Chapter 90 – Epilogue: Answers and A Call To Arms
The Illusive man had been right: Cerberus was more than him - or Lawson, or Leng. It was an idea for some. Terra and Kaidan and been vocal against them, but it seemed that the most extreme individuals upheld that idea, more than ever now that humans had saved the galaxy, and they were prepared to continue Cerberus' work. They were few, but ruthless. The Normandy crew had spent the last few days clearing out several sites indicated by Liara, where it seemed their focus was on some kind of biological warfare against the other races. Thankfully, the research had been in its early stages and posed no threat.
Now, the Normandy had been docked at the Citadel for just half an hour, the crew getting the ship pristine before they left on shore-leave.
Terra turned from the screen she'd been perusing with Traynor and sighed as she looked at the empty space in which she had last left Aurora. "Edi. I need a location on my daughter."
"She is currently in the Battery, Shepard. She and Garrus are checking the main guns."
"Garrus." Terra smiled. She'd noted him boarding a short while ago, supposedly under the guise of hurrying everyone up so they could get the party started. As she'd thought, it was just an excuse to get his hands on the guns. "Thanks, Edi." She headed down to the Mess, but checked in at the medbay first. "How's the patient?"
"Hole-ding up," Chakwas laughed.
Terra chuckled. They'd been about to storm the last research facility. Kaidan had given his orders, turned, and promptly stepped into a hole in the ground, disappearing up to his waist. They'd all been so surprised they'd wasted valuable time just staring back at him as he'd cursed under his breath. Then there was a lot of covert coughing to cover up the laughter. It had certainly lightened the mood of everyone heading into the building, but Kaidan had been forced to sit the battle out when he realized he'd fractured his right leg and couldn't risk using it in case he made it worse.
Kaidan scowled at the amused women. "Very funny. You know, it's not my leg that's the problem, it's my pride. And the constant jokes aren't helping." He adjusted his healing leg, silently cussing his offending limb.
"I apologise, Kaidan," said Chakwas. "It was too hard to resist. I'll just need to get your pain medication sorted out before you leave. Try to take it easy on that leg."
"Fine," he grumbled. "Wait a minute. Does that mean I can't have a drink, either? My dad got me some Canadian lager. I was really looking forward to those," he muttered, morosely.
"Officially, no, but in my personal opinion, with this medication, you'll be fine if you limit it to no more than four," advised Chakwas.
"Well, there's a small mercy," he mumbled, as Chakwas went to get his meds.
"So, no dancing for you, tonight," Terra commented, lifting his chin with her finger and kissing him. "Such a shame. I was looking forward to you showing me some of your moves." Terra was determined to put a smile on his solemn face. She placed her mouth against his ear. "I promise you, you won't need lager, or two good legs, to enjoy the night. I'll make sure you have a spectacular time."
Kaidan's body fired up at the innuendo and her proximity, and he pulled her into him. "And I think I may have other moves I can show you."
Terra raised her eyebrows at him, giving him that roguish look. "Feeling better already?"
"Mission accomplished," she smiled, kissing him, soundly. She rested her forehead against his. "Now for my next task. An errant toddler. She's in the Battery."
"Ah. I saw Garrus 'limping' by about five minutes ago. The windows in here aren't low enough for me to see little people passing by, but what's the bet he had a leg attachment in the form of our daughter?"
"Sounds likely. Not sure which will be harder. Getting Rorie off the ship, or Garrus."
"Hm, tough one. Garrus does love tinkering with those guns."
"Rorie loves being on the ship."
"Garrus can be reasoned with, though."
"And I can carry Rorie out."
"Remind her where she's going tonight. She also loves Grandpa Hackett."
"Good point. Okay, strategy in place. Here I go." Indeed, dealing with their two and a half year old had proven to be their greatest challenge.
The Battery looked empty, but Terra knew better, walking around the main console to look at the floor that ran alongside part of the guns. Sure enough, two pairs of legs stuck out from under the guns mechanism system, side by side. One were the long legs of a turian, bent in order to fit in the narrow space, and the other a little human pair, fully outstretched. Terra clamped down on her laugh, so she could take a picture with her omnitool, sending it to Kaidan. Then she moved down into the walkway and folded her arms. "What are you two up to?"
"Cabaying," came the sweet voice of Rorie.
"Calibrating. It's cali-brating," corrected Garrus.
There was a sigh from under the console. "Close enough."
"Well, I'm sorry to cut the fun short, but it's time to leave, guys," Terra informed them.
"Aw!" came the joint disappointed response, and Terra had to place her hand over her mouth to stop from laughing out loud.
"Stay here with Gus!" came the rebellious reply.
Terra imagined her daughter pouting under there as she kicked her legs in protest.
"Well, that's nice," appreciated Garrus. "But how many times have we been over this, Rorie? It's Garrus. Ga-rrus."
Terra thought it was hilarious as she listened to them have a conversation under the console.
Garrus sighed again. "Okay, I just made it worse. We'll stick with Gus."
"That's the one. Come on," he said reluctantly. "Better do as your mom says, or she'll lock me out of the ship."
"Hack it," Rorie giggled.
Garrus laughed. "Shush! Your mom can hear! And yes, normally I could, but you forget Edi."
Terra nudged Garrus' leg with her foot. "Okay, just what have you been teaching her, Garrus Vakarian?"
Garrus slid out from under the console. "Nothing!"
Aurora wiggled out and grinned up at her. "Hack it."
Terra looked at Garrus, one brow raised.
He did his best to look innocent. "She's talking about her Grandpa. Right, Rorie?"
"Ganpa?" She looked up at her mom, hopefully.
"Actually, Grandpa Hackett is going to be here later."
"Ganpa!" she squealed, jumping up and bouncing.
"Then let's go. We need to get home and pack your things for when you stay with Gan- Grandpa tonight."
Aurora ran out of the battery as fast as she could.
"Go get daddy, first!" Terra called out.
"You know I don't know how she manages to stay upright," observed Garrus as they followed her out. Then Rorie tripped over her feet and hit the ground. "Spoke too soon." Rorie was up and running into the medbay before anyone could assist her. "Tough little thing, though. Probably shouldn't be surprised. How did the mission go?"
"We took them all down without too much trouble. They're far from organized, or numerous. It's hard to believe though, after everything this galaxy's been through together, that we're still fighting the same old bullshit fanatics."
"Even you can't change everyone's attitude to other races. Had a good go, though. The Citadel's never been so damn orderly."
"Getting itchy feet already, Garrus?" she teased.
"Nah. It's pretty good being Executor. All those stupid rules we talked about once…?"
"Ahh. You changed them," she grinned.
"So now you can go up to the top of the Citadel and shoot bottles legally?"
"Are you crazy!? I kept that rule in place, otherwise everyone would be up there! And who's gonna bust the Executor? But I changed a lot of others."
Terra nudged him. "Not letting that power go to your head are you, Garrus?"
"Absolutely." he smiled. "See? Told you I'd make a terrible Spectre."
Kaidan limped out of the medbay as they got there, Rorie 'assisting' him by trying to hold his bad leg up.
"How about I help, daddy, sweetie? He's a bit heavy for you," Terra said to their daughter.
Rorie looked a little disappointed at that as Kaidan placed his arm gratefully around Terra's shoulder.
"You can have a cowl-ride…" tempted Garrus, and Rorie beamed, immediately running over and jumping up into the air, completely trusting him to catch her. He did, and proceeded to turn her so she was sitting in the crook of his armour, just to one side of his face. She then slung one arm over the top of his head, and held on to his shoulder with her other hand. It was their own version of a piggy-back, as turians weren't so compatible with that particular popular mode of transport for human children.
Rorie pointed the way. "Giddy up, horsey!"
Garrus chuckled at the cheeky little human he loved like she was his own, putting on a faster pace to the elevator. Once Kaidan and Shepard had joined them, he remembered something and turned to Shepard. "Oh, and I'll have to come back later and fix the guns."
He tipped his head into the little person nestled against his face. "I had a helper. She's still in need of extensive training."
Rorie nodded, seriously. "Taining."
Terra kept her face straight, though she could feel Kaidan's body hitching as he quietly laughed. "Whatever you do, don't tell Joker that, or you won't be allowed to leave."
"Too late," came Joker's voice. "Garrus, I cannot believe you! I don't come to your work place and start messing with the Citadel controls! Five seconds on my ship and you're breaking it!?"
"It wasn't me!" Garrus protested.
"You're to blame! It's poor supervision, Garrus!"
Garrus sighed. "Want me to fix it before I leave?"
"Yes. Yes, I would."
"Joker, surely it can wait until tomorrow-" started Kaidan.
"Tomorrow!? What if we're called into action, Kaidan!?"
"Okay. Okay. I surrender!" Kaidan gave Garrus a shrug.
"I'll head back down. Won't take me long. Hopefully." Garrus looked at Rorie. "Ride's over. You know you're just like your mother – always getting me into trouble."
"That's up for debate," Terra retorted.
Garrus crouched down so Rorie could climb off and stayed in place as the doors opened. "See you later, Rorie."
"Bye, bye, Uncie Gus." She stretched up to kiss his cheek, then was off again, headed for the cockpit.
"Don't be too long. I know you're really looking forward to getting stuck into those guns." Terra gave him a knowing look. "Using my daughter to sabotage them, Garrus? Shame on you."
"I can't lie. My plan worked perfectly. But don't worry. I won't keep you waiting. I realise it's not a party without me."
Amused, Kaidan and Terra left the smug turian in the elevator.
Joker swung to face the foiled toddler. She'd nearly accomplished her goal of trying to get his cap off his head, doing an impressive monkey-climb up the back of his chair to try to swipe it off his head. He'd only just ducked forward in time. "Ah ha! Nice try, kid. Now shoo, fly. Don't bother me."
"Ignore him, Aurora," advised Edi. "Jeff covers his affection for you with an overly abrasive manner."
Rorie only looked at Edi with a blank face.
"Uncle Joker loves you, really," Edi clarified.
"Says you," grumbled Joker.
Rorie gently rested her head on his knee, knowing she had to be careful. "Love Uncie Joke."
"Ah, damn it! You're doing the cute thing again… That's underhanded." He mussed Rorie's hair, affectionately. "Okay, Edi's right. But don't go thinking that gives you an excuse to come in here and mess with my cockpit. Got it?"
"Got it," she smiled sweetly.
Kaidan and Shepard came in. "We're off. You two coming?"
"Sure are! It's gonna be great!" raved Joker. "Everyone getting together again!"
"Ready, honey?" Kaidan directed at Rorie.
"Yes. Damn it," added Rorie, repeating Joker's curse.
Joker's eyes widened. "And, let's go!" he said quickly, pointedly not looking at the disapproving faces he knew were aimed at him and ushering Rorie towards Edi, who scooped her up into her arms.
"Uncle Joker's in trouble," stated Edi.
Rorie looked back at Joker in sympathy. "Uh oh."
Hackett was waiting for them in the docking bay.
"Ganpa!" Rorie wiggled out of Edi's embrace and ran towards him.
"There's my little angel!" He crouched down with his arms held out ready to catch his beloved granddaughter. She almost bowled him over as she crashed into him, and he laughed as he hugged her close. He was at his happiest when this example of pure innocence was with him. She was just like her mother – cheeky, curious, fearless, sweet-natured, and an absolute joy to be with.
"You got in early!" smiled Terra, approaching him.
He stood up, taking Rorie with him. Not that he'd have had a choice anyway, her grip was like a vice around his neck. "Couldn't help myself. I did a bit of delegating and hauled it out of there." Hackett awkwardly kissed his daughter's cheek, getting a mouthful of black hair in the process. He blew it away, making Rorie giggle. "It may have only been a week, but I missed you, Angel."
Terra wasn't sure how it was possible. Rorie liked to say goodnight to him, and Kaidan's parents, every night via vid when they weren't with her. That said, Aurora spent just as much time with her grandparents as she did with her parents. Sometimes, she'd go to Earth to spend a few days at Kaidans' parents home, other times she'd go to spend time with Hackett, either at his apartment on the Citadel, or his apartment on Earth. Sometimes, it was just as a precaution when she and Kaidan weren't sure what they were heading into, other times, just because. This time, Rorie had to come with them: Hackett had been in meetings with the Alliance Parliament on the rebuilt Arcturus Station, and the senior Alenko's were holidaying off-world, his mother's first if you didn't count the Citadel.
"You coming to stay with me tonight, Angel?"
"Uh huh!" Rorie nodded eagerly.
"I know I'm looking forward to it. I got ice-cream…"
"Like you need more sugar," Joker mumbled.
"Shush!" Rorie retorted, indignantly.
"I agree completely," said Hackett. "Come on. Let's get you home first."
This time Rorie got a proper piggy-back.
They'd barely been in the door for five minutes when they were inundated with their first guests. As was now protocol in the Alenko household, once the visitor had been screened by an adult, Rorie had to physically open the door, a plastic step perpetually in place under the door-release panel so she could reach it. It was normally kept in safety-lock mode so she couldn't get out by herself, but tonight there were plenty of eyes on her.
"Hey, hey! You're getting big, Nugget!" James swept Rorie up as he entered the apartment and flung her high up into the air, grinning as she squealed in delight, then catching her. "You got a hug for your Uncle James?"
Rorie complied, and got a bear hug in return. She was in hysterics as his hug turned into a massive tickle.
"Careful Mr Vega. She's not in nappies like the last time," advised Cortez, stroking her hair as he passed by.
James stopped immediately, holding her out at arms-length. "You really are a big girl, now." He gave her a suspicious look. "You've been growing up without me?"
Rorie giggled. "You funny." Then she was distracted by the next person through the door. "Antie Lara!"
James turned in confusion. "Who's-?" Rorie's arms were outstretched towards Liara. "Ah. Auntie Liara. You know you need your own translator, Nugget."
Liara took Rorie and cuddled her gently as she walked further into the apartment. "I understand you just fine, Little Star. I brought you something." She placed Rorie on her feet in the lounge area, kneeling in front of her as she revealed a miniature version of Glyph. "You need to give it a name."
"Moon," came the immediate response, as she stared at the glowing white orb.
Liara smiled at the simplistic but firmly decided name. "Moon, it is. It contains pictures of everyone important to you." Liara showed the little girl, enjoying the excited look on the child's face as she saw all the images of those she loved and who loved her back, as well as those Aurora's mother had told her about but were no longer with them. "It also holds hundreds of stories from all over the galaxy."
"I like stories!"
"I know you do. And I know you like songs, too."
"There are lots of rhymes on here, including your favourite," assured Liara. Shutting it down, she passed the orb over to Aurora's waiting hands.
"Thank you, Lara."
"You are most welcome, Little Star." Liara kissed Rorie's forehead, then rose to speak to Terra and Kaidan, always eager to lay their concerns to rest. "Still no reports of the Leviathans." The relief on their faces was visible. "It could take them many years to find what they seek."
"It's already been three," murmured Terra, remembering the Leviathan's attack on her before they'd headed out to dark space. James had started the music and it filled the air around them, far too upbeat for the conversation they were having.
"And there's nothing to say that they won't find the Intelligence sooner rather than later," added Kaidan. He hated the fact they were waiting for the day to come when the Leviathans returned, with no idea why they wanted his daughter dead.
"You could talk to the Council," suggested Liara. "Explain what happened back then; the threat the Leviathans pose to Aurora."
Terra shook her head. "She's one person, Liara. What can I ask of them?"
"What you deserve: their help."
"We need to give them something," Kaidan said, agreeing with Terra. "An explanation for why she's a threat. A reason for them to stand up and protect her."
"Narin Solus will come through for us. I know it." It was a matter of waiting and Terra hoped they wouldn't run out of time. Chakwas had made an inspired choice when she'd gone to Mordin's nephew. Mordin had always spoken proudly of his nephew, and even if Narin hadn't have come through on a cure for Thane, Terra trusted Mordin.
"If there is anything else I can do…" offered Liara.
"You've done enough by offering yourself up as a lab rat for Narin."
"Yes. I believe he was running with a theory about the biotic effect on the spores. But he wanted other children born with the spores for comparison. Unfortunately, none of the Feros colonists have produced children."
"Shepard!" boomed out a deep voice, demanding her attention.
"Wrex," Terra grinned back. "Glad you could make it." She greeted Eve, who held the hand of her son, sired by Wrex. "Bakara, it's lovely to see you again."
"Thank you, Commander."
"I told you, it's Admiral, now," grunted Wrex.
"Actually, it's Terra," Shepard corrected.
"Thank you, Terra," appreciated Eve. "Though we have been on the Citadel for a few days now. We have been in talks with the Council."
"Again," Wrex growled. "Nothing but a bunch of dictators."
"It didn't go well?" asked Terra.
"Not to my liking."
"That is because you were unwilling to compromise," stated Eve.
"You compromised too much," moaned Wrex.
"We have been granted a new world."
Terra was astounded. "But that's great! Wrex! What are you complaining about?"
"Conditions?" pressed Kaidan.
"May as well chop my quad off, for all the good they are now."
Kaidan winced. Terra looked at Eve for a sensible response.
Wrex coughed loudly.
"I… agreed to the terms the Council requested: one child per female krogan," declared Eve.
Wrex growled again. "It's a kick in the teeth, is what it is."
"It's a starting place, Wrex," said Eve, patiently. "Trust must be earned. Cooperation now, ensures that nothing like the genophage will happen again. Without this, we will continue to be viewed as a potential threat. We would never have been granted a new world. It is enough that we can bring life into our world again. We have hope for the future. We do not need to flood the galaxy with krogan. To do so will be our downfall once more."
"Bakara's right, Wrex," Terra supported Eve, so pleased the female krogan was part of all this.
"And it's no different than the rule the quarians once had to control their population on their live-ships," Kaidan added, reasonably.
"I know that," rumbled Wrex. "Doesn't mean I have to like it."
Terra grinned. "Told you you needed Eve at those talks."
Wrex grumbled something rude under his breath. "Females. Always talking." He looked around. "Where's the little pyjak?"
"Here." Grunt appeared holding Aurora up high in one hand so she dangled from her collar. Not that she seemed to mind as she slapped her hands down on his hard-shelled head. When she grabbed his lip, he shook his head to free himself from her grasp. "She's a little puny."
"I'm sure she'll be able to hold her own, Grunt. And don't hold her like that," Terra ordered.
Grunt placed her down on the floor next to Eve and Wrex's son who was a little bigger than Rorie.
"Can't coddle them, Shepard," warned Wrex. "If you want them to have a chance of surviving, they need to be tough. Grunt's right. She's gonna be eaten alive out there."
Immediately, the young krogan head-butted Rorie, knocking her onto her bottom. Startled, her lower lip stuck out like she was about to cry, then she glowed with a biotic aura and pushed the energy out, knocking the offending krogan onto his back. The little krogan now wailing, Wrex gave Shepard an impressed look. "Hm. I stand corrected."
Rorie got back on her feet and trundled off to Chakwas, who was talking with Hackett and Adams, to tell her about her 'hurty' head, leaving her parents staring after her, stunned at her first biotic display.
Javik was chuckling as he came up behind Wrex and Grunt, nodding in approval at the little girl. "Never underestimate a Shepard, krogan."
"Well, I guess that confirms she has biotic ability," Terra said, a little dazed by the sudden event.
"Whoa!" uttered Kaidan, belatedly. "For her first try that was exceptionally well-controlled," Kaidan murmured in disbelief. "I'll need to watch that one."
"She'll be causing havoc in no time," grinned Jacob as he strolled in and joined them.
"Don't you mean more?" complained Joker who was now sitting on the sofa.
"It is not havoc, but curiosity, Jeff," defended Edi. "Aurora is merely exploring and learning."
"Every console? Every button? Come on! They must look all the same to her! I have to input a security code every time I want to access anything on my own ship!"
Jacob laughed. "Got a livewire, too, huh? I thought it was just a boy thing."
"Speaking of which, Brynn and Drake here?" enquired Terra.
"Still up on the Presidium. Drake's obsessed with the Keepers. Likes to watch them for hours. Keeping him from touching them has become a full-time job every time we come to the Citadel. Brynn said she'll try to pop in before she settles Drake down, if not she'll catch you tomorrow."
Bailey sauntered in, followed by Kolyat and a pregnant Kalisa, looking a little overwhelmed to be around so many esteemed people. They waved their greetings and headed into the kitchen. Terra watched Kolyat protectively steering Kalisa past everyone. She still clearly remembered his vid-call when he'd first found out he would be a father. As overjoyed as he was, the fear had shone through, and eventually he admitted he was petrified of failing his child. Terra had brought Kaidan into the conversation, and he'd assured Kolyat that he'd experienced the same self-doubt. Terra had finished by stating that the fact that he was worried about it, proved he would be a good father.
"Well, if it isn't the most sickeningly in-love couple in the universe," called out Jack, garnering their attention.
"Hey Jack. How are the kids?" Kaidan greeted.
"Do you have to say it like that? Makes me feel weird."
"I'm sorry. How are your students?"
"Good. Great." She shrugged like they weren't at the top of her priority list, then snuggled with Rorie as the toddler launched herself at Jack. "They come to me pretty useless, they go away as biotic bad-asses. What can I say? I'm a teaching genius, and still as popular as ever."
"Bad-ass," repeated Rorie, before catching sight of something over Jack's shoulder and running off.
"Teaching genius, Jack?" Terra drawled out with one brow raised.
Jack shrugged again. "Give me a break. I deal with teenagers, not pre-schoolers."
"No Eezo?" James asked, looking a little disappointed. "I had a re-match planned."
"Oh, he's here. Rorie just went chasing after him." Jack jerked her finger in the direction Rorie had run.
Kaidan and Terra were startled by that revelation at the same time as Rorie screamed. Their faces were pale as they ran to the downstairs guestroom. They saw her on her knees in front of the varren's fanged mouth. Only as they got closer did they realize that the scream was one of delight as their daughter biotically pulsed, making Eezo sneeze, then the varren responded by throwing out its own biotic pulse that had her sliding on her knees across the smooth flooring, laughing hysterically. Crawling back, and still chortling, Aurora started the whole process again. One thing both parents could see, was that Eezo wasn't emitting anything more than the slightest of energy.
"Big softy," smiled Jack. "Hey, when did Ror start using biotics?"
"About five seconds ago," Terra breathed out, her heart settling down.
"Sweet control! Way to go, kid!" Jack praised Rorie. "You gonna come to the Academy when you're bigger, Ror? You can teach the rest of my no-hopers how it's done."
"Ha ha! Bet you didn't see that one coming?" Jack flung at the two parents.
"Is it unusual in a human to be able to control biotics like this?" Terra asked Kaidan.
"At her age, definitely," he nodded.
"It is not so in asari children. They learn from watching their parents," came a familiar voice.
Terra spun with a smile. "Samara!"
"It is good to see you both." Samara knelt before Rorie. "Aurora, you are getting more beautiful every day."
"Love Mara." Rorie kissed her cheek, then ran after Eezo again.
"Edi, would you mind keeping an eye on those two?" Terra called out.
"Of course, Shepard."
Kaidan was thinking over what Samara had said. "I guess there aren't many biotic humans who also have biotic children."
"She has watched you, Kaidan," explained Samara. "You perform for her?"
"Sure. It's magic to her. Passing her objects, lifting her up."
"She will have observed your mannerisms, adopted them herself. Just as she learns to speak by copying what she hears."
Hackett walked over with Rorie in his arms, who was rubbing her eyes. "This one's getting tired, and I'm rather uneasy with the huge varren she keeps harassing."
"Don't panic," drawled Grunt as he exited the bathroom. "She's so small it would swallow her whole. I'd soon pull her out. Then we can roast its carcass."
"Stay the fu- hell away from my varren, or I'll be roasting your carcass," Jack spat out with impressive restraint.
"How about we don't risk Rorie getting swallowed-" Kaidan began.
"Eezo wouldn't," protested Jack.
"And there'll be no need for anyone to be roasted," he finished.
Grunt sighed. "Fine."
Terra brushed Rorie's hair back from her sleepy face. "Ready to go back with Grandpa?"
Rorie looked around, contemplating the appeal of staying here, then snuggled into Hackett's chest, burrowing her head under his chin. "Uh huh."
"Her bag's ready by the door," she said to her father. Then she kissed Rorie, getting a kiss and a mini hug in return. "Goodnight, sweetie."
"See you in the morning, honey. Sleep tight," wished Kaidan with a kiss, getting the same treatment from his daughter that she'd given her mother.
"Enjoy your evening," Hackett ended. He left with Rorie already half-asleep on his shoulder. She'd have a second-wind soon, in time to have a bowl of her favourite ice-cream, then settling down with Grandpa in her own room he'd kitted out for her, eager for a story. She wouldn't make it to the end before falling asleep, so he'd have to finish it over breakfast. She liked to know how they ended, and waiting for another night to come was simply too long for her to wait. For his part, Hackett loved every single second of it.
Terra stood on the balcony overlooking the main room, with a contented smile on her face as she watched everyone conversing and dancing below her.
There was Joker, Edi, Chakwas, Adams, Cortez, Traynor, Daniels and Donnelly – all still serving with her and Kaidan on the Normandy. She was pretty sure that Chakwas and Adams were getting closer these days, and Daniels was hinting at marriage to a deliberately oblivious Donnelly.
James was now N7 and a Commander, with his own unit. He'd become an accomplished soldier and leader, a fact he put down to Shepard's influence, and his easy-going manner made him a popular Commander, inspiring a lot of loyalty. Terra was really proud of him. They often teamed up on tougher raids. Anything to do with Reaper artifacts and Cerberus off-shoots were dealt with hard and fast these days. No-one was tolerating any attempt to return to that mess. He was currently dating an asari.
Eve, or rather Bakara, had mentioned that the Council were interested in having her as an ambassador in the proposed krogan embassy. Wrex had stated they deserved a place on the Council but Bakara had simply shook her head and declared that for a species as long-lived as theirs, they could exercise a little patience. She then took their son and left Wrex to stew on her wise words. Wrex's position on Tuchanka was as strong as ever in light of the cured genophage and being a firm friend of Shepard. No one would dare go against him. Then there was Grunt, proving his own worth with gusto, and standing loyally by Wrex's side. He would be the next in line to rule the Urdnot clan, and he'd also fathered a lot of his own little krogan to rival Wrex's countless offspring. Those children would be the first to go out and start their own clans.
Bailey kept saying he was retiring soon. No one believed him. Kolyat still served with him and was working towards his lieutenant status within C-Sec. There were rumours that Bailey would hold out until Kolyat could take over. Terra didn't know about that, but she didn't worry about Kolyat. He wouldn't stray from his path now; he was too focused on his future.
She was distracted by Kasumi, flitting in and out of view, listening in to conversations and studying the items on the shelves. This time she had been invited. Nevertheless, she'd probably need to be searched on the way out. That said, the thief's heart was in the right place, and Shepard rather liked her.
Jacob had been a bit tipsy and turned into a talker, apologising for what he'd said to Shepard and Kaidan on the Normandy years back, and admitting he was wrong. He then added that she even managed to beat them to the whole family thing by having her baby first. Due at the same time, while Shepard had birthed Aurora two weeks early, Brynn had Drake two weeks late. Jacob was currently running his own security firm based on Earth, with the aim of routing out surviving Cerberus cells. Brynn had chosen to remain working under Hackett, joining with a specialist scientific team that involved the best from all the races, including the rachni.
The rachni themselves had, for the most part, remained isolated – through choice. It seemed the queen was on the same thought process as Bakara: take things steadily, cause no one to panic, and eventually things would change as to how they were perceived. She occasionally sent an asari 'messenger' to update Shepard on any skirmishes, but they were few, and usually pirates.
Terra was pulled from her thoughts as Garrus began some hilarious dance that should never have been attempted by someone as inebriated as him. It wasn't often he could let loose like this. His position called for more appropriate behaviour, but here he was with friends and officially on a break for a couple of days. She was glad to see him so carefree. According to Liara, he'd been seen many times with the same turian female Kaidan had set him up with before their last big party.
A green aura signalled that Javik was irked about something. Terra immediately guessed the problem. Feron was being more familiar with Liara than the prothean liked. The two men had begun an acerbic verbal dual over Liara's attention, to which she herself was oblivious. She was too focused on her work to notice the men vying for her affection. Leaning against the wall nearby them, Aethyta was chuckling to herself as she watched the three, and Terra had the distinct impression that the matriarch had deliberately fuelled the situation. At some point, someone would have to enlighten Liara before it ended badly. She'd either have to choose one or neither, but it needed to be resolved. Terra had no idea what went on in the still-young asari's head that she didn't notice, though she had to admit the constant scowling wasn't unusual for Javik.
Samara also watched the three, her face as always serene. Her daughter had rebuilt the monastery with Samara's help. They were closer than ever before, now sharing the loss of two family members. However, her oath to the Justicar code prevailed, and she continued to roam the galaxy, providing assistance and delivering justice. Terra was pleased that Samara still gravitated back to them every once in a while. Her life seemed so terribly lonely without any of this.
Jack's yell of elation had Terra turning her head to see what it was all about. Apparently, she'd just won a drinking contest with Jacob, who was now on his knees looking very ill. Thankfully, Grunt hauled him up and shoved Jacob in the direction of the bathroom, having visited it himself again a half hour ago. As Terra had expected, Jack was coping with her previous loss and embroiling herself fully in her role as beloved teacher to the kids she was training. She was as brash as ever, but that was Jack, and Terra wouldn't have wanted her any other way. Jack still preferred casual relationships - Terra had never seen her with the same person more than once - but she hoped that would change in time. Opening her heart wasn't something that came easily to Jack, but one day she was sure to meet someone with the ability to see through the façade and the patience to keep trying.
Looking directly below her, she saw Kaidan talking to Matt. Another friend she was glad could take time out. He'd never been busier with his promotion to Admiral and appointment to join the Alliance Committee. He was seeing a doctor back on Earth, and Terra was sure there would be an announcement soon.
She and Kaidan had also been asked to join the Committee, along with her father. All of them had declined. As Spectres, she and Kaidan had plenty to deal with, and Hackett had stated that he spent enough of his time behind a desk. He wanted to continue in his current role until the time came when he wasn't capable of it. He'd said the same thing to the Council when he was offered the Councillor position. The Alliance's Parliament was still undecided who to place in the prestigious role. After the mess that was Udina, they were being overly-cautious. In the meantime, the seat remained empty, though they were all satisfied that Earth's interests would be preserved by their two Spectres.
There were, of course, those whose absence stood out terribly amongst the gathering of friends. Tali, Thane, Mordin, Legion and Ashley. Anderson would have been here… maybe he'd have brought Kahlee with him. She hadn't seen Kahlee since Anderson's funeral. The mourning woman had headed straight back to Grissom Academy and had buried herself in work. Terra occasionally sent a message to check in with her, receiving only a brief reply. Terra would continue to do so, though. One day, Kahlee would be ready to talk about him, and Terra wanted her to know she would be there.
Kaidan suddenly looked up, having spotted her there earlier. He finished his conversation with Matt and without taking his eyes off her, made his way up the stairs to join her on the balcony. Even now, Terra still felt the butterflies of excitement travel through her body, transforming into heat, at the sight of her husband coming towards her. Terra turned to him, noting the bottle in his hand. "Hope that's just number four. We don't want any adverse reactions."
"Actually, it's only my first. As much as I'm sure Chakwas is right, your promise had me adamant I wasn't going to leave anything to chance."
"Is that right?" she grinned as she moved into his arms. His hands ran down her sides and cupped her backside. "Careful, General. Any more of that and I'll be dragging you to bed right now."
Kaidan placed his lips over hers. "Bring it on."
She wrapped her arms around his neck, her lips pressing into his, her tongue invading his mouth, enjoying his taste, his hands roaming her body-
"Get a room!" shouted out James. "I'm too young to see things like that!"
They pulled apart to see everyone grinning up at them. In response, Kaidan gave a lazy salute, swept Terra up off her feet and turned for the bedroom, to the raucous cheer of everyone.
"And no more babies!" yelled Joker before the door closed them all out.
Terra laughed at Kaidan. "Put me down! You're supposed to be taking it easy on that leg!"
"Some things are worth a bit of pain." He lowered her anyway, then proceeded to undress her.
"Are you sure you've only had one?" Terra teased, working on his shirt buttons.
"Perfectly. Nothing can ruin tonight."
"It's been fantastic, hasn't it? Everyone together again." She kissed his bare chest. "There was a time I didn't think it possible we'd ever be able to do this again."
Kaidan kissed her bare shoulder. "I told you, we would."
"Yes, you did." Their clothes now gone, she kissed him, then pushed him back on the bed, sending him a lustful look of intent. "Time to turn fantastic into spectacular…."
"Oooff!" Hackett was given a rude awakening as something small, dive-bombed onto his torso.
"Ganpa! Wake up!"
"I'm awake!" He laughed, grabbing hold of the wiggly little creature he loved unconditionally, and lifting her above his head so she was looking directly down onto his face. "Grandpa loves you."
She beamed back at him. "Rorie love Ganpa."
Hackett knew that. A child's love was there for all to see. He was so damned lucky when he considered how it could have ended... He hugged her close. Then Rorie kissed his cheek to finish, then looked at him expectantly. "What would you like for breakfast?" he asked, knowing the answer.
Hackett laughed again. "Tell you what. First, you have some proper breakfast, then you can have ice-cream."
"Not tell mommy," she warned.
He pretended to zip his lips closed, to which Rorie did the same and giggled. Terra was been right. Things were so very different this time round. He could find a balance that made him happy. He still lamented he hadn't done this with his own daughter, and he missed Hannah with an awful ache that she wasn't here to enjoy her granddaughter too, but Rorie was a soothing balm, just like her mother. He'd been there for his granddaughter's first steps, her first words. She was giving him back so much and she asked for nothing – except ice-cream, stories, and cuddles. He had all of those things in abundance.
Once he was out of bed, Rorie ran to the kitchen stool, climbed up by herself, and waited patiently while he made them breakfast. Placing her bowl on the table, he sat beside her, and she placed 'Moon' so it floated just off the table between them. The VI brought up the story at exactly the same place he'd frozen it last night. Giving it the command to commence, Hackett read the words that were displayed as the pictures played out the scenes. When she had devoured her breakfast, Rorie climbed onto Hackett's lap to enjoy the rest of the story cuddled up with him. Once the story had ended, it was time for ice-cream.
Life was good.
As much as Kaidan loved his daughter, he always appreciated the mornings he wasn't woken by a loud, bouncing creature, also known as Rorie. This one was no exception, but he especially cherished this particular morning. It had been a great evening spent with friends, followed by a wonderful night with his wife, and he tightened his arm around her where she lay against his chest. His movement unintentionally stirred her, her hand stroking down his side and stirring up something else. She shifted her leg and discovered her effect on him, opening her eyes and giving him a downright sexy look.
"Again? I'm impressed."
He rolled her over, bracing himself over her. "Some things are beyond my control. I have a gorgeous wife, after all. And I wouldn't want to disappoint you…" He lowered himself-
"Hey, come on, lovebirds! Breakfast is served! Eggs!" James called through the door as he banged on it.
Kaidan's forehead fell to her shoulder. "How the hell can that man be so perky in the mornings?"
"I could ask you the same question," she teased, wiggling her hips.
"They'll get cold!" warned James from the other side.
"He's not going away, is he?" groaned Kaidan.
Terra laughed. "Nope."
Kaidan hauled himself back to his side of the bed and proceeded to get up. "They'd better be damned good eggs, Vega," called Kaidan, grabbing his trousers.
"You know it!"
Terra was already up and pulling on leggings and a vest. "We can finish this later," she said playfully, as she moved past him to unlock the door.
"Okay, now I have an appetite," he grinned, following her out.
They were clearing up the kitchen when Chakwas, who had left around midnight, re-entered the apartment with Mordin's nephew, Narin, in tow. The presence of the salarian had both Kaidan and Terra on alert. Everyone else in the apartment seemed to pick up on it, despite their hangovers.
"You have something," Terra said slowly, almost frightened of what would come next.
It was Narin who answered. "Yes."
"You want us to leave?" Garrus checked.
"No. Stay," insisted Terra. "This is about Rorie, and you're all her family, too."
Once they had all gathered around, Chakwas started. "We already know that the spores did attach themselves to your reproductive systems, and that was how they were carried across to Aurora. We confirmed that when we also found them in Liara, Wrex and Garrus, as well as in Kaidan."
"Took long time to locate and check them all, but can confirm Wrex's offspring also have spores," came Narin's staccato, so like Mordin's.
"All of them?" Wrex asked.
"Original strain," Narin emphasised.
"Original strain?" frowned Terra. "What does that mean?"
"Something else involved when Aurora was developing in womb. Two things. First: biotics," announced Narin.
Chakwas took over. "We ran through hundreds of scenarios, and we're fairly certain the eezo nodules within her body that would normally just fuel biotic abilities, also provided the energy for the spores to mutate."
Narin was nodding emphatically. "Only variable in pool of subjects. No krogan offspring have biotic potential."
"But Kaidan, Wrex and Liara, do," Garrus put in.
"Eezo nodules provide energy only. Actual process of mutation was combination of being in utero and exposed to mind control."
"I don't understand," worried Terra. "They've mutated? Into what?"
Chakwas rested her hand on Shepard's to try to reassure her. "The spore structures inside Rorie are strong - much more than yours when you encountered the Reaper artifact."
"What are you saying?" Kaidan pressed.
Terra was equally at a loss. "She was exposed when the Illusive Man controlled me. But that was still Reaper tech."
"Except I compared her spore structure to Kaidan's who was also exposed to that at the same time Rorie was, and one he resisted with the help of the spores. Aurora's is over ten times more complex than Kaidan's," Chakwas stressed.
"Exposed to something else," declared Narin.
Terra knew. "Leviathan," she hushed out.
"Yes." Narin looked pleased at her understanding. "Aurora exposed to Leviathan at same time as you. Leviathan's intrusion destroyed your spores, but not hers. Reason: her eezo nodules provided energy. Spores able to react faster and change to counter-attack invasion."
Kaidan was shocked. "It would explain why it considered her a threat! It couldn't touch her mind!"
Chakwas was nodding now. "She holds the key to defending ourselves from the Leviathans control. If we can replicate it."
"Wait now," interrupted James. "If that Leviathan knew about Rorie that first time on Despoina, why did it let Shepard go?"
Kaidan answered that. "Because she'd convinced it she was too important in the fight against the Reapers. It needed her alive."
"And you have to remember the arrogance of these things," added Terra. "It only had to bide its time. Chances were I'd be killed in the Reaper war, but if not… One human? Hardly a concern for a race that's used to controlling them."
"Now I get it," Joker mumbled. "That Leviathan could have easily come through that relay after us, but it didn't bother. They just figured they'll get you next time."
"Not me, any longer," Terra pointed out. "Aurora."
"We always expected them to come for her. Now we know why," said Liara.
Kaidan paced, restlessly. "Once they've succeeded in bringing down the Intelligence, they will be back for Aurora. She'll be their next target."
"Only now we have something to take to the Council," Terra said firmly.
Garrus drew himself up. "Why stop there?"
"These things created the damned Reapers, and they control organics. That's a concern for every organic race. We have a means to stop them. Protecting that little girl while we figure out how to use this, should be a priority for all."
Kaidan moved to Terra's side. "Time to call in some favours."
They were all here. Not just the Council, but Primarch Victus, Wrex and Bakara, the quarian Admiralty, Dalatrass Linron, and a representative for the geth, a Prime calling itself Diniel. Added to that were the representatives from the various embassies – volus, hanar, elcor – and even the rachni, who had yet to be granted one, with its asari messenger to translate. All were sat around the large table. But more than that, there was everyone she and Kaidan had come into contact with over the past years, some merely acquaintances, others friends and family. It was an impressive group of people.
"I'm not sure I understand. Why would one human child be a threat?" Sparatus asked, dubiously.
"Their very existence relies on their thralls – organics - doing their bidding. They even created the Intelligence to ensure we weren't all wiped out by the AI's organics created. If we find a way to recreate the spores in Aurora, and transfer them into everyone, then we have a way to resist, and they lose their 'tools'."
There was silence as they all considered it.
"What can we do?" Victus asked.
"Protect child," stated Narin, simply. "Need time to recreate spores. More resources would be helpful."
"Should be an easy enough task," Wrex grunted. "These are not the Reapers. They're few and they bleed, no matter their size. Let them come. We'll tear them apart."
"They won't need to come themselves," explained Kaidan. "They'll send people after her. Human. Turian. Asari. Anyone they have near an artifact. Attack us from within."
"You are talking about indoctrination," said Tevos.
Kaidan nodded. "We need to limit their effect from a distance. Destroy the artifacts on Despoina. Search out the rest."
"They could be spread throughout the entire galaxy!" Valern exclaimed.
"Never said it would be a quick and easy task, Councillor. But if we don't try…" Kaidan left the rest unsaid.
Wrex looked at the tiny human playing on the floor, and gave Shepard a sceptical look. "You sure about this? She doesn't look too dangerous to me."
"Only to the Leviathans, and like them, the threat she poses is more subtle than a giant gun."
"Where's the fun in that?" Grunt wondered aloud.
"Organic bloody Reapers," complained Coats. "Anyone else sick to death of these things?"
"Some races should remain dead," agreed Javik.
Hackett watched his granddaughter playing with Dr Cole's boy, while the young krogan male kept his distance from her. He'd do whatever it took to keep that little girl safe. He stood tall and proud, demanding their attention. "We need to do a systematic search of every colony, every facility, every inch of every planet, every moon, every asteroid, in every system."
"It's impossible!" Dalatrass Linron spluttered.
"Not impossible," Terra spoke up, her voice strong, and determined, just like her father's. "Not if we work together."
Victus added his voice to Shepard and Hackett's. "The fact is, Aurora Alenko may be the only hope we have against the Leviathans. How much do you want your minds, or your children's minds, to remain their own?"
Wrex was the first to stand, along with Bakara and Grunt. "The krogan people vow to protect her. Who'll stand with us?"
Victus followed. "I pledge turian aid, both protection and resources. We'll search them out."
The Prime stood. "The geth wish to offer assistance."
"But you're a machine," spat out the Dalatrass. "What do you gain by helping organics?"
"Geth believe all life has a right to exist, free from control. We fought the Reapers for it. That has not changed. Shepard-Admiral helped us. Now we help her."
"Thank you, Diniel," appreciated, Terra.
"The asari people will join you," declared Tevos. "Never again will we sit on the sidelines. We will do all that we can."
"The quarian people stand with you," announced Zoris, standing with Raan.
Gerrel stood, too. "Our ships will be at your disposal. Our strengths lie in scouring the skies."
"Dalatrass?" Valern urged.
"I agree," consented Linron. "Our scientists are among the best. You'll have them, Dr Solus."
The asari messenger for the rachni, stood. "The rachni know many locations of the orbs you describe. It is contained within the knowledge passed down by their queen. They shall show you, and join you. They will not allow their voices to be discoloured once more, and the galaxy will know that the rachni are a peaceful race."
Kaidan and Terra looked around the room in which everyone stood. It was humbling, and more than either of them had hoped. They had a commitment from each race, and more. This time, the galaxy was united in the face of an impending threat. This time, they had time to fight back before the war had begun. Plans would be devised on how to scour the galaxy. It was a massive undertaking, but no one was prepared to baulk at the task. Their freedom depended on it, and none of them were content to sit back and let everything they'd fought so hard for, and suffered such heavy losses for, be in vain. This time they were the hunters.
Kaidan joined Terra on the balcony with Rorie in his arms, shutting out the avid conversations as the races started putting forward their resources and ideas. "What are you thinking about?"
"The threat I pose to our daughter."
"What?" exclaimed Kaidan.
"If I ever get near one of those artifacts..." Terra couldn't even bear to say the rest.
Kaidan saw the torture she was inflicting upon herself with her thoughts, and he pulled her closer to him and Rorie, kissing his wife's temple. "Then we'll have another area to research - top priority. A way to detect indoctrination. There has to be some neural activity in the brain that can be picked up on. And we already have a shield that can block their signal. We just need the program added to your omnitool."
"That's... a good idea. If they can engineer it."
"They will. It has a wider application, too. A way to fully protect those who are tracking down the artifacts." He bent his head to touch hers. "I won't have you frightened to be near our daughter, Terra."
"What lies ahead?" Shepard wondered, and she ran her hand over Rorie's soft cheek. "We need to duplicate those spores. And when they do, I'll be first in line."
"Then the Leviathans will know it's too late."
"The time it will take, though... I think they'll have something else in place. What if they don't destroy the Intelligence? They never really believed they'd made a mistake in their creation. They just didn't like the end result. What if they tell it to find a new solution?"
"Then we have to be ready for anything. Be vigilant for any strange activity. Hackett already has a new team to replace the work of Dr Bryson. And I'm sure Liara will have her own resources focused on that. Either way, the Leviathans are a threat, and this way, we're doing something to counter that. So no more 'what if's'.
Terra nestled against him, and Kaidan tightened his arm around her, their daughter between them.
"It's been one hell of a struggle to get here, and I am not giving in now," vowed Kaidan.
"Me, neither. There's too much to lose."
"Absolutely." Kaidan kissed Rorie's forehead.
Terra felt stronger than ever before. She looked back at the room full of people, united to a common goal, many of them her family, then returned to Kaidan and Rorie. "This time, we're not alone in this."
"Together, we can face anything," agreed Kaidan.
Rorie gazed back at them both, and smiled.
Thank you for staying with me from start to finish, and I'd appreciate your thoughts if you'd care to leave a review. :)
That's the end for 'Struggle', but please join me for the sequel, 'Resistance' which is now posted!