Chapter 1

DEXTERS: Recover

Mass Effect, its characters, its setting, and all the other stuff in the Mass Effect universe is not owned by me. It's owned by the geniuses at BioWare. I also do not own any real bands, companies, products etc. that I mention.


"This island, it's changed me…I've killed so many people I've lost count. I can't come back from this. I'm a monster, I can feel the anger inside me. But I am still, somewhere inside me, more than that. Better than that. "

Jason Brody, Far Cry 3


Waking up isn't easy at the best of times.

I don't entirely remember why my entire body feels like it got ran over by a steamroller as I slowly try dragging my eyes open, then moan weakly and shut them again when the soft glow of the room burns my retinas. I don't remember why my whole body feels so sluggish, why everything doesn't smell of Omega, why I can't even feel the whole of my left arm.

The only thing I can immediately work out is that this definitely isn't the best of times.

I sniff the air again as my sense of smell reacquaints itself with me, then wrinkle my nose at the strong scent of antiseptic, metal, and an overwhelming cleanliness and sterility that triggers something in my memory. Smells like a hospital, or a medbay. It's usually the smell I associate with me fucking up somewhere along the line.

I try opening my eyes again, which meets with a lot more success since I manage to open them at least half a centimetre, but attempts to lift my head up from the bed meet with a fierce throb of pain that forces me straight back down, groaning to myself as the throbbing settles to a more manageable level. Given the state I'm in, the 'fucking up' theory seems increasingly plausible.

My hearing is starting to come back, as I survey the room through squinted eyes while my body starts itself up again. The lights aren't even on, but just the dull glow from machinery and outside the room makes my eyes hurt, as a familiar, constant low humming fills my ears. This isn't Monteague's med-bay, and that humming sounds like a mass effect core. Which means this must be the Normandy SR-2.

Presumably that means recruiting Garrus and I was a 'success'. Yay.

Buoyed by the revelation that I'm not dead, I take a few minutes lying down to try and let the pain subside, glancing at the drip attached to my right arm, the pads wired up to my chest and forehead, and the softly beeping machinery next to me. It was a varren bite that put me in here while Garrus and I were holding out together on Omega, I remember that much. Though I could've sworn it was in my left arm, rather than my right. My left arm is so numb I can't even move it, but there's no drip there at all. Odd.

Eventually I do manage to lift my head up from the pillow, followed by heaving up my torso into a seated position so I can reach the glass of water Chakwas must have left next to the bed. I take about two sips before a blue orb springs forth from a small terminal mounted in the wall about two metres away, filling the room with light that makes me gasp and shield my eyes. Of course, EDI. The new AI. That I need to remember to play dumb about.

"Dr. Chakwas instructed me to greet you in her absence, once it became clear you were active," she explains, familiar robotic tones filling the room. "I am an Enhanced Defence Intelligence, but the crew refers to me as EDI, the ship's AI."

"Nice to meet you, EDI," I say, my voice still scratchy and dry despite the sips of water, "but do you think you could turn your brightness down a little bit?"

"Of course," she replies, and I can see the light dimming in my peripheral vision, allowing me to uncover my eyes and look at the orb, along with her white 'mouth' bars when she talks. I know EDI is a 'good guy', to be agonisingly simplistic about it, but this is still my first conversation with a synthetic, and despite knowing about her from the games, it's still…interesting. "Dr. Chakwas also instructed me to ask you some questions." I raise an eyebrow at that, and while I feel quietly proud I've got enough control over the finer muscles in my body to achieve that, it also reminds me that EDI is still shackled and under Cerberus control. She may be nice, but it doesn't mean I can trust her.

"What kind of questions?" I ask, not meaning to sound as defensive as I do. EDI seems nonplussed by it, though.

"In regard to your memory," EDI replies calmly, in a way that suggests she was anticipating the suspicion. "She wants to make sure that your infection didn't affect anything. Nothing that should be difficult."

Okay, that seems fair enough. Maybe I don't need to be that concerned just yet. Still, reminding myself about Cerberus surveillance isn't a bad idea, considering it's guaranteed to be all over the ship. "Alright," I nod, settling back in the bed and trying to ignore my various aches. "Go ahead."

"What is your name?"

"You weren't lying about the not difficult thing, were you?"

"Please answer the question," EDI replies, and her standard flat tone seems to carry just the faintest hint of exasperation to it. She always was good at that…

"Ian Shaw," I reply, sighing. If I want someone to have a laugh with, EDI probably isn't the best choice. Let's just get this out the way.

"Date of birth?"

Oh, fuck, that actually is a difficult question, especially since I practically burst out 1992. It's October 2185, my birthday is in September and I'm twenty-three, so… "September the tenth, 2162,"

"Occupations?"

"C-Sec contraband department for about two years, worked with Commander Shepard to stop Saren Arterius, another half year at C-Sec then about one and a half years as a professional vigilante on Omega," I reply, my mind drawn to the things that happened on Omega. There are some things there I really wish I didn't remember, that's for sure.

"Who was your partner at C-Sec?"

"Garrus Vakarian." Shit, Garrus, I haven't even thought about him. We blew up the gunship, so he shouldn't have been missiled, which is good, but I know I need to talk to him about something…

Sidonis. That was it. He thought I called him away from the squad when the mercs found out about us, and he came back to the base because of it. He might not the be the one who sold us out. Course, that begs the question of who did, but it's not something I feel ready to focus on right now.

"Can you name your other squad members from the Normandy SR-1?"

"Yeah," I nod. "Erm…Urdnot Wrex." Good old Wrex. We stopped messaging each other so often towards the end of my time on Omega, but we're still in contact, and last I heard he was smashing heads together on Tuchanka to get the krogan to work together. That's another thing I need to do, get back into contact with him. Especially since we'll be visiting Tuchanka sooner or later.

"Garrus, obviously, then Kaidan Alenko." Who'll probably still be running around with the Alliance, knowing him. Gotta be honest, I haven't talked to him in almost a year, which is a shame, but we've both been pretty busy. I guess Horizon would be a good time to catch up. Well, maybe not good, but at least we'll see each other again.

"Liara T'Soni." Liara went off the grid completely about a month after Shepard's funeral. If memory serves, I think she had something to do with recovering Shepard's body, but by now she ought to be on Ilium flaying people with her mind. I think she can wait for a face to face meeting.

"Ashley Williams." Well, the late Ashley Williams. Killed by Saren on Virmire. Which reminds me...Saren Arterius, the turian who escaped indoctrination where it should have led to his demise. Still out in the galaxy, somewhere, and I don't know if that's a good or bad thing.

"And Tali'Zorah," I finish. Ah, Tali. Part of me looks forward to seeing her again, even if I'm worried that the whole thing will be horrifically awkward, seeing as we broke up a few months back on account of me not warning her about her father's geth activation problems and her incriminating herself by accident. Still, we're both adults. I'm sure it'll be fine.

"You don't remember her full name?" EDI asks.

"Well, it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue," I reply. "It was nar Rayaa back on the SR-1. Think it changed to vas Neema when she came back from her Pilgrimage?"

"Yes, it did," she confirms. "One more question. How many people were in your squad on Omega?"

I'm about to answer, then frown at EDI's avatar. "How would you know that?"

"Dr. Chakwas asked Garrus earlier for the purposes of this test," EDI explains. "He was clear he would only give a number, rather than any names." Good, that was sensible of him…

"There were thirteen of us in total, at least before any casualties or people leaving," I say. Myself, Garrus, Butler, Weaver, Grundan, Laet, Monteague, Erash, Sensat, Vortash, Mierin, Melanis and Sidonis, though Mierin was killed, and Erash left after his involvement in the death of Laet's brother became clear. The others escaped Omega safely, though. I have no idea what they'll do once they're clear of the Terminus, but everyone should report in within a week. If not, Garrus and I will message them. Even if I want to message Melanis right now to find out if she's alright. Romantic involvement with someone does have a way of making you concerned about them. "Satisfied?"

"Your memory appears to be undamaged," EDI notes, presumably storing the information away to report to Chakwas later. "Dr. Chakwas is available to contact if you need to see her, but she instructed me to remind you of the time before you respond. It is 4:55am in the ship's day cycle."

I'm still aching, but the drip suggests I'm probably doped up to dull pain already, so there's not much Chakwas can do but pour scathing disapproval on me for waking her this early for no reason. Which is probably why she got EDI to tell me that. "Leave it, then," I say, quietly yawning. I still feel weak and totally exhausted, so more rest suits me fine. Presumably I must be out of the danger zone since Chakwas isn't present. "I'll take some more rest."

"Logging you out, Ian," EDI says, then minimises back into the panel, blue light suddenly extinguishing. I sigh, rubbing at my face with my right hand after the left remains stubbornly immobile, then give a small chuckle under the breath. I may feel like shit, but it's the SR-2. I made it.

Which reminds me… "EDI?" I ask, and the orb immediately pops open. The fact she's always listening is definitely unnerving, but hey, she is the Normandy. "Did everyone else make it back okay?"

"You were the only major injury," EDI tells me. "Garrus was treated for dehydration, but has fully recuperated."

"How long was I out?"

"Two days, four hours and twenty six minutes."

"Fuck," I mutter. No wonder I can barely move. "Are we out of the Terminus systems?"

"Yes," EDI says, not at all bothered by the questioning. I doubt this is exactly straining her computing power. "We are currently on a course to the Citadel for a resupply, as well as business Commander Shepard needs to attend to."

The Citadel. I thought I was getting bored of it before I left for Omega, and now getting back to it seems like one of the most appealing things in the galaxy. "Alright, thanks," I nod, yawning again, this time much louder.

"Logging you out," EDI repeats, minimising again. I take another slow sip of water, then gently lower myself back onto the bed, closing my eyes as the comforting hum of the ship wraps around me. We're out of the Terminus. Melanis might not be here, but for the first time in almost two years, it feels like I can sleep without worrying about having a weapon close to hand.

I'm sure being pumped full of antibiotics and painkillers probably helps too, because I'm out within ten seconds of lying back down, a small smile stuck on my face as I sink into a dreamless sleep.

########

"Well, Ian Shaw," I hear Chakwas say, my eyes flickering open to see the grey haired, slim woman leaning over my bed with a familiar grin. "Fancy seeing you here."

"Don't act like you're surprised," I grunt, heaving myself into a seated position. I'm still feeling raw, but not as bad as waking up last night, and the feeling of my senses being dead has lifted somewhat. I glance to where the drip was, noticing it's now conspicuously absent. Left arm is still completely numb, though. "I always assumed if we met again, this was how it was going to happen."

"I assumed that too," Chakwas replies. "But I was hoping you could prove me wrong for once." We both grin for a few seconds, then she reaches her right hand out to me. "Nice seeing you again, Ian."

"It usually is," I say, getting her to chuckle as I shake her hand. "I'm guessing you saved my life again?"

"Yes, despite your continued desire to get yourself killed," Chakwas nods, her tone a touch disapproving. "It's a miracle you survived long enough for me to operate. Garrus said you'd had that varren bite for about three hours."

"It's not like I put some garnish on it and stuck it in a varren's mouth," I protest. "I don't like getting killed, stuff just likes killing me."

"Yes, well, regardless," Chakwas mutters, shaking her head, "varren don't have natural toxins, but they do carry countless diseases and bacteria in their saliva that got into your arm. Most of which will kill a human. Or turian, or anyone, for that matter. Only people who can shake it off are krogan, hence why they insist on keeping the things." She sighs, shaking her head again before continuing. "By the time you got here, your bite wound was completely infected, along with the rest of your arm, and it was spreading."

Ah, shit, I can see where this is going. Especially with how I can't feel my left arm. "You amputated?"

"A course of antibiotics to kill the infection with your arm attached would have killed you," Chakwas explains. "The dosage needed would have been too great. And even if that had worked, the arm would have been irreversibly damaged. Amputation was our best option, followed by purging any trace of the infection, which is probably why you're feeling weak right now."

"Purging never seems to be a good word in medicine," I say, trying not to think about what 'purging' might have involved. "You're right about feeling weak, but hey, it's better than being dead."

"I'm glad you think so," Chakwas says dryly. I look down at my left arm, still immobile, finding it hard to believe it's not mine. It looks the same. Yet, presumably, that's a full synthetic, similar to what Shepard must have now.

"I'm assuming it's normal I can't feel the replaced limb?"

"Yes, it's normal," Chakwas nods. "A lot of that will be from the course of treatment you've been through, but your body needs to get used to using the new nerves in a full range of movement."

"Cybernetics, right?" I ask, glancing back to her.

"You got the best treatment available, which means cybernetics," she replies. "Perks of being with Cerberus. Once you get used to it, in practical terms, it'll be like you never lost it in the first place."

"Mmm," I nod absent-mindedly, looking at it. "Practically." Course, in real terms it means part of me is synthetic. It doesn't bother me, considering I'm extremely lucky to be alive and have something that acts as a full replacement, but there's just something weird about it. "I remember there being a Cerberus operative with Shepard. Does that mean-"

"You're on a Cerberus ship," Chakwas says, confirming what I already knew. Still, someone needs to 'explain' it to me. "They rebuilt the Normandy after it got destroyed, they rebuilt Shepard, and recruited me as the ship's medical officer."

"You joined Cerberus?" I ask, doing my best to give a confused expression. "What did the Alliance say?"

Chakwas has a rare moment of looking uncomfortable when I ask that. "They don't know, strictly speaking. I'm on leave."

I stare at her for a few seconds, then laugh, grinning at her. "Well, look who became a rebel in the two years we haven't seen each other."

"I joined because of Jeff," Chakwas says, smiling as she shakes her head at me. "He was grounded after the SR-1, you know. Cerberus offered to let him fly again, in a new Normandy, and he was never going to refuse that. Besides, the Alliance weren't using me for anything someone younger and in a fast-track programme couldn't do." The last part sounds downright hostile. "Shepard's here. I've found that guarantees useful work, and she could do with a friendly face with Cerberus around."

"I think we all could," I murmur. "How is Shepard, actually? I saw like five minutes of her before I blacked out."

"Waiting to see you," she says. "She told me to tell her when you woke up. Other than that, she's fine. Still herself. I always find it odd how quickly she picked up running things again, but then I remember…well, you know."

"Yeah," I nod. It's been two years for us. For Shepard, it'll seem like a couple of days, so no wonder she's not really lost her flow. At least, not in terms of running the ship. I doubt things are really gonna be the same beneath that, but if she's likely to confide in anyone, it'll probably be Garrus, not me. Chakwas and I are just sitting in awkward silence now, so I should probably move the conversation along. "So, new arm. How long until I'm mission fit?"

"I'd like to think we can get you into the field within a week, maybe less," Chakwas says, back into her professional self as she picks up a datapad. "I've got some exercises for you to do with it. Starting off with basic hand and arm movement, before weights, the firing range, agility work by the time we get to the end of the week. At least six hours a day formally, but try and keep it moving in your spare time."

"I can punch out the surveillance stuff Cerberus'll have set up if that helps," I suggest, making Chakwas laugh. "I'd be pretty surprised if they didn't have any."

"Oh, it's common knowledge on the ship," she nods. "Shepard went around removing obvious ones, but we all know there's ones we can't find, so she's told us not to worry. How did she put it…'they spent billions putting me back together, I doubt they'll shut us down for criticising them'."

"Yeah, that sounds like Lara," I laugh. "Can you copy the exercise stuff onto a datapad for me? I'll forget otherwise." Chakwas gives me a disapproving look, not dissimilar to the kind I'm used to from Monteague. Must be something they teach you in medical school, but I can see her copying the data to a blank datapad anyway. "And this new arm…it's the same, right? No augmentations?"

"No, we didn't put anything new in. It's an exact replacement," Chakwas tells me. "I'd need your permission to perform a procedure like that."

"I'm surprised Cerberus didn't push for it," I comment. I figured they'd quite like the opportunity to improve someone working for them, though I'm using 'working for' in the loosest possible way.

"Miranda didn't say anything about augments," Chakwas shrugs. "She's the Cerberus liaison, so they mustn't have been concerned."

"I think I saw her on Omega," I say, thinking back to the ridiculous catsuit attire I've got in the back of my head. It was definitely her. God knows I watched enough Chuck back in the day to instantly recognise that face. "What do you mean, 'we' didn't put anything new in?"

"Dr. Solus helped post-operation," Chakwas tells me. "You can meet him later, but he ran a clinic on Omega. Shepard recruited him while you were out, and he came to see if anything had to be done. He's very…active."

"Well, I look forward to meeting him. And everyone else," I say, glancing to the door. I don't feel strong enough to fight, but I reckon I could walk around at a very slow pace and get to know the new ship. Miracles of modern medicine. "When can I, you know…go?"

"Shepard wants to come in and see you; I can look over your readings and make sure you're fine to walk," she says. "No strenuous exercise today. You might be out of the danger zone, but walking and talking are as hard as you work, and Shepard has been told categorically you are not to be allowed anywhere near a mission briefing until I say you're ready."

"Guess I'll just have to a find a way to put myself in mortal danger aboard the ship, then," I shrug, grinning at her.

"And I know you'll manage it," Chakwas sighs. "I'll call Shepard in." She scans her omni-tool over the machinery set up next to my bed, swipes it over her datapad, then turns around to open the door and I hear her muffled voice say a name. When she comes back in, Lara Shepard is behind her, edges of her green eyes stretching out as she flashes me a quick smile. Asides from the few cybernetic scars, she doesn't look any different. Cerberus did a perfect job. I'm not sure she'll see it that way herself, but again, that's not something I plan on broaching here.

"Commander," I say, returning the smile.

"Shepard," she sighs, shaking her head and glancing over her shoulder. "Everyone affiliated with Cerberus insists on calling me Commander to the point where I almost hate the word. You'd think they would have seen the records about how I ran the old Normandy."

"It's Cerberus," I shrug. "All the crew probably got whipped daily in training, no wonder everyone jumps to attention whenever the CO walks past." She laughs, settling back in the chair next to my bed. "It's good to see you again, Shepard. Wish it had been in better circumstances in the first place, mind."

"I wish this whole thing was in better circumstances, but here we are," she says, frowning. "How's the arm?"

"Still a bit stiff, but Chakwas says it'll be less of a dead weight later today," I explain. I have no idea how Shepard had her entire body replaced and then managed to get up straight away. She's clearly just more of a tank than I am. "I, uh…well, how're you doing?"

"Good, all things considered," she nods, looking up at me beneath her brunette fringe. "You don't have to dodge around what happened to me, you know."

Oh. Well, can't say I was expecting the bluntness. "I didn't realise I was dodging it."

Shepard laughs again, though it's in a friendly way rather than derision. "You were tripping over your words. I just think it's easier we get it out of the way and go back to things as normal."

I'm trying not to narrow my eyes in confusion, but it's really hard. I was fully expecting Shepard to skirt around the subject herself. Not…well, this. "Alright," I nod, deciding to be blunt. "You died. But now you're back, for whatever reason, and it's good to see you again. That's what I meant."

"Okay," Shepard smiles, apparently satisfied. "Sorry. It's just…" She considers for a second, shaking her head. "Never mind. It's good to see you too." Riiiight. It doesn't exactly take much of my detective's intuition that something is bothering her, but that's not my place. "I suppose you're due an explanation as to what's going on."

"If you wouldn't mind," I say, settling back in my bed.

"I don't know how much you've been paying attention to galactic news, but human colonies are disappearing," she explains. "Entire colonies. There one minute, then suddenly everyone's disappeared. Abducted by the Collectors."

I furrow my brow, faking confusion. "Collectors sound familiar. I think Saleon mentioned them way back when."

"They're a race that lives beyond the Omega-4 Relay," Shepard continues. "No-one knows much about them, just that they have tech beyond anything we know. They barely ever come past the relay, unless they have something they want to trade for, like Saleon and the organ trade. Any ship that goes through the relay doesn't come back."

"But they're the ones abducting colonies," I murmur. "You seen any proof of that?"

"We went to a colony that had been hit. Freedom's Progress," Shepard nods. "Tali and a quarian recovery crew were there, and we saw footage of Collector swarms freezing people, before taking them away. The scientist we recruited from Omega, Mordin Solus, he's working on a counter-measure for us. I know for sure it's the Collectors, though."

"So Cerberus aren't particularly keen on human colonies disappearing, hence bringing you back," I say. "Let me guess. We're looking for a way through the Omega-4 relay to stop them?"

"I'm getting a crew together to do it," she says, not even a flicker of doubt in her face and voice. "Someone has to."

"That sounds like a suicide mission."

"That's what Cerberus told me," Shepard smiles. "I intend to prove them wrong."

I grin up at her, shaking my head. Anyone else would be terrified. Shepard just sees it as a goal. "Well, I can't say I'm a fan of colonies disappearing, human or otherwise," I say. "Plus I owe you one for getting me out of Omega. And I'm sort of unemployed at the moment."

"Sounds like a perfect arrangement of circumstances."

"I was thinking the exact same thing," I chuckle. "I'll probably regret this later, but count me in, Shepard."

"I already did," she nods. "Just wanted to make sure."

"I'm hurt you even had to do that," I say, faking insult. "By the way," I add. "It figures we don't make much of a dent in the merc groups over two years, then you show up and wreck them in one night."

"That's exactly what Garrus said," she chuckles. "You helped with planting the explosives on the gunship. And your explosives expert had left some surprises for the mercs in the tunnels before he left."

"Oh, stop being modest," I say, rolling my eyes. "You had to carry me out, that balances out the explosives I put on the gunship." It's hard to remember now the pain of the infected arm is gone, but I planted those explosives…to kill myself. That's not a pleasant thought.

"That did make things more complex," she nods. "Your friend Garm decided to come into the house with a rocket launcher as well."

Huh. That's definitely not canon. "Christ, I remember when Wrex had a rocket launcher, and that wasn't pretty. How'd you deal with that?"

"Well, this was after the Suns and Eclipse tried their own attacks," Shepard explains. "The Blood Pack were the only ones left. Garrus tricked him into shooting some support pillars, and Garm ended up collapsing the building on himself and his men while we escaped."

"Wrex had brains too, probably why he succeeded with his launcher," I sigh. Stupid Garm. "Melanis is gonna kill me for the house being destroyed, though."

"I think Garrus mentioned her," Shepard says, a smile creeping up the edges of her mouth. "Female turian? He said you'd know her far better than he did."

"Yeah, I bet he did," I mutter. Well, Shepard knows I got a new girlfriend. Which also means she knows I broke up with Tali, and either isn't that bothered or never expected it to last anyway. Both seem entirely reasonable. "He's told you about what Omega was like?"

"I've gotten quite a good idea, between him and Mordin," she says. "Aria T'Loak gave me a brief history of what you and Garrus had been up to as well."

"Oh, trust me, Aria won't have told you the half of it," I chuckle cynically. "It's not her style."

"You knew her well?"

"I knew her, but I wouldn't use words like 'well'," I frown, narrowing my eyes at the thought of her. Considering it looks like Sidonis didn't betray us…well, she could be on my 'list of suspects'. "Too many positive connotations."

"She seemed quite fond of you," Shepard shrugs.

"Yeah, see, that is her style," I nod. "At best I'd call us frienemies. And that's being very generous to her. She helped us out, but it wasn't for free, put it that way."

"Aria used you?" Shepard asks, eyes narrowing as she does. She always was protective of her crew…

"I didn't exactly make it hard for her," I admit. "But I'm better than that now. At least she helped me there." I look up at Shepard again, who seems to be quietly calculating. "It's just how Omega works, Shepard," I explain. "Aria plays games with people she finds interesting, both parties get something out of it, then she gets bored and moves on."

"And here I was thinking there was hard feelings between you two," she replies, with a hint of sarcasm.

"None that I can do anything about," I sigh. "Aria and Omega are in the past, and I'd really like to keep it that way."

"You sure?" Shepard asks, smiling. "If I can take care of the three major mercenary groups, I can kick down Afterlife's front door for you."

I smile too, shaking my head. "As much as I'd like to see that, I think I'm fine. Thanks for the offer, though."

"Don't mention it," she chuckles. "So, when does Chakwas think you'll be mission fit?"

"A week. Maybe quicker if I train fast, which I plan on doing."

"Good," Shepard nods. "The quicker you're back, the better. Having two people I know watching my back would be nice."

"You don't trust the new crew?" I ask.

"I trust them. I just trust you and Garrus more."

"Fair enough," I smile, feeling quite happy Shepard has that attachment to us. "I picked up a few new skills on Omega, so I might be less of a dead weight this time around."

Shepard smirks and shakes her head. "I'd say you acquitted yourself pretty well last time around, so if you've improved, even better. I did see that sword thing of yours in the armoury."

Ah, they recovered the HVB. Good. It wouldn't have been nice to see all of Laet's work go to waste. "Well, I wouldn't say that was a new skill just yet," I admit, scratching my head with my good arm. "I'm still working on using it."

"You've got a week to practice before we put you out in the field," she says. "Speaking of which, Garrus says you got trained in infiltration? Went undercover a few times?"

Well, this is clearly building up to something. "Yeah, that was my thing. Why?"

Shepard smiles widely, settling back in her chair. "There's a mission that might require those skillsets, and I think you might be better suited to it than I am."

Okay, that's odd. I don't remember any Mass Effect 2 missions I'm better suited to than Shepard… "What do you have in mind?" I ask.

"Not me," Shepard explains. "Kasumi." Oh, the hooded Japanese woman? I remember her from Omega, vaguely. Not from the games, though. Maybe she was DLC? Or maybe Shepard just picked her up anyway? It's not like I can check, so there's no point dwelling on it. "She can give you the details and help you train for it."

"Alright," I nod, not entirely sure what to make of this. I guess if Shepard thinks I can do it better, she's probably right. It's not like she's ever been one to doubt her own abilities. "I'll head along once Chakwas lets me out."

"Your readings are fine," Chakwas says, turning around from her chair across the room from us. "You should get some real food once you leave, but nothing rich. We don't want you throwing up."

"The way Gardener's cooking, I don't think there's much chance of getting 'real food' anywhere," Shepard points out. "The sooner we get to the Citadel to get him some good ingredients, the better." She glances back to me. "And that reminds me I need to get ready for reaching the Citadel. I've got a meeting with the Council and Anderson."

"When do we dock?" I ask.

"About a day's time, so I need to try and work out how I explain showing up in a Cerberus ship," Shepard says, furrowing her brow. "The Alliance haven't exactly been useful so far, so I doubt this'll help things."

"At least Anderson will be there," I say, trying to cheer her up, despite the fact I know he's not gonna be much help either. "It could be worse. Imagine if it was Udina."

"That's true," she nods. "Only three of the four councillors won't be happy to see me, as opposed to all of them."

"Reminding them they owe you their lives might help a bit," I suggest.

Shepard chuckles at that. "Because they've always been so excellent at listening to reason."

I really hope she hasn't seen the stuff that came out about her when she was dead, now that I think about it. I'd be surprised if she hasn't, though. All it would take is one extranet search of her name to see every article, soundbite and video clip. The Council ones weren't ever particularly positive. "Good luck, then," I say. "It'll be fine, Shepard. You want anyone to come with you?"

"I'll have Garrus," she says, and that thought does get a smile on her face. He'll be as good a reassurance as any. "You need to stay here and get better." I see Chakwas glancing at me from her chair, narrowing her eyes in a familiar dangerous stare.

"You know," I nod. "That seems like a good idea."

"Good," Shepard smiles, as Chakwas turns back around again. "Oh, and make sure you get to know the rest of the team. Head up to the CIC and talk to Kelly Chambers, she'll point you to where everyone is. Joker's there too if you want to catch up."

Ah, introductions with the new crew. Should be fun. Or maybe just interesting with some people. "Will do. Thanks, Shepard."

"No problem," she says, getting to her feet and giving me one last look. "Nice to have you back, Ian."

"Same to you, Commander," I smile, making her roll her eyes and laugh as she leaves the room.

She looks like she's doing alright, which is good. Obviously the dying thing isn't something she's ignoring, quite the opposite, but at least she seems pretty eager to get it out of the way with everyone. The Shepard I know did always like to be up-front.

"Come on," Chakwas says, getting to her feet and walking over to me to pull the wires still attached to my body. "Let's get you back out there."

Beneath the sharp pains of sticky pads being pulled off bare skin, I smile to myself, looking out the medbay window at the SR-2. Omega felt alien, strange, terrifying. This feels like home.

I'm back. That rock, with its games, crime, deception and horrors, is behind me. Sidonis might not have betrayed us, but right now, I don't care. We all made it out. That's what matters.

Waking up isn't easy at the best of times. But now I know where I am, this is the easiest it's felt in two years.

###########

Meanwhile, on Omega…
October 18th, 2185
11:32am, Omega time
Ruins of Archangel's hideout

Waking up isn't easy.

The sound of feet and claws scrabbling around on rubble is what woke him, each unidentifiable shout and voice pulling him closer and closer to full consciousness. He groans, trying to move, but finds even his strength is pinned by the wreckage surrounding him. His face, for the first time in as long as he can remember, feels raw. Tender. Injured. The other wounds he surmises he must have received must have healed, because he can feel none of them.

Yet he remembers the flames licking at his face as the rocket exploded, the explosion burning him, the roof giving way and falling on him as the turian watched and smiled. He had been tricked, and his target had escaped. Both of them had. They had left him burned and scarred, trapped underneath the house that was supposed to have been their graves.

He groaned again as the voices grew closer, clarity coming to his thoughts as a primal instinct bloomed within him. Archangel and Archdemon had escaped him, but they had also thought he was defeated.

Their mistake.

Garm opened his mouth and roared, tensing his arms against the floor and pushing up with incredible strength, feeling the huge weight trapping him shift and decrease as rubble slid from the area covering him. The voices grew closer, more frantic, and with them the weight reduced until finally, with an almighty push, he threw himself free and up to his feet, surveying the vorcha and two krogan staring at him in awe and fear. As they should.

"Garm," one of the krogan, who Garm doesn't recognise except for his Blood Pack armour, breathes. "You're alive."

"You should never have thought anything else, whelp," he snarls. "You've got ten minutes to tell whoever replaced me that, and tell him to get off Omega before I find out who he is." Garm didn't know for sure that someone had taken over the Blood Pack, but it was a safe bet someone would have seized the reigns in presuming him dead. He hoped they wouldn't try and escape when they found out he was alive. He was in the mood to rip something apart.

"And you," Garm adds, turning his gaze to the second krogan. "What happened to Archangel? His crew?"

"They escaped," the krogan says, and it says something about the respect Garm holds that his voice is trembling as he does. "All of them. The Suns and Eclipse leadership are dead, and no-one knows where they went."

"Idiots," Garm growls, shaking his head. "We still have the information sent to us? Their faces, names?"

"Yes, but Archangel and Archdemon weren't in those files-"

"Then get Nakmor Ranx," he snaps. "Give him those files, and tell him I want them dead. That will draw Archangel and Archdemon in, and he can kill them as well." He's about to turn away, when he changes his mind and looks back. "No. Tell him I want them all dead, except that turian and his pet human. I want them alive."

"Yes, sir," the krogan says, running off with his comrade before Garm's mood grew even more sour. The vorcha continued to stare at Garm's face, but a glare of those dark red eyes saw him scuttling off too, as the krogan stood atop the wreckage of Archangel's old hideout.

Lifting a hand, he touched the burn scars on his face, and the pain that went through his body from it had no effect other than to strengthen his resolve for revenge. Ranx wasn't like the other krogan. Where they were stupid, he was smart, where they were slow, he was quick. He wasn't the closest thing the Blood Pack had to an assassin, he was one of the best assassins in the galaxy. Ranx would find them. Then, they would finally learn what it meant to cross the Blood Pack, and leave their mark upon its leader.

Archangel and Archdemon might have thought Omega was done with them.

Omega had other plans.


MASSES TO MASSES 4


A/N: It won't be a long gap, he said, it'll only be about a month, he said…

Sorry this took so long, but the important thing is, I'm back, and if that last section didn't make it clear I have a lot of plans for this story. The feedback on Masses to Masses 3 seemed to make out like you all appreciate original content, so obviously while this story will follow Mass Effect 2 events…well, there's going to be plenty of original plotlines too, put it that way. All in the MEverse, though. I'm not starting crossovers or anything.

So…I'm not really sure what else to say. This was more of an introductory chapter, so the excitement and drama will continue shortly; obviously, you all want to get to know the new crew and get attached before I make you terrified for their lives.

Suffice to say I'm really excited to have this going, so hopefully you all are as well. Now it's just a matter of trying to contain all the things I really want to reveal.

Oh, and if anyone's interested, I have a tumblr now. My name on it is inf3ctionz.

As always, it's great to be back, and I'll see you next chapter!