Saturday, October 8, 2011

Top Secret, Part 2

Normandy SR-2, Cockpit

Tali looked at Joker. "So I'm not just acting paranoid here?"

"Oh you are, but I think in this case you're fully justified."

Tali cocked her head. "Thanks?"

"Don't mention it."

Kelly shook her head. "I know I haven't known Shepard as long as the two of you, but based on her psychological profile, as well as the sessions we've had together, everything she's doing seems… just wrong."

"I know what you mean," Joker added. "As long as I've known the Commander, she's never leapt into a situation like this without at least giving us some idea about what was going on."

Tali nodded. "And she's never asked us to leave her behind."

"She would," Kelly corrected, "but only if she felt there was no way to save her."

"What could she be involved in that would make her shut us out like this?" Tali asked.

Kelly thought for a moment. "Maybe we should split up, ask around. Someone else may know what's going on."

"Ok," Joker pointed to Kelly, "You ask around this deck. Tali, you check Engineering. The two of you can check the crew deck together. I'm going to stay here and try to break as few bones as possible."

Tali shook her head and began to walk away. "Whatever you say Joker."

Kelly followed behind Tali. "So how do you want to divide up?"

"Actually," Tali tried to keep her voice down, "Joker's plan was good so we'll do that. Just don't tell him I said so."

They hadn't taken two steps before a voice from behind them spoke up. "I heard that!"

As Kelly entered the research lab, it occurred to her that this was the first time she'd entered it since Mordin had arrived on the ship. Sure enough, Mordin was busy at his lab table, dropping various chemicals into petri dishes that contained things she'd rather not think about. Kelly approached Mordin slowly, then cleared her throat to announce her presence.

Mordin looked up. "Oh, yes, Miss Chambers. Is there something I can assist you with?"

"Hello Mordin," Kelly replied nervously. "Um, I know we… don't really talk that much, but I was hoping you could… um… help me with something."

"I figured as much, which is why I just asked if I could assist you with anything."

Kelly let out a nervous chuckle. "Sorry, I don't know what's wrong. I just feel a little embarrassed asking you this. It's just that… have you noticed anything strange? About Shepard that is."

Mordin looked thoughtful for a minute. "Nothing I can recall. She seemed perfectly fine when she was in here earlier."

"She was in here earlier? Did she tell you anything?"

"No, we didn't exactly speak. I was dealing with a series of experiments designed to eliminate a particularly stubborn virus when she came in. I assumed she didn't stop to talk because I looked busy, but she did access the terminal next to where you're standing before she left."

"Do you know what she accessed on the terminal?"

"I can find out." Mordin walked over to the console and began typing. "It would seem that she downloaded an educational pamphlet of Batarian Biology. A fascinating read. For example, did you know that the Batarian reproductive organ is located in the—"

"I already know," Kelly interrupted, shuddering.

"I thought you shared a love for all the species of the galaxy?"

"True, but a girl's gotta draw the line somewhere." Kelly changed the subject, "Did you happen to catch which way Shepard went after you saw her?"

"Yes, she went that way." He pointed towards the doors that led to the armory.

Kelly started for the doors. "Thanks for the help Mordin."

"Quite welcome, Miss Chambers."

"Well that was thoroughly unhelpful," Tali muttered to herself as she left Grunt's little nest in the Cargo area. Apparently, Grunt knew less about what was happening on the ship than she did.

Tali made her way through the corridor towards engineering. She had only just walked through the first door when she was flung sideways into the wall by Engineer Donnelly who had been driven up the stairs by a blue biotic bolt.

Jack's voice called up the stairs, "If you ever call me a thief again, I'll…"

"I wasn't callin' you a thief; I was just askin' a bloody question!" Kenneth yelled as he tried to right himself. "Sorry 'bout that Tali, just dinnae wanna get hit with that."

"I'm alright. The suit's not damaged." Tali peered down the stairs. "What exactly happened down there?"

"Oh nothin'. Just a minor disagreement between coworkers."

Tali folded her arms. Even without seeing her face, she was sure he could feel her scowl.

"All righ', all righ', just don't gimmie that face." He smirked at his own joke. "Gabby and I were doin' some inventory, just makin' sure everythin' matched up properly, and it turned out we were short 'bout one-hundred units of eezo."

"And you thought Jack stole it?"

"Ah never said stole. Ah just figured she maybe… borrowed it and forgot to tell someone. Anyway, she got pissed and tha' whole blue mess started swirlin' 'bout her so I figured I oughta run and… well you know the rest."

Tali thought for a minute. "Was anything else missing when you did inventory?"

"Aye, now that ya mention it, there was a missin' fire extinguisher. Dinnae think much 'bout it though when the eezo wound up missing."

"And has Shepard been around here recently?"

"Oh sure, she was down here 'bout an hour ago. She was rummagin' through the cargo and complainin' tha' she couldn' find a thing down there. In fact, tha's where we got the idea to do inventory in the first place."

Tali nodded. "Thanks Ken. I think that's all the information I need down here." She started for the corridor.

Kenneth gave her a perplexed look. "Information for what? D'ya think Shepard took the eezo? 'Cause if she did, I think that's fine. I mean, it's her ship."

Tali left without answering.

Samara was meditating, much as she always did this time of day, when Kelly entered.

"Uh… Samara? Am I interrupting anything?"

"Not at all, Ms. Chambers." The biotic glow faded from Samara as she answered.

"You can call me Kelly."

"Very well, Kelly." She stood up. "Is there something you wanted?"

Kelly did her best to explain, "It's just that, some of us have been concerned with Shepard's recent behavior. She's been distant and giving orders that we don't fully understand. We were wondering if you'd seen anything that might explain what's going on."

Samara took a moment to ponder the question. "I am sorry to say I have not. In fact, I have seen very little of Shepard since the young maiden came aboard."

"You mean Liara?"

"Yes," Samara replied. "She has taken up much of the Commander's time."

"Well that's to be expected. Still, what I'm talking about is something that happened either just before or soon after Liara left."

"I am afraid I will be unable to help you with this Kelly. I have not seen her today."

"Oh, well, thanks anyway." Kelly turned to leave.

"I did see her though."

Kelly stopped. "See who?"

"The young maiden, Liara. She was eating her morning meal, alone."

"Did you talk to her?"

"No, I prefer to eat alone, but what I did see of her was the face of a woman concerned. The same concern I see in your face right now."

"Of course I'm concerned. Leanna's my friend."

"That is not the concern one has for a friend, or even a commanding officer. The concern you have, and that the young maiden had, go much deeper than that." A knowing smile crossed the asari's face. "It is a concern I share."

"What do you mean?"

"Go, find what you can about what Shepard is doing, but know that she would never act this way without reason. If there is a problem, it falls to us to help. Or, if need be, stay out of the way."

Kelly left Samara's quarters, thoroughly confused. At the same time, Tali was walking out of the opposite set of doors.

Kelly spoke first, "So, what did you find?"

"We're missing a fire extinguisher full of eezo, and it's Jack's time of the month. What about you?"

"She's researching Batarian physiology, borrowed Legion's sniper rifle and after talking to Samara, I'm convinced that nearly half the ship has a thing for Shepard."

"Really," Tali chuckled nervously, "who would've thought that?"

"You too?"

"Please don't tell anyone?"

"Trust me," Kelly reassured her, "I don't think we're even on her radar."

Tali thought for a moment. "So I guess that just leaves us with…"

"Miranda. Yep, not looking forward to it either."

The two made their way to Miranda's room.

"So," Tali broke the momentary silence, "Shepard's studying Batarian physiology?"


"Did you know that they keep their reproductive organ in their—"

"I know."

They both let out a shudder.

Miranda stared at the device on her desk. Shepard had gotten it for her on her last shopping trip, but even now it held her interest. She'd said it was something people used to put on their desks back when those desks were exclusively planetside. Shepard called it a "clacker-ball dealie". Of course, Miranda had since found out it was called a "Newton's Cradle", but she still found Shepard's name for it amusing. These thoughts were on her mind when her door opened.

Miranda looked up. "Hello Tali, Kelly. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Hi Miranda," Kelly started. "There was something Tali and I wanted to ask you."

Miranda raised an eyebrow. "And that something would be?"

"Well, um… I'm not sure how to ask you this but…"

Tali spoke up, "Have you noticed Shepard acting strange today?"

Miranda leaned back in her chair. "Not really. She seemed fine earlier today when I patched a call through to her quarters."

Kelly scrunched up her brow in confusion. "Patched through a call? Isn't that supposed to be my job, or failing that, Joker's?"

"True, but you were finishing up your breakfast at the time and Joker was… otherwise indisposed."

"I don't think I want to know what you mean by that," Kelly replied.

"No, you really don't."

Kelly recalled her conversation with Samara. "You said during breakfast? Who was the call from?"

"Not quite sure. He said he was Alliance. Gravelly voice, though the authority in it made it sound like he was someone important."

Tali thought for a moment. "That sounds like Admiral Hackett."

Kelly's eyes widened. "Thanks for your help Miranda. Tali, we need to go." She took her by the wrist and pulled her out the door. Neither one of them saw Miranda smiling after them.

It wasn't until they were in front of the elevator that Tali was even able to speak. "Kelly, what's going on? Why are you pulling me?"

"We don't have much time," Kelly said as they entered the elevator. "The Normandy just entered the Relay."

"I don't understand. What are we hurrying to?" The doors shut as soon as Tali entered.

Kelly pressed the button for the hanger on the control pad. "Shepard received a transmission from Admiral Hackett this morning. Since then, she's sent Liara away, been researching Batarians, gotten a new sniper rifle, and filled a fire extinguisher with eezo."

"You do realize that fire extinguisher full of eezo thing was hyperbole on my part."

Kelly shook her head. "She's on a mission to a Batarian base and she plans to blow it up. She's not sure if she's going to survive, so she's leaving the ship here and telling Joker to leave if she doesn't come back."


The two turned to the elevator doors which were now wide open. Shepard was standing in front of them, fully geared.

"You know, I spent this whole time trying to keep everyone from worrying about me. I guess that just made everyone worry more."

"Shepard, I…" Tali started.

"We Just…" Kelly said at the same time.

Shepard grabbed both of them and hugged them with each arm. "It's ok guys. You don't need to worry. I'm going to be fine."

Both Tali and Kelly sighed, comforted by both the hug and Shepard's words.

"Shepard," Joker's voice came over the intercom. "We've cleared the Relay. You are Go for launch."

She released the two. "Guess that's my cue. Don't worry, I'll be back soon." She headed for the shuttle.

"Shepard," Tali called after her. "Are you sure you don't need help on this mission?"

She turned back for only a moment to say, "I'd take you in a heartbeat if I could Tali, but I've gotta do this one alone. Next time, 'kay Tali?"

"Okay Shepard"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Episode #5 – Top Secret, Part 1

Kodiak Drop Shuttle, Sowilo System

"This is Normandy, you are clear to come aboard."

"Thanks Joker." Garrus activated the shuttle's autopilot. "Good to be back."

"You know," Tali started, "I had a really good time. I don't even care that we didn't get to eat at the restaurant."

"Yeah, sorry about that. If I'd known they were operating on Turian Standard time…"

"Really, it's OK. I had fun just spending time with you."

Garrus moved his mandibles in a close attempt at a smile.

The Normandy's hanger doors opened before them as the shuttle drifted in. Tali had to restrain herself from opening the shuttle's doors before it stopped when she saw who was waiting for them.


Garrus placed a hand on her shoulder. "I don't think she can hear you. The comm's not on right now."

As soon as the shuttle landed, Tali burst out and ran straight for Shepard. Garrus watched her with a dejected look on his face.

"Shepard!" Tali ran up to her and preformed her quarian salute. "Here to make a full report Captain!"

"Report?" Shepard had a blank look on her face.

"You know, the report you wanted me to give you… you said '24 hours. Then I want you back here to tell me everything.'"

"Oh," Shepard replied distractedly. "Yeah, I forgot about that."

"You… forgot? Then why were you here waiting for us."

"I was just down here checking on some things."

"Oh. Well, that's OK. I can still tell you everything that happened."

"Actually," she interrupted, "can it wait till later? I've got some business to attend to."

"A mission?" Garrus had finally gotten over to the two.

"Not exactly. Just something I have to take care of. By myself."

"Oh," Tali's voice was as blank as Shepard's face. "I guess we'll just… get out of your way."

Shepard nodded absently.

Tali and Garrus boarded the Elevator.

"Is Liara still here?" Tali asked, keeping the doors from closing. "I was hoping I could talk to her. Last time we talked some… unpleasant words were said."

"No," Shepard replied. "She had to get back to her Shadow Broker business."

"Oh. I guess I'll… talk to you later Shepard."

"You too."

The Loft, One Hour Previously:

"You cannot just send me away!"

"Liara, you have to."

Liara ran her hands along her fringe in frustration. "This is exactly the kind of situation I was talking about!"

"What are you talking about?"

"You said if there's the possibility you might die on a mission, you would take me along." Liara lowered an accusing finger in Shepard's face. "You promised me!"

"I said if I was going to die. I'd take you if I was going to die."

"You said if there is a chance you may die. Is there?"

"Liara, there's a chance I may die taking a shower in the morning. Do you want me to take me with you every time I take a shower?"

"I… what?"

Leanna walked over to Liara and grabbed her hands. "Liara, if I could, I'd take you with me in a heartbeat. Hell, I'd have taken you through the Omega-4 Relay if you would've let me."

"I know. I'm sorry I didn't come with you, but I…"

"It's alright. You don't need to apologize, just to listen. I have to do this alone. I mean I literally have to do this and it literally has to be done alone."

"Can you not at least tell me where you are going?"

Leanna shook her head. "I can't tell you that, and you have to promise not to use your connections to find out."

Liara pulled back, frustration creeping in again. "Why not?"

"I'm just trying to protect you. The less you know about this, the better it is for you."

"I'm not the same naïve asari you rescued two years ago. I don't need you to protect me anymore."

Leanna threw her hands up. "The whole galaxy needs me to protect them! And I know you're not naïve like you used to be, but I still need you to not know about this. At least, not until after it happens."

"But why? What is so goddess dammed important that you cannot tell me?"

"It's just… I might have to do things. Things I won't be proud of. If you find out what they are, you might try to stop me. Or worse, you might not. I don't… I don't want you to have to make that choice."

"I… I see."

"Look, I will make a promise to you, right here and now." She grabbed Liara's hands again. "I don't care what I have to do, but I swear on the lives of our future blue babies that I will make it back to you in one piece. Can you trust me to do that?"

"I… I think I can."


Silently, Liara headed for the door of the Loft.


Thane Krios sat pensively in the life support room. The door behind him opened.

"Is that you Siha?"

"No, it's me Garrus."

Thane turned slightly. "Yes, of course. Come in."

Garrus walked in the door and around to the other side of the table.

"Please," Thane gestured to the chair, "have a seat."

Garrus sat. "Sorry to burst in on you like this."

"Not at all. I find myself happy for company, this close to the end of my life."

"You're uh… looking well. Better than the last time I saw you anyway."

"Thank you. Doctor Chakwas has me on a new treatment. It's not slowing the progression of the Kepral's Syndrome, but it is lessening the symptoms."

"I'm… sorry."

"Don't be. I've reached a point in my life where I can truly say I have no regrets."

"I wish I could say the same."

Thane steepled his fingers. "Am I correct in assuming this is what you wanted to talk about?"

"Yeah." Garrus rubbed his head. "This past day has just been… confusing."

"Didn't you and Tali'Zorah have a date together?"

"Yeah. And no too."

"I'm not sure I follow."

"Well, we went out together for 24 hours, I'm not sure it was actually a date though."

"What happened?"

"Well, I wanted to take her out to this nice restaurant that serves food specifically for Turians and Quarians. Well, technically just Turians, but Quarians can eat the food just fine. Anyway, we got to the restaurant and it was closed. Apparently they operate on Turian Standard time, which is what all the Turian ships operate on too. Unfortunately, that meant we showed up about an hour after closing time and the restaurant is only open for dinner. If we went back when they opened, we'd miss the scheduled pick-up.

"Now, my first idea was to call the ship and ask for an extension, but Tali said she didn't want to bother Shepard in the middle of her date. Instead, we wound up renting a hotel room on Illium, raiding the mini-bar, ordering room service, and watching some of the vids they had to rent. When it was over, we came back to the ship."

Thane nodded. "It sounds like you had an enjoyable evening."

"I thought it was too, and I even thought she enjoyed herself. The thing is, as soon as we got here, it was like she started completely ignoring me and fixated entirely on Shepard. I know she's had a thing for her in the past, but I thought she was over it. Shepard certainly seems to be."

"Someone like Shepard can be… difficult to move on from. If it's true that Shepard doesn't reciprocate those feeling, she should eventually be able to move on."

Garrus rubbed the uninjured side of his face. "Maybe you're right. Still, that wasn't the worst of what happened."

"What was the worst?"

"You remember what I said about that restaurant? About how they operated on Turian Standard time? Well I was talking to someone, I think it might've been the manager, and he said: 'If you were a real Turian you would have known that.' Like suddenly it's my fault they're closed!"

"It can be difficult to have your pride challenged like that."

"How do you deal with it, Thane?"

Thane gave him a confused look. "Deal with what?"

"Deal with being the only one of your kind on a ship filled with aliens?"

"I try to remember the reason I am out here. I am doing more good now than I would among my own people."

Garrus sighed. "Maybe we were, back when we were busy stopping the Collectors. Now what are we doing? We're just sitting around, waiting for something to happen."

Thane raised one of his brow ridges. "Are you considering leaving the ship?"

Garrus shook his head. "I don't know. I've been thinking about it. My Mother's sick. She's getting treatment but I don't know if it's enough to save her. I shouldn't be letting my brother shoulder that whole burden alone, but I don't know what else to do. If I stay here I feel like I'm abandoning my family, but if I leave, I'll feel like I'm abandoning Shepard."

Thane thought for a minute. "Perhaps the problem is that you haven't talked to Shepard about this. You're worried about abandoning her, but you've never stopped to ask if she would feel abandoned."

"I know, you're right. It's just, I can never seem to find the right time. Every time she asks if I want to talk, I just make up something about 'calibrations'. Anyway, I'm still not even sure if I want to leave. I'm just entertaining the possibility."

"Even so, it is best for you to discuss such a possibility with Shepard. She may be able to provide you with insight you wouldn't have otherwise."

"You're right." Garrus stood and headed for the door. "Thanks for the talk Thane."

"You're welcome. Come back any time."

Tali'Zorah, lost in thought, barely realized where she was until she very nearly bumped into Joker's chair.

"Whoa, watch it there Tali. Don't wanna break something on me."

"Sorry Joker. I've just… got a lot on my mind."

"Looks like it." Joker swiveled his chair around to face her. "So, what brings you up to the cockpit?"

"I'm just… a little concerned about Shepard. Has she seemed… odd at all to you?"

"I'll be honest; I haven't even seen her since she met Liara at the airlock last night."

"You mean she didn't even see Liara off?"

"No, but I don't really think the Commander's ever seen anyone off the ship, least not what I've seen."

"Did Liara mention anything as she was leaving?"

"Not really. She was pretty quiet the whole time. Not that that's new for me. Don't think I really made a good first impression with her."

Tali chuckled slightly. "What did you expect? She gets saved from a collapsing mine and the first thing you do is crack a joke about it. She probably thinks you can't take anything seriously."

"She's probably right."

A hiss sounded from behind Tali. She turned to see Shepard striding quickly to the cockpit. Kelly left her post to follow.

"Shepard," Tali called as soon as she was in range. "I've been looking for you. I need to talk to you about…"

"Can it wait? I need to talk to Joker about something." She turned to face Kelly who had just managed to catch up. "Privately."

Tali and Kelly made their way back into the CIC.

"What do you think…" Kelly began before Tali hushed her.

Tali used her omni-tool to increase the sensitivity of her suit's external microphones until she could clearly hear the conversation.

"…setting in a new course. When we get there, I want you and the Normandy to wait by the gate. I'll be taking the Kodiak out alone."

"Don't suppose there's any chance of you telling me what this is about," Joker replied.

"Not this time. I need you to do what I say, and do everything in your power to keep the people on this ship safe, even if it means leaving me behind."

"Come on Shepard, you know we can't leave you behind."

"Joker!" Shepard replied sternly. "I need you to protect the lives on this ship. That's your job here. Just stay by the relay and don't leave unless I call for you. Got it?"


"Got it?" Shepard repeated, firmer this time.

"Aye Commander."

Shepard walked briskly out of the cockpit and past Tali and Kelly.

"Shepard?" Tali called after her.

"Later Tali." Shepard entered the elevator. The doors closed behind her.

Tali and Kelly walked back into the cockpit where Joker was still turned around, facing them.

"Ok, yeah. I can see what you mean about acting weird."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Flashback – Innocence Lost

Author's Note: Normally, I'd have a brand new short story for you here. When I wrote the short story "Innocence Lost", it was essentially the story that should go here, but I really wanted to upload it when I finished it. Now I was stuck without an appropriate story to place here. On the other hand, I know there are those who haven't read the short story for whatever reason. In that case I present "Innocence Lost" in the official storyline. It has been edited slightly for content and continuity.

I've only cried three times in my life. Each time was when I lost something important to me. The first was when I lost my parents. The third was when I lost my lover. This is the story of how I lost my innocence.

November 22, 2170

Leanna Shepard, age 16, sat in the corner of a small room, clutching her legs. The tears felt like they would never stop flowing.

It had been just over seven months since she'd left the orphanage to join the Reds, and in that time, she done many things she wasn't proud of to keep herself alive, but this day, she had done the worst thing yet. She'd done something she swore she would never do, and she hated herself for it.

She could almost hear the Nuns that raised her scolding her. They would say she committed a mortal sin. That was indeed what it felt like, and all done for a warm bed and a meal.

The tears still flowed, but she knew she could not continue in what she was wearing. She began to peel the blood-stained clothes off of her body.

The blood… She hadn't been prepared for the blood. She had seen blood before it was true, but never like this. She recalled her horror when she first saw it. She wanted to forget the whole thing.

She tossed the clothes in a pile on the floor, then rummaged through her rucksack, in which she carried everything she owned. She pulled out a clean set of clothes and placed them on the cot that had been hastily shoved in the room. She knew she couldn't put it on while she was still dirty, but she didn't want to leave the solitude of her small room.

Besides, she could hear that he was still out there.

Leanna grabbed a stained pillow off the ground and sat on the cot. She rested the pillow on her lap and placed her head upon it. Even as she drifted to sleep, she continued to cry.

No more than a few hours later, she awoke to a loud noise. She straightened herself up to listen. Could it be the man was coming back?

After a few minutes, she heard snoring. The man was sleeping. She breathed a sigh of relief.

She swung her legs off the bed and stood up. She dug through her rucksack again, this time pulling out a towel. She wrapped it around herself and stepped out into the hall.

The hallway was dark, but she dared not turn on a light. Though he was snoring, she knew the man was not a deep sleeper. That was the one rule she had been given, do not wake him up.

A minute later, her eyes had grown accustomed enough to the darkness to begin walking. She kept her footsteps quiet by not raising her feet more than half an inch off the ground. It was a trick she had learned trying to sneak around in what she was increasingly considering to be better days at the orphanage.

Moments later, she felt her foot contact with a wall. She had reached the end of the hallway. To her left was the bathroom; to her right was the room where the man stepped. Carefully, trying not to make a sound, she opened the bathroom door and crossed the threshold. The door closed behind her as she fumbled for the light switch.

The florescent light flickered on with a hum. The bathroom was old. The toilet was missing its seat, the tile was chipped and yellowed, and the mirror above the sink was cracked. The tub had an unsightly brown ring around it and the walls that surrounded it were covered in mildew.

She turned on the faucet and, after five minutes of waiting, discovered that there wasn't any hot water. She was desperate enough though. She scraped the mold off the bar of soap and stepped into the icy cold shower.

The cold water felt surprisingly good. She rubbed the bar of soap on her skin. It didn't amount to anything approaching a lather but she felt cleaner just the same. As she moved the soap down her body, she discovered that she was peeing. She'd been too numb from pain to even notice. She figured it was alright though, seeing as how she had no intention of squatting over the seatless toilet.

Without warning, she remembered the screaming. It had happened during the event. She remembered the screaming coming out of his mouth and hers. The tears that had almost stopped swelled up again as she nearly collapsed in the shower. Only through sheer force of will did she manage not to hit her head on the rim.

She stayed hunched over, holding her knees as the water cascaded on her naked back. She wondered if she could go back. Would she be welcome back? Would the nuns accept her, even after all that she'd done? After what she'd done last night?

She rose, unsure of what to do next but no longer able to endure the cold of the water. After drying off the best she could, she wrapped the towel around herself and stepped back into the hallway.


The door shut behind her much louder than it had earlier. She stood in horror, listening for any sound that the man had heard her. All seemed quiet. She began to make her way to the small room, stepping as lightly as she could.


A floorboard shifted under her foot. Again she froze, listening for the slightest sound that she'd been heard.


Dread crept over her. He had heard her.

"Izzat you Le-Le? Wudd I say 'bout wakin me?"

Leanna panicked. She knew what he'd do if she woke him, and she did not want to go through with that. She ran as fast as she could to the small room and shut the door behind her. She barricaded the cot against the door and leaned against it, clutching the pillow.

"Please don't let him come for me," she whispered. "Please don't let him come for me, Please don't let him come for me."

She opened her eyes. Morning had come and she hadn't moved from her spot. She listened intently. All was quiet. The man must have already left.

Slowly, she stood up and began to pull the clothes off the cot. She tossed the damp towel onto the heap of clothes in the corner and dressed herself. She then moved the cot away from the door and stepped back into the hallway.

She looked back down the hallway to the end. Both the bathroom and bedroom door were wide open. She was sure the man had left now. Deliberately, she stepped the other direction, towards the kitchen of the small apartment.

It wasn't much of a kitchen. It was a few counter tops with half a refrigerator built into one of them. The stove consisted of three burners arranged so close together you'd never be able to fit more than a single pan, and the stove was only about twelve inches wide and a bit over half as deep.

A note sat on the counter next to a small piece of plastic. She pocketed the plastic before reading the note.

No food. Here's a 20 credit chit, buy it yourself. Come back anytime, long as you're willing to pay up like yesterday.


P.S. Happy Thanksgiving

She ran back into the small room, crumpling the note and tossing it on the pile. It was one thing to take food and shelter for what she'd done, but money? It made her feel dirty. She tried to cry again, but tears wouldn't come. It seemed she was all out.

She searched through her rucksack for something, anything that could make her feel better. She pulled out three things, a pearl-handled switchblade, a red lighter, and a silver ring.

She stared at the ring. It had belonged to her mother; that much she remembered. It was the last thing she had of her mothers, and she had let it sit at the bottom of a sack! How could she be so thoughtless!

She clenched her fist around the ring, grabbed the blade and headed to the bathroom. The mirror, though cracked, was clean enough to see through properly. She threaded her hair through the ring into a ponytail. It held her hair in place surprisingly well. She then brought the blade up to her hair and cut it. The fine edge of the blade made a clean cut.

She pocketed the blade and walked back to the kitchen. There was an unlabeled bottle on the counter that she knew to be filled with alcohol.

She brought it back to the small room and stood in front of the pile. She opened the bottle and began pouring the strong-smelling alcohol over it. As she did so, she made an oath to herself.

"I, Leanna Shepard, promise to never give up and never give in. Though the world tries to break me, I will not break. I promise never to cry again. If I feel I need to cry, I will remember last night, and that I already cried for this. I will find my way out of this hell somehow."

With the bottle emptied, she picked up the lighter, flicked the switch, and lit the pile. The flames rose in an instant.

She grabbed her rucksack and went to the front door of the apartment. She carved something on it then left the scene behind her.

Later that day, Brent Paine returned to his small apartment. The small room where he'd let Leanna sleep had burned for nearly half an hour before the automated fire suppressors kicked in, but it was more or less intact.

Brent scratched his head as he walked back into his main room. Then he saw the door. Carved into it were Leanna's parting words to him.

I'm Not Your Whore!

Leanna sat bolt upright in her bed. She was dripping with sweat. She felt a hand on her shoulder.

"It is alright Leanna. You are not there anymore."

She turned to the blue face next to her. "You… you saw that?"

Liara nodded.

"I'm sorry. I didn't want you to have to live through that… like I did."

Liara shook her head. "You have nothing to apologize for. I love every part of you, both the good and the bad. This is just part of what makes you who you are: the woman I love."

Leanna smiled. "You always know just what to say."

Leanna slept peacefully for the rest of the night.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Date Night, Part 5

Deck 3, Mess Hall

"How much do you want to bet they'll be late?"

Jacob Taylor turned to the woman who'd just spoke. "Never known the Commander to be late for anything. In fact, she's almost always early."

"Maybe," Kasumi retorted, "but you've only seen Shepard when she was single. Two people together, they lose all track of time."

Jacob folded his arms and cast a glance at her. "Speaking from experience?"

Kasumi gave him a look of faux-innocence. "Why Mister Taylor, what ever could you mean?"

Jacob shook his head. "Like I said though, no chance Shepard's gonna be late."

Kasumi raised an eyebrow. "This certainty you have, care to place a wager on it? Say, 50 credits?"

"Make it 100 and you've got a deal."

"D—" Kasumi heard a hiss coming from the nearby elevator. "On second thought, I think I'll keep my money."

Shepard rounded the corner only moments later, escorting a rather reluctant looking Liara.

"Hey guys," Shepard said with a rather large smile, "hope we're not too late."

Jacob smirked. "Actually, you're a few minutes early."

Kasumi gave him a sideways glance. "Don't remind me."

Shepard smiled. "I'm guessing there's a story there?"

"Not really," Kasumi replied evasively.

Shepard raised an eyebrow. "You two sure about that?"

Jacob shook his head. "Nothing that interesting Commander."

"I've told you before Jacob," she laughed, "call me Shepard."

"I'll keep that in mind Commander."

"Anyway, I don't think you've all been properly introduced." Shepard turned to face Liara. "Liara, this is Jacob Taylor and Kasumi Goto. Kasumi, Jacob, this is Liara T'Soni –" she paused, "— my Fiancée."

Liara smiled shyly. "It is nice to meet you."

Kasumi and Jacob just stood there, unspeaking.

After a moment, Shepard waved her hands to get their attention. "Guys," she asked, "Everything alright?"

"You're– you're engaged?" Kasumi managed to blurt out.

Shepard smirked. "You're that surprised?"

"It's just a little unexpected is all."

"Can we talk about this over food?" Jacob chimed in.

Kasumi smacked him lightly on the arm.

"What?" Jacob asked, annoyed. "I'm hungry."

Shepard chuckled. "It's OK. Let's sit down to dinner and I'll tell you guys all about it."

"So basically, the deal is: next time I go racing into the jaws of death, I take her with me. Then she said yes!"

Kasumi smiled brightly. "Congratulations."

Jacob raised his glass. "To Commander Shepard and Dr. T'Soni: a love not even death could separate."

"Thank you Jacob," Liara said. "That was very beautiful."

"So," Kasumi started, "Have you decided when you're going to have the wedding?"

Leanna set down her glass and swallowed. "Nothing firm yet, though I suppose we'd want to wait until this business with the Reapers is over."

Liara nodded. "Yes. I do not think we would have enough time to plan a wedding, much less have it while we are dealing with the Reapers."

"Well, I'm sure you two must at least have some sort of idea."

"Well," Shepard looked down a bit, "there was one thing…"

Kasumi raised her eyebrow inquisitively, "Tell."

"Well, I was hoping I could get Councilor Anderson to officiate."

"I take it you're not doing a traditional Asari Bonding Ceremony then?"


"An Asari Bonding Ceremonies is typically officiated by an Asari Matriarch," Liara explained. "It is alright though. I have no desire for a Bonding Ceremony. I want to have a wedding like you showed me."

Jacob cocked his head slightly. "You showed her a wedding?"

"Um, Liara, could we not…"

Liara didn't seem to hear. "Not exactly showed, but I've seen it in her mind."

"Seen what exactly?" Kasumi inquired.

Leanna brought her hand up to her eyes. "Oh god."

"Well, Leanna has had a dream wedding in mind since she was little."

Kasumi turned her gaze toward Shepard. "Is this true?"

Leanna nodded. "I'm sorry to say."

Jacob smiled. "So, I guess the Commander was a girl once."

Shepard glared at her. "Call me that one more time and I shove you out the airlock."

"Just playing Commander," Jacob chuckled.

Kasumi gestured to Liara, "I was just noticing the ring."

"What about it?" Leanna asked, thankful for the change of topic.

"It's just not what I've traditionally seen in engagement rings."

"Stolen a lot of engagement rings, have you?"

"Hey, say what you want, but there's something to be said for the traditional diamond engagement ring."

"If you must know," Leanna grabbed Liara's hand, "it was my mother's. My father gave it to her when he proposed."

"So what does the design mean?" Jacob chimed in.

"It's an Irish design called a Claddagh ring. My father was very connected to his Irish roots. You see," she pointed to the ring, "the Heart in the center represents Love, the Hands holding it represent Friendship, and the Crown at the top represents Loyalty. According to my Mother, it's been in my family for generations. At least, that's what my Father told her."

Kasumi looked at the ring closely. "And you've kept it with you all this time?"

"For the most part. I lost it for a short time, you know, when I died, but I managed to find it when I went to the crash site."

"Well it's in very good condition, having survived re-entry like that."

"It should've been. It was protected by the same thing that protected this." She tapped the side of her head.

Jacob gave a questioning glance. "You mean it was in your helmet?"

"That's right. I used to use it to keep my hair in that ponytail. I'm guessing Miranda didn't know that when they put me back together. She just saw from pictures that I kept my hair up and figured I'd want to keep it that way."

Liara took Shepard's hand. "Not many are aware of Leanna's sentimental side, but she does have one."

Shepard nodded. "I've lost a lot of people over the years — people I care about — but I keep their memory alive in my own way."

The four sat in silence for a moment before Shepard broke it. "Damn. Here we were talking about happy things like the wedding and now I've gone and depressed everyone."

"It is not your fault Shepard. Perhaps it is time we were done for the evening."

Kasumi reached her hand out. "You guys can't go yet. We haven't even had desert."

"Maybe they're in the mood for a different kind of desert," Jacob smirked. He then grunted as Kasumi elbowed him in the ribs. "What?"

"You can be such an ass sometimes."

"Maybe, but I'm your ass."

Kasumi shook her head then turned to Liara. "Well we've heard all about what you too are doing and we know plenty about Shepard already, so tell us about you. What's it like being the Shadow Broker?"

It was another hour before they managed to pull themselves away. Soon though, they found themselves back in the Loft.

"Wow, Kasumi sure can talk, can't she," Leanna said as she flopped down on the bed.

Liara sat down gently on the other side. "I like her. Perhaps we should invite her to be a part of the Wedding party?"

Leanna chuckled. "Liara, if we invited all the people I wanted to be a part of the Wedding party, we wouldn't have any guests."

"I believe there are plenty who would come; at least, plenty who would come to see you."

Leanna sat up on her elbows. "What do you mean?"

"It is just that… I know that I have made very few friends over the years. Even now, I am struggling to figure out whom I would have stand by me at our wedding. You though, you have so many friends that you are struggling to keep the number low."

"Liara, I'm sorry. I had no idea…"

"It is alright. I… I have always been fairly anti-social. Perhaps, as you once said, it was part of my rebelling against my mother. It took your constant visits to get me to come out of my shell. Still, I can count the number of friends I have on one hand."

Leanna grabbed her hand. "Look, the Wedding won't be for a while. You have plenty of time to go out and make new friends."

"I suppose that it true."

"And if it comes down to it, you can borrow some of my friends." Leanna smiled.

Liara returned the smile and the two embraced.

"So," Leanna started, "what do you say we do something fun?"

"Such as?"

"We could put on a bad vid and cuddle up together?"

"By which you mean you'll try to find 'Azure' again? You know, if you really want to find it, I could just guide you to it."

"Yeah, but where's the fun in that?"

End of Episode #4

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Date Night, Part 4

The Loft

Liara looked down at Leanna, her mouth open in shock. Not a sound came out of it.

"Liara? Anytime you want to jump in her with an answer would be good. My knee's starting to hurt."

Liara closed her mouth, then opened it. Still no words came. It took a second closing and opening before her mouth was able to make words again. "Shepard… Leanna, this is… lovely, but…"

Leanna started to rise, slowly. "There's always a 'but'," she sighed.

"No! I mean, I do not mean I am not saying 'no'. It is just… a big decision. I was not prepared for this at all."

Leanna sat on the bed. "Really? I mean, from what you said, I thought this was exactly what you wanted."

Liara sat next to her on the bed. "I just wanted a promise. I wanted you to promise me that you would never leave me like that. That you would never… make me leave you like that again."

"Isn't that what I was doing? I mean, isn't a proposal one of the biggest promises I could make to you? This ring," she held it up, "means that I will always come back for you. If there's an ounce of strength left in my body, I will come back and I will spend the rest of my life with you."

"And what happens when that strength runs out? What happens if you face the Reapers, and they manage to kill you? I do not think I could do it again. I do not think I could manage to get that close to you, only to feel you die again."

Leanna furrowed her brow. "What do you mean by feel me die?"

"I felt you die!" Liara sobbed. "I felt everything. I felt your panic as your air began to leak. I felt you suffocate as it ran out. I could feel the blackness overtake you. Every moment of your death, I felt."

Leanna placed her arm around Liara. "I… I'm so sorry. I didn't know that was even possible."

Liara began to wipe away her tears. "It is not unheard of among the Asari. If two that have bonded have a strong enough connection, they can share thoughts and feelings with each other, even when at a distance." She looked Leanna in the eyes. "So that is why I cannot have you, only to lose you again. I know that it may sound selfish, but losing you again would be worse than letting the Reapers take everything."

"Liara, you know that you're going to lose me no matter what. When this mess is over, and you and I are together, I'll have about one-hundred years left, maybe one-fifty if technology keeps up, but you'll have close to nine-hundred years left."

"I have thought of that. It would still be painful if you were to die like that, but at least I would have the comfort of all the time we spent together. I… I think I could live with that."

"Well, how about this then. The next time I go into a dangerous situation where it's likely I'll die, I'll bring you along. That way, if I die, you'll be right alongside me to die too." Leanna gave a small grin. "Or save my life, whichever one's easier."

Liara smiled gently. "You say that in jest but… I think that is what I would like."

"Alright," Leann grabbed her hands. "Liara, I promise, no matter what happens I won't send you away. If there's a chance I may die, I'll take you along with me. And I won't leave you until the day I absolutely have to."

"Then my answer," Liara squeezed her hands, "is yes."

"You mean…?"

Liara nodded, smiling widely. "I will marry you."

Leanna placed the ring on Liara's finger. The two drew close and kissed.

"Commander, Kasumi has requested that you meet her in the Mess Hall in thirty minutes."

Leanna popped her head out from under the covers. "Thanks EDI. Let her know I'll be there." The blue orb disappeared. "Guess that's about all the time we've got."

Liara pulled back the covers a bit. "That is quite all right. I think I need a little rest after that."

"Really?" Leanna propped herself up on her elbows and gave a coy smile. "I was just getting warmed up."

Liara gave her a playful bop with a pillow. "It may be easy for you, but I am the one who has to enter your mind."

"Well, maybe if you taught me how to do it I'd be able help."

Liara bopped her again. "You know that it does not work like that."

"You never know? I'm a fast learner." Liara swung the pillow again. Leanna caught it this time. "Hit me with that pillow one more time and I'll hold you down and make you 'embrace eternity'."


Leanna smirked. "Don't tempt me." She threw off the covers and sat up. "Come on, we've got to get dressed for this dinner."

"Can we not just stay in bed like this for the rest of the night?"

Leanna stood and began gathering up her clothes from the floor. "I wish we could, but I promised Kasumi we'd meet her for dinner."


Leanna turned to see that Liara had opened her eyes wide and pouted her lips. "You do not get to use that face on me. I invented that face."

"But I do not even know Kasumi," Liara pleaded.

"You know that she's my friend."

"Exactly, she is your friend. I do not know her or this Jacob she's with."

"I'd've asked you to invite your friend, but I didn't want Feron to feel like a fifth wheel."

"I thought that the appropriate term was 'third wheel'?"

"Not when you're talking about a double date." Leanna began putting on her clothes.

"What about Tali and Garrus? We both know them."

"Two problems with that: one, they're not officially a couple; and two, they're not on the ship right now."

"What about Dr. Chakwas and—"

"You finish that sentence Liara, and I swear I will never let you back in my mind."

Liara drew her fingers across her lips in a zipping motion.

Leanna zipped up her dress. "Come on Liara! I'm already dressed and you're just lying there like a fish! A very attractive, sexy fish that I… Just get dressed!"

"Fine," Liara sighed, resigned. She stood and began to put her outfit back on.

Leanna softened her tone. "Tell you what; give it to the end of the meal. If you're bored, give me a signal and I'll get us out of there."

"What kind of signal should I give you?"

"You're psychic honey, I'm sure you can figure it out."

Liara finished getting dressed while Leanna fumbled with getting her heels on. Soon, the two were ready.

"Are you going out like that?"

Leanna turned. "What's wrong?"

"It is just, your hair. I have never seen you go out in public with it down before."

"Liara, for fifteen years, I've kept my hair up by threading it through a ring. Now, that ring is on your finger."

Liara looked at it. "It is a beautiful ring."

"It was my mother's."

"Your mother's," Liara repeated.

"My father gave it to her when he proposed. The night before the fire… I found it. She told me about it: what it meant, its history. She let me hold on to it while I slept. It's… the only thing I have left of her."

"You miss her, don't you?"

"Don't be silly. How can you miss someone you barely remember?"

"You forget that I have been inside your head. Silly or not, you do miss her. You miss everyone that you have lost, on a level that I have only felt when I lost you."

Leanna turned away. "Could we not get into this right now?"

"I am sorry. I did not mean to upset."

"No, it's just…" she turned back. "I'm sorry. I'm trying to deal with these things, but it's hard. I don't want to drag the evening down letting this all out."

Liara embraced her. "We are together, nothing could bring us down."

Leanna smiled. "Come on. We've got a dinner to go to, and I want to show off my new Fiancée."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Date Night, Part 3

The Loft

"Hey Commander, we'll be docking with the Shadow Broker's station in about 15 minutes. Just F.Y.I."

"Thanks for the update Joker. Feel free not to tell me every five minutes."

"Just keeping you motivated. I know I'd've been ready and waiting by now if I was waiting for that big blue—" Leanna jabbed her finger on the mute button before Joker could say which attribute of Liara he found the most appealing.

"He's right, you know." Leanna turned toward the source of the voice, Kasumi, who was rummaging through the locker. "You really should get up there."

"Like this?" Leanna indicated her body, which was wearing underwear only.

Kasumi placed her hand on her chin, regarding Leanna like a painting. "Well, you'll certainly get her attention."

"Ha ha, very funny. Will you be serious for a minute and help me figure out what to wear?"

"I keep trying to, but you keep shooting down my suggestions."

"Well, maybe if you made better suggestions, I wouldn't have to shoot them down," Leanna retorted.

Kasumi threw up her hands in exasperation. "Well if I keep making bad suggestions, why are you even asking for my help?"

"Because you're the only one on this whole damn ship with any fashion sense!"

Kasumi place her hands on Leanna's shoulders to calm her down. "Shepard, if that's really what you think, then maybe you should let me decide."

"I…" Leanna sighed. "Ok. Just… just make it a good one, alright?"

Kasumi smiled. "I've know just the thing." She moved back to the locker and started searching for a dress. "So what's got you so stressed anyway?"

"Well, you see," Leanna flushed a bit, "it's my first date."

"Really, I thought you and Liara…"

"We never really had a date. Not unless you want to count the time we killed Saren, or the time we killed her mother."

"What's a date without a little bloodshed?" Kasumi quipped.

Leanna chuckled a bit. "And anyway, I didn't just mean it's my first date with her. It's my first date ever."

Kasumi stuck her head out. "Really! But I thought you'd…"

Leanna held up a hand. "Oh, don't get me wrong, I've been around. It's just that… the guys I was with didn't really care about me as a person, and the girl I got with… let's just say that sometimes, life doesn't give you all the time you think you need with a person."

"I'm… really sorry. I didn't know."

Leanna nodded. "That's why this has to go well. I don't know if I'll ever get another shot at it. Something could happen tomorrow and one or both of us could be dead. I don't want it to end and regret the only date I ever had."

Kasumi emerged from the locker holding a silky green dress. "Wear this, and I guarantee no regrets."

Leanna put it on as quickly as she could. "Well? Does it look alright?"

Kasumi smiled widely. "You better be careful. You wear that dress long enough and even I might sleep with you."

Leanna blushed.

With one minute to spare, Leanna strode confidently out of the elevator and through the CIC. She attracted few glances from the crew, who by now were used to the Commander wearing a dress, though this particular one stood out a bit more than the others.

Leanna soon found herself at the airlock, at which time she heard Joker say, "Just in time Commander, we're finishing docking procedures now."

"Thank you Joker."

"If you really want to thank me, take pictures."

Leanna rolled her eyes. "Don't push your luck."

A voice came over the intercom. "This is Liara T'Soni, requesting permission to come aboard."

Joker tapped a comm. panel. "Permission granted. Welcome aboard Doctor."

The doors hissed open. Through them strolled what was perhaps the most beautiful sight Leanna had seen in the past two weeks: Liara. Leanna took a minute to bask in the sight before she realized the expression on her face.

"Is something wrong?"

Liara realized that her mouth had been hanging open a bit. "It is just… that dress."

"You hate it, don't you? I knew I shouldn't have worn this. I never should've listened to—"

Liara raised her hands to stop her. "No, it is not that. The dress is lovely. What I meant to say was that it looks new."

The smile returned to Leanna's face. "Oh! Yes, it's new. I got it a few days ago."

Liara nodded. "I know that you were wearing the black dress before due to a lack of options, but I never expected you to intentionally dress—"

"—like a girl?" Leanna tried to finish.

"I was going to say 'formally'."

Leanna smiled. "I wanted to look nice for you. It's our first date together after all."

Liara's cheeks turned violet. "I am flattered Shepard."

"Besides, don't think I've gone too soft. I can still fit a pistol in this dress."

Liara looked her up and down. "Where?"

Leanna smirked. "You don't want to know."

"I do," Joker called from the cockpit.

Leanna ignored him. "So, we've got about two hours before dinner. I figure I can give you a tour of the new ship and then maybe we can go to my cabin and talk."

"The talking sounds nice, but I have already seen the ship."

"Ah," Leanna smiled, "but you've only seen a few areas while you walked around it. You haven't gotten the grand tour from Commander herself."

Liara returned the smile. "No, I suppose I have not."

"Very well." Leanna extended the crook of her arm to Liara. "Come with me Doctor T'Soni. Let me escort you as we explore this mighty vessel."

Liara gave her a puzzled expression. Leanna lowered her arm, whispered something in her ear, then stepped back and extended it again.

"Uh… yes." She linked her arm with Leanna's "Come Miss Shepard, escort me through this… ship."

"We'll work on it," Leanna replied quietly as they headed into the CIC.

"Hey Commander," Joker called after. "Don't forget to set up a camera if you two decide to start reenacting Vaenia."

Leanna yelled back, "Don't be an ass, Joker."

"What is Vaenia?" Liara whispered.

"And here we are at our final stop, the Loft," the doors opened, "better known as my room." Leanna entered the room, Liara following close behind.

Liara gazed over the room. "This certainly is impressive."

"Isn't it?" Leanna spread out her arms. "It's almost twice the size of my quarters on the old Normandy, plus I get a fish tank, a skylight, and my own private bathroom."

Liara wandered over to the fish tank. "Your fish look well taken care of."

"Wish I could take credit for that," Leanna chuckled. "Kelly comes up here once a day to feed them. When I tried doing it myself, they all died."

"Yes, you and Miss Chambers seemed to be very close." She turned to face Leanna. "There is not… anything between you two is there?"

"Well, like half the women on this ship, she's madly in love with me." Leanna was only half joking with this. "But, I explained that I was a one woman girl and you were the one for me, so she backed off."

Liara laughed lightly. "I see you are still thinking of me as a woman."

"Am I wrong to?"

Liara shook her head. "My time spent among other races has shown that most binary gender species think of us this way. Still, as I told you back when we first met, the Asari do not have the concept of gender."

Leanna shrugged. "You know what they say: 'If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and can give birth to live children, then it's a woman."

Liara took a moment to process the confusing sentence before she said, "I see your knack for metaphor has not changed."

"You should see my simile," Leanna grinned.

The two made their way from the office alcove to the couch and sat down. A bottle of red wine and two glasses were waiting for them on the table. Leanna poured the wine and handed a glass to Liara.

"So," Liara said after taking a sip, "how are you doing Shepard? And I mean how you are really doing, not just what you tell your crew to keep their morale up."

Leanna downed half the glass before speaking. "I'm just taking it day by day. Some days, I worry about what's going to happen when the reapers come and no one's prepared for them because no one will listen. Other days, I just wish they'd show up and get it over with."

"You don't really mean that."

Leanna shook her head. "Of course I don't. I just… I have no idea what I'm doing or where I'm going. I feel like I've been moving non-stop since I first found out about the Reapers, and this wait is killing me. I feel like I'm not closer to stopping the Reapers than I was when we defeated Sovereign."

"Still, you have done more than most could claim against them. You defeated the Collectors in their own territory and… oh. I'm sorry; I forgot that you lost someone on the mission."

"You mean Zaeed, the one-eyed wonder merc?" Leanna laughed. "To be honest with you, I'm glad he's gone."

Liara was a little shocked. "I am… surprised to hear you say that. I never thought that you would speak so callously about the death of a teammate."

Leanna took another sip of wine. "That's the thing though: he was never really part of the team. He was just here for the money, and he made damn sure to remind me of that. I mean, yeah, I did favors for the rest of my squad, but I gained the trust of everyone, so much so that they're all sticking around, even though we don't have a mission right now. Zaeed though, he would've left the ship the moment we got back."

Liara raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure about that?"

"Pretty sure, he said as much several times."

"You know Shepard, I know from experience that it can be difficult to open up to someone you've just met; to tell them you trust them, even though you have no reason to. Is it not possible that Zaeed trusted you but could not bring himself to tell you?"

A puzzled look spread across Leanna's face. "I don't… no. I don't think so. No, he couldn't have, could he?"

Liara shrugged. "I am unsure. I was simply telling you a possibility." She sipped her glass.

"Well, that was a downer." She drank the rest of her wine.

Liara set her glass down. "It is funny though. We finally get time alone together, and all we can talk about is others."

"Yep," Leanna replied, setting down her glass. "It's a real riot."

"So tell me—" Liara inched closer. "—what is it you want. If this all ends tomorrow, what happens to us?"

Leanna stretched her arms out on the sofa and leaned back. "You know, I was thinking of retiring, settling down, getting married, growing old, having a bunch of little blue children."

Liara gave her a playful shove. "You just say these things."

She stood, walking over to Leanna's second desk, upon which laid her old charred N7 helmet. Tears began to well up in her eyes. "Goddess Shepard, you were dead."

Leanna came up behind her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "I'm not anymore, and I have you to thank for it."

Liara turned. "We got lucky, but you burned that bridge already, and even if you had not, Cerberus no longer has the money to bring you back a second time." She moved next to the bed to look out the skylight at the stars. "When the Reapers finally come, you will be the first to dive into the fray."

Leanna followed her. "Liara?" she asked tentatively.

Liara turned to her, grasping her hands. "I spent two years without you, and I mourned for you every day. If we are going to be together, I need some sort of assurance that you will always come back."

"You want assurances? How's this?" Leanna freed her left hand and reached to the back of her ponytail. She undid the clasp that kept it tight and then removed the ring she had threaded her ponytail through for the last fifteen years. Without letting go of Liara's other hand, she got down on one knee.

"Shepard, what are you—"

"Liara T'Soni, will you marry me?"

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Date Night, Part 2

Entry 225

I'm feeling a little anxious today.

The thing is… I've never really been on a date before. I know that Liara and I being together is the most natural thing in the world, but the idea of a date… well it scares the living hell out of me. And to make matters worse, it's not just a date but a double date. Ugh! I could just rip Kasumi's head off!

I think I finally decided on an outfit for the date. It's a sparkly blue dress I got the last time we were on Illium. Then again, that green one might work better. Damnit, now I've got to figure it out again!

Ok, moving on to food. That one shouldn't be too hard. What do people eat on a date? Wait, is this a food date? 1600 seems a little early for dinner. Should we do something first and then eat? God I am freaking out. I've got to talk to someone about this. Oh god, who do I talk to about this?

It's alright Leanna, calm down. I'll talk to Kasumi. She's the one who got me in to this, she can help me out. Not to mention she and Jacob are the only ones on the ship with a successful dating life.

I think Gardner's about to open up the kitchen. I guess I should go down for breakfast. Maybe playing a bit more "Crazy Pyjaks" wouldn't hurt though. I think I'm about to finish it and I heard there's some big boss fight at the end. Could be fun.

It was breakfast in the Mess Hall. Gardner was busy cooking. He'd managed to get one glove on this morning, though it wasn't the one that was touching the food unfortunately.

A few of the crew members were sitting at the larger table, either reading reports or talking between bites of food. The atmosphere on the Normandy had gotten a bit more relaxed since the Shadow Broker incident as there was very little anyone had to do.

Meanwhile, at the smaller table, Garrus and Tali sat, each apparently lost in their own thoughts.

Garrus finally broke through the silence. "Don't you ever get tired of it?"

Tali focused her attention on him. "Get tired of what?"

Garrus held up the tube he was eating out of; an identical one was attached to Tali's suit. "This. Day in, day out, eating the same paste for every meal, doesn't it get boring after a while?"

"I've… never really thought about it. Every meal I've eaten has been some sort of vegetable or protein paste."

"You've never even been curious? Never wanted to try some meat?"

"Of course I've been curious, but that's a major indulgence. For one, it's almost impossible to find someone willing to prepare meat in a way that a quarian could eat it. And even if you do, they make it so expensive that most quarians have to save up for years to afford it."

Garrus leaned forward slightly. "What if I told you that I know of a restaurant, no more than a few hours away by shuttle, that specializes in quarian and turian cooking?"

"That would be great, but there's no way I could afford to eat at a place like that."

"Then let me take you there, my treat."

Tali shook her head. "No way, that's too much money for anyone to be spending on my behalf."

Garrus held up a hand. "It's no big deal. The chef is a friend of mine. He owes me a favor. I'm sure I could get him to give us a discount. Besides, I'd really like to go to this place, but people always look at you funny if you show up alone."

Tali cocked her head to the side. "And they won't look at you funny if you show up with a Quarian?"

Garrus smiled. "Only the close-minded ones."

Tali thought for a moment. "Well…"

Out of nowhere, a fist hit Garrus on the side of the head, followed by someone yelling out, "You ass!"

Garrus grabbed the side of his head that had been struck and turned to face his attacker. "What the hell Shepard? That's my injured side!"

Leanna was standing there, her fists at her side, shaking with what looked like a combination of fear and rage. Tali took one look and began to leave, the tube of past still attached to her suit. Garrus reached out towards her with his free hand, but he was too late to stop her.

Leanna finally stopped seething enough to speak. "Why didn't you tell me there were Thresher Maws in that game?"

Garrus rubbed the spot where she'd hit him. The bandage had come off a week ago, but his exoskeleton hadn't entirely healed yet. It was still soft, which was probably why Shepard had targeted it in the first place. "Thresher Maws… You mean you beat the game?"

"No." The anger seemed to quickly subside as Shepard slumped down in the chair next to Garrus. "I made it all the way to the boss fight, and then that Thresher Maw burst out of the ground and then… I froze up. I just sat there, staring at the display until the time ran out. And when it did, I turned off my Omni-tool and was overcome with the strong desire to come down here… and hit you."

"Did it make you feel better?"

She looked at Garrus. "No. If anything, I feel worse. I shouldn't have gotten mad at you. It's not like you would've known what kind of reaction I would've had to that. Hell, I didn't even know I'd freak out like that."

Garrus continued to rub the side of his head. The pain was subsiding, but not gone. "No, I'm sorry. I should've known better. I knew what happened at Akuze, but I just forgot. It's just that I've never seen you be anything but level-headed when facing down a Thresher Maw."

"Trust me; I'm terrified whenever we have to fight one of them. It's just that, usually when I'm terrified, my instinct is to shoot. Most of the time when we've faced down Maws, we've been in a tank, and the one time we had to fight one on foot, I happened to have a mini-nuke-launcher strapped to my back. But here I was, alone, unarmed and half-naked in my quarters. What was I supposed to do?"

"To be fair, the point of the game was to throw pyjaks at it."

Leanna gave Garrus a punch on the arm, much lighter this time. She smiled. "I'm sorry Garrus. I over reacted and I think I scared Tali off. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?"

Garrus thought for a minute. "Maybe you could talk to Tali for me. I was trying to invite her out to this restaurant that serves dishes made exclusively with dextro-proteins. Maybe you could get her to say yes?"

"Really? I thought you were going to wait a while before you asked her out."

"It's not a date; not a real one anyway. I just figure she could use some time to blow off some steam. I'm worried about her. I… know what it's like to have family problems."

"Yeah, about that… don't mention what I said to here, about her not being over the loss of her father. I don't want her to know I was talking about this to anyone."

"So you mean you'll do it?"

Leanna gave a smile. "I'll do my best. I'll talk to her first thing after breakfast." She stood and turned to the kitchen, only to see Gardner scratching himself with his ungloved hand. "And now I've lost my appetite."

A few minutes later, Shepard entered the Engineering room. Ken and Gabby were having a hushed conversation while casting occasional glances at Tali. Leanna cleared her throat behind them.

"Guys, give us a minute?"

Gabby spoke first, "I'm gonna go check on the Cargo."

Ken chimed in as well. "Aye, I'll help ya with that."

Without another word, the pair left the room.

Leanna walked over to Tali. She was slumped against the console in front of her and her head was in her hands. She saw the empty protein-past tube on the ground a few feet away. "Tali?" she asked tentatively.

Tali turned her head towards Shepard. "What do you want from me?" She sounded as though she'd been crying, though Leanna was unsure if quarians cried.

Leanna took a single step forward. "I… just wanted to apologize. I didn't mean to scare you off like that."

Tali straightened herself up and turned back to the console. "Fine, you apologized. Is that all?"

"Is everything alright?"

"Everything's fine Shepard."

Leanna took another step. "Ok, I may not act like it sometimes, but I am a woman, and I know that when another woman says that everything's fine, it means that something is decidedly not fine, so spill."

"Fine, you want to know what it is?" Tali turned to face her, placing her hand on her left hip. "It's you."


"Look Shepard, I have deep, strong feelings for you. I told you how I felt, and you said you had to talk to Liara first, and that was fine because I wasn't out of the running yet. Then Liara comes and she won't talk about it, so I encourage her to. Why, because I wanted you to be happy. Sure, part of me wanted her to decide it wouldn't work out and then we could be together, but I just kept telling myself it didn't matter as long as you were happy. But then, when it comes down to it, you two don't even talk it out do you? You just decided to get back together like the last two-and-a-half years never happened. And now, I'm still trying to say it's ok, just as long as you're happy, but it's not! It hurts! And I feel so alone!

"I know that if this were about anyone else, you'd be the first person I went to. You were there for me so many times, when Fist's goons attacked me, when I lost my squad on Haestrom, when my father died… but now it feels like there's no one I can talk to about this. The only person on this ship that I've known as long as you is Garrus, and I don't feel comfortable enough to talk about it with him.

"And then, once I finally get the courage to leave the lower decks and talk to someone, you burst in and punch Garrus as soon as he gets the courage to ask me out! That took a lot of courage, and you have to go all 'jealous girlfriend' on him over someone you already rejected!"

Leanna stood there in stunned silence for a few moments before speaking. "Ok Tali, first of all, I wasn't jealous of you and Garrus. I was upset at him for something he did that I thought he did for different reasons but he just forgot. Anyway, it had nothing to do with you and I'm sorry if I made it seem like that."

"Oh," Tali said in a mixture of relief, embarrassment and a slight bit of disappointment.

"And second, I'm sorry for not being there for you. You're my best friend and you've been there for me just as much as I've been for you. I don't think I could've gotten through the past few months since I was brought back without your help."

Tali quickly closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around her. "No Leanna, I'm sorry." She pulled back. "I shouldn't have exploded like that. It's not your fault I've been so distant. I guess… I just needed to vent. Look, I'll be ok. You should go; you have that date with Liara tonight."

"You know about that? Oh god, who else knows?"

"The Normandy's a small ship Shepard. Gossip spreads fast."

Leanna shook her head. "I really wish we were busy; then people would have something better to talk about than my personal life." Suddenly, inspiration struck. "You know what? I think I'm going to start instituting some mandatory shore leave, starting with you and Garrus."


"Yep, as the only two on board who require dextro-proteins, I'm grouping you two together. Take the shuttle, go to that restaurant, have some fun together and don't come back for 24 hours. And here, take this." She reached into the pocket on her right leg and pulled out a credit chit. "It's got about 15,000 credits on it. Use as much as you need."

"I… I don't know what to say. Thank you, Leanna."

"Well don't just stand there! Tell Garrus and then start packing!"

"Right!" Tali headed for the door.

"And remember," Leanna called after her, "24 hours. Then I want you back here to tell me everything."

Tali made a gesture resembling a salute as she walked backwards through the door. "Yes Captain!" As she turned, Leanna could see a bit of a spring in her step.

Leanna exited through the other doors, only to run into Ken and Gabby, kissing each other in the space between the doors.

Leanna looked at them and said, "Get a room you two."

A voice cried from below, "And stay out of mine!"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Episode #4 – Date Night, Part 1

Entry 224

I'm restless.

Kelly said I should start each of these log entries by saying how I feel. She said that if I want to be in a better place emotionally, I needed to be honest with myself, which meant being honest with how I feel. So yeah, I'm feeling restless.

It's just that there's nothing going on right now. When I was in the Alliance, I was always on assignment. Even when I was with Cerberus, I had a million things to do beyond my main mission. I feel like I'm sitting on my hands, twiddling my thumbs here.

Wait, that sounds kind of weird. How would you do both?

Ok, it's not like I haven't done anything. Still, I'd hardly call clothes shopping with Kasumi a thrilling experience for either one of us. She didn't like having to pay for it, and I didn't like being escorted out for threatening to shoot that bitch who snaked the pants I wanted. It was just a leg.

Kelly also says I have a bit of an anger problem.

Right now, the only thing I have left to do is to convince the Alliance and the Council that the Reapers are real and they're coming. Doing both those things requires intelligence gathering skills that I don't have. That means it's up to Liara.

It's been nearly two weeks since I've seen her. She said she needed some time to get the Broker's base put back together and figure out what she's doing there before we talk out what we're doing together. Thankfully though, we've at least established that we're together.

I think Tali's taking it a little hard. I saw her in the mess yesterday, and when I asked her how she was and she said she was "happy for me." I'm starting to worry that she might decide to head back to the Migrant Fleet. I don't think I could bear to see her leave.

Anyway, that's my log entry for the day. Kelly said I have to make one each day so I guess I'll be doing another tomorrow. I hate it, but she's got me by the quad. She keeps threatening not to feed my fish if I don't.

Leanna leaned back in her chair, brought her hand up to her face, stroked the bridge of her nose, and sighed. She looked down at the silk pajamas she was wearing. They were a "gift" from Kasumi, though she didn't remember her buying it. She thought about getting dressed.

She tapped the comm. button. "Kelly, any calls?"


"Any messages?"


"Any missions?"

"No Commander Shepard."

"It's a good job, huh?"

There was a pause. "Is everything alright Commander? Do you need company?"

As it wasn't one of her counseling days, she knew exactly what Kelly meant by "company". "Uh, no thanks Kelly, I'm good. I'll be up in the loft if anyone needs anything."

She switched off the comm. Again, she contemplated getting dressed.

Instead, she switched on her omni-tool. She loaded up a game that Garrus had convinced her to buy. In it, she was trying to knock down buildings that varren had made by launching pyjaks at them. The concept made no sense, but damn if it wasn't addicting.

She was in the middle of a particularly challenging level when her stomach growled. There was no escaping it this time; she'd have to get dressed.

After saving her progress, she walked over to her armor locker, which doubled as her wardrobe. She looked through the much more substantial wardrobe she had now. Of course, she wasn't looking for anything too elaborate, just something she'd be comfortable wearing around her crew. In the end, she settled on a simple engineer's uniform that looked a bit like her old Alliance fatigues, only a lighter shade of blue.

Fifteen minutes later, she found herself in the mess hall. At her arrival, she saw Gardner make a mad dash to put on the gloves she'd bought him. Maybe I'll wait a few minutes before ordering anything.

"Would you like a seat Commander?"

She turned to see that Jacob was offering her the chair across from his. She looked at the chair, shrugged and said "Why not."

The chair she sat in was next to Garrus. Across from him was Kasumi, who was deliberately trying to look like she had not just been cuddling with Jacob. She looked at the food in front of Jacob.

"Lunch already? You mean I missed breakfast?"

Garrus smiled, or at least what she'd always assumed was the Turian equivalent of a smile. "Maybe if you got up in time you'd make it to breakfast."

"I was up in time. I've been up for," she checked the ship time on her omni-tool; it was 1130 hours, "four and a half hours."

Jacob chuckled. "You spent four and a half hours in your room?"

Kasumi elbowed him in the ribs, causing him to almost choke on his sandwich.

Leanna lightly smacked Garrus's arm with the back of her hand. "It's your fault anyway."

"How is it my fault?"

"That damn game you made me buy. Ever since I got it, I play it whenever I'm bored, and I'm bored all — the — time."

Jacob had finished his sandwich and was holding Kasumi's hand. "Yeah, I liked the quiet for a little bit, but now…"

Leanna made a gesture to Jacob indicating her agreement. "Right? You know what I'm talking about. In the Alliance, we hardly had downtime. Shore leave only ever lasted what, a week, if that? Most days you spent on a ship you at least had something to do."

Kasumi let go of Jacob's hand to grab Leanna's. "I've got a great idea. Why don't you call up Liara and set up a date."

Leanna regarded her quizzically. "A date?"

Kasumi's smile broadened. "In fact, why don't we make it a double date? You and Liara with me and Jacob."

"Wait, what?"

Jacob turned to her as well. "Yeah, what?"

Kasumi looked at him from under her hood. "Oh come on. This is our one chance to do a couples night. It's not like there's anyone else we can double with, unless of course Ken and Gabby realize what's between them."

"What about Garrus?"

"Garrus is single sweetie."

"Yeah, but maybe he and Tali should hook up. I mean, they've both got that dextro-DNA thing, so they're biologically compatible, and they've known each other for a while. I think they'd be a good fit."

Garrus looked between Jacob and Kasumi, his mandibles quivering expectantly. "You really think she'd go for me?"

Kasumi shared a look with Leanna before speaking. "I don't think now's a good time. She's… um…"

Shepard chimed in, "Still mourning for her father."

"Yeah, that," Kasumi nodded.

Garrus's expression fell. "Yeah, you're right. It's too soon. I guess I didn't think of that." He looked at his half-finished tube of protein paste. "You know, I'm not hungry anymore. I'm gonna go work on some calibrations." They all said goodbye to Garrus as he headed for weapon control.

When he was out of sight, Kasumi turned back to Leanna. "So, double date? Come on, you owe me." She cast her a look that said, because of what I just did for you.

Leanna gave an exasperated sigh. "Fine, I'll call her. I'm not promising anything though. If she doesn't want to, then we're not doing it."

Kasumi smiled. "Trust me, she'll want to."

Leanna sat at her private terminal. She was trying to psych herself up to make a call. She didn't know why she was so nervous, it was Liara. Asking her out should've been the most natural thing in the world. This was different though. She'd never asked Liara on a date before. Hell, she'd never asked anyone on a date before.

After sitting there for fifteen minutes, she finally pressed the call button on the comm. The screen on her terminal went black, with a large white line spanning across it that oscillated with the voice that spoke. "This is the Shadow Broker."

She hated this part. "It's Shepard."

There was a pause before, "Vocal ID recognized. Securing connection."

The line began to expand both upwards and downwards until it took up the whole screen. He now saw a drell, the Broker's base behind him.

"Hi Feron. Is Liara available?"

"Actually, she left strict instructions that she was not to be disturbed…" he paused for a moment, "unless of course, you were to call."

Leanna gave a light smile. "Can you go get her for me?"

"Yes Shepard. One moment."

The screen returned to the white line for a moment. Leanna amused herself by flicking a few pyjaks at some varren. The screen flickered on again.

There was the most beautiful blue face Leanna had seen in quite some time. She looked even better because she was smiling. "Shepard, it is good to see you!"

Leanna smiled back. Every trace of nervousness was forgotten. "Hey there Blue. Long time no see."

"I am truly sorry about not calling you lately. I have just been very busy being the new Shadow Broker."

"Too busy to take a night off, like maybe tomorrow?"

"I do not know Shepard. I am unsure if I can…"

Leanna began to pout. "Please Liara, for me?"

Liara smiled. "Oh, alright. I suppose I could let Feron handle things here for a single evening. You know I can never say no to that face."

Leanna gave a coy smile. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Tomorrow, 1600 hours Normandy time. I'm not sure what that is on your station's time, but I'll send you a timestamp so you can set your clock by it. Deal?"

"I'll see you then Shepard."

As the call ended, Leanna was feeling much better about herself.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Flashback – You're Welcome

Miranda stared at the report she'd just written. It was odd to think she wouldn't be sending it anywhere.

To be perfectly honest, writing the report had been completely meaningless. She'd essentially quit her position with Cerberus and she knew that Shepard hated reading through paperwork. Still, there was something comforting about the act.

The door opened.

"Got a minute Miranda?" Shepard walked in.

Miranda looked at her terminal, then back up at Shepard. "I suppose this can wait. Have a seat."

Shepard sat in the chair on the opposite side of Miranda's desk. For a moment, the two women just looked at each other. Finally, Shepard spoke, "I want to thank you, Miranda."

"Thank me for what?"

"For standing by me. For supporting my decision to blow up the base. I was afraid that you were going to side with the Illusive Man and try to stop me from destroying it. That you didn't, well, it means a lot to me."

"It was a stupid thing to do."

Shepard was taken aback. "Excuse me?"

"Not you. You made the right decision. I didn't. I never should have quit Cerberus."

"You're wishing you had stopped me?"

"Shepard, I'm not like you. I can't just strike out on my own. I've always been working for someone. First it was my father, then Cerberus. I don't know if I can make it without them."

Shepard smirked. "Is that what this is about? Miranda, I've never been on my own. I make it by because I have my friends, my ship and my crew. Sometimes I feel like I only got where I am because better people helped me get here."

"You can't really think that, can you? What about Akuze? You survived while 50 others died."

"49 actually, thank you very much Cerberus. And second, I only survived due to dumb luck and… someone else who sacrificed her life for mine."

"There you go though. Why would someone else sacrifice their life for you they didn't see how important you were?"

Shepard shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "Trust me, that wasn't the reason."

"I've met plenty of people in my lifetime, and not one of them would be willing to sacrifice themselves to save me."

"I would," Shepard stated flatly.

"Very funny Shepard."

"I'm not joking. Miranda, everyone on board this ship is like family to me. I'd risk my life to save any of them, including you."

Miranda was shocked. She'd been called many things in her life; some of them had even been complimentary, but family? Hell, her own father had never called her that. "I… thank you Shepard."

The two women sat in silence for a few moments before Shepard spoke up. "Miranda, I have to ask you something."

"Of course, what is it Shepard?"

"Am I… alright?"

Miranda was nonplussed. "What do you mean by 'alright'?"

"I'm just… worried is all."

"What are you worried about?"

"The Lazarus Project."

Miranda was even more confused. "The Lazarus Project is over. We brought you back."

"Did you?" Shepard stood and began pacing frantically. "I mean, you say I'm fine, and for all I know you're right, but how can I be sure? How can I trust my senses, if my memories are lies?"

Miranda was beginning to comprehend. "You're saying… you're not sure if you're the real Shepard?"

She stopped pacing and slammed her hands on the desk. "Yes!"

"Shepard, I supervised the Lazarus project myself. Even though the technology that brought you back was Wilson's, I was present for everything he did and I understood the science of it, possibly better than Wilson himself. I can assure you, you're the genuine article."

Shepard jabbed her hand at her temple. "But what about my mind? Just because you grew me from the original Shepard's body doesn't mean we have the same mind, does it?"

"Why don't you tell me? Look back on your memories. Do they inspire the same feelings they used to?"

Shepard sat back down, closing her eyes. "I… I think so." Her eyes opened. "But how do I know they're true?"

Miranda grabbed her hand. "Shepard, every cell in your body was dead, that's true, but the way your body was preserved, every cell in your brain was completely intact. We were able to restore nearly every one and the ones we didn't could easily be chalked up to a night of heavy drinking."

"You're sure? I'm… I'm really Shepard? I'm not just some clone with her memories?"

Miranda smiled, "You are one-hundred percent Shepard, through and through."

To her great surprise, this didn't cheer her up at all. Shepard laid her head on her arm and began a dry sob. "Then why don't I feel anything?"

The smile dropped from Miranda's face. "What do you mean?"

Shepard raised her head. Her face was dry but her eyes were red. "Every time I've lost people, it's hurt. When my squad died on Akuze, I was a wreck. When I lost Jenkins on Eden Prime, it hurt. When Kaiden died on Virmire, I was devastated. Now, Zaeed dies in the collector base, and I feel nothing, and now you tell me that's supposed to be normal!"

"I see. You wanted me to tell you that you were a clone, didn't you; that you were somehow not the real Shepard. I'm sorry, but I won't lie to you like that. You're the real deal and you have to accept that and learn to live with these emotions, or lack thereof."

"Miranda, I need help! I need to know why I don't seem to care."

Miranda thought for a moment. "Tell me, how close were you to your squad on Akuze?"

"We were very close. Most of us had joined the alliance together. I'd shared a barrack with half of them during basic training."

Miranda nodded. "And Jenkins?"

"I wouldn't say we were close. I'd only just met the kid a few weeks ago. Still, he seemed like a good kid. I thought he had a lot of potential."

"What about Kaiden?"

"Kaiden was a great friend. He was the first person who managed to bring me out of my shell after I lost my team on Akuze. Losing him was… a tragedy."

"Now, tell me how you felt about Zaeed?"

"He was… not the best person I'd known. His first reaction to everything seemed to be to shoot it or at least punch it. Ninety-five percent of his stories ended everyone but him dying, to the point where I just stopped talking to him… I guess you could say… I didn't like him."

Miranda nodded her head again. "I'm no psychologist, but I think that's the reason you're not upset he's gone."

"But…" Shepard considered her words, "don't you think that sounds a bit… selfish?"

"Everyone's selfish Shepard, it's just to what degree. Zaeed's own selfish desires put him at the forefront of the distraction team. He used himself as a human shield and that got him killed. Maybe a part of you knew that would happen. Maybe a part of you wanted him dead."

Shepard cupped her face in her hands. "I don't want to believe I have that part in me."

Miranda grabbed her hand. "Everyone does Shepard. The trick is, saving it for people who truly deserve it. I don't think Mr. Massani will be missed by anyone, do you?"

Shepard thought for a moment. "No. No, I suppose you're right. I… I think the galaxy's a better place with him being dead, and I… I don't miss him at all." The words seemed alien to her, like she was spitting them out through a second mouth. She rubbed her eyes. "I don't want to have these thoughts anymore."

"Maybe you just need to relax."

Shepard stood. "Yeah, you're right. In fact, I was gonna head to Omega for a drink. Want to come with? It's just me, Kelly and Garrus right now."

Miranda looked at her desk, then back up at Shepard. "I don't think I'd be good company right now. Perhaps another time."

"Ok, then." Shepard headed for the door, stopping just before it opened, "And Miranda, thank you… for everything."

Miranda smiled. "You're welcome Shepard."

As the door closed behind Shepard, Miranda turned to her terminal. She saved and closed the report, then brought up her extranet-mail. She began a new message.

"Dear, Oriana…"

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Hunt, Part 5

Interrogation Room, Continued

Liara's heart was racing. Time seemed to stand still. She turned to face Feron, waiting for the inevitable moment when the electricity with surge through him and burn out his central nervous system.

Nothing happened.

This had not gone unnoticed by Thirty-six, who was now mashing the console button repeatedly.

"What in the—"

Shepard raised her pistol. "Say 'Good Night' Thirty-six."

Liara, for whom time was still moving slowly, could see it all in her mind's eye. The pistol sheared a few atoms off the large metal block it used for ammunition. The shot was enveloped by a mass effect field and propelled forward, to the point that it had nearly reached the speed of sound when it erupted from the barrel of the pistol.

Upon emerging, mass effect field was merged with Shepard's own biotics, causing the shot to increase in velocity, rather than decrease. The shot was now spinning. It was almost beautiful as it crossed the room.

The shot then impacted Thirty-six's exposed head. The shields overloaded like they weren't even there. The mass effect field that enveloped the shot caused it to flatten out, spreading the impact over the majority of the man's forehead.

In that instant, time returned to normal as Thirty-six's head was obliterated. It did not explode like Vasir's, it was simply gone. His headless body fell backwards, collapsing onto the wall.

Liara just stood there, staring at the place where Thirty-six once stood. The only emotion she could convey was shock. "How… how did…?"

Tali ran over to the console, scanning it with her omni-tool. "I managed to disable the console remotely."

"But how did you…?"

Tali held up her arm with the omni-tool on it. "I believe the appropriate expression is 'Duh'."

Liara turned to Shepard, hoping for answers. Leanna tapped her visor. "While Thirty-six's attention was on you, Tali and I worked out the plan to disable his console, making it safe for us to stop him without endangering Feron. We would've let you in on the plan, but we had no way of communicating with you that he wouldn't have spotted."

"Why did you let him… make me choose?"

"Tali had just cracked it by then. I tried to stop you, but you just kept going."

Tali chimed in. "Guys, we've got a problem. Feron's chair is hooked into the Shadow Broker's mainframe. I managed to disable the console, but if we try to take him now the chair will still fry him."

Liara approached the unconscious drell. "Feron, can you hear me?"

He stirred, waking up. "Liara? Is that you?"

She took his hand. "Yes, it is me. I have come to rescue you, just like I said I would."

"You can't Liara. It's too dangerous."

"It is all right. We have already made it here. We just need to free you and make it to safety."

Feron gave a weak chuckle. "You can't take me out of here. The chair is connected to the Broker's information network. The only way to disable the mechanism is to take it out at its source, the Broker's office."

Shepard walked up to Feron's other side. "What can you tell us about the Broker?"

Feron turned his head towards the voice. "Who's that?"

"I'm Commander Leanna Shepard."

He turned back to Liara. His eyes were starting to focus again. "So you did it. You found Shepard. And she's alive too. At least now I know it was all worth it." He turned back to Shepard. "I'm afraid I can't be of much help. There's a VI monitoring my words. If I say the wrong thing, I'll be shocked, and in this state, that might knock me out again."

"Then we'd better hurry." She made her way to the door, Tali following close behind.

"Shepard, wait. About what I said earlier…"

Leanna cut her off. "Like you said Liara, we'll talk about it when this is finished."

The doors to the Shadow Broker's office opened.

Shepard entered, Liara and Tali flanking her. They all drew their weapons and pointed them at the thing they could only assume was the Shadow Broker.

The Broker was probably the most alien intelligent life form Shepard had ever seen. Its face was oddly flat, with horns emerging out of the top and odd fin-like flaps that she could only assume were sensory organs. Its triangular mouth contained rows of very sharp teeth, jutting out at odd angles. Just above the mouth were two sets of four eyes arranged in a type of parallelogram.

He was also very, very big. Bigger than a krogan even.

"I take it you're here for the Drell. A reckless move Commander, even by your standards."

"And I'm supposed to believe blowing up a building on Illium is your idea of subtlety?"

"My methods were extreme, but your actions required it."

"Nothing justifies what you have done!" Liara yelled, "The bombing, Vasir, caging Feron for two years like some sort of animal!"

"It was your hand that caused this Dr. T'Soni. You convinced Feron to betray me and give you the body. Now he serves as an example that disloyalty will not be tolerated."

Shepard spoke up. "What did you intend to gain by turning me over to the Collectors?"

"A great deal actually. Of course, now that you've destroyed them, I no longer need you alive. I can still use the Normandy's IFF to salvage the remains of the Collectors' base."

Liara glared at him. "You sound very confident for someone who is used to hiding. I don't know if you've noticed, but you are outnumbered."

"Perhaps, though I'm surprised you brought the Quarian with you. Her supposed leadership on Haestrom resulted in the deaths of the majority of her team."

Shepard tightened her grip. "You shut up about Tali."

"It's pointless to challenge me. I know your every secret, while you fumble in the dark."

"You think so?" Liara smirked. "You are a Yahg. Your species was quarantined to its homeworld for the massacre of the Council's first contact team. This base's age predates the discovery of your planet, meaning you killed the previous Shadow Broker sixty years ago, and then took over with no one noticing the difference. I would wager you were taken from you planet by a trophy hunter looking for a slave… or perhaps a pet.

"How am I doing so far?"

In one swift movement, the Shadow Broker ripped his desk from the ground and threw it at the three of them.

Shepard had little time to react. She grabbed Liara, moving them both out of the way of the desk. Tali was not so lucky.

Shepard took a moment to steal a glance at Tali. She was unconscious, the Shadow Broker's desk on top of her. Her visor data told her that Tali was still alive.

Liara stood, Shepard rising with her. They both turned their guns on the Shadow Broker. They were in for the fight of their lives.

The cascade of information washed over him. For a moment, he didn't just have information, he was information. It was too much for him though. He could not handle the strain. His skin began to crack as the energy tried to escape. Within seconds, he was vaporized. Gone, without a trace.

Leanna lay on the floor some distance away. The sheer charge of the blast had blacked out her visor. She retracted it as she waited for it to reboot.

Liara approached. Her expression was unreadable, but she offered a hand. Shepard took it and helped herself up.

From the corner of her eye, she saw movement. Tali appeared to be stirring. Leanna walked over to help.

The Lights flickered and died for a moment before the back-up generators kicked in. Shepard knew that would be enough to disable Feron's chair.

As Shepard helped Tali, Liara noticed that the Broker's computers were coming back online. Signals were coming in. Various operatives and agents were asking what had happened.

Liara had been afraid of this. The Shadow Broker was in charge of an empire. If they killed him and then left, there would be a power vacuum. Unless…

Liara steeled herself, like she had done so many times before. She approached the console and brought up the comms, sending out a general message to all of the Shadow Broker's agents and operatives.

"This is the Shadow Broker. The situation is under control. We experienced a power fluctuation while upgrading hardware. It caused a momentary disruption of communications. We are now back online. Resume standard operating procedures. I want a status report on all operations within one solar day. Shadow Broker out."

"Liara? You… how did you?"

Liara turned to see Feron. He looked thinner than she last remembered and he was limping, but he was free.

"Everyone who has ever seen the Shadow Broker is either dead or in this room."

"So you become the new Shadow Broker?"

Shepard chimed in. "What about this strikes you as even a remotely good idea?"

"If we leave this behind, we lose everything he had. His contacts, his trading resources, not to mention the intelligence he's gathered over the decades. We may find the key to defeating the Reapers. With all this, maybe I can finally give you… I can…"

Tali grabbed Feron. "Why don't we get ourselves checked up? Somewhere far, far away from here."

They both walked out the main doors.

Leanna watched them leave, then turned her attention back to Liara. Her face was buried in her hands. Leanna gently touched her shoulder. Liara turned, tears in her eyes.

"It is over. Two years and it is finally…"

Leanna grabbed her and hugged her. Even through the armor, it was comforting to both of them.

"It's all right," Leanna whispered gently.

Liara drew herself back slowly, then suddenly kissed her.

She drew back just as quickly. "I'm sorry. I know it has been two years. We have both changed so much. We need to talk it out and…"

Leanna grabbed her again. "You talk too much T'Soni." She kissed her, drawing her in an embrace they both hoped would never end.

End of Episode #3