Again, quite a difficult chapter to write, also I had loads of work this week and also next week so updates will probably take a bit longer than usual for the time being. Again, thanks to xXserialkillerXx for advice and assistance on the Keprals storyline
4th May 2193 – Crucible pulse + 6 years 9 months
"What does that do?" David asked as he pointed to one of the buttons of Joker's holographic interface.
"That? That's the control for thruster alignment and..."
He was interrupted by Kaiden, pointing to a different switch. "What does this do?"
"That is for regulating the distribution of the multicore shields and..."
David cut across him again. "What about this one?"
"Ughh..." Joker sighed, placing his head in his hands. "That switches the main display from tactical to..."
Kaiden jumped in once more before he could finish. "What about that button?"
"No! Don't touch that!" Joker shouted, jolting forwards rather quickly. He nursed his shoulder, which was now hurting, as he shook his head at them. "That deploys the main gun."
Both twins looked at each other, sharing huge grins and speaking in unison.
"No, dangerous!" Joker replied. He sighed once more. "Look, haven't you guys got someone else to go and bother?"
David shook his head, Kaiden just shrugged.
"Well, where are your parents?"
"OK then, what about your sister?"
Joker raised his eyebrows. "Do you know anything?"
"Yeah," David grinned as he pointed to the console. "That deploys the gun!"
Joker sighed as he placed his head in his hands once more. "Oh Jesus..."
"Jeff, would you like assistance?" EDI asked as she walked up to the cockpit, standing behind the twins. "My sensors indicate elevated physical and mental stress levels."
"Well I wouldn't be so concerned if there wasn't two of them to keep an eye on!" He remarked. Both of the twins sniggered. "Honestly, I don't know how the hell Shawson manage it."
EDI cocked her head. "Shawson?"
"Yeah, it's shorthand that I devised," Joker explained. "Quicker than saying Shepard and Lawson every time."
"I see," EDI nodded. "That is more efficient, I may begin to use it myself."
"Yeah yeah," He shrugged. "Anyway can you please do something with these two?"
"Certainly," EDI nodded, before turning to the boys. "My research indicates that offering confectionery items is often a useful distraction to younger children, would this be applicable now?"
David gave her a blank expression, whilst Kaiden cocked his head questioningly. "What?"
"Jeez," Joker turned around in his chair, rolling his eyes. "She's offering you sweets."
"Please follow me." EDI gestured away from herself towards the lift. The twins bolted straight through the CIC, EDI having to hurry after them.
"Hmm, they are a handful," Joker spoke quietly to himself. "But EDI seems to be able to cope rather well."
As the pilot spun back around in his chair he thoughtfully stroked his chin, the cogs of his mind spinning rather rapidly.
"So, you've been to the base all ready Liara?" Shepard asked.
"Yes, I travelled there just under two Citadel months ago," Liara nodded. "There's a series of tunnels containing what appears to be laboratories along several wings. At the very centre there is a large chamber, with the Prothean Beacon in the very centre."
Miranda raised an eyebrow. "Have they tried accessing any of it yet?"
"Yes, the laboratories have data that has been accessed on hardware similar to computers of our own. You can access that as soon as we reach the base," Liara explained. "But they have, understandably, not been able to access the Beacon. Javik will be able to."
"If there is anything useful I will find it," Javik assured them. "The beacons are very large data stores, ones like the one on Mars were always used at research or military bases. They were the most reliable and secure method of data storage."
"Great," Miranda nodded. "Then hopefully we should find something there."
"It's a bit far out though, isn't it?" Shepard remarked. "The beacon Mars Archives are next to Earth, and for the Asari the beacon was actually on Thessia. This base is right on the outskirts of the system, on a dwarf planetoid. I expected it to be on Rakanah."
"My people would establish commands and stations where it was most convenient for them to observe without being seen," Javik explained. "If the Drell were particularly widespread over the planet when they were discovered then it is likely the scientists would have opted to work from the nearest suitable site, in this case the dwarf planetoid is the most appropriate candidate."
"Makes sense." Shepard nodded.
"Can I come with you?" Elizabeth piped up from the other side of the War Room table.
Shepard turned to look at Miranda who was frowning. "Miri?"
"Well, the thing is Lizzie," Miranda started as she walked up to her daughter. "This is really serious business that we're here for, to be honest I wasn't keen on you guys even coming on the Normandy. Some of these places can be very dangerous, I don't want you to get hurt."
"Lizzie," Shepard interrupted. "If your mother doesn't want you to go then that's final, it took me weeks to persuade her to let you guys come with us on the Normandy."
"Aww..." Elizabeth sighed. "I really wanted to go though."
"Look, when you're older I'll take you to as many Prothean ruins as you want," Shepard ruffled a hand through her hair. "OK?"
Elizabeth nodded sadly. "Fine."
"In my cycle we took our children anywhere we believed would help further their education, regardless of the danger," Javik explained. "If there were benefits, then we would make sure to take them. When the Reapers came, we taught our children to fight once they were strong enough to grasp a rifle."
"Really?" Miranda turned, narrowing her eyes at Javik and speaking rather coldly. "Well in our cycle you keep your children safe."
"OK then..." Shepard moved between the pair, he could tell Miranda was becoming rather ruffled. "Lets not have a row eh?"
"Yes, lets not," Liara nodded. "Javik, I will not let our daughter go to a dig site until she is at least in her thirties."
Elizabeth cocked her head. "Will I have to wait until I'm thirty?"
"No, but don't worry for now Lizzie," Miranda shook her head before speaking to their surroundings. "EDI, how long until we reach the dig site?"
"We should arrive in fifty seven minutes."
"Great, thanks EDI," Shepard said as he began to walk up the stairs. "Shall we grab some food before we arrive? I'm starving."
"Shepard, perhaps you can be rather quick," EDI asked. "The twins are rather hyperactive, and currently I cannot find them."
"What?" Miranda asked rather sharply.
"I agreed to play hide and seek with them, but it would have been unfair so I disabled my internal cameras and sensors in the Normandy for the time being to rely solely on my platforms optics," EDI said. "Now, I cannot find them."
"Oh great," Shepard sighed. "You realise they are pretty much Galactic champions for hide and seek, it'll take hours to find them if you don't use your sensors."
"Yes, but I promised not to cheat," EDI replied. "I will not break that promise to them, it would be very rude."
"EDI, just do it!"
"So Miranda," Miranda looked up at Ashley on the other side of the shuttle. "How come you haven't got any of your science buddies with you?"
Miranda looked around the interior, double checking who was present. Liara and Javik sat to her left, Ashley and James Vega opposite them, with Cortez piloting the shuttle. There weren't any strangers present, and she could trust the rest of the group.
"Lets say that not everyone in my department is exactly trustworthy." She replied.
"What?" Vega looked around, a confused expression on his face. "You mean someone would want to stop Keprals Syndrome from being cured?"
"It's not so much that," Miranda shook her head. "With the exception of the Reapers, no one would gain anything from damaging the population of a species like the Drell – they're not exactly big political players in the galaxy."
"So..." As the Major scratched his forehead Miranda could practically see the wheels in his brain turning. "It couldn't be Cerberus or anything, could it?"
"Doubtful, there's nothing left of that organisation any more," Ashley spoke up, giving a rather large smile to the group. Noting Miranda's raised eyebrow Ashley quickly spoke again. "Nothing bad is left, at lest."
"I wasn't implying that actually Ashley," Miranda shook her head. "I'm just doubtful that you will have got all of Cerberus, but all that could possibly be left is a few facilities without any direction, any benefactors, or any resources."
"Miranda is correct," Liara nodded. "But if any remnants of Cerberus tried to reorganise themselves into something more I would know straight away."
"Really?" Vega asked.
"Yes, the old Shadow Broker knew all about Cerberus – right down to how many cigarettes The Illusive Man smoked in each day," Liara grinned. "And I'm better."
"Wow," Vega looked surprised. "Impressive. So can you find out who's the mole in Miranda's science team?"
"Not yet," Liara shook her head. "But it's only a matter of time."
"Indeed," Miranda nodded, a sneer spreading across her face. "And when I find out who it is I'm going to chuck them out of my department, right through their office window and into the skycar lanes below."
Ashley chuckled from the other side of the shuttle. "And only this morning was John saying how you're much more forgiving and understanding now that you have those twins to put up with."
"Maybe I am, but not when it comes to someone who has betrayed me," Miranda replied. "I still don't put trust in people lightly, in the end most people throw it back in your face."
"Most people?" Ashley questioned. "Most people are decent and trustworthy most of the time but sometimes, for whatever reason, they have no choice but to let you down. Maybe that's the case with your mole?"
"No," Miranda shook her head. "There's always a choice."
"Really?" Ashley raised her eyebrows. "What if someone put a gun to Elizabeth's head and threatened to pull the trigger if you didn't give over certain data? Or worst, if you didn't allow them to get to John? If you refuse they kill your daughter, you would have betrayed her trust to protect her, and if you comply you've betrayed John."
Miranda paused for a second, putting her mind into that position, one that she had experienced many times in the depths of night. For just that second she had a sickening feeling in her stomach, a situation like that would be her worst nightmare. Choosing between the most important man in her world and her children would destroy her either way, but Ashley made a good point. What was the lesser of two evils?
"I admit, that would be horrible," Miranda agreed. "But, in the end I know John would never let any harm come to our kids because of him – when Lizzie was born he made me promise that in that situation I would choose the kids. "
"I suppose it isn't exactly what you'd want to think about is it." Liara replied sombrely.
"I have no idea what the hell John would do if it were the other way around." Miranda added.
"Well that's simple," Ashley chuckled. "He would find some jammy ass way of saving both you and the kids, corner the bad guys, get them to confess and reform their characters, and probably pick up a new sniper rifle mod for Garrus on the way."
"You know, that sounds rather accurate." Liara agreed.
"You want to know what we would do in my cycle?" Javik asked, speaking up for the first time in a while.
"Actually I don't, I dread to think what you would do!" Miranda replied icily, before calling out to the cockpit. "Cortez, how long until we arrive at the base?"
"One minute out."
"Great," Miranda thanked him. She turned back to Ashley, smoothing a crease across the stomach of her catsuit as she stood up. Miranda placed her breathing apparatus over the lower half of her face, the others in the shuttle securing helmets as well. After a few moments she felt the shuttle wobble ever so slightly as Cortez set it down, the door opening almost immediately. "Right, lets go."
The group of five walked from the shuttle to a cluster of hab blocks twenty metres away, groups of Alliance guards stood around on duty. They passed some of the buildings and headed to the middle of the camp where there was a large clump of drilling equipment around a very large hole in the ground. A human in science garb presented Liara with a data-pad, giving her a smile behind his helmet.
"Everything is as you requested Dr T'Soni," He told her. "We've made quite some progress with the excavations since your last visit."
"Good," Liara nodded. She gestured to a ladder into the hole. "Shall we?"
Miranda nodded and went down the ladder first, dropping down into the bottom of the hole. There was a doorway directly in front of the ladder, a great opening made of reddened steel leading off into the depths of the facility. Miranda headed inside, following the red emergency lighting ahead of them until they arrived at an airlock.
"How many stars are there in the galaxy?" Elizabeth asked, as Shepard sat with her and the twins in the Port Lounge.
"I have no idea exactly Lizzie," He shrugged. "There are hundreds of thousands of them out there, I'm sure some boffin knows exactly how many there are though."
"Does mummy know?"
He chuckled. "Probably."
She looked back out of the window, smiling as she surveyed the amazing view. "What's beyond our galaxy?"
"Well there's dark space, it goes on endlessly as far as we know," Shepard explained. "There are other galaxies like our own spread out in the Universe."
"Has anyone been to the other galaxies?"
"Not yet," He shook his head. "Though many species have sent probes out of our galaxy, no one has tried to go to any other galaxy as of yet."
"Do you think there are other species out there, like us?"
"Definitely," He nodded. "Though who knows what they are like, they could be like us or completely different."
David turned from the window that the twins had been glued to for quite some time. "I wanna go there!"
Shepard chuckled. "Well, maybe one day you will."
"I want to go too," Kaiden said. "I'll take the Normandy!"
"That's not a bad idea," Shepard grinned. "I bet the crew have been dying for another crazy mission to do since I left."
"Shepard," EDI interrupted. "I would like to inform you that the crew has been most pleased to not be in mortal danger every single day of the week whilst retaining challenging missions."
"Well, that's disappointing EDI."
"I will make sure to log your official displeasure to Commander Williams," Shepard waited as EDI paused for several seconds. "That was a joke."
"Yeah, I was pretty sure of that EDI," He chuckled again. "How is the team getting on?"
"They have entered the dig site and are beginning to inspect the Prothean data clusters," EDI informed him. "Miss Lawson estimates they will be several hours at the most."
"Aye, thanks EDI," Shepard nodded, before turning to the children. "So, what shall we do for several hours?"
"Oh, I know!" David piped up. "I know where the guns are, we can shoot stuff!"
"No," Shepard shook his head. "I don't think that is a good idea, do you?"
"Hmm," Kaiden cocked his head, before slapping David on the arm. "Tag! You're it!"
Before Shepard could stop them the pair shot our of the room, shouting at the top of their lungs as David chased after his brother. He dashed out after them, almost knocking Traynor and Chakwas over who were just outside the crew quarters.
"Shepard," Chakwas cocked her head. "Do you need a hand?"
Before Shepard could answer there was an almighty crash as the rampaging toddlers smashed into Private Westmorland who was in the process of carrying a large box of food from one of the freeze stores to the kitchen area.
"Right," Shepard nodded. "Traynor, block the lift. Karin, lets get them – we'll go for a pincer attack on them."
The women nodded grimly.
"Got it Shepard."
"So, we've accessed everything non-Protheans can understand," Miranda said. "I guess that just leaves the Beacon."
"Yes," Javik nodded. "It is the most likely place for the data you seek. I can connect to the beacon with my mind, it will be a far quicker process than attaching a computer system to decrypt and translate the data."
"Then, if you don't mind," Miranda gestured to the immense structure in front of them, surrounded by smooth pillars that seemed to glow with an eerie green light. "I don't want us to be stuck here for days."
"Yes." Javik nodded as he walked over to a podium in front of the beacon. The others, along with the other researchers and archaeologists in the sanctum, watched closely as the Prothean rested his arms on the top of the podium. Javik closed his four eyes slowly as he leaned forwards, his face set into a mask of concentration. Miranda found herself leaning forwards as well as she thought she saw hazy green lines through the air connecting the Prothean to the Beacon. After she blinked they disappeared however, and she shook her head before moving over to the others.
"Well I guess we should leave Javik to it," She whispered. "I would like to look over the hard data we got from the computers again, double check to see if anything was missed."
Shepard turned with a smile as the door behind him opened, Miranda walking into the Starboard Observation Deck with a smile.
"Hey," She sat down on the sofa next to him, placing an arm around his waist. "You all right?"
"Yeah," He nodded. "Did you find much down there?"
"Well, bits and pieces," Miranda shrugged. "We'll have to wait until Javik has translated and decrypted all of the data, but there should hopefully be something."
"That's good," Shepard nodded. He waited for Miranda to reply, but noticed she was rather withdrawn – deep in her own thoughts. "What's up?"
"How have the kids been?"
Shepard stopped a look of surprise from crossing his face. "Well, after we managed to stop them from causing the ship to descend into chaos they were all right, they're sleeping in the lounge now."
"I saw, they looked deceptively cute together as ever," Miranda nodded before sighing. "I'm fine, honestly."
"Sure?" Shepard probed, laying a reassuring hand on her thigh.
"Well, I just..." Miranda sighed again before leaning into him closely, resting her head against his shoulder. "It was just something Ashley and I were discussing in the shuttle."
Shepard cocked his head in surprise. "What?"
"Just about trust in people, and betraying that trust," Shepard was surprised as Miranda clutched his arm even tighter. "It doesn't really matter."
"Well, I think it does," Shepard chuckled lightly. "Mainly because you're almost drawing blood with your nails."
"What?" Miranda jolted upright, looking down with a shocked expression at his arm. She looked back up at him with a sheepish look. "Sorry."
"Hey, I've been through worse." Shepard spoke gently as he placed his hand on her cheek carefully.
Miranda nodded hurriedly as she settled back into his arms, drawing her legs up onto the sofa. "She mentioned that people don't always have a choice to betray other people, sometimes they're forced into doing something they would never want to."
"And that got you thinking?"
"Yes, firstly about Niket – I haven't thought about him in a while," She admitted. "And then Ashley asked what would I do if a gun was put to Lizzie's head accompanied by a demand for me to get you into a position where you could be killed."
"Ah," Realisation dawned on Shepard, they had been through this conversation once or twice before. "You know my thoughts, you choose the kids every single time. I wouldn't want anything else."
"I know that," She nodded. "But what about you? I've never got around to getting an answer out of you."
"Well, I guess you would want me to choose the kids as well," Shepard slowly replied, lowering his head sadly as he spoke. "It would kill me to do that though."
"I know, it wouldn't be any easier for me either," Miranda agreed. "But the kids are more important than either of us right?"
"Without a doubt," Shepard nodded. "Definitely."
"But, like Ashley said, you'd probably manage to save everyone as per usual anyway," Miranda chuckled. "And I wouldn't expect anything less from you."
"True," Shepard nodded with a grin. "Of course."
"Hmm..." Miranda squirmed in his arms again, pressing herself closer. "Shall we take this conversation another route? It's a long journey back to Sol, and I don't want to spend more time dwelling on that."
"Sure," Shepard nodded with a grin. "I can think of a few things to pass the time."
"Cheeky," She grinned back, before her eyes lit up. "Hey! We could continue that awkward question game from earlier? You never answered my last question!"
"Oh no, oh no no no!" Shepard shook his head. "I am not falling for that one, not at all."
"Why not?" Miranda asked. "I'm interested."
"No, I am not telling you who I would most rather sleep with instead of you," Shepard shook his head again defiantly. "No way, as declared by Admiral Ackbar, it's a trap!"
Miranda rolled her eyes at his reference. "Tell me!"
"No!" He said. "Give me another question, anything else."
"Fine then," Miranda huffed. She hummed for a few seconds, before grinning. "OK then, this is more up your street. What liquid would you most prefer to lick off my body?"
"Oh, now that one I can do," He smirked. "Maybe I should grab some bottles and jars of stuff from the kitchen, we can experiment on the way home."
"That is a very good idea," Miranda gave him a wink as she stood up, tracing a finger along the zip of her catsuit. "EDI, lock the door and, if anyone asks, we're asleep."
A/N As ever, please read and review guys