Chapter 34

Day one Normandy refit – Thessia

The docking bay of the Normandy was a hive of activity and the furious pace continued out onto the dry dock that could be seen through open bay doors.

Tash was leaning against the side of the shuttle lighting up one of her thin cigars.  She watched Shepard walk out across the dock baseball cap pulled, as she always wore it, low over her eyes.  

The battle dress shirt sleeves rolled up just above the elbow may not have been navy issue but the marine wearing it was. Tash took a deep drag on the cigar letting the smoke roll around her mouth and felt the edge of anger and jealousy that had started to come to the surface whenever she was around Shepard.

She’d been avoiding the inevitable catching up conversation that Shepard had been trying to have with her, both as her commanding officer and her cousin, but Tash didn’t trust herself, she felt out of control and that could prove deadly.

She’s still wearing that old chrono… wonder if it still works,’ the glint of sunlight on the silver watch that Shepard was wearing on her wrist had caught Tash’s eye and kindled an old memory.

“You look deep in thought Tash, something to do with Shep?” the voice belonged to Kasumi who had moved up next to her and was following her eye line.

“What are you some kind of mind reader,” Tash spoke with humour but turned her attention to the scientist, “you don’t think I have better things to think about,” she smiled down at the elegant and beautiful woman who always wore a hood so finding eye contact was sometimes difficult.

“Oh don’t play verbal fencing games with me Tash if you don’t want to tell me what you were thinking that’s ok,” the soft tones of Kas’s voice were always easy to listen to and for some reason Tash felt the urge to share the memory that had come up just to connect with something that wasn’t tarnished, broken or corrupt.

“The watch she wears sometimes, that old silver thing, she got it on her eighth birthday, it belonged to some long dead Shepard ancestor navy hero, the family is littered with them,” Tash could feel a hint of sarcasm or was it disdain and Kas heard it in her voice but she continued, “yeah we were both spending time on Gagarin station.

Well when I say we, LV had only just arrived and only ever stayed for one term of school then she was whisked away back to her mother’s ship, while I got to stay in the damned Alliance school without my best friend.” Tash had finished her cigar and turned to face Kasumi.

“So you’ve been close all your lives?” Kas’s voice was curious but also quiet as if she knew she was asking about something that could be difficult.

“Yeah you could say that… we were more like sisters, did everything together, kept in touch even when she was being a space monkey with her family… joined the cadets together and went into the Alliance together,” Tash felt emotions stirring that had long since been buried and she tried to shake them off.

“But you seem to be avoiding her, on the Normandy I mean, since you joined us, that’s hard to do even for the for the short time you’ve been aboard,” it wasn’t a question it was an observation, an accurate one and once again Tash felt compelled to respond.

“Yeah well maybe I’m not ready to see the look of disappointment and disgust in the eyes of the only person left in the galaxy who has any time for me…” this time Tash couldn’t keep the emotion out of her voice and it was a mix of anger and loss but she changed her tone and demeanour once the words were spoken, “hell beautiful you’re going to think I actually have some depth if we carry on this conversation, but don’t worry I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”

Tash moved close and ran a finger down the soft cheek as Kas raised her head and their eyes met, “but if it’s gonna help getting into your pants then sure I’m all broken and sad so if you want to heal me we could hit my bunk and have a good time,” the Tash that Kas had seen since their first meeting her was back in place and she couldn’t help but smile.

“Well we both know that is your very best defence mechanism but I can see through it Tash, apart from the fact you are not my type, you need a friend more than you need another casual encounter, so when you’re ready, I’ll be here,” Kas moved past Tash and walked towards the elevator at the back of the docking bay.

Tash watched her go and the cold, hard barrier inside her that stopped anyone getting close was back in place and she cursed herself for sharing even the little she had.

Time to hit Omega and remember just who you really are now’, Tash thought as she also headed to the Normandy elevator.

Shepard walked out from the Normandy shuttle deck into the bright Thessian sunshine the conversation she had just had with Tash still rolling around her mind.

She was giving as much leave to everyone she could but Shepard thought that Tash would have wanted to take the opportunity to work with her new ground squad, starting to turn them into a tight marine unit.

Instead Tash wanted to run off to Omega, women, drugs and whatever else passed as relaxation for her cousin now.  Shepard was also frustrated that she hadn’t managed to pin Tash down for a proper conversation but short of ordering the damn woman to her cabin and making her sit there an answer questions she was having no success.

I guess when she’s ready she’ll talk… but I need to know if I can trust her… dammit I need to know what all these years bumming around the Terminus system as a hired gun has done to her,’ Shepard’s thoughts were tinged with sadness and regret.

Tash had always felt like her sister rather than her cousin even with the family rifts and difficulties they had always managed to spend time together, helped each other grow up.  Shepard always regretted not going after Tash when she washed out of the Alliance, but Tash had never tried to contact her either.

It had been almost six months before Shepard had any decent leave available and by that time Tash couldn’t be traced.  And her fuck of a father had disowned her because of his precious pride… it ate away at him that his daughter had somehow not only failed but disgraced herself and his brothers daughter was, well, being an exemplary Alliance officer.

‘I bet he’s loving the fact that now I’ve apparently gone rogue… and working with terrorists… I hope I meet him at some point,’ she didn’t quite know what she would do, she was still an Alliance officer but a chance to finish that fight they started would be enough for her.

She had reached the waiting shuttle and before she got in she took one last look at the endless blue sky and then back to her beautiful sleek ship, she felt proud of the people she could now call her crew and she felt honoured that she had another chance to fight the coming threat.

Once inside the shuttle she focussed her mind on all the political intel she had been studying to prepare for her meeting with the High Priestess El’Estrene and to distract her from the fact that she would be so close to Liara but would not be able to see her or hear her voice, with a deep sigh she forced her mind back to work.

A little while later Shepard was standing in what looked like a shrine or a small temple.  It was a round building set in the Temple grounds surrounded by natural gardens, there was order and she could tell the area was maintained but in such a way that allowed for nature to take its own course, so long as it was aesthetically pleasing, always, the Asari had eyes only for beauty.

The small Temple was made from some kind of cream stone, its domed roof allowing for the sight of the sky through large open spaces between its highly decorated arches.

In the centre of the room stood what looked like an enormous coffin, made out of the same stone, with Asari writing and symbols all over it, and a ball of biotic energy danced just above it, pulsing and weaving with every shade of blue she had ever seen, it seemed almost… alive.

The walls of the temple were decorated with pictures, carved and then coloured, glorious colour almost holographic, she had a feeling biotic energy had been not only used but remained as part of the scenes that obviously depicted stories from Asari history and myth.

And stunningly beautiful though the Temple was to look at it was the atmosphere, the energy in the place that meant it was like no other space she had been in before.

What she felt was complete peace and safety, rolling over her skin, across her mind and into her soul.

Shepard felt as if she had been standing there for a very long time, her eyes taking in the stories on the walls and all the while feeling completely at peace.

As her eyes settled on the High Priestess who hadn’t moved from the doorway she felt herself ‘wake up’ from that deep state of calm and connection.

“There are very few Asari who know this Temple exists and even fewer who have been allowed to visit, and absolutely no non Asari know of it. 

This is our gift to you Shepard, we will perform a ritual here that will help strengthen you spirit,” El’Estrene smiled at Shepard and again she not only saw the smile but felt its warmth and compassion flow through her.

“Who is in the coffin,” Shepard’s voice was low and quiet not wanting to disturb the peace and although now more in the present moment she still felt what the room had to offer.

“The remains of the first High Priestess of the Siari path who, it is written, reached a level of complete… enlightenment is the closest translation that we have for your language.

 The biotic energy above her final resting place is believed to contain not only her essence and spirit but also a fragment of the universal consciousness that she joined with.” The Priestess moved further into the room and stood facing Shepard.

“You are aware that our belief is ‘All is One’,  and we hold to certain core truths that the universe is a consciousness, every life within it is an aspect of the greater whole, and death is a merging of one’s spiritual energy back into the greater universal consciousness,” El’Estrene noted the understanding in Shepard eyes and continued,

“We don’t specifically believe in reincarnation; but we believe that spiritual energy returned to the universal consciousness upon death will eventually be used to fill new mortal vessels.”

“Well if what I’m feeling in this room is what waits on the other side then it doesn’t feel too bad,” Shepard realised just how much she craved the peace and clarity that she was feeling in that moment and just how much damage to her psyche she was carrying.

El’Estrene smiled this time with sadness, “I fear your path is to stay here, return here, until your task is complete even if it takes more than one lifetime,” the Priestess noticed the resistance to this notion in Shepard and continued, “but I can offer something that may help your journey, especially while you travel without your soul mate.”

At the thought of Liara Shepard almost cried on the spot, she felt so open and vulnerable but unusually she didn’t feel as if she had to hide her feelings or that they were a weakness.

“I would like to join with you Shepard and use a technique to anchor two memories that give you the same kind of peace, safety and clarity that is here in the Temple; you will be able to slip into the memories as if they were real and… happening again… you will be able to truly relive them.

This should help you with sleeping and the night terrors you face, they will not cure but they will give you peace for a time and the ability to sleep for some of the night at least.” El’Estrene had moved to the side of the coffin or vessel as the translation now seemed more appropriate.

“How do you know about the night mares and lack of sleep,” for a moment Shepard felt the edge of concern, how did the Priestess know.

“I can sense the weariness and also flashes of what you hold back from your conscious mind, and don’t forget I am working with Liara who has been touched by the same events, carries the same damage.

Forgive me if I am blunt Shepard but you have nothing to fear from me or any at this Temple,” the smile was genuine and warmth once again washed over Shepard’s tired and fretful mind.

“Anything that can help would be welcome, what do I need to do.”

“Stand opposite me, so that we have the vessel between us, I will reach out and join with you through the spirit of Siari, and then you will choose two memories that I will anchor and… perhaps it is best described as turning the memory from an unmoving picture into a full 3d experience that you will be able to immerse yourself in.”

They moved into position and as El’Estrene brought the palms of her hands up as if to warm them on the ball of energy Shepard did the same.  The Priestess’s eyes turned black as she said the familiar words, “Embrace Eternity.”

Shepard heard music and felt a familiar body in her arms, Liara, they were dancing, it was the New Year party, that dress, that smile, and then heads together, moving slowly to the rhythm of the music and their own hearts.

She started singing in Liara ear, softly…’come away with me in the night, come away with me and I will write you a song’… that was the moment she got closest to asking Liara to marry her, be her bond mate.

Their bodies moving as one completely in tune with each other, Liara’s head tucked into Shepard’s neck, one arm around her lovers’ waist the other holding a soft blue hand up against her chest.

They swayed and it was as if they were one, ‘and I want to walk with you on a cloudy day, in fields where the yellow grass grows knee high, so won’t you try, to come, come away with me and we’ll kiss on a mountain top, come away with me and I’ll never stop loving you.’

Shepard pulled her head back as she finished singing  and Liara looked up locking eyes completely oblivious to the rest of the room, the galaxy the universe… she bent down and they kissed softly, full of love and longing… Shepard felt bliss in that moment.

Then she was laying down on a blanket, Liara’s body next to her, holding hands and looking up at a perfect night sky, sprinkled with stars and a drift of nebulae its gasses forming a long sweep of colour.

They were on their holiday; again Shepard was so close to asking Liara to bond with her, suggesting they build a home there on that glorious planet, together.

It seemed time stood still as they just laid there together in quiet peaceful connection she had never felt so connected to another being or to herself.

She listened to their breathing, their hearts beating, feeling the warmth of their love… slowly drifting off into a peaceful sleep, together.

And then she slowly recognised her surroundings were once again the Temple, but the ball of energy in front of her had expanded and had filled the whole space, dancing across the walls, the colours like a rainbow but flowing and weaving and then suddenly compressing back into the space between her and the Priestess.

“That was… unexpected… although knowing how strong your bond is I should not be surprised,” El’Estrene spoke but Shepard had the impression she was really thinking out loud.

“That was… real… and what do you mean unexpected?” Shepard asked as they moved away from the vessel and its dancing biotic energy.

“When we were working with Liara on the same technique she went to the same memories, as I say I should have expected something of this nature.  You try to reach her don’t you, with your heart your spirit?”

Shepard looked a little embarrassed, “um yeah… its stupid I know… but sometimes, I don’t know it feels like some kind of call… I don’t have words for it,” Shepard actually looked at her feet.

“Shepard you must always answer that call, it is the call of the soul, the spirit, you reach out into the dark and bring light, just keep doing whatever you have been doing.

And now let us talk in the gardens before you head off to Larissa to have your tattoos replaced,” the Priestess couldn’t help laughing at Shepard’s confused expression and continued, “no Shepard I cannot read your mind, news travels on Thessia as it does anywhere else. 

The great Commander Shepard making an appointment with one of Thessia’s greatest body artists with very specific requests, perhaps you will be adding a few words from Siari?”

“Already chosen them,” Shepard smiled and replaced both her cap and her glasses as they reached the entrance and moved through into the sun.

“The meeting has been arranged for three days’ time and I will be attending.  I’m afraid those present will want to see the messages from the beacons themselves but it will be a joint melding and I will protect you from the worst of your visions.

Four Matriarch’s and two other High Priestess’s want to meet with you, the number may seem small Shepard but they are amongst the most influential, it is a good start.” El’Estrene walked slowly through the gardens Shepard at her side listening as the Priestess shared some of the discussion she had had with her fellow Priestess’s and Matriarchs.

Shepard could see the shuttle a little way further off, they had completed their conversation about the upcoming meeting but the High Priestess stopped and was looking at Shepard intensely.

“May we talk a little about the Reapers,” Shepard turned and nodded so the Priestess continued, “How do you see them Shepard, their motivation.”

“Not sure I care to much about what drives them, and I only see them as evil, unfeeling machines hell bent on destroying sentient life in the galaxy,” Shepard frowned not sure she had grasped what the Priestess had really asked her.

“Not all sentient life, only those who have reached a certain technological level, interstellar travel and artificial intelligence?” the Priestess had a questioning look but Shepard knew she had seen her conversation with Sovereign when they melded.

“Yes that’s right, but from what Sovereign said they deliberately seeded the galaxy with the technology they want us to find and so the outcome is inevitable, our destiny is pre-set,” Shepard’s tone was even but the edge of anger was there as it always was when she thought about the Reaper’s.

“A little like farmers, most of the races in the galaxy in their past have farmed other sentient being, some still do.  And if we look at what happened to the Krogan, the Drell, even now some discussion about a newly discovered biotic insect, all these are examples of one race of sentient beings taking control of another’s destiny, for their own purposes.

The Reapers merely sow the seeds and then reap the rewards, some might see this as the natural order, the predator at the top of the food chain, inevitable, part of the cycle,” El’Estrene was studying Shepard and could sense the difficulty the human was having with her rage against the Reapers.

“To hate them, to hate what they do is understandable, but to call them evil to do only what they have been created to do… would you call the eagle evil for hunting and killing a rabbit… surely Commander there is more evil in the deeds of sentient beings in this galaxy who have a choice yet feed off the misery of those weaker than they are… who torture fellow sentients for profit or amusement?”

“Of course but how does this help to fight them… we can’t negotiate with them… they won’t stop no matter what we offer them…” the desperation of that knowledge showed in Shepard’s voice and her demeanor.

“To know motivation can offer an opportunity to find weakness or other allies, and if they are as powerful as they seem to be we will need all the knowledge and information we can gather. 

Do not be blinded by rage or fear Shepard we can either defeat them or we cannot but it will take every kind of resource we have in the galaxy and perhaps more, I only ask that you seek any knowledge about them, seeking the power to be able to destroy them may not be enough, remain open to any ideas that will help this cycle either to defeat them or to survive.”

El’Estrene doubted if her words would have an immediate effect on Shepard but it was important that hope did not die within the human and the Commander knew more than anyone at this point how hopeless their task was.

They began walking again in silence and Shepard tried to get a different perspective on the enemy that faced her.

They reached Shepard’s shuttle and the High Priested made the Siari blessing for parting which Shepard returned.  She looked past El’Estrene to the building behind, somewhere inside was her Liara, in paid and fighting to come back to her, fighting to come back to herself.

A wave of grief and sadness washed over her, and frustration, Shepard wanted to fight something for Liara, with Liara… but this was a battle that her soul mate had to fight on her own.

“She is not completely alone Shepard, you are here and when you reach out for her I believe she can feel your love,” El’Estrene moved forwards and gave Shepard a warm strong hug.

Shepard smiled at the Priestess as they parted, “thank you, I honestly think we would both be lost without your guidance.”

Then she was aboard the shuttle heading for Larissa to replace the signs and symbols that she had collected over her short lifetime and that she truly believed had meaning for her even if they didn’t have mystical power, ‘but you didn’t die Shepard… you should have but you didn’t.

Shepard thoughts once again went to her ‘death’, but as she laid her head back against the seat, faintly, in the distance, or perhaps it was just the sound of the shuttles engines, music… she relaxed… then she slipped into a peaceful, terror free sleep for the three hour journey to the capital of Thessia.


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Intransit to Omega

Tash had changed out of her Normandy battle dress uniform and into her old civvies.  Leather jeans and jacket, a high end kinetic barrier, on her belt, that would give enough protection from a surprise attack at close quarters. She packed her hand cannon on one hip and modified shotgun on the other. 

When she put on her dark glasses she looked every bit the merc she was and headed for the cities space port to pick up a scheduled flight to Omega.  Before got on board her flight she had already taken stims, a dust of x3 and had her supply of hallex in her pocket. 

Tash had not taken any drugs the whole time she’d been on the Normandy but she wanted to get back into character for Omega and that seemed harder than it ever had been.

    

Chapter 34