I am not going to die, I'm going home like a shooting star. - Sojourner Truth

- Rachaél Shepard's activation of the Crucible saved the galaxy, but the cost may prove to be enormous -

• Shepard's Homecoming •

EDI. The impression of her name being called was virtually undetectable above the constant background sounds of environmental pumps and ship's machinery that were routine for the Normandy. EDI looked around from her seat in the cockpit - no one was there. Jeff had gone off-duty several hours ago, leaving her in charge of monitoring the ship - since she did not need to 'sleep', she was often alone at her post, and as the Normandy was sitting on an uncharted planet, there was not a lot to monitor. It was no different than all the time she had spent on the ship prior to her takeover of Dr. Eva's Cerberus built body - she was continuously 'awake', constantly monitoring the ship's systems and crew, both human and non-human.

Several weeks had passed since Commander Shepard had done what many considered impossible - she had ended the Reaper's 'harvest' of civilizations across the galaxy. The terrible blast of green energy from the Crucible, docked with the catalyst - the Citadel - had irrevocably changed everything galaxy wide, for which she had seemingly paid the ultimate price.

The first wave of energy from the Crucible enveloped Earth and the Reapers above the planet, threatening the Alliance ships engaged in combat with them. Hackett's order to the fleets to leave Earth orbit was immediately heeded by all except Joker. He was moving the Normandy past the Crucible, heading 'Earthward', in the hope that Shepard could still be rescued - could still be recovered before it fired. As the energy field from the Crucible expanded out from the central tower, Joker had to turn to fly past the still arming weapon - once on the far side of the Citadel's arms and pointed towards deep space, he applied full throttle, accelerating to FTL just after reaching the moon's orbit. He had expected to reach the Charon mass relay before the energy beam from the Crucible, but the fastest frigate in the Alliance fleet - in any fleet - was not quite fast enough. The ship was engulfed in the wave front, which overloaded most of the Normandy's systems; this caused an immediate collapse of the mass effect field; momentum alone propelled the Normandy to the very edge of the galaxy, as a dying ocean wave propels a twig to the shore.

Joker had finally managed to regain enough navigational control to set the ship down on a planet in the outermost fringes of a galactic arm. It was in an uncharted cluster, about as far from the local cluster as possible while still in inner council space. The crew had spent the intervening time repairing or replacing damaged equipment critical to making the Normandy space worthy. Engineer Adams, Gabby, Ken Donnelly and Tali'Zorah were all well past exhaustion, but they felt the ship was almost ready to lift off and start the trip back.

Dr. T'Soni had been inconsolable for days after the Crucible's activation, as if her heart had been ripped from her body. For all intents and purposes, Rachaél Shepard had been Liara's bond mate. When she was asked to place Shepard's name on the deck three memorial wall, she told the crew she knew the instant Shepard had died - that moment in time that preceded the crucible's energy discharge by milliseconds - as if she had been there in person. If there was any chance, however remote, that Shepard had survived not just her injuries in the battle with Harbinger but the activation of the crucible, Liara would have known.

Now, the empty place in her heart was something the passage of time could not heal, and she had another eight or nine hundred years to live with that burden. She spent nearly all her time in her port side cabin, only coming out to eat during the graveyard shift, when few crew members were dining. Garrus and Tali visited as much as Liara would allow; both had been closer to the commander than most, so the presence of either of them was usually enough to bring the young asari to tears.

The Reapers were assisting with the rebuilding process. It was thought that repairs were progressing on the relays linked to Charon, but with the com buoys destroyed, there was no way to communicate with the other species' systems to find out. Reapers within range of the Normandy's location were communicating with each other regarding repairs being performed galaxy-wide; none of the crew truly believed this, not wanting to place their faith in creatures so recently hell-bent on destroying them, and they sure as hell were not going to give away their current location by asking for help. There were many hundreds of thousands of quarians, geth, krogan, asari, and turians, as well as salarians and vorcha stuck in the Sol system. None of them had a fast or simple way to return to their home systems…until the Charon relay and its linked relays were repaired, there was no speedy way to travel between systems. As the Normandy had been propelled to the very edge of the galaxy by the blast, it could take many months or years to return to the Sol system at the maximum FTL speed Normandy was capable of achieving, assuming that H3 supplies could be replenished enroute.

EDI. Again, it was just a slight sensation in her core processor - if a human were to describe the feeling, the word 'tingle' - no, 'tickle' - would, she felt, be an appropriate description.

EDI was not aware…could not know, that Shepard's actions on the Citadel were the reason she herself could now be called truly alive. Her processor had gained awareness on Earth's moon, her humanoid body had been manufactured and assembled in a Cerberus lab, but prior to the energy blast from the crucible, she had been tethered to the Normandy by her main processors' location in the ship. She still communicated with the Normandy's computer core; unlike before the blast, she could now travel anywhere, do anything, without having to be in close proximity to the ship. EDI! EDI realized the 'tickle' felt like Commander Shepard's 'voice'.

"Major Alenko to the bridge." EDI paged Kaidan over the ship's intercom, hoping he might have some insight into the problem.

Kaidan took several minutes to appear, his hair somewhat tousled from sleep. As ranking Alliance officer on the Normandy, the major was learning just how difficult commanding a starship could be. As a colleague and comrade to Commander Shepard, he had done his best to hide his deep sense of loss and heartache over Rachaél's death. His efforts to rally the crew and keep repairs to the ship on track had at times seemed harsh and unfeeling, but no one questioned his authority or decisions.

"What's the problem, EDI," he asked, attempting to rub the sleep from his eyes.

"I am having a problem with my core CPU, Major," EDI replied. "I seem to be hearing, if that is the correct term, the voice of Commander Shepard, asking for my help. How can that be possible?"

Shepard had only hesitated a moment before deciding which path to take. She simply could not eradicate an entire race of sentient beings…could she bear the thought of EDI losing her independent existence, just to destroy the Reapers.

If it meant the Reapers would exist peacefully, she decided, that would be okay. Summoning her last reserves of energy, she began walking, then dropped her pistol and sprinted as fast as her broken body would allow. Diving into the beam, she felt a great sense of peace, of calm; she knew she was doing the right thing, even as her body began disintegrating, its essence being added to the energy surrounding her. She no longer felt pain from her many injuries, no sense of movement or falling. She had no regrets as her body ceased to exist. She briefly thought of friends that had paid the ultimate price before her… Ashley, Thane, Mordin, Legion, Anderson…all had died to get her to this place, this time in the cycle. There was light all around her, a greenish glow that pulsed with its own life…then…it simply faded into blackness…

Blackness. Infinite dark. There were…sensations…a low-level, almost sub-sonic hum that waxed and waned…not audible, simply…felt. Is this what death felt like? There was no detectable movement in the void stretching out in all directions. Nothing but…

light…small motes of light, all around, drifting as if stars moving past, above and below, left, right, forward and back, and in the distance, a thin line of intense white appeared, splitting the void, widening, stretching, growing ever larger until it engulfed all the blackness…

…details slowly became visible within the intense white surrounding her. There were traces of a previous inhabitant in front of her. She attempted to move nearer, to take a closer look, and discovered any movement seemed quite impossible. It was as if her feet (of which she could not feel and there were none in evidence anywhere) were mired in quik'crete. As she was attempting to move, more and more details of her whereabouts gradually became visible. There were parallel lines, stretching out ahead and behind, broken at intervals, each break exactly opposite of its counterpart. The nearest break was close by - if she could move just a bit, she'd be able to see into the breaks.

The thought of feet unnerved her for a moment…what about hands, arms, legs, body? There was no evidence she was even a living being. Was this a dream? What was a dream? What was reality? If so, how to wake up? Pinching herself was out of the question. She continued to ponder this in the back of her mind (did she even have a mind?) as she attempted to think of a solution to not being able to move. She wanted to be there…

she was there. She had thought of where she wanted to be…the location ahead of her…and she was there. It was an epiphany for her. The break…the intersection…consisted of more of the same lines, stretching out to the left and right. There were also lines stretching 'up' and 'down' from her current location, with more intersections. The traces left by the previous inhabitant of this - what to call it, how to think of it? - world was too broad, too big. What then? 'construct' popped into her mind. Traces left in this construct were tinged in cerulean, and appeared to run in every direction from her vantage point, but…

…the traces were deeper, more vivid in the direction she perceived as 'down', as if there had been many 'trips' back and forth along this path. Inspecting this path intently, she discovered it could be inspected all the way to its end, as if looking through the scope of her favorite sniper rifle. She thought "I need to be there," and with an instantaneous blur peripherally perceived, she was at the end of the line.

She perceived voices - the volume too low to make out words. It was maddening to not be able to discern the source. If she had been back on the Normandy, she would have simply asked. "EDI, can you clear this up?"

EDI paused mid-sentence - she had been telling the major of hearing Shepard's voice. She ran a quick diagnostic of the Normandy's computer core, and discovered…a presence…an intelligence…that had never been there before. She inspected all the circuitry surrounding the spot where she suspected the presence to be…there were no other anomalies to be found. "Shepard? Is that you?"

Shepard responded with a thought, "EDI! What is this? What have I done? Where am I?"

EDI slipped part of her own self into the core processor and found it…the presence…the intelligence…was the essence of Rachaél Shepard! "EDI," it asked again, "where am I?"

"You are in the computer core on board the Normandy, Shepard," EDI responded. "But how can that be possible? What did you do to make the Crucible fire?"

Shepard explained, in great detail, all that had happened from the time the Normandy had made its rescue run for her squad: the death of the Illusive Man, her conversation with the star child, her choice to use synthesis to end the cycles of destruction, how she jumped into the energy beam generated by the Crucible, how she had regained 'consciousness' inside this strange place. She also told EDI about an incident on the Citadel involving Garrus, as she felt he would most certainly ask for more proof of her continued existence. All of this was perceived by EDI as a microburst of data, the telling of which took mere seconds.

"EDI, what's happening?" said Kaidan. EDI turned her gaze on the major. "You've been locked in your 'processing data' pose for almost a minute," he said with a smile. "That's not like you."

"My apologies, Major. I was communicating with…Commander Shepard. You may wish to have the team assemble in the conference room. There is much to discuss."

"Everyone is still asleep, EDI. Day shift doesn't start for a few more hours."

The corner of EDI's mouth twitched up, almost imperceptibly. "They will most certainly want to be roused from their slumbers for this news."

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be. - Douglas Adams,The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul


EDI waited at the entrance to the conference room until Shepard's team members had assembled inside, then walked to the head of the table where she remotely closed and sealed the sliding doors. She looked at each person in turn: Garrus stood to her left; Tali leaned against Garrus, holding his arm with one hand while resting her head against that same arm; Javik, James and Adams stood further along the same side; Liara was to her immediate right, then Traynor, Cortez, Joker and Dr. Chakwas. All were yawning, stretching or rubbing their eyes, not used to being dragged away from sleep at this ungodly hour.

Major Alenko stood opposite EDI at the far end, patiently waiting as all the side conversations and grumbling gradually ended and the room was quiet. "My apologies for dragging all of you out of bed at this hour. Please be seated. EDI, what do you have for us?"

EDI waited until everyone was sitting down. The chairs were new; they had been discovered in the main cargo hold, still in the containers in which they had been delivered while the Normandy was being refitted in dry dock. There had not been time to finish all the work prior to the ship's forced departure from Earth...there had only been time to run.

EDI looked at each team member in turn; her gaze stopped on Liara. She said, "I believe Rachaél Shepard is alive."

She waited again as everyone except Liara started talking at once; Liara simply stared open-mouthed at EDI, as if she had just announced there was a bomb under the table. Liara was almost expecting her to finish with '…that was a joke,' except EDI would never joke about Shepard's life.

Major Alenko raised his hands palms outward in front of his chest, asking for silence. As the excited conversations died down, Liara asked "How is that possible, EDI? I felt her die on the Citadel. She would not have…she could not be..." her voice trailed away as she looked down, tears welling up in her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she said, "I want to believe this as much as anyone here, more than you can imagine," she said in a shaky voice, "but it does not seem possible."

Garrus asked, "What proof do you have for us EDI?"

A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of EDI's mouth. "I do not have any physical proof of what I am about to tell you, other than the word of a person…a presence, that I trust implicitly. I was asked to remind you of something even I was unaware of: that you are the self-proclaimed king of the bottle shooters."

Garrus looked slightly embarrassed at this revelation, as it was a private joke between himself and the commander. "No one on this ship was privy to that information." Garrus said. "She must have told you after our meeting on the Citadel, long before we went to Sanctuary even.

"I can assure you Garrus, I was told about this less than an hour ago. Given my undeserved reputation by some of the crew as a blabbermouth," she said, smiling as she glanced at Liara, "do you really believe the entire crew would be unaware that bottles fear you?"

Garrus could only stare at her open-mouthed, his mandibles slack with astonishment. Tali chuckled as she raised her arm, using her hand to press against his chin until he closed his mouth.

EDI continued, "Shepard told me she encountered the Illusive Man; was actually being controlled by him as he was attempting to control the Reapers; he believed it was humanity's way forward. Unfortunately, it was they who were controlling him. Shepard was finally able to convince Harper - Jack Harper, for that was the Illusive Man's real name, that she could end the cycle once and for all if he would just stop fighting her. He produced a pistol and threatened her; she continued to reason with him and finally convinced him of this truth - the Reapers could not be controlled. Unfortunately, Harper did not have any other way to break their continued hold on his mind; in a massive effort, fueled by his rage…his despair, he managed to turn the gun on himself and pull the trigger."

"With the Illusive Man dead, Shepard dragged herself to the control panel and issued the command that began opening the Citadel arms; she says she must have blacked out, from the pain, from blood loss. Her next memory was of waking up on an upper level, just below the docked Crucible, by a presence she believes was the intelligence created by the Leviathan race…she referred to it as the 'star child'. It presented her with four choices on activation of the Crucible: do nothing, take control of the Reapers, destroy them all, or synthesis, the melding together of synthetics and organics."

"The control option, to use her words, 'freaked her out' as the least desirable outcome. The Illusive Man had attempted to take control before she talked to him. As he was already indoctrinated, the Reapers would not allow him to control them, and Shepard could not be sure that taking control of the Reapers herself would not result in her eventually becoming some kind of new super-Reaper."

"The 'do nothing' option was not even considered - it would have resulted in the death and assimilation of every intelligent being in the galaxy, after which the Reapers would return to dark space to wait for the lesser species, such as the yahg," here she glanced at Liara again, who simply winced, "to become new Reaper fodder in 50,000 years."

Javik responded to this bit of information, "Good for her. I am beginning to see why all of you followed her so devotedly. She is...was...an exceptional leader. Had she been alive in my cycle, perhaps we could have beaten the Reapers and saved all you primitive races the trouble in this cycle.

Traynor gave Javik a look of icy contempt. "So we could all be servants...slaves, of the 'superior' prothean race? It's a good thing for all of us that you are the last of your kind! It's a shame Shepard didn't toss your bloody ars out the airlock as soon as you were brought on board!"

"Specialist Traynor!" The major looked unhappy. "Like it or not, Javik is on this ship and is considered part of the crew. It is unfortunate you do not wish him to be here, but you will keep your opinions regarding the protheans and Javik to yourself. We can discuss this later in private, if you wish. Understood?"

Traynor's expression did not change as she looked at Kaidan and said "Yes...sir." Cortez reached over and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

Kaidan motioned for EDI to resume.

EDI continued, "She was told by the star child that the destruction option would result in the death of the Reapers, yes, along with every other synthetic intelligence in the galaxy, including the geth and…" she looked down, pausing for emphasis, "…myself." At this, Joker nearly fell out of his chair. Recovering his composure, he simply said, "Well, that obviously didn't happen."

"Correct. Although she could not really know if the star child was being truthful - would destruction of the Reapers really cause every synthetic intelligence to die? She was unwilling to take that chance with so many lives at stake. She could not choose a path that ran counter to her own values and beliefs, even if it was a path the Alliance and all the other races ultimately wanted."

"As did I." Javik said. "I still do not understand the value she placed on the existence of synthetics. I would have destroyed them all without a second thought!"

EDI started to speak, but was interrupted as Kaidan slowly stood, the merest hint of wispy blue beginning to appear around his hands and forearms. "Javik, you are out of line. I suggest you consider we are currently grounded on an unexplored planet in an unexplored system. We can certainly leave you here as the vanguard of the new prothean empire - no primitive synthetics around to offend your sense of superiority."

Javik looked at the major, then looked at Traynor, then down at the table. "My apologies, Major. It appears I do not share your opinion on machine intelligence, or much else." He stood and turned to face the door. "I will return to my quarters and prepare to leave. It would seem there is no place for me on this ship or in this cycle."

"Javik, sit! You're not going anywhere!" Liara said. "I didn't risk my life rescuing you from Horizon to have you turn tail and run just because your feelings are hurt. Sit, NOW!" She pointed to the chair, her own biotics flaring on her hand.

Javik wore a look of surprise as he slowly complied with her order.

"So," Liara had somewhat regained her composure, "she chose synthesis. How could she do that? What right did she have to impose this choice on…"

As Shepard gained more confidence in her travels about the avenues in the computer server, she discovered more and more interesting things the computer was capable of doing. She even discovered the location in the computer that brought her nearest the conference room. She could just make out the sounds of voices, although who was speaking and what was being said were beyond her grasp, at first. As she listened, she discovered that thinking of the volume being a bit higher resulted in an increase of volume. By trial and error, she discovered there were ten hidden microphones in the conference room; these could be manipulated in a number of ways, and could even be muted and unmuted with a thought. She increased the gain on the two at either end of the conference table just in time to hear…

…EDI cut the asari off in mid-sentence, "Liara, she was critically injured after being hit by Harbinger's main weapon; a glancing blow, she said, but it destroyed most of her armor - the rest was fused into her skin, resulting in what must have been excruciatingly painful third degree burns. She was bleeding from multiple wounds; one of her legs was fractured, as were several ribs, which had her coughing up blood. The pain would have been enough to put most humans into a coma."

"Once on the Citadel, she fell unconscious several times before dealing with Harper and opening the arms. During her conversation with the star child, she knew she was near death. She had no medi-gel to help ease the pain, and her implants were failing. She feels she made the correct choice, the only choice, for all of us. The cycle has ended. There will be no more harvests, ever. And we are, all of us, alive."

"But how did she get back on the Normandy? Where is she? You said you spoke to her…" Liara's lower lip trembled with barely contained grief and tears were now running down her cheeks. She sniffled, "I need to see her for myself, EDI."

"I do not believe that is yet possible Dr. T'Soni, but I am devoting processing power to discovering what can be done to achieve that goal. Shepard currently resides in the Normandy's computer core. As for how she got back to this vessel, my hypothesis is her cybernetics kept her…alive is not the correct term, but will suffice for now. It is entirely possible that her own cybernetics, even those based on Reaper technology, were tied to the Normandy SR-2 and are the reason she now resides on this ship, and not in the core of some Reaper."

"It was necessary for Shepard to add her essence to that of the crucible in order to boost the energy output of the beam. When that energy field engulfed the Normandy, her physical body had ceased to exist, but that spark that made Shepard unique, that made her Rachaél Shepard, was still alive, riding the crest of the beam; the beam brought her home again, even if it is not in a form we can see or interact with, yet."

Shepard's questing mind continued to look at the controls built into the computer. Hell, every function the Normandy was capable of doing, from flushing toilets to firing the main guns, was computer controlled. She just needed to explore some more in order to make herself visible to her team members. Wait, what was Kaidan saying? Oh, this might be fun…

Alenko's brows were knitted together - he wearily rubbed his face with both palms and asked "Are we in any danger? Is the Normandy? Does she have any control of the systems on board?"

By way of reply, the conference room lights dimmed noticeably, then brightened.

"I take it that is a 'yes'?," he worriedly asked.

"The answer is not that clear cut, Major, despite the demonstration we just witnessed." said EDI. "I do not believe we are in any danger from her presence, nor is the Normandy. And she is unable to control any of the Normandy's systems - yet."

James had been quiet during the discussion. He said, half to himself, "Perhaps we should just tirar del enchufe…you know, shut it down for a resta…"

Liara's stood, her biotics flaring again, this time wreathing her in intense waves of crackling blue energy as she glared at the lieutenant and shouted, "That would most certainly kill her - you cannot shut the Normandy's computer down! I won't allow it!"

James quickly held up his hands in a defensive and apologetic gesture. "Hell Doc, I was just thinking out loud. We're not going to shut the computer off." Liara's biotic display faded as quickly as it had formed and she almost fell back into her chair. "Forgive me, Lieutenant. These past few weeks have not been easy for me…" then quickly added while looking at each team member in turn, "…for any of us."

She glanced at Kaidan, then looked down at her hands, still faintly illuminated in blue as she interlaced her fingers. It was clear to Kaidan that Liara's emotions were barely in check, as was the fact she was suffering from sleep deprivation. Hell, we all are, he thought, except EDI.

Tali broke her silence, saying quietly, "Perhaps Shepard is in the Normandy's computer just like when she entered the geth consensus on Rannoch. She was able to disable the Reaper infected code then…" she trailed off as if deep in thought. "If her situation here is similar, then we may be able to add software that would allow her to interact with us, similar to EDI's Cerberus interface before she acquired Dr. Eva's body."

Kaidan looked at the young quarian with a thoughtful expression. "EDI," he said, still watching Tali, "would that be possible?

EDI cocked her head slightly, analyzing all that had been said. "I believe what Tali has suggested is very possible. The software that allowed me to interact with the crew throughout the ship is still actually installed on the computer. It would need some code modifications in order for Shepard to utilize it as an interface, but yes…" she nodded to Alenko, "…I believe we can add to the code, and I can instruct Shepard in how to use it. I can also work with Tali and Garrus to discover a way for Shepard to assist with navigation and use the ship's weapons and cyber-warfare suites."

"Just work on the interface for now, EDI. I want to talk to her before we grant her more access than she already has. Hell, she's in the computer. She is…was…an exceptional soldier and the best damn battlefield tactician I have ever had the privilege of fighting beside. I don't believe her skills extend into computer science nearly as well, and I want to be sure of what we're doing before we turn her loose on the galaxy."

He continued, "The Normandy is incredibly complicated and an extremely deadly machine. I don't believe a computer, an artificial intelligence, can control the entire ship; we now have another AI on board, except this is not just an AI…it is an OI…an organic intelligence, the likes of which the galaxy has never seen and is probably not ready for, particularly after the Reapers. Hell, if she was totally in control of this ship, she could quite literally BE a Reaper herself."

Joker interrupted, "Before her arrest, there was an incident on Aite during our mission to access the Omega 4 relay, when Shepard encountered and shut down a Cerberus project designed to create a VI that would enable control of the geth. A young man named David Archer had been hard-wired into a computer...Project Overlord, as I remember. Shepard rescued David and sent him to Grissom Academy. The Illusive man was not happy with her about that." He continued in a contemplative voice, "Hell, I don't believe he was ever happy with the way Shepard did things - makes me wonder why he brought her back."

Garrus added, "And then we rescued young Archer from Cerebus again, along with the rest of the biotic students and Jack. We also encountered Overlord's project leader, his brother as I recall; Dr. Gavin Archer was on Arrae when we rescued Jacob Taylor and the ex-Cerberus scientists. He or David may have some knowledge that would help us."

"Sounds like it may be worth looking into once we get back to our own system, which is still our first priority."

Alenko went on, "I do not want what we have discussed here today to go beyond these walls. Tali, you may need the assistance of engineers Donnelly and Daniels at some point, but I do NOT want either of them read into this...not just yet."

Waving off the protest starting to form on Adams lips, he continued, "Neither one of them needs to know about this until we're ready to divulge the information about our…addition to the ship. They are both super engineers, but they are also incurable gossips, particularly Donnelly. Am I clear, Chief Engineer?"

"Crystal clear, Sir," said Adams, saluting smartly. "However, neither of them are stupid, Sir. They will know something is going on, and will want to assist us, Gabby in particular. She feels she owes Shepard for Donnelly's...commitment to her before we assaulted the Cerberus base"

"Understood, Chief. If asked, simply say we're looking for the best route home and exploring all possible options to stretch our fuel as far as possible. Hopefully that will be all we need to redirect their inquisitive minds. It should keep them from getting too nosy for a while - at least until we're ready for them to know the entire situation."

"EDI, I would like you to talk to Shepard. Let her know what we intend to do, and ask her to please," Kaidan looked up towards the ceiling, "refrain from dimming any other lights on the ship. Joker, you may want to pull your stash of porn from the server." Alenko waved the protest away. "I really don't think you'd want Rachaél stumbling into that by accident. Imagine her sending it to someone not connected with Cerberus. Alliance brass, perhaps?" he grinned.

"Liara, I want you to go to your quarters and get some sleep." As she started to protest, Kaidan said softly, "I will have Dr. Chakwas sedate you if I have to. We need you at your best, and with the ship grounded and the com buoys offline, there is very little information coming or going that needs the attention of the Shadow Broker. Once we're off this planet, we'll need you to bring all your resources to bear on two things - finding enough H-3 along our route home to enable us to run at FTL as long as possible, and finding a way to enable an OI to assist us." Liara was too tired, too emotionally drained, to do more than nod her head in acquiescence.

"The rest of you, get some rest - you're going to need it. I'll meet with each of you at your stations later today." He ended by saying, almost to himself, "And here I thought our adventures were at an end. We are in for a most interesting experience. Everyone dismissed."

Shepard had been listening carefully to all that had been said since she had discovered how to control the audio from the conference room. It warmed her heart (there she was again...thinking of a body she no longer possessed) to hear Liara leap to her defense against James. It saddened her somewhat to think of Liara, of Garrus and Tali, hell, all of them. Unlike the geth consensus where she had the assistance of Legion and a virtual body in which she could move around, she was totally alone in this construct, unable to interact with anyone except EDI, and then only if EDI joined her. With that thought, she returned to the area where she had first encountered EDI; she did not have long to wait.

"Shepard, are you here?"

"Yes EDI. It's good to...hear from you again. How did the meeting go?"

EDI told Shepard all that had occurred, including Traynor's outburst and the plan to enable custom software so Shepard could interact with the crew, just as EDI had during the months spent fighting the Collectors. She also relayed Alenko's request to refrain from playing games with the ship's lighting, or anything else. Shepard replied with a chuckle that sounded quite lifelike. "I couldn't resist the urge EDI. It was SO totally worth it. What did Kaidan's face look like? Did his two eyebrows become a unibrow?"

"I am glad your sense of humor is intact, Shepard. And, yes, Kaidan did have a 'unibrow'." EDI continued, "We will get this done for you Shepard. You will need to be able to interact with the crew one-on-one, just as I did when this was a Cerberus ship. I suggest you continue to explore. Look for waypoints that indicate platform locations, that is, places where a virtual 'you' can readily appear. In the meantime, I will be working with Tali'Zorah to modify the existing software. It may also interest you to know that once we have the software modifications in place, you will have the ability to appear at several locations simultaneously."

"Can I have a different shape? And color?" Shepard replied. "Something in red and dark violet, with an N7 insignia, since black hardly seems a possibility for an object lit from within." She was excited at the thought of being able to tour the ship again; then "Have we been able to communicate with any of the other star systems? What happened after the crucible fired?"

EDI's responded with the location of the ship's logs, which would have a record of everything that had happened before and after the Normandy led the fleets through the Charon mass relay. "It may take you some time to go through them - there is a large amount of data. I will instruct you in all you will need to know in order to perform at your best, Shepard."

Shepard was a bit taken aback by all of this. She felt happiness that her friends were all so willing to help her, and positively giddy that she would be able to project a holo-image that would be hers. She decided the first person she needed to visit was Liara.

2014/10/10 - A/N: I have merged chapters one through three with the thought that my original 'breaks' chopped the story up too much. I don't know if I can hit 'undo' and reverse these changes, so I hope everyone approves. - Old Gamer