As Shepard approached the CIC, Yeoman Chambers looked up eagerly, her green, kohl-rimmed eyes sparkling.
“I saw the reports on Horizon, Commander,” she said, nearly breathless. “What you did was…amazing.”
Shepard’s eyes widened as she stared at the woman. Kelly sounded like she was praising a good performance in a karaoke bar, not talking about the horror that had just happened on that colony. Shepard barely stopped herself from saying something cruel, cutting, unprofessional, or all of the above. From up here, safe aboard the Normandy, things probably looked a little different. She gave Kelly a curt nod instead and willed herself not to use her biotics to do the talking.
“The reports said that Commander Alenko was on Horizon,” Kelly went on. “How did *that * go?”
Did the woman have a death wish ? Shepard wondered. As she tried to school her features back from shock and rage, Shepard tried to think of who would have filed mission reports so quickly. Lawson, no doubt. Damn the woman.
Kelly looked at Shepard expectantly, her face drawn into an expression that Shepard knew far too well. She’d been sent to enough shrinks after Mindoir to know the “sympathetic caring face” so loved by the talk-it-through type of councilors. Shepard had no problem with talking things through… Okay, strike that. She hated talking things through– especially with people who had a degree in psychology. The thought passed through her mind that sadly, the person she most wanted to talk to about Kaidan was…well…Kaidan.
She pinched the bridge of her nose. She wasn’t making any sense. Clearly, she was loosing it. Horizon had unhinged her. It was only 1800 hours, but maybe she should go to sleep early. She was exhausted. She tried to think of something to say that would get Kelly off her back and leave her alone.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” she told the yeoman, trying to keep her voice neutral and calm. “I just wish we could have had more time together.”
It suddenly struck her that there was a double meaning in everything she’d just said. Kelly, however, didn’t seem to notice.
“Do you have strong feeling for him?” Kelly asked, her voice polite, curious.
Shepard blinked at her.
The woman did have a death wish.
Kelly was clearly that bubbly, pep-club type of woman with whom Shepard had little contact. People like Kelly typically didn’t enlist with the Alliance - or if they did, they either picked up a little sense and protocol during Basic or they washed out. Kelly’s attitude would be fine in some circles, Shepard thought, but it was hardly appropriate on a warship. Still, staring into the face of a direct question, she found herself completely flustered. She managed to say something noncommittal and stupid. Kelly looked at her sympathetically and nodded.
“I’m sorry,” Kelly told her, using that same therapist voice. “Parting ways with someone so close is never easy.”
They must train them to talk like that at psych school , Shepard thought. Pitch the first syllable here, the second there… Well, two could play at that game.
“I appreciate that, but I’ll be okay,” Shepard said, using her best ‘I’m a good little patient and don’t worry, I am taking my meds’ voice. “Anything I should know?” she added, trying to direct the conversation back to more business-like matters.
“You have unread messages,” Kelly said, helpfully.
What a surprise, Shepard thought.
“And Officer Lawson would like to speak with you,” Kelly added. “So would…”
“Miranda can go to hell,” Shepard snapped.
All of her attempts at playing it cool in front of the crew went right out of the window. Lawson had just been witness to a moment of extreme shame down there, and then the woman had written up the mission reports for everyone to see. Shepard had *no * desire to talk to Lawson about Kaidan, about Horizon, or about anything at all.
“Okay,” Kelly said in a daze as Shepard stomped off. “Maybe we’ll talk again later.”
Shepard didn’t even register the surprised glances of the navigator and other crew as she stalked down the deck, hardly caring where she was going as long as it was away from the yeoman. Her steps took her right up to the helm, where Joker turned around at once to greet her.
“Hey commander,” he said eagerly, “It’s…uh…pretty crazy the people you can run into out her, huh?” Shepard blinked at him, uncomprehending.
“I mean, it was probably a set up or something,” he continued, “but it was still good to see Kaidan – I mean, Staff Commander Alenko…” He broke off as her expression darkened. “Wasn’t it?”
“Another reminder of how I lost more than time,” Shepard ground out. “I don’t need this garbage.”
“Right,” Joker said, shifting in his seat. “Understood, commander.” He paused a moment, then blurted out, “What the hell happened down there?”
Shepard looked down at Joker warily. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“Alenko and you,” Joker explained. “I mean…” He hesitated. “I read the reports…”
Shepard stiffened. “Lawson’s reports?”
“Yeah,” Joker nodded. “So… Why didn’t you try to talk him into coming with us?”
“Don’t you think I tried?” Shepard cried. Blue energy exploded along the outline of her body. Joker shrank back into his chair. At his shocked expression, Shepard caught herself. She let the fires dim and shook her head.
“Joker, I…” She opened her mouth to apologize, then shut it. Clearly, she needed sleep – sleep would make all this make sense in the morning.
“How far to the mass relay?” she asked him.
“EDI just finished a scan of Watchman,” Joker told her, still eying her warily. “I mean,” he added nervously, “you were busy and all and the planet looked like it had plenty of resources, I thought maybe we should…wait until you were ready to give us a place to go. I mean you said to go anywhere, but the galaxy has a lot of “anywhere”… So, ah, it’s an hour to the mass relay and then…?” He raised his eyes to her, expectantly.
Shepard rubbed a hand over her too-short hair. “Let’s go to…Omega,” she muttered.
“It’s as good a place as any,” she shrugged. “Goodnight, Joker.”
“Right,” he said, frowning after her as she walked away. “Backtracking back to Omega. Great idea. And backtracking in everything else as well.” He shook his head and leaned forward to set a course for the relay.
“Soldiers in love can be really damn stupid,” he muttered to himself.
Shepard walked into her bedroom, her eyes immediately flicking to the frame that lay face down on the desk.
She wondered if she’d broken it.
She rubbed her forehead against the buzzing headache beginning in her skull. She didn’t care if she *had * broken it. Right now, the fish needed feeding, she needed rest, but first, she was tempted to send a message to Anderson asking him what the hell he was thinking not telling her that the Alliance had thought Cerberus was behind the colony attacks.
When she sat down at her desk, she heard a pathetic little squeak, like someone had stepped on an electronic mouse. It came from the picture frame. Shepard almost picked the frame up to check on it, to see if the front had split in half just like the back, but she paused, then pulled her hand away. She didn’t need to look at Kaidan right now - just like she didn’t need to think about Kaidan right now. She really, *really * didn’t need to think about Kaidan right now.
She opened the computer, now wondering if she should write to Anderson after all. She was too angry to form a coherent argument, as evidenced by her amazing verbal display earlier on Horizon. Hell, her performances on the command deck just now hadn’t been much better. She was acting childish and she knew it. The thought made her even more petulant, but it also made her give up any illusions of writing to Anderson at the moment. If she wanted to have any chance at all at making the Council see sense about the Collectors and the Reapers, she needed to organize her evidence and then present it clearly, calmly, and rationally. If Anderson had thought Cerberus was behind the colony attacks, then Shepard knew she had a long battle ahead of her in convincing the Alliance and the Council to mobilize against the Collectors. She was beginning to doubt that she *could * convince them. After all, they still thought she was insane because of her warnings about the Reapers.
Yet another good reason not to write an email when tired, she thought, staring blankly at her inbox. It wasn’t unlike one’s family, really. You could be the goddamn savior of the galaxy, and they would still only see you as a pale-haired little girl with braces and braids. In the Alliance, she would forever be the N7 war hero – a biotic soldier made good, an excellent candidate for the front lines, but not someone who should be advising or choosing missions for the fleet. And even if she *could * get Anderson to see that his little baby soldier had all grown up and was taking on the Reapers, the top brass most certainly would not. They would tie his hands as surely as they had done over Saren. The Council would be even worse. To them, she might be a Spectre, but she was still…human.
Shepard let her eyes focus on her inbox and saw she had several messages waiting for her. One was from the consort, Shi’iera. Just seeing the woman’s name made Shepard feel a little…slimy. She knew the consort was quite the celebrity, but the few times they had spoken, the asari had always gotten a little too…grabby…for her comfort. Another email was from Talitha, the slave girl Shepard had rescued two years ago on the Citadel. That message made Shepard smile and then frown and then smile. She was glad the girl was getting help, but the trauma that Talitha had endured was unspeakable.
This is why you do what you do, Shepard reminded herself, opening another email, titled “Can You Help?” You fight the good fight so that what happened on Mindoir doesn’t happen anywhere…
The email had come from an extranet terminal on Horizon.
They weren’t going to do anything , Kaidan thought, pinching the bridge of his nose.
His headache was growing worse with the change in pressure and his growing sense of frustration didn’t make him feel any better. He stared out of the frigate’s windows as the egg-shell colored rooftops of the pre-fab buildings grew smaller and smaller below him. For a brief moment, they looked like a scattering of dirty sugar cubes among the gold of Horizon’s fields, then the colony faded away behind a blanket of cloud.
Kaidan steeled himself as the ship shifted from the planet’s gravity to it’s own artificial gravity. Streaks of gold and pink went by the window as the ship punched through the silicone-laced atmosphere out into the black void of space. Tiny pinpoints of stars twinkled above the curve of the planet below, back lit by the Sol-like star Iera. Kaidan glanced through his reflection in the window and thought back again to the mess he was leaving behind.
Kaidan hadn’t wanted to leave Horizon. He wanted to stay and put the pieces together - to help the colony rebuild. But Anderson had given the order to return to the Citadel, so Kaidan had packed up his makeshift reports and packed his single duffel bag and boarded the frigate that had arrived this eveing at nightfall, less than twelve hours after the attack had begun.
And so here he was, full of more questions than answers, on his way to the Citadel to report to Anderson on what had happened on Horizon.
Only Kaidan still had no idea what had happened on Horizon.
He still couldn’t make sense of it. There had to be something he was missing, something that Anderson would explain when they met. As far as Kaidan could tell, the whole damn rescue operation just didn’t add up. The rescue team, for a start, had not been what he was expecting. They had come on a fully-stocked cruiser - a giant supply crate with engines. A top security message had instructed them to re-route from the Mars Naval Depot and come out to the traverse at once. The captain had done so without question. This was his first posting and he hadn’t wanted to mess things up by ignoring a direct order from the Citadel. He was the only soldier with any combat experience on the whole ship. Half of the crew were reserves, just out on a three-week run as a part of their university scholarship program. Most of them had been more horrified at the sight of the empty buildings than the colonists had been.
Even more troubling than the rescue team’s lack of experience was the fact that, according to Anderson, there had been no authorization to send in a rescue ship at all. The Alliance had no record of sending a distress call, and upon review, the captain couldn’t find any record of it either. Kaidan believed the guy, but he doubted anyone else would. It was like the cruiser hadn’t logged the message in it’s databanks – like the distress call had never even happened.
The brass were furious to hear that a large, heavily stocked ship, had gone off into the traverse for nothing. Kaidan had done his best to defend the captain when talking to Admiral Hackett, but he wondered how much help his word would be. Alliance command was clearly not pleased with the situation. Only after much pleading did Kaidan convince Hackett to allow the cruiser to leave supplies and aid for the colony at all. He suspected Anderson might have had something to do with the final authorization. The cruiser was granted leave to supply the colony and take any refugees who wanted passage back to Earth. Almost all of the colonists had opted to stay. Kaidan admired that, even as the Alliance’s reaction to their plight meant that they closed ranks around their own and cut him out. They ignored him and the Marines as much as they could for the rest of the day.
The cruise was given orders to return to Mars by the end of the week, and Kaidan was given orders to return to the Citadel immediately.
Though Kaidan understood the Alliance’s caution regarding the cruiser, Kaidan simply could not understand why the brass had refused to send a team to investigate Horizon. They finally had a lead on what was causing the disappearances that had plagued human colonies for…well, possibly two years, now. Two years, that is, if all the deserted settlements had been the Collectors doing, which it now appeared that it had been.
Kaidan tapped on his omnitool and looked through his files again. He had done what he could to collect evidence to take back to Anderson, but proof of the Collectors involvement was shaky at best. He had set up the security cams in the plaza – the only recorded spot in the colony. The vids were fuzzy, however, and they had no sound. The Collectors looked like guys in rubber suits, and the glowing one gave off such murky dark energy that it was just a blur on the screen. They didn’t look anything like the monsters they were up close.
The worst of it was, he never had the chance to switch on his suit’s data recorders before the attack began. He had gotten his computers up, but none of the information had been saved. Kaidan had no gene scans of the Collectors, no radar readouts of the colonists being abducted. He had no gene scans of Shepard, either, should he need to prove that he had, in fact, seen her. He supposed he should feel grateful that the stasis field hadn’t fried his suit’s computers altogether, but mostly he just felt like kicking himself.
He did have another piece of information, too. But like the rest of his information, there was no real proof for it. The captain of the cruiser swore that he had gotten the distress call from Horizon at 0900 hours on the day of the attack. Though the message was gone, he was sure he remembered the time right.
If that was correct, Kaidan reasoned, then that meant that the distress call had gone out just after Horizon’s old comm system went offline. Someone had contacted the cruiser for aid almost two hours *before * the attack had begun.
Kaidan hardly knew what to make of it, but he highly suspected Cerberus was behind the call. Who else would have the tech or the intel to hack the Alliance’s secure comm system? It was also possible that Cerberus had been monitoring the Collectors and so knew the attack was coming. But what he couldn’t understand was why they had sent for help. Clearly the Collectors had not made that call. But he could see little more reason for Cerberus to make the call either. He wondered if the call had been Shepard’s doing, but if it was, then she’d done a shitty job at picking her rescue team. She should have asked for reinforcements from the entire Alliance fleet.
Then again, he thought, maybe she was worried about the Alliance finding her with Cerberus. The Alliance probably wouldn’t have taken kindly to finding her there with terrorists. A single cruiser could resupply the colony, but did not have the resources to chase down a frigate. Or maybe she had guessed how little help the Alliance would send.
Maybe, he thought, that was why she had joined Cerberus. Maybe she had lost faith in the Alliance.
And that, he thought angrily, was why he had completely lost faith in her .
Shepard swallowed and read the email:
The Alliance soldier here gave me this contact information – I hope this reaches you.
You said you were trying to stop those Collectors. They took my son and brother. Have you found them? Do you know where they are? I know you’re looking, but so many people are just gone. Every family lost someone. The children are the worst. Empty desks at the schools, winter clothes that never got worn…
Shepard closed her eyes. She could see her home of Mindoir all over again: her classmates, screaming, frightened. The teacher burned as the batarians beat at the children, shoved them into cages…
They always took the children first.
Please. The Alliance isn’t doing anything. The Council isn’t doing anything. If you can find our people, I’m begging you to do something. Tell me something I can do.
Tell me anything.
- Robyn Reeve
Shepard felt tears in her eyes and brushed them aside.
Well, there was her answer about the Alliance. They weren’t going to do anything about Horizon. She couldn’t say she was surprised, but she still felt like punching the wall. She knew why the Alliance wasn’t doing anything. These colonists were out in unauthorized space, deliberately avoiding Council government. It wasn’t unlike the Ancient West on Earth: the first settlers in always got the worst of it. But that didn’t make it right, she thought. For the Alliance to ignore the problem - it reminded her far too much of arguments she had heard about Mindoir – and Mindoir had actually been in Alliance space.
No one else was doing anything, Shepard thought, so she would have to be the one to do it. The Illusive Man was using her – true. Cerberus was just as nasty as always – very damn likely. But she had a crew that had staked their lives on this. There were people who had been taken: it was possible they were still alive. There were families out there mourning and thousands more people at risk.
And now she knew what the enemy looked like. They looked like walking cockroaches. It was disgusting and comical at the same time.
So this is it then , Shepard thought. She had always believed in leaps of faith, so this was it. This was her leaping. She sighed and shook her head. She would get this Collector mission done, then worry about cutting ties with Cerberus after.
And she’d worry about Kaidan after that.
Shepard glanced at the email from Horizon once again, noticing something she had missed the first time she’d read the colonist’s message:
The Alliance soldier here gave me this contact information – I hope this reaches you.
That “Alliance soldier” must have been Kaidan, Shepard thought with a frown. So he had given out her old email address – it appeared Cerberus had taken the liberty of forwarding her messages from her Alliance account – and yet he hadn’t had the decency to send a message himself? Not, she reminded herself, that she wanted him to. She had been yelled at enough today without coming back to the ship to find his accusations set down for her in print.
Well, she realized, she needed to compose an answer to this Robyn Reeve. She only wished she had something helpful to say.
Dear Ms. Reeve,
I’m sorry for what happened to you – to the whole colony. As a child on Mindoir, I lost my family as well, so I can only imagine what you – all of you – are going through.
As for what you can do, please pray for my crew, or meditate or whatever it is that you believe in. Please tell the rest of the colony – and Commander Alenko - that I’m doing what I can to stop the Collectors and save those that were lost.
This account you have contacted is not secure and I will likely be unable to contact anyone for long periods of time. I will let you know what I can, when I can.
It was bitter to write such a message, she thought. She hated to sound like the damn Council, all promises and no action.
So make it action, Valkyrie , she thought to herself.
Her eyes narrowed.
She planned to.
With that, Shepard looked to the next message on the list:
From: Illusive Man
Dossier: Quarian Machinist
Well now, Shepard thought, raising an eyebrow, that actually sounded useful. A quarian would be a welcome addition to the crew, and if he or she was anywhere as good a technician as Tali had been…
Full Name: Tali’Zorah vas Neema
- Expert in combat tech, system hacking
- Strong engineering background, familiar with Normandy
Shepard leaned forward in her seat.
Tali’Zorah? As in… Tali’Zorah nar Rayya? She read on:
Formerly listed as Tali’Zorah nar Rayya, the quarian earned her adult name after helping Shepard defeat Saren two years ago.
Shepard grinned. It was Tali. So the Illusive Man wanted her to recruit Tali? That was…curious.
She paused, leaning back in her chair once more.
The Illusive Man wanted her to have Tali by her side? Shepard wondered why. Given how badly her meeting with Kaidan had gone and the Illusive Man’s advice to “leave her past relationships behind her,” she had gotten the distinct impression that he was trying to force her to cut ties with her friends – to isolate her on a ship full of strangers. And yet, she thought, she did have Joker with her, and Chakwas – and Garrus, come to that. Okay, so the Illusive Man hadn’t known about Garrus. But maybe he wasn’t trying to keep her from her former allies after all. Maybe he had thought Kaidan could be recruited, but when that failed, wanted her to remain strong so that she might have a better chance of succeeding in this mission.
Sure , she reminded herself, and I’m sure that thresher maw acid feels really good when flowing through your veins. Let’s ask the Marines that Cerberus experimented on, shall we?
It was, however, really easy to forget about all that when she was working with Cerberus day in and day out. And *that * was what she found the most disturbing at all - that there were times when she almost could see their reasoning, almost thought they were watching out for her. There were times when she almost…trusted them.
God, no wonder Kaidan hadn’t trusted her. How could she even be thinking like this? Her mouth set in a grim line. She was going to have to be even more careful going forward not to fall into their trap. She would be fair, but guarded, friendly, but remain aloof from them. She was working *with * them, she reminded herself. She was not now, nor would she ever, work *for * them. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t .
But at least she knew she could trust Tali, regardless of the Illusive Man’s stamp of approval. One big stumbling block was over between her and the quarian, too: Tali knew Shepard was alive – they had met on Freedon’s Progress. And, unlike Kaidan, when Tali had found out that Shepard was working with Cerberus, she hadn’t seemed too upset about it - much. Shepard finished reading the dossier:
Tali is currently on assignment for the Migrant Fleet Admiralty Board on Haestrom, deep in geth controlled space.
Shepard blinked. Geth controlled space? She read the message again, then quickly searched the extranet for information on Haestrom. She found a brief Alliance advisory about the planet and its dying parent star, Dholen.
She felt her stomach knot.
Suddenly, Kaidan’s words on Horizon didn’t seem to matter quite so much. She had managed to save him, and even if he hated her, even if she never saw him again, she had managed to save him. But now it looked like another friend needed rescuing, and Shepard might not reach her in time.
Forget reunions, Shepard thought to herself. Forget how people react to you and Cerberus. The only damn thing that matters now is keeping your friends safe.
She hit the comm link so hard that it screeched with feedback.
“Damn!” She heard Joker’s voice shout at her.
“Joker,” she snapped, “How far are we from the mass relay?”
“Uh…twenty minutes out, comman…”
“Set a course for Haestrom,” she told him. “I’m sending you the coordinates now.”
“Wait. That’s is on the Far Rim…”
“So we’re going some place nice for a change?” Joker teased. “Sounds like fun. Who are we recruiting this time? Some baby-eating batarian?”
“Tali’s out there and she’s in trouble,” Shepard told him, flatly.
There was a pause, then:
“Aye, aye, commander. As fast as we can.”