Chapter 1

 

Prologue

 Shepard and Liara’s apartment, Nos Astra, Illium

Liara walked back from the kitchen into the large living room tea in one hand and a datapad in the other.

“Nos Astra does not really provide much entertainment for children,” she said looking over at Jamie.

He was sitting on the floor playing a game with baby John who was giggling at the faces the young man was making.

Before she could move to join them she saw movement on the stairs that led down from the roof and began walking in that direction expecting to see one of her estate commando guards.

Liara stopped dead in her tracks as Shiala came into view and said quickly, “Lady Liara you are in great danger.”

“How did you know I was here and where are Tetra and Manvee,” Liara moved to block Shiala’s path further into the apartment and sensed Jamie moving behind her.

“They are preparing your shuttle, Aethyta sent me,” Shiala sounded almost breathless, “our communications are compromised that’s why I was sent in person.”

“This is most unusual Shiala… I am going to call…” but before Liara could continue Shiala cut across her.

“There is no time Lady Liara its Cerberus they are almost here, please sound the silent alarm so that Commander Shepard will be alerted.  You must come with. We are to take the shuttle to the docks where we will wait for the Normandy.”

Liara hit the silent alarm on her omnitool and turned to Jamie who was holding John in his arms.

It was so quick she almost didn’t register the press of something against her neck then the whoosh as vapour was injected through her skin.

The room spun and she staggered but someone put an arm out to steady her.  Liara felt intense cold around her neck and she tried to bring Jamie’s face into focus.

The edges of her vision darkened, “what have you done,” Liara managed to say.

“There, there, all will be well Lady Liara.  We will be away from here soon, just relax it is only a sedative,” Shiala’s voice came from a long way away.

There was more noise, heavy boots on the stairs, and she heard a human voice.  Liara tried to clear the buzzing in her head and forced herself to stay on her feet.

As the room started to come back into focus her blood chilled as the unmistakable figure of Kai Leng walked down the stairs behind five heavily armed humans.

“Let’s get on with this we need to move,” his voice was hard and Liara tried to summon her biotics but everything felt wrong in her body and pain burned in her mind.

One of the Humans went to the front door of the apartment and let in two others.

“Is it done,” Leng asked them.

“Yes its linked to your omnitool for when you need it.”

“Take the child,” Leng said to one of his team.

“Do not touch him or I will…” Liara said watching as Jamie tried to shield John with his body.

Kai Leng walked over to Jamie but looked back at Liara, “you’ll what Asari,” the hate in his voice cut through Liara’s wooziness, “you are nothing without your biotics.”

Again confusion and another pulse of dizziness overtook her as she tried to summon her biotics.  She swayed and all she could do was watch her son being ripped from the arms of a protesting Jamie.

“Say hello to Shepard and that other Asari bitch for me,” Leng said as in one fluid movement he pulled out a sword and plunged it into the young humans chest.

Liara screamed out and watched Jamie fall to his knees and then to the floor.  She watched in an agony of grief as the pool of blood spread out around his body.

“Watch your mouth human I still have my biotics and I could kill you all without losing my breath,” Shiala’s voice brought Liara back to what was happening.

“Shiala stop them.”

Liara felt herself being grabbed by her arms and turned towards the stairs and she started to fight but she was weak and dizzy and something was very, very wrong with her body.

By the time she had been half dragged onto the roof she could feel herself slipping away and her last conscious moments were filled with the crying of her son and the sight of the dead bodies of her commando’s on the roof.

She struggled one last time, felt another whoosh of drugs being injected into her neck and fell into darkness.


Captain’s cabin, Normandy, en route Vancouver, Earth – two months and two weeks after the bombing on Illium

The beep of her personal alarm brought Shepard back from the shallow sleep she had fallen into. Taking a moment to brace herself she threw back the covers and reached for the hypospray on the shelf next to the bed.

Shepard had to sleep, or what passed for it since the explosion, sitting up as anything else would bring on a painful coughing fit. Pressing the pump to her neck she heard and felt the whoosh of drugs entering her system.

They took the edge off and that was all.

She hadn’t wanted to use her cabin with all its reminders of Liara but the ready room bunk left her too exposed and it was impracticable as Doctor Chakwas had robustly pointed out.

Once showered she went to the drink dispenser, “coffee, black, colony blend, large,” toweling herself dry as the machine prepared her drink she stopped her mind from wandering to painful memories.

The mere act of getting up and showering exhausted her and she hated it.  Hated having to sit down while she dug deep for more strength, hated that she was losing muscle, hated that she was steadily getting worse.

In her mind Shepard could hear Miranda’s voice telling her exactly how long she could push her body in its current state before it began to fail and what the consequences would be.

But Shepard had no time to waste with operations.  She had to find Liara and destroy Cerberus in the process.

The moment Arcturus was stable and Anderson in place as Fleet Admiral and the President safe on Earth, she had headed out to hunt down Harper and his organisation.

Shepard had no proof Liara was alive, in fact almost everyone believed her bondmate had died in the bombing. But her belief that there was a chance Liara was alive was the only thing that kept Shepard standing up.

And she also had a promise to keep, … Shepard whatever happens to me, the Normandy, to anyone else on your crew or all of it… as long as you draw breath you will carry on and you will complete your mission.”

Liara’s voice, as clear as if she were in the room, almost broke through the wall Shepard had put up inside to keep all her feelings at bay.

The only emotion’s Shepard allowed herself was hate and rage.

A few minutes later she was pulling on her jacket when the door buzzed.

“Come in,” the rasping, gruff tone had faded from her voice but Shepard could still only speak is a loud, husky whisper.

“Morning boss,” Tash was holding a couple of data pads but Shepard knew that was not the reason her cousin was there.

Shepard put the half-finished coffee down on her desk and turned to face her executive officer.

“How long till we get to Vancouver,” Shepard adjusted the black patch over her eye and pulled the peak of her baseball cap low.

“Just under an hour.  I wish you’d change your mind about coming to Thessia,” Tash said as they made to leave the room together, “you could get some…”

“What, Tash, what could I possibly get on Thessia,” Shepard stopped and looked at her cousin as she hit the button in the lift for the CIC, “peace… answers.”

Before Tash could think of a response Shepard said quietly, “she is my light and without her I’m lost in the dark.”

The lift arrived at the command deck and Tash followed her commanding officer with a heavy heart.

Skorsgaard home, Vancouver Island, Earth – a few hours after the Normandy docked in Vancouver

Shepard stood in front of the log fire that was spitting and crackling in the open hearth.  She stared into its red hot heart letting her mind rest on the dancing flames.

“Lydia come and sit by me,” her grandmother had brought hot drinks from the kitchen and after placing them down sat on one of the large sofa’s.

As soon as Shepard sat she was pulled into a hug, “now let go Lyddie… let it out.”

Shepard turned her face into the comforting shoulder and hugged her grandmother an ex Alliance Navy Admiral just like her mother, “thank you mormor,” Shepard managed before the tears started to fall.

Her mother, her loving, brave, strong mother was gone.


A few hours later Shepard was staring out at the garden heavily covered by the soft snow falling in a fluffy curtain.

She had stayed in her grandmothers arms for a long time huge silent sobs racking her body.  At some point Shepard was aware of her grandfather joining them sitting in his armchair silently sharing his grief at the loss of his beloved daughter.

Shepard’s thoughts turned to the vids she had watched of her mother and Liara at Shepard’s memorial service, the quiet dignity and strength of her mother.

“I need your strength now mum,” she said quietly to the snow still silently falling onto a pristine carpet of white.

“She’ll be with you tomorrow and every day after that. You’ll always be able to draw on her strength and her love,” Shepard’s grandfathers voice made her turn to face him.

“Sorry pop I didn’t hear you come in,” she looked at him properly for the first time as he stood in front of her and placed his hands on her shoulders.

He looked as tired as Shepard felt and sadder than she could ever remember seeing him look before.

“You just make sure you get them, every last one of those bastards,” his eyes blazed and his jaw was set in a hard line.

“Every last one of them pop and then I’ll end Harper with my own hands,” Shepard said locking eyes with the old soldier.

Normandy, berthed Alliance docks, Vancouver

Tash nodded hello to crew members as she walked to the crew deck and then the galley. She grabbed the breakfast special and a drink and made her way to join Garrus and Malenia at one of the tables.

“Did she get away ok last night,” Garrus asked pushing food around his plate.

Tash nodded, “yeah her Grandfather picked her up from the dock.”

Malenia leaned forward a little, “are all Shepard’s family ex Alliance Navy?”

“Pretty much all of them have served at least for a while… but yeah it’s in the blood on both sides of her family,” Tash tried eating but she had no real appetite.

“So it will be a big military funeral,” Malenia said quietly.

Tash took a deep breath, “all the top brass will be there including the President and of course the crew from…” she faltered as thoughts of Hannah Shepard flooded her mind and she could feel the heat of tears behind her eyes.

Picking up her tray and standing she said, “I’d best… lots to do before we leave.”

Dumping her tray in the reprocesser Tash headed for the ready room on the command deck where she would have some privacy for her grief.


Four hours later the Normandy crew were all at parade rest in the docking bay wearing their naval dress uniforms, while Tash and her marines were resplendent in their dress blues.

Tash called the parade to attention and marched them to the troop transport waiting to take them to the Alliance Navy Military Cemetery.

It was a quiet trip that they shared with crew from Admiral Shepard’s last two postings.

Captain Natasha Mikhailovich felt very, very alone and homesick for a young Asari who gave her the closest feeling to belonging that she had ever had.

Shepard, Alliance Navy Cemetery Vancouver, Vancouver, Earth

It was cold, biting cold.  Shepard knew Vancouver winters from when she would visit her grandparents for holidays and also the times she had to stay at the Naval school when her parents were on a posting that were not suitable for children.

She checked her appearance in the mirror.  It was important she looked her best.  Brushing a fleck of dust from the shoulder of her dress uniform, her fingers traced the line of the gold braid marking her rank as Commander.

A flash of memory felt like a punch to the chest.  Her mother standing so proud, in her dress uniform, at Shepard’s public bonding ceremony and performing the Human marriage custom.

Shepard felt the tears burn in her eyes but they didn’t fall, “I miss you both so much…” as unbidden images of her mother and father in happier times pushed their way into her thoughts.

She picked up her peaked dress cap and heavy overcoat pushing her emotions down. Shepard knew she didn’t have the strength to keep herself together if she truly let go.


Two hours later she stood with her Grandparents in the Military Cemetery watching the honour guard precede her mother’s coffin towards her final resting place.

There were hundreds of mourners and even those who were attending out of duty had known Hannah Shepard, had served with her, admired her service record, and they all came to pay their respects.

This was also the first official engagement of the newly returned to duty Fleet Admiral and Hackett was standing on the other side of Shepard’s Grandfather.

Shepard watched as her cousin led the honour guard with marines from the Normandy and noted that her mother’s coffin was being carried by eight Admirals including Anderson.

The music from the bands resonated through her body but it was as if Shepard was watching it all play out like some old vid.  Snow was falling covering hats, heads and shoulders in a fresh dusting of white as if someone was determined to make the scene as atmospheric as possible.

Shepard felt as if she was a mere bystander in her own bubble of time viewing what was going on around her, past her, through her.

The casket covered with the Alliance Navy flag came to a rest.  Her mother would be buried next to the empty grave of her father.  Military personnel were buried where they died on far distant worlds or into the vacuum of space.  But there was a headstone for each and every one of them in this Cemetery.

‘No headstone for me… no one left to bury the dead the Reapers don’t take for their own sick purposes,’ Shepard pulled herself back from ever darkening thoughts.

Hackett was speaking but it was washing over her.  Words punctuated the falling snow, duty, honour, service, courage and kindness.  Yes her mother was as kind as she was tough, ‘that was good of him to notice’.

Admiral Shandall was speaking now.  She had been in training with Hannah Shepard and they had remained friends to this day, ‘can you still be friends with someone who’s dead’.

Shepard’s Grandmother was the last to speak.  It really should have been Shepard but she had finally managed to convince the retired Admiral that she just couldn’t do her mother justice in her present state.

The honour guard was folding the flag and Shepard braced herself for what would come next.

As Tash marched towards Shepard with the folded flag carried lovingly in her outstretched hands the two locked eyes, ‘she looks how I should be feeling,’ Shepard thought as she accepted the flag with a small nod of the head.

The bark of rifles marking the end of the formal ceremony took her back to the docking bay where she watched her father’s half-brother executed on her orders.

Shepard pushed it down, and the memories of watching her mother and Liara at her own funeral, she pushed those down too and encased them all in a cold anger.

The cold was biting at her face but her core was a molten hot river of hate driving her forward to seek and destroy all those aligning themselves with Cerberus and the Reapers.

Her grief, her compassion, her kindness or any other emotion that would get in the way of her mission she had put behind an inner wall of ice.  And behind that wall Shepard’s heart was broken, her soul was adrift and she was lost in the darkness.

Unknown remote mountain location, two months and two weeks after the bombing on Illium

Liara wrapped the thick coat tightly around her and pulled its hood up before stepping out onto the platform where Shiala’s shuttle usually sat.

Even with the coat’s heating system the cold bit at her legs and hands.  Under different circumstances the view before her would be breath-taking.

The small landing pad, which also gave access to the facility where Liara had found herself on waking from her sedation, sat in a small cavern that had been carved out of the face of a mountain.  Through the wide opening, as far as her eyes could see, were other icy mountain tops and long snow covered ridges.

She breathed in the fresh mountain air and not for the first time wondered which planet she was on.

The complex, where she had been since her kidnap from Illium, looked as if it had once been some kind of research station. The remains of very old Asari science equipment was scattered around and most of it no longer worked.

Liara could get air by going out onto the side of the mountain itself through the other end of the complex but she preferred it here.  There was at least a choice here.  She could jump off the platform and end the hell she was trapped in or carry on and wait for Shiala to slip up just once.  Once was all she needed.

Shiala had obviously been planning Liara’s abduction for some time.  The base had new environmental systems.  It was well stocked and had working food and drink dispensers and a kitchen.

What it was lacking was any form of communication equipment. And despite having an entrance opening onto the side of the mountain it was so high up and treacherous that she would freeze to death within an hour if she attempted to leave using that route.

Liara was completely trapped.

A shiver ran down Liara’s spine as she thought about the first time she saw the clothing Shiala had provided for her.  Matriarchs dresses, some almost copies of those her mother had worn, and revealing sexualised clothes that Liara had never and would never wear.

Out here on the platform, when Shiala was away collecting supplies, was the only time Liara could allow herself freedom to think.  To go over everything that had happened in the hope she could find something, anything to use against her jailer.

She tried to think about her first month of hell without any emotional reaction, it was vital for the game she was playing.  That first month grief stricken, Liara vacillated from crying her heart out to raging at Shiala, attacking with her fists and refusing to eat.

Again, Liara called to mind one of the most chilling things Shiala had said to her towards the end of that first month, “perhaps Shepard’s daughter is poisoning you Lady Liara, it might be better if we didn’t wait for you to give birth”.

When Liara had challenged her about what would happen to her child Shiala had merely brushed off the question as if the answer was obvious, “we can’t have an interloper in our home, when we are bonded we will have daughters of our own who will carry on the pure T’Soni line”.

Tears rolled down Liara’s cheeks and she felt them almost freezing on her face.  She had no idea if Shepard was dead and no idea what Cerberus was doing with her son.  It had been almost three months and no one had found her.  In less than three months she would give birth and if her plan didn’t work she would lose her daughter as well.

Liara knew that was something she would not survive.  If she had not escaped this mad woman and this prison by the time she was ready to give birth she would make the only choice she had.

‘I have already failed my promise to you my love, I cannot take our children to safety away from the Reapers’, the thought of failing her bondmate cut her as keenly as the ice laden mountain air.

“You took my son and possibly my bondmate Shiala but you will not take my daughter and you will not have me…” Liara looked over the edge where a jagged ridge was just visible through the clouds and knew she had the strength to do the unthinkable if she had no alternative.

Chapter 1