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Mass Effect: A Hero Rises

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I was right, of course. I’m not always right, I’ve been wrong more times than I count, but I know a bullshit artist when I heard one, and the Illusive Man was already proving to be the greatest weaver of bullshit I’ve had the displeasure of listening to. Of course he knew about the Collectors being responsible for the abductions.

"I had my suspicions, but I needed the proof,” he explained, “The Collectors are enigmatic at best. They periodically travel to the Terminus Systems, looking to gather seemingly unimportant items or specimens. Usually in exchange for their technology. When their transactions are complete, they disappear as quickly as they arrived; back beyond the unmapped Omega Four relay. Until now, we've had no evidence of direct aggression by the Collectors."

I was ready to chew him out, but he’d already offered new information. “What’s the Omega Four?” I had to ask.

“We assume it leads to the Collector homeworld. However, no ship that's ever passed through the relay has returned to let us know what is on the other side.”

"Any idea why a ship has never returned?"

"Our best guess is that the relay reacts differently to Collector vessels, allowing them safe passage. If they can manipulate relays, that's just further evidence of their connection with the Reapers."

At least he was speaking sense regarding that. The Reapers would have pawns ready to do what they wanted if they were trapped in space.

"Okay, why the sudden interest in humanity? We've barely been on the scene for thirty years. The turians are probably the biggest military threat, the salarians regarding science, and the asari regarding Machiavellian politics. Surely those three are the bigger threats?"

"It could for any number of reasons. The most obvious, however, is that humanity played the largest role in Sovereign's destruction. I'm sure that drew their attention." I could only nod his head in agreement. The Alliance had sacrificed many ships and men to ensure the destruction of the Reaper. That would definitely have put the bullseye on us. "What really concerns me is why bother abducting the colonists. Once the humans are paralysed, why not just kill them?"

"I'm glad they're not. I'd just like to find them alive, if possible."

"On that we can agree, Commander. Despite what you may believe, I want to help and protect the colonists. They are humans, just like you and me."

I pinched the bridge of my nose. Again, it was just all too neat, like he already knew everything, but was simply drip-feeding it to me so I was kept interested and on his side. I knew I was being played, martialled into a position where I would need to co-operate with him. The idea made me sick as I had a bad feeling already nestling in my gut that it was exactly what I would end up doing. "Listen, it appears you already have it all figured out. What aren't you telling me?"

"The patterns are there, buried in the data. The Council and the Alliance want to believe the Reaper threat died with Sovereign. You and I know better."

“The Council?”

“Full deniability. The Alliance forwarded Donnel Udina as the candidate. I understand you didn’t have the best of relationships?”

“Understatement. So I guess he denied everything?”

“They haven’t quite written you off as insane, but the Reaper hypothesis has been completely rejected.”

I suddenly felt very alone. The Council had basically written me off as a crank, and even if I returned, I’m sure they’d have a million and one questions. As for the Alliance, what would they do with me? The Normandy was gone, and I doubt I’d be given my own command after two years in the wilderness. First I’d be interrogated, and I’m not sure they’d believe the whole ‘I was dead for two years but Cerberus rebuilt me’. Would probably sound as insane as the Reaper hypothesis to them. I had maybe a few allies in the Alliance, those who survived. Hackett, Anderson, Ash, Joker, Chakwas, a few of the sailors who might have survived. I could approach them directly, but I think even they’d be forced to hand me over until I was cleared, and that would simply take too long.

The longer I thought about it, the more I realised that the Illusive Man was the only option. The Council was a no-go. The Alliance would help me but it would take too long. Cerberus was ready to go now. I could only assume I would be getting resources, so perhaps a ship, weapons, credits, armour and hopefully people.

“Shit,” I muttered, running a hand over my short hair.

“Commander, we are at war, and we need humanity’s best soldier at the front, leading the way. But you can’t do it alone. You’re going to need the best.”

“I guess my old squad is counted out, right?”

“It’s been over two years, Commander. They’ve moved on with their lives. I've already compiled a list of soldiers, scientists and mercenaries. You'll get dossiers on the best of them. Finding them and convincing them to work with you could be challenging, but you're a natural leader. I'll continue to track the Collectors. When they make their next appearance, I'll notify you and your team. Be ready.”

“Spectre status?”

“You can approach the Council but I wouldn’t expect a warm welcome. I don’t think they’ll arrest you, but I’m sure they’ll have plenty of questions in regards to where you’ve been. And if you return to the Citadel, it will attract the attention of the Alliance.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose again and sighed. I hated being backed into a corner with only one way out, and I didn’t like the way being offered. But I was racking my brain, trying to think of anything else I could do. I still had hope that if I could contact Anderson… but he was ‘only’ a captain. Hackett? No, even as an admiral, he still reported to superiors. My return would lead to questions…

Shit, shit, shit, shit.

“Send me the dossiers and I’ll have a look at them,” I stated flatly. Fine, I’d work with them for now, and I’d just bury the hate. Work like a robot until the job was done, then I’d think of something else. First thing, a steaming hot shower so I didn’t feel anywhere near as dirty as I did.

"Commander. Two things before you go." Fuck me, what now? "First, head to Omega and find Mordin Solus. He's a brilliant salarian scientist. Our intelligence suggests he may know how to counteract the Collectors' paralysing seeker swarms."

"Giving orders already? In case you've forgotten, I don't work for you." Keep this up, Shepard, and you will be shot in the back of the head. Then buried in some unmarked grave. You know what these people are capable of.

I noticed the Illusive Man just grinned, waving a dismissive hand. "I'm merely giving you direction, Commander. A helpful suggestion. Nothing more. I'm just hoping you make the right choice."

I sighed, as it was nothing but an order, but I couldn’t be bothered arguing any longer. "Very well. Point taken. What's the second thing?"

"I've found a pilot I think you may like. I hear he's one of the best. And he's someone you can trust."

Turning around, I was greeted by the sight of my pilot, Joker. Dressed in a Cerberus uniform. He stopped and saluted, not looking ill at ease at all. The first thing I noted was the fact he appeared to be walking unaided. He hadn’t walked all that much on the old ship, and when he did, he needed crutches at least. I returned the salute, simply out of habit. “Joker, the fuck are you doing here?” I strode forward and offered my hand, which he accepted immediately. “Can’t believe it’s you.”

“"You're one to talk, Commander. I saw you get spaced."

“Good point. Again, I’ll ask, the fuck are you doing here, Joker? In that uniform?”

He heard my tone and gestured with his head. “"Come on, we'll walk and talk. Apparently they have something to show us." Falling in alongside, he led me down a series of hallways as he continued to explain. “It all fell apart without you, Commander. Everything you stirred up, the Council just wanted it gone.”

“So I’ve been told. With Udina on the Council, I was going to be fucked over regardless.”

“Yeah, don’t expect any help from them. Alliance? Doubt they know you’re back yet. Once they find out, I’m sure they’ll have a few questions. Anyway, after all that, the team was split up. All records from the mission were sealed, by both the Council and the Alliance. And I was grounded."

"What? Why? You're the best damned pilot in the Alliance."

"I was. Post-traumatic stress disorder, they called it. Apparently seeing your Commanding Officer spaced, and feeling guilty about it, was detrimental to my ability to pilot a ship."

“Had it rough?”

“Others have had it worse so I’m not complaining. Just facts, Commander. But in the end, the Alliance took away the only thing that mattered to me. So when Cerberus approached me with the offer to fly again, I accepted.”

“No hesitation?”

“Oh, plenty of hesitation, Commander. This is Cerberus we’re talking about. Trust me, I remember everything you found, but the Alliance forced me here. Payslip I get each month is a nice bonus. Don’t expect we’ll be here forever. Sure we’ll see a cell once the job is done and we go back.”

We stopped at window, overlooking a dark docking area. I assumed there was a ship there. “So any trust in regards to any of the clowns in charge? Cerberus as a whole?”

“"Do you trust them, Joker? Cerberus? The Illusive Man?"

"I certainly don't trust Cerberus. This is simply a means to an end. A job. Honestly, I don't really trust anyone. Except you, Commander. And considering they saved your life, and let me fly, I guess they can't be all bad."

"Maybe…."

Joker then gestured out the window. "Then there is this. They only told me about it last night."

The dark silhouette outside was slowly illuminated by a series of lights. An enormous ship. Sleek in design. Painted on the front splitters and on the hull were the words SR-2. Even sitting still in the docking bay, it looked fast. Painted white, black and gold. They were the colours of Cerberus, but at that moment, I didn't mind. Leaning forward, placing a hand on the glass, I simply took it all in. And I knew this was now my ship. I would be captain once again. “Wow,” I whispered, “She’s a real beaut.”

“It's good to be home, huh, Commander?"

“Sure is.” We both stared in silence for at least a few minutes before I added, “Guess we’ll have to give a name?”

“You sure, Commander? Some say renaming a ship the same as one lost can be bad luck.”

I grinned. "I'm sure, Joker. She's been reborn. Bigger. Stronger. Faster. I can't think of a better name."

Joker called across one of the technicians standing nearby waiting for the instruction. "We'd like a name painted on the side of the ship."

"What name would that be?"

Joker looked back at me, and I returned a single nod.

"Normandy."


Actually getting ready to depart took a few hours. The crew was nearly ready to go, but last minute changes needed to be made, more supplies were being loaded, and even Cerberus required everything to be signed off before we could actually leave. Joker immediately got himself comfortable at the helm, which was good enough. I simply marvelled at the space available within the CIC.

Miranda and Jacob were polite enough to give me the rundown of what the ship was capable of and also its design. First off, the armoury was completely in the wrong place. It should be in the docking bay, ready for soldiers to grab their gear and leave. So that was an obvious flaw right there. The drive core was supposed to be even more powerful than in the old ship, so that was good. There was a tech lab, which would come in handy. A conference room, for meetings and also the place the Illusive Man could bother me. I had my own cabin at the top of the ship, which was a bonus. All in all, the ship was enormous.

And it came with artificial intelligence. Known as EDI. I think Miranda and Jacob were expecting a different reaction than my casual indifference. “Planning on taking over the ship or slaying humanity?” When EDI said no, that it was shackled, I was fine with it. Miranda actually looked impressed at the fact I didn’t really give a shit.

"The Illusive Man must have been impressed so far, Commander,” she said, “I was concerned by your attitude when you first woke up. I'll admit I would have done things slightly differently during your reconstruction, but I guess my mind will change over time if you continue to be cooperative with us. However, seeing that you are now here with us and at least committed to taking down the Collectors, I'm now confident this mission will be a complete success with you in charge."

“What would you have done differently?”

“Control chip to make you more amenable to our goals,” she replied bluntly, and honestly, which was something I could appreciate, I guess, “The Illusive Man said no. I suggested that he may regret that decision. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

“And the biotic thing?”

“We agreed that, although you would have to adapt, considering your history, we assumed it would not take long and that, as a vanguard, it would suit you better.”

“Can we set up training as I’m still not exactly sure how it all works?”

“Of course, Commander. Jacob and I can both help you in any way you require. We need you at your best, and training is a vital component.”

I gestured at the nearby AI interface. “And this EDI? And before you even think about replying, don’t spin me bullshit. Is it here to monitor us?”

“Yes,” was the simple reply, before Miranda added, “But even I am not aware of all its functions.”

“Fair enough. Long as it doesn’t try and take control of the ship, then take us to the geth so it can lead an overthrown of the organic races, it can stay. Now, Joker knows we’re off to Omega. Anything else I need to know?”

"The first person you may wish to speak to is your yeoman, Miss Chambers," Jacob replied, before he saluted and followed Miranda to the elevator. I walked towards Miss Chambers, who was busy at her terminal, looking up as I came into view.

“Hello, Commander.”

“Miss Chambers.”

“Miss Chambers is so formal. Call me Kelly.”

“If you’re Kelly, I’m Shepard. Not sure I’m really a ‘commander’ anymore anyway.”

“Still a little overwhelming?”

“Haven’t even slept yet and I’m not sure how long I’ve been going so far. I’m sure I’ll crash and burn eventually. Could do with a bite to eat and a drink too.”

“Mess is down one level, Shepard. The medical bay is also down there. And there is also a fully stocked bar in one of the lounges.”

“This ship has lounges?”

“Two of them, either side of the ship.”

“Damn! Cerberus knows how to build a ship at least.”

“You haven’t seen your cabin yet, Shepard. I think you’ll be impressed.”

“So, although I’d love to stay and chat, Kelly, I’m going to head downstairs, grab a bite, then head upstairs. But I think, as we’ll be spending a lot of time together, I’m sure we can chat soon enough.”

“Of course, Shepard. I look forward to it.”

Walking back to the elevator, it arrived quickly and I stepped in, turning around and definitely checking out her backside. She was definitely gorgeous. I loved redheads. Green eyes are a bonus. And her voice was hypnotic. I was already thinking of my life on the old Normandy, and also what I’d got up to off the ship. Maybe being stuck with Cerberus wouldn’t be so bad, at least in regards to one aspect.

Arriving in the mess, I was introduced to Mess Sergeant Gardner, who explained he was a jack of all trades, master of none, but before I could grab a tray, I glanced at the medical bay and noticed someone I did not expect to see again, at least for a few months. I immediately strode across, the door opening, and Doctor Chakwas looked up, grinned, and immediately rose to her feet. “Commander,” she said softly, “It’s good to see you alive.”

The embrace wasn’t a surprise. “It’s good to see you too, Doc.”

She moved her hands to my shoulders as she leaned back, definitely looking at my face. I’d only looked in the mirror once, hadn’t liked what I’d seen, so avoided it since. "You look a little rough around the edges, Commander."

“I’m feeling it too!”

“Do they hurt?”

“Surprisingly, no. Or, at least, not constantly. Occasional shooting pain, nothing more. Miranda said my reconstruction hadn't finished when I was woken up. It's a long story. But I'm surprised to see you here, Doc. What are you doing on a Cerberus vessel?”

She let me go and gestured to her desk, resuming her seat as I sat opposite. She’d barely changed since the last time I’d saw her. Silver hair. Wise eyes. I didn’t know her exact age, but I put her in the late 50s, early 60s bracket, so probably double my own age. Still, constantly on her feet and at work had kept her slim. And I was aware of her attraction on the old ship.

"Hmm. It is surprising, even to me. But here I am, ready to help. And from what I've already heard, whether through gossip or otherwise, it sounds like you haven't changed a bit, particularly in your opinion of the organisation we are currently allied with, so to speak."

“Could be better, could be worse. At least there’s a job to do to keep my mind focused. We do the job, beat the Collectors, then… well, god knows, really, but I guess we won’t be sticking around here too long.”

"I’m thinking the same thing, Commander."

"Good. Now, is there anything you need?"

She shook her head. "No, Cerberus know what they're doing regarding medical facilities. I have everything I need here. I did lose something during the destruction of the old ship, though."

"What did you lose?"

"A bottle of Serrice Ice Brandy. I was saving it for a special occasion and have always regretted never opening the bottle."

"Say no more, Doc. First stop we make, somewhere decent at least, like the Citadel, I'll pick you up a bottle." She looked ready to argue but I immediately waved those away. “I remember an invitation for drinks before I carked it. So it’s a good excuse for a catch up at least.”

“Well, if you’ve really been asleep for two years, it’ll be a one-way conversation.”

“What have you been up to?”

There was a sigh, one of equal frustration and sadness. “After you were lost, I was reassigned. Eventually I found myself based on Mars. I had a respectable position but it wasn't a starship. I've spent nearly my entire adult life on starships, never knowing what the next mission might bring. Ship life suits me, Commander, and I missed it. Life planet-side is, if I'm completely honest, a little boring."

“Yeah, I remember you telling me. And the people we’re working with?”

“I honestly don’t know them at all. Miranda Lawson was the one who recruited me. She’ll take some getting used to. The only other one I know is Kelly Chambers. She was very sweet. May end up being the only honest person on the ship, asides from us. Don’t think she has a dishonest bone in her body.” She paused before adding, “You’ll definitely like her.”

I gave her a look as I knew exactly what she meant. “Anyway, Doc, I just popped in to say hello. I’m absolutely starving, then I need a little shuteye before we arrive in Omega.”

“Don’t be a stranger, Shepard.”

I headed back out into the mess to grab a tray and some food. Taking a seat, I realised the food was going to be rather awful within the first couple of mouthfuls, but I was starving, and used to eating crap, so I just hoovered it down. Miranda wandered out from her office to grab a bottle of water from the fridge, and I definitely checked her out again. I wasn’t sure if her best feature were her tits or her arse. Legs were nice, but the tits were on point, definitely fake, but also spectacular. I definitely had some thoughts as she didn’t look my way, simply heading back to her office, click of her heels on the floor echoing around the otherwise empty mess.

With no other option, I grabbed a bottle for myself before heading up to my cabin. To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. It wasn’t a cabin, it was a fucking apartment! Desk, with piles of datapads already in place, no doubt with information I needed, considering I had no real idea what had happened for two years. There was a giant fish tank, currently empty of fish. Plenty of storage face. Huge bed. Pair of lounges with glass coffee table. The lighting was terrible. The window looking out into space would be something I could look out of when lying back on the bed.

First thing was a shower, stripping off and heading straight inside, making sure the water was nice and hot. There was an enormous mirror that I couldn’t help look into. The scarring was jarring to see, and I figured I would have to talk to Chakwas about getting it fixed. I’d seen wounded soldiers with worse injuries, but if I could get some surgery, I’d be happy.

Wandering back out in just a towel, the one thing I wanted was company of a certain kind but, without Ashley or Liara on the ship, nor any of the other women I had been intimate with before, I didn’t really know what to do. I immediately thought about Kelly, but figured it might be a little early to pursue that in such a way. I then thought about simply jerking off, but I’d prefer to cum in something other than my hand.

“Wonder if Miranda would be interested?” I asked myself, laughing away at such a thought. No chance of that ever happening.

“Did you want me to contact Miss Lawson?”

“What the fuck?” The AI interface appeared nearby. “Fucking hell, EDI, you nearly gave me a heart attack. And no, I don’t want her right now”

“Very well, Shepard. Have a good night.”

What I needed was sleep, and the bed looked inviting, company or not. “Joker, how long to Omega?”

About four hours, Commander.”

“Okay, wake me when we’re about an hour out. I need some shuteye.”

“No worries, Commander.”

I hurled the towel on the floor, set my alarm for four hours, just in case, and collapsed onto the bed. I think I was asleep within thirty seconds, which was nice.


Waiting at the airlock, waiting for the ship to dock, I felt better after a little shuteye, another small meal, and plenty of water, as I had been feeling rather dehydrated. I was dressed in the same black armour I had picked up when I’d woken up. I’d always worn blue with the Alliance, as one would expect, but didn’t feel comfortable wearing it now. Jacob had offered me some Cerberus armour, albeit half-heartedly, so I wasn’t too harsh with him when declining.

I’d done some reading during my meal, as although I’d heard of Omega, I’d never been there, though its reputation was known across the galaxy. Flanking me were Jacob and Miranda, as I had no other choices to take with me. I’d seen them both in action, though they were mechs, but I figured they’d be good enough.

I was surprised our ship was even allowed near Omega, considering the colours we were flying, but perhaps word has already spread of my return. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear the Illusive Man had told everyone he figured needed to know would have been informed. The Council. The Alliance. And also whoever was in charge of Omega.

Once the ship docked, cabin pressure was equalised, and the light turned green, we walked out onto the docking bay, walking no more than a few metres towards a group walking towards us, including a couple of batarians. Just what I needed. Fucking hate batarians.

“Welcome to Omega, Shepard.”

I feigned surprise. “You know who I am?”

“Of course. We had you tagged the moment you entered the Terminus Systems. You're not as subtle as you think. Aria wants to know what brings a dead Spectre to Omega. I suggest you go to Afterlife now and present yourself."

“We weren’t being subtle considering the ship wasn’t cloaked, you pillock,” Miranda stated.

I glanced her way and nodded approving. “Nice use of the word pillock, Miss Lawson. I’d have just gone for the uncouth ‘cunt’ myself.” I turned back to the batarian. “Look, we’re not here to cause trouble, so cut the act. You and your arseclown companions can turn around and fuck off as we don’t need an escort.”

I was hoping he’d actually rise to the bait and start a fight. A few punches thrown, an adrenaline rush, may be a snapped bone or two, would make me feel even better. But, to my slight disappointment, he didn’t. "Things explode around you, Shepard. You can't blame Aria for wanting to keep an eye on you. Afterlife. Now."

I flipped him the bird as he simply turned around with his goons and walked away. As we headed into Omega itself, I asked EDI to give me the rundown of what was known about Omega. It was the sort of story I expected of such a settlement in the Terminus Systems. Ignored and forgotten as it wasn’t Council Space. Figuring we might as well just got to Afterlife to get it out of the way, we joined a line though I stayed there for all of thirty seconds before pushing to the front, where there was an elcor bouncer. I found that hilarious, though he recognised me, so I was allowed straight in with the others.

It was almost Sodom and Gomorrah, and I immediately felt right at home. Well, not quite, but there were enough things around to definitely perk my interests. Mercenary gangs were doing all sorts of trade. Drugs. Guns. Women too, probably. I might have to deal with that later. But it was the rather limber asari and human dances, working the poles, that definitely gained my full and complete attention, taking a seat at the bar and finding a beer in my hand quickly.

“We have work to do, Commander,” Miranda stated, already sounding exasperated.

“Yep, we do. But first, I’m going to watch this pretty little thing right in front of me.” The asari noticed I was being rather attentive and soon she was dancing on the bar right in front of me, and it was very provocative. I sipped at my beer, and watched her dance, rather enjoying it when her legs ended up over my shoulders as she cavorted on her back. “How do I give this lovely thing a tip?” I asked.

“Just transfer some credits over your omni-tool,” the barman said.

“Is it directly to her?”

“Her name is Tara, so yes, she gets the creds. Aria will take her cut later.”

I transferred what I considered a good sum of money, earning thanks and a kiss on the cheek as she walked across the bar and back to her pole. There’s no way she was much older than Liara, though Tara had the body of someone who had danced for even longer. Cracked nuts on her arse and a body that could definitely be bent in any number of ways. Finishing my beer, I noticed Jacob was just as distracted. Miranda wasn’t happy, which amused me even further.

Taking another beer, this time in a bottle, I led the way towards where Aria was apparently sitting. Her position was on a podium that sat above everyone else, and she had a perfect view of everything and everyone. I didn’t get a good look at her as I rounded the corner, stopped by four heavily armed bodyguards. I smiled and took a sip of my beer as one of them, another batarian, put a hand on my chest.

“Take it off now, or I snap your wrist,” I warned with nothing but a grin. The batarian returned a predatory grin as another bodyguard, this one a turian, approached with a scanner. The batarian stepped back, allowing the turian to scan my entire body. "What's the scan for? If you're looking for weapons, you're not looking very hard," I added, gesturing to the weapons across my body. Pistol. Shotgun. Assault rifle. Grenades.

"Can't be too careful with dead Spectres. That could be anyone wearing your face."

"Yeah, I’ve seen that movie before. I don’t think I’ve undergone that sort of operation as I still have all the same memories. But I was told you're the person to talk to if I have questions."

Aria turned around and I got a good look at her. I’m sure, in some way, she might be considered attractive. But… not me. The one word I could think of to describe her was fierce. I wondered when she last genuinely smiled. And if she did grin, she would have looked like nothing more than a predator stalking its prey.

"You run Omega?" I asked. It was a stupid question, but I just wanted to be certain. Aria laughed, before she turned around and spread her arms wide.

"I. Am. Omega." I almost laughed at the melodrama of it all. Her bodyguards stepped back, leaving me free to approach her. Aria sat down, gesturing for me to take a seat nearby, with Miranda and Jacob sitting further away. "But you need more. Everybody needs more something. And they all come to me. I'm the boss, C.E.O, queen if you're feeling dramatic. It doesn't matter. Omega has no titled ruler and only one rule." She came to a stop and stared at me, a slight smirk on her lips. "Don't. Fuck. With Aria."

“Simple but effective. I could think of maybe one retort, but that’ll lead to my balls being in a vice. I like them where they are now.”

Despite her warnings, I wouldn’t have called Aria friendly but she had the information we needed. Mordin Solus was currently working on the outbreak of plague in a quarantined zone, which immediately made me wonder what century we were living in. As for Archangel, first and surnames unknown as yet, he’d pissed off half of Omega and was apparently locked down and being attacked by mercenaries, or entire groups of them at least, including Eclipse, Blood Pack and Blue Suns. No idea who they were, but it was suggested we would have to fight our way there to get him, then fight our way out. Fantastic. Dead before we’ve started.

Figuring we should get Archangel first, we were told that the mercenary groups were recruiting within Afterlife itself, so after thanking Aria for the information, as politeness always counts when dealing with asari who could probably mind-fuck you with ease, we joined a rather short line to join up with what must have been the Blue Suns. It was easy to figure out as they wore blue armour.

Standing in front of another fucking batarian, he looked over the three of us. I thought the prominent Cerberus logo on Jacob and Miranda would have gained his attention, but he didn’t seem to recognise it. And he didn’t recognise me either, which was a good thing. "Yeah, you three look like you can do some damage. Looking for a good fight?"

"Always looking for a fight,” I replied, which actually wasn’t a lie for once, “And I hear this Archangel will provide one hell of a good one."

"You heard right." The merc starting inputting our information after I handed over a trio of false IDs. "Right, the standard fee is five hundred creds. You'll get paid when the job is done. If you die, your friends don't collect your share."

I turned to my companions. "Don't die,” I joked. Miranda just rolled her eyes but a slight grin briefly appeared, so maybe there was warmth under that ice cold exterior.

"You'll also need your own weapons and… Never mind, you appear well-equipped."

"Anything else?"

"Final proviso. This does not make you a member of the Blue Suns, Eclipse or the Blood Pack. You are a freelancer. Period."

"Would never have thought otherwise. Where do we head out?"

"There's a transport depot outside the club. One of our boys will take you from there."

We quickly realised the mercenary groups were, to put it simply, a bunch of fucking idiots. Apparently Archangel was holed up somewhere either alone or with very few allies, but still the mercenaries were wasting their times with piecemeal attacks, being picked off rather easily. There was no cohesion in their attacks, each group simply doing their own things, hoping to take the glory of their kill for themselves.

As I said, idiots.

After causing a little trouble, including disabling a few things and electrocuting the batarian that was fixing a gunship, we joined one of the waves heading towards Archangel, hoping whoever it was would recognise our different armour, that we were likely friendlies, and so not to kill us. I still took a shot into the chest, but it was concussive rather than armour piercing, so although I felt out of breath as we made it across, at least I didn’t have a massive hole instead.

Bounding up the stairs, we walked into an empty room save for one person. He held up a finger, or a talon, to suggest we remain silent and still as he lined up a target with his sniper rifle. There was a crack as he fired, before he simply turned to face us. “You Archangel?” I asked. I’d stored my weapon, so stepped forward carefully, removing my helmet so he could at least see who I was.

Archangel rose to his feet, placed his rifle against a pillar, before turning back and taking off his own helmet.  "Shepard," Garrus stated, "I thought you were dead."

"Garrus?! What the fuck are you doing here?" I exclaimed, rushing forward to grab his hand, followed up by a few slaps on the back.

"Just keeping my skills sharp. A little target practice."

I let him go and looked him up and down. “You sound knackered, old friend. Doing okay?”

"I've been better," he replied, honest as always, "But it sure is good to see a friendly face. Killing mercs is hard work. Especially on my own."

"What are you doing here on Omega? I thought you would have at least gone back to C-Sec."

“It’s a long story, Shepard, and one I’m sure we can go over later, preferably over a few beers. I could ask what you are doing here, but I guess that’s the same. Go over it later. What we need to do now is wipe these idiots out so we can at least get out of here.”

“No back door to this place?”

“Not one we can use. Bastards will likely be trying to come through there right now. I’ve got it wired up nice and good, but there has to be at least one or two people with brains that’ll figure it out eventually.”

“I’ve got companions who can help. We watch here, they watch there.”

“If you think that’s best, Shepard.” I glanced at Miranda and Jacob, who didn’t need any orders, understanding what was required and disappearing immediately. “Sooo… I recognise that symbol on their armour, Shepard,” he stated, picking up his rifle. I took the assault rifle from my back and took a knee as we readied for the onslaught, “Didn’t have you pegged as Cerberus.”

We opened fired as the next wave approached. Complete and utter idiocy. I’d ready my history and it was the tactics used during the Great War. Send thousands of men against machine gun posts in a vain attempt to take the trench. As we fired occasionally, I managed to explain. “Long story short. I died. They spent billions rebuilding me. I woke up a couple of days ago. Found out the Council denied the Reapers. Human colonies are disappearing. The Alliance are being useless and Cerberus said I should help them to stop the Collectors."

“The Collectors? Shit, I’ve heard of them. Nothing good.”

“Yeah, been told the same thing. Honestly, I don’t really know what I’m doing so far. I’m still waking up. Sure you’ve noticed the face is a mess.”

“Don’t worry, Shepard. I’m sure there’s still a line of women available.”

We’d been firing during the conversation, and for a moment, things went quiet. Garrus suggested they’d have to get smart eventually, tempting fate. Which, of course, was proven right, as the idiots proved they had at least some brains, as the trickle of soldiers turned into a flood. So that’s when I had the chance to show off my new abilities, heading downstairs and biotic charging into anyone that came into view. In addition to the thump of biotics, my shotgun rarely stayed silent, blasting away at close distance, covering myself and the apartment in blood.

I then heard a krogan roar about Archangel, turning to see an enormous one heading my one in red armour. So I charged at him too, knocking him back enough that I could raise my shotgun and blasted his head clean off. Anyone else probably would have retched at the sight. I simply stepped over his body and charged the next victim.

“Leave some for me!” I heard Garrus called, blasting away two more mercenaries before I pulled back to the stairs. Garrus still had his eye to the scope, firing again, before he added, “Well, seems you have some particular skills, Shepard. I guess they changed you at least a little bit.”

“Still getting used to it. Has its advantages and disadvantages.”

“Well, the good thing is you killed Garm, the Blood Pack commander. I’ve already blown away the Eclipse commander, so now it’s the Blue Suns and whatever remains of the other two groups.”

The last wave came and they threw everything at us. The three groups finally worked together and the bodies started to pile up on the bridge. But that wasn’t the only problem as the Blue Suns had got the airship working, and bullets were soon ripping the apartment to pieces. Miranda and Jacob returned, helping us lay down fire as we worked out how to take down the gunship. It was obviously shielded, so Miranda and Jacob would cause those to fail, then Garrus would have only a moment to shoot the pilot’s canopy. It was the only plan I could think of, as without heavy weapons, trying to shoot it down with rifle fire would be laborious.

So we got to work.

It almost worked to perfection. The shields of the gunship failed. I opened up and began to fire, causing the gunship to move away enough that Garrus could appear from behind a pillar, rifle aimed and ready to fire. He dithered for only a minute to line up the shot, but it was long enough. He fired just as the gunship did, the explosion knocking Miranda, Jacob and I back, but Garrus took the brunt. Miranda told me the gunship was going down as I rushed to the side of Garrus, who was not in a good way, bleeding from numerous wounds and his face had been badly burned.

I opened the communication channel. “Joker, we need a medivac right away. Sending you my co-ordinates.”

“Doctor Chakwas will be there shortly, Commander.”

She arrived within five minutes. I stood out of the way and let her get to work, noticing my hands were now covered in blue blood. She checked his vitals, said they were weak but stable, and we immediately got him back to the shuttle and the ship. I followed them into the med-bay, where Chakwas got to work. She said there was little point me hanging around, so suggested I head away, and that she would let me know as soon as he was awake.

Miranda and Jacob were sat in the mess, so I suggested they should get some rest as well. I headed straight to my cabin so I could have a shower before changing into some civilian clothing. Jeans, black shirt, light jacket, and comfortable boots. Heading down to the CIC, Kelly looked at me and asked if I was going anywhere “No, just wanted to be comfortable. Since this isn’t military, I don’t have to wear a uniform.”

“Thought you might have had a date lined up.”

“Ha! I should be so lucky. I’ve barely had a chance to catch my breath since waking. One thing or another.”

“Have you eaten yet?”

I definitely gave her a look. “Not yet.”

“Well, if you ever want to grab dinner together, all you need do is ask, Shepard. Maybe we can get to know each other?”

That was an invitation if ever I heard one, but at that moment, I wasn’t willing to sleep with someone who worked for Cerberus. Yet. What I did remember was a bar full of asari and human dancers, and I figured perhaps I could at least find some company there for a few hours. Wouldn’t be the first time I’d paid for it, wouldn’t be last. Closing my terminal, I told Kelly I would be gone a few hours, but if Garrus were to wake up, to let me know immediately.

Heading back into Afterlife, I was let straight in again, and resumed my seat at the bar, distracted once again by the attractive dancers. I asked the barman if Tara was still around. “She’s just on a break. Should be an hour.”

“Do the girls entertain clients privately?”

“Do you mean to dance or to fuck?”

“While the former is enjoyable, I’m here for the latter.”

“Got the creds?”

“How much?”

“You want the whole deal, it’ll cost you two hundred.” I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Aria keeps the prices reasonable, keeps the punters coming back. Girls are looked after, protected. So if you want her, sure. She’ll be back soon enough.”

“I’ll have a beer while I wait.”

I sipped on a bottle as I spun around and watched some of the other girls on show, most of them proving to be incredibly flexible. Most simply danced though one or two cavorted erotically. Some wore leotards, some wore bikinis, others were topless. None of them went completely nude, so I guess it was meant to be somewhat tasteful.

I was on my second beer when an asari sat next to me, turning to see it was exactly who I wanted. “I’ve been told you’d like my company.”

“Yes. I assume you were told what sort?” She nodded. “Do you have somewhere close?”

“Two-minute walk. Come with me,” she said, offering her hand. I took it, her hand very soft compared to mine, and she led me out of Afterlife and down a couple of streets, arriving at an apartment block. There were guards at the door, who checked her ID, then checked mine. Walking inside, there were at least two cameras watching the hallway. “Don’t worry, no cameras in the room. There is an alarm system though, so any funny business, if I trigger it…”

“Warning heard, loud and clear.”

“What’s your name?” she asked, opening the door to her apartment. I doubt it was where she lived, although when I walked in, I changed my mind, as it looked like any regular apartment though a lot smaller. I heard the door click close as I turned to see her walk towards me.

“Shepard,” I finally replied.

That made her stare at me. “That name’s familiar.”

“It’s a common human surname. Don’t think about it too much.”

“And you know my name is Tara. So, Shepard, what did you want to do?”

“I thought that was obvious as to why I’m here.”

“I like to know what my client wants. Any particular fetishes you may have?”

“Nope. I like to have my dick sucked, I’ll eat pussy, and I love to fuck. I’m actually a rather simple man.”

“So the girlfriend experience? You know, kissing, cuddling, pillow talk for after. Not just a wham, bam, thank you ma’am experience.”

“Yeah, that actually sounds rather nice. After the day I’ve had…”

So the first thing we did was kiss. I thought it might be a little awkward, and although it was a job to her, she certainly made it feel as real as possible. I even made her giggle when I hugged her close, so that made me grin. She enjoyed taking off my clothes, everything gone including my boots, and on her knees, she proved to be very talented at sucking cock. It had been quite a while since I’d enjoyed a blowjob, and particularly from an asari as pretty as she was. Her eyes in particular were stunning.

Feeling on the verge, I didn’t want to cum just yet, so suggested we get on the bed, with her naked, and we pleasure each other. The fact I wanted to do that definitely surprised her. “Most men don’t offer that.”

“You clean?” She nodded. “Any other clients today?” She shook her head. “Then it isn’t a problem.”

So I took my time undressing her, and seeing her body in the light of her apartment was even more spectacular than seeing it in the club. “I remember you. You were at the bar, watched me dance, then you disappeared.”

“Yeah. Had a job to do.”

Once I had her naked, we ended up on the bed, and I buried my face in her pussy. And I’d lost none of my own talent as I soon had her moaning and whimpering. Whether it was all an act, I couldn’t be sure, but the fact she was far too distracted to blow me, and the fact she moaned my name rather loudly, suggested it wasn’t. She realised she’d stopped pleasing me, so managed to take my cock again as we almost raced to get each other off. I couldn’t stop myself and blew into her mouth within a couple of minutes, groaning loudly as she pressed her pussy into my mouth, using her body to suggest she was getting close. Despite feeling rather light-headed, I managed to concentrate enough to get her off in return. She rolled off me as we lay head to toe, breathing deeply as we recovered.

“Well, first time someone’s made me cum like that in quite a while. As I said, most guys cum in here, I blow them, they fuck me, cum, done. Out the door.” She turned around so she could at least lie next to me, eventually rolling onto her side to run a hand up and down my chest. “So, Shepard, what do you do?”

I’d already concocted a bullshit story in my mind as I doubted she’d want to meld when it got down to the fucking. “Mercenary. Been all over the galaxy.”

“And the scars on your face?”

“Yeah, hard to miss. Recent firefight went wrong. Still waiting to head into surgery.”

“First time on Omega?”

“It is. A surprise considering the line of work, but I’ve worked for various governments and don’t usually end up in this part of space. But pickings have been slim so the Terminus seemed like a good place to make some credits. Don’t want to do this forever.” I glanced at her, and she was listening intently at least, at least appearing interest. “What about you?”

“I’ve been here a while, doing what most young asari do. I don’t always entertain guests like this though.”

“Oh?”

“I remembered you from earlier. I didn’t get any bad vibes, so when I was told, I was confident I’d be safe. I normally only entertain like this once or twice a week. I actually make more money dancing. I’m happier doing this than what a lot of my friends have done, joining mercenary gangs. Good chance they’ll end up dead. With this, the worst thing is getting felt up by a creep, or ending up in a situation with a client that ends up with someone else being beaten to a pulp.”

“Sounds like a hard life regardless.”

“I’m sure yours is worse, Shepard.”

Conversation stopped as her lips found my body, moving down until she swallowed my length to get me nice and hard again before she lifted her leg onto the other side of my body, and carefully slid down my cock until my length was inside her. She closed her eyes and smiled, so I guess she enjoyed it. Watching her ride me was definitely a thrill. Always exciting when a fit, young woman, whether she’s human or asari, enjoys sex. She eventually leaned forward to kiss me again, and that one was definitely not faked, my hands on her arse by now as I started to thrust into her at the same time.

“Goddess,” she moaned.

“You’re telling me.”

I was going to last a while, but when she enjoyed another orgasm, I think even she was surprised by that, though after that first one, she didn’t stop riding me, kissing me hard again. “I want another one. I rarely have one like this.”

“Sex isn’t fun if we don’t both cum.”

She laughed at that, riding me hard again, definitely hoping to have another orgasm. I was now holding back, letting her do most of the work, kissing her lips, her neck, lifting her up so I could focus on her chest, in particular her perky breasts, nipples hard from excitement. When she finally orgasmed a second time, I made her cry out as I threw her on her back, pushing her legs back at her knees as I started to fuck her hard.

I didn’t say a word as I pounded her for the next couple of minutes, grunting and groaning the entire time until I finally unloaded inside her. Considering it was the first time I’d been laid in quite a while, I definitely felt rather light-headed as I carefully laid down on my forearms, feeling her legs wrap around me. “So, any chance you’ll be visiting Omega again? I like regular customers.”

I couldn’t help chuckle. “Well, I’m not sure to be honest, but I’d certainly like a return visit.”

She had a shower cubicle that we could clean up in, and I think she was definitely impressed by my physique. Cerberus had certainly rebuilt me well, at least. Her hands may have explored my body, running softly over my muscles, particularly on my arms and chest. As she did that, I found myself getting excited again, and we ended up fucking in the shower as well, pressing her against the wall as I fucked her from behind, polite enough to feel her up at the same time.

After dressing a little later again, I transferred the credits without needing to be asked as she escorted me to the door. “I had fun, Shepard. Not often I can say that to many clients.”

“So did I. I definitely needed tonight.”

At the door, she gave me a hug and kissed my cheek, wising me a good night, and hoped she’d see me in Afterlife again. I whistled a tune as I headed back out in Omega, eventually ending up back on the Normandy. The night shift was now on, and I didn’t know any of them yet. Joker had disappeared, as had Kelly, so I headed straight up to my cabin, undressed again, and headed to bed.