Day 5 Normandy refit – Nos Astra, Illium

Shepard had gone to Councillor Anderson for advice as to how best to secure safety for Miranda’s sister and her family best diet pills for women.

Councillor Anderson suggested that the help Shepard needed for Miranda would be best provided by the Salarian STG, and fortunately both Anderson and Shepard had some favours they could call in.

It wasn’t that they didn’t trust Alliance help but they just didn’t know how infiltrated the Alliance was with Cerberus sympathisers or how much money Henry Lawson would throw at previously loyal personnel.

Once in contact with the Salarian liaison officer Shepard was told that Miranda’s father had already hired merc’s to grab his daughter as soon as they surfaced on Illium and headed for the sky port.

That had been a day ago and the arrangements for the families transfer to a new safe location with new identities were in place.

With the Normandy still finishing her refit on Thessia Shepard and her team had borrowed one of the T’Soni estates small, fast frigates. 

Once docking was complete at Nos Astros Shepard and her team took the waiting shuttle, courtesy of the STG, and headed straight for the cargo bay where the merc’s temporary headquarters were located.

The plan was simple.  As soon as Shepard engaged the merc’s the Salarian’s would escort and protect the family to a private shuttle bay and from there to a Salarian military ship and away out of reach of either Cerberus or Lawson.

They didn’t know for sure how many merc’s they would be facing but Shepard couldn’t risk arriving with a full marine squad as this would have provoked too much interest.

Shepard did a final check with her team on-board the shuttle; she had chosen Miranda, who had insisted on coming anyway, Skark, Garrus and Tash.

Since her return Shepard had kept well away from Tash unsure as to whether she could keep her anger under control and she knew it would be a test fighting alongside her, but the mission was her main focus and that had to take precedence.

Their shuttle touched down in a far corner of what looked like quite a busy cargo area; up ahead the tell-tale signs of merc activity were clear.

A relaxed picket line of Turians, Batarian’s and Asari were visible in front of a large container that served as office space and where the bulk of the merc team were probably relaxing waiting for the call to action.

Shepard spoke quietly into her OT on the channel to the Salarian STG Captain who was in charge of the family detail.

“We’re in position and about to engage, they must have look outs on all the sky port concourses so you may still have some action your end,” Shepard and the Captain had been through this in detail but she just wanted to make absolutely clear they all knew how this was likely to go down.

“We are expecting that Spectre, your package will be delivered safely you have my word,” the Salarian’s voice was steady and he kept the note of irritation to a minimum, he was STG after all, they did not fail.

“Thank you Captain, I’ll leave my comm channel open so you can hear our progress, Shepard out.”

She turned to her squad and began to draw up a plan.

“Garrus I want you to work your way forward and get some height I need you to watch for any of them trying to make a break for the sky port once they get the call from their spotter.

Skark and Miranda get forward, using the cargo on the left as cover, as fast as you can and use you biotics to rip that unit apart and hopefully we’ll catch most of them inside.

Tash you’re with me and we’ll be walking straight down the throat of the welcoming party drawing their attention and taking them down.

We’ll wait for Garrus to get into position then we move.” Shepard watched Garrus make his way off to the right to move in a wide loop around the waiting mercs, then five minutes later she heard him come through on her comms.

“All set Shepard, looks like at least fifteen of them hanging around outside the unit still can’t see how many are inside,” his voice was soft and quiet.

“Right Skark, Miranda get started making your way down through cover, Tash let’s see how close we get just wandering up all nonchalant like,” despite herself she smiled at Tash forgetting for a moment the treachery between them.

She hardened her face and said, “move out,” Skark and Miranda disappearing off to the right; Shepard and Tash moving out into clear view and walking slowly forwards.

Shepard had removed her helmet and was wearing her Normandy baseball cap, Tash was bare headed as usual with a cigar held firmly between her lips.

They both held their weapons loosely across their arms, fingers already on triggers, Tash was going to start with her M37 Falcon and then equip the Revenant while Shepard nursed her Typhoon set for incendiary ammo.

As they strolled towards the line of merc’s a few of the Turians stopped talking and turned in their direction.

“We’ll give it another few paces then you hit them with a spray of grenades I’ll cover you while you equip the M76 and we’ll split left and right and hold tight to the wall of cargo,” Shepard spoke quietly smiling keeping it casual.

Still the merc’s did little more than continue to look in their direction, then on Shepard’s mark they both swung their weapons into a firing position and the sound of gunfire and exploding grenades blocked out the sounds of cranes and conveyor belts.

Tash got seven rounds off before any gunfire was returned; she laid down most of the grenades across the front line of the merc’s but fired a couple deeper. 

Before the smoke had cleared the noise of the M76 sparked up almost drowning out Shepard’s Typhoon.

They split apart and kept up a storm of high velocity slugs, tungsten tipped from the Revenant and the tell-tale incendiary from Shepard only too clear on the merc’s she hit.

The merc’s had pulled themselves together and the few that remained from the original guard line were joined by a stream coming out from the office unit.  

Just as the hail of return fire increased and began pinging off both their shields Shepard heard a Krogan battle roar accompanied by a comm message from Miranda confirming they had made it to the merc’s office container and were in the process of tearing it apart.

Shepard knelled down to get off some more tightly aimed shots but Tash kept moving forwards at a slow pace never letting up the fire storm from her rifle.

She noticed Tash taking some serious damage to her shields and called across to tell her to slow down, but the woman seemed oblivious and Shepard stood back up and began moving forward again to catch up.

The return fire from the barrier suddenly dropped away and both Shepard and Tash stopped firing and began moving forward a little more quickly, they could still hear the noises of fighting coming from the office unit on their left, and saw the tell-tale biotic light show, weapons fire echoed from inside as well.

Just as they cleared the merc line and were about to go help Skark and Miranda, Garrus called through the comms, “Shepard I couldn’t take them all down, you have a group of six, all Asari commandos heading for the lifts on the other side of the cargo bay.”

“Copy that Garrus, come down and help Skark and Miranda finish up here I don’t want any more of them to get away,” Shepard turned to Tash and said, “come on we have to catch them up before they get up onto the concourse levels.”

They both stowed their assault rifles and started to run in the direction Garrus had indicated.

Reaching a more tightly packed area with larger containers pilled at times three high they needed to make a sharp left turn and could see a right turn coming up, Shepard slowed to a walk and pulled out her M27 Scimitar, Tash equipped an Executioner.

Shepard glanced over and raised an eyebrow at the weapon which was a merc favourite and Tash only returned the smile with a shrug of the shoulders.

When they got to the end of the container Shepard indicated that she would roll out and across to the other wall while Tash started covering fire.

Their instincts were good as the merc’s had left two Asari commandos waiting for them to turn the corner.  But low roll and fire from cover surprised them momentarily giving both Tash and Shepard the chance to get hits on both merc’s.

Though they didn’t take the mercs out with their first shots it evened the odds a little and Shepard managed to get another hit on one of the Asari knocking her off her feet and as she fell backwards Shepard knew the hit would be fatal.

As Tash stood out from cover to get off another shot she got hit with a slam that lifted her off her feet and threw her backwards against one of the containers.

Shepard could see Tash was stunned and her shields were down, the remaining Asari made ready to finish off her prey.

Instinctively Shepard ran across and put herself between the remaining Asari and the floored Tash, firing off a round just as the Asari prepared to send a killer biotic hit. 

Shepard’s round hit her target just before she could finish sending the attack; and as the shotgun round hit the Asari full in the chest she was slammed backwards sending her biotic hit up towards the ceiling.

She sensed Tash coming back around and turned grabbing her by the jacket and hauled her to her feet shouting, “Come on they’ve got too much ground on us…we need to speed up.”

Tash shook her head saying, “we’ll never catch them this way it’s a fuckin labyrinth and we’re vulnerable every time we come to a corner, we need to go up, across the top,” Tash looked up to the wall of containers, stowed her pistol and ran to the container wall they had just made their way around.

Shepard followed and said, “there’s no grip, we can’t climb these,” even as her eyes scanned the smooth sides for any kind of hold.

“Aha, never go anywhere without my handy little rope on a sticky thing, that means I can climb up and more importantly, climb down in an emergency.

Very useful for dating married women who live in apartment blocks,” as she was speaking she pulled a device from one of her trouser pockets.

It looked like a metal Frisbee with the end of what looked like a strong line coming out of it.  Holding on the end of the line she threw the small Frisbee up and as it landed on top of the container Shepard heard a clunk.

“A ‘sticky thing’ Tash, that’s the best technical term you could come up with,” Shepard couldn’t help but smile Tash never bothered to remember the proper names for tech kit but she always packed the most useful gear and knew how to use it.

Tash steadied the line as Shepard grabbed on and began walking up the side of the container, “hey just be grateful I carry a load of crap in my pockets,” and while she waited for Shepard to reach the top she took a moment to spark up another cigar.

Once they were both up top they began running across the containers, needing to build up speed to jump the gaps as they came to them, and within a minute they spotted the group of merc’s who had made it almost to the elevators in the back wall.

Shepard and Tash would never narrow the gap in time, even using the direct route across the top of the containers.

“We’re not going to catch them we need to take them down from here, or keep them pinned down until the other’s catch up,” as Shepard spoke she pulled her Valient sniper rifle and began to set up for a scoped shot, she heard Tash curse next to her.

“Fuck I brought the Widow and we’ve got four targets to take down.”

“Hell Tash you can reload that thing almost as fast at Garrus and I swear he was born with the fuckin thing in his hands, use warp ammo it’ll help secure a single shot kill.”

Shepard exchanged another genuine smile with her cousin remembering all the hours they’d spent on various ranges together both trying to best the other but both always happy to help improve the others skill.

“Ok, let’s get this done, you take them right to left I’ll start left to right, on my count, two, one,” as Shepard left the ‘one’ hang between them a heartbeat later they both fired at exactly the same time.

Shepard got off another shot while Tash reloaded and the next shots were fired almost simultaneously, three merc’s were clearly down but the last had run for cover and they couldn’t see her through their scopes.

“You stay here and watch for her the minute she breaks cover; I’ll move in close and try to flush her out or take her out at close range,” before Shepard could respond Tash was on her feet exchanging her sniper for her Executioner once and more and took a running jump to make it to the next stack of containers.

Shepard concentrated on where they had last seen the Asari and kept playing her scope looking for any movement any change in shadow.

Her concentration was broken into when her comms sparked up and Miranda’s worried voice filling her ear.

“Shepard we’re on our way, I think we’re almost at your position, are you on top of the containers,” the last sentence was delivered in a puzzled tone; she was obviously trying to make sense of the tracking info she was looking at.

“Yep we had to take the last four out from a distance they just got too far ahead, you need to keep going. Tash is chasing down last one, but she may need some help.”

“Copy that Shepard,” and as Miranda’s voice faded away Shepard thought she saw just the whisper of a change of light and concentrated on the corner of a smaller container unit only a quick run away from the elevator.

Then she saw her, the Asari commando made a run for the elevator still managing to keep the edges of cover as she went and making it impossible for Shepard to get a clear shot, she tried but her two shots just didn’t connect.

Then she saw the Asari flying into view body bent backwards in a way even an Asari body shouldn’t bend, falling to the ground blood pouring from a head wound.

Shepard watched Tash come into view a stand above the merc to make sure she was finished.

As Shepard stood and stowed her rifle she thought, ‘still handy in a fire fight Tash… I thought I knew you dammit… it’ll break me to kill you or hand you over to the Alliance for trial… what the hell happened to you,’ and with a deep sigh full of sadness and a hint of despair she began to make her way to her squad mates who were now clustered together by the elevator.

Day 6 Normandy refit – Nos Astra, Illium

Shepard was standing looking out of one of the huge windows of the apartment, her son settled in the crook of her arm, and sucking lazily on the bottle she was holding to his mouth.

It was raining hard and the droplets that hit the window formed into rivulets as they ran, inevitably, downwards.

“See that out there is rain, yep, probably some wind too, but you’ll get to learn about that later.  You get to appreciate any kind of weather if you live in space most of your time,” she looked down at the still sucking and contented baby, “will you decide to live in space or settle on a planet somewhere… well now your just too young to need to think about that aren’t you.”

She heard movement behind her and turned to see Veetor coming down the stairs.

“Commander, I am sorry to disturb your precious time with your son.” Veetor’s voice sounded troubled and she knew he wouldn’t want to talk with her unless it was really important.

She only had another couple of hours to spend in the apartment before returning to the Normandy.

“That’s OK Veetor, come and sit down,” Shepard indicated one of the long sofas.  She moved away from the window and sat in one of the large armchairs and once settled in place continued. “So what’s on your mind”.

“As you know I am still in contact with my family in the flotilla, and a good friend who tried to help with my anxiety.  I am not sure how to tell you this Commander but, Tali’s father Admiral Rael’Zorah has died, been killed.”

“How, did they get into another tangle with Cerberus?” Shepard’s mind was racing, if it was anything to do with Cerberus she might just be tempted to forget her deal and take down Harper.

“No, it seems, Geth, well my family only know the rumours, the Admiralty Board are not making any announcements yet.  Commander, I know I have no right to ask you for any more help you have….” Shepard cut across the young Quarian.

“Veetor you are part of my crew, hell you’re practically family, you can ask me anything.  I’ll see what I can find out and perhaps try to take a run out to the flotilla.  If we do would you like to come with us?”

 “Thank you Commander, yes, I would like to come if you visit the flotilla.  Only if it does not interfere with…” again she gently cut across him and smiled.

“I think it would be nice for your family to see you now you’re doing much better… but on one condition,” her tone now took on a mock serious note and he held his head to one side, “you don’t decide to stay.  I would miss you and I need you.”

Shepard couldn’t have said anything that filled Veetor with more pride and he was grateful to her for saying it.  But he was also pleased to have the reassurance that he wouldn’t have to return to the flotilla.  Perhaps one day but he was nowhere near ready to return yet.

“That is kind of you to say Commander and I have no intention of returning to the flotilla, yet anyway.”

They chatted for a while, and decided they would check all available intel sources for any lead on what may have happened on the flotilla.

Shepard noticed the baby had not only finished the bottle but had fallen asleep.

“I’m going to settle him in his cot Veetor, and then I had better make tracks back to the Normandy.” Shepard left the empty bottle on the side of the armchair and made her way up the stairs to the nursery.

She stood looking down at the small human and smiled thinking how simple and peaceful his life was.  Shepard leaded in and kissed her son on the forehead and just before she stood back up and turned heard a familiar voice from the doorway.

“I always knew you’d make a great parent,” Jamie’s voice was quiet but she could hear the smile, “did Veetor get to talk to you about the flotilla?”

She moved away from the cot and towards the door and smiled at her cousin come live in nanny.

“Yes he did, he seems really worried.  Do me a favour Jamie if anything seems to be bugging him in future just let me know?  He doesn’t like to ask for anything for himself some reason,” they both began walking back down stairs.

“Yeah of course I will.  Um, do you think next time you visit you might bring some of the crew… you know Garrus and maybe…” Shepard looked at the obviously embarrassed young man and gave him a knowing smile which made him even more embarrassed.

“Oh you mean when will I be bringing Doctor Goto for a visit,” Shepard couldn’t help teasing him a little more before she agreed to bring her next time they were in the neighbourhood.

Within an hour she was on the borrowed frigate and heading back to Thessia and the Normandy.

Final day Normandy re-fit – Thessia

Shepard stood in front of the full crew.  She had called a parade on the mess deck, the tables had been moved.  Although a few had to stand on the gangway leading to the battery, they all fitted in.

“Some of the more eagle eyed of you will have noticed the memorial plaque on the rear wall of the mess.” She indicated the wall behind her.

“You will see the names of the crew of the Normandy SR1 who died either on missions or on the final Collector attack on our ship.  I’ve also put up the names of all the colonies that have been attacked by the Collectors and whose populations have been taken.

I intend to keep both lists as short as they are now.  But I won’t lie to you.”  Shepard had been pacing slightly from left to right but now she stood still and seemed to be looking at every single person in the room.

“We have made our ship as tough, as deadly, as protected as we can.  Our friends and allies the Turian’s and Asari’s have equipped us with their best and latest tech on top of the best the Alliance had to offer.

Our mission is hard, our enemy is tough, but we are tougher, we are mean SOB’s who don’t like to be fucked with. The Collectors have fucked with our people.  We will pay them back.” Shepard stood still at parade rest and continued.

“This may not be an Alliance ship but it will function like one.  I gave you the opportunity to leave once and you chose to stay.  I honour you for that choice.  We’ll end this parade with a minutes silence to remember our friends and family lost to the Collectors.  And our crew members who made the ultimate sacrifice so we could fight on.” 

Shepard turned and faced the memorial and ran her eyes over the full list of names.  She knew them by heart; she saw them sometimes in her nightmares.  

‘I will make them pay for what they did,’ she thought.  And a strong image of Ash, so proud to be made XO of the Normandy, seared itself into her mind.

She marked the end of the minute with a sharp salute, turned to face the crew and said, “Parade dismiss, to your stations, prepare to leave our dry dock.”

Chapter 36