red with the effort. Wrex on the other hand was merely standing still with his muscles stiff, a lazy smile on his face.

"Ten seconds left," Garrus said, he and Liara standing right behind Wrex as he looked down at his omni-tool.

"Will you two get it in gear!? a shock troop standing behind the two pushing at Wrex screeched! "Two-hundred credits are about to go flushing down the shiter!" The two troopers doubled their efforts, veins in their necks straining to the point where they appeared to be on the verge of bursting. Wrex's feet slowly slid back, but he remained standing strong, smirking down at the two pushing him.

"Five, four, three, two, one, time's up," Garrus said.

"GOD DAMN IT!" the shock trooper roared as Wrex let out a booming laugh and took a step back. Exhausted, the two troopers fell to the ground, one landing on all fours while the other ended up on his rear. They were both gasping for air, scrambling for canteens of water that they had set aside.

"Jesus," one of the troopers on the ground said. "The Hell are they feeding you people on Tuchanka?" she asked, looking up at Wrex.

"Hm," Wrex said, scratching the side of his head. "Varren, Klixen, whatever crap we can grow, and Thresher Maw that one time after my rite." He gave a fond chuckle. "The thing was so big it fed all of Urdnot for half a year. Bit bitter, but it went down good with Ryncol."

"Well then, please pay up," Garrus said, holding out his omni-tool to the shock trooper who had been shouting not a minute ago.

Fuming, he reluctantly took a credit chit that he had been holding and held it over the omni-tool. A bright yellow light emanated from the omni-tool as a series of white lines passed over the chit, a loud beeping emerging from the omni-tool as it did. "Don't spend it all in one place split jaw," the trooper said grumpily as he turned and walked away.

"He paid in full right?" Liara asked, approaching Garrus and leaning down to look at his omni-tool. "He didn't just give you five and walk away did he?"

"No, it's all there," Garrus said, his eyes sweeping back and forth as he read his omni-tool before pressing a button and causing it to disappear. "Nice one Wrex."

The Krogan gave a chuckle. "If that's all you need me to do, I'm starting to wonder if you don't really appreciate who I am."

"Uh, I take it these three are the aliens that have been serving on the Normandy?" Gabriel asked, looking at Adam and Cornelia. The tone in his voice suggested that he already knew the answer.

"Yup!" Cornelia said cheerfully, heading towards the three aliens. "So guys, what's going on over here? You get into a bet or something?"

"You could say that," Garrus said. "That guy that just went off a few hundred credits poorer said that none of us could stand up to Moriean bred soldiers." An almost cocky tone slid into his voice. "Came right up to us and said that one of his pals could take any of us in anything we could throw at him. Wrex decided to educate them. We just so happened to make a little extra money out of it."

"Even let him get a friend to help out, didn't help much," Wrex said, looking down at the two exhausted soldiers.

"Bite me," the woman said bitterly, taking another sip of water.

"Can't say I'm too surprised," Gabriel said. "We don't get many aliens on Moriea, and the ones we do get are normally trying to kill or enslave us. I'd be surprised if things weren't a little hostile. Look, maybe we should try and get somewhere a little less crowed before someone does something stupid."

"Us, do something stupid?" Garrus said. "Oh you don't need to worry about that. It's Tuesday, it's our day off."

"Always the comedian," Liara said, ironically looking like she was fighting back the urge to laugh.

"Yeah, ha, ha, laughs all around," Gabriel said. "Listen, I really think we should get someone a bit more private."

"Oh my," Garrus said. "A drink would be nice first. And none of us come cheap."

"I think that we should listen to him," Liara said.

"Fine, I promise not to let anyone else kill themselves trying to push me," Wrex said. "I'll be sure to remember you're all fragile."

"Now," Gabriel said gruffly, taking a sharp right turn and walking into a nearby building. He glanced behind him as he reached the door, and saw with relief that everyone was following him. Although Wrex looked like he had stopped for a second to bark something at a soldier that earned him a middle finger as a response. Pushing the door open, Gabriel led the group into a wide, metal room, unremarkable with the exception of the massive amount of tables that filled it.

"The mess hall," he said, pulling out a chair at one of the nearest tables and flopping into it. "Chow time was ages ago through, so it's empty." He intently studied the others as they all slid into chairs with the exception of Wrex, who gave the small seats a questioning look before deciding to stand. "Look, I know you three have been helping us out a lot," Gabriel continued, gesturing at Garrus, Liara and Wrex, "and I appreciate that. We need all of the help that we can get right now. But this is Moreia, it might be in your best interests to lay low while you're here. We rarely get aliens out here, and when we do they're normally attacking us. This isn't exactly the most xenophilic place in the galaxy."

"We're not stupid," Wrex said, his voice more than a little lazy. "I saw the glares I've been getting ever since I got off the shuttle. They're nothing new to me, I have to deal with them every time I go to the Citadel, and I know what they mean. If we were a bunch of whelps with no guns, then you might be onto something. But people who go looking for fights are cowards, they only take a shot at you if they know that they can win." Reaching onto his back, Wrex grabbed his Claymore shotgun, laying the massive weapon on the table in front of him. "And when was the last time a whelp picked a fight with someone who had one of these?"

"He makes a good point," Garrus said. "I saw it all the time in C-Sec before I joined a Spectre. People with the mindset of a bully focus on establishing power over others, not risking their lives. We'll be fine so long as no one here is so dedicated to hating aliens that they're willing to put their life on the line."

"You know, if I had lost my entire family to slavers and seen my friends killed in action, I just might hate aliens that much," Gabriel said cautiously. "Look, I'm just saying that war is right around the corner, tensions are high right now. I'm not saying that you're going to get shot in the back, I'm just saying it's in your best interest to be a little more careful than usual. Did you already know to do that? Probably, you've got a Moriean on your ship and more than a little experience under your belt. Still, a reminder never hurt."

He glanced around at the aliens, the slightest bit of worry noticeable in his face. "Sorry if I'm being a bit bossy, I'm just a little paranoid. I've never worked with aliens before and I'm worried that someone might blow a fuse around you three and then we'd have an even bigger mess on our hands. And the mess we have already is big enough."

"It is perfectly understandable," Liara said, smiling warmly at Gabriel. "You have no need to apologize."

"You could've been a bit more diplomatic though," Garrus said. "The, 'do this and this and this because I said so' approach works with an officer talking to his soldiers, but not so much when someone doesn't have official authority over someone. Well, if you're planning on getting a commission it's a good skill to learn, so I'm glad we could help you practice."

"This one is also joking isn't he?" Gabriel asked.

"He's like that one Varren that never stops yapping at night when you're trying to go to sleep," Wrex said. "Eventually you just get used to it."

"So, who are you?" Liara said. "I don't think we heard your name."

"Gariel Morris, I'm with the 57th," he replied. "One way or another we're gonna be getting to know each other. Guess now is as good a time as any to get to-" he was cut off as a shockwave tore through the base, causing all of them to get to their feet in shock.

"The Hell?" Cornelia said, looking around in confusion.

"Oh Christ," Gabriel whispered.

XXXXX

"This is our stop," Decker said. He, Hill, Jane, and Ashley were all sitting in the back of a shuttle heading down to the surface of Moreia, along with a few shock troops. The air in the shuttle was rather quiet and heavy, Jane staring at the ground the entire trip, ignoring how Hill's eyes were locked onto her like a vice grip. She said nothing as the door to the shuttle slid open and all of the passengers began to file out, Jane being the first one to leave.

Ashley jumped out of the shuttle, which had landed on a pad directly outside of Fort Cadia. She spotted Jane silently walking towards the Fort and made to follow her when she head a voice calling her. "Chief Williams, I'd like a word with you." Ashley felt her jaw tighten as she stopped and turned on the spot. Sure enough it was General Hill who was looking directly at her, as she had feared.

"Yes Ma'am?" she asked, her tone polite but forced; as she maintained direct eye contact with the General. Other soldiers passed them as she spoke, Decker even stopping to glance at the two of them before Hill shot him a glare, prompting him to look away and continue on his way to the fort.

"I saw the look that you gave me the entire time I was talking to your Captain," Hill said, her voice neutral and her face suggesting that she was sizing Ashley up, her lone eye bouncing up and down as she looked at her. "What do you think of me?"

"Ma'am, we just met. I haven't had the time to get to truly know you," Ashley said stiffly. "I don't-"

"All right, I'll spelt it out for you," Hill said, cutting Ashley off. "I know when people are putting on a polite face and personally I think it's a waste of time. What you think of me. Now. That's an order."

"Ma'am, you don't want to hear what I have to say," Ashley said, a dangerous edge in her voice.

"No, I really do," Hill replied. "Also, no holding back, that's also an order. Oh, silly me. Permission to speak granted. That any better?"

Ashley's eyes narrowed, a gleam of hatred in them. "You want me to be honest? Fine. I think you're full of shit. I think you're a cliche tough girl who tries to act like you don't care what anyone thinks of you. I think you spit on centuries of tradition and disgrace every last decent soldier in the Coalition who ever wore a uniform and held a weapon with the disgusting practices you indulge in. You claim they're necessary? No they aren't, but you don't care, you just take them because they're the path of least resistance, and because they probably give you a excuse to lash out at the Batarians, probably because of some irrational hatred you have towards them."

Hill did not react at all, she merely calmly watched as Ashley continued to speak. "And Shepard. Do I agree with what she did? Not really. Do I wish Admiral Marcus had told her no? A bit. But I kept my mouth shut because she's my superior, because in my family we have this little thing called respect. And I don't care what she did, after everything she did for the Coalition, she deserves a Hell of a lot better than having to put up with someone like you!" She hesitated for a second before half heartly adding "Ma'am."

Hill continued to look at Ashley, a small smirk spreading across her face. "Tell me something, did you think that I was going to be mad? Infuriated? That I was going to lash out at you with a court martial? You're not the first one to try and analyze me with that you learned in a freshman level psychology textbook. I am a very popular target in the Coalition, more than a few high ranking officers have decided to tell me exactly what they think of me. As if a few impassioned remarks with a swearword thrown in here and there will really cause me to change my ways."

Hill rolled her eyes and her hand reached into her armor and gently pulled out her lighter, flicking it open. "Still, I do appreciate it when people have enough guts to be honest with me. Even your Captain at least had the decency to try and stand her ground over her actions, she didn't just buckle when I criticized her. That's admirable."

"Oh, does she have your seal of approval now?" Ashley asked dryly.

"Hardly," Hill said, pressing down on her lighter and causing a small flame to spark. She held it up for a second, staring directly at it. For a second, her lone pupil contracted suddenly upon looking at the flame and her entire body went stiff. Then the moment had passed, Hill flipping the lid back on her lighter. "That's just one trait I appreciate, it doesn't snuff out every last stupid thing that she's done. And you respect her? Tell me, where is that respect going to get you? What has Shepard already done for you? Gotten people killed." She leaned forward a little. "Her own brother as a matter of fact. And unless my sources were wrong, you and he were particularly close."

"Thank you for the reminder, I had forgotten," Ashley hissed, her voice filled with venom. "Would you like to remind me that our ship's name is the Normandy too?"

"Cute," Hill said. "You seem to be deliberately avoiding the point though. Your orders were to destroy the cure, not capture it. Destroying it would've been as simply as destroying the Shroud, something that could've been done with a tactical carpet bombing. Instead, you had to dig in and hold position around the Shroud while she secured the cure. You would've been able to pull back from Saren's reinforcements if you hadn't been forcing yourself to defend it, but instead, you forced yourself into a meat grinder. So when you stop to think about it, not only did she get her brother killed, she's responsible for every fatality that machine of Saren's caused."

Hill took a step forward, leaning her head in until she was mere inches away from Ashley. Ashley didn't budge, her stone cold stare boring directly into Hill's one good eye, who was returning it. "Do you have any idea how many people that thing killed? Because I don't. We're still counting the bodies. Its beam was so powerful that we're testing bits of bone for DNA to identify bodies. Bit of advice Williams. Shepard is going to get you killed."

"I appreciate the help ma'am," Ashley hissed. "I'll be sure to let you know when I give a damn what you think."

"General!" Hill maintained direct eye contact with Ashley for a few more seconds before she broke away, turning to see three shock troops approaching her. "Sergeant Louis Heartly. What is it?" she asked briskly.

"General, you gave orders for the 57th to be deployed on the upcoming mission? The ENTIRE 57th?" Louis asked, his voice rather loud.

"My orders were very clear Sergeant," Hill said, sounding a little bored, "do I really need to repeat myself?"

"General, I don't think that Maria is ready to go back into the field, it's been too soon!" Louis said, glancing at the soldier next to him. Maria didn't say anything, her head tilted down and looking at the ground.

"Sergeant, it's been six months since the incident," Hill said, irritation heavy in her voice. "What do you mean she isn't ready? If you think she's so incompetent that she still isn't ready, then maybe she's just better off finding another job."

"No!" Louis shouted. "General, I know there's potential in her, I just need a little more time to make sure that she doesn't screw up again. She can be a good soldier, she just isn't ready for a mission this important yet."

"I-" Maria said, raising her head and speaking in a soft squeak as a voice.

"Maria, please just be quiet and let me do the talking!" Louis snapped. "I'm trying to save your career, can't you appreciate that?!" Maria stopped talking, quietly lowering her head again.

"We can't afford to play favorites out here Sergeant," Hill said, "she's going to be on the Normandy when it ships out tomorrow."

Louis glanced at the third soldier, who was standing firmly at attention. "I've been talking it over with the LT. We can't afford to have everything literally blowing up in our faces again."

"What the Hell are you people talking about?" Ashley said, looking back and forth between the four Morieans.

"None of your damn business!" Louis shouted, whipping around and glaring at Ashley. "This is a private matter so piss off!"

"Hate to break it to you, but you're going to be hitching a ride on my ship, and if there's a problem with one of the people that is supposed to be helping us, then it kind of IS my business," Ashley retorted, her voice icy.

"Fuck off will you? This has nothing to-"

"Specialist Maria Benson was responsible for the failure of a mission deep in Batarian Hegemony," Hill said, interrupting Louis. "Her squad was to ambush a Batarian slaver convoy carrying supplies to a base that was a potential threat to us. She was the explosives expert on the mission but she detonated the charges that were meant to cripple the convoy prematurely. The guards opened fire on her unit and nearly all of them died, it was the Sergeant's quick thinking that got the few survivors out alive. I wanted to dismiss her at once, but the Sergeant convinced me that he could salvage her." She stared at Maria with a disapproving eye. "If she still isn't up to snuff after six months I'm starting to think I was wasting my time."

"General," the Lieutenant said, her voice stiff and neutral. "I have worked with Louis for years, he is not the type of person who improperly uses military resources and time."

Hill paused for a second before answering. "We'll discuss this later Lieutenant Stone," she said.

Feeling as if she had nothing to gain from staying and listening further, Ashley peeled away from the group, walking towards fort Cadia. "Looks like her own men are oh so disciplined," she muttered sarcastically. Letting out a breath teeming with frustration, Ashley spotted Jane standing near the entrance to the fort. To her great surprise, she saw Jenkins standing next to her. As she neared, she began to pick up what they were saying.

"Captain, what do you think is going to happen with the Normandy?" Jenkins asked, a rather concerned tone in his voice. "Are they going to take it away from you?"

"I don't know," Jane answered honestly. "Look, just don't worry about it Jenkins, I'll take care of it."

"Actually, that brings up something that I've been meaning to talk to you about for some time now," Jenkins said. "I just," he paused for a moment, searching for the right words. "I haven't been on a ground mission since Noveria. I've been spending months on the Normandy doing nothing. I saw my home get razed by Saren, why haven't I been doing anything to help take him down?"

"Jenkins, I don't think that-" Jane began, but he cut her off.

"Captain please! You can't just keep me in the dark about this!" Jenkins' eyes bore directly into hers, a shimmering plea in them.

Jane bit her lip. "The truth?" she said. He nodded. Jane gave him a look a hesitation, and when she finally began to speak she sounded as if she wanted to do nothing more than stop and run. "I thought that you were too inexperienced. When I saw that we were dealing with the Rachni on Noveria I realized exactly how dangerous our mission was going to be. The Geth were one thing, I had to act fast there and needed every soldier that I could get, but after that, I realized that we weren't going to be fighting thugs that Saren hired. Around every corner, we were going to be looking at the very worst that the galaxy could throw at us, and you weren't ready for it."

"But, you let Volker onto the front lines, and I have more experience than him!" Jenkins protested, his voice rising.

"Volker fought for two years in one of the bloodiest wars of Human history," Jane said sadly. "I'm sorry Jenkins, but there's no getting around that you're probably the greenest person on the ship."

"B-but what the Hell am I supposed to do then?" he asked. "Just sit around and do nothing?"

Jane shook her head, rubbing her temple as she did. "It's not that simple Jenkins. I would love nothing more than to give you something to do, but we've been thrown into situation after situation so fast, and I've needed the most skilled men I had on the job."

"Just give me a chance!" Jenkins said, practically begging. "Saren is waging war against the entire Coalition! I need to do something to help stop him."

Jane rubbed the side of her head, looking like she was under a great deal of duress as she continued to talk. "I," she hesitated. "I promise I'll think about it. That's all I can do."

"Is everything falling apart?" Ashley whispered to herself. She looked at the two, wondering if she should say anything, when a loud bang filled the air and the ground shook. Ashley's head whipped up to see an explosion at the top of the dome, wreckage falling down the side of it.

"What the Hell was that!?" Ashley whipped around to see Colonel Decker with his hand to his COM unit. "Are you certain? Standard formation against them then!" He lowered his hand and turned to yell at Hill in the distance. "General!"

"I heard!" the one eyed woman bellowed before raising her hand to her own COM unit. "All forces! The Four Eyes decided that they didn't want to wait! They just jumped into the system and they're already picking off our fighter patrols! Get to your designated positions! Get the civilians to safe zones. We are going to defend this planet from those four eyed fucks or we are going to die trying!"

XXXXX

Author's Note:…So the internet may or may not be kinda screwed. For those of you who don't keep up with American politics (And I do NOT blame you for sparing yourself from such idiocy) Net Neutrality was recently struck down by the courts and the FCC vouched that they would fight for it to be reinstated. This was until recently when the FCC did a complete 180 and said that now they're saying that the lack of net neutrality will be a good thing and they're going to help pass new laws that will make companies able to "provide better services" to consumers. This is a load of crap.

The chairman of the FCC is a corporate lobbyist, his main concern is making money, the main concerns of all the companies providing internet to Americans is making money. They don't care about consumers, they're willing to trample all over our personal freedoms just to increase their revenue a bit. And with no Net Neutrality, companies will be allowed to do whatever they please to screw over internet freedom, because Net Neutrality was what said they couldn't do that. They can make internet slower on websites they consider competition, they can charge extra if you want Netflix, they can do whatever the Hell they want because in this country money is the be all end all and human rights take a backseat to that. "Home of the free and the brave" my ass.

I don't really know what can be done by this point. I've written a letter to my local senator, I've done what I can to spread the word, but there's just only so much I can do by this point. I don't know what any of you can do either, with the exception of spread the word. But you deserve to know. Even if you aren't American this matters to you, so many major websites are American that this will affect the entire world. So yeah, my country is messing it up for everyone. The EU seems to understand that Net Neutrality is important, they're passing laws to empower it, but a lot of Americans love to talk about how great this country is despite the fact it tends to be twenty years behind the times when it comes to progress and we struggle with making basic services like medical care and education not suck.

So do whatever it is you can about this. I don't know what that is, but if you can think of it, do it.

P.S. Sorry I took so long to update. My life's been a mess recently.