Chapter 3

Alliance Navy headquarters, Vancouver, Earth

Shepard took a moment to look out the window of her temporary accommodation across the huge complex that served the Alliance Navy.  She allowed her eyes to drift across the tall elegant arcology towers then to the mountain peaks in the distance that formed Vancouver City’s skyline.

She would have preferred to stay on the Normandy but that wasn’t practicable due to the extensive upgrade it was receiving. Kasumi had ‘acquired’ the prototype plans for tactical cloaking for ship hulls before the attacks on Illium and Arcturus.

It had taken a special engineering team at Serrice Council on Thessia to scale it up for the Normandy but there was no guarantee it would work effectively.

Reaching down for her cap a sharp stab of pain through her chest reminded her she was late taking her dose of painkillers.  Even the small amount of temporary relief had gradually reduced over time, as Doctor Chakwas told her it would. Pretty soon she would either have to give in and have the operation or start taking even stronger pain medication that would impact her cognitive acuity.

Neither option was appealing to her and as she pressed the hypo to her neck and felt the rush of drugs enter her system a familiar thought edged into her mind, ‘why the fuck am I putting this operation off’, only to be swiftly brushed away.

Leaving the room she walked as quickly as she could through long wide corridors then took the elevator down three floors.  There was an efficient buzz of energy as Alliance personnel went about their business.

Shepard felt the weight of responsibility from the gold braid on her shoulders, the crushing weight of her own expectations to get the galaxy ready for the invasion, the dead weight of the hollowness inside her.

She listened to her boots hitting the polished floor the sound mingling with snatches of conversations as she walked along busier and busier corridors. Shepard returned salutes and tried to ignore the stares and whispers when she was recognised.  Where once Shepard felt at home amongst her family and peers now there was an unbreachable distance to everyone around her.

Down a short flight of stairs that gave onto an open area where she saw Anderson waiting for her.  The windows here looked out across the docks and repair yards used for the Navy’s ships capable of flying in planetary atmosphere as well as the darkness of space.

A memory of when she was a teenager came into her mind, of a shuttle trip with her Mother out to the extensive orbital platforms and stations that were responsible for building new ships and repairing even the largest dreadnoughts in geostationary orbit over moon base alpha.

Shepard remembered her awe and wonder, and the conviction that no threat would be able to defeat the Alliance Navy in space or on the ground.  That belief seemed so childish to her now and a cold sweat started to form on her brow as much from the despair that leaked into her conscious mind as it was due to her physical exertion.

“You look like hell Shepard you have to take time off for treatment,” Anderson said not unkindly as they shook hands.

Falling into step next to the older man she didn’t reply directly but said, “I’m ok and once we’ve pushed Cerberus back under the rock it crawled out from… and I know…” Shepard left the end of her sentence and thought hanging.

“You’ll find them Shepard,” Anderson said gently.

“Any heads up about this meeting with the Admiral?” Shepard moved the conversation back into her comfort zone.

“I have a pretty good idea,” Anderson walked into the office that served as the Fleet Admiral’s reception room.

“He’s just finishing up a call sir,” the adjutant behind the desk addressed his remark to Anderson but Shepard caught the look in her direction.

Shepard knew her reputation had once again grown for both good and bad reasons and she also wore the scars from the attempt on her life clearly on her face.

Before they had a chance to sit down a buzzer sounded, “You can go in now.”

Hackett stood as they entered the room and after exchanging salutes indicated they should sit in some comfortable chairs by one of the windows.

“Your health is of great concern Commander and I am going to have to insist you have the operation you need before you continue operations against Cerberus,” Hackett carried on despite Shepard’s attempts to interject, “no Commander this is not negotiable and I have the agreement of the Council so you will also be suspended from Spectre duties to give you time for what’s needed.”

Shepard felt the rage boil up as it often did but this time she couldn’t control it, “after everything I’ve done, everything I’ve sacrificed… you take away my ship, my crew,” she got to her feet feeling suddenly trapped.

“No one is taking anything from you Shepard,” Anderson’s tone was gentle.

She felt like smashing everything in this safe smug room to pieces.  Didn’t they know the end was coming, there was no time, there was no point.

“You have no fucking idea what’s coming and it’s already started,” she was shouting now, as best she could with the physical restrictions she had, “you have to listen to me when I tell you we have to destroy Cerberus…  they…  you have to listen to me…”

Shepard felt the room fading away she was once more trapped in that dark place hardly able to breathe. Then the flood of images sounds and feelings of fear that accompanied her witnessing the death and destruction of countless civilization’s at the hands of the reapers played behind her eyes.

Hackett and Anderson watched as Shepard fell into incoherent rambling and jumped to their feet as she dropped to her knees obviously struggling for breath.

“Call Chakwas and get Lawson ready,” Hackett said as he knelt beside Shepard wrapping an arm around her.

Anderson nodded and moved to the desk making the calls quickly.  Then both men helped Shepard to one of the armchairs.

She had fallen into silence her eyes fixed on some far horizon.

“Just in time,” Hackett said, “I can’t imagine how much strength it’s taken for her to hold it together this long.”

“Well at least now we can get her the help she needs,” Anderson looked down at Shepard, “as long as we can bypass that iron will she has.”

Shepard was aware of being moved, of voices, then a hypo spray on her neck.

As her breathing became a little easier and the nightmare visions stopped playing on a loop through her mind she recognised where she was and remembered what had happened.

Hackett’s face came into focus, “Sir,” her voice was little more than a whisper and had a rasping edge, “I… to apologise… behaviour… no excuse…”

He held up a hand, “Commander you are physically and emotionally exhausted and have untreated combat injuries it’s me offering the apology.  We haven’t taken good enough care of you… even though you won’t take it willingly,” his grizzled face looked concerned, “but you are one of my finest officers and I need you back to combat fitness so whether you like it or not you are relieved of your duties until Doctor Chakwas signs you back on.”

Shepard turned her head and saw Karin Chakwas standing a little way off her arms folded and a stern look on her face.

“There is one thing we need you to do before you check in for your operation,” this time it was Anderson who spoke, “and you’re not going to like this any better than being ordered to sick bay.”

Shepard took as deep a breath as she could and had a feeling she knew what was coming.  Somewhere inside she was still raging but she had lost the will to fight them.  She knew she had finally run out of physical strength and there was nothing else she could do.

“You have to go to Thessia and help High Priestess El’Estrene protect Liara’s position, you know how important Asari support is to our preparations,” Anderson said quietly.

Shepard realised that was the first time anyone had used that name around her in months.  Liara.  There was no way Shepard could describe how it felt to be without her bond mate, her best friend, her guiding light.  Shepard had been hollowed out and only the emptiness that remained marked Liara’s loss to Shepard.

“Did you read the report… from the raid we carried out… Cerberus research station Zircon five?” Shepard spoke slowly.  The drugs were taking a toll, she felt far away and her thoughts were as wisps of smoke but the images were crystal clear, “They had Asari prisoners in cages and we caught them in the middle of one of their… dissections,” she held the eye of Hackett and Anderson and when she looked to Karin saw her own disgust and anger reflected back.

“Doc can tell you,” Shepard said, “they cut into their brains up while they were still alive… asking them questions… we looked at the recordings.”

Karin moved next to Shepard and put her hand on her Commander’s shoulder trying to offer some comfort.

Shepard looked at Hackett, “I doubt any of them will recover and we couldn’t do anything for the one on the table.  So when I think about Cerberus having Liara and my son I am hoping against hope that they died in that apartment… that I won’t walk into another… research…,” Shepard spat the word out as if it was caustic, “that I don’t find her.  But what does that make me Admiral, who does that make me?”

Shepard felt the sedation push past the last of her barriers and she lapsed into a fitful half consciousness and then blackness.

Lady El’Estrenes’ office, T’Soni Estate Temple, Thrassican Republic, Thessia

Shepard walked into the room and despite all her inner turmoil and physical pain she still felt the calming energy of one of Thessia’s most senior Priestess’s.

Nara moved to face Shepard and offered the Siari greeting which Shepard returned and then stepped closer bringing their foreheads together.

“May I,” Nara said quietly.

Shepard knew what the Priestess was asking and with a small nod gave permission for the joining of their consciousness’s.

A strong presence entered her mind and although Shepard still felt hollowed out and the horrific images and scenes continued to play over and over in the back of her mind she did feel a distant hint of calm.

When Lady Nara stepped back and pulled out of the meld Shepard could see the concern on the Matriarchs face.

“That bad huh,” Shepard tried for flippant but the comment came out as flat as she felt.

“Commander you must heal your physical injuries so you can then start healing your mind.  You have one of the strongest minds and wills I have ever encountered,” Nara indicated they should sit and the small table where tea was laid out.

“For a human,” Shepard said as she watched the tea being poured into elegant cups.

Lady Nara stopped for a moment and looked at Shepard, “no Shepard even amongst my people you would have an extraordinary mind.  But however strong a mind is it does have a breaking point.”

Shepard picked up the tea and took a long drink.  A memory flashed into her mind of sharing tea with Liara on sunny mornings on Thessia or late nights on the Normandy.

“So what was so important you had to get the Fleet Admiral to order me to Thessia?” Shepard didn’t care that her anger and impatience sounded in her tone.

“As Liara’s bondmate you hold considerable authority in her absence.  And you must understand this is not usual… there are some who feel it is time for someone to step up and take the role of head of the Republic, until Liara’s return.”

Shepard knew Lady Nara had chosen her words carefully given it was a painful subject but having to focus on the reality of her missing bondmate did nothing for Shepard’s mood.

“I didn’t ask for the position… I didn’t ask the Matriarchs to make me a citizen… and I certainly don’t fucking care about Thessian politics or social manoeuvring,” Shepard stood up, “do what you like, I’ll sign or say whatever you want… you can stand in until… until…” Shepard felt completely trapped.

“Commander do you believe she is still alive,” Lady Nara’s tone was gentle and Shepard felt a wave of something akin to support emanating from the Matriarch.

“I can’t think about it… if you knew what Cerberus could be doing to her…,” Shepard looked at the Priestess and felt as if the Matriarch could see into the darkness of her soul, “I don’t even know what I’m hoping for.”

There was silence for a few moments and Shepard felt rooted to the spot.  Lady Nara stood and when she reached Shepard folded the unyielding human into an embrace.

For a moment Shepard felt the rage in her rise up and was ready to push the older Asari away.  But she worked through her feelings and leaned into the embrace letting the Priestess give her a shallow healing meld.

After a few minutes they parted and Lady Nara said softly, “we can deal with the formalities tomorrow.  It’s getting late you should head to the house and get some rest.”

Shepard just nodded and left the room without a backward look.

A short shuttle ride later found Shepard walking across the front lawn and towards the flight of steps that would take her inside the T’Soni family private residence.

Not long ago she would have called it home.  The pale moonlight cast shadows that seemed to dance and once or twice a small creature ran across her path then quickly away from her footsteps crunching on the gravel path.

The summer had arrived on Thessia and the night was balmy so there was no surprise that most of the windows and doors of the house were open.

She heard music drifting from one of the ground floor rooms.  The kind that had played at their belated bonding party or that you’d hear in the clubs of Larissa.  ‘Why are people dancing when the end of the Galaxy was coming, was already here’.

Shepard pushed the thoughts away and walked up the steps and into the cool hallway.  She turned towards the music and when she reached the room stood just outside the doorway.

The room was lit with candles and one of the sofa’s seemed to have been pushed away to make a clear space in front of the open doors in the glass wall that gave onto the gardens.

Tash and Liselle were dancing together but from what Shepard could see Liselle wasn’t moving the way she used to.  The young Asari seemed to have trouble with one of her legs but was still weaving her body and arms in time with Tash and the pounding bass beats.

Shepard also noticed that although Tash was moving as usual she stayed very close and Liselle leaned on her arm occasionally.

There was something very different about the way they looked together from the last time Shepard had seen them, closer perhaps.  They were certainly still completely wrapped up in each other and Shepard backed away returning to the main hall and heading for the stairs.

“Commander Shepard welcome home,” Seninnth T’Joan’s voice came from behind her, “I have prepared one of the guest rooms for you, unless you would…”

Shepard cut her off, “no a guest room will be…” she left the sentence and the sentiment hanging and followed Matriarch T’Joan up the stairs.

Once alone in the room Shepard pulled a light cover from the bed and a couple of pillows and made her way to the long balcony.  She set herself up on one of the loungers and after taking a hypospray of painkillers settled down hoping exhaustion would give her some respite from the pain in her body and her soul.

T’Soni private residence, T’Soni Estate, Thrassica, Thessia – morning of Shepard’s visit, two months three weeks after the attack on Arcturus

Shepard hadn’t slept well and headed down stairs to meet Priestess El’Estrene hoping to get whatever was needed done quickly so she could head back to Arcturus and continue to avoid medical treatment.

Once in the hall she was about to head to the back of the house when Tash walked in the front door.

“Hey LV I didn’t think you were coming,” Tash said a little out of breath and pulling a baseball cap from her head.

“Yeah, business… just a couple of days,” Shepard said as Tash gave her a welcoming hug.

“Come grab some breakfast with me,” Tash smiled and Shepard took the line of least resistance falling into step next to her cousin heading to the dining room.

“Where’s Liselle?”

“Still in bed, had a bit of a late one last night,” Tash said over her shoulder as they headed for one of the tables.

Once sitting down Shepard said, “I didn’t expect to see her up at all but I saw you both dancing last night.  How is she?”

Before Tash could respond one of the house assistants came to the table with a tray of tea and waited for their breakfast order.

“Could I get some coffee,” Shepard asked after Tash had put her order in.

Once they were alone again Tash responded, “you know how much we like to dance… but you know Leece isn’t, she didn’t think she could manage going out, yet.  So I thought it might be good for her, cheer her up a bit, make things more normal.”

“Not sure I remember what normal is,” Shepard said quietly her eyes drifting to the view of the gardens beyond the glass wall and open doors.

Shepard felt her cousins’ eyes on her and brought her attention back.

“I know how hard things are at the moment with everything your dealing with,” Tash said quietly.

Shepard felt the hollowness inside her and failed to keep the edge of anger and impatience from her tone, “you have no idea what I’m dealing with.”

They were silent for a few moments and Shepard tried to wrestle the rage inside her to its knees.

“So Leece has decided to change her name,” Tash said in a lighter more conversational tone, “going to add T’Loak… not sure how Aria will like that.  She’s told Admiral Lidanya and she’s cool with it.”

Shepard gave Tash a small smile, “you call your girlfriend’s parent Admiral.  And don’t worry Aria’s too busy being pissed at me to get angry with Liselle.”

Tash returned the smile, “no I call her Drax and she’s been really nice to me,” Tash paused and then spoke in a more serious tone, “So Leece is pretty much fit and we were hoping she could come back to the Normandy with me, you know when our shore leave is up.”

Shepard let her eyes drift again to the gardens trying to calm the broiling mix of anger and impatience.

When she brought her eyes back Tash was looking at her intently waiting for a reply, “I thought she was going to go serve with the Citadel defence fleet.”

“She’s… it’s… well we’d rather serve together as soon as possible and the Reapers could turn up at any minute,” Tash finished quickly.

“You mean she’d never pass fitness requirements for the Asari fleet,” Shepard waved down whatever Tash was going to say, “if she’s not fit at the very least she’ll get hurt trying to keep up and at worst she’ll endanger squad mates.  I’m sorry Tash but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“She can fight as well as any of my marines. And you know, LV, the whole fit for duty thing is a bit hard to take at the moment from someone who’s just spent the last couple months strung out on pain meds and not able to run to the other side of a room,” Tash’s tone was hard and Shepard heard the anger that also showed on her cousins face.

“Stop calling me LV, Tash, that me is dead and gone… we’re not kids anymore.  And just because we’re related doesn’t mean you can cross the line Captain Mikhailovich,” Shepard took a deep breath not liking where this conversation was headed and noting Tash’s deepening scowl.

“Well let me make this easy for you, Commander… I quit… I’m not coming back to the Normandy without Leece.  We both know what’s coming and what our chances are and we’re going to spend any time we have together,” Tash stood up so violently her chair tipped over.

“Tash,” Shepard’s tone was softer and had lost all its anger and she was pleased that Tash didn’t continue to move away, “do you love her like your life depends on it.”

Tash’s scowl turned to a frown and answered in a quiet voice, “of course I do, she’s the only thing I care about in the Galaxy… she’s my girl and I’d do anything for her.”

“Then you should run, the two of you should get as far away as possible… go find a part of the Galaxy that doesn’t have mass relays.  I’d like to think I was fighting for something more than just…” Shepard trailed off and Tash sat down.

“Saving the Galaxy not enough for you,” Tash said gently, “yeah we could run but we’d never be free of the knowledge that we didn’t stand with the people we love.  We’ve talked about it L… Shepard, anyone who knows what’s coming that hasn’t thought about getting the fuck out of the way is a moron.  We’ll find somewhere to stand and fight, but we need to do it together.”

Tash gave Shepard a sad smile.

“Make the stand with me then, on the Normandy, if that’s what you want,” Shepard felt at odds with herself asking Tash to stay but somewhere deep behind her ice wall she knew it was the right thing to do.

“You know I love you cuz,” Tash said a little embarrassed but with a huge grin on her face, “and I wouldn’t want to fight alongside anyone else.”

Even in her current dislocated state Shepard realised Tash was much more her old self and it was a glimmer of brightness in the dark, for a brief moment, “Yeah well thank me later when we all die in a ball of flames.”

Liara’s private office, T’Soni residence, Thessia

Not long after Shepard left Tash to her breakfast she went to find Kasumi and offered what comfort she could on her friend’s loss.  Shepard knew she was so disconnected inside that she couldn’t trust herself to say anything but giving Kasumi a long hug was better than nothing at all.

Now she was waiting in Liara’s office to meet El’Estrene and finalise the paperwork then she could wrap up the last of her business and get back to Arcturus and the damned operation.

The door opened and both Priestess El’Estrene and Matriarch T’Joan walked in.

“What do I need to sign,” Shepard said getting right to the point.

“That depends, Commander.  You could assume the position of head of the family and therefore the Republic, of course you would not be to take up any formal role associated with the first hundred families…” Shepard cut across the Priestess.

“No, it’s not my place to take any position at all.  Just treat me as if I’m any other bondmate… it’s only the citizenship I hold, which I saw as honorary, that’s confusing things.  You can pick up the role you had before surely?” Shepard said in as even a tone as she could manage and addressing her remarks to Priestess El’Estrene.

The two Matriarchs exchanged glances and it was T’Joan that answered, “That arrangement is only available if the head of the family is unable to perform their duties due to illness or an extended time away from Thessia on business.  Or in Liara’s case her youth and inexperience.”

“There are a growing number of voices who feel Liara is not coming back,” El’Estrene said gently, “we do not believe that and both Aethyta and Aria are convinced they are getting closer to finding her.”

Shepard knew exactly what Aethyta and Aria thought and it had caused several huge and vicious arguments between her and Aria.

“She isn’t with Galine.  Liara would never let that deranged fuck anywhere near her without a fight,” Shepard cast hard eyes over both Asari’s in the room, “I suppose you both think I abandoned Liara in favour of saving my own people as well.”

“Of course we don’t,” El’Estrene said quickly, “and as far as I’m aware Aethyta does not believe that either.  If you know anything of Aria you know she often lashes out first and thinks it through after.”

“If you could just in name take on the role of head of the family we,” T’Joan indicated El’Estrene, “will do all that is necessary to keep everything as it should be until Lady Liara returns.”

Shepard’s exhaustion overwhelmed any attempt to fight either their request or their conclusion that Liara would at some point return.

“Let’s get on with it then,” Shepard said and moved to the desk to sign the relevant papers and make a video declaration for the records.

Formal gardens, T’Soni residence, Thessia – afternoon of Shepard’s visit

Shepard felt the heat penetrate her body as she sat and waited on the bench.  The Varren pup nudged her hand and she played absentmindedly with its velvety ear.

She had been told that the pup had howled for days after the family left for its disastrous holiday on Illium.  Then the animal wouldn’t eat and rushed to meet every shuttle and every visitor at the door.

“You still waiting for them to come home boy,” Shepard said looking down at the ugly puppy that was now resting its chin on her thigh and looking at her with huge eyes.

“He’s very popular despite being quite the ugliest companion animal on Thessia,” the familiar voice startled Shepard and she looked up to see a smiling Liselle Lidanya T’Loak as she was now calling herself standing in front of her.

Shepard indicated for Liselle to sit next to her on the bench.

“I’m sorry I haven’t visited and… that I haven’t found her.”

Liselle leaned her head against Shepard’s shoulder and reached out to hold one of her hands.

“Aria has half the Terminus systems looking for her and Aethyta has half of Thessia searching.  And you’ve been searching all the places they can’t… you have nothing to apologise for.”

Liselle sat on the bench next to Shepard and her presence, or perhaps something about her energy, made Shepard feel closer to Liara than any time since the explosion.

“Are you well enough to join us on the Normandy,” Shepard put her arm around the young Asari’s shoulders and gently held her.

“I won’t get in the way or put anyone at risk,” Liselle said without any trace of anger, “thank you for letting me join you, it means a lot to Tasha… and me.”

“I’m sorry I said that to Tash… I’m not always myself at the moment,” Shepard moved so that they were looking into each other’s faces, “I just want you to be safe… Liara loved you so much, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to risk your life on my orders.”

“Love’s me,” Liselle said softly, “Liara loves me, she isn’t dead Shepard.”

Liselle leaned once again into Shepard’s shoulder and they sat in silence trying to give what comfort they could to each other.

Abandoned research station, Thessia

Liara had tried her best over the previous two days to dissuade Shiala from consummating their renewed relationship on the station and wait until they had returned home.

But Shiala was growing more and more agitated and irrational.  Once or twice Liara feared that Shiala would try to take her by force which, of course, the older Asari was perfectly capable of doing.

It was the evening of the second day and Liara knew it was now or never. There would be only one way that her collar, the thing preventing her using her biotics, would be removed.

She had spent the last couple of hours meditating and moving her mind to inhabit that part of her consciousness where her alter ego’s personality had been walled off.

When she felt completely in control of herself Liara dressed in one of the outfits Shiala had provided that were copied from something that her mother, Benezia, had worn.

Finally she went to the bedroom door and called up the hall, “Shiala come here,”

Liara heard the hard, cold edge to her voice as it echoed in the empty station; she pushed away the thought that this was not who she was.

When Shiala walked into the room Liara noted the sharp intake of breath the older Asari took.

“Are the arrangement’s made?”  Liara said in an imperious tone, standing tall, untouchable.

Shiala looked confused at the questions so Liara continued, “For my return to the estate?” exasperation was clear in Liara’s voice.

Shiala narrowed her eyes just a little, “I have to insist that we…”

Liara cut her off, “you need to remember your place Shiala,” and moved to stand in front of the matron pulling her into a hard embrace and just as forceful a kiss.

When they stepped apart Shiala was breathless and her eyes were beginning to fade to black.  Liara braced herself for the meld and dug deep into the memory of the last time they had had sex.

Shiala started stripping her own and Liara’s clothes off by turn whilst walking them both towards the bed.

Falling backwards Liara reached for the sensitive folds on Shiala’s neck and through the meld felt the older Asari’s rising lust.

Liara threw Shiala over onto her back and moved quickly to kneel above her continuing to strip off her clothes but deliberately caught the dress on the control collar.

“Remove this now,” Liara said out loud and through the meld felt Shiala’s hesitation.

“I will join with you as an equal Shiala or not at all, enough of this nonsense,” Liara said and pushed Shiala from her mind breaking the meld.

This was the moment.  If Liara had manifested her old self well enough Shiala would be convinced and would respond to her mistress, if not.

But Liara had no doubt at all that Shiala would do her bidding.  Her alter ego, her broken self with all its shades of her mother’s worst traits and the unknown well of rage and grief that had taken her after Shepard’s death was back again.

Shiala flicked on her omnitool and sent the release command to the collar and it snapped open.

Liara removed it from her neck and threw it across the room pulling Shiala into a powerful meld.  The sensations flowing through Liara’s body were heady; she felt powerful and also felt the heat of need and lust flood her body.

The older Asari continued to reach out for Liara through the meld and with her hands trying to explore now exposed breasts.  For a moment Liara sat with all the confusing sensations coursing through her body and then in a moment knew she had full control of her biotics.

Liara heard screaming, felt her body move, she was standing up now, Shiala was crying with pain as Liara ripped through the soft mind of her would be jailer, the servant who had tried to possess her.

Shiala came into view as Liara’s eyes refocused.  She was hanging a few feet off the ground from Liara’s biotic fist that continued to slam the limp body against the bedroom wall.

As Liara became aware of her surroundings and what she was doing her biotics faded away and Shiala’s body fell to the floor.

Liara sat on the edge of the bed just staring at the lifeless form and tried to gather her mind back from where she had sent it.  She sat for a long time one hand on her swollen belly the other at her neck where the collar had been.

She didn’t notice the room becoming increasingly cold despite the fact she was partly naked.  She didn’t seem to notice the tears streaming down her face.  She felt emptied out and adrift.

Some hours later

Liara felt a cover being pulled up under her chin and she forced her sleepy eyes open.

Benezia was sitting on the edge of the bed smiling, “you did what you had to do little wing you have nothing to be ashamed of. I came as soon as I could to help.  Now you need to send a message so you can be found.  Everyone is looking for you; your Rasam will come for you.”

Liara was so sleepy she could hardly speak, “Asam… I miss you, do not leave me.”

“Never little wing, I am always close, now rest you will need your strength.”

Liara woke with a start.  It had been so real she almost expected to see her mother sitting on the bed.  She threw the cover off and got out of bed feeling the cold draught that persistently defied the small amount of heating the station could offer.

Without looking at the body on the floor she gathered some warm clothes and went to the living area to get dressed.  She pulled up the long boots that came up to the knees of her trousers and finally putting on the long thick coat she was ready to leave.

She made her way quickly to the landing pad and climbed into the shuttle moving to the pilot seat.  Liara switched on the engines.  Nothing happened.  She ran through the starting procedures again on the haptic interface and again nothing happened.

Then at the corner of the main data screen she saw a flashing warning sign with the words “input pass-code to release security lock”.

Liara stared at the words rolling them around her mind.  The shuttle was useless to her.  Shiala had locked it with a pass-code which Liara did not have.

She got out of the shuttle and stood looking at the mountains feeling the trance like, calm state she had woken up in fading to frustration, anger and exhaustion.

Liara moved back through the facility to the bedroom smashing anything in her way with biotic throws or punches.  She searched Shiala’s Omnitool for the code but knew it was pointless.  That information had only been stored in one place, in Shiala’s memory, and she was dead.

Rage took Liara, rage at the Asari who had almost killed her bondmate, had led to the death of a sweet young man and who had allowed Cerberus to take her son.

“If I cannot get off this station Shiala I will not share it with you for a moment longer,” she shouted dragging the matron’s body along the corridor by the ankle.

Liara kept moving through the main entrance and out into the open cavern and then to the edge of the platform.

With one final look at her tormentor Liara used a biotic throw to hurl Shiala’s body from the platform onto the ice covered ridges below.

She turned and began walking back into the facility to find what warmth she could but stopped dead in her tracks and turned quickly so sure that someone was standing behind her.

But there was only the icy winds swirling the falling snow a little way into the cavern and onto the platform.  A thought came to her mind.  She could rig the radio in the shuttle to transmit some form of signal if she could find a power source.

Over the next several hours she worked on her plan. She ripped a power core from one of the lighting networks and through trial and error connected it to the on-board radio, it worked.

It was only hissing and static as she only had control over the power source but that was enough. Another hour and she had added a circuit breaker running through a programmer from the heating system set to turn the power on and off every five seconds.  Exactly five seconds on and five seconds off, anyone who picked up the signal would have no doubt it was not a natural phenomenon.

Moving away from the shuttle she returned to the facility to find food and begin what could be a long wait until someone heard her signal.  That was, of course, if anyone heard it at all.

Chapter 3