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Mass Effect: A Hero Rises

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The Mako I was driving took the lead, Garrus at the turret of the cannon, Tali looking after shields and engineering, Wrex simply a passenger for now. Alenko was following in our wheel tracks, Garrus turning the turret of the cannon every couple of minutes to check on him.

The weather was awful. Practically a blizzard, which mean seeing anything after a few feet was near impossible. The lights on the Mako were on the highest beam possible but we were still crawling along. Despite the heat of the engine, and the heating we could switch on inside the Mako, it was still freezing. I had a feeling the drive could take all day, and what made it worse was the fact geth were on Noveria.

“Commander, halt!” Garrus called. Bringing the Mako to a stop, I could hear Garrus swinging the turret. “Contacts, Commander!”

Cannon fire immediately erupted in addition to the machine gun. It only lasted a few seconds before he gave the all clear. “Can’t see shit in this weather,” I muttered.

“Doubt the geth can see us in return, Commander.”

“I’ll keep the pace low. Long as we get there alive.”

“Or maybe the blizzard will piss off,” Tali murmured to herself.

I could help chuckle. “That was almost a curse, Tali. By the time you head back to the Fleet, you’ll be calling geth pieces of shit, fucking cunts, and all manner of other curses.” That made her giggle at least.

We drove along in silence for a little while, Garrus calling out for me to stop occasionally, immediately opening for, before he called for me to start driving again. It was unbelievably tense as we simply had no idea what lay ahead, always waiting for the impact of a rocket or two. Even Wrex was quiet in the back, at least for a little while, before he started to tease me about my evening with Gianna. I just returned the favour, teasing him about Alenko.

“Yeah, might have to nip that in the bud, Shepard. He’s getting attached.”

“What, in love?”

That made him laugh. “No, not that. But this is obviously just a fling and I’m left thinking he’s going to want it to continue once we deal with Saren. I’ve already made it clear that I’m here until we do that, then I’ll find my own way.”

“You told him this?”

The krogan remained silent. “Well, not yet. I am enjoying the physical side, at least.”

The blizzard was relentless, the snowfall blinding, the temperature remained constant, in that it was freezing. I would have liked to put my foot down, but I knew the road we were following followed the side of a cliff. If I got it wrong even slightly, we’d go flying over the edge.

“You okay back there, Alenko?”

“Can’t see shit, Commander. Following your brake lights.”

“Any geth?”

“No. Think you’re dealing with them first.”

“Probably another few hours until we reach Peak 15 from the map I have.”

“No worries, Commander. Long as we get there alive.”

We made it to Peak 15 alive. It was impossible to know if was day or night unless we checked the time, not surprised to see the drive had taken us hours. It was more mental than physical exhaustion, the stress and tension as we simply couldn’t see the geth almost overwhelming, just waiting for that first rocket to hit. Garrus handled them quickly more often than not, and I’m sure we actually ran over more than one geth unit that had frozen in place due to the weather.

Wrex had to clamber out to open the garage door for us, Alenko and I parking the vehicles side by side before climbing out as the door shut, Wrex moaning about the weather. Apparently it was always far warmer on Tuchanka. After a quick stock of weapons and armour, we headed into Peak 15 and immediately into more geth. Whether they knew we were coming all night, I didn’t know, but one of the geth was a massive bastard.

“Heard about those things before!” Tali yelled over the gunfire, “We call them Juggernauts!”

It took plenty of tech attacks to whittle down its shields, managing to overload its weapon more often, before we could finally focus on simply filling it with bullets. The rest of the geth were simple to wipe out, but that Juggernaut too far too long. By the time we put it onto the ground, I may have walked across and given it a firm kick before calling it a few names.

The sudden silence was fill by what I assumed was the VI of the facility, and what it reported didn’t sound good. Biohazard materials were present throughout the facility, so that meant helmets would stay on for the time being. The reactors were offline. The VI itself was barely walking, the reports of damage seeming to be on a loop and only an emergency broadcast.

Exiting the garage into the facility, I wasn’t the only one to notice the gun turrets were facing towards anything leaving rather than entering the facility. It was now obvious that someone wanted to stop someone else, or something, from escaping. The fact no-one was in the guard room was a concern, and as we boarded the elevator, conversation started in regards to what we would fine.

We all assumed Benezia would still be alive. But as for any rescue mission, we had a feeling that had either gone wrong or… We’d passed their bodies on the way to the facility. The blizzard has been so blinding, we’d barely seen a thing except the geth, and that was only because they were firing at us. All we could do was investigate and find out.

Crowding onto an elevator, we headed up what seemed to be numerous levels exiting out to find windows blown out, the wind howling and snow already piling in. And the geth were waiting, Liara and Shiala firing their biotics to give us time to find cover and return fire. If there had been any doubt about Benezia bringing geth with her, they had long since disappeared. I shared the occasional glance with Liara whenever there was a moment of quiet. She didn’t meet my nor anyone else’s eyes. I didn’t really blame her, in all honesty.

The geth dead, we spread out and that’s when we heard a noise that we simply didn’t recognise. Looking up, we saw what I could only describe as a monster, yet it was eerily familiar at the same time. Wrex sniffed the air. “It’s wrong, Shepard!” he growled.

“Easy, Wrex. All we need to do is kill it.”

“Bad feeling, Shepard. Really bad feeling. And when a krogan has a bad feeling, that means things are seriously fucked up.”

God, they were ugly. And they moved fast as well. They soaked up bullets that made my jaw drop. But they were susceptible to biotics. I didn’t even have to order anyone with the ability to start using them, the two asari, Alenko and even Wrex starting to shimmer blue, the rest of us following up their attacks with bullets.

When all the monsters were dead, we gathered around a pile of them, Wrex leaning down to sniff the blood. He growled apparently without thinking, and I noticed the look in his eye. It verged on murderous. “What are you thinking, Wrex?”

“I don’t know, Shepard. And that’s what scares me. If a krogan is scared, something is seriously fucking wrong.”

“I’ll protect you, big guy,” Garrus joked.

“Long as you know where to point that rifle of yours, turian.”

“Aww, look at us, getting along,” Tali added.

Wrex gave her a look before returning a toothy grin. “Play your cards right, little one…”

Even my eyes widened at that one. Tali was immediately embarrassed as a few of us shared a look. “Oh, do tell, Wrex,” I suggested, knowing what he was referring to.

“No, it’s not my place to say, Shepard.”

“I got a good look at his cock,” Tali blurted out, to the amusement of nearly everyone else, “Keelah, it was enormous! And I watched him fuck Alenko!”

The whole room exploded into laughter, which defused some of the tension we were feeling. “Bloody hell, what a time to share that!” I stated, feeling my body shake with laughter.

Tali just shrugged her shoulders. “Look, I might come across as the innocent quarian but I’m cooped up in this suit and…”

I noticed Wrex lay a soft hand on her shoulder. “Easy, my little friend. I think they all understand why. Nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“I’m not embarrassed. I am a quarian and we are curious about everything.”

“Tali, there is nothing wrong with being curious regarding the opposite sex. Men and women often do show and tell when they are younger,” Ashley added.

I cleared my throat. “Okay, I think we should move on.”

Heading up even further, we exited into what looked like a room holding the mainframe, full of little creatures that exploded when shot, making sure each bullet I fired hit one, as when they exploded, there was no doubt they were full of acid, or at least their blood was acidic.

Heading to the central core, noticing it was called ‘MIRA’, I had tech knowledge but nothing compared to some of my colleagues. I gestured for Tali to join me as we descended into the bowels of the VI. I stood to the side and let her get to work as she attempted to manually override the system. I don’t what the hell she did, but within a couple of minutes, there was the sound of the system restarting, the floor we were standing on automatically ascending. I couldn’t help pull her in for a hug. “Well bloody done,” I stated.

I felt her arms wrap around me tightly. “Thank you,” she replied quietly. She looked up and I met her eyes behind the mask. I wasn’t dumb. I knew what she thought of me.

Once we had re-joined the others, a hologram of the system VI appeared in front of us. As soon as I mentioned I was a Spectre, the VI was rather helpful, going into great detail about the problems we faced and how we could solve them. After I asked for a damage report, the VI was full of bad news. Reactor failure. Tramway offline. Landline connections around Peak 15 itself had been cut off. The biohazard issue had yet to be contained. Basically, it was a fucking debacle and we still had a lot of work to do yet.

Asking what happened just before the VI shut down was even worse news. Stages one, two and three alerts and something called a Code Omega. That just sounded like bad news. Probably explained the monsters we’d fought earlier. Of course, when I asked about those, the VI stated that I could not access that data as only Binary Helix employees could. Figured…

With so many things to solve, I would have split the team up, but considering the reactor was offline, nothing else was working without getting that started up. So we headed down there first, as I knew something would be waiting for us down there.

Geth, of course.

After blasting them away, my tech experts managed to get the reactor back online, and we immediately headed up to fix the landline connection, so we could use the tram. More geth and monsters were waiting for us, now so used to dealing with them, they were more of a nuisance than a danger. Might sound arrogant, but when we managed to deal with the enemy with barely a shield failure, it’s bound to increase confidence.

Heading back down to the tram station, we could see more of those monsters waiting in what looked like a waiting chamber. Connecting to Mira, we asked how we could solve the issue. The VI suggested we released a five-thousand-degree Kelvin blast. That would wipe them out.

“Do it,” I ordered.

Once it was over, there was nothing left of them. Not even an atom. Opening the door, I thought there might have been a smell of cooked flesh, but they had been literally vaporised into nothing. Following a long corridor, we ended up in the tram station. It was empty and very quiet. Rather unnerving to be honest. But power had been restored, and upon boarding the tram, once we were all ready, it departed automatically.

“Think we’ll find anyone alive, Commander?” Alenko asked.

“No idea, LT. Possibly Benezia. No idea about anyone else.”

“Benezia isn’t dead,” Liara added confidently, “Though I’m left wondering just what she’s been up to here.”

“You and I both, Liara,” I stated.

There was little discussion otherwise during the journey, people simply checking weapons and armour, otherwise sitting back and enjoying a short rest before we leapt into the fire once again. Greeted by another empty, quiet station, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering where everyone was. Following signs for the residential level, we ascended once again, left thinking Peak 15 was a maze, probably a deliberate design feature.

The door opened and the first thing I noticed were the trio of weapons being aimed at us, though once they recognised humans and asari, the weapons were quickly lowered. One of the humans stepped forward, introducing himself as Captain Ventralis, interested to know who I was, as well as my colleagues.

“Commander Shepard, Alliance Navy, Council Spectre. These are my colleagues.”

After introductions, he gave me a rundown of the situation. Just like at central station, this area was just as bad. Apparently those monsters had overrun the Hot Labs, whatever they were. From what the captain added, it sounded like a lot of people had already died.

Then he added a bit of information that I knew related to Benezia. An asari had recently arrived and headed into the Hot Labs and hadn’t been seen since. I don’t think that meant she was dead, but there was no doubt he meant Benezia. I didn’t ask of her name, nor did Liara. But the captain was rather co-operative, giving me a card that would take us to the Hot Labs.

As soon as I pocketed the card, more of those monsters appeared from the pipes below us. Our biotic friends dealt with them quickly, lifting or throwing them away, giving the rest of us time to take out weapons and start blasting. Ventralis and his men helped out, making sort work of the monsters, but it was clear he and his men were now at their wits end, appearing to jump at their own shadows, in definite need of a break. All the more reason to finish this as quickly as possible.

Heading back the way we’d entered, we found ourselves in another elevator, this time descending deep into the bowels of the mountain. We must have descended for a couple of minutes before the elevator dinged, all of us piling out, entering an empty room. There was a lone man sitting on a bench by himself, appearing to be in a daze, probably in shock. His eyes met mine and he didn’t appear surprised at our appearance. “Are you here to secure the situation?” he wondered.

“If by ‘secure’ you mean ‘shoot every monster I see’, sure, I’m here just for that.”

“I am certain you have strong feelings about what happened here, and it is our fault. You understand?”

“Has an asari been through here late?”

“No, I have not seen one. But that is not the important issue. You must listen so you can understand. Binary Helix found an egg. It was on a derelict ship, thousands of years drifting. This was a rachni ship. Inside they found many eggs in cryogenic suspension.”

“What?” Wrex roared, and I’m fairly sure most of my colleagues restrained him.

“Whoa, back up a second there. Rachni? His kind,” gesturing towards the rather angry krogan, “Wiped them out a thousand years ago.”

The man nodded. “That is so. Billions of lives lost in that war, on both sides.”

“So… A thousand-year-old egg managed to hatch?”

“Yes, very tough to be so long frozen. That it survived for a millennium is simply miraculous. But there is more. Binary Helix plan to clone rachni. Mass produce them. Create an army.”

“Over my dead body,” Wrex grumbled, and I think he was getting ready to start shooting.

“That is not all. There is still more to know, to understand. The egg that found? It is not any common rachni. It is a queen. After she lays eggs, they move her here to Rift Station. They are thinking that without her, they can raise the babies to be obedient.”

“Sounds like we have something else to take care of then.”

“Shepard, you can’t be…” Liara started to say.

“No! Listen, you still need to understand the rachni. They are an intelligent species. They achieved star travel. They are not animals.”

“No, they more dangerous than that,” Wrex warned.

The man nodded. “That is true. I am thinking that without a queen, rachni do not develop properly. Her mind is shaping theirs. These rachni are uncontrollable.”

“So… Do we bring the queen here?”

The man shook his head. “These rachni are beyond saving. They must be euthanized. I am thinking that the neutron purge must be set off.”

Before he could tell us anymore, rachni burst forth from below us. I’m not sure how many there were, but before I could even grab the man, the rachni were after him, one of them slamming one of their… tentacles, I guess you could call it, straight through his chest. I stumbled backwards, taking out my assault rifle and opening fire. I’m not sure how many we killed, but I think we all kept firing long after they were all dead.

Checking the man’s body, we found something that might help us, codes for the neutron purge he had mentioned. Heading to the opposite side to which we entered, we found the terminal with Mira again helping us out. “Once you activate the purge, you will have only seconds to exit before it is fired,” Mira warned.

“You guys, head back to the elevator and watch my back.”

“Vents will be opened. Contaniments will be released.”

“Definitely head back, guys. I’m going to enter the code then sprint for the elevator.”

“Are you sure, Commander?”

“I’m sure, LT. Go now.”

I waited until they’d all left before I gave Mira the authorisation code. Once I confirmed the order, I packed away my assault rifle, turned around and ran. Should have known the rachni would be waiting. I heard gunfire and the thump of biotics as I weaved my way through the monsters, Mira counting down the ten seconds. “Bloody stupid having only ten seconds!” I shouted, “Get on the fucking elevator!”

My shields failed as I ran. My armour was definitely scarred as well. By some miracle, though, I made it to the elevator, the door slamming shut and starting to ascend. We’d barely started when the elevator started to shake, hearing the explosion. “Hope we don’t crash and burn,” Wrex joked, earning groans of disapproval.

Exiting and eventually heading to where we’d first met Ventralis, there was no sign of him, so we simply moved on, though all of us remained arm. We might have killed the rachni below us but it was obvious they infested the entire place. Little wonder it had been completely cut off.

Finding Ventralis in another large room, with bedrooms and other facilities off to either side, he opened fire immediately, as did the few guards that remained alive. Even some of those dressed in civilian clothes were warmed and firing. Spreading out into cover, Ventralis figured he’d get everything off his chest, admitting he worked for Benezia and everyone had been working to clone the rachni. So I gave one order.

“Kill them all.”

Ventralis ended up sitting back against a container, blood dripping out of his mouth. Taking a knee beside him, I asked, “Where is Benezia?”

“Restricted area. Reckon she knows you’re coming too.”

“Anyone else around?”

“Few more guards. Plenty of commandos. You won’t win, Commander.”

“We’ll see,” I retorted, putting the barrel to the side of his head and blowing his brains out.

He wasn’t lying about guards, at least. They were dug in and it took quite a bit to flush them out, generally relying on those with biotics gifts to drag them out before we riddled them with bullets. A few assault drones might have been a problem, but Alenko and Tali took care of those, causing them to either overheat and explode, or simply fall to the ground, no longer functional.

If I wasn’t so pissed off about everything, I would have offered the guards a chance of simply walking away, despite the fact they were working for Benezia. They were not important, but I doubt they would have listened. They fought hard, I’ll give them that, but we stepped over their bodies, just like we had with all their colleagues.

“ERCS will need a recruiting drive after this,” Ashley muttered.

“I’m expecting an angry letter or two from some businesses at the end of this,” I added.

“Fuck ‘em,” Wrex stated.

Another elevator. I swear, I don’t think I’d travelled on so many elevators in my life, descending again to god only knows where. “Think we’ll find Benezia?” Liara asked quietly.

“Well, unless we run into more rachni, geth or whatever the fuck else is on this planet, yeah, I think Benezia is next,” I replied.

“I’m ready, Shepard.” I just met her eyes and she returned a grim nod. I knew the next few minutes were going to suck at a personal level for her, no matter what happened.

Everything was quiet as we walked off the elevator. Every corner was checked and rechecked. Every noise didn’t exactly have us flinching, but we were being extra vigilant. Couple of empty rooms, few empty corridors. Not a living soul, but I knew Benezia was close. I’d been through enough shit to know when the enemy is close. You can feel it in the air. Almost taste it.

A final door, an enormous lab, and an asari who was clearly waiting for us to arrive. I gave subtle gestures, sensing my team spread out behind me, weapons raised, as Liara walked forward to stand beside me. I noticed Benezia’s eyes move along our line before they fell on me, then Liara, before resting on me a final time.

“You do not know the privilege of being a mother. There is power in creation. To shape a life. Turn it towards happiness or despair.” She turned towards the tank, where we had our first look of the rachni queen. To call it monstrous would be an understatement. Fucking ugly, is what I’d add. “Her children were to be ours. Raised to hunt and slay Saren’s enemies.” She turned away from the tank, walking towards us, rather bravely, I might add. She appeared alone, but I knew her commandos would be lurking close by. “I won’t be moved by sympathy, no matter who you bring into this confrontation.”

“I’m here because I choose to be, mother.”

“Really? And what have you told him about me, daughter?”

“What can I say, mother? That’s you’ve gone insane? Turned evil? Should I explain how to kill you? What could I possibly say?”

“We can end this peacefully, Lady Benezia,” I added, “All you need do is surrender, tell me where Saren is, what his plans are, and no-one else needs to die. There has been enough death already.”

She was never going to accept the offer. The smirk told me what was coming. Someone should probably have shot her straight away, but I guess we had to wait and hear what she had to say, perhaps hoping she would accept. “Have you ever face an asari commando unit before? Few humans have.”

“And Liara in all of this?”

“I now realise I should have been stricter with her.”

Before I could raise my weapon to shoot, before any of us could fire a weapon, she released her biotics, holding all of us in stasis, a sign of her power. I could still move my eyes, noticing doors around us open as asari commandos flood. The stasis didn’t hold us long, not spread over all of us. Soon as we were released, we split apart and went to war.

There was little room to move and very little cover. Shields failed rather quickly. Armour was definitely left scarred. Alenko was the first one to go down, Ashley dragging him behind a container, activating his medi-gel dispenser to stem the blood flow. Garrus was the next one to go down, a bullet in the leg. I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him towards one of the doors, handing him his rifle.

I looked around for Shiala, and she was in the thick of the action, no doubt thinking of revenge. Liara was at her side, the two biotics mixing up their attacks, seeming to protect each other while attacking at the same time. Tali was behind cover, using her shotgun when she could, disabling shields when possible. I joined Ashley behind a container as we simply shot at anything in commando leathers.

“Benezia?” she wondered.

“Still thinking about it.”

“I want the bitch dead, but it’s your choice, sir.”

“She keeps this shit up and I’ll run out of patience.”

The doors opened around us, and now geth flooded in. Geth we could deal with, Tali leaping with glee as she caused one of them to practically explode, overloading the shields of another before blasting it with her shotgun, two others suffering overheating weapons, leaving them as easy pickings for the rest of us. There were a couple of commandos left, Shiala and Liara to one side, Ashley and I to the other. They were fighting hard but clearly losing.

More geth flooded in but a glance towards Benezia showed her weakening somehow. I’m not sure what she was doing, but I noticed her collapse against one of the workstations next to the rachni queen. I don’t think she’d dare release it so…

“Liara?” I called out, gesturing towards her mother.

“I could explain, Shepard, but I don’t think you’ll understand.”

Good enough excuse for me. She was weakening so hopefully won’t put up much of a fight. The commandos were now dead so now it was just focusing on the geth. How so many had ended up on Noveria boggled the mind but, having fought them so often by now, it wasn’t simple but the commandos certainly put up a longer, tougher fight.

Now it was time to deal with Benezia. I signalled for everyone to holster weapons except Liara as we walked towards the platform. Benezia met my eyes and managed to lift herself from the ground. She still had some fight in her, surprised when she confidently turned her back, looking at the rachni in the tank.

“This is not over. Saren is unstoppable. My mind is filled with his light. Everything is clear.”

“Tell me everything he’s planning, Benezia. What’s his next move?”

She glanced back with a smirk. “I will not betray him. You will… you….” She cried out and collapsed to the ground, holding the helmet on her head. Liara made to move forward but I grabbed her wrist, shaking my head. Benezia stayed on her knees for a good few seconds. It was either a good act or she truly was in agony. Her cries eventually dimmed before she turned back, and even I noticed the change in her eyes.

“Mother!” Liara cried.

“You must listen. Saren still whispers in my mind. I can fight his compulsions but only briefly. The indoctrination is strong.”

“Why now after everything that’s just happened?”

She looked at Liara before looking back to me. “I sealed a part of my mind away from the indoctrination, saving it for a moment when I could destroy him. It will not last long.”

“Indoctrination?” Liara wondered, “Is Saren brainwashing you, mother?”

“No, little wing. People are not themselves around Saren. You come to idolise him. Worship him. You would do anything for him. The key is Sovereign, his flagship. It is a dreadnought of incredible size and its power is extraordinary.”

“Hang on, the same ship that we saw on Eden Prime? How on earth did it manage to land?”

“It has a very powerful mass effect drive. But that is not Sovereign’s true power. The longer you stay aboard, the more Saren’s will seems correct. You sit at his feet and smile as his words pour into you. It is subtle at first. I thought I was strong enough to resist. Instead, I became a willing too, eager to serve.”

“So why are you here?” I asked, getting to the crux of the matter.

“He sent me here to find the location of the Mu Relay. Its position was lost thousands of years ago.”

“How do you lose a relay?”

“Four thousand years ago, a star nearby went supernova. The shockwave propelled the relay out of its system, but did not damage it. Its precise vector and speed are impossible to determine. As millennia passed, the nebula created by the nova enveloped the relay. It is difficult to find any cold object in interstellar space, particularly something swathed in hot dust and radiation.”

I looked past her at the rachni. “Let me guess…”

She glanced back a moment before nodding. “Two thousand years ago, the rachni inhabited that region of our galaxy. They discovered the relay. The rachni have a unique gift where they can share memories across generations. Queens inherit the knowledge of their mothers. I took the location of the relay from the queen’s mind. I was… not gentle.”

“Does Saren believe this Mu Relay will lead him to the Conduit?”

“He does, though he did not tell me more. I was merely a servant to his cause.”

“I need that information. Make this right.”

She walked towards me, handing over an OSD. “Everything is on here. You must find out where it is quickly as I have transmitted the details to him before your arrival.”

She took a step back before her eyes closed, her face clenched in pain, before she basically stumbled until she was against the workstation against the tank. When her eyes opened, they were the same ones that had greeted us. I wasn’t going to let her get the drop on us, and I wasn’t going to kill her.

Taking out my pistol, I put a bullet into her right leg, which caused her to drop to her knee, before putting a bullet into her left shoulder, which basically put her on her back. “Liara, look away,” I ordered as I stepped towards Benezia. No doubt she was expecting a bullet in the head. Instead, I leaned down, grabbed her by the collar, and put a fist into her jaw, knocking her out cold. “Alenko, cuff her wrists and ankles. Make sure she doesn’t move. Liara, this thing on her head, what do you think it is?”

“No idea. Could be something to do with Saren? Could even be to do with the rachni?”

As Alenko secured Benezia, that’s when the rachni queen decided she would speak to us, using one of the dead asari commandos. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really understand much of what the rachni spoke of, regarding singing and colours, but I guess it was to do with how they communicated, particularly when she mentioned ‘children’.

“Thoughts?” I asked, though in the end, it would be my decision. Only Wrex was vehement in his opposition to letting the queen live. I was surprised that nearly everyone else admitted that perhaps wiping out the rachni long ago wasn’t the right thing to do. Wrex scoffed at that, but said he would not cause a problem if I chose to let the queen live.

“I don’t know about you guys but I’ve killed enough rachni today. If you promise there will be peace, queen, if you give your word on behalf of your species, then you may live.”

“You have it.”

“Then I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I’m not prepared to be the one responsible for wiping out an entire species.” I glanced at Wrex. “You okay with that?”

“If it goes wrong, we’ll just be left to clean up the mess again.”

“We will go in peace,” the queen stated.

Walking towards the tank, the queen turned and I’m sure its eyes met mine. Opening the workstation, it didn’t take much investigation to find the control, lifting the tank up before a hatch opened, allowing the queen to escape. No idea how the hell she was going to get off Noveria, but to be honest, that wasn’t my problem. She was clearly intelligent, though. I figured she’d find a shuttle, figure out how it worked, then simply go home.

Turning to my team, I gestured towards Benezia. “Wrex, if you could the honours. The rest of you, let’s head back to Port Hanshan.”

It took a while to get back to the garage. I made sure Benezia was in my Mako, Wrex taking out a shotgun and keeping it across his knees. If she woke up, she would have the shotgun prodded into her stomach, with a warning to behave or else. It was dark by the time we exited, no idea if it was the middle of the night or the dark before the dawn.

It turned out to be the latter, thankful the blizzard had passed, so we were greeted with some amazing scenery by dawn’s early light. The drive took nowhere near as long, basically flooring it at times. Wrex picked up Benezia and we headed back to the Normandy, telling Alenko and the rest to go to the hotel as we wouldn’t be going anywhere just yet.

Securing Benezia in the Normandy, Liara had followed, wanting a chance to speak with her once she woke up. I said that was fine, but she was under strict instructions to do nothing but talk, while she would remain cuffed and shackled as Chakwas provided medical attention for her wounds. If she tried any jedi mind tricks, then she was to leave immediately. She didn’t quite get what I meant by that, but assured me that she would be safe.

After getting out of my armour and dumping my supplies, I had a quick shower, dressed and headed out, hailing a taxi, and headed for the address I remembered. It was still rather early, knocking on the door, wondering if she was awake yet. When she opened the door, she met my eyes, an enormous smile breaking out as she leapt on me, arms and legs wrapped around me as the kiss certainly told me that she was rather excited to see me.

Carrying her inside, I managed to kick the door shut with my foot as I carried her in towards her kitchen, plonking her down on one of the stools. “How long can you stay?”

“Tonight. I will have to leave tomorrow morning.”

“Are you hungry? Was just about to make breakfast.”

“You know, I could say something completely corny, but I can’t remember the last time I actually ate something.”

Breakfast wasn’t extravagant, some cereal, toast and coffee, but it was something to fill a stomach that had started to growl. Once we’d finished, she grabbed my hand and led me to her bedroom. She was only wearing a robe, so it took longer for myself to undress, but once we were both naked, she simply rested her head against my chest as I held her.

Laying her down on her bed a little later, it was the first time I’d been with a woman for a second time since… Annie. And I think it’s the first time since Annie that I can say that I made love to a woman. I believe there’s a difference. When you fuck, it’s wild, hot, passionate, a shared physical attraction that leads to physical intimacy. But I think, when you make love, in addition to that, there is a heightened emotional and mental intimacy in addition to the physical.

We made love all morning, her hands never not touching my body, our lips rarely apart, and if they were, our foreheads would be touching, looking into each other’s eyes. Her legs would either be wrapped around or resting against my sides, and just occasionally, bent back quite a bit as I thrust deep into her. Sure, we enjoyed an orgasm or two, but it was the simple act itself that meant more.

When she rode me, I noticed the look in her eyes. She wasn’t in love with me, not yet, but there were feelings already. Feelings I could possibly have returned, if I were to stay on Noveria, or at least open myself up to something like that. But I couldn’t, not after Annie. She was still the one. Always would be. I’d lost part of myself when I lost her, shutting off that part which I didn’t want to open again.

Gianna eventually rested against my chest, cock still buried inside her. “My heart is going crazy, Shepard,” she whispered.

“Yeah, mine too,” I admitted.

“Could be just the great sex,” she stated with a laugh, “But it might be something else too.”

I just ran my fingers up and down her spine, enjoying the feeling of her smooth skin, her breasts pressed into my chest, buried inside her, body curled into mine. “You’re thinking,” she whispered.

“There’s always a lot going on in my head, to be honest.” I kissed her forehead when she looked up. “What I do know is that I do really like you.”

“Well, those feelings are definitely returned, Shepard.”

Getting dressed a little later, wrapping up as it was obviously cold outside, we headed out for a walk. There wasn’t exactly lot around so we walked to the end of the residential area and a nearby cliff, overlooking an enormous gorge, frozen lake far below. I’m sure before the planet froze solid, there might have been vegetation, perhaps trees and grass far below. Nothing could survive in these temperatures though.

“Not sure I’ll end up staying here,” she said, cuddling into my side, “Too much politics. The Anoleis job got on my nerves in the end.”

“Where would you go?”

“No idea. Still a cop at heart though.” She gave me a squeeze. “I know you are an orphan, Shepard. Me? I grew up in a rough neighbourhood, parents’ poor as anything, barely able to make ends meet. One of millions forgotten as humanity spread across the stars. Still had a roof over the head and just about enough food, but I never thought I’d end up living on another planet. All through school, always wanted to be a cop. Guess I read too many comics, watched too many vids, thought I could end up saving the day. Was always good at investigating, it’s how I ended up in my current role. Can always sniff out a perp.”

“Maybe it’s time to find another planet, perhaps one not so cold?”

“Would a certain Spectre be interested in visiting me at said planet?”

“Yes, he certainly would.”

Ending up back at her place, we made out on the couch like we were a pair of teenagers, making her giggle as I cracked a series of bad jokes, before she had a nap in my arms. First time I’d spent an entire day with a woman since… Annie. It always came back to her.

Gianna cooked up a storm that night, showing off her heritage. She suggested that she lacked talent in the kitchen. Well, let me just say, if that was lacking talent, she would have owned one of the most expensive restaurants if she could cook better. All I know is that I cleared my plate each time as what she cooked was delicious, the wine she selected simply complimenting the meal. Once we’d washed and put away everything, we retired to her bedroom, where she put on a little music, performed a rather erotic striptease for me, then we made love again.

The way she breathed my name as I buried myself, the way she looked at me, the way her fingers and heels dug into my back, the little noises she constantly made… She begged me to keep going, she wanted me to cum, as much as I wanted her to cum. Her mouth constantly searched for mine, the passion and intensity increasing with each passing moment. I’m not sure if she was falling in love with me that day. I don’t know if you can fall in love that quickly. All I knew is that I liked her, and would definitely want to see her again.

When she rode me later, my hands never left her body, constantly trailing up her back and occasionally grabbing her arse, before I finally shuffled back so I was sitting up and we could make out, or I could kiss down to her neck, giving her a little bite, hearing her giggle, or I’d move further down and focus on her breasts. She eventually had to ride me hard and fast, holding tightly onto me as she came hard a final time, not letting me go as I felt her shudder a few times.

“Part of me doesn’t want you to go,” she whispered, “But the other part is scared what will happen if you were to stay. I can’t remember the last time… It’s been a long time, Shepard.”

I’d barely slept in two days, so I was now rather exhausted. After we shared a rather intimate shower, we finally settled back in bed, feeling myself drift off, her hands gently caressing my face, feeling her lips kiss my forehead before I fell asleep. Waking beside her the next morning, she didn’t turn around to look at me for a while, hearing her take in a couple of deep, shuddering breaths. “I’m being an idiot,” she said quietly.

“Do you want to come see me off or…”

“Oh, I’m spending every second possible with you, Shepard.”

We eventually got out of bed and dressed, enjoying breakfast together, some of the chatter from the previous day missing. Catching a taxi outside, we headed to the hotel first, collecting the crew, before we walked back to the Normandy. Everyone headed on first before Gianna and I shared a final hug and one hell of a kiss, the depth of feeling involved telling me everything we both felt. When we finally broke apart, she hugged me tightly, whispered ‘Goodbye’ before she tried to go, though I didn’t let her.

“Not like that,” I said quietly. She looked up, noticing the shimmer in her eyes. I stroked her cheek with my thumb and smiled, earning a rather crooked one in return. “We’ll see each other again, Gianna. That I can guarantee.”

“Going to hold you to that. Send you a message every day. ‘You’d better still be alive, Shepard!’” That made us both laugh.

“I’d like a message every day.”

“Couple of days together and I’m already crying because you’re leaving!”

“Trust me, part of me doesn’t want to leave. But…”

“Got to save the galaxy?”

“Something like that.”

She hugged me again. “Going to miss you like crazy. Ugh, life is going to be dull around here again.”

“While my life might seem crazy, there’s enough downtime where I can let you know what I’m up to.”

“I’d like to hear all about it.”

“Deal.”

She leaned back and we kissed a final time before she stepped back, giving me a faint salute. “Bye, Shepard.”

“Farewell, Gianna. Hope to see you again soon.”

Walking onto the Normandy, as soon as the airlock closed, I heard the docking arm detach as the ship backed out of port and began its ascent. Striding towards the galaxy map, I put in the Citadel as the destination, though I told Joker I might change my mind on route. It would depend on Benezia. And that was where I was headed next.