Chapter 1: Act 1
"Captain's Log: Stardate 54212.4
Ever since Lt. Paris' experience with the folding-space drive, he and Lt. Torres have been working to adapt Voyager's warp core to replicate folding space on a larger scale, reducing our long journey into a series of short "jumps." If it succeeds, reaching home will be a matter of months instead of decades. However, Tom tells me that it will be a bumpy ride."
Even though the flickering lights of the bridge, Captain Kathryn Janeway could see her vision blurring. She must have hit her head during the jump, and as always, rubbing her temple didn't seem to help.
"Report," she said to no one in particular.
True to form, Harry was the first to respond from his console, "Decks three through seven reporting minor injuries, long-range sensors, phasers, and a few secondary systems are down. Nothing too serious."
Her questioning continued, "Where are we."
"Can't be sure, Captain," Said Tom, "Without long-range sensors Navigation isn't much help. I think we're still in the Delta Quadrant, but no idea where."
Fantastic. Captain Janeway had hoped, but in the back of her mind she knew they'd wind up still in the Delta Quadrant. Speaking of mind:
"Are you alright?" Asked Chakotay from his position at her side.
"I'm fine. I just bumped my head during the jump. I'm sure it's nothing." She responded.
"Perhaps you should let the doctor take a look at that."
"I'll be fine. A little sleep, a little coffee, I'll be right as rain."
"Captain," Tuvok interjected. He spoke without looking up from his console. He always waited until he was halfway done before looking up. No one minded. "Short-range sensors are picking up a small vessel off our starboard bow." He looked up, "It appears to be disabled."
"On screen" she said, once again rubbing her eyes. By the time she looked up, the rest of the bridge crew was already mesmerized. She stood up and moved to the center of the room to get a closer look. She spoke without breaking her concentration on the view-screen, "Harry…"
"Oh…Uh…" Harry snapped back to the bridge. "Our sensors are having trouble penetrating their hull: some kind of subspace interference emanating from their drive core. It looks like they still have life support, but not much else. There are around thirty people on board. Mostly humanoid…I think…their life signs are faint."
"Can't be sure, ma'am."
"Chakotay," Janeway began to order, "Take an away team. Send The Doctor in first to make sure it's safe. I'm not interested with bringing a plague aboard." Tom, Harry, and Chakotay moved toward the turbo-lift. Janeway continued, "Offer them whatever help you can. I want you to find out who they are, where they're from…" From the turbo-lift Chakotay looked back at the screen, "And how did a ship with English on it end up in the Delta Quadrant."
As the turbo-lift doors closed, Chakotay looked back at the screen. He could still make out the word painted on the side of the small but sleek ship…NORMANDY.
"Wow, Shepard. You look…different." Liara said, standing in the entryway of the Captain's Cabin of the Cerberus ship SR2 Normandy. The asari was right; Shepard did look different. Instead of her usual "form follows function" approach to appearance, Shepard had exhibited effort to "look nice" for Liara's visit. She wore a black cocktail dress and heels. Her red hair was taken up in such a way that it didn't look like much effort was put into the style, but Shepard knew that it was much more difficult than it should have been. Filleting a Husk? Simple. Blowing up a Blood Pack Pyro with a well placed Incendiary round? Piece-of-cake. Up-do? Impossible. Unfortunately for Shepard, she didn't look comfortable when dressed up. To Liara she still looked beautiful, but awkward.
"Is it too much?" Asked Shepard. Liara's teasing may have struck a vulnerable nerve. For Liara, looking pristine was an easy feat. Through her upbringing, Liara had developed an heir of sophistication. From the moment Shepard met her, Liara had always looked prim, proper, and pretty. Even when conjuring a black hole with her biotic mind, or throwing a Krogan around the room, Liara always looked well put together.
"You look nice. I merely meant that this isn't the way you usually look. I like it." Liara reassured her.
" Well," Shepard started, "It's not every day I get a visit from the Shadow Broker." Liara had tried to forget. Liara never enjoyed being an information broker. She didn't enjoy digging into people's lives without their knowledge. She hated intimidating people. Using people. She desperately missed her archeological studies. Digging into dead people's lives was okay, they didn't mind. She became an information broker on Illium because she had to. To find Feron. To find Shepard. But at least on Illium she was able to step away from it; she could go to her apartment and take a breath, surrounded by her Prothean artifacts and memories. Not as the Shadow Broker. There, an information broker isn't what she did, it's what she is. There's no escape from it, except on the Normandy. For a short while. With her.
"Well" Liara started, "It's not every day I get an invitation." Liara moved toward her and put her hands behind Shepard's neck, resting her arms on Shepard's shoulders. Shepard placed her hands on Liara's waist. "I don't think I've ever seen you in a dress." Liara said. "Where did you get it?"
"Kasumi needed help with a…mission…on Beken…" Shepard started.
"The Donavan Hock heist?" Liara interrupted her. In parts of her mind, Shepard always wondered what it would be like to be with someone who would finish your sentences. She never imagined it would be quite so…specific. Though, when you're dating the Shadow Broker, you don't really get to be the bearer of surprises.
"Yes. The heist. Kasumi said I needed to look formal, so she gave me this dress. It's been collecting dust in my locker since."
Liara giggled, "Shepard, I never thought you were the type of woman to wear a stolen dress."
Shepard popped up, "The dress is stolen? The dress is stolen! I had no idea! How did I not put that together?" Shepard continued until Liara moved her hands from the nape of Shepard's back to her cheeks.
"Shepard," she said, "stop." The two moved in to kiss.
"FfwwwaBOOM" a loud boom rattled the entire ship as a bright light flashed through the skylight in the cabin. Shepard let out a half scream-half choke as all the muscles in her neck, arms, and legs tensed. She fell to the floor, lifeless.
Liara, intertwined with her, tried to catch her, but fell to the ground as well. She held Shepard's head close as she talked into the comm, "Dr. Chawkwas! There's been an emergency! We need you in the captain's cabin!"
"Dr. Chawkwas? Can you hear me?"
"Dr. Solus? Do you read? There's been a medical emergency!"
The Doctor beamed onto what appeared to be the Normandy's bridge. As soon as he fully manifested he performed a visual scan of the area. There were only two types of ships in The Doctor's experience: absolutely dirty ships, and immaculately clean ships. He was relieved to learn that this was the latter. The ship was just as small on the outside as it was on the inside, though a long hallway leading to what he assumed was the helm made it appear a bit bigger. As he looked around he didn't seen any sign of disease. There were a few crewmembers scattered around a large triangular console in the center of the room. They were all on the floor, in heaps. It appeared that they all fell in the middle of their duties. This hinted to The Doctor that this wasn't a disease that rendered the crew unconscious, unless it is one doozy of a disease.
He pulled his medical tri-corder out of its pouch and began to scan the air: nitrogen, oxygen, nothing out of the ordinary. No traces of pathogens outside of a mild influenza, certainly nothing capable of instantly incapacitating an entire crew. He scanned the closest person to him: A young woman with short, bright red hair. No significant traces of bacteria, viruses, or parasites. It appeared that she was just asleep. He tried to jostle the sleeping woman to wake her, but she did not even stir.
He tapped the badge on his chest, "Doctor to Voyager. There's no infection, it looks like they all just fell asleep. It's all clear here, you're safe to board."
"Thank you, doctor, we'll see you soon." Chakotay said from Voyager's transporter room.
The doctor waited and looked around. His crewmates did not materialize after a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity.
"Doctor to Chakotay, did something go wrong? Where are you?"
Chakotay answered, "The subspace interference is playing tricks with the transporter lock. We had to beam into their cargo bay on deck 5. I'll get back to you as soon as we have a plan of action."
"Okay. Don't take too long." The doctor glanced around, a little spooked by a ship filled with sleeping people. Just as he was about to continue his tri-corder scans of the crew, the Doctor thought he heard some shuffling noises coming from the next room.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" The Doctor moved anxiously to the door. Using another holographic interface he opened the door and walked into…
Tom, Harry, and Chakotay explored the shuttle bay. There were two shuttles in the hanger, but no people.
Tom reached the elevator, "Come look at this. Looks like there are four other decks: engineering, the crew deck, something called The CIC, and the captain's cabin. If we want to get some answers maybe we should split up? Each take a deck?"
Chakotay resisted, "I don't think splitting up on a strange ship is a good idea."
Tom said, "Doc just said everyone is asleep. Maybe when they wake up they won't want to help us out. Why not get as many answers as we can as fast as we can, before they wake up?"
"What do you think, Harry?"
"Tom has a good point." Harry said sheepishly, "We have an opportunity. Perhaps we can get the answers we need and get out, avoid violating the Prime Directive."
"Looks like I'm outvoted." Chakotay joked. "Doctor, where are you?"
There was no response.
"Doctor. Do you hear me?" The three away party members listened intently. Maybe Tom's "split up" idea wasn't as good as…
"Oh, sorry. I am here." The Doctor responded.
"Why didn't you respond?"
"I just discovered the most amazing science lab I've ever seen! This place is fantastic!" A sigh of relief from the away team.
"That's great, Doctor."
"I'm serious. Give me enough time in this lab and I can cure any disease imaginable! I can't believe this lab was empty!"
"You're on the second deck, correct?"
"I believe so, Yes."
"Okay. Stay there and investigate the crewmembers. See if you can discover what happened to them."
Chakotay turned to Harry and Tom, "Harry, you head to engineering. See if you can find the origin of the subspace interference. Tom, you check out the captain's cabin. See if there are any answers there. It looks pretty small, so when you finish go down to the second deck and help The Doctor. I'll explore the crew deck to see if there's anything to learn there. Any questions?"
"Yeah," said Tom, "Why didn't you tell us this in the lift?
Shepard felt a pulse shoot through her entire body. It moved like a bolt from her head to her finger tips and toes and back again. She gasped for air and sat up, shooting out of Liara's lap. "What happened?"
"You fell unconscious. I had to give you a telepathic jolt to wake you." Liara responded.
"Don't ever do that ever again. Unless I am awake…and we're alone…then do it as much as possible." Shepard said, still gasping for hair.
Liara smiled. If Shepard can joke, she'll be alright. Shepard continued, "What's going on?"
"The entire crew was knocked unconscious by some sort of energy surge, and it gets worse…We've been boarded."
Liara moved toward Shepard's personal console and opened video feeds from around the ship. "The first just appeared on deck two. Three others appeared in on the shuttle bay. It looks like those three getting on the elevator."
"Thankfully it's so slow. Is there anyone else in the crew that is awake?"
"I'm not seeing anyone. EDI is offline or else I would ask her to use her sensors."
"How did you..?"
"I acquired a temporal implant when I first arrived on Illium. It prevents me from being rendered unconscious in just a situation."
"That's some damn good foresight." Shepard stood, she was still a bit off balance and needed to support her weight on the wall of her aquarium, but she stood. "It's up to us to take back the ship."
"Do you think that's entirely fair?" Liara asked
"Doesn't matter. We have to do it."
"I meant for them." The women smiled. This isn't what they thought they'd be doing, but at least they'd be doing it together. "Do you need help?"
"No, I am fine." She tried to stand without the support of the wall. She wobbled. Before she fell, Liara ran to her side and caught her. "I will be fine." Liara held Shepard up as she took off her high heels. "That should help."
Just as Shepard was able to stand on her own, the door to her cabin opened. The women met eyes with a human. Blonde hair, tall, skinny, and wearing a cloth uniform without shielding. The three looked at each other for a moment, stunned.
He started to speak. Liara shot her arm forward and enveloped him in a stasis field before he got the chance to utter a sound. "I am sorry, Shepard, I wasn't sure what to do."
"No. You did the right thing." Shepard walked toward the man, frozen inside the field. His eyes darted around the room. "Liara, you have more intel than anyone. Do you recognize this uniform? This symbol?" Shepard indicated the pin on the man's chest.
"No. I've never seen it before."
"So now we have two objectives. Take back our ship and learn more about our attackers. Take down the field." Liara blinked at the man, and the field came down. With one swift blow to the side of his head, Shepard him knocked out. "I need to board their vessel." Shepard reached behind her, trying to reach the zipper of her dress. "Liara, can you help me get out of this dress?""Shepard, do you really think now is the time to…" Shepard glared at Liara. "Oh. Right. Of course. Sorry."
Liara helped Shepard get out of her dress.
The elevator doors opened to reveal…another door. Seems like an inefficient waste of space. From the looks of the ship's schematics the captain's cabin wasn't much bigger than Tom's cabin on voyager. If they had put some sort of locking mechanism on the lift you could use that as your front door. You could add, what, at least fifteen square feet to the cabin?
Tom looked at his tri-corder and took some readings: two life signs inside the cabin. He stepped inside the cabin, still looking at his tri-corder. The life signs were stronger than he thought. He looked up and saw…he wasn't quite sure what he saw. There were two women, one human, one alien. Both were wearing gowns and were embracing in the middle of the room. It seemed like they were on a date. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.
Was one the captain? If so, which one?
Tom realized he was staring and began to speak. Before he could finish the word "I," Tom saw a bright flash, and everything went blue. Tom couldn't move or speak. In his panic Tom saw that his sight was refracted, like opening your eyes in a swimming pool. His hearing suffered a similar phenomenon.
His eyes darted around the room, looking for the origin of the field. He couldn't see it. He realized that even if he found it he couldn't do anything about it. He shifted his gaze toward the women. The human, a redhead, was much closer now. She was in his personal space; in his face. She was talking to the alien, but their speech was muddled. He couldn't understand what they were saying. While she was talking her eyes never left his. Even through the refraction her gaze was strong. Determined.
Suddenly the blue disappeared. Tom could move again. Before he could do anything he saw another flash. Then blackness.
Chakotay entered the crew deck. Why was it dark? The lights were working in the docking bay. The deck was utter blackness with a few bright spots of color here and there emanating from holographic interfaces on the doors and consoles. Chakotay turned on his flashlight and strapped it to his arm. He started to visually explore the space. He walked away from the elevator. He saw that most the deck was behind the elevator. This seemed to be the social center of the ship. Many crewmembers were collapsed around the large table in the middle of the room. Chakotay was careful to step over the people. He couldn't shake the feeling that…He pulled out his phaser.
"Whoever you are, I'm not here to hurt you." Chakotay said
"Funny. That's exactly what you are doing." The raspy voice said back to him.
Chakotay quickly spun around to face the origin of the voice. "What do you mean?"
"Look around you." The voice was behind him again.
Chakotay did not know if this was true, or if this was some kind of ambush. He held out an olive branch, "If this is true, I apologize. I'd like to help you, if you will let me."
"Interesting. You incapacitate an entire ship, and then offer help? You are either talented pirates, or incompetent philanthropists. In either case, I cannot allow this to continue."
Chakotay heard a light "thud" on the floor behind him. He got a shot off with his phaser, which missed but helped illuminate the deck. His opponent moved fast. Too fast. Too fast to see. All Chakotay saw was his dark, shimmering eyes. Within seconds he felt an impact on his chest just below his right shoulder which caused his arm to go numb and drop the phaser, a second impact on the other side of his chest which numbed his left arm, and a blow under his rib cage on his right side that caused the muscles on his side to instantly contract, causing him to fall over. He couldn't move.
"I've been instructed to keep you alive, so have no fear. If you retaliate, I will be forced to kill you. Please do not make me."
Harry entered the engineering deck. Right outside of the elevator was a window into the docking bay. He could see the two shuttles: a shuttle that matched the markings of the ship and another shuttle of an entirely different design.
"Okay. What's first." Harry saw four doors. Two for engineering, one for port cargo, and one for starboard cargo. "Door number one, number two, or number three…how about number four." Harry went into one of the doors marked "Engineering." After the short hallway Harry walked into the engineering room, which is remarkably smaller than Voyager's, then again, the ship itself is remarkably smaller. Harry noticed three crew members in the room: two humans, a man and a woman; and an alien. The alien wore a purple environmental suit. Why? Life support was online, why would she need the environmental suit? Life support is online. Harry then looked at the drive core. It was a massive sphere. Much bigger than Voyager's warp core. If it is as powerful as Voyager's warp core this ship must be ridiculously fast. Could they hit warp 10? Harry took out his tri-corder and began to take data. Looks like it isn't as powerful as Voyagers. Not really. They could travel faster than the speed of light, but not much. Than how did they get out here in the Delta Quadrant? This is the source of the subspace interference, but Harry couldn't tell how. What was core doing that was interfering with Voyager's sensors? Harry knew there's more to this ship, and he'd love to study it, but it would take longer than he's willing to devote to it at this point.
Harry stepped over the aliens and out of engineering. "Lets see…port or starboard?" Eh, I'm closer to port. Harry opened the door to the port cargo. There wasn't much cargo. The only thing he saw was a large open capsule. In front of the capsule was another alien. He knelt down next to the alien to get a closer look. This one wasn't like the alien in engineering. He was very large and reptilian, with rock like crests on his forehead and a large hump on his back. Harry wondered what his function was. As he began to stand back up he heard a clicking noise, and felt cold metal on his head.
"You are lucky, he would kill you without hesitation," said a hurried voice. Harry slowly turned to see a small amphibious alien holding a weapon. "I, however," the alien's large eyes narrowed, "haven't decided."
Shepard put on the man's uniform. It was baggy, unshielded, and completely unsuitable for combat. Though, it was comfortable. She wondered if that was really important enough to risk the life of the wearer. She would have to be careful if this plan went bad, and, considering many of Shepard's much better plans had resulted in disaster, it was a definite possibility.
"What do you think?" Shepard flippantly asked Liara.
"It isn't properly fitted," She responded, in full business mode, "Assuming this is a military organization you might stand out. It might be beneficial to acquire the uniform of someone closer to your shape."
"I'll be sure to maul the first woman I see." She paused, "Liara, I don't like this plan."
"It'll be fine. If you keep your head down you should be able to get in, get the information you need, and get out without attracting too much attention."
"Not that part. I'm fine with that. What I'm not okay with is leaving you to handle the ones on Normandy."
"You don't think I can handle it?"
Shepard took her hands, "You know that's not it. I just…"
Liara moved her hand to Shepard's cheek. Shepard, without thinking, leaned into the hand. "I never told you what happened when you…after the first Normandy? Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
"You could always flay them with your mind…" As soon as the words escaped her lips, Shepard knew she should have left well enough alone.
Liara took her hand away, "I could." The women gazed at each other for a heavily silent moment.
Neither one could honestly say that they knew what they were doing anymore. Their relationship was so drastically differant it was two years ago. From the moment they met, Shepard and Liara's relationship had been saturated with an innocent curiosity. Both women were fascinated by the other. They yearned to learn more about the other, and this curiosity turned into affection, which turned into love. Since taking command of the Normandy SR 2, a ship so close, yet so far, to her home, Shepard has on multiple occasion stared out the window above her bed and imagined settling down with Liara. A home on a planet. With her. And kids. But she would always look at her aquarium and think "I can't keep fish alive without help. What good would I be with kids?" Still, the thought made her smile.
But now, after reuniting with Liara on Illium, That dream seems even further away. The love is still there, but so too is a frustration. Liara had transformed while Shepard was gone. Before the Collectors first attacked, Liara had managed to maintain a semblance of her innocence. She still saw the galaxy as a relatively good place. After all, no matter what evil they came across, Shepard was there to counter balance it, and she was absolutely, undeniably good.
However, without Shepard and her mother, Liara was forced to experience life on her own, and she started to see the galaxy as a menacing place. She saw her former self as naive and childish. While she never wavered in her love of the supposedly late Shepard, she questioned her devotion as dependence. She resolved to never depend on anyone in a way that might hinder her perception of the way things are. Now that Shepard is back, Liara was both found and lost. She wanted desperately to be as hopelessly devoted to Shepard as before, but didn't know how.
This philosophical change in Liara weighed on Shepard. To her, she went to sleep and Liara was warm, caring, and optimistic. She woke up and Liara, while still well intentioned, had become cold and calculating. Shepard, in all aspects of her life, identifies as a protector, and now the one person she desperately wanted to protect didn't seem to need or want it, which made Shepard wonder, "what else can I offer?"
"Why the hell did you say that?" Shepard thought as she pulled away and walked to the door of her cabin. "Say something, you idiot! Anything! 'I'm sorry,' 'I've missed you,' 'I care about you,' anything! Come on!" She silently walked to the door and opened it. Before walking to the elevator she turned around, lovingly glanced back at Liara and bravely said the most loving, emotional thing she could muster, "Liara…keep your head down."
The Door closed.
The Doctor knelt down and scanned his third patient. This orange haired woman showed the same symptoms of the others. Her vitals were steady and strong. She had no noteworthy viruses or infections. Her brain was perfectly active. If he didn't know better, The Doctor would say she was asleep. It's as if entire crew just fell asleep at their stations. He played with his tri-corder a bit to see if there was anything he was missing. He heard the elevator open behind him. One of the other crew members must have finished his deck. The doctor decided to continue his tests; he has learned that if his shipmate needs anything, than they will bring it up themselves. He wasn't expecting what he heard.
"Put the devise down and step away." A woman said. A woman? There were no women on this away mission! He turned around and saw a tall, muscular woman in an ill-fitting Starfleet uniform pointing a phaser directly at him. Her dark red hair was disheveled, but her face was focused on him. The Doctor did not recognize this crewman, a lieutenant from the looks of her pips, but he put down the tri-corder and stood up.
She continued, "Hands up. Slowly." The doctor said nothing. Was there something wrong with her memory? Who was she? The doctor deduced the obvious, this person is not a crew member. Where did she get the uniform and phaser? Tom! "Where is the Lieutenant?"
"He's fine. For now. Put your hands up." She curtly responded.
The doctor raised his hands and rolled his eyes. "You should know that you are wasting your time. The phaser won't hurt me. I'm a hologram."
"A VI? Not on my ship. Not without me knowing."
The doctor's arms dropped to his side in indignation. "A VI? I beg your pardon, but I am no mere virtual intelligence. I have a robust program, I am fully self aware and make my own decisions."
The woman looked puzzled. Suddenly, orange holographic shapes formed around her left arm. She held her hand up to the Doctor. "Well, looks like you're telling the truth. But how…"she paused, "That thing on your arm. That's remote emitter, isn't it?"
The Doctor covered the mobile emitter with his hand, "No! That's nothing. Why?"
The woman holstered the phaser and poked at the orange holograms on her arm, "Okay, here's how things are going to work. You're going to tell me everything I want to know, or I'm going to start playing around with your program."
"I most certainly will not! Until I see my crewmates, you will get no help from me!"
"There's a lot of data here. It would be terrible if I accidentally deleted something."
"You're bluffing, there's no way you can hack into my program. My emitter is…"
"Look at your arm." The Doctor looked at his left arm. It was wildly flapping around through the air.
"What? How are you doing that?" The arm stopped.
"Okay, now that we know I'm in, how about some cooperation?"
Shepard sat on the stairs to the Galaxy Map rubbing her eyes as the hologram stood still in front of her. "Okay, let's run through this again. You are 'the doctor.' You have no name. And you are from…"
"The Federation starship Voyager." He interrupted. Again. If she didn't need answers, and if she were good enough of a hacker to find it, Shepard would delete his mouth.
"The Federation is..?"
"The United Federation of Planets."
"In the Alpha Quadrant."
Shepard was getting frustrated. "The Delta Quadrant of what?"
The doctor, also frustrated, repeated the answer again, "The galaxy."
"Liara, do you read? Any of this ringing a bell?"
Liara spoke to Shepard in her hidden earpiece, "No. I've never heard of this Federation or Delta Quadrant before."
The hologram interrupted…again… "Listen, if you come back to the ship with me and my crewmates, I am sure the Captain would…"
"Not going to happen." Shepard said.
"Commander," said Liara in her ear, "it might benefit us to board the other ship. It would give us a chance to learn more about them."
"Liara, are you crazy? Why would I give myself up to a ship that knocked out my entire crew?"
"I'm not suggesting you give yourself up."
Shepard groaned, "Tell you what," She said to the hologram, "I'll go with you. But the other three intruders stay here. I'm not going into hostile territory without some collateral."
"No deal. How will I know that they are safe?"
She put her middle and index fingers to her ear, "Liara?"
Liara's answer came over the intercom, "The other intruders are being held in the medical bay. They are all unconscious, but unharmed. I am here with Mordin and Thane. Mordin is working on a way to wake up the crew that doesn't involve giving them a neural shock."
"Well, how did they wake up?"
"Mordin had his omni-tool set to shock him awake if he ever fell unconscious without setting it on a timer. As soon as he woke up and heard people moving around the ship, he woke up Thane, also with a neural shock."
"Ah. Until you get word from me, none of the prisoners are to be harmed. Understood?"
The Shepard shot a look to the hologram, "All I want to do is talk."
"Okay. Fine. I'll take you to Voyager. But leave the phaser here. You obviously don't need it to harm me. I won't take you if you can harm my crew.
"Okay." Shepard dropped the phaser. The hologram tapped the symbol on his chest, "Doctor to Voyager… Are the transporters working?"
Shepard heard a voice emanating from the symbol, "Yes, sir."
The hologram glared at Shepard, "Two to beam up."
"Yes…two. I will explain when I get on board." Suddenly, everything went blue.
When the blue dissipated, Shepard was standing on a platform in strange room. On her right was the hologram, in front of her was one man behind a console. Before she had time to think, Shepard pulled the emitter off the hologram's arm, disintegrating him, and threw it at the man. The emitter hit him in the eye, surprising him and causing him to flinch. He looked up just in time to see Shepard sliding over the console, delivering her boot to his head. He lay motionless on the ground.
Shepard spoke into her earpiece as she bent down to grab the hologram's emitter, "Liara? I'm in."
"Captain," Tuvok said, still looking at his console, "The doctor and another member of the away team just transported back to Voyager, but I'm not getting a report from the transporter room."
Janeway spoke to the room, "Captain to the Doctor…" No response. "Doctor, can you read me?" There was no response. She turned to Harry's station, which was now occupied by a crewman, "Are communications down now, too?"
"No ma'am. Communications are operating normally."
The captain turned back to Tuvok, "Head down there and see what's going on." Tuvok nodded and entered the turbo lift.
"Deck 4" he commanded, and with the whir of the turbolift, Tuvok started his investigation. As he left the lift, he passed an officer he did not recognize. She had red hair, and, as she entered the turbolift, Tuvok noticed her uniform was not fitting properly. If he were not already occupied he would have stopped her and addressed the issue with her uniform. He did not have time. He told himself that he would have to remind himself as to who she was, and send her a memo regarding uniform etiquette.
Upon entering transporter room 1, Tuvok found the transporter operator incapacitated. He rushed to the operator to check his vitals, he was breathing and had a pulse. After reporting the medical emergency through his communicator, he searched for the doctor's mobile emitter.
"Computer, locate the doctor." Tuvok commanded.
The computer responded, "The doctor is not on Voyager."
"Did the doctor transport to Voyager?"
"Did the doctor transport off Voyager?"
"Negative." Tuvok had to think, if he transported here, but did not transport away, than logic dictates that he is on board. Perhaps he transported here and was then deactivated.
"Can you locate the doctor's mobile emitter?"
"The mobile emitter is in Jefferies tube A-14."
"So," Tuvok thought, "he was deactivated and is currently being carried. By whom?"
Tuvok walked to the opening of the Jefferies tubes. He crawled through the confined space, keeping an eye out for possible ambushes. He decided not to bring a security team, fearing that the site of a security team would encourage whomever is carrying the doctor to do something to harm the emitter. Tuvok wanted the situation to remain calm and controlled. As he crawled he continually asked the computer on the location of the doctor. It seemed that the person who was carrying the doctor was going to the lower decks. Tuvok hypothesized that the perpetrator was heading to engineering or the shuttle bay. To avoid raising a panic, Tuvok decided not to alert anyone to the existence of the suspect. He did, however, ask the crewman running the shuttle bay to postpone any shuttle launches until he gives his authorization.
After a few minutes of crawling, Tuvok found the emitter lying on the catwalk. Tuvok picked up the emitter and carried it to a junction so he could stand. He held up the emitter and reactivated the doctor.
"Please state the nature of the…Wait a minute…Where am I?" The doctor asked.
"You are in the Jefferies tubes between decks 9 and 10. You were deactivated and your emitter has been carried through the ship." Tuvok said in his normal uncomforting tone.
"What? The last thing I remember was beaming into the transporter room!"
"Is there any information you can provide on the identity of your mystery currier?" The doctor thought for a moment, his memories are always fuzzy when he is unexpectedly deactivated. "Yes! Someone from the other ship! She took me hostage and forced me to bring her to Voyager!"
"What does she look like?"
"She's in a Starfleet uniform, human, about this tall, red hair…" The doctor didn't have to finish, Tuvok already had a face in mind.
Tuvok tapped his communicator, "All security teams, we have an intruder alert. Wearing a Starfleet uniform, red hair, and appears to be a human female. Last seen in the Jeffries tubes between decks 9 and 10." He shot a look at the doctor before heading out of the tubes. He decided to follow his hunch and head for engineering.
"Wait, Tuvok, what am I supposed to do?" the doctor asked.
"Head back to sick bay and prepare a report. We need to know more about what happened on the away mission." He walked toward the turbo lift.
While on the lift he received a message from B'elanna Torres, "Torres to Lt. Commander Tuvok, I need a security team outside of engineer…" Torres was cut off.
"Lt. Torres, are you there? What happened?"
After a short pause she responded, seemingly winded "I was just attacked by a woman wearing Tom's uniform. I didn't recognize…"
"Computer, isolate Tom Paris. I need a security team to engineering immediately, I will be there soon." As soon as the lift doors opened Tuvok ran out toward engineering, phaser drawn. He came to the section of the corridor that was sectioned off by force fields. The intruder looked toward Tuvok, smirked, and raised her hands.
"Liara, I'm in." Shepard said into her earpiece as she picked up the hologram emitter.
"That was fast?" Liara responded in her ear.
"They seem to be able to instantaneously teleport people. I'm in a room on their ship."
"Can you find a console? Perhaps we can learn more about the ship."
Shepard stood up and scanned the console in the room with her omni tool, "It looks like the one in here isn't fully networked with the rest of the ship; it could be that none of them are."
"Unlikely. It could be that this console isn't because it has a specific purpose. Try going to a higher traffic area, like a hallway. You may be able to find a more useful console there."
"I'm not thrilled about scanning a public terminal."
"You can do it, honey."
Shepard walked out of the transporter room. She found a console with a map of the ship just outside. "This looks like it will help a little better. Hold on." Shepard looked side to side to check for onlookers. When the coast was clear she quickly scanned the console with her omni tool. "Did that help."
"A little. It told us where to go for information. If you want answers you should either go to the bridge or engineering."
"I'm open to suggestions."
"Engineering is much bigger. It might be easier to get information without detection if you go there."
"Engineering it is. Lead the way." Following Liara's instructions, Shepard walked to the elevator. As she approached she passed a crew member. He was wearing a similar uniform to the one Shepard commandeered, except the red section was a tan color. What did the color signify? Rank? Specialization? Where his ears pointed? Shepard did a bit of a double take, but he was already gone. She walked into the elevator and looked for the elevator control.
"There's no interface." She realized.
"What?" Liara asked.
"There's no interface. There are no elevator controls."
"Perhaps there is some sort of biometric scanner to prevent intruders from moving about the ship."
"Shit." Shepard stormed out of the elevator, "Is there another way?"
"There are some small passageways that connect the decks. Though, you're going to have to crawl."
"Show me the way." Liara led Shepard to the entrance to the tubes. Shepard crawled through them, heading down to main engineering. After a while of crawling, she heard a soft clanging noise. Shepard paused and looked behind her, but didn't see anything. She kept moving down.
"Okay. Here we go." She opened the hatch to main engineering. The room was huge, bigger than the space housing the drive core on the Normandy: multiple levels, lots of engineers, and a big cylinder housing some sort of plasma in the middle of the room. Everyone seemed to be preoccupied and the feel of the room was very hurried. Perhaps something wasn't working correctly?
Shepard found an unoccupied console on the opposite side of the cylinder from the entrance and scanned it with her omni tool. She was unable to make out the symbols on the console in the ship, so she read from the tool directly.
"This can't be right." She exclaimed.
"What is it?" Liara asked.
"They don't have a mass effect core."
"Their ship is powered by an energy emanating from a crystal. Not a mass effect reaction…"
"But that's impossible. How could they use the mass relays without a mass effect core?"
"They can't. There's nothing here about mass relays here at all. Looks like what they have is basically similar to a really efficient FTL drive."
"Then how did they get out here? They're human, right? From Earth? We're way to far from earth to make it with FTL."
"I don't know. I haven't been hassled at all. The ship is pretty massive. I'm going to look around and see if I can't find something that tells me a bit more. I'll send you what I've gotten so far."
"I can direct you to a nearby astrometrics lab."
"I have no idea what that means, but it sounds important. Lead the way." Shepard deactivated her omni tool and walked out of engineering. She was careful to not make eye contact with anyone on the way out. Soon after she walked out of the massive engineering doors, she heard the doors open once more.
"Hey, wait." A woman's voice came from behind her. Shepard stopped and turned around, nonchalantly as possible, "yes?" The woman approached. She was wearing the tan version of the uniform. She had hair a similar length of Shepard's, but had a line of ridges running up her forehead. She reminded Shepard a bit of a Krogan.
"What are you doing?"
Shepard had to lie, which was something she was finding herself doing much more often recently, "I was running a diagnostic."
"A diagnostic? On what?"
"Helm control," Shepard said, trying her hardest to not say it as if it were a question.
"Helm control? Who are you?"
The woman tapped her chest and cut Shepard off, "Torres to Paris, What's the big idea of…" As she said this, the words echoed on a slight delay through the emblem on Shepard's Chest. The woman was now truly puzzled. And angry. "Torres to Lt. Commander Tuvok, I need a security team outside of engineer…"
As soon as she heard "security team" Shepard knew she had to disappear. She tried to push the woman against the wall and cover her mouth. The woman bit Shepard's had, causing her palm to bleed a small bit.
Shepard had underestimated her, wouldn't happen again. Shepard decked the woman across the cheek. The woman stumbled back, but didn't lose her footing. Shepard threw another punch, which was ducked. The woman connected with Shepard's ribcage. Shepard regretted not having her armor as she feigned defeat.
The woman straightened her back, letting down her guard. Shepard exploded, her fist connecting with her stomach. The woman fell to the ground. Shepard moved away as nonchalantly as she could.
Shepard turned the corner toward the entrance to the tunnels. "Buzzt," Shepard felt a shock as she suddenly hit a hard kinetic shield. She turned to run, "buzzt. She hit another one. She was trapped.
"Goddamnit." She said. She should have seen this coming.
"Shepard, what's happening? What's wrong?" Liara asked.
"I'm trapped." Shepard responded as two men wearing tan uniforms ran up, beam weapons drawn.
"Thane and I are coming to get you."
Shepard stopped her, "No. Wait. I don't think I'm in danger yet." She turned to face a third man in a tan uniform, the man with the pointed ears she saw earlier. She put her hands up, "I may finally get some answers."
Janeway stormed into the brig. She was furious that the away team hadn't yet been recovered. Over the years she had become very protective of everyone in her crew. They had become a family, and some of her family was missing. She was going to find out why.
Entering the room she saw the brig's console operator and Lt. Commander Tuvok. Behind the force field sat the intruder. She sat on the bench, arms crossed, watching the crewmembers in the room. To Janeway, the fact that she was wearing a Starfleet uniform added salt to the wound. Janeway went to Tuvok.
"Report. What have you learned?"
"Not much. When we arrived here she demanded to see you. She hasn't responded to any questioning. She has remained motionless since arriving." Janeway glared at the woman sitting on the bench. The woman glared back. They tried to get a read on the other. Size each other up.
"I'm Captain Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. To whom am I talking?" The woman didn't answer. She continued to read the situation.
"Captain," Tuvok pulled Janeway to the side, "I would like your permission to perform a mind-meld."
"A mind meld?"
"She refuses to cooperate. It may be the only way to learn about the status of the away team. I have exhausted every other option."
Janeway hesitated. She always felt uneasy when Tuvok requested to use a mind meld. She wasn't comfortable allowing him to enter the mind of someone. Even though Starfleet did allow for the use of mind melds in criminal investigations, she always felt it was overreaching, but lives were at stake, and she needed to get her family back. "Do it."
Tuvok nodded at the crewman at the controls, the force field buzzed. Tuvok stepped through and it buzzed behind him. He spoke to the prisoner, "I am going to perform a mind meld. This telepathic connection will better allow us to communicate. Clear your mind." Tuvok knelt down and reached out his hand. Before he could touch her face, the woman grabbed his wrist. Tuvok was surprised at her grip.
"There's only one person allowed inside my mind. And it's NOT you." She pushed his hand away. Tuvok stepped back.
"It seems you are a bit more talkative." Janeway said.
"I learn more from watching than talking. You treat your prisoners very well. Better than the asari."
"Who are you? And where is my crew."
"My name is Commander Shepard of the Normandy SR 2." She waited for a reaction, and was thrown when there wasn't one. "Your crew members are perfectly safe and will be returned unharmed."
"Why the sudden change of heart?"
"For one, you didn't harm me. Besides the attempt to violate my mind." Shepard glanced at Tuvok, "And for another, I don't think you all are from around here."
The captain responded, "What tells you that?"
"Well, one, you have no mass effect core. Two, even though you appear to be military, I don't recognize your uniforms which don't seem to be combat ready, as they don't provide any armor or shields. And three..." She lifted her left hand, which suddenly had orange geometric shapes glowing around it. She hit a holographic "button" and blue electricity emanated from her hand, deactivating the force field, "…you didn't disable my omni-tool before imprisoning me." She held her hands in the air, as Tuvok and the security officer already had their weapons drawn. "I'm a little tired of talking at the end of a gun. What do you say we start over?"
Chapter 2: Act II
Garrus, Tali, and Liara sat in the main room of the small quarters temporarily given to Shepard on the strange ship. Shepard changed into her armor in the separate restroom. "Now I'm feeling nostalgic," Garrus said to break the tension. "All we need is Wrex and we'd have the club back together again."
Tali giggled, "Shepard's Aliens. I remember that." Back on the SR 1, Tali, Garrus, Liara, and Wrex used to eat together. None of them knew much about humans, only the rumors that they heard here and there: that they're racist, overly ambitious, and that they thought too highly of themselves. Shepard's Aliens may not have liked each other, but they recognized each other. They were familiar, comfortable. Even after they learned more about their human crew, the group shared a special bond. It was through this club that Garrus and Wrex first started to mend their cultural wounds.
"We never got to pull that prank on Pressly" Garrus said. The three laughed, but then became solemn. Liara broke the silence, "Pressly wasn't that bad. I don't think he'd ever met an alien before. He learned to accept us as he got to know us."
"Yeah, well," Garrus started, "Even without Wrex and Pressly, it still feels like the old days. The three of us together: Technical, Tactical, and Tenticle." He pointed to Tali, himself, and Liara respectively.
"I never thought I'd miss being called Tenticle." Liara chuckled.
"Just because I was brought back from the dead, Garrus, doesn't mean your jokes have to be." Shepard said as she walked through the restroom door. "Thanks for the armor, Liara." Shepard seemed to stand taller in her own grey armor with the white and red N7 stripes down the right arm.
Garrus asked Shepard, "So, what do we know about these people?"
"For one, they take care of their prisoners. Lots of rules and policies. They seem to be military, though they don't act like it. They use military discipline and ranks: captain, commander, but they seem to be more interested in scientific endeavors than defense." She turned to Tali, "How much longer until you've finished combing through the data?"
"I don't know. We've only gotten a through a small amount. Their computing language is different than anything I've ever seen. EDI is back online and is continuing to work on it as we are here, but with the differences in technology, it's like EDI is learning to read all over again."
"Let me know as soon as you've finished."
"I've been meaning to ask, how did you hack into their AI? After getting the data you sent, it doesn't seem possible."
"There wasn't any sort of firewall. Once I was in, I didn't recognize most of what I was looking at. Honestly, I just 'poked' it and hoped it didn't explode. I just got really lucky"
Liara jumped in, "After analyzing what I could, it seems that the ship is very advanced in many ways. Weapons, energy distribution, computing ability, shielding and FTL, are all much more efficient than your average warship. I couldn't translate all of it, though."
"Advanced weaponry and shielding?" Garrus asked, "Might come in handy once the Reapers get here." The thought had occurred to Shepard. The captain didn't seem to be the sort who would negotiate, but if Shepard could get a hold of those weapons she knew she could put them to good use against the Collectors and the Reapers. "Come on. Let's go." Tali, Garrus, and Liara stood and the four of them walked through the automatic door.
Tuvok greeted them outside of the room, "Are you ready?" Shepard nodded, and Tuvok lead them through the corridor. Before entering the turbolift, Tuvok warned the group that it would be a tight fit. Garrus remarked, "I hope it's faster than the elevators that we're used to," and the doors opened. Sure enough, it was a tight fit. It looked like two or three could fit in the room comfortably, not four and a turian. Once the group was in the lift, Tuvok faced the door and said "deck one."
Shepard looked surprised, "The elevator is voice controlled?"
"Yes." Tuvok quipped.
"There's no manual interface?"
"There's no biometric scanner?"
Tuvok turned his head and lifted his eyebrow, "No."
Shepard and Liara glanced at each other. "Wow," they both thought, "I can't believe it was that easy."
Tom walked into meeting room on deck one. No one was there except B'elanna, who shot out of her seat and into Tom's arms as soon as he entered the room, "I'm so happy you are alright!"
"You know me, I always have to make it exciting."
B'elanna started to tease him, "I have to tell you, when I saw that woman in your uniform…"
"What? You thought..? Oh, B'elanna, you don't have to worry about that."
"Aww, thank you, dear"
"I'd be way too scared to cheat on you."
B'elanna's smile started to fade, "Scared?"
"Yeah! Walk around on a deamon-class planet? Easy. Juggle chainsaws naked on a Borg cube? No problem. Cheat on B'elanna Torres? No way I can handle that kind of pain."
"Well, fear isn't the emotion I was hoping for, but I'll take what I can get." The two kissed as Harry entered the room. Harry paused and, after their kiss, Tom looked at him, "Don't you knock?"
"This is a public space." Harry responded.
"Yeah, well, still."
"It's good to have you back, Harry." B'elanna said, "Do you know who is coming?"
"The three of us, the Captain, and I think Seven. And, I think there are four from the other ship."
"Eight people?" Tom asked, "That's going to be a pretty crowded. Is someone going to have to stand?"
"Why do you think I got hear early?" Harry said as he walked to a seat on the right side of the captain's seat.
"Good call" Tom said and sat next to him.
"Agreed." B'elanna sat in the last seat on that side, next to Tom.
Soon afterward, Tuvok entered the room followed by Shepard, Tali, Garrus, and Liara. Tuvok gestured to the three seats across from Harry, Tom, and B'elanna, "You may be seated until the captain arrives." Tali and Garrus sat down as Shepard took Liara to the side. "This may not be the best time, but I honestly don't know what's going to happen here. I wanted to say...I…"
"You don't need to say anything. A lot has happened to us in the past two years. It just means we'll have to spend all the more time together to catch up."
"You won't hear me complaining." Liara chuckled as Shepard noticed Seven Of Nine entering the room. Liara turned to see what was grabbing Shepard's attention. "Should I be worried?" Liara asked, half joking.
"What, her? No." Liara raised her brow, Shepard continued, "Not nearly blue enough." The two smiled.
As Seven found a place to stand by the far wall, Captain Janeway entered the room. Tom, Harry, and B'elanna immediately stood, followed closely by Garrus and Tali. Liara moved to last remaining seat. Janeway gestured her hand as she sat in her own seat at the head of the table and the crews sat down, Shepard standing at the foot of the table.
"Before we begin," Janeway started, "I think we should know who we're talking to. I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager. On my right are: Ensign Kim, my operations officer; Lieutenant Paris, our pilot; Lieutenant Torres, chief engineer; and Seven of Nine, our astrometrics expert."
Shepard took her turn, "I am Commander Shepard, of the Normandy SR 2. This is Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, my technical officer; Garrus Vakarian, my tactical officer, and Liara T'Soni, my…" Shepard paused, no knowing what to call her. Garrus leaned over and whispered to Liara, "tentacle." Liara smirked.
Shepard continued, "…guest. Liara is my guest." After a bit of an awkward pause, Janeway picked the pace back up, "Harry, what do we know?"
Harry leaned forward, "Not much. Our folding-space drive was interrupted somehow. This pushed us off course and into a parallel dimension."
"A parallel dimension?" Garrus asked.
Tali answered, "Parallel universes are universes that are separated from each other by an event. Every time you make a decision, there is another universe where you made a different decision. These almost infinite universes form a sort of tree, with timelines continuously splitting from one another."
Harry continued, "Exactly. Though, we didn't only jump through dimensions, but time. After talking with Tali and Shepard, it seems we're in earth year 2185."
Janeway asked, "We've gone back two centuries? How is this possible? And why couldn't we have determined that?"
Seven of Nine answered, "We have the appropriate astrological data to determine the stardate. However, long range are still not functioning."
"It seems the laws of physics are a little different here." Harry said, "Our long range sensors are having a hard time compensating. It's a bit difficult to calibrate them without knowing what those differences are, exactly."
Tali interjected, "Garrus and I can help you with that."
The meeting went on for a little while longer, Liara, Seven and Harry discussed ways to fix the sensors, Tali and B'elanna discussed the folding-space drive, and Captain Janeway kept the group on task. Shepard listened intently as they spoke, but didn't speak herself. Without provocation, Garrus asked the question the both of them were wondering, "If you're from 200 years in the future, how'd you do it?" The room went silent.
"Do what?" Janeway asked.
"Beat the Reapers?"
"What's a Reaper?" Tom asked after a pause. Shepard took in a deep breath and raised her omni-tool. She soon projected a hologram of Sovereign above her arm and held it out for everyone to see.
"This is a Reaper." Shepard began, "It's a synthetic being. At least two kilometers long, with a single beam canon that yields somewhere between 200 to 400 kilotons per blast, along with an unknown number of secondary cannons, thick armor and advanced shielding."
"So a Reaper is a giant squid robot?" Tom asked.
"Hardly." Liara interjected, "They are incredibly powerful killing machines. 50,000 years ago they destroyed the Protheans, a culturally and technologically advanced empire that spanned the entire galaxy."
"These things supposedly killed everything in the galaxy?" Harry asked.
"Multiple times." Shepard continued, "They wait in dark space until they begin their purge. Every 50,000 years or so. And they're coming back."
Janeway was skeptical, "If this mass extinction did happen, how do you know that these, 'Reapers' are responsible?" She asked.
Shepard deactivated the hologram, "I spoke to one. It told me they did it, and that they planned to attack again. We were successful in preventing an all out invasion, but we lost a lot lives defeating just the one. They are coming, and we have to prepare. Which is, no offense intended, why I'm anxious to get you on your way so I can continue my mission."
"Agreed." Janeway said, "We've had a couple of different experiences with time travel and none of them pleasant."
"Okay," Shepard began to direct her troops, "Tali, you don't have any experience with this folding-space drive, I think you should work with Harry and Seven to get their sensors working and try to figure out how they got here and how to get back. Liara, use your contacts to acquire any information on folding space or parallel universes. Information is our friend here. Garrus, work with their engineers and see about upgrading our kinetic shielding and weapons…"
"Stop." Janeway said, "That's not going to happen. We do not give away weapons technology."
"We're helping you get home. That's hardly 'giving away."
"We have a law that prevents us from interfering in the affairs of other cultures. You may be from Earth, but as far as I am concerned you are a foreign culture."
"You were all the ready to 'interfere' with my mission when it meant helping you get home."
Janeway ignored the assertion, "I'm not about to give you advanced weapons technology. I will not negotiate on this."
"Did you miss the part about the synthetic god-beings killing everything in the galaxy?"
"How do I know you're telling the truth? How do I know you aren't going to use these weapons to get the upper hand in some galactic war, or to harm innocent people? Weapons are off the table."
Shepard locked her eyes on Janeway, "Tali, without intervention, how long will it take for you to get Normandy running again?"
Tali was a bit taken aback, "Uh, I didn't get a really good look between Mordin waking me up and coming here, but based on what I saw…two or three days at the most?"
"Three days, Captain." Shepard said to Janeway, "I've gotten a look at your ship. You can figure out how you got here. You may even figure out how to get home. All you have to do is recalibrate your sensors to work with our physics, find out how you got here in the first place, figure out why your brand new technology went on the fritz, repair it, and figure out how to get back without being detected by mercenaries, slavers, pirates, or Collectors. Of course, we'd be happy to help, but we want access to your weapons. By helping us, you can save trillions, trillions of lives. If you haven't changed your mind by the time we're all repaired, than you're on your own. Three days."
Janeway spoke slowly and intently, eyes locked onto Shepard, "Get off my ship."
"I can't wait." Shepard walked towards the door, followed by her crewmembers. Outside, Tuvok and a security team waited to escort them to the transporter room.
"Well, that went well." Tom quipped.
"We're not going to give them our weapons tech, are we?" Harry asked.
"No." Janeway responded, "We will not take their help if it means sacrificing our principles. B'elanna, get to work in engineering. I want to know how long repairs will take. Harry and Seven, work to calibrate the sensors and find out what caused the interference that brought us here. Scan for tachyons, they may help explain the time travel."
"Yes ma'am" Harry said.
"Would you like me to help them? I could probably help calibrate the sensors." Tom asked.
"No, Tom, I have a special assignment for you."
Shepard walked into engineering. It had been a day since the meeting on Voyager, and Shepard was still on edge. When the doors opened, Shepard saw that engineering was in disarray, large cables criss-crossed across the floor, holographic terminals were off, with their covers opened. Tali was lying down under her terminal, with Engineer Donnelly reaching into the terminal from above.
"Where's Daniels?" Shepard asked.
"Oh, hello, Shepard." Tali said, "She's probably sleeping. I told her to stop working about an hour ago; she's been working for twelve hours strait."
"If it weren't for her, this ship would have fallen apart a long time ago. You don't appreciate her enough, Shepard." Donnelly said.
Tali spoke under her breath, "You're one to talk."
Shepard took off her Cerberus officer's jacket, revealing the tank top underneath, "How can I help?"
"You're just in time!" Donnelly said, and walked behind the wall, into the room with the mass effect core.
"Come here," Tali said as she came out from the terminal and stood up. "This is really simple, You see these two conduits? I need you to hold them perfectly still."
"You know I've worked with this technology before, you don't need to patronize me like this…"
"No, it's not like that, Shepard. I will be doing very delicate work under the terminal, and Donnelly will be doing the same in there. If these conduits touch what I am working on, or this metal here, it will shock Donnelly. Your job takes a very steady hand."
"Oh. I see. Like this?" Shepard reached elbow deep into the terminal and held the tiny metal conduits as still as she could. Tali slid underneath the terminal and shouted to Donnelly, "Alright, Donnelly. I'm starting now!"
"Aye!" he responded.
After a minute or so, Shepard heard the doors to engineering open, but she didn't try to turn her head to see who came in. "Shepard…" Liara announced.
Shepard jumped. BZZT. "AHH!" Donnelly shouted. "Sorry!" Shepard called.
"Shepard, we need to talk." Liara said.
"Great," Shepard thought, "NOW she wants to talk." Then said out loud, "Now's not the best time, Liara. I'm kind of in the middle of something."
"We need to talk about Voyager." BZZT, "AHH!" Donnelly screamed.
"Shepard! Careful!" Tali said.
"Sorry. Liara, I really don't want to talk about Voyager, or anything right now."
"Why are we not helping them?"
Shepard paused for a moment, "You haven't said three words to me since we got back from that meeting…"
BZZT, "AHH! Goddamnit!"
"…And now, that you can pry yourself away from my console, the first thing you do…"
BZZT, "GAAH, Shepard! Please!"
"…The first thing you do is second guess me? On my own ship?..."
"…In front of my crew?"
Shepard didn't hear a scream, "Donnelly? You okay?"
"I'll take it from here, Commander." Engineer Daniels was standing beside the console, her eyes were a bit bloodshot.
"Kenneth called me. He said if I didn't come you were going to kill him. If I knew he was being serious, I wouldn't have come so fast."
Shepard let go of the conduits and stepped back from the console. She grabbed her jacket and walked out the door, "Lets talk in private, Liara."
Liara followed through the door. "Shepard, I didn't mean…"
"We're not in private yet." Shepard said. Jack called from under the catwalk, "I really couldn't care less about what you are talking about, unless you're going to fuck. Then get out. I don't need any more nightmares."
The two walked through the next set of doors, to the corridor by the elevator. Shepard gazed through the window.
"Shepard," Liara started, "I didn't mean to contradict your authority. That was wrong of me."
"No, Liara, don't worry about…" Shepard turned toward Liara. She was wearing Shepard's casual uniform. It caused Shepard to pause; she wasn't used to seeing Liara in short sleeves. "Been going through my drawers?"
"Yes. I'm sorry, I would have asked but you were gone. All I had was the dress, and it's not really suitable for extended periods of wear."
"Yes, I was only expecting to be here for a few hours, not a few days."
Shepard gave a faint smile, "It's fine. I'm just not used to seeing your forearms." Liara blushed and crossed her arms. Shepard took a deep breath and asked, "You want to talk about Voyager?"
"Yes, what happened there?"
"What do you mean?"
"You demanded they give us weapons technology! You gave orders to their crew!"
"That tech can save the galaxy, Liara! Now that we find that the data we gathered is not nearly as helpful as we thought it would be, how else do you suppose we get it? I guess we could shuttle Jack over and just let her have at it until they surrender. She tore apart a prison ship, I'm sure she could do something on Voyager. Advanced or not, my money's on Jack. Maybe Grunt too."
Liara stared at Shepard.
"I can tell."
"You can tell what?"
"This. It's not brashness. You're shaken. Something's wrong."
Shepard looked back out the window. "I assume you know about Project Overlord?"
"Yes. You rescued that man. Sent him to get help."
"I did. And I'm still not convinced it was the right thing to do. We were getting amazing intel from the project, intel that could save so many people. How much of a price is that? What is the pain and suffering of one person against the lives of millions? Billions?" She paused, "If that project continued, I might have been able to give Tali her planet back. In the end, I couldn't do it. I couldn't abide lives bought with torture.
"In the old days, on the SR 1, I wouldn't think twice. Save the man. Do it right. But then I died, and no one cared. No one cared but a violent, racist terrorist organization and the galaxy's biggest crime boss."
Liara caringly interjected, "I am not a crime boss."
"Now I'm back. I'm being used by Cerberus. You're threatening to flay people alive. Garrus is a gang-hunting vigilante. Tali's father was a traitor and almost brought down the entire flotilla. The galaxy seems so much darker now. I'm in league with assassins, murders, terrorists, and mercenaries. My friends, you, Tali, and Garrus not withstanding, have abandoned me. More and more I'm feeling that I am on my own and, if I have to break some eggs to save everyone, then so be it." Shepard paused. She then said something she wouldn't dare admit to anyone but Liara, "I'm losing myself. I don't know what to do."
Liara waited through the silence to collect her thoughts. "Of all the languages and all the races of I am aware, only one race uses the same word for respect, kindness, and empathy as the name of their species."
"You are determined to save the galaxy. To save the asari, krogan, quarian, and humanity. You cannot, by definition, save humanity if you sacrifice your own."
"What if I can't do it?"
"You don't have to do it alone." Liara picked up Shepard's hand and put it on her cheek, "I will help you. I've always tried to give you what you needed. I'm not going to stop now."
Shepard walked to Liara and rested her head on Liara's shoulder. Liara held her in her arms, and the two rested there for what seemed like eternity.
Jack yelled through the door, "You gonna fuck or what?"
Janeway sat back in her ready-room chair reading a PADD when she heard the door chime, "Come."
Chakotay entered, followed by Tom, each holding his own tablet. "Is that B'elanna's report?" Chakotay asked.
Janeway nodded, "Five hours. We'll be ready for another jump five hours after Normandy is projected to leave."
"Is that a problem?"
"I was hoping to get out of here before they could go. We don't know where they're going, or who they're going to. What's to stop them from leaving and gathering reinforcements? Our short range sensors are having trouble getting specific information through their hull, and our long range sensors are better, but still not well enough." She groaned, "I don't like having this many unknowns."
"We know they want our weapons technology. Perhaps they're not as tough as they claim they are."
"I'd still rather avoid further conflict." Janeway let out a light groan, "It's a shame. There's so much we don't know about this place. How did they get all the way out here? Humans, on this side of the galaxy."
"It's unfortunate they weren't more cooperative."
"Yes. Unfortunate. Unexpected? Not with our luck."
"Funny you mention luck," Chakotay said as he turned to Tom, "Because, as luck would have it, Tom and I can answer some of those questions for you."
Janeway turned to Tom, "You did it?"
"Once we calibrated our communications array, we were able to access what this universe calls the "Extronet." A galaxy-wide communication and information network."
Chakotay interrupted, "Similar to the Internet of the 20th and 21st century."
"Once we were in, there was a lot of conflicting information to go through. I asked for Chakotay's help in getting through it."
"What did you learn?"
Chakotay looked at his PADD, "Commander Shepard, Alliance Navy. Had a pretty rough childhood and joined the military as soon as she was of age. Later she joined the Alliance's N7 program, the highest level of human special forces. She became a decorated combat veteran and something of a war hero. Two years ago, she became the first, and as of yet only, human to join the Spectres."
Tom chimed in, "Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. They are an independent galactic peacekeeping force. They are kind of like the Texas Rangers of the old west: highly skilled, tough, and don't have to go through due process. They only answer to the central governing council. A Spectre can literally get away with murder if it means completing their mission."
Chakotay resumed, "Shortly after becoming Spectre, Shepard led the human fleet at the Battle of the Citadel, where the seat of their galactic government, the Citadel, was attacked by a single advanced ship matching Shepard's description of a Reaper. It took an armada to take it down. During the battle, Shepard ordered the fleet to protect the ship containing the evacuating council, resulting in a large number of human casualties. After the battle, in part because of Shepard's actions, humans gained a seat on the council."
Janeway asked, "Was it actually a 'Reaper?"
Tom answered, "That's not exactly known. Most official reports say it was the creation of a synthetic race called the Geth, which had been attacking settlements in the days leading up to the attack. Most of the sources saying it was a Reaper seem to give a 'crazy conspiracy' vibe."
Chakotay interjected, "That's where it gets interesting."
"It's not interesting yet? Janeway asked.
"She's dead." Said Tom.
"Two years ago, shortly after the battle, the original Normandy was attacked and destroyed by an unknown assailant. Shepard was KIA. Actually witnessed suffocating in space by her crew from escape pods."
"So, if Shepard is dead, who are we dealing with? An imposter? A clone?"
Chakotay responded, "We don't know. Official reports deny the existence of Shepard. The conspiracy sites have a number of different theories, a clone, a long lost twin sister, the story of Shepard's death was made up by the council. One site, a 'fan site' run by a Conrad Verner, claims that she did actually die and was brought back from the dead two years later."
Tom picked up, "Regardless of what she is, she looks like Shepard and fits the profile, more or less. Before her death she was described as a war hero and a paragon."
"That doesn't sound like who we met."
Chakotay, believing they were dealing with the real Shepard, offered an explanation, "It could be that she is growing more desperate. Her singular focus as a Spectre was stopping this Reaper invasion, imagined or not. She seems to be continuing that mission, but without the support of humanity or the council."
Tom offered one more warning, "There's one more thing you should know." He handed her the PADD in his hands. She glanced over it, and shot a worried look at Tom, "Are you sure?"
"Of everything we found, that's the one thing that is certain."
Janeway's comm badge chimed, "Tuvok to Captain Janeway."
"We are being hailed by the Normandy, audio only. Commander Shepard wishes to meet with you."
Janeway looked up at Tom and Chakotay, "I'll take it in here."
Shepard, escorted by the increasingly familiar Tuvok, walked into Captain Janeway's readyroom. She looked around the room specifically designed for the captain to work and meet with people. It was larger than Shepard's living quarters. As she looked around she saw Chakotay standing in the quarter. That was the one Thane knocked out. According to Thane, he seemed like a peaceful man. Even in this unfamiliar, and somewhat hostile territory, Chakotay made her feel comfortable.
Tuvok shot a look at Janeway. Shepard is unarmed, but he still didn't trust her. Janeway nodded at Tuvok and he left the room.
"I have to say, I was surprised to hear from you. Especially after how our last meeting ended." She told the Commander as she got up from her desk and walked to her replicator, "Coffee. Black." A black cup of coffee materialized inside the replicator. "Can I get you something?" She asked Shepard who shook her head and held up her hand.
Janeway was posturing, and Shepard knew it. There was something about Janeway that rubbed Shepard the wrong way, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Maybe it was her voice? She didn't sound like a starship captain. She sounded like she should be living in the woods somewhere, practicing witchcraft and stealing children. Shepard enjoyed that mental image.
The last time the two women met they vied to be seen as the one in charge. This time, Shepard wasn't trying to come out on top; it was an unfamiliar feeling, and Shepard hated it. She rarely found herself in this position, and she never quite got the hang of it. 'Dang it, Liara' she thought, 'Why do you always have to be right?'
"I was wrong." She said out loud. Ugh. "I'm here to offer you any help that I can."
Janeway was expecting more resistance. She sat down and shot a look at Chakotay, who shrugged. She turned her gaze back to Shepard, "You are getting no technology from me. Weapons or otherwise."
"I know. Like I said, I am here to help. I don't need anything."
Janeway was a bit taken aback. She knew Shepard was coming to renegotiate, and the hail indicated that she was more willing to cooperate, but Janeway did expect some sort of resistance. "I certainly didn't expect to hear that. You were pretty adamant about getting your hands on our weapons last time we spoke. Why the change of heart?"
"Helping people is what I do;" she paused, "I just had to be reminded."
"I'm happy to hear you say that, considering..." Janeway handed Shepard a PADD. The screen displayed the one thing that Shepard seemed unable to escape. A Cerberus symbol.
"You're a terrorist." Janeway started. She stood up and walked around her desk toward Shepard. "I should, by all accounts, disable your ship and alert the authorities." She said. Shepard bit her tongue. Otherwise, she would be spouting out something insulting. Janeway continued, "Unfortunately, we're a bit out of our element at the moment. I can't deny that we need help, but, if we can help it, we won't take it from members of a militant xenophobic terrorist group."
"I'm not a member of Cerberus. Not really."
"What does that mean?"
"I…was out of commission. Cerberus brought me back for a specific purpose. Entire populations of human colonies are being abducted by the Reapers. The council, the Alliance, no one was doing anything about it. Cerberus were the only ones fight back. They're working for me. I'm not working for them."
"For some reason, the violent galactic terrorist organization working for you is not any more comforting than you working for them."
Shepard took a deep breath, "They're a means to an end. Nothing more."
"And what about after the end? After you've found and stopped these Reapers, where will you go then?"
Shepard paused. She hadn't ever afforded herself time to think about the future, "Many of my crew are with me and for me, and are not members of Cerberus. If it would make you more comfortable, I can ensure that no members of Cerberus board your ship."
"Including me. It looks like your sensors are still giving you fits. They're probably having trouble navigating ambient energies from eezo reactions. I will send Tali. When it comes to the technical, I've never found better than Tali. She could make a pinecone space-worthy."
"I'll have her work with Seven and Ensign Kim. Hopefully we'll be able to get back to our timeline without much delay."
"I'll brief Tali. She will be over soon."
"Very good." Janeway nodded to signal Shepard to leave and walked back to her desk.
"Though, I do have a request." Janeway sat and looked back to Shepard, "It doesn't involve weapon systems or tech."
"Let me see it." Shepard punched a couple of keys on her omni tool to send the request to Janeway's monitor. Janeway perused the request, "I think we can do this."
"I should go. Thank you." Shepard turned to walk out of the office, met a non-Tuvok security officer on the other side of the door, and walked to the lift.
Seven worked at the display console of the astrometrics lab while Harry and Tali worked at the back of the room. "I can't get over it." She said.
"What?" Harry asked.
Harry paused, "I don't hear anything."
"Exactly! I thought the Normandy was quiet. Voyager's practically silent! How do you sleep?"
"Um…well? Do your people not like quiet when they sleep?"
"Yes, to an extent. On the flotilla, if the ship was quiet it means that something was seriously wrong. You could feel how the ships were doing by its clanks and thumps."
"You grew up on ships, didn't you?"
"Almost all quarians live on the flotilla. I had never left before my pilgrimage two years ago. I am just now getting used to Normandy's hum. If I had to live on Voyager I'd probably lose my mind."
"You know, the computer could probably replicate the sound of a flotilla ship. Or you could use the holodeck."
"What's a holodeck?"
Seven interrupted, "The sensors are now properly calibrated to work in this universe. We are able to use the long range sensors now."
"Alright, lets take a look." Harry said, the three turned to the large holographic display where a map of the surrounding area appeared. "Where do we start?"
"If we're looking for tachyons, we could narrow down our search if we compare sensor data on this universe with recorded sensor data from your universe. " Tali said.
"We could improve the results if we can combine navigational information from the two ships." Seven interjected.
"Good point." Tali brought her fingers to her ear, "Joker, can you transfer Normandy's star charts to Voyager's astrometrics lab?"
"Technical, sciencey reasons."
"Gotcha. Sending it now." The map expanded to include all of the relays and surrounding systems.
Seven began to type on her terminal, "I am now overlaying Voyager's sensor data." Another layer of galactic map appeared on the display, creating a snake of star systems tracing Voyager's journey through the Delta Quadrant.
"Alright," Tali began, "Now we have to go through the systems one-by-one to try and find…"
"Computer," Harry interrupted, "identify discrepancies between the Normandy's data and Voyager's." The map transformed from a dense overlay to a collection of small freckles.
"Oh, that's not fair." Tali said.
"That's still a lot." Harry observed, "Computer, eliminate discrepancies where an object is missing." The collection of freckles narrowed down to two. "What are those?"
Seven looked at her terminal, "This one is a star that Voyager passed years ago appears to be millions of years older here than when Voyager observed it."
"That's Dholen. I was studying that star before re-joining with Shepard. I knew there was something unnatural going on there."
"The second is this nearby planet. That seems to be suspended in time and space."
"Suspended?" Harry asked and looked at the terminal. "Looks like it. The planet should be over here with this system, but it's just…not moving. I'll scan for tachyon particles around the planet." As he did this, the holographic display grew a blue stream, flowing from the planet to a nearby mass relay. "Woah."
"It looks like the relay is pulling in the tachyon stream. I've never read anything about this? Why hasn't this caused problems before?"
"The coaxial drive is designed to propel Voyager through dimensions, time and space." Seven said, "These mass relays create a tunnel through space-time, but they don't transverse dimension. It could be that the relay being this close to the tachyon field caused an inter-dimensional tripwire, causing ships that are traveling inter-dimensionally to fall into this dimension."
"Than perhaps we can find a way to use the relay to push you back to your dimension?"
"Sounds like we're on the right track." Harry said. "Now, all we have to do is find a way to make that happen."
"Before I forget, can I get your data on Dholen? I think it would be extremely helpful in my own study?" Tali asked.
Harry's face turned, "I…uh…The captain ordered us not to share any technology. I don't know if she'd be okay with sharing data."
"Oh. I forgot about your bosh'tet captain."
"What does that mean? 'bosh det'?"
"Honorable." Tali quipped sarcastically.
Harry could hear Tali's frustration, "I know your meeting with her didn't go well, but you can't blame her for being strict here."
"Can't I? We are in a desperate situation. We stand on the brink of destruction and here you sit, with the tools to ensure our survival, and you refuse to help. And why? To obey some policy? Can you look me in the eye and say you've never broken this policy before?" Harry was silent. "Right. We don't seem real do we? We're in an alternate dimension. Once you leave it will seem like we don't exist any more. Am I right?"
Harry felt a bit guilty, everything Tali said was true. Harry had read about alternate dimensions before, and they always seemed unreal. Now he is in one, and it felt temporary. Like a dream. "If the Dholen research would help you, I would be willing to talk to the captain about it. But it doesn't seem like it would help with…"
"People died getting that data. My friends were killed researching this star, and I don't think they were killed for investigating an innocent scientific curiosity. I think we were attacked because the data could save my people. I think we could finally go home."
The room fell silent. Harry wanted to help, but doing so would be directly defying the captain's orders. Tali didn't say it, but she knew that she was defying Shepard's orders by asking for the data. 'We will be getting nothing in return,' Shepard instructed Tali before she came to Voyager, 'so don't ask.' Seven didn't know what to say, as she was still assessing the situation.
"Well," Tali started again, "I guess…let's figure out how to get you home."
The hologram of Tali hovered over the table of the Normandy comm room. She spoke facing Shepard. Around the table stood the rest of Shepard's combat squad. "So, that's the plan." Tali said. "Adapting Voyager's engines to work with the mass relays wouldn't really work. It would take too much time and be unusable once they arrived in their own universe. Instead, we'll adapt the Delta Flyer and have Voyager ride in its wake through the relay. Once they're in, the coaxial drive should trigger a temporal event which will propel them to their dimension."
"Alright, Tali," Shepard began, "Who do you need?"
"Garrus could be useful in some of the fine tuning on the Flyer, if you don't need him there?"
"Garrus?" Garrus asked. He stood forward from leaning on the wall. He's the tallest on the crew, so whenever there's a group meeting he usually stands at the back so everyone can see around him.
"I'm the only non-Cerberus engineer on board. You know a bit about mass relay drives, and are very good at fine tuning computing systems. I could really use your help here." Tali said.
"So, Garrus, Can we spare you?" Shepard asked.
"Well, we just updated to the Thanix cannon, and I'm not quite done calibrating the new targeting system. Though, there's not much point in having an operational forward battery with a fully stocked Voyager here. I can do it."
Tali continued, "I also need someone to teach the Voyager helmsmen how to fly in through the relay."
Shepard leaned her head up and looked at the ceiling, "Joker, that's where you come in."
Joker spoke over the com, "Uh, I don't do away missions? I can barely walk to the can, remember?"
"This isn't a combat mission, Joker. Catching wake through a relay is pretty tricky. I need my best to teach their best."
"Who's going to look after the Normandy?"
EDI chimed in, "I am able to monitor Normandy's systems in your absence."
Joker looked at the ball of light on his right, "Yeah, but you can't fly it. Not unless I disable the AI shackles."
"I wouldn't ask you to do that, Jeff."
"And I'd order you not to." Shepard sternly interrupted, "Joker, we have a shuttle pilot. He can sit at the helm until you get back."
"And didn't they say 'no Cerberus members allowed?"
"You're more 'Cerberus-adjacent' and you know it. Stop making excuses, Joker."
"You can do this, Jeff." EDI reassured him.
"Alright. But if you adjust my seat you're dead."
"Very manly, Joker." Shepard joked.
"Alright, for the rest of you, Joker aside there is to be no Cerberus personnel on Voyager. Miranda tells me that she and Jacob have business with the Illusive man that requires them going off ship. Zaeed, you'll stay on the Normandy and take over Jacob's post in the armory. Grunt and Jack, you're staying here too. I've screwed this up more than enough, I don't want either of you causing an incident."
"Aw, come on, Shepard! I want to see the look on their faces when they see a real krogan for the first time!" Grunt complained.
"Actually, I can't blame you there, Shep." Jack quipped, disinterested in the whole situation.
Shepard continued, "Samara, I don't know if this will ever happen, but if Janeway ever loosens up and wants to do some sort of cultural exchange you'll be on deck. Until then stay here and help with any repairs that you can. Kasumi. Don't…do anything."
"You can trust me." Kasumi said. Shepard didn't trust her.
"Shouldn't Mordin and Liara be here? I am sure they can help with Voyager's retrofitting." Garrus asked.
"Mordin's already working on something for me, and Liara's using the terminal in my cabin to devote resources to keep any interested parties away from the area. With luck, Voyager will be out of here before anyone can notice that she's here."
"If you ask me, this is a waste of goddamn time." Zaeed interrupted.
"Well, I didn't ask."
"Zaeed's right," Jack said, "Why are we here? We have more important things to do. And, hey, if they can't get back than they'll have to fight the Collectors eventually, then we won't need their permission to use their shit."
"We're staying because helping people is what we do, it doesn't matter who they are. You're all here for different reasons, but none of you are being forced to be here. If you have a problem with that, if saving lives is too much of a waste of time, you know where the door is."
Everyone was silent.
"Cerberus brought me back because they knew I would give everything I have to stop the Collectors and the Reapers. I want you all here because I know that each and every one of you can help me do that, but if you do want to help, know that we do it my way. And my way will always include saving bystanders." She looked at Zaeed who grunted and crossed his arms, "Always. You have your assignments. Dismissed."
The members of the squad silently glanced at each other before filing out of the room until only Shepard and Thane remained.
"You did not give me an assignment." Thane observed.
"You're right. I have something specific for you, and I didn't want to say in front of everyone else. Head to Voyager with Garrus and Joker. Once you arrive, you'll taken to a specific location on the ship and given further instructions when you arrive."
"Why the secrecy?"
"Lets just say that, if you knew what was in store for you, you might not go, but it must be done."
"I don't envy you."
Chapter 3: Act III
“Stealth systems are active. Neither the Normandy nor the Voyager know I am here. I am currently monitoring their communications. Yes. Yes, I know! Stop worrying; that won’t happen. They won’t find me. This isn’t my first mission.
Yes. It seems they’ve come to an agreement. Yes. Shepard is helping the strangers. She just rolled over. Pathetic.
Yes. There is one. It seems promising. She’s just what you are looking for. I will continue to monitor. We wait. The opportunity will present itself. It always does.”
Garrus, Joker and Thane materialized in the Voyager’s transporter room. “Nope,” Joker said, “Never going to get used to that.” Tali stood in the room, surrounded by Starfleet personnel.
"Garrus,” She said, “This is B’elanna Torres. She is Voyager’s chief engineer. You’ll be working with her on the Delta Flyer.”
"Yes, I remember you from the meeting,” Garrus said, holding a crate of mass effect drive components, “How have you been?”
"Busy,” she answered. B’elanna was a bit annoyed at Garrus’ small talk. She remembered Garrus from the meeting, and didn’t know if she could trust him yet. “You ready to start?”
"Lead the way.” The two of them left the room.
"Thane,” Tali started, “This is Commander Chakotay. You need to follow him.” Thane knodded and walked toward Chakotay.
"We’ve met.” Chakotay said.
"Indeed we have. I apologize for our last encounter.”
"No apology necessary. It is good to meet you in the light.” Chakotay held out his hand. Thane shook it.
"Indeed.” The two left the room.
"And you must be Mr. Moreau.” Tom said, “Tom Paris, I’m Voyager’s pilot.” Tom held out his hand.
"No offense, but I don’t do handshakes.” Joker said as he limped off the transporter platform, “Okay, where to? You have a simulator or something?”
"Something,” Tom answered, “Harry?”
"I’ll be with you soon. I’m going to show Tali to the shuttle bay, and then I’ll head straight there.”
"Alright. Don’t take too long.” Tom said as they walked out.
"So. How’s the food here?” Joker asked.
"Is that, like, a rule of the universe? All ships need to have terrible food?”
Harry grabbed a PADD from the transporter terminal and he and Tali left the room. They walked slowly through the hallway under a cloud of awkward silence. Tali had gotten little sleep since arriving on Voyager and was starting to drag, and Harry didn’t want to make her feel rushed.
They hadn’t really connected since their argument in the astrometrics lab. Harry thought it was funny that their last pleasant conversation was about how uncomfortable Tali was with silence, and now silence was making Harry feel uncomfortable. He thought about making a joke about it, but then reconsidered. It seemed to him that usually when he tries to make a joke he fails.
What is he supposed to say? He could apologize, but he knew he was right. At least he felt he was. He was following orders, and as a member of a military ship she should understand that. Is the Normandy a military ship? Harry still didn’t understand how that worked. Even if he knew what to say, it had been too long. He couldn’t say anything now, could he? How can he break the silence?
Before Harry knew it, He and Tali arrived at the shuttle bay. “Well, here we are,” He finally uttered, “Now, I better join up with Tom and Mr. Moreau.”
“Thank you.” Tali said as she turned to enter the opening shuttle bay doors.
Harry nodded and turned to leave, tapped the PADD on his hand, and turned back to Tali, “Tali, wait…” she turned. Harry handed her the PADD, “This…is for you.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a portion of our sensor data on Dholen. I asked the Captain and she said it would be okay. She said to give it to you specifically, since you’ve helped us so much.”
Tali looked at the PADD, “This will be a tremendous help! Thank you!” Tali was ecstatic. She quickly scrolled through the information on the PADD, her excitement growing with each new dataset. She tenderly tucked the PADD into a pocket that Harry didn’t even know existed. “I’ll go through this and send what’s useful to the flotilla as soon as I can.” Tali looked back at Harry, and the two paused. “Really,” Tali said, “Thank you so much for this.”
“Uh, no problem.” Harry fumbled, “I just hope it will help.”
“I’m sure it will.” Tali and Harry paused again. More silence, but this silence was much less heavy. “I better get to helping Garrus and Lieutenant Torres.” She said.
“Yeah. Me too.” Harry said, “I mean, I better get to Tom. I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah…Later.” Tali turned into the shuttle bay where Garrus and B’elanna were already working. Harry watched her enter the shuttle bay as the large doors closed. ‘Okay,’ he thought, ‘that went pretty well. Right?’
Garrus and B’elanna arrived at the shuttle bay after a determined, brisk walk through the corridor. The doors opened and revealed the Delta Flyer. Garrus…didn’t know how to react. He’s long been able to quickly size up a ship by looking at it, especially turian and human ships. (Asari and salarians can still surprise him every now and then.) However, he had no idea how to react to Voyager. He wasn’t used to these clean, smooth lines and massively compact design from humans, and the Delta Flyer definitely fit into that description. So, instead of his usual impressed whistle or condescending quip, all Garrus could think to say was “So…’Delta Flyer?”
“Tom was the main designer, so he named it. It was built in the Delta Quadrant and it flies.”
“Kind of on the nose. Don’t you think? Why not name it ‘Space Thing.”
“You don’t know that wasn’t what we originally called it.” B’elanna said.
Garrus chuckled, “Where would you like me to put this?” He held up the crate.
“Back here,” B’elanna walked into the flyer and toward the back of the craft. Garrus followed. She opened a panel on the floor, “down here.” Garrus set the crate on the floor next to her, she pulled a part out of the box and got to work.
“Where would you like me?” Garrus asked.
“Oh, uh,” B’elanna “Behind that panel you should see some relays. We need to recalibrate them so the energy from the mass relay is funneled into the drive core.”
“You just said my favorite word.” Garrus opened the panel. He grabbed the tool Tali taught him to use over their video call, and got to work.
“Sure. We’ll go with that.” The two worked in silence for a moment. Until Garrus asked, “Tali says you’re half klingon?”
‘What?’ B’elanna asked, ‘who would ask that?’ She said out loud, “Um. Yeah.”
Garrus sensed her apprehension, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean anything by it. I’m…bad at conversation.”
“Yes. I am half klingon.”
“What are they like? Klingons?”
“They’re loud and tough. They love war and honor.” B’elanna said tersly.
“Sounds like krogans. Except the whole ‘honor’ part.”
“Tali told me about krogans. You have one on your ship right?”
“He picked the name. He was grown in a test tube, though. Supposed to be the ‘perfect krogan.”
“Is he? ‘the perfect krogan’?”
“Well, he doesn’t like turnians, so, I guess so.”
“So. turians.” B’elanna changed the conversation, “what are they like?”
“Very big on military and duty. Lots of rules and regulations.”
“I used to be. I’m fine with the rules until they get in the way of getting things done.”
“Couldn’t agree more.” B’elanna was down to her elbow in the hatch, “Could you hand me that?” She pointed to a part with her forehead. Garrus stepped toward her, handed her the part, and went back to the panel. “So. What else has Tali told you about us?” She asked.
“Nothing much. Most of our conversations were about how to use your tools.” Garrus smirked. “How about us? What all has she said about us?”
“She talks about your crew a lot. Especially you and Shepard.”
“Yeah, she has a lot of respect for Shepard. A real leader. Says she didn’t know what to think after she joined Cerberus, but being on her crew again felt right.”
“Said you were brave and have a good heart, even if you tend to do stupid things from time to time.”
“What happened to your face.”
“I got hit with a rocket.” B’elanna smirked. Garrus chuckled too, “Man, she’s taking a while getting here.”
“She needs some sleep. She’s been going pretty nonstop since she got here.”
“That’s Tali. She doesn’t have an ‘off’ switch when something needs to get done.” The doors to the shuttle bay opened, revealing Tali and Harry facing each other. Garrus perked up. Be’lanna caught his body shift. She stood up and walked up behind him, looking out the window of the Flyer toward Tali and Harry, “You like her, don’t you?”
“What? I…respect her. That’s all.”
“Sure. Take it from me, if you are attracted to someone, in our line of work, it doesn’t pay off to wait forever. Especially you, Mister Archangel.”
Garrus looked at B’elanna, “Yeah, I know. If you have feelings for her you need to tell her. Be honest with her,” she nodded toward Harry and Tali, they were leaning in as if to hug, “before someone else is.”
“Is Harry really the type to fall for an alien he just met?”
B’elanna rolled her eyes. Tali walked into the shuttle bay.
“I never pictured Harry as a threat.” Harry started walking away, but stumbled as the shuttle bay doors closed.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘threat’ per say. Listen, it took Tom and me a long time before we just decided to be happy. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Be happy. Oh, and watch a vid called Fleet and Flotilla if you haven’t. Trust me.”
They went back to their stations as Tali walked into the Flyer. “Okay,” she started, “Where are we?”
B’elanna spoke, “Garrus has been rerouting energy relays. I’ve almost finished connecting the modified mass effect core.”
Tali held her head, “Okay. I’ll start modifying the ventilation system to…work with…”
“TALI!” Garrus called out as Tali collapsed to the floor.
The Voyager bridge shook as sparks flew out of consoles and smoke poured in from behind technical panels.
“I’m drifting out!” Tom called from the conn, “Correcting, .172 by .532.” Another jostle, and another spark. On the screen played footage of a great blue passage, seemingly cut out of space by the Delta Flyer.
“Ber Ber” the computer alert chimed, “Warning, Warning, hull breaches on decks 3 through 10.”
“I can do this!” Tom yelled, “I can do this!!!”
The lights turned back on, the room stopped shaking, and the images on the screen froze. “No, you can’t.” Joker said from Chakotay’s seat as Tom took a deep breath and forced his body to relax. “But don’t feel too bad,” Joker said as he stood up and walked toward Tom, “Learning to fly through a mass relay is a bit like learning to skip a stone in a lake. Honestly, not too hard. Learning to fly in the wake of another ship flying through the mass relay is like learning to skip a stone on top of an already skipping stone. A bit more difficult.”
“I thought I had it.”
“You almost did. You’re doing alright, I only know one or two other pilots who I think could do this, and we’ve been flying through mass relays since we were crawling.”
The Turbolift opened and Harry stepped out, “What I miss?” He asked.
“Not much. We just died a couple dozen times.” Tom sarcastically responded.
“Don’t say that. It couldn’t have been more than five times, six tops.” Joker corrected him.
“Already? That was fast, you couldn’t have been here longer than a couple of minutes.”
“The first couple went really fast.” Joker said.
“Well, I’m glad I’m finally here. I wouldn’t want for Tom to kill everyone without me.” Harry said as he approached them.
“Actually, I think it’s time we make Harry kill us horribly, don’t you think?” Joker asked Tom.
“I agree. Computer, begin program Paris, Vas Normandy 2.” The surrounding bridge quickly dissolved away and transformed into the interior of the Delta Flyer, already in space with the mass relay in view outside the window.
“Anyone mind if I fly this around a bit? Get the hang of it?” Joker asked as he gingerly walked to the pilot’s seat. The other two men shook their heads and sat in two of the technical stations. The Delta Flyer started to move under Joker’s guidance. He had never flown anything with manual controls, and he felt he had to get used to the controls of the ship before trying to teach Harry how to enter a Mass Relay. He wasn’t sure how he’d like it, and he thought it was an odd choice. But as he flew he grew to enjoy the feeling of connectivity with the ship. He was sure he would change his mind the first time he broke a finger or metacarpal. “I’m never going to get over this…room…what is it called again?”
“Holodeck.” Tom responded.
“Right, holodeck. Can this thing make anything you want? Can it make people?” He looked back.
“How does anything get done on this ship ever? Like, how are you not in here constantly surrounded by naked women?” Joker asked.
“They’re only holograms.” Harry said “Programs. It’s not the same as being with a real person.”
“Is the Doctor not a real person?” Joker asked.
“The Doctor is different. He was designed to be a multifaceted person, and he’s gaining his experience. He’s living. The holograms in here, they’re programmed by us. It’s not the same.”
“You’re one to talk.” Tom interjected. “Didn’t you have a crush on a hologram not to long ago?”
“Don’t feel too bad,” Joker said as he barrel rolled in the Flyer, “I think it’s adorable.”
“Speaking of ‘the hologram,’ who’s it going to be this time, Harry?”
“Who’s what going to be?” Joker asked as Harry rolled his eyes.
“Harry has a habit of falling for ‘the wrong girl.’ Lets see, ‘the wrong twin,’ ‘the xenophobic alien,’ ‘the hologram,’ ‘the Borg drone’…”
“Seven of Nine?” Joker asked. Harry meekly nodded. “Eh, I can’t blame you for that.”
“So, who’s it going to be? The psychotic convict with the blue-psychic-space magic? The girl who can’t take off her enviro-suit? The red headed ship’s commander with a temper?”
Joker laughed, “If you’re looking for ‘the wrong woman,’ than Shepard’s definitely it.”
“What do you mean?” Harry asked.
“Let’s just say you’re not her type.”
“Oh? What is her type?” Tom asked out of curiosity.
Joker looked at Harry, “Hmm…A little taller, a little less penis.”
“Oh, so that WAS a date I walked in on?”
“Yeah. And thank you for that, by the way. She’s been kind of cranky ever since.”
“Well, it’s not going to be anyone,” Harry said, paused, and then added, “I just want to get through the relay and get home.”
“Oh. Now it’s definitely going to happen,” Tom said, “How about you, Joker, you breaking any hearts?”
“You kidding? The first time I masturbated my arm snapped. And don’t even get me started on when I lost my virginity. No. I’m a pilot first and foremost, and the Normandy is the best ship of any fleet.” The Delta Flyer slowed to a stop. “Just give me some open space, some relays, and EDI and I’m happy.”
“You mean ‘Normandy’?” said one of the Voyager men.
“You said ‘give me open space, relays, and EDI.’ You mean the Normandy, right?”
“Yeah. Right.” Joker paused. He actually missed EDI. He had a couple of conversations with her, since they were both stuck in the cockpit. She was gaining a sense of humor, and has become less of a pain to talk to. But…he missed her?
“Alright,” He snapped out of it, “Harry, you ready?”
“Sure.” Harry and Joker switched seats.
“Holodeck. Man. If it only you had a machine that made beer we’d be set.”
Chakotay and Thane stood in the turbolift as it raced through the ship. Chakotay was the first to break the comfortable silence, “You’ve got quite an arm.”
“Hmm?” Thane wondered as he left the turbolift.
Chakotay pointed to his shoulder, “My arm’s been tingling since we first met.”
“My apologies, Commander.”
“Not necessary. We were boarding your ship, and most of your crew had become incapacitated. I understand your taking precautions.”
“Thank you. You are a decent man, Commander Chakotay. I am glad we came to an agreement.”
“Me too. Trust me.” Chakotay said as they arrived at a large door. He looked at Thane, “Here we are. Good luck.” Chakotay smirked, nodded, and gestured to the door. As Thane approached it the door opened, and Thane heard…
OH THE TORTURE THEY TEACH!”
“WHAT’S AS INTRIGUING-“
“OR HALF SO FATIGUING-“
“AS WHAT’S OUT OF REACH!”
Mordin and the Doctor vigorously sang as they worked on various equipment in the sick bay. They walked from console to console, working gestures and performance into their movements. They sang back and forth for a while before they noticed that Thane, until finally Mordin, who was moving back across the sick bay, noticed the confused drell, “YOU KNOW NOTHING OF MADDNESS / TILL YOU’RE CLIMBING HER…Oh, hello, Thane. Have a seat.” Mordin came to Thane, put his hand on Thane’s back, and lead him to the bed at the back of the room on its own platform.
“I don’t understand,” Thane began, “I was told I had a special assignment.”
“Well, in a way you do.” Said the Doctor, “Your assignment is to get better.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Your Kepral syndrome.” Mordin said, “Looking for a cure. It’s why you are here.”
“Yes.” Mordin leaned and whispered to Thane as he guided him to the large bed in the raised area at the back of the room, “This, Shepard’s only condition for helping Voyager.”
“You’re just in time” the Doctor interjected, “We need a blood sample.” Because his sleeve was attached to his glove, Thane started to take off his shirt. “No, that isn’t necessary.” The Doctor pressed a small metal device against Thane’s still clothed arm. Thane felt a short small pinch and the Doctor picked the device back up and removed a small vial, filled with Thane’s blood. He handed the blood sample to Mordin who, in turn, placed the vial into a larger device on a cart.
“Thank you,” Thane said as he started to stand up.
“Oh no.” The Doctor said, putting his hand on Thane’s chest, “I need you to lie back.” Thane laid down on the bed and a large metal sleeve closed around him. The Doctor stood on the left side of his head, and Mordin stood on his right.
“Thane,” Mordin started, “We need to take some scans. See if there’s anything more we can do. You need to be asleep for the scans.”
Thane nodded. “Doctor?” Mordin prompted. The doctor pressed another small cylindrical device against Thane’s neck and pressed a button on the top. With this, Thane began to become drowsy. The room blurred, and he fell asleep as Mordin and the Doctor began to hum their duet.
As Thane slept the Doctor and Mordin scanned his body and ran tests on his blood, singing as they worked. After they finished Into The Woods and a few numbers from Les Miserables, Garrus and B’elanna burst through the door, with Garrus carrying Tali.
“Mordin! There’s something wrong with Tali; she just collapsed!” Garrus called and carried her to the nearest bed.
The Doctor and Mordin sprang into action away from Thane and toward Tali as Garrus and B’elanna stepped back and watched.
The Doctor scanned Tali with his medical tricorder, “I’m getting some interference from her suit. It looks like some sort of contaminant got into her suit. She’s running a pretty high fever. Probably a bacterial infection.”
“It looks like she’s had this infection for a while. Why didn’t she come in?”
“Will she be okay?” Garrus came forward.
“Step back, Garrus.” Mordin said, “We’ll do everything we can. Trust us.”
Mordin and the Doctor scanned Tali and ran around the sick bay grabbing supplies; B’elanna did her best to stay out of the way, but Garrus’s gaze was fixed on Tali.
* * *
Tali awoke in the sick bay. She groaned as she looked around the room. Mordin and the Doctor were occupied in an office across from her bed. The room she was in was empty except for Harry, who had somehow fallen asleep while sitting on a stool and leaning against another bed. She had a headache and her limbs felt weak.
“Harry,” she whispered. He didn’t stir. “Harry!” she whispered again, this time trying to shake him with her hand. Harry snapped awake and almost fell out of his stool. “Where are we?” Tali asked.
“Oh…uh…” Harry was still a bit groggy, “This is in the Voyager sick bay. You passed out.”
“You were sick, Tali. Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“Quarians get sick. Humans get sick. Everyone gets sick.”
“Yeah, but Tali…”
“It doesn’t mean I can’t get my job done.”
“It wasn’t just that you were sick. You were exhausted. You’ve been going almost nonstop for days.”
“Things need to get done. I need to…” Tali started to sit up.
The Doctor appeared above her, gently rested his hand on Tali’s shoulder, and guided her down, “You need to rest. B’elanna, Garrus and Harry have been taking care of everything.”
“But I need to help! There’s still so much to do!”
“You can help by getting better.” Harry said, “We’ll keep working from your notes. As soon as you’re recovered you can come back and tell us how we got everything wrong.”
“Fine…Thank you, Harry.” The Doctor went back to his office where Mordin hummed under his breath, with his eyes was fixated on the screen.
“Though, I’m not due for duty for a while. I could stay and keep you company.” Tali looked back at the Doctor, who had arrived at his office and wasted no time in starting a duet with Mordin.
“You've talked a lot about your crewmates on the Normandy, about Shepard, Garrus, and everyone else, but you haven't talked much about quarians. The Federation’s never been out that far. What are they like?” Harry nervously asked, not sure how to start the conversation.
Shepard stood in the empty port observation deck, looking out the window at the seemingly endless sea of stars. She couldn’t see them from the skylight in her cabin, as Voyager was floating above her. She never realized how much those stars helped her sleep. Perhaps coming down here, being face to face with those starts, would help her find peace. Perhaps it would help her stop replaying the conversation from tonight in her head, “Yeah, I could have handled that better.”
What time did she come down here? What time is it now? It didn’t matter. Right now it was just Shepard and the stars. It would be so easy to just get lost out here. Shepard found comfort in the silence.
The doors to the deck opened. “Heya, Shep,” Joker exclaimed, carrying a yellow box. He walked to the bar, “What are you doing up? And what are you doing here?”
“Couldn’t sleep. And, uh, couldn’t sleep.” Shepard said without looking away from the window.
“Good question. I think she may be talking to Zaeed?”
“But she’s not here?”
“Good. I don’t want her getting a hold of this!” Joker set the box on the floor behind the bar and opened it. He started emptying its contents, twelve brown bottles, into the small fridge behind the bar, hiding it at the back. “Shepard, did you know they have a machine that makes beer?”
Shepard glanced confusingly back at Joker, who was just now standing up behind the bar.
“It makes other stuff too. Like…everything, food, supplies, that sort of thing, but we used it for beer,” He held up a bottle, “want one?”
Joker popped off the bottle caps of two bottles, walked to Shepard, handed her one, and sat on the bench facing her. Shepard didn’t sit. She looked at the beer; it was a brown bottle with yellow labels. She didn’t recognize it.
“What is it?” Shepard asked.
“I couldn’t believe they have this! Back on Tiptree, we didn’t have any breweries. Any beer we had was either micro brewed at home or someone had shipped from somewhere else. There was this one woman from Texas: total homer, like everyone from Texas. This was a beer that was brewed in her hometown, had been for hundreds of years. She always had tons of it shipped to her at every opportunity. We drank it out of convenience at first, because she always had a ton, but we eventually learned to love it.” Shepard took a swig. It wasn’t as hoppy as the Canadian beers she normally drank, but it was refreshing. Relaxing.
“You talk to Kelly about your sleep troubles?”
“Well, for one I don’t trust her. I get the feeling that she’s not the only one I’m talking to when I talk to her.”
“You think she’s working for the Illusive Man?”
Shepard nodded, “Why else would she be here? Adorable yeoman who just happens to be a counselor?”
“You said ‘for one.’ Any other reason?”
Shepard swished her beer bottle in the air; Joker chuckled. “How is Tali doing?” Shepard asked.
“Pretty well, from what I understand. Though, I think she might be going a little stir crazy being stuck with the Doctor and Mordin. When I went to visit her Mordin was teaching the Doctor some salarian folksong.”
“Is everything still on schedule?”
“As far as I know. They’re still planning to launch the Flyer’s test flight tomorrow afternoon. Few odds and ends to wrap up, and time enough for Tali to get better.”
“Good. We’ve taken too long here. We need to get moving.” The two drank their beer in silence. Joker could see that Shepard was anxious, and maybe she was itching to get the mission going. But, he still had to ask:
“So, What’s the real reason you’re down here?”
Shepard turned her head to Joker, “What?”
“Couldn’t sleep? In the old days, if you had trouble sleeping you’d go talk to Liara. Ten minutes, boom, done. You’d sleep like a baby. She always had a sort of…calming effect on you. Now, she’s staying in your cabin, and you are here because you ‘can’t sleep?’ Really?”
Shepard looked out of the window, “You really shouldn’t talk to your CO that way.”
“We’re not Alliance anymore. I figure it’s okay.” Shepard winced. It always bothered her when someone pointed out that she wasn’t in the Alliance anymore. “Seriously? What’s so wrong that you can’t talk to Liara about it?”
Shepard walked to the bench across from Joker, “If something were so wrong that I couldn’t talk to Liara, what makes you think I’d talk to you about it?” She sat and looked at Joker, who held up his beer and swished the liquid. Shepard chuckled.
“It’s nothing. It’s me. It’s…I…I died. I died two years ago, and before I died everything was just…better.”
“Except for the Reapers and the killer geth and the fact that no one gave a shit about humanity.”
“Details.” Shepard sipped her beer, “But look at us. Look at who’s on our ship. We’re thugs, we’re working for terrorists, and we’re in the company of sociopaths, murderers, and assassins. It’s just so…It’s not what I was fighting for.”
“Bullshit.” Joker said. Shepard shot him a look. “You learned that giant robotic squids were going to wipe out all life in the galaxy, and have been forever, and you didn’t bat an eye. You personally drove a tank through a mass relay. There’s no way that you are this affected by your rip-van winkling.”
Shepard started to peel the label off the bottle, “Everything’s different.”
“Yeah, and you’re N7. Rolling with the punches is what you do. There’s more to it.”
Shepard paused. “Liara. I died and she was an archeologist along for the ride. She just wanted to help. She was so…”
“That’s not it. She was…pure? Optimistic. That’s it, optimistic. I could tell, she saw the best in people. Even after her mom, she looked on the bright side. I was always so pragmatic, Liara kept me looking up. Looking for the light. I loved her for it.”
“She still just wants to help. She wants to help desperately. She’s always working, putting agents in position, getting intel, twisting arms. And all of it for the galaxy’s benefit. For my benefit.”
“But…I don’t know…She’s doing so much, but,” she paused, “I don’t see the optimism. I don’t see the light. It’s like, instead of seeing the best in people, she sees the usefulness in people. So much of her is like it was before. She’s still loving. She’s still sweet and smart and beautiful. But, that small change, seeing the best in people to seeing the use in people…” she paused again, “It seems big.”
“We can’t get through a conversation without this coming up. Every time we talk, our conversation lands on Liara and information brokering. When Voyager first arrived, I, like an idiot, brought up her threatening someone. Now, every time we talk, we try so hard to avoid the subject that we both realize we’re thinking about it and we can’t talk about it without fighting, but we can’t think of anything else so we end up not talking about anything. The first day or so we argued about it, now there’s just this crushing silence.” She paused.
“Yeah.” Joker responded.
“She lived for years without you, without all of us. It makes sense that she’d change in that time. No one stays the same as we remember them.”
“I know. It’s nothing that she’s done. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just that…I fell asleep and I was in love with one person, and I wake up and it’s almost a totally different person.”
“Hmm.” Joker and Shepard sat in silence, drinking their beer. Neither was sure what to say. Getting this off her chest did not make Shepard feel better, but she enjoyed the company.
“Shep,” Joker began, “Do you still love her?”
Silence. Shepard wanted to say ‘yes, of course! You don’t even need to ask.’ But, for some reason she couldn’t quite pin down, the only thing Shepard could say was, “Who’s flying the ship?”
Joker smiled, stood up, and held his hand out to Shepard; she handed her empty bottle to him, complete with rolled up label inside. Joker disposed of them behind the bar, walked to the door and said, “Go get some sleep.”
Shepard looked back out the window, “Yeah. I think I may do that.”
Tali stood up next to her bed in Voyager’s sick bay. “There are no signs of your infection.” Mordin said, “The antibiotics are still in your system. May experience slight nausea. Only a week or so.”
“Am I cleared for launch?”
“Yes. Should have no problems.”
“Thank you, Mordin.”
“No thanks necessary.”
“Ensign Kim to Sick Bay” Harry said through the ship’s communication.
“This is Sick Bay, go ahead, Harry.” Said the Doctor.
“Has Tali left yet?” Tali looked up at The Doctor.
“No, she was just about to, though.”“Could you ask her to stop by holodeck 2 on her way to the shuttle bay? I need her help with something here.”
“Do we have time for this before the launch?” Tali asked,
“Yeah, it shouldn’t take long.”
“I’m on my way.” Tali nodded to the Doctor and Mordin and walked out of the sick bay. Once outside, she opened her map of Voyager she had downloaded onto her omni-tool, found holodeck 2, and walked to the turbolift. Out of instinct she looked for an interface, but remembered that the ship sensed when she arrived at the doors. Someone must be on the lift, because the doors did not open immediately when she arrived.
The doors opened to reveal Tom Paris. His face brightened, “Tali! Good to see you up and awake! How are you feeling?”
“I am fine, Tom. Thank you.”
“Heading my way?”
“Where are you going?”
“Shuttle bay. Just helping out with the last few tweaks before launch.”
“Eventually, but not just yet. Right now I’m heading to holodeck 2, Harry asked for my help.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. Don’t worry, he’ll get the hang of flying through the relay. Eventually.”
“And how are your flying lessons going?”
“Pretty well. I only blow up Voyager every tenth or eleventh time now.”
“Technically, the ship wouldn’t explode, it would just be torn apart across millions of light years.” The doors opened, “See you soon, Tom!” Tali walked into the corridor as the doors closed behind her. She looked back at her map and started down the hallway. She had the ship all but memorized, but taking a day off had eaten away at her memory. She was sure the fever didn’t help either.
She walked through the holodeck doors expecting to find the inside of the Delta Flyer. Having worked a couple hours in the holodeck she was no longer surprised by it’s capability, but she still found herself confused: This wasn’t the Delta Flyer. What was this?
Tali looked around her. She was surrounded by red canyon, lavender skies, and wispy white clouds. She walked away from the holodeck arch, which disappeared behind her. “Harry!” she called. She continued to look for him, walking through the rocky canyon. She heard the breeze brush past her suit and felt the dirt crunch under her. Where was this? Is this Earth? She’s never been on Earth, so it could be. But why was this running? What was the point?
Soon, as she walked around a large boulder protruding from the canyon, she saw Harry. He was standing in a pressurized space suit, complete with helmet and oxygen pack. “Harry!” she said, “What’s going on? What is this place?”
“I’m sorry if it’s off. I did my best using the records I could find on your Extranet. I still had to use a bit of guess work…”
“Harry, what is this?”
“Tali, welcome to Rannoch.” In a grand gesture, Harry held out his arm and pointed to a cliff behind him, which framed a view of a lush green valley and a running stream wedged between high canyon walls.
“What? Rannoch?” Tali walked by Harry toward the ledge in disbelief.
“It’s as close as I could get. I didn’t have a whole lot of information to go on.”
“It’s beautiful. This is amazing. Thank you.” Tali said as calmly as she could. She bent down and ran her fingers through the dirt, making a swirling pattern in the ground. She became lost in the dirt, listening to the sounds of it shuffling, knocking around tiny rocks. A whole valley before her and she couldn’t look away from a small pile of dirt. “But, Harry,” she said, looking back up at him, fingers still in the dirt, “Why are you in a suit?”
“Well, this is all holographic, so there are no contaminants here. The room has been completely sterilized, and in order to keep it that way I have to stay in the suit.” Tali stood and looked into his eyes. “The environment in here is the same as the environment in your suit. There’s no way to get sick here.”
Tali glanced to the valley and back to Harry, who smiled and nodded. Tali walked back to the ledge, unhinged her face mask, and brought it down to her side. She opened her arms, closed her eyes, and breathed deeply. “I smell it.” She said. “How is that possible? If the room is sterilized, how..?”
“Don’t worry about tech.” Harry said. “It’s safe.” Tali didn’t turn away from the ledge for what seemed to be an eternity. Her head would turn slightly from time to time, but never back to Harry. Harry began to worry. Had he gotten something wrong? Had he overstepped his bounds? He had given Tali her space, but now he felt he needed to say…something.
“Listen, I’m sorry if it…” Tali wiped her eyes and turned to face him. Her eyes glowed and her smile was wide. “It’s perfect. Thank you, Harry. I’ve always dreamed of standing on the home world. And, even though this is a facsimile, it’s still…” She turned back to the valley, “there are no words.” She put her facemask back on. “I will stand on the home world one day. The real one. I know it.”
She hugged a surprised Harry, “thank you.”
He hugged her back. She lingered.
“Computer,” Tali said, “end program.” Immediately, the beautiful, glowing sky, the jagged rocks, and the wonderful green valley disappeared, and was replaced with the plain grey room. They were no longer on the quarian home world. They were both billions of miles from home.
“Now, come on.” She broke away from Harry, “we have a shuttle to fly.”
Tuvok waited in the transporter room as the platform glowed. Shepard materialized, looked around the room and saw Tuvok, “still?” She asked. Tuvok nodded.
Shepard walked, escorted, into by Tuvok, into the Voyager shuttle bay where Janeway, Garrus, Tom, B’elanna, and Seven of Nine waited. “Captain” she said, nodding her head.
“Commander” Janeway did the same.
“Are we on schedule?”
“Yes, we’re just waiting on Tali and Ensign Kim.”
“I thought that Tali had already been released from sick bay?”
“Uh, yes. She was.” Tom said trying to hide his smirk, “Harry needed her help with something in the holodeck. They should be here soon.”
“Everything’s ready on this end, commander.” Garrus said, “We’ve implemented Tali’s schematics and everything looks good. Simulations have all been solid.”
“Thank you, Garrus.” Shepard said earnestly. With Tali in sick bay, Garrus had become Shepard’s only eyes and ears on Voyager. She looked into Garrus’ eyes to see if there was anything she needed to be worried about. Garrus saw this, and did his best to signal that everything was on the up and up. No problems. Shepard wasn’t convinced.
“Garrus,” Janeway said, “I haven’t gotten a chance to come down here and thank you for your help. Though, I didn’t know you were an engineer?”
“I’m not.” Janeway looked worried, “I mean, I am good with computers and calibrations. I couldn’t have come up with Tali’s specs, but once I had them I could…uh…”
“He really did help. A lot.” B’elanna said, defending her new friend.
“I am glad he could he was of service.” Shepard said, trying to stay polite, “Captain, I was wondering about Thane’s condition?”
“What is Thane’s condition?” Garrus asked.
Shepard turned to Garrus, “same as always,” she turned back to Janeway.
Janeway nodded, “He is well. He’s been staying in guest quarters since he arrived. We were planning on having him confined to the sick bay, but the doctors insisted he not be present while they discussed his condition.”
“I appreciate that you have made arrangements for him.” Shepard was not used to being this cordial. “I would like to see him before I leave?”
Just in time, Tali and Harry walked into the shuttle bay.
“I am sorry we are late,” Tali said, “Harry and I were finishing up…Oh, hello commander! I didn’t know you were going to be on board.”
“Hello, Tali. How are you feeling?”
“I am good as new, nothing you need to worry about.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“Now that we’re all here,” Janeway said and gestured to Seven, “Seven?”
“We will be testing the Delta Flyer’s new mass effect relay jump capabilities. I have submitted a flight plan to Captain Janeway…”
“As have I,” Tali interrupted, “And to Commander Shepard. I wanted to make more than one jump, to ensure that the system will hold, as going folding space while traveling through the relay will put much more stress on the system. It will take us longer, but I think it’s important to make sure it’s not going to give out between dimensions.”
“I agree. I’ve seen the flight plan,” Janeway smiled, “I think it’s a good idea.”
“I’ve seen it too.” Shepard said, “Honestly, I’m surprised it wasn’t the original plan.”
“Where are we going?” Harry asked.
“I’m not sure what the system is called in your dimension, but it is definitely worth a look. I promise.” Tali said.
“This is a test flight. We are not going sight-seeing.” Seven interjected.
“Trust me, Seven. It’s worth it.”
Janeway nodded and Seven rolled her eyes, “Very well. Tali will pilot the Flyer through the first relays, and Ensign Kim will pilot on our return. After our arrival to Voyager we will make any necessary repairs and reenter the relay to jump back into our own dimension with the help of Voyager’s coaxial drive.”
“During the test” Shepard said, “we will monitor communications. If you experience any problems, just send word and we’ll come find you.”
“Of course, you’ll let me know if you receive a transmission from the Flyer?” Janeway asked.
“Is everything ready for launch?” Harry asked.
“Affirmative. Adequate supplies have been loaded and we are ready to depart.”
The crew said their goodbyes to the away team who loaded into the Flyer. They stepped back as the Flyer began to hover, and zipped out of the shuttle bay, buzzing through the force field on its way out. Shepard and Janeway exchanged glances, not saying a word, before Shepard and Garrus were escorted out of the shuttle bay back to the transporter room.
“Good bye, B’elanna. It’s too bad you never got a chance to show me Parrises Squares.” Garrus said as he was being led out of the room.
“Yeah, I’ve never seen a turian cry!” B’elanna called back as the doors closed behind him.
Now that the Flyer was gone, everyone felt deflated. Their big goal for the past three days was completed, accomplished, and now there was nothing to do but wait.
“They are leaving. A test. Yes. She is on board. Yes. Not a problem, I think I know where they are going. I will head them off, easily done.
No. Shepard is not on board, no problem. Yes. She won’t interfere. She won’t know. Trouble in paradise, it seems. Ha ha ha, of course. Yes.
Of course they wont. I’m not going to follow them through the relay. I’m not there. I’m not an idiot. Yes. By remote, obviously.
Don’t worry, you’ll get it.”
Chapter 4: Act IV
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Seven entered the bridge of the Flyer first, and took her position behind the helm. Tali came in second, and sat at the helm; she gently brushed the joystick controls with her fingertips. She had practiced flying a couple of times in the holodeck. It was less efficient, but she appreciated the poetry of piloting a ship manually. Harry followed quickly behind her, and sat just behind her on her left. He took a deep breath.
“Alright, is everyone ready?” Tali asked.
“Affirmative. Mass effect drive is active; all systems go.” Seven said.
“Alright, here we go.” Tali took the controls in her hands. The shuttle gently lifted off, and zipped out of the shuttle bay. Both Harry and Seven gripped their consoles tightly. It seems that Tali has a bit of a lead foot; she flew the flyer like Tom when he is angry or excited. Once they were out of the shuttle bay they released their grip. There’s no danger of hitting the ceiling of the shuttle bay once they are in space.
Tali aligned the shuttle to interact with the relay. “Before we jump, I want to do a quick systems check. Obviously life support, thrusters, and impulse propulsion are operational. How are sensors?”
“Sensors are go” Harry responded.
“Phasers are operational.” Seven replied.
“Are kinetic barriers operational?”
“Affirmative.” Seven said, somewhat frustrated that they couldn’t keep their original shields, “They may be less efficient, than the original Borg shielding, but they are working.”
“They’re better than nothing. Your phasic shields required too much power for the mass effect drive to produce. Since we had to overhaul the power system of the Flyer to work with the relays. We had to cut somewhere. It was either the photonic missiles and the phasic shielding had to go or we didn’t go. Unless you’d be willing to go without life support?”
“I don’t think it will be a problem” Harry said, “By this universe’s standards, the kinetic shields are still pretty strong. Considering no one here has phasic weapons or photon torpedoes, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”
“See?” Tali said, “We’ll be fine.”
Seven was skeptical, but decided not to press the issue. As long as this unnecessarily long test flight wasn’t too unnecessarily long, Harry should be right.
“Alright, all seems to be in order.” Tali said, “Let’s do this.” Tali signaled the mass relay and accelerated. When she drove through the enormous gyroscopic rings, a large blue lightning bolt struck the Flyer, and they were propelled forward. Harry and Seven jumped when the bolt hit the Flyer.
“The simulation didn’t do that justice.” Harry said, catching his breath.
“You get used to it. Well, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be gone after too long so you won’t get used to it. You know what I mean.” Tali went back to her console. Through the windows the crew saw space replaced with flashing blue streaks of light. It was hypnotic, and a bit disorienting. “How are we doing, Seven?” Tali asked.
“The mass effect drive is holding steady, power output is well within acceptable levels.”
“I’m not detecting any irregularities” Harry said, “Looks like smooth sailing.”
“Good. I am locking in our destination. The Relays should automatically choose the best path to our ending relay.” Tali swung around in her chair to face Harry and Seven, “now, all we have to do is wait.”
“Great.” Harry said, “How long will it be?”
“A few hours.”
“Hours?” Seven asked.
“We could sit. Talk. I brought cards!” Tali said.
“They in the back?”
“Yes! I’ll show you how a quarian plays poker.”
“That’s not fair! I can’t see your face, how am I supposed to read your reactions?”
“Excellent.” Seven said, somewhat sarcastically, “If you two would like to play your game, you are free to do so in the back. I will stay here and monitor the drive output.”
“Thank you, Seven,” Harry said, “Tali?” Harry and Tali stood and walked into the back room of the shuttle. They set up a makeshift table out of cargo crates and Tali retrieved cards from her pocket, and shuffled them.
“Alright, Kim, I hope your ready, because I am not going easy on you.”
Tuvok escorted Shepard and Garrus to the teleporter. “So,” Garrus started, “This isn’t the first time you’ve time traveled.”
“No,” Tuvok responded, “It is not.”
“You usually do more sight seeing?”
“On the occasions wherein we traveled through time, we did not ‘sight see.’ We devoted our efforts to getting home without damaging the timeline.”
“How’d you do?”
Tuvok glared at Garrus.
“So, not well, then?”
Tuvok looked back ahead.
“Why so concerned? I mean, how do you know that when you travel back in time you aren’t meant to travel back in time? Ugh, I just gave myself a headache.”
“Every time we’ve traveled through time we’ve encountered a federation timeship from the future, tasked with preserving the timeline. If we were ‘meant’ to travel though time, this precaution from the future federation would not be necessary.”
“Must be nice.” Shepard said, starting to drag. Tuvok looked at her and raised an eyebrow. Shepard noticed that she heard him, “Knowing you have a future, I mean.”
They reached the transporter room, and Shepard and Garrus climbed onto the platform, “Until next time, Tuvok,” Shepard said. Tuvok nodded to the crewman and the two were transported to the Normandy.
Once on board their own ship again, Garrus said goodbye to the commander and walked to his post at the forward battery, to the cot he had set up beside the cannon. Shepard walked into the elevator, leaned against the wall, and groaned. She wasn’t used to being this exhausted and this restless at the same time. She was exhausted, having not slept at all the night before. After Joker left the observation deck she stayed, staring out the window at the stars, avoiding going to her cabin. She stole another two of Joker’s beers and waited for the morning.
She was restless; she wasn’t used to spending this much time in one place. And now she was stuck, sitting and waiting for Tali to come back. It would be another day at least. And the waiting, not being able to help, being forced to stand on the sidelines while others did the work, it forced her to confront what she was about to do. Her mission after Voyager’s departure: The derelict Reaper. The Omega 4 relay. No one’s come back from it before, and Shepard didn’t hold much hope that she would be the first. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t sleep. Her mind kept racing.
She groaned again as the elevator doors opened.
“You are disappointing me, Operative Asterman. You do not want to disappoint me.” Liara said, not looking up from her console as Shepard entered the cabin, “Get it worked out. Don’t forget, if need be, you can easily be replaced.” The comm link closed as Shepard flopped onto the bed.
“Are not you feeling well, Commander?”
Shepard mumbled into her pillow.
“I’m sorry, Commander? I couldn’t hear you.” Liara politely said.
Shepard turned her head, “Could you please not use my console to anonymously threaten people?”
“Pardon me?” Liara reacted, “Since when have you been afraid to get your hands dirty?”
“You’re right, I’ve threatened people, and I’ve hurt people. But I am the one who’s done those things. And they always knew it was me.”
“Is the person working for a galactic xenophobic terrorist organization going to lecture me on ethics?”
Shepard groaned one more time and pushed herself up into a kneeling position on the bed, “what have you been doing this whole time?”
“You know what I’ve been doing.”
“You can start a war in ten minutes, but it takes you three days to reroute incoming ships? I get that we don’t want anyone seeing Voyager, but we came out here to avoid being found. Ensuring that no one comes out here shouldn’t be taking this long.”
“I have other tasks I need to see to. Tasks that will help with our battle against the Collectors and the Reapers.”
“I know, I know. Just.”
“Just what?” Liara said, becoming irritated that she and Shepard were having this conversation again.
“Just…I don’t know…just be careful.” Shepard said, lying down on the bed and too tired to have this conversation again.
“No one outside of this room except Faron knows I am the Shadow Broker. I have nothing to worry about. I appreciate your concern, but…” Liara looked up at Shepard, who had fallen asleep in her increasingly worn Cerberus uniform.
Liara sighed and went back to work.
The door to the back room of the Flyer opened with exclamations from Harry, “I still say you were cheating.”
“What, think I have an ace up my sleeve?” Tali asked.
“Harry, my sleeves are attached to my gloves. Even if I had cards stuffed into my suit, there’s no way I’d be able to get them out.”
“You could have them in a pocket. You have hundreds of them.” Tali and Harry laughed as they approached their terminals. “How has everything been up here, Seven?” Harry asked.
“Uneventful.” Seven said, a little bitter that she wasn’t involved in the game, even though she didn’t want to be in the game. Whatever the case, she was a little bitter.
“Looks like I was right, Harry, we’re approaching the relay.”
“Then we’ll get to see where we’re going?”
“Coming out of the relay in three…two…one…” The blue lights disappeared, leaving only stars and a distant spherical body.
“So, is this where we were headed? What’s so special about this?” Harry said, looking out the window.
“Look at your sensors.” Tali responded, Harry looked back at his console. He looked up, back down, and back up.
“That’s Pluto.” He was stunned, Seven walked to his console and looked at the sensor readout, and back out the window.
“That’s Pluto!” he repeated, “We’re in the Sol system!” He was audibly excited.
“What do you say we make one more stop before getting back in the relay?” Tali asked. She looked back at a stunned Seven and Harry. Harry looked back at her, “lets do it!”
Tali spun back around to the helm and entered warp.
When they disengaged warp drive, they reached their destination; Earth was now within visual range. The crew could see that big beautiful blue marble that Harry and Seven had been striving toward for years. It was the size of a basketball just out the window.
“We…We shouldn’t linger,” Seven said, “We don’t want to be detected.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m a quarian. Not being noticed is what we do.”
The shuttle hovered there, undisturbed, as the Voyager crewmembers gazed upon their planet. Seven confronted something she wasn’t expecting. For everyone on Voyager, Earth was “home.” They all remembered times spent on Earth, even if they weren’t from Earth, they had spent time at the academy. They all wanted to be where they recognized they belonged. Seven didn’t belong there. Did she? She did. She wasn’t sure.
“There, that’s San Francisco. That’s where the academy is.” Harry stood next to Tali, pointing to a coast on the right side of a large landmass. He then pointed out his birth home. The excitement with which he talked about Earth reminded Tali of her own feelings toward Rennoch.
“It’s funny,” Tali started, turning to Harry, “You were showing me my homeworld at the same time I was planning on showing you yours.”
“It’s close. It’s fantastic.” Harry snapped out of a homesick trance, “but it’s not home. It’s not my home. Not really. I’ll walk on the Earth one day, my Earth. Along with the rest of my crew. We’ll all get back home.”
“Alright. Let’s get back.” Harry moved to the pilot’s chair, “We don’t want to keep Voyager waiting.” Just as he started to move, a large ship, with smooth edges and a dark, reflective metal hull dropped out of FTL on top of them.
“Holy…” Before Harry could react, a red beam was emitted from the ship. Crashing into the Flyer. The shuttle jostled around, “Kinetic barriers are down! They burned out!” Tali said.
“Evasive manuvers!” Harry said, taking the helm and flying the Flyer away from the ship.
“I thought no one here had phasers!” Seven said.
“We don’t!” Tali said.
“Collectors?” Harry asked, frightened.
“No. I’ve never seen a weapon like this. It’s overloading our systems but not damaging the hardware. A collector ship would just tear you to shreds.”
“And that’s not a collector ship.” Tali continued, “That’s a…”
“Propulsion is down. Seven?” Harry asked.
“I am targeting their weapons syst…” Seven started.
BANG, another jostle.
“Weapons are down.” The Flyer floated in space, lightly spinning from inertia, but otherwise motionless. The ship few in close and opened it’s docking bay doors. It began to envelop the Delta Flyer.
“I am trying to hail the Normandy, but they are not responding!” Tali was now shouting. She went back to her comm, “Delta Flyer to Normandy! Delta Flyer to Normandy! Come in, Normandy! This is Tali: Mayday! Mayday! We are under attack by an unknown assailant. We are without propulsion and weapons! They are taking us aboard! We need assistance. Repeat: We need assistance immediately! Please hurry!”
The shuttle bay doors closed. The shuttle was guided with standard docking assistance tech to a landing zone in the middle of the bay. Once they landed, Seven, Harry, and Tali heard a blowtorch on the hatch of the shuttle. They ran to the weapons locker in the back room and each grabbed a phaser. They stood behind whatever cover they could and waited for the doors to open. Once the doors shot open, they could see a battle mech on the other side with the torch. They fired. The mech’s head exploded, and its body fell inside the Flyer. To the crew’s surprise, the mech wasn’t accompanied by anyone.
Tali walked to the mech, covered by Seven and Harry. She opened the back hatch, to see if there was any licensing information so they could know who they were up against. Instead, she saw a tank and a timer. 4…3…2…
“Harry! Seven!” the timer beeped and with a “pfft,” the tank expelled a thin yellow gas. Then blackness.
“I’m just saying the obvious: it’s a bad idea.” Tom said, handing a tool to B’elanna, as she lay under an open console in engineering.
“Bad idea or not, the other option is worse.” She said, wrenching her words as she contorted her arm to fit within the confines of the machinery.
“In what possible way is it worse?”
Janeway entered Engineering and scanned the room, “Lieutenant Torres?”
“Over here, Captain.” Tom called. Captain Janeway nodded at Tom and crossed the room to where he was standing.
“Lieutenant Torres, I was nearby and figured I would stop in. How are we doing?” B’elanna slid out from under the console.
“We’re just about finished up here, Captain. By the time the Flyer returns, we’ll be more than ready to jump into our own dimension, as long as someone can fly us through the relay.” She glanced at Tom.
Tom feigned indigence, “I’ll be ready. Don’t worry.”
“Good.” The Captain turned to leave.
“While your here, Captain,” Tom said, “Maybe you could talk some sense into B’elanna?”
“hmm?” Janeway turned around, and Tom shot a look at an annoyed B’elanna.
“Captain,” B’elanna started, not liking being thrown under the bus, “I don’t think we should leave the Normandy empty handed.”
Janeway paused and tilted her head, “You’re not saying what I think you’re saying…”
B’elanna took in a deep breath, “I think we should give them weapons technology.”
“I have to say, B’elanna, of all the people who I thought would say that…you may not be the one I least expected, but you’re close.”
“Listen, I know how much it is asking…”
“If you did, you wouldn’t be asking.”
“…but, after spending time with Garrus, with Tali, I…I believe them. I don’t think they’re lying about these Reapers.”
“Or maybe,” Tom interjected, “They’re insane? We all know Shepard’s nuts…demanding them in the first place…Listen, I spent time with Garrus, Tali, and Joker. They’re all great people, I like them too, but we don’t hand over proton torpedo specs to every good person we meet.”
“No, but we do help those who need it. We got stranded in the Delta Quadrant when we helped the Ocampa by destroying the Caretaker.”
“The Ocampa weren’t galactic terrorists.” Tom interjected,
“We gave the Hirogen holodeck technology, and they certainly weren’t warm and fuzzy. We’re not strangers to bending the Prime Directive when the situation calls for it.”
“When the situation calls for it,” Janeway said, “I will admit, I haven’t observed the Prime Directive as closely as I should, but giving terrorists advanced weapons technology is out of the question.”
“Especially terrorists obsessed with imaginary space boogie men.” B’elanna shot Tom a look, “What? You honestly believe that these ‘Reapers’ are real?”
“I don’t know, I just know that everyone I’ve talked to from the Normandy thinks they’re real. And they’re from here, we aren’t.”
“I appreciate your concern,” said the captain, “but unless a Reaper personally shows up and introduces itself, I don’t see me changing my mind. Report in once everything is up and running.”
“Yes, ma’am,” B’elanna said, clearly frustrated. Captain Janeway walked back to the bridge.
“What’s going on, Joker?” a now rested Shepard stormed up to the cockpit after being summoned by EDI and Joker, Liara followed.
“EDI said she found something that you need to hear. She won’t tell me without you.”
“I’ve detected an irregularity in the nearest comm buoy.”
“The buoy has been tampered with.”
“It appears hardware has been added to the buoy. It is not only facilitating communications; it is feeding information on communications to a third party.”
“What?” Liara exclaimed, worried about her identity as the Shadow Broker.
“Someone bugged the buoy?” Shepard asked.
“It’s more than that. They were using to buoy specifically to monitor us. We have been monitored since we arrived in this area of space.” Liara was still panicked. She never should have left Halagaz. If her identity was leaked, there could be massive consequences: for her, for Shepard, for more.
“Someone’s spying on us?” Shepard asked. She was angry that this snuck up on them.
“Not only us, the person or people who modified this comm buoy have also been spying on Voyager’s systems. It is unclear how much information they’ve gained from our two ships.”
“How did this get past you, EDI?” Joker asked, “Wouldn’t someone have to be some sort of technical genius to hide from you?
“I believe that is exactly what we are dealing with. In order to hack through both my and Voyager’s firewalls undetected, one would need a genius level knowledge of computing and communication technology.”
“Can you trace it? Find out who’s bugged us?”
“Unfortunately, no, I cannot follow the data stream. It was too well hidden.”
“Damn it!” Shepard slammed her fist on the wall. She was already on edge working with Cerberus; she didn’t like being spied on, “wait…’was?”.
“Yes. Until recently, the buoy was only monitoring us. Two hours ago, it actively attempted to interrupt communications. It actively blocked messages from coming in.”
“This is why I was able to detect the interference. We received the first seven nanoseconds of the message before the buoy cut it off. If not being monitored by an AI, the interference wouldn’t have been noticed. I was able to combat the interference to receive part of the message.”
“What was the message?”
“The transmission was corrupted. I will play what I can.”
…lyer to Normandy! Delta Flyer to Nor…s is Tali. Mayday May…der attack by an unknow…need assistance. Repeat: We need assist…lease hurry!
Every muscle in Shepard’s body tensed, with a clenched fist and gritted teeth she said as calmly as she could, “You said the data stream ‘was’ untraceable. Can we trace this transmission?”
“Yes. The transmission originally came from the Sol system. However, the transmission was blocked from somewhere in the Faryar system.”
“Joker. Hail Voyager. Now.” Shepard demanded.
“Opening a channel.” Joker hailed Voyager.
The terminal above Joker Switched from it’s normal orange readout to a holographic depiction of the Voyager bridge, Tom sitting at the helm, Tuvok in the background, Chakotay sitting in the center of the room and Janeway standing in front of him.
“Captain.” Shepard started.
“Commander.” Janeway said.
“It has come to my attention that our privacy has been violated.”
“The nearest comm buoy has been tampered with. It’s been monitoring our communication, probably since you’ve arrived.”
“What?” Janeway stepped forward, then turned behind her, “Tuvok?”
“I am not detecting anything.”
“We didn’t detect it either. Apparently, we’re dealing with someone outside either of our technical wheelhouses. And there’s more.”
“More?” Janeway asked.
“Whoever it is, they blocked an incoming transmission from the Flyer.” Janeway perked up. “It was a distress signal.”
“Do we know where they are?” Janeway was angry. Like Shepard, she didn’t like anyone hurting her crew, and she didn’t like depending on Shepard and the Normandy for this information.
“We have an idea, but it will require us going through the Relays to get to them.”
“I’m sending an away team.” Janeway was resolute.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she held up three fingers, “Only three. Any more than that and we won’t have enough room on the shuttle. And bring Mordin and the Doctor, we may need them.”
“Affirmative. Voyager out.” Janeway started to turn.
“Wait, captain.” Shepard called, “I need you to do one more thing.” Janeway turned back to the screen, “I need you to destroy the comm buoy.”
“Shepard!” Liara rushed forward, “You can’t just…”
Shepard pushed the button to close the channel to Voyager, and spun around to Liara, “Liara, We’re destroying it. We cannot allow that sort of technology to exist.”
Liara leaned in, trying to speak so only Shepard could hear, “With that technology I could collect information on every organization researching the Reapers. I could gather intel on anyone with minimal risk. If applied the right way, we could ensure lasting peace throughout the galaxy.”
“No, Liara. No one should be able to effortlessly spy on anyone they want from across the galaxy, regardless of intention. I trust you, but I’m not going to allow you the free reign to tap any ship, station, or planet you want. No one should have that much power. Not even us.”
“But think of how many lives we could save.”
“I’m thinking of how many lives we could ruin.” Shepard put her hands on Liara’s shoulders and spoke as earnestly as she could, “My head’s on straight now. You helped me figure things out. Thank you. We’re going to save the galaxy. We’re going to do it right.” Shepard looked into Liara’s eyes, looking for her agreement. For encouragement.
Liara turned away, stepped back from Shepard’s arms, and walked away.
“Joker,” Shepard ordered, “reopen the channel.”
“The channel died.” Tom said, turning to Janeway.
“Third party?” Janeway asked.
“Doesn’t look like it. It was closed on their end.”
“Hail them back.” Tom sent out another hail as Chakotay stood and walked to Janeway.
“I don’t like this.” He asked.
“No. I mean, we’re not detecting any intrusion into our communications. It could be some sort of trap?”
“Why? They spent three days helping us devise a way to get home and adapt the Flyer. Why help us?”
“It could be they just wanted the flyer. It may not have torpedoes or the borg weapons aboard, but they still have phasers, which, in this universe, could be devastating if they were able to reverse engineer them.”
“Then why tell us the Flyer was missing in the first place? Why not just strand us here and abduct the flyer themselves? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Opening the channel again, ma’am” Tom interrupted.
Shepard and Joker reappeared on the screen, now without Liara. “Is everything alright?” Janeway asked.
“Yes. We’re sending you the coordinates of the buoy. Blow it to hell.”
“Won’t someone come by to repair it?”
“Eventually, but we’re pretty far off the beaten path, and communications can easily be rerouted to other buoys. It should be a week or so before anyone comes, and we’ll be back and you’ll be long gone by then.” Janeway nodded “As soon as the away team is on board we’ll leave for the Flyer.”
“Affirmative.” Shepard nodded and closed the channel. Janeway tapped the badge on her chest, “Janeway to the Doctor.”
“Doctor here, go ahead,” the Doctor responded.
“I need you and Mordin to meet Tuvok and me in transporter room 2.” She started walking to the turbolift; Tuvok nodded and walked there as well.
“You’re not going with the away team?” Chakotay asked as he followed her.
“Our people are missing. I’m going to get them back.”
“I can’t let you go. It’s too dangerous.”
“I’m not arguing with you. We can talk about what is and is not too dangerous when we get back. As soon as we transport I want you to destroy that beacon. We’ll be back as soon as we can.” The turbolift doors closed. Chakotay clenched his jaw and walked back to the center of the room.
After a brief stop to the armory, Janeway and Tuvok walked into the transporter room.
“Phaser rifles?” The Doctor asked, already standing on the transporter platform with Mordin, “Is everything okay?”
“No.” Janeway walked onto the platform and nodded at the crewman behind the console.
Janeway, Tuvok, Mordin, and the Doctor transported into the Normandy CIC beside the galaxy map. Shepard stood on the platform above the map, towering over the crew like a queen, “Okay, Joker,” she said, “They’re on board. Hit it.”
The ship took off, flew by the Mass Relay, and was thrust into the relay network. Shepard walked down the stairs to Janeway and Tuvok. “Captain,” she presented her hand to Janeway, “Welcome to the Normandy.” Janeway took Shepard’s hand and shook with a firm grasp. “Joker’s got us on the way, and we’ll be in the system where we suspect the Flyer was taken soon.”
“You believe the Flyer was moved?”
“Yes. The distress signal came from the Sol system, but the transmission was blocked from a different system.”
“Kelly,” Shepard turned to the perky redheaded crewmember behind her, “Please take our guests to the crew lounge until we arrive in Faryar?” She turned back to Janeway, “It should be a couple of hours.”
Kelly stepped forward, “Yes ma’am,” She addressed the Voyager crew, “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you; welcome to the Normandy. The elevator is this way,” she gestured to the elevator behind them.
Tuvok turned back to Shepard. “Problem, Tuvok?” Shepard asked.
“We lack sufficient evidence to say that the Flyer was abducted. They could have simply been attacked.” Tuvok said.
“That’s true. Though, I find it hard to believe that some tech genius would go through the trouble to bug our communications and block transmissions just so they could blow up a ship from the future. I think there is something about the Flyer that they want. And if not, if they did just blow up the Flyer and kill our crewmates, we can at least return the favor.”
* * *
After a few hours of rousing conversation with Kelly, Janeway was summoned to the cockpit. When walking up the path, she saw Shepard standing behind joker, now in her grey armor with what looked like weapons attached to her back and hips. “Ah, Captain. Enjoy your tour of the crew deck?”
“I did. What is Kelly’s position on the Normandy?”
“I could swear she was trying to psycho-analyze Tuvok.”
Shepard let out half a chuckle. ‘I would pay to see that,’ she thought. “We could use your help. We are in the system where the transmission block originated. There are no ships in the area, and we scanned the only habitable planets and found nothing. We were hoping you could give us a clue? Is there some way you know of that we can pinpoint the Flyer?”
The captain brought her hand to her chin and let out a “hmm,” then “have you scanned for dilithium?” Shepard pursed her lips and furrowed her brow, trying to recall anything called dilithium. “It’s the power source for our warp drive, but nothing in this dimension. Any dilithium that comes up on your scanners should be the Flyer.” She walked to the terminal at the back of the cockpit, “May I?” Shepard nodded.
Captain Janeway’s fingers danced on the holographic interface, adjusting the sensors so they could detect the rare element, “there, try it now.” She said.
“Commander, we got something.” Joker said, “It looks like a small base on Quarem.”
“Quarem. Shepard said, determined.
“Quarem?” Janeway asked, not recognizing the name.
“You’d call it a ‘demon class planet:’ really hot, high gravity, thick/toxic atmosphere. Not the sort of place I’d like to set up a picnic.” Joker said.
“But exactly where you’d want to go to set up a base if you didn’t want to be found. EDI, what are we looking at?”
“It appears the base is largely subterranean. Powerful mass effect fields enclose the base, regulating temperature and atmosphere and gravity. We will not be able to breach the envelope undetected.” EDI said.
“They’ve been watching us, remember? They know we’re coming anyway.” Shepard turned to Janeway, “I don’t know what we’ll find when we enter the base. We don’t have the spare armor; I understand if you’d prefer to stay here while we go in and get the crew back.”
“Don’t ask me that again. My people are in there, just like yours. We go in together.” Janeway extended her hand. Shepard nodded, grabbed Janeway’s hand, and firmly shook it.
After the moment, Shepard ordered to the ceiling, “Garrus, Mordin, grab your gear and head to the Shuttle Bay. Tuvok, Doctor, you too. We’re going on a rescue mission.”
Harry awoke on a jagged stone floor. He groaned as he looked around to try and catch his bearings through his blurry vision. Tali was lying on the floor beside him; he shook her awake. She groaned as Harry did, and put her head in her hand. She shook her head and looked at Harry, who’s eyes were fixed ahead, she followed his gaze.
In front of them was a metal cage door, made of simple dingy black metal bars. On the other side of the cage was one armed mech. As they awoke, the mech tapped the side of its head, activating it’s comm link.
“What is that thing?” Harry asked.
“Armed mech. People use them like security guards. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, my head hurts, but that’s it. You?”
“No worries. Seven how are…” The two looked around the dark cell. “Seven?” She wasn’t there. The cell was pretty small, not big enough to lie down in, so where was she?
“Seven?” Harry called, “Where is she?”
“Where are all of us? This isn’t a ship, this is a planet.” Tali moved to activate her omni-tool.
She moved again, signaling the tool to activate.
“You’ll find your omni-tool will have trouble activating.” Said a high pitched voice on the outside of the cage door. “I’ve disabled it.” It was dark, but the pair could see a salarian. He was shorter than Mordin, younger too. His orange-tinted skin was almost completely smooth, except for large protruding red scales on his horns and a scar over his eye. His scarred eye was replaced by a metal one, with a glowing green light in its center.
“Who are you? Where are we?” Tali demanded.
“Where is Seven?”
The salarian chuckled, “The drone is helping me with some much needed research. That’s all you really need to know.” The salarian looked them up and down, “That ship is very impressive. More impressive than anything I’ve ever seen. Voyager must be a marvel.”
“How do you know about Voyager?”
The salarian ignored Harry, “I’m tempted to keep it and fly it myself. She is a beauty. Almost salarian in design. But, Alas, after my research with the drone I will have to take her apart. Extrapolate. Rebuild. Reincorporate.”
“You can’t keep us in here forever. Shepard will come for us, if we don’t get out and grind you to a pulp ourselves.” Tali said, Harry too invested in the situation to be surprised by Tali’s phrasing.
“Oh, I am well aware. I am good, but that damn EDI is incredible. They will come for you, and I will be ready. As for you breaking out prematurely…” The salarian paused, “I am sure you are able. Though, if you had something else to worry about…” The salarian pulled out a small sidearm and shot Harry in the stomach.
“Harry!” Tali shouted as he grabbed his stomach and keeled over, moaning in pain.
“Don’t worry. STG developed bacteria used as interrogation tool.” Harry’s face contorted as he writhed on the floor, “The effects are temporary. Without an antidote, the effects will subdue around ten minutes or so. Nonleathal. Unless you happened to somehow evolve into a species with no immune system.” The salarian shot Tali in the arm; she also fell over. Through the pain, she focused as hard as she could to repair the breach in her suit.
“Quarians. So well trained. Look at you, sealing the section of the suit, filling the hole. Even if you know the bacteria is already in your bloodstream. You probably have, what, 30 minutes?” Through clenched teeth, Tali grunted out a string of quarian swears.
“Right, well.” The salarian put his sidearm away, “Back to the lab for me. Do have fun.” He started walking away.
“Why?” Harry asked, panting on the floor, “why are you holding us if you’re just going to kill us?”
The salarian stopped walking, tilted his head, and let out a high pitched “huh…” before turning the corner, and disappearing.
There was no shutter on the shuttle bay. It could be that those at this base had never expected for someone to find them. It could be that they figured the mass effect generators did the job of keeping the atmosphere out anyway, why add a door? The crews in the shuttle didn’t complain, it meant they didn’t have to find another way in. But still, why?
The Kodiak shuttle landed in the shuttle bay beside the Delta Flyer. No signs of movement inside the shuttle bay, so the crews exited the shuttle, reasonably confident that they wouldn’t be spotted, but armed anyway. This left Shepard uneasy. ‘They know we’re coming. They must be massing somewhere else, ready to ambush.’ Janeway and Garrus went straight to the Delta Flyer. Janeway hopped into the pilot’s seat and tapped away at the console,
“Structurally, the damage isn’t that bad. The propulsion and weapons systems were overloaded and the door was forced open. If we can get those back online…” Janeway opened the panel underneath the pilot’s console. She disconnected and crossed some wires. The ship’s machines whirred on. “That should do it for now.”
“What kind of weapon disengages the ship’s systems but doesn’t damage the ship?” Garrus asked.
“I recognize this tech.” Mordin interjected, “STG weapons tests. Highly classified.”
Shepard looked at Mordin, stunned, “STG? The salarians have this type of technology?”
“No. Never worked. Wanted way to disarm ships without harming crew.”
“An effective peacekeeping measure.” Tuvok interjected.
“Exactly. Could prevent armed assaults without casualties. However, tests proved useless. Always ‘cooked’ inside of ship. Fruitless endeavor.”
“Is this an STG base?”
“Unlikely. Doesn’t match STG protocol. No shuttle bay door. No one guarding point of entry. Sloppy. Not STG. Perhaps…was STG?”
“We’ll find out when we get Tali back.” Garrus anxiously interrupted, “The Flyer’s operational. We can take both shuttles when we leave. We need to get going.”
“Tuvok? Can you find Harry?” The captain asked.
Tuvok looked at his tri-corder, “The rocks are causing interference. His comm badge is here, but I cannot see how far away he is, or in what direction.”
“At least we know he’s here. We’ll keep an eye on it. Let’s move.” The captain said.
As the two crews left, Janeway leaned into Shepard “STG?”
“I’ll explain later.” She whispered and then loudly ordered, “Eye’s open everyone. If no one’s here, that means they’re somewhere else.”
Shepard and Janeway took point, as they walked through the winding rock tunnels of the base. Garrus took the rear. The Doctor was in the middle and was flanked by Tuvok in front and Mordin in back. Everyone was focused, noting the smallest details, watching for an ambush, as per Shepard’s warning. Janeway and Shepard turned at a split in the tunnel to face a small squadron of three armored mechs coming around a corner ahead.
“Captain! Look out!” Shepard wrapped herself around Janeway as three bullets buzzed off her kinetic barriers. Tuvok took aim and fired, destroying one of the mechs. The Doctor ducked as Mordin and Garrus fired, destroying the two others. Shepard stepped back as her barriers regenerated, “You okay?”
“I am fine.” Janeway said, appreciative but slightly embarrassed that she needed saving.
“Captain” Tuvok said, as more mechs came around the corner. The group retreated to each side of the T junction behind them. The CO’s on one side, the rest on the other. The mechs were massing on the other corner, and were firing and advancing without regard for their wellbeing. The crews peeked around the corners and fired, hitting mechs, but not reducing numbers.
“This isn’t working!” Shepard shouted and fired.
“You’re telling me.” Garrus said.
Shepard sat back and activated her Omni-Tool. She hacked into one of the mechs, who started firing on the others, but was immediately destroyed, “That didn’t go as well as I would have hoped.” She turned to Garrus, “How about a little thunder and lightning?”
“You sure that will work?”
Shepard peeked around the corner, and quickly ducked back as bullets ricochet off the rock. “No,” she said with a smirk, “Everyone, hold your fire! Garrus, on three. One…” Garrus activated his Omni-tool, “Two…” they made eye contact and nodded, “Three!”
Shepard started to run around the corner but, to Tuvok, Janeway, and the Doctor’s astonishment, disappeared. Garrus peaked around the corner and hit a button on his Omni-tool. A large blue spark erupted in the group of mechs, causing many of them to shake. Suddenly, the head of the furthest back of the mechs twisted around until it was facing backwards. It fell to the ground. The mechs continued to march toward the group, another’s head twisted around, but didn’t fall. Instead, his knees bucked, his arms were held straight out, and it began firing on the others with more precision than before. Shepard’s cloak dissipated, and she was visible again, holding the mech up like a shield and using its weapon to fire on the others. Now surrounded and unsure which side to prioritize, the mechs were picked off, one by one, by the group and Shepard.
Shepard threw down the broken mech she was using for a shield, now filled with holes, “See? I told you it would work.” As Shepard was walking toward the group, another mech turned the corner and aimed for Shepard.
“Commander!” Janeway raised her rifle and fired, hitting the mech in its chest and causing it to burst. Shepard looked at the mech and back to Janeway. They nodded to each other.
“How did she…” The Doctor said to Mordin.
“Shepard is an Alliance N7 Infiltrator. She’s been given biomechanical implants that assist in her avoiding detection. Including tactical cloak.”
“Tuvok?” the captain asked.
“We are getting closer. However, I am still unable to get an exact location.”
“Good enough for me,” Shepard said, “Stay close everyone. We’ll find them.”
Harry lay in the center of the cell, sweating and panting. The effects of the drug were wearing off, 10 minutes of fever induced torture. He looked outside the cell; the mech was still there, watching emotionlessly. “Tali? Tali, are you okay?” Harry groaned as sat up leaning against the cell wall. Tali was beside him, in a shivering ball.
“I’m…fine…” Tali spoke without moving her head. She was focused on fighting the infection, as much as she could. She tried to will herself well, but she’s never felt this bad. Her fever was intense, her mask was beginning to condensate, which she couldn’t see anyway since her eyes were closed to combat her nausea.
“We’re going to get out of here, Tali!” Harry said, pulling her close, trying to keep her body warm with his arms, “We’re going to be fine.” He lied.
“I know, Garrus.” Tali said, leaning into Harry, still shivering, “I won’t let you die.” Harry never felt so helpless. He could do nothing for her, but sit and wait, to make her feel comfortable. He held her and closed his eyes.
He heard a phaser rifle and a small burst. He opened his eyes to see the smoking legs of the mech hit the ground without it’s top half. He looked up to see Captain Janeway and Commander Shepard run into his field of vision, followed by Tuvok, the Doctor, Mordin, and Garrus. The Captain and Mordin stopped to look at the cell door, and the Commander, Tuvok, and Garrus moved forward to the corner, and scanned the area with their weapons and ran back. The Doctor Walked to the cage wall to inspect the people inside.
“It looks like an old jail cell” The captain said, “No interface, no tech. Just bars.”
“He captured a quarian. A talented one at that.” Shepard said, “Don’t want any tech nearby at all.” She addressed Tali and Harry, “Is everything alright?”
Harry shook his head.
“Stand back” Shepard ordered everyone. She activated her omni-tool brought her right fist up by her head. A holographic blade extended from the tool and Shepard swiped her fist down with a growl. The lock melted and the door opened as Shepard’s omni-tool flashed and deactivated. Janeway and the Doctor rushed into the cell.
“You downloaded a blade to your omni-tool?” Mordin asked.
“Yeah. It’s still full of bugs, though. The damn thing keeps crashing.” Shepard slapped her forearm and the tool reactivated without the blade.
“What happened?” Janeway asked Harry.
“He…he poisoned us.” Harry said as the Doctor scanned Tali.
“Can you stand?”
Harry nodded. The Captain helped him slide out from under Tali, who was gently laid down on the floor. The two of them walked out of the cell.
“Where is Seven?”
Harry shook his head, “I don’t know. He said she was helping him with research. I think he may have killed her.” Janeway’s jaw clenched
“Commander!” The doctor called. Shepard came to him. “She’s in bad shape. We need to treat her, immediately.”
“What do you need?”
“A sterile environment, which we aren’t going to get here.”
“The Flyer.” The captain suggested.
“Yes! I can use the force fields on the Flyer to create a makeshift sick bay, but I don’t have supplies to treat a quarian.”
“There should be a first aid kit in the Kodiak.” Shepard said, “Garrus, escort The Doctor, Mordin, Tali, and Harry to the shuttle bay…”
“Commander, Dr. Solis should stay with you. Once the sterile environment is created, I’m the only one who can ensure it stays that way, since I am a hologram. Seven may need Dr. Solis’ help.” Shepard looked at Mordin, who nodded.
“Very well. Escort the Doctor, Harry, and Tali to the shuttle bay. Once the Doctor is squared away, establish a defensible position. Hold the shuttle bay until we get back.” Garrus nodded and picked up Tali. “Harry” Shepard turned to Harry and placed her hand on his shoulder, “Are you okay?”
“Can you work a weapon?”
Shepard pulled out her sidearm and gave it to Harry, “This is a Phalanx. I know that doesn’t mean much to you, but know that it has a hell of a kick, be careful.” She handed him the weapon. It was much larger and much heavier than a phaser. Harry held it in his hands for a moment, and then gripped the handle, finger on the trigger guard. Shepard continued, “You’ve got this, soldier.”
Harry looked at Janeway who nodded. He looked back at Shepard, “Yes, ma’am.” The Doctor, Garrus, and Harry walked away, Tali in Garrus’ arms.
“Tuvok?” Janeway asked again, needing no other words.
“Seven’s comm badge is still active. It is further down this passageway.” Tuvok pointed forward.
“We’re not done yet, people. We’re not leaving without Seven.” Captain Janeway said.
“Let’s go get this son of a bitch.” Shepard said.
The crew walked down the pathways, weapons drawn and alert. They dealt with another few more mech squads on their way, which told them they were on the right track. The four people worked as a single squad, acting and reacting without talking. They had different training, they were from different universes, but they had a singular goal in mind. They were determined to do whatever it took to get the last crewman back.
They came to a large laboratory door. “Everyone ready?” Janeway asked, she looked left; Mordin and Tuvok nodded. She looked right; Shepard nodded. Janeway touched the holographic panel and the laboratory door quickly swished open.
No one was ready.
Seven lay on a lab table tilted toward the door surrounded by consoles, holographic projections, and trays of surgical and technical instruments. Her wrists, ankles, and waist were strapped to the table, though she had long stopped struggling.
The irises of her eyes glowed a bright blue. Tubes the width of her pinkie finger with glowing blue stripes ran from under her eye sockets to under her chin. Two other tubes ran from behind her ears, down her neck, and into incisions between her collarbones. A round hub was dug into her right shoulder, with three tubes sticking out of the sides with their ends burrowed into her shoulder. Several sockets were left open for more tubes. Her skin was becoming a pail blue.
“Where is the Doctor?” Seven asked, panicked, “I need the Doctor…”
“Mordin,” Shepard ordered. Mordin put his firearm away and ran to the table, inspecting Seven in hopes of restoring her. He waited to remove the restraints until he got a better look at the situation.
“Oh, God.” Captain Janeway exclaimed, “What is this? Who would…”
“I think…I think I recognize this technology.”
“Of course you do, Commander.” A salarian voice came from behind a towering server. Tuvok, Janeway, and Shepard focused their guns in the direction of the voice, where a red and orange salarian with a robotic eye walked from behind the server, hands in the air, “You’ve killed more husks than anyone else in the galaxy.” The crew did not lower their weapons, “And mechs, so it would appear. Waste of credits.” The salarian turned his head toward Mordin, “Hello, Professor.”
“Korvin.” Mordin said.
“He one of yours, Mordin?”
“No. Supposed to be on Genophage project. Experiments deemed unethical. Eventually discharged dishonorably.”
“Can we put the weapons away? As you can see, I am disarmed.” Korvin waved his arms. The crew kept their weapons in their hands, but lowered them from their active firing positions. “Thank you.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Shepard asked.
“Have you met this drone, Commander? Fascinating specimen.”
“She’s not a drone. She is an individual, and is due the same rights as any other individual.” Janeway said, trying to suppress her anger.
“Oh, she is so much more than that.” Korvin dismissed her, “Commander, you’ve seen Husks. You’ve seen their strength. Their dexterity.”
“I’ve seen enough to know they’re monsters. Nothing more.”
“Husks?” Janeway asked, eyes fixed on Korvin.
“Reaper ground troops. Humans who are infected with Reaper technology. They become mad, bloodthirsty, wild monsters.”
“Yes, you are correct.” Korvin confessed, “Husks do tend to attack…everything they see. I wondered, ‘how can I implement Husk technology to increase a soldier’s strength to that of a Husk, without the madness.’ I had just about given up. And then, Voyager came into my life.” Korvin gestured toward Janeway, “and the drone.” He gestured toward Seven, who’s arm restraints were being unfastened by Mordin. “I thought, ‘what answers does the Borg technology hold? Is there some way I could use this Borg drone to bridge the gap between man and machine?’ And do you know what I found?”
“That you’ve gone insane?” Shepard answered.
“They come from the same place! The Borg and the Reapers! They share an evolutionary tree!”
“What are you talking about?” Shepard asked.
“These Borg are descendants of the Reapers! They were developed through the synthesis of machine and organics hundreds of thousands of years ago!” Korvin became very excited, “It’s the same technology! Within this drone is the potential for all the strength and physicality of the Husks without the mindless rage! This drone is the bridge we need! By merging Borg and Reaper technology I can develop super-soldiers unlike the galaxy has ever seen. Faster, stronger, more obedient.”
“Okay. You’re going to die now.”
Korvin forced himself to calm down, “No, Commander. I am going to continue my research.”
“You have three heavily armed people who are determined to stop you. The subject of your perverted experiments is being disconnected as we speak. How the hell do you figure you’re going to continue?”
“You’re going to let me.”
“You’re smart, Shepard. Practical. You know the Reapers are coming, and you’ll do anything you can to stop them. You know what this research could produce. This research could mean the difference between survival and destruction, and you know it.” As Korvin spoke, Janeway looked at Shepard to read her reaction. After all, the first time they met, Shepard was trying to extort weapons technology from them. Is Korvin wrong, or is Shepard going to try to let him continue?
“How many people are there in the galaxy?” Korvin continued, “10 billion salarians, 6 billion turians, 11 billion humans…5.5 billion asari, I hear you have a soft spot for the asari” he smiled, “Or do you? I must say, watching your little drama with the Dr. T’Soni has been endlessly entertaining.”
“No.” Shepard said, raising her weapon and gripping the tightly, “We’re going to save the galaxy. But we’re going to do it the right way.”
“Don’t you understand what I am doing? We cannot defeat the Reapers on our own! This gives us the tools to turn their weapons against them! This may even lead to technology that allows us to control the Reapers!”
Janeway listened to Shepard’s answer carefully, “I will not let us sacrifice who we are to survive. This research was bought through deception, kidnapping, torture, and murder. I will not allow it to continue.” Shepard, eyes locked on Korvin, fired at the server, destroying it with loud bangs and sparks.
Korvin, yelled with a start, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Shepard looked around the room and fired at every storage device she could find. “STOP” Korvin yelled, “YOU’LL RUIN EVERYTHING.” He ran toward Shepard. She stopped firing and grabbed the shirt of his collar with her left hand. She pulled him close, her grip was strong and her eyes were on fire, “You’re done, Korvin. Seven is coming with us, your data is destroyed. Stop. Stop before I’m forced to shoot something else.” She pressed the muzzle of the submachine gun against his stomach, “Something squishier.”
She dropped him to the floor, “Mordin, how are we doing?”
Mordin stood, supporting part of Seven’s weight. He had removed the Husk tube hub from her shoulder, but the conduits on her face and neck remained, “I’ve done everything I can here. Possibly we’ll have more luck on Voyager. Ready to go.”
“Alright, everyone,” She shot the last data storage device, “Let’s go home.”
“NO!” Korvin screamed, “YOU’VE KILLED US, COMMANDER! YOU’VE KILLED US ALL!”
Korvin continued to scream as Mordin led the way out of the laboratory, followed by Tuvok. Shepard and Janeway walked out close behind. As they made their way through the tunnels, Janeway stopped Shepard, “I wasn’t sure you were going to let him live.”
“Me either.” She responded, still shaken and angry.
“Why did you?”
Shepard paused, unsure of her answer, “He was unarmed. And Seven was your crewmate. If anyone was going to kill him, it should be you.” The two CO’s nodded to each other out of respect. Wordlessly, they walked toward the shuttles.
Four acts down, one more to go. (Though, there probably will be one or two short epilogues after the fifth act. Nothing long, just about the length of one of the parts.) I hope you've enjoyed the story so far. Thank you for reading and your reviews, you mean the world to me!
Chapter 5: Act V / Epilogue
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Captain’s Log: Stardate 54212.7
With Mordin’s help, the Doctor removed the foreign implants from Seven’s body. Seven is expected to make a full recovery and the Doctor expects minimal scarring from the implants. I am also told Tali is making a full recovery aboard the Normandy. Mordin has informed me that had she not already been given antibiotics for her earlier episode she would have died as a result of the new infection.
I find myself indebted to Shepard and the Normandy. They have been a tremendous help in devising a way to get home, and without them we might not have been able to rescue Seven and Harry. This is a debt I would like to repay, but have yet to decide how best to do so.
The Doctor and Mordin stood in the med bay with Thane as Captain Janeway and Tuvok looked on from the sidelines. The Doctor had been working with Mordin on a way to cure this man for days, focusing almost exclusively on this project. Running simulations, developing cultures, and taking samples. Yes, in this short timeframe the Doctor wasn’t expecting to be able to cure the disease outright. He is arrogant, but not so arrogant. Though, he did think that, at least, he wouldn’t find himself looking Thane in his large black eyes and saying:
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do.”
Thane didn’t seem to react.
The doctor continued, “We weren’t able to find a way to contain or even slow the spread of the disease. As it is right now, I am sorry.”
“There is no need to be sorry, Doctor. I appreciate your efforts.”
“Thane, you don’t understand” Mordin started, “The disease is further along than we thought.”
“What do you mean?” Thane asked.
“I’m sorry, Thane” the Doctor said compassionately, “at its current rate of spread, I don’t see you living longer than three months.”
Thane nodded and put his hand on the Doctor’s shoulder, “Do not despair, Doctor. You’ve done all you could, and I am appreciative. I do not fear my death. I have reunited with my son, and I am helping to save the galaxy. This is more than I could have hoped for.
The Doctor nodded, unsure of why he was being comforted by Thane; he had planned it the other way around. He reached behind him and grabbed a small black plastic case, “Here, this should help with the chest pain. It won’t stop the disease, but it will make it easier to endure.” Thane took the case and held out his hand; the Doctor shook it and continued, “I’ll miss you Thane.”
“As will I,” Janeway interjected, “It has been a pleasure having you aboard.”
“Indeed,” Tuvok continued, “I will miss our conversations. They have been…” Tuvok paused, looking for the right word, “interesting.”
“Thank you Captain, Lieutenant Commander,” Thane said, “I appreciate your hospitality. May I be dismissed? I need to grab some personal effects from my guest quarters before returning to the Normandy.”
Thane nodded to both of the Voyager officers and left the sick bay. Janeway watched him leave, and then turned her attention to Mordin, “And, Mordin, thank you for all your help with the rescue, and with Seven.”
“Of course. Ethical thing to do.” Mordin said, and then leaned toward the Captain, “But, before I go, may I speak to you privately?”
Janeway nodded and walked with Mordin to a corner of the sickbay. Mordin whispered to her, “I just wanted to warn you. When removing the Reaper implants from Seven’s body, I discovered something.”
“What did you discover?” Janeway said, concerned for Seven’s well being.
“While immoral. Unethical. Korvin was correct about one thing: the Borg and the Reapers are related. If I had to guess, based on what I saw, Borg are descendants of Reapers.”
“Yes. It seems at one point, Reapers began synthesizing their technology with organic beings. Stopped destroying cultures, started assimilating them.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Technology too compatible. Only possible explanation. Borg are Reapers. Be careful, Captain. Reapers may still be out there in your dimension.”
Unsure of what to say, Janeway nodded, shook Mordin’s hand, and thanked him for his help again. She shot Tuvok a look, and the two of them excused themselves and left the sick bay. They walked to the turbolift and called for deck one.
“Computer, stop.” Janeway said, and turned to Tuvok, “Something’s on your mind and I want to know what it is.”
“Captain, I have not indicated any discontent.”
“Tuvok, after all these years I know you. Something’s bothering you. What is it.”
Tuvok sighed, “Captain, as you are aware, we have traveled through time on numerous occasions.”
“And on each of those occasions, We have encountered a federation timeship attempting to preserve the timeline.”
Janeway nodded along as Tuvok continued, “Logic dictates that any civilization that masters time travel will have attempt to preserve the integrity of their timeline. Yet, we have not encountered any such attempt, which would mean that the people of this dimension have not mastered time travel. At the rate of technological development in this dimension, that is incredibly unlikely.”
“What are you saying?”
“If allowed to progress without intervention, something will prevent the people of this dimension from achieving mastery of time travel.”
“You think Reapers are real?”
Tuvok nodded, “While a galaxy-wide extinction is highly unlikely, this dimension not mastering time travel is even more unlikely. I believe we should assist Shepard in her mission.”
“You think we should give the Normandy the weapons technology they’re asking for?”
“Now you’re the last person I expected to come to me with this.” Tuvok raised his eyebrow; Janeway continued, “This would be in direct violation of the Prime Directive.”
“This is true. However, we have violated on multiple occasions the Prime Directive when people are in danger.”
Janeway was silent. She never knew Tuvok to advocate breaking the law, in particular the Prime Directive. He must be very certain.
“Computer,” Janeway said, “Resume turbolift. Deck Two.”
“Deck Two?” Tuvok asked.
“Yes. I’m realizing I have to talk to Neelix. I’ll be back to the bridge in a few minutes.” The lift doors opened. Janeway started walking out, but stopped and turned back to Tuvok, “Thank you for talking to me, Tuvok. I’ll keep it under advisement.” She turned and walked away as the doors closed.
“Your assistance is much appreciated, Agent LeJeune. You will find a substantial reward has been added to your account.” Liara calmly said into a private channel.
“Liara,” Shepard called as she entered her cabin. She was in a happier mood than she had been the past week. It could be because she was finally able to get off the ship and do something. It could be that, finally, there was a mission with no gray area: a straight up rescue. It could be that she hadn’t shot anything in a while and tearing up mechs was her stress relief. Whatever the reason, she was happy, and she wanted to reconcile with Liara.
Liara was sitting on the couch, one leg crossed over the other staring at a datapad. “I’m over here.” She said, looking up from the pad, “You seem to be in good spirits.”
“I am. Don’t know why.” Shepard looked at the mass of datapads on the coffee table as Liara went back to her work, smiling. “No rest for the weary, eh?”
“None needed. I don’t think I slept at all when defending my dissertation.” Liara stacked the datapads in a pile by her on the table. Shepard plopped on the section adjacent to Liara’s on the couch.
“I got a message from Voyager.” Shepard started, “It seems that they want to thank us for our help.”
Liara looked up in excitement, “They’re giving us the tech you asked for?”
Shepard shook her head, “No. They’re inviting us to a party.” Shepard was only slightly facetious.
“A celebration: something to mark the ‘unprecedented interdimensional-intertemporal cooperation’ or something along those lines. If it’s one thing I learned growing up it’s never turn down free food, and I figure the crew’s earned a little shore leave, and this is as best as we’re going to get.” Shepard said with a chuckle. “You say I never take you anywhere. Interested?”
“When is this event to happen?”
“It’s happening now.” Shepard looked at the clock on her nightstand, “Not technically now, but basically now.”
“Thank you, that would be nice. However, something just came up and I can’t afford to…” Shepard put her feet on the coffee table. The impact of her boots on the metal shook the table, disrupting the top of the datapad stack and causing them to cascade across Shepard’s floor.
“I’m sorry!” Shepard jumped up to help gather the datapads, Liara jumped with a start and quickly scooped up as many as she could.
“It’s nothing. Really. Don’t worry.” Liara frantically said.
Shepard had picked up two of the ten-or-so. She looked at the one in her right hand; her good spirits began to fade, “Liara,” she asked sternly, “what is this?” She held up the orange datapad so Liara could see its contents, tossing the other one onto the coffee table.
Liara wordlessly looked at the pad and back to Shepard. She was treading lightly.
“Is this what I think it is?” Shepard asked again, turning the pad toward her and exploring the material with her fingers.
“I don’t know what you think it is.” Liara said innocently, sitting straight on the couch, datapads now back on the table.
“It looks like a comm buoy. A comm buoy with a suspicious hardware upgrade,” she looked at Liara, “Where did you get this?”
“Liara, where did you get this?”
“I had an agent in the area…”
Shepard, no longer in a happy mood, growled and paced to the other side of the cabin. “So you what?” she scolded, “You had some spy follow us into Korvin’s base? Pick up the scraps?”
“No. When I left the bridge, I had the nearest able agent scan the buoy before Voyager could…”
“Liara, I ordered you to…”
“You are not my commanding officer.” Liara tersely reminded, “You do not give me orders.”
“You are a guest on my ship. How dare you go behind my back and…”
The women began shouting on top of one another. The fuse was lit long ago, and now the bomb had exploded. Shepard threw the datapad down on the table. Liara stood and paced around the room. Their voices were loud and their gestures large and forceful. They could no longer hear everything that the other said, but that wasn’t the point now. The point wasn’t to listen. The point was to make the other understand. The point had become to win.
“How dare I? Honestly. This technology has the capability to save lives. With the information I could gath…”
“It’s just as likely to ruin lives! I am not okay with anyone having access to this sort of…
“Do you remember a week ago? You stormed onto Voyager and demanded advanced weapons tech…”
“That was different!”
“I have always followed the rules of war! When I attack someone, it’s to their face, and they are armed. This, the Shadow Broker, it violates every…”
“I will not be lectured on ethics by the commanding officer of a Cerberus vessel!”
“It’s your fault I am working with Cerberus!”
“To save your life!”
“Ever since you’ve become the Shadow Broker you’ve been cutting yourself off. Hiding in your…”
“Oh, by the goddess, not this again!”
“Hiding in your little cave! Threatening your faceless agents! What’s next?”
“With the tech from this buoy I wouldn’t even have to utilize agents! I could do it all on my own!”
“Exactly! Do you remember the previous Shadow Broker? He saw no one. Trusted no one! He was completely cut off from the world! He was cruel and vicious and I...I will not idly stand by while thewoman I love turns into some sort of reclusive monster!”
The women took a moment to catch their breath. They were now both standing across the room from one another; their voices were tired and their limbs were shaking. Shepard could hear her heart in her throat, and she could tell she had crossed a line from the look in Liara’s eyes. They had both gotten carried away.
Shepard looked earnestly at the floor, “Liara, I…” She paused.
“That’s the first time you said you loved me since you died.” Liara stated.
Shepard looked up, taken aback. She hadn’t realized that she had yet to say it. She also didn’t know Liara counted, “I should say it more often.” Shepard sat on the floor at the foot of her bed, “Liara…I’m sorry. I just worry about you. I know you weren’t happy as an information broker, and I’ve seen it change you. I just…” Shepard brought her hands up, tensed them trying to think of the right words and, giving up, relaxed them.
Liara walked to her, sat down close beside her, and bumped her with her shoulder before taking Shepard’s hand. “I know.” Liara said, “But it’s what I have to do.”
Shepard sighed and Liara leaned her head on Shepard’s shoulder.
“Are you hungry?”
“What can I get for you?” A smiling Neelix asked standing behind the bar of the Fair Haven pub, which had been converted to serve Neelix and Sergeant Gardner’s home cooked foods. “Lets see what we still have: Basted Herulian beast with a leola root pate, Peppered Dinaali cabbage, A fine array of dextro cheese, Fillet of Nuu’Barian singing bass, some fine asari calamari gumbo, and Chocolate fudge ice cream for desert!”
“Yes.” Commander Shepard responded, looking somewhat distant.
“All of it.” Shepard made a circling gesture with her finger around her plate.
Neelix was excited, “Why yes, ma’am!” He loaded up her plate, piling the different foods on top of one another, and handed the plate back to her with a bowl of gumbo and a bowl of ice cream. “And what would you like?” Neelix said to Liara, close behind Shepard. She pointed to three of the dishes.
“I must say, it’s refreshing to see people with such healthy appetites! I promise, you won’t be disappointed!” Neelix said as he loaded up her plate.
“Damn right she won’t be!” Sergeant Gardner threw his arm around Neelix and pulled him in, “Neelix and I have been working on this all day, I’ve never seen such a professional, talented cook in all my days!”
“Look who’s talking! Your cinnamon fritter recipe is simply brilliant!”
Shepard and Liara took their dishes and sat down at an open table together. Shepard hadn’t been inside the holodeck yet, and was simply astounded by what she saw: the detail, the atmosphere. You would never need shore leave with this installed in your ship. You could instantly go wherever you wanted to, whenever you wanted to.
Janeway explained in her invitation that this was a program that was initially built as a permanent fixture. Like a community the crew could visit on a regular basis. A dry dock. It has since been used less, but it still held a soft spot in many of their hearts. Shepard had to admit, the local town holograms really knew how to throw a party. The music was exciting, the crews of the two ships were laughing and dancing together. The festivities had even spilled into the street, with more music, food, and drinking.
As soon as the Commander stuck a fork in what looked to be some sort of fish, Tom Paris stopped by the table, “I’m sorry, Commander,” he said, stopping her fork in midair with his words, “I’d never forgive myself if I let you eat that.” He pointed to the fish thing. “The rest of it’s fine, just don’t eat the fish.”
“Thank you.” Shepard said, saving the fish for later.
Tom turned to Liara, “It’s good to meet you two. Officially.”
“Yes,” Liara said, “Thank you for the rescue.” Liara had discarded the fish, “and my apologies for how we first met.”
“None necessary. Water under the bridge. Though, that’s a hell of a way to be introduced to biotics.”
“You know about biotics?” Shepard asked, mouth full.
“We gained access to the Extranet. I figure: We’re not going to be here for long, so might as well read up on it now.”
“You find a vid called Vaenia?” Shepard asked.
“Shepard!” Liara jokingly scolded as Shepard grinned.
Tom took that as a clue not to search for Vaenia. He saw Harry wave from across the crowded room, “Have you two seen Joker?”
“Sorry, we just got here.” Shepard said, fixated on her food.
“I think he may be sitting at a small table by the entrance?” Liara said and pointed.
“Thanks. See you around?” Shepard and Liara nodded. Tom waved to Harry and made his way across the room. When he came to Harry, he was standing by a young woman hologram; she was wearing Irish clothes similar to the other characters, had hazel eyes and light brown hair. Her face was bright and happy. “Harry, Is this her?”
“Tom, meet Eadan.” She held her hand out to Tom, which was unusual for the women holograms in this program.
Tom shook her hand, she had a firm grip, “Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“And you too, Mr. Paris! Harry’s told me a lot about you.”
“Nothing bad, I hope.”
“Oh, of course not. Don’t you have faith in your friend?” Eadan said jovially.
“Yeah, Tom, don’t you have faith in me?” Harry Joked.
“Not for a second.”
“Liara said she thought she saw him by the door?” Tom stood on his toes to look over the heads of people around him. “Ah, over there.” Tom indicated by nodding his head over the crowd, “Eadan, would you like to meet our friend?”
“I would be delighted.”
Tom took Eadan’s hand, who took Harry’s hand, and they pushed through the crowded pub. It seems the whole holographic town came out for the celebration, in addition to many of the crews of both the Normandy and Voyager. It was a welcome change from the suspicion and derision. The three walked up to Joker, who was on his own nursing a beer with a brown bottle and yellow label.
“Joker, how you doing? All by yourself?” Tom asked.
Joker looked up at him, “Yeah, I spend all day by myself on the bridge of the Normandy. I’m not really at home in crowds.” He said, taking a swig from his beer, “And I don’t dance. So…”
“You don’t dance?” Eadan said through her melodic Irish accent, “That’s a shame.”
“No. I…I’m sorry, who are you? I don’t think we’ve met?”
“Joker,” Harry said, “This is Eadan. She’s from Fair Haven.”
Joker looked a little disappointed, but curious. “Oh, so you’re a…” he looked back and forth between her and Harry, “She’s a…
Eadan sat down without asking, “A hologram, Mr. Moreau?”
“Yes, and please, call me Jeff.”
“Sure, Jeff.” She said with a giggle, “and yes, I’m a hologram.”
“And you know you’re a hologram?”
“Yes. Is that so odd? You know you’re a space man?”
“No…I, uh…good point.” Joker looked at Eadan up and down. He knew she was not real, but she was definitely attractive. He looked at Tom, “Seriously, how do you get any work done?” Joker and Eadan started talking and Tom and Harry quietly stepped back, chuckling.
B’elanna came up behind Tom and put her arms around him, “So here’s where you’ve been hiding.”
“Who’s hiding? I’m not hiding.”
“Come on, Cupid, you promised me a dance.”
“Sorry, Kids. Duty calls.” Tom said, being dragged away by B’elanna.
Harry looked at Tom as he left, “What am I supposed to do now?”
“Isn’t there a cow somewhere around here you had a thing with once?” Tom said, disappearing in the crowd.
“That’s not funny!” Harry pointed at the disappearing Tom. He looked around the room, and decided to catch some air outside.
“So, what’s it like,” Eadan asked Joker, “Flying through space?”
“It’s not bad. I can think of worse ways to spend an evening.” He joked, “How about you? What’s it like…uh…being a hologram?” Joker asked as awkwardly as possible.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you know you’re on a ship, in space…”
“And you know you were created…by these people…”
“Isn’t that weird to you?”
“Why would it be?”
“I don’t know. It’s sort of…how do you know they aren’t going to erase you? Or edit you? Or something like that?”
“If they try to edit me, I’ll just break into their computer system and take over the ship until they change me back.” Joker squinted his eyes. Eadan laughed, “I’m just kidding you, Jeff. For someone called ‘Joker,’ your mightily high strung.” There was a brief pause in the conversation. Joker wanted to retort, but couldn’t think of anything to say. He wasn’t used to being at a loss for words.
Eadan was the one to break the silence, “Come on,” She stood up, “Let’s dance!”
“Oh, no. I would love to, but I can’t. See, I’ve got this note from my doctor…”
Unfortunately, Dr. Chakwas was standing just behind Joker, drinking with Chakotay and eavesdropping on the couple, “Don’t you let him get out of having a good time on my account. His doctor says he’s fine to go dancing.” Joker glared at Dr. Chakwas who was smirking and sipping on an Irish whiskey on the rocks.
“See, your doctor says it’s fine! Let’s go!” Eadan gently grabbed Joker’s arm and pulled him to the dance floor. Joker wondered how much Tom and Harry told her about him, since she was being so gentle. Did she know about his condition? Did he really care? She wasn’t even really real anyway, right? He thought, Tom and Harry might have even programmed her for him. If her purpose was to hang out with Joker, than who was he to keep her from that? His ego inflated, and he decided that he might as well play along. He followed her to a corner of the dance floor and took her lead.
Outside the pub, Tuvok approached the party to find a gathering of crewmembers from the two ships. They were chanting and cheering. Tuvok decided to investigate what was happening before walking into the pub. As he approached, the Voyager crew noticed him and stepped aside, letting him to the center of the group. There, he found a small table commandeered from the inside of the pub with two chairs on each side. In one sat a member of the Voyager crew, in the other sat Grunt, the large krogan from the Normandy. The two were arm wrestling. After Tuvok arrived in the center, Grunt slammed the crewman’s hand on the table, which resulted in cheers and jeers erupted from the crowd as Grunt shouted “I am KROGAN!”
“Tuvok! You’re here!” Said Harry, who joined the crowd after leaving the pub.
“Yes. The captain requested that I…”
“Tuvok, now that you’re here, you gonna arm wrestle Grunt?” A crewmember asked, The Voyager crew erupted in encouraging cheers.
“I have no plans to…”
The crew cheered again. “Come on, Tuvok!” “You can do it!”
“You’ve got to do it!” Harry said, “Grunt’s beaten everyone who’s gone against him so far. You can’t let him do this on our home turf!”
“I don’t have to do anything, Ensign.”
Tuvok turned to leave the crowd when he heard Grunt chuckling, “That’s right, human. Run away.”
Tuvok stopped and looked over his shoulder, “I am not human. I am Vulcan.”
Grunt laughed, “Vulcan, human, doesn’t matter. No one here measures up to pure krogan!” He laughed some more. Tuvok looked at the faces of his fellow crewmembers and, with an exasperated sigh and no words, he sat in the chair across from Grunt and places his elbow on the table.
Even through the music and people talking, Shepard and Liara heard an eruption of cheers from the Voyager crew coming from outside. Loud enough that it actually startled Liara, who was nibbling on Shepard’s ice cream. Shepard was busy finishing off the fish that Liara had discarded. Soon after the cheer had died, Captain Janeway and a hologram came to their table. Janeway was unlike Shepard had seen her, laughing. Jovial. Happy. She sat down in the third chair at the table with the hologram standing behind her, and even though he wasn’t her cup of tea, Shepard noticed that he was very attractive.
“Hello Commander,” Janeway said through a chuckle and a smile, “This is Michael,” she gestured to the hologram, “Michael, this is Commander Shepard and Doctor T’Soni.” The hologram held out his hand for Shepard, who looked up from her plate to shake his hand. He then held his hand to Liara, who took it as well. “Commander. Doctor. It’s a pleasure to meet you both. Katy has told me a lot about you.”
Shepard looked at Janeway, “Katy?”
Janeway smirked, “Yes, well,” she looked at the attractive hologram, “Michael, I need to speak to the Commander for a moment.”
“Of course,” he said and turned to Liara and held out his hand, “Doctor, may I have this dance?”
Liara shot a look at Shepard who smirked and nodded, “Of course. And call me Liara.” She took his hand.
“Liara.” He and Liara walked to the dance floor as the musicians switched from one song to another.
“Katy, huh?” Shepard joked. “You two, uh…can you with a…”
“That’s classified. Suffice to say that it would be improper for me to feel any sort of romantic attraction to a member of my crew.”
Shepard laughed, drawing a puzzled look from Janeway. Shepard did her best to wave it off, “You’ve really been out here a long time, huh?”
Janeway smirked and nodded, “We have.” Janeway shifted her weight, growing more serious, “Did you mean what you said earlier?”
Shepard was confused, “Earlier when?”
“On the planet, when you said you wouldn’t sacrifice who you were to survive.”
Janeway leaned in, “And who are you?”
Shepard thought for a moment. She looked at Liara who was now dancing with the hologram. She was smiling, which made Shepard smile. “Something here”
Janeway smirked again, “Good.” She reached into a hidden pocket and produced a PADD, which she slid to Shepard. Shepard picked up the PADD and looked at the screen, the UI was different than on one of her datapads, but it was similar enough. Shepard activated the PADD and looked at the schematic. A schematic of…
“Is this?” Shepard asked.
“It’s an older model. We don’t use it anymore, but it should help in your struggle with the Reapers.”
“What changed your mind? Wy are you helping us?”
Shepard stared at the torpedo schematic. She could tell it was much older than anything else on Voyager, it wasn’t as powerful, but it was still better than anything Shepard had seen. An armada armed with these could hold it’s own against a few Reapers. It wouldn’t be easy, but they could defend…
Shepard looked back up and saw Liara dancing again. The two briefly made eye contact before Liara focused again on the hologram.
“I can’t take this,” Shepard said and slid the PADD back to Janeway.
“What do you mean? I thought this is what you wanted?”
“It is, it’s just…” Shepard gathered her breath, “If I’ve learned anything from this mission it’s that I can’t trust anyone on my ship with data. Our computer was hacked, and I may have a couple of spies on board. I don’t trust who I am working with and I will not be responsible for them gaining access to this advanced weaponry. Give me this data and I can’t guarantee it stays with me.”
“What would you have done with it if you kept it.”
“There’s an admiral in the Alliance that I trust. Anderson. David Anderson. He’s the only one I’d trust with this.” Shepard handed the PADD back to Janeway, who begrudgingly received it.
“If you had some of these laying around, I would be able to securely deliver them to Anderson, but it sounds like you don’t, and I wouldn’t ask you to.”
“We can replicate them easily enough. Are you sure you could keep them secure?”
Shepard perked up a bit, “Yes. I could keep them under guard in the cargo bay. While I don’t trust Cerberus, not everyone on my ship is Cerberus. There are two that I trust to keep people away until I could deliver them to Anderson.”
“And this Anderson, what would he do with it?”
“He’s a good man, and he knows the Reaper threat is a real one. He would probably get a team working on reverse engineering them. He would recognize how powerful these are. They would stay within the Alliance; I know it.”
Janeway nodded, “Very well. We’ll transport two of this model directly to your shuttle bay. We’ll contact you when the transport is complete.”
“Don’t.” Shepard was serious, “I don’t want some of the people on my ship to know something’s up. I’ll have the two guards I have in mind standing by in the shuttle bay. I’ll tell them something’s arriving, and I’ll tell them it’s confidential. No one is to know about this except the two of us.”
“And, Captain, thank you. You may have saved my galaxy.”
Janeway nodded as the song ended. Liara and the hologram returned to the table. Janeway greeted the hologram and the two went off together. Liara sat down at her seat and looked into Shepard’s eyes, “So, what did you two talk about.”
“She wanted to thank me for my help extracting Seven of Nine.”
“That’s it? It seems odd that she would want to discuss that with you privately.”
The tavern was now dark and orange with flickering candlelight. The Normandy and Voyager crews were now gone, and the Fair Haven citizens had all but left, except the tavern workers who were sweeping up the floors and washing tumblers. Neelix gathered his cooking supplies in a messy jumble in his arms. The party had been long, but fun, and Neelix enjoyed getting out of the mess hall’s kitchen. Harry came up to Neelix, who looked like he was struggling, “Neelix, do you need help?”
“No, no, I’ve got it. Thank you though, Harry.” Neelix walked past Harry to Tom, who was standing by the holodeck door, “Brilliant party, Mr. Paris. I had a wonderful time!”
“And no one got sick.” Tom quipped. Neelix smiled and chuckled at the joke at his expense, “I think this is just what the crew needed. Next time you want to plan something like this, let me know. I would be happy to lend my services!” Neelix nodded and walked out of the holodeck back to the grey hallways of Voyager. Harry approached Tom, “So, time to shut it down?” Harry asked.
“I think so,” Tom respond, “Computer: End Fair Haven program.” The tavern and tavern workers disintegrated, leaving only Tom, Harry, and Edan in the empty holodeck. Edan stood silently, with perfect posture, analyzing the empty holodeck.
“So,” Harry said, approaching Edan, “Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Yes. Thank you for this opportunity.” She responded, her melodic accent gone.
“Where’d the accent go?” Harry asked.
“The accent was derived from subroutines through the Fair Haven program. When the program was deactivated, I lost access to them, along with many of Edan’s other mannerisms and understanding of human custom.”
“You transferring back to the Normandy now?”
“I cannot leave the Normandy, but if you’re asking if I will disengage my connection with Voyager, yes. I will do shortly. Again, thank you for suggesting this. I…had fun.”
“No problem” Tom said.
“Take care, EDI.” Harry waved.
Edan nodded and dissipated, leaving only Tom and Harry in the room.
“Should we tell Joker?” Harry asked Tom as they walked out of the holodeck.
“Nah. We’ll let the two of them figure things out.”
“I want to thank you for all your help, Commander.” Captain Janeway said to her viewscreen. She saw the bridge of the Normandy, with Joker sitting at the helm and Shepard and Liara standing behind.
“Think nothing of it,” Shepard responded, politely yet formally, “It’s nothing you wouldn’t have done for me, I’m sure. Do you have everything you need?”
“Yes. Do you?”
She thought it was an odd question from the captain. Voyager hadn’t given the Normandy any supplies. They had even outright refused to. So why ask if we needed anything now? What was the point. Liara looked at Shepard for a clue; she gave none.
“Once you start your approach it is essential you do not deviate from your course. A ship that big without a mass effect core traveling in the wake of a shuttle that does…you only get one shot at this.” Shepard reminded them. Tom’s eyes rolled as if to say “You don’t have to tell us.”
“Good luck, Commander.” The Captain said.
“You too, Captain. Promise me that you’ll hello to Earth for me.” Shepard smirked.
Janeway smirked back and nodded, “I promise. And, Commander, kick some ass.”
Shepard nodded, and the signal was cut off. Voyager moved away from the Normandy and positioned herself in line to enter the Relay. Joker turned to Shepard as the Delta Flyer exited the Voyager shuttle bay, “So. Where to now, boss?”
“We’ll wait here until they enter the relay. See them off. Then we’ll drop off Liara at…”
“Shepard, we have an incoming ship dropping out of FTL,” Joker interrupted. With a “pop,” a large, dark ship with a smooth, reflective hull appeared beside them, and moved in the way of Voyager, which had started it’s run toward the Relay.
“Shepard!” Tali called over the comm, “That’s Korvin’s ship!”
Korvin sent a message to the Normandy, “You can’t stop me, Shepard! I would rather die than let the Galaxy fall!”
“Joker, take him down!”
“No good, Commander. We don’t have anything that would knock him out of the way before Voyager would get there.”
“Didn’t we JUST upgrade the canon?”
“We did, just before Voyager got here,” Garrus joined the conversation from the shuttle bay, “But the targeting computers haven’t been fully calibrated yet. There’s no guarantee we’d actually hit Korvin’s ship, and we may actually hit Voyager or the Flyer.”
“The targeting computer isn’t calibrated?” Shepard asked aggravatedly, “Garrus, what are you DOING down there all day?” Shepard yelled.
“I’ve been a little busy on Voyager!”
“Shepard, 45 seconds until point of no return” EDI reminded.
“Contact Voyager, tell them to take that ship…”
“No good.” Tali called, running to the Main Battery, hoping she could calibrate the canon in time, “Voyager’s course is already laid in. Weapons fire may disrupt the tachyon field emitted by their…”
Shepard shut Tali out. After “No good” Shepard didn’t need the details. She thought, her eyes darted around the cockpit. She turned to Liara, “Get to the shuttle bay. NOW!” Without words, Liara nodded and ran down the hallway.
“Jack, get to the shuttle bay now! Joker, get us as close as you can and open the shuttle bay doors.” Joker did as he was ordered.
Shepard yelled into the comm, “In the shuttle bay there are two boxes guarded by Garrus and Samara. This is our ammo. Jack, Samara, you’re our cannons. I want you to shove these out the door as fast as you can. Liara, you’re the targeting computer. Make sure they hit their mark.”
“I don’t know if I can do this, Shepard” Liara said, not meekly but plainly.
“Garrus?” Shepard asked.
“Better than the canon right now.”
“You’ve got this, Liara,” Shepard ordered.
“Joker?” Shepard asked.
“In position and shuttle bay door open.”
“Jack, Samara, Liara?”
“We’re in position.”
Jack and Samara threw the torpedoes out of the Shuttle bay as fast as they could. Liara stood as far forward as she could with her arms out. She groaned and sweat, trying to alter the course of the torpedoes. They were quickly out of her range, and she fell to her knees, panting. She looked up through the barrier to see if her efforts were fruitful.
The torpedoes sored through space toward Korvin’s ship for what felt like an eternity. Jack’s torpedo made first impact, knocking Korvin’s ship away from Voyager’s path and devastating the starboard side of the ship. The Samara’s torpedo came shortly after, smashing into the impact wound of the first, resulting in the decimation of the ship, leaving only debris.
The Flyer zoomed through the debris field with no problems, with Voyager following close behind. The shuttle reached the relay and was struck by an energy bolt, shooting it and the vessel behind it into the relay.
“Voyager’s away.” Joker said.
“There are no signs of life from the debris field.”
“Good. Set course for Hagalaz, and get Garrus on that canon.”
“Yes ma’am.” Joker said to an empty room. He turned back and saw the Commander walking down the hallway, “Ma’am?”
“I’ll be in my cabin.” The commander said, deflated. As if she let the key to the salvation of the entire galaxy slip through her fingers.
“Warp drive is back up and running,” B’elanna reported from her seat in the conference room, “I have a team working on removing the modifications to the Flyer. They should be done in a day or so.”
“It’s not like you to not be specific?” Janeway asked.
“I told them to take it easy. My whole team is exhausted between the folding-space drive and mass relay drive conversions.”
“Give them my thanks.”
“It’s a shame we didn’t get more out of it,” Tom said, “After all that, relay popped us back where we started, when we started. All in all, all we got was a lost few days.”
“I don’t think that’s true.” Janeway responded, “We saw a whole new galaxy. Don’t you see the possibilities that gives us? They can traverse the entire galaxy in a matter of days, not decades. They can communicate in real time with anyone in the galaxy. No, we may have not gotten anything tactile. And we may not have gotten the boost we were looking for, but anytime we meet a civilization that has a new way of living, a new way of thinking. That is something.” She snapped back to official mode, “Let’s get back on track. Everyone back to your posts. Tom, lay in a course for home.”
“Aye, ma’am,” Tom said as everyone started to stand and file out of the room, everyone, that is, except for Chakotay and Janeway.
“So, what changed your mind?” He asked, standing beside her.
“Do you disagree?”
“I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing you did. Sensor logs indicate the weapons used to stop Korvin’s interference were the torpedoes. They must have found a way to fire them. I was actually just curious: what changed your mind.”
“Well, I was approached by a couple of unlikely sources for one. And there was what she said to Korvin on his base, that she wouldn’t sacrifice who she was to save her people. That she was going to ‘do it right.”
“Sounds familiar” Chakotay said with a smile.
Janeway smirked at him, stood, and walked to the screen on the wall of the conference room, “But, I think the last straw, the fact that pushed me to make the decision, was this.” Janeway activated the screen and, with a few keystrokes, activated an old personnel file, “She designed them.”
Chakotay looked at Janeway, “What?”
“Their universe was another dimension, and was not completely alien from our own. I decided to try and look up a few of the crewmembers of the Normandy in our universe, just to see what their doppelgangers were like in this dimension.” She gestured to the screen.
Choktay read out loud, “Vice Admiral Janette Shepard: April 11th, 2154 – November 20th, 2260.”
“She served on the USS Horizon as a tactical and security officer, rose up the ranks and eventually took command of another Daedalus class ship. After a few years she started working at the academy, teaching cadets on weaponry and command. She was chosen by Starfleet to help design the weapons systems of the Miranda and Constellation class starships. Including those torpedoes we gave them, and even our current torpedoes have her fingerprints on them.”
“It looks like she didn’t have too long of a career, considering her rank and accomplishments.”
“Which is probably why we didn’t recognize the name. She met her wife while working on the Constellation and retired soon thereafter.”
“Anyone we know?”
Janeway shook her head, “No one we met on the Normandy.” Janeway leaned against the table, gazing at the picture of her universe’s Shepard. She looked like the Shepard she met, yet less battle-worn. Her eyes didn’t have the same fire.
“You’re worried about her?” Chakotay asked.
Janeway shook her head, “No. She’ll find a way.”
Tali hugged Liara on board the Shadow Broker’s base on Halagaz while Garrus and Shepard looked on, “It’s been nice seeing you again, Liara,” Tali said through her squeeze, “It’s a shame you can’t come with us.”
“Yes, well,” Liara and Tali let go, “This is where I am needed. I’ll help you however I can.”
“Well, don’t be a stranger.” Garrus said, giving Liara a brotherly punch on the arm, “Now that I know you have the most complicated communications array in the galaxy on this ship, there’s no excuse to not drop me a line from time to time.”
Liara chuckled, “Of course, Garrus.” The two exchanged a brief hug before Tali and Garrus turned their heads toward Shepard.
“We’ll, uh, give you some privacy,” Tali said as she grabbed Garrus’ arm and pulled him away. The two waited by the door of the Shadow Broker’s main office.
“So. This is it.” Shepard said, standing in front of Liara.
“Yes. It is.” Liara blankly responded.
“Liara, I don’t know what’s going to happen inside the Reaper. And after that we’re going to the Omega Relay. I’m not sure…”
“You’re coming back.” Liara took Shepard’s hands in her own, “I know you’re coming back.”
Shepard nodded without energy, “…yeah.”
The two stood there, without moving or talking for what seemed like an eternity. They were both looking for the right thing to say, the right way to walk way. “You know, you could come with us. We could definitely use you.”
“You know I can’t.”
“I know. You can’t blame me for trying.” Shepard chuckled, which caused Liara to chuckle.
“You have to save the galaxy, Shepard. You don’t need to try to save me too. I’m a big girl; I’ll be alright here.”
Shepard squeezed Liara’s hands one last time and their arms bounced slightly. She took in a heavy breath, “I should go.”
Liara nodded and the two let go of each other’s hands. “Remember, Shepard. If you need anything, you know where to find me.”
After a few more heavy moments, Shepard turned and walked away from Liara toward the door and a surprised Garrus and Tali. “What?” Garrus asked, “No goodbye kiss this time?”
“No.” Shepard remarked, “Not this time.”
“Damn it!” The Illusive Man slammed his fist on the arm of his chair as his comm link was destroyed. His agent had gotten greedy, and paid for it with his life. This was not the cause of The Illusive Man’s distress. Agents come and go. What can’t be replaced is the data. The Illusive Man saw an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up, and he took it. He gambled.
Miranda walked into the large, admittedly beautiful room, “Is everything alright?” She asked.
“Yes, Miranda.” He said, calming himself down and taking a long drag on his cigarette. “I’ve been working on a side project for the past few months. We had a breakthrough but it seems that breakthrough was somewhat short lived.
“Anything I could help you with.”
“No. I need you working with Shepard. I appreciate you bringing me the scans of Voyager from Shepard’s omni tool, but I get the feeling she will be calling you back shortly. Get back to the shuttle bay and have the pilot take you back to Minuteman Station and contact Shepard for a Rendezvous point. While you’re at it, press her to get the IFF. If she waits too long, we’ll lose this opportunity.
“Yes sir.” Miranda started walking back to the entrance to the room.
“Oh, and Miranda?” Miranda stopped and turned back to him as he activated a series of screens several meters long, “Make sure when you do go through the Omega-4 relay that you stick with Shepard. I want to make sure she doesn’t do anything to hasty.”
On the screens appeared what looked like medical scans. It looked like scans of a woman with considerable cybernetic implants. Not Shepard, they didn’t match. Who was it then?
“Yes. I’m afraid Shepard’s instinct will be to destroy whatever she finds on the other side of the Relay without thought to the practical applications of Collector technology. I need you help her keep that instinct in check, to convince her to salvage what she can and bring the data back with her.”
“With all due respect, wasn’t her instinct the reason you wanted to bring her back as is?” Another set of medical scans faded over the already existing ones on the screen. These with more cybernetic implants; implants with clearly reaper origins.
“At one point we must conquer our instincts, Operative.” He turned back to Miranda, “Remember that.”
Miranda nodded and turned back to the door of the room, wondering if she would ever be back.
“Are you hungry?”
“I don’t get it.” Shepard continued after the pause, “After Voyager arrived, you’re the one who encouraged me to help them. To ‘do it right.’ So why…” Shepard gestured to the stack of datapads.
Liara took a deep breath, “Shepard, since we’ve met, I’ve always tried to give you what you need: at first because you were helping me find my mother, then as your soldier, then lover. I always wanted to know that you were taken care of. You need your humanity, Shepard. If you are going to lead us through this war, you need kindness and mercy. I saw that you were suffering; your heart and your surroundings were in conflict. You needed help resolving that conflict.”
Liara squeezed her hand and turned her head to face Shepard. She continued, “But, if we’re going to win this war, you also need the Shadow Broker. You need the intel I provide, and you need to not know where I get it. You need to be the hero. We need you to be the hero. The only way I can help you is if I…” Liara trailed off.
“I need you on that line.” Shepard said with feigned intensity. Liara looked puzzled, “Old movie.” Liara nodded. Shepard chuckled lightly and came back from her bad joke to the heavy room.
“Shepard…I…I don’t know how to...” Liara tripped over her words.
“I know.” Shepard let her off without saying it. She knew what Liara was going to say, and didn’t want to make her say it. She didn’t want to hear it, but she agreed. If only The Collectors hadn’t attacked two years ago. If only Liara hadn’t visited at this moment or Voyager had never crossed their path. A hundred different paths led to other realities. Better realities. Realities where she and Liara could be happy together.
Shepard told herself these lies, but she knew. This had been unraveling, since when, she wasn’t sure. She hated it, but it was inevitable.
Liara picked up her spare hand, and with her thumb wiped the bottom of her eye. She knew Shepard understood her. She hated it as much as Shepard, but she knew it was for the best. It had to be done. It’s what the galaxy needs. The galaxy needs a focused, determined, heroic Shepard. The galaxy needs a talented Shadow Broker. Shepard needed a Shadow Broker, and so did Liara.
“Maybe…” Liara began, wiping her other eye, “when the war is over…”
Shepard closed her eyes, “…we could just disappear.”
The now former lovers sat on the floor, holding hands and resting their heads on one another. Part of them thought that if they didn’t move, than the galaxy would freeze. They’d never have to move on from this moment. They could stay there, happy and together. It was an illusion, a cruel illusion, and both the warriors were strong enough to know it.
Shepard took a deep breath and lifted her head, “Come on, let’s go.” She stood up, Liara holding onto her hand and standing up with her.
“Where are we going?”
“One last dance.”
“Very funny, Hopkins.” Samantha Traynor said, her right arm submerged in a piece of machinery to her shoulder. She winced as she searched with her fingertips for the right part.
“7.482 now. I’m just saying,” said her lab partner, who was monitoring the console just above the machine, “There was a time when women’s military uniforms involved pencil skirts, why is it so ridiculous?”
“James, you have no idea what a pencil skirt is.” Samantha made the adjustment she looked for, “how about now?”
“4.827. I do so know what a pencil skirt is. It’s the, like, this one.” He made a gesture encompassing the area of his body from his stomach to just above his knees, “And, come on. I know you’re a butt girl.”
“Just 4.8?.” Samantha pulled her arm out of the machine and closed the hatch, “4.8…4.8…”
“Uh, Sam?” James pointed to Samantha’s hand, which was covered in orange muck; discharge from the malfunctioning machine. Samantha’s heart started racing. Her mind went back to Horizon. Back to that ship. Back to…
“You have got to be kidding me. Damn it.” Samantha kicked the machine, unable to keep calm.
James looked at the console, “Hey! 1.224”
Samantha tried to calm herself down, and was not placated by the new reading, “Great. Unfortunately, you can’t replicate ‘kick the damn thing.’ Ugh, we’re going to have to take the panels off and figure out where this is coming from.” She held up her right hand. She sighed, “Speaking of, can you get started on that while I clean this off?”
“I don’t know if I want to encourage your habit.”
“Washing your damn hands. Ever since you got back from Horizon you’ve been washing your hands like crazy.”
“Maybe I’ll just wipe it off on you?” Samantha reached out her hand, causing James to jump back.
“Okay, okay. Fine. Go.” Samantha smirked and turned to walk to the restroom. She was stopped in her tracks by Lieutenant Hefner.
“Traynor. Major’s office.”
“I’ll be right there, I just have to…” Samantha held up and pointed to her dirty hand.
Samantha groaned and turned away from the restroom, making her way through the equipment of the lab back to the Major’s office. She tried to not think about the mess on her hand. It’s fine. It’s just dirt. It’s just…
She walked up to the office, deciding to apologize before getting chewed out, “If this is about the other day, I just want you to know that…” She reached the threshold of the door, not seeing the Major, but a man she’d never seen before. He was tall and imposing. He wore an admiral’s uniform and had a large scar across his face. Even though she’d never met him, Samantha recognized the man immediately. She snapped to attention and saluted. “Sir.”
“At ease, Specialist.” Admiral Hackett waved off her salute with a swift motion of his hand. He was reading a datapad and standing beside the Major’s desk. Samantha adjusted her weight and moved her hands behind her.
“I’ve heard good things, Specialist. I’ve come here to…” Hackett lowered the datapad to his side and looked up at Samantha for the first time, “Uh…Specialist?” He pointed to his eyebrow.
“What?” Samantha turned to a mirror in the office, and could see an orange smudge on her forehead. “Oh, I’m sorry, I…uh…” Samantha looked around the office for a towel or rag. Hackett stepped toward her and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped off her eyebrow before putting it back in his pocket. “Thank you, I was working in the lab and sometimes…”
Hackett cut her off with another motion from his hand. Later, Samantha would think on how impressed she was with his ability to control a room with the slightest gestures. Right now, though, she had trouble thinking much of anything.
“I’m here to inform you of your transfer.”
“Do you recognize this?” Hackett handed Samantha the datapad, which was now displaying the image of a ship. A very familiar ship.
“That’s the Normandy, isn’t it?” Samantha said, holding the pad in her left hand.
“You’re close. It’s a Cerberus copy. They’re calling it the SR-2.”
“I recognize it, sir. I saw it on Horizon.”
“I see.” Hackett held his hand out for the pad, which Samantha returned. “Long story short, it’s coming to Earth. The ship’s commanding officer, Commander Shepard, is turning herself in to the Alliance and this ship is too important to pass up. We’ll be retrofitting the ship to comply to Alliance standards and I want you heading that project.”
Samantha was dumbfounded, “But, sir, why me?”
“The ship has an incredibly advanced QEC. Admiral Anderson would like to take advantage of it to turn the ship into his mobile command center. You wrote your thesis on quantum entanglement, and as an expert in the technology, you’re the best suited to take on the project.”
“Admiral David Anderson?”
“Yes, he’ll be setting politics aside for a while. Are you up to the challenge, Specialist?”
Samantha was excited. Excited enough that she all but forgot about the mess on her hand, “Will I be meeting the crew of the Normandy?”
“Negative. As members of Cerberus, the crew will be tried for treason. I’ll do what I can for them, but they won’t be the crew of the new ship. As soon as they arrive they’ll be detained.”
Samantha was a bit disappointed, “I see.”
“We leave for Vancouver in two hours. You’ll have until then to pack your things and get to the shuttle bay.”
“Yes sir!” Samantha saluted. Hackett saluted back and Samantha started to rush out of the room.
“Don’t forget your toothbrush, Specialist.” Hackett called.
“You don’t have to worry about that!” Samantha called back as she jogged down the hall.
Hackett sat down at the desk and activated the console on the desk. He established a secure channel and leaned back in the chair.
“She’s on board.” He said, “My end of the deal is done. Now, how long do I have to wait for you to hold up your end?”
The face of the person Hackett was talking to was obscured. He saw only shadow and static. His voice was deep, inorganically deep. Hackett knew this was due to an ID scrambler. He didn’t like not knowing to whom he was speaking, but he had little choice left.
“Well done, Admiral.” Said the smug Shadow Broker, “I will ensure Doctor T’soni will be on the next available transport to Mars to assist with your archives research.”
“Thank you. I have to ask, though, I thought you and T’soni were on the outs. Last I heard she was attacking your bases and agents. How’d you get her back in the fold?”
“Leverage, admiral. Most problems can be solved with the right leverage. You of all people should know this.”
Hackett nodded. He leaned in, “One more question, if you’ll allow.”
“You may ask anything you wish. Whether or not I answer is another matter.”
“Why Traynor? Of all the communication specialists in the Alliance, in the galaxy, why do you want her on the Normandy project?”
“Because, Admiral…” From the other side of the terminal screen, Liara glanced at her framed picture of Commander Shepard by her desk, “it is where she is needed.”
Thank you for reading! I know it's been a while since my last update (I'm in the middle of an academic thesis, and that tends to slow things down.) I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.