February 24, 2185
Beyond the Perseus Veil
System Identification: Classified

"I didn't think it would work," Tali said, looking up at Fred's fighter from where she lay, snuggled against him. "No one has ever built a fighter that transforms into a piloted mech before."

"It's not Max," Fred said, giving Tali a gentle squeeze, "but then again, Max is kind of like Rael. He's a living person, too. Miri's fighter is named Manfred. Ri's hasn't Awakened yet, and Hel claims she doesn't want one. Cal's working on his own design. He says my design is too old-fashioned for him and Daniel. MJ can't seem to decide whether she wants a fighter or not. That's OK, though. She has plenty of time to decide."

"How many people do you have like Father?" Tali asked.

"I've lost track," Fred admitted. "There's more kids Awakening every day, all over the place. I think we're up into the hundreds now, aren't we, Edgar?"

"That's right," Edgar said. "A lot of kids only see Dad when we go net-diving."

"You're going to have to introduce me, you know," Tali said. "If I'm going to be helping take care of them, they're going to have to get to know me."

"What about the Fleet?" Fred asked. "And what about Shepard?"

"I'll make sure he has an engineer he can trust," Tali said. "It'll have to be someone you can trust, too. We don't want to risk hyperdrive technology getting outside our crew, after all. If it does, we can't use it as a weapon against the Reapers."

"Or Cerberus, for that matter," Fred said. "Right now, I think Miranda would blow the Illusive Man's head off, if we knew where to find him."

"She's not the only one," Tali said. "But she's the one who has first crack at him. She's earned it."

"Jack might disagree with that, don't you think?" Fred asked, chuckling softly.

"Not as much as you'd think," Tali said. "If I remember right, her exact words were, 'I always knew Cerberus was evil. They made the cheerleader think they cared about her, then stabbed her in the back. That's just messed.'"

"Damn," Fred said softly, "I would never have expected that."

"Miranda didn't expect it," Tali said, then laughed. "So Jack just had to tell her, 'Don't think this makes me a pussy or something. I'm just giving you the chance to get the bastard before I go after him.'"

"Tali," Joker said. "We're about to enter Rannoch orbit. Do you want to be up here to see it?"

"Already?" Tali asked, surprised. "Yes! I'm on my way."

Tali scrambled to her feet, while Fred flowed off the cot and reformed on his feet beside her. He offered her his arm, which she took, while laughing. Together, they took the elevator to the combat deck, then walked forward to the cockpit for their first view of Rannoch.

Nat was in the cockpit already, manipulating one of the secondary stations. He looked at Tali when she entered, his facial parts moving in what Fred recognized as an expression of pleasure.

"We are waiting for you on the ground," Nat said. "We have much to show you."

Shepard looked outside, where the space around them was filled with geth ships. Unlike the ships of the heretics, these did not have a semi-insectoid look. Instead, they looked like the geth had taken the basic design of a quarian ship, then removed everything that wasn't necessary for their use, like the rotating ring section at the bow. What they had ended up with was more sleek and efficient, but still obviously of quarian ancestry.

For the first time in her life, Tali did not care about the ships around her. She had eyes for only one thing: the planet around which they were entering orbit. She stared at the planet for several minutes, as if trying to commit every detail to memory.

"Are you ready, Tali?" Shepard asked gently, after watching her gaze at Rannoch for a couple minutes. "Nat says they have a welcoming committee waiting for us in the old capital city. The way he's been talking, I'd swear they're proud of something, and want to show it off."

"Tali is a Creator," Nat said. "We have been caretakers of the Creator worlds since the Morning War, in anticipation of rejoining with the Creators."

"Caretakers," Tali said, with a soft laugh. "We've been such idiots."

"I know," Rael said. "All this time, we've been preparing for war. And all they wanted was for us to accept them. There is a reference in my data files that seems appropriate for this situation, even if I don't understand it. Fred, what is a 'bang head here' spot?"

"That's a joke some of my friends started, a long time ago," Fred said, laughing. "Someone slipped a rubber pad into my office one day, on my desk, with 'Bang Head Here' printed on it. They said it was for those days when I've dealt with so many idiots that I felt like I wanted to bang my head against something to make the pain go away."

"Yes, definitely appropriate," Rael said. "I want to see the homeworld, Tali. Shall we go?"

"Yes, Father," Tali said. "I think you're right. Nat? Is it time for us to go?"

"Yes," Nat said. "Shepard-Commander, we are waiting for you, as well."

"All right, then," Shepard said. "Joker, you have the con."

"Aye, aye, Commander," Joker said. As the others started to filter out, he added, deadpan, "EDI? Do you think there's some way we can keep sightseers out of my cockpit?"

"We could always seal it," EDI said. "Then no one could get in – or out."

"No, no, that'll never work," Joker said. "I have to get up occasionally, no matter how much I like my chair."

Tali stopped and turned back to face Joker. "Joker?" she asked. "Does it really bother you when we crowd in here like this?"

"Nah, nah," Joker said, waving a hand dismissively. "I was just trying to pull the Commander's tail. I didn't mean to upset you."

"Oh," Tali said, then leaned down to Joker and whispered, "I think he missed it completely. You're going to have to try something a bit more obvious."

"Oh, he didn't miss it," Joker said, grinning. "He's just trying to come up with a good come-back. Just watch – in a few days, he's going to pass down an order that Jack isn't allowed into the cockpit, or that your staff will be in here to do a bug cleaning, or something like that."

"Oh!" Tali said, and laughed. "I didn't think human ships did those kinds of things."

"Yeah," Joker said. "You didn't meet us until after Eden Prime. That kind of killed a lot of people's sense of humor."

"I'm sorry," Tali said.

"It's all right," Joker said. "You'd better get moving, though. Nat and Fred look like they're about to come in here and carry you off."

"They do, huh?" Tali asked, and giggled. "Maybe I should just let them – whoa!"

Fred scooped Tali up in his arms and walked away with her, calling back over his shoulder, "You two can plot and scheme later. I think Nat's going to explode if we don't get down to the planet soon."

"Geth do not explode," Nat said.

"Uh-huh," Tali said, giggling.

"Those were explosive devices," Nat said. "The heretics did not explode. They were simply caught in the explosions of the grenades and bullets."

"He's got you there," Fred laughed. "Nat, would you call the elevator?"

Fred put Tali back on her feet while they waited for the elevator. She looked up at him and humphed. He laughed and scooped her up again. She wrapped her arms around his neck and laughed happily.

"Organics are strange," Nat declared.

"And I'm one of the strangest," Fred agreed.

"There you are," Shepard said as they exited the elevator onto the hangar deck. "We were starting to wonder if you didn't want to see your homeworld."

"Shepard," Tali purred, "if you tried going down without me, I would be forced to borrow Fred's fighter and strafe you into oblivion."

"Uh-oh," Miranda laughed. "I think she's saying it's a good thing we waited."

"Nicely done," Jack laughed. "I think he's going to have to change his pants."

"I swear," Shepard muttered, "the women on this ship have no respect for authority."

"Trust me," Fred laughed. "It's not just on this ship. Oops. Phone call."

"Fred?" the woman in the holographic display in front of Fred asked. "Why do you have a quarra in your arms?"

"Umm," Fred answered, "because she belongs there?"

The woman in the display, a very pale woman with black hair and a pair of skunk ears poking through her hair near the top of her head, pinched the bridge of her nose, while her ears flattened against her head.

"Miri warned me about this," she said. "Hell, you warned me about this. But seriously, Fred, a quarra? How are you protecting her against infection?"

"I'm taking care of that," Tali said. "You must be Ri, am I right? My name is Tali'Zorah vas Normandy nar Rayya."

"Nar Rayya?" Ri replied. "I don't recognize that phrase. Wait ... Zorah? I know a Zorah ... Rael! Right! Well, that explains a lot."

"Oh?" Tali asked, tilting her head curiously as she studied the holo. "What does it explain?"

Meanwhile, Nat was gently pushing Fred into the shuttle, which closed up behind them and departed the Normandy while Fred was sitting down.

"From what Rael said," Ri said, "Clan Zorah is notorious for being adventurers. That's why he and Lenny are in our part of the galaxy."

"Father?" Tali asked.

"Well," Rael replied, "we do have our share of ... independent-minded ... people."

"How are things going, Ri?" Fred asked. "From what Tali's told me, nar Rayya means she grew up on the Rayya, before she went on Pilgrimage."

"Pilgrimage?" Ri asked. "What's that?"

"It's unique to this universe – I hope," Fred said. "Edgar's sending the details now."

"I called because I finished the case I was working on," Ri said, "and I wanted to talk to my husband." Her ears perked and she grinned. "And here I find him, seducing a quarra, the same way he seduced me."

"He's quite something, isn't he?" Tali asked, and laughed in unison with Ri. "Oh! I wonder if my omnitool will let me phone you, so we can talk about him when he's not around?"

"If it's one of Fred's wristbands," Ri said, "the answer is yes. Is it Awakened yet?"

"Yes," Tali said. "Say hello, Father,"

"My own daughter," Rael complained good-naturedly, "and she's ordering me around as if she were the admiral and I were a plebe."

"Your own ...," Ri started, then shook her head. "How in the world did you manage to end up with your father occupying your wristband?"

"I got myself killed," Rael said, "so when Fred made his omnitool mod, I moved in."

"So, how did your case turn out?" Fred asked.

"I nailed her," Ri said. "It was just like my client was afraid of. She was using slave labor to build her main office. Not only did I nail her, I was able to track down the slavers she'd bought her workers from."

"Good job, love," Fred said, smiling at Ri. "Be sure to take some time for yourself, OK?"

"I plan to," Ri said. "I'd enjoy it more if you were here."

"So would I," Fred said. "How many pieces did the sorcerer end up in?"

"Let's just say," Ri said, "we sent him home in a shoe box."

"Good," Fred said. "That felt like a landing. Talk to you later. I love you."

"I love you, too," Ri said. "Tali'Zorah, keep him safe, will you? He does crazy things."

"Oh, I know," Tali laughed. "I'll do my best, Ri. I'll be phoning you later, OK?"

"That sounds good," Ri said, smiling, her ears upright and tilted forward. "I'll be looking forward to it."

The shuttle door opened, onto a world that was bright, sunny, and filled with geth. Nat stepped out first, and stuttered at the nearest geth. Fred snorted, then began to laugh.

"What is it?" Tali asked.

"Nat just told the other getta that they need to not crowd so close," Fred said, laughing, "because organics get nervous around so many platforms."

Tali laughed and walked up to stand beside Nat. She looked up at Nat and asked, "Which way?"

The geth set up a storm of stuttering as Nat led Tali farther away from the shuttle, and Fred's expression went from amused to sad as he listened.

"Damn," Fred muttered, frowning. "Some of these getta were around for the Morning War. They're afraid that the quarians are going to return and try to destroy them again. Others are newer programs, and they're curious about organics. Hold on a sec."

Fred looked at the nearest geth and stuttered at it. The geth's facial parts all opened out in the expression Fred associated with surprise, and stuttered back at Fred. Fred nodded and stuttered at the geth again. It stuttered at Nat, who looked back at Fred, surprised, then stuttered at the geth. Several geth approached and stuttered at Fred simultaneously. He nodded and stuttered back at them.

"Yo, Fred!" Jack called, slapping him on the shoulder. "What're you doing?"

"Huh?" Fred said. "Oh, sorry. I was just explaining to them that since we know Nat's processes, every organic here is a friend, and we will not let anyone come here and try to destroy the geth."

"I have an idea about that," Shepard said. "If Tali approves. It is her homeworld, after all."

Fred nodded at Shepard, then stuttered at the geth. Nat turned and looked at him, then looked at Tali. Fred was sure he said something to her, even though he couldn't hear it over all the other geth, because she turned and looked at him, then nodded and started back to the shuttle, with Nat at her side.

"Nat said you have an idea to shoot by me, Commander?" Tali asked when she was back with the others.

"I do," Shepard said. "We need a headquarters facility for the company, docking, maintenance, storage, all that kind of thing. No one is going to even think of looking here for us. What do you think of establishing our headquarters here, on Rannoch?"

Tali stood still for several moments, long enough that Shepard was opening his mouth to speak, when she suddenly let out a happy cry and threw herself at him. Her embrace was tight enough to squeeze the breath out of him, but it only lasted a moment before she released him and stepped back.

"Commander, I love that idea," Tali said, her voice cracking with the strength of her emotions. "Nat? What do the geth think?"

"This is why we suggested coming here to Shepard-Commander," Nat said. "Geth have been caretakers of the Creator worlds since the Morning War. We want the Creators to return, as long as the Creators recognize us as independent people."

"That's going to be hard to get," Tali said.

"We thought of that, and discussed options with Dr. Solus," Nat said.

"Good times," Mordin said, smiling wistfully. "Alternatives examined, from simple return, to bringing children here to grow up with geth. Best outcome lies in between. Establish permanent settlement, encourage Pilgrimage visits, let older generation die of old age while younger generation learns that geth are not monsters."

"And the Normandy could be the start of that permanent settlement," Tali said slowly, thoughtfully. She threw her arms around Mordin, while exclaiming, "Thank you, Mordin! This is wonderful!"

"I think," Miranda said, deadpan, "that Tali just might approve of the idea, Commander. What do you think?"

"I think that you just might be right," Shepard said. "Nat, is this city where you want us to establish our headquarters?"

"This city used to be the global capital," Nat said. "Communications and resources are most accessible in this city. It is most suitable for a corporate headquarters."

"All right, then," Shepard said. "Lead on, Nat. Show us where you think is best for us to set up."

"Nat?" Fred asked. "I'm seeing a whole lot of Worker and Protector class getta around here. How many Companion class getta are there?"

"We are unique, Fred," Nat said. "We were created to interface with organics, so we could find Shepard-Commander. We did not anticipate that we would be so successful."

"Mordin, how many Companions did you assume in your successful simulation?" Fred asked.

"I assumed one Companion for each quarian who came on Pilgrimage," Mordin said.

"That's what I thought," Fred said. "Nat, you're going to have to find processes that are not afraid to interface with organics, and make a lot more platforms like yourself."

"Understood," Nat said. "Construction of further platforms is planned for when we know Pilgrims will begin to visit Rannoch."

"Perfect," Tali said. "Thank you! All of you!"

"Speaking of constructing platforms," Fred said, "when are you going to let me repair that hole in your torso?"

Nat stopped and turned to look at Fred. His headlights turned red, and his face flaps shifted position, almost fluttering. Fred wondered what he was embarrassed about.

"We ... " Nat started, then broke into stuttering. It took a few moments for Fred to catch up, but suddenly it became clear. Nat didn't want any repair that would take away the piece of N7 armor he had welded to himself. If that meant he had to live with a hole in his torso, he would.

"Shepard?" Fred asked. "Do you have a spare suit of N7 armor?"

"I do," Shepard said, turning to look at Fred curiously. "Why?"

"I wouldn't want Nat's repair job to look half-done," Fred said, "and since he's already got a piece of N7 armor welded into place, I figure I can finish the job up, and make it look right, with a full section of torso armor."

Nat looked at Fred intently, his flaps moving and his headlights changing color, for several moments before speaking. "We are grateful, Fred."

"Hey, you're my friend," Fred said. "It's the least I can do."

"Friend," Nat said, as if testing the word on for size. "Yes. You are not just my teammate. You are my friend."

"Keelah," Tali breathed, standing stock-still, staring at a building that was hidden from view to the rest of the team. "I ... think I found our headquarters, Shepard."

The team caught up to Tali and looked where she was staring. The building they were looking at was only seven stories tall, but it had a grace to it that seemed out of place amid the buildings it was surrounded by. It was made of metal, rather than stone, and looked as if it had been designed by a spaceship architect. The lines were sleek, clean, and free of ornamentation. The windows were clear enough to appear almost invisible. A plaza led to the entry, with zeriscaped gardens on both sides of the main walkway, with a large statue of a spaceship in each half of the garden. The statue on the left was of an exploration frigate, while the statue on the right was of a transport. The roofline was straight enough that it could have cut the sky. The walls were polished, free of paint, rust, any form of damage or decay, and curved to reflect the sunlight to a pair of points, each at the base of one of the statues, causing the base to glow as if the engines were firing.

"I think you're right, Tali," Shepard said. "What was this place?"

"It was the headquarters of the Vael Starship Engineering Corporation," Nat said.

"Did you say, Vael?" Shepard asked.

"Yes," Nat said.

"Remember Lia'Vael?" Shepard asked Tali.

"Back on the Citadel?" Tali replied. "I remember her. I wonder what she'd say if we brought her here."

"There's only one way to find out," Shepard said.

"After we're set up," Tali said. "I don't want to screw this up because we're too excited."

"Good choice," Miranda said. "Let's see if it's as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside."

Shepard started up the walkway toward the main entrance, the rest of the team following after a moment.


"We need to find an apartment down here, love," Fred said. "Or a house. After all, there might be times, however rare they are, when you're working here in your office and the Normandy needs to be elsewhere."

"There's a drydock in orbit that the geth have given us, too," Tali said. "I think I'm going to set up my main office in the drydock, and keep this as my secondary office." She looked around, taking in the office she had been given that afternoon, then up at Fred, and said, unsteadily, "It's all too much. I feel like I'm dreaming, and I'm going to wake up in my bunk on the Neemah, and find out I was shot by the geth on Haestrom and have been suffering from a fever for the last six months."

"Come on, love," Fred said, taking Tali's arm. "There's a shuttle bay here in the building, and the getta have been keeping the shuttles in perfect order. What say we go back up to the ship for tonight?"

"I ... yes," Tali said weakly. "Back to the ship. Good idea."

Fred slipped an arm around her and guided her through the building to the shuttle bay.

Nat followed, silently watching and listening. He had not anticipated that reaction. He uplinked to the planetary hub, and began sifting through the data on organics, searching for an explanation. The answer came as they were launching one of the Vael People Mover shuttles. Tali-Creator was suffering from receiving too much, too fast. She was not accustomed to space, resources, and facilities on the scale represented by the geth gift. Nat hoped that her bond with Fred would help her adjust as well as the rest of the team already had. He liked Tali-Creator, and wanted her to be happy.

Fred took the copilot seat, and Tali sat in the pilot's, while Nat entered the shuttle and sat in the passenger area. Tali studied the controls a minute, then started up the shuttle and eased it out of its berth. Once clear, she took it straight up, through the opening in the roof, then eased the throttles forward and shot into the sky.

"Fred will help Tali-Creator adjust?" Nat stuttered at Fred.

"I will," Fred stuttered back. "I think she's just overwhelmed. She needs the security of the Normandy for a while longer."

"Our research suggested the same conclusion," Nat stuttered. "Organics do not do well with sudden change, do they?"

"Not particularly," Fred said. "Even when the change is good, if it's sudden, it makes us uncomfortable."

"We submit that Tali-Creator is more than merely uncomfortable," Nat stuttered.

"From what Shepard told me," Fred stuttered, "she had a similar reaction when she first joined the first Normandy. She just needs time to adjust. You and I will make sure she has that time."

"Yes," Nat agreed.

"Are you two plotting behind my back?" Tali asked, laughing.

"Yup," Fred said. "We're scheming, too."

"I knew it," Tali said, laughed, then keyed her mic. "Normandy, this is Tali. Open the hangar door."

"Got it," Joker replied. "Where are you going to fit that shuttle in?"

"Don't worry," Fred said. "I've already told my fighter to transform and stand in the back of the hangar. That'll give us room to park this shuttle where the fighter is."

"If you say so," Joker said, sounding uncertain.

The Normandy's hangar door swung down, and Tali eased the shuttle in, using microbursts of the thrusters to position it directly over the spot the fighter had been in when they went down to the planet, then eased it down onto the deck and began the shutdown routine.

"I wouldn't want to fly it into a war zone," Tali said, "but this shuttle is nice."

"I agree," Fred said. "We'll always have the combat cockroach for hot drops, but this would make a nice shuttle to keep around for diplomatic visits."

"Not that we ever get much chance for those," Tali said, while opening the hatch and walking out into the hangar.

"Let me guess," Fred said, following her. "Most of this group's experience has been Klingon diplomacy."

"What?" Tali asked. She turned to give Fred a bemused look. "Is this something from your universe?"

"Not quite," Fred said. "More like, something from a forty-year-old television program."

"Television?" Tali asked.

"Kind of like the vids some companies broadcast on the extranet," Fred said, "except in 2D and they required a dedicated display to view them, because computers hadn't been invented yet."

"Vids in 2D?" Tali mused. "Sounds ... disappointing."

"It would be now," Fred agreed. "Back then, it was far enough out on the leading edge of technology that a lot of families didn't own the required display, let alone individuals."

"And that was only forty years ago?" Tali asked.

"In my universe," Fred said. "Almost two hundred fifty in yours."

"I keep forgetting how quickly humans advanced, once they found those Prothean ruins," Tali said. "Your species adopts and adapts to new technology so quickly, that it's hard to remember that you were trapped in your own system less than a hundred years ago."

"In both universes," Fred agreed.

"So, what is Klingon diplomacy?" Tali asked.

"It's basically, 'See this big gun? Make nice or I'll use it'," Fred said, grinning.

Tali began laughing. Her laughter continued, until she was leaning against Fred for support and hiccuping weakly.

"Was it something I said?" Fred asked.

"The history of the Normandy shows," Nat said, "that the crew of this ship has never been given the opportunity to use the second part of that statement."

Fred snorted, then broke into laughter. "I thought I was the only one who had that problem!"

"No, my love, you aren't," a woman's voice, sensual enough to make Tali stop laughing and take notice, stated.

"Hel?" Fred responded, as a holographic image appeared in front of him. The woman in the image was beautiful. So beautiful that Tali felt a brief surge of desire as she looked at her. Fred smiled happily and reached a hand into the image. "Hel!"

"Yes, beloved," Hel said. "It's me. How goes your search for a way home?"

"We just established a home base," Fred said, "so I can start building a ship."

"You realize, it's been nearly four months," Hel said.

"Nearly ... four months?" Fred squeaked. "It's been ... what, three and a half weeks, Tali?"

"That sounds right, love," Tali said. She walked around the image, took Fred's hand, and looked at Hel. "I – "

Tali's voice choked in her throat when she looked at Hel from in front. While her right side, which she had been looking at originally, was supernaturally beautiful, her left side, from what Tali could see, was decayed and dessicated. In a word, dead.

"It's all right, miss," Hel said, smiling warmly. "I get that reaction a lot from the living. Yes, the left side of my body is, indeed, as dead as roadkill."

"But how?" Tali stammered. "I mean ... how did it happen? How can you live like that? What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, dear," Hel said, laughing musically. "I was born this way. You see, I am the goddess of the dead. I rule the realm where everyone who doesn't die in battle goes, which means I'm almost always surrounded by artists, musicians, philosophers, scientists .... and the occasional serial killer, rapist, and kidnapper, although Odin gets most of those, because they usually die in battle. I'm kind of lucky on that score."

"You're a goddess?" Tali asked, confused. "But ... you're married to Fred, right?"

"That's right," Hel said, and laughed. Tali decided she could easily listen to that laugh for hours, it was so musical. "It's a long story, and I'll be happy to tell you when you're here."

"When I'm there," Tali said softly, then laughed. "Every one of you knows, and none of you seem either surprised or unhappy. It's so strange."

"It's like this," Hel said. "We knew what we were in for when we married him. Well, except Miri, maybe, but she was expecting something else entirely. I think Miri's the one we have to thank for opening him up the way he is – getting him over that bitch he was married to before he died. She's not dead yet, by the way. I can't wait to get my hands on her." Hel shook her head. "Anyway, since we know how much love he has to share, and we know that he loves each one of us with every fiber of his being, it's kind of hard to begrudge anyone else a chance to feel that love. And given how cautious he is since the bitch, we know that anyone he falls for is someone worthy of his love."

"He's so easy to love," Tali said, then laughed. "I'm looking forward to meeting you all in person."

"That's good to know," Hel said. "What's your name, miss? It would be rude to call you 'Fred's quarra girlfriend', after all."

"Oh! I'm sorry!" Tali said. "My name is Tali'Zorah vas Normandy nar Rayya."

"Nar Rayya?" Hel asked. "Child of Rayya? That's not something I'm used to hearing in quarra names."

"Rayya is the ship I grew up on," Tali said. "Fred says that's not the way it is in your universe, that quarra still live on Rannoch."

"They do," Hel said. "It's a beautiful world. Too hot and dry for my tastes, but beautiful nonetheless."

"Hel?" Fred asked. "I'm sending you a package of equations. Could you pass them to Albert and Paul and ask them to check my math? And maybe Kevin, too? I don't want to end up scattered across a dozen dimensions when I try to get home, after all."

"I'll do that, beloved," Hel said. "I want you back, in one piece and still breathing. Finding you in Helheim would be very disappointing. Not just to me, but to all of us."

"Including me," Tali said, smiling as she watched Fred blush. She giggled and said, teasingly, "He's so cute when he blushes."

"He is, isn't he?" Hel agreed. "Call me when you get a chance, Tali. I want to get to know you."

"I will," Tali said. "It's so ... strange ... to be talking to an actual goddess. My people ... we don't have gods, you know?"

"I know," Hel said. "Don't worry, hon. I don't bite, unless you ask me to." She laughed as Fred's blush grew more intense. "And I don't do any of those other thing people seem to expect of death gods. I prefer my sacrifices to be properly cooked by a real chef, anyway. Medium rare, with just a hint of seasonings." She laughed as Fred finally recovered from his blush and waved a finger at her. "Now that I've suitably unsettled my husband, I'll leave you to take care of him. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, Tali."

"I think I can safely promise that," Tali said, laughing. "I'll be calling you soon, Hel. Thank you."

"You're welcome, Tali," Hel said. "Welcome to the family. Fred, you be good to her, understand?"

"I will be," Fred said, drawing Tali into an embrace. "You have my word on that, beloved."

"Then my work here is done," Hel said, laughing musically as she disconnected.

"Wow," Tali said softly. "She's so ... so ... Every one of your wives is different, Fred. But Hel seems as pleasant and at peace with the universe as Krios."

"Krios? At peace with the universe?" Fred asked, surprised. "Does he really strike you that way?"

"Yes," Tali said. "Doesn't he strike you that way?"

"Not really," Fred said. "He reminds me of myself, in a way. You know, that feeling like he has to atone for some unnamed crime he's committed in the past, and so he's doing as much good as he can before he dies?"

"Well, he is an assassin," Tali said. "Maybe he killed someone who didn't deserve it?"

"I suppose that's possible," Fred mused. "Not every assassin is as careful in their choices as Diana is."

"We will be in the AI core," Nat said. "We have much to discuss with EDI, that requires a secure hard link."

"We'll see you in the morning," Tali said. "Thank you, Nat."

"You are welcome, Tali," Nat said. His facial flaps moved into the position that indicated pleasure.

"Talk to you later, Nat," Fred said. "Good night."

"Good night, Fred," Nat said. He walked to the elevator, stepped into it when the doors opened, and vanished from view.

"Now, my love," Fred said, smiling at Tali, "would you rather bunk out here, or closer to the core?"

"Where you are," Tali said, "is close enough to the core for me." She snuggled against Fred and sighed happily. "If this really is a dream, I don't want to wake up."

"Trust me, sweetheart," Fred said, "it's no dream. I have enough experience with dreams to know."

"You do?" Tali asked, as Fred led her to his bunk and lay down with her. "What do you mean?"

"Are you sure you want me to tell you about it now?" Fred asked. "While we're about to go to sleep?"

"I am," Tali said.

"All right," Fred said. "It happened a while back, when Cal was only about a year old, and MJ was maybe two or three months old. One night, Edgar and I ended up trapped in a Dream, with four people from a different universe – a universe that's so far away from ours that we still haven't found a way to get there."

"You said Dream, like there's something different about it," Tali said.

"There was," Fred said. "You see, in our universe, prophetic Dreams happen. And when they do, they are qualitatively different than ordinary dreams. In my Dream, my worst nightmare had come true."

Tali hugged Fred tight, feeling him shiver in her arms as he nuzzled the side of her head.

"What happened, my love?" Tali asked softly.

"In my Dream," Fred said, "I had become global dictator. Or, more specifically, the woman I had been married to before I died became global dictator, with me as her figurehead puppet. My friends, the ones who help me protect Earth and Laputa now, were my stormtroopers, and my children had never been created. The four people who were dragged into my Dream with me had to help me overthrow the dictatorship, before any of us could go home." He sighed. "And Skuld, the Norn of the Future, used the Dream to bring me together with one of those four, so that she would be the mother of a heroine for her world."

"But ... your body is plastic!" Tali protested. "You can't be a father!"

"I know," Fred said. "But somehow, Skuld manipulated the Dream so that not only would I become a father in the Dream, but that Ami's pregnancy would carry over into her world, and she would give birth to a daughter, even though her pregnancy began in a Dream."

"That's impossible!" Tali said.

"Skuld is a goddess," Fred said. "Gods alter reality, within their area of influence, to suit their desires. Since this had to do with the future, it was within Skuld's area of influence."

"So you have a second daughter, in a world you've never even been to?" Tali asked, her voice quavering with disbelief and confusion.

"I do," Fred sighed. "Hopefully, either I or Ami will work out a way to visit each other. Until then, Ami and Setsuna will remain out of my reach."

"That's ... weird," Tali pronounced. "I don't want to work out how many ways it's weird, though." She yawned. "Not tonight. Maybe ... another time." She snuggled under Fred's arm, her head on his chest, and murmured, "G'nite. Love you."

"I love you, too," Fred said softly. "Sweet dreams, my love."

While Tali slept, Fred extended a cable and plugged in to EDI's nearest secure port, then began downloading ship plans to the Normandy's drydock. In the drydock, the geth began work in one of the slips, laying the keel of a new frigate.

March 30, 2185
Beyond the Perseus Veil
Rannoch Orbit

"All right," Shepard said, "you, Fred and the geth been doing something in this slip for the last month. Now you're ready to show me?"

"That's right," Tali said. "I think you're going to like it."

Tali led Shepard down a corridor, that had been locked so that only she and Fred could access it before, into the control center that opened onto the slip they had been working in nonstop for a month, where Fred was standing, his hands in his lab coat pockets, a grin on his face.

"Now I know you two are up to something," Shepard said. "Care to explain?"

"Oh, it's nothing much," Tali said. "Just another step in our quest to be free of Cerberus. The lights, Fred?"

"Of course," Fred said, as he turned to the main panel, in the center of the window that looked out on the slip, and moved his hands over the computer interface. Lights came on in the slip, and Shepard's eyebrows climbed toward his hairline as they revealed just what had taken so many workers to produce.

"How did you manage this, in only a month?" Shepard asked, the first coherent words to cross his mind.

"It's amazing how many man-hours a single getta represents," Fred said. "Especially when they're interested in the project, and curious about what they're doing. They already had access to all the necessary raw material, and Edgar and I could upload the necessary design changes as we ran into trouble, so there was no delaying for either material shortages or paperwork and dithering."

"Is it ready to fly?" Shepard asked, his eyes still fixed on what he saw through the window.

"All we need to do is figure out how to transfer EDI," Tali said. "She deserves to be on the new ship as much as any of the rest of us do."

"All we have to do is move her blue box, right?" Shepard asked.

"In theory," EDI said, from a nearby terminal. "In practice, I have no record of any such move having been attempted. I do not know if, after the move, I will still be me."

"It all comes down to whether you're willing to risk it," Shepard said. "You're one of my crew, and I don't want to leave you behind, but I understand if you feel the risk is too high."

"You are my commander," EDI said. "I will follow you. Even if it means I am no longer me."

"Give me a little time to build a power supply," Fred said, suddenly. "We'll make sure you stay you."

"What do you mean, Fred?" EDI asked.

"If we hook you up to a new power supply before we disconnect you from the Normandy," Fred said, "then there will never be a gap where damage could occur. It would be like when Mike moved my brain from my old body into the new one. There was never a gap, because he kept it in a life support medium the entire time."

"What about input?" EDI asked. "The time it would take you to move me from the Normandy to the new ship will be the subjective equivalent of years, for me."

"Got it covered," Fred said. "Adding a remote access unit to the power supply design ... there. That does it. You'll be able to access the world through the network, either exonet or getta net, your choice."

"Wait," Shepard said. "You can access the getta network?"

"Of course," Fred said. "They gave me permission when we started working here. They say that my presence in the network provides an interesting dose of chaos, which stirs up new ideas and leads to conclusions that would never have been considered before."
"I can believe that," Shepard said under his breath. He looked at Fred and asked, "So you honestly think you can safely transport EDI?"

"Piece of cake," Fred said, a maniacal grin on his face.

"Uh-oh," Tali said, then laughed. "He looked like that when he told me he'd figured out how to fit a hyperdrive into the new hull."

"That," Shepard gestured through the window, "has one of Fred's mysterious hyperdrives?"

"It does," Tali said. "The theory makes my head swim, and the hardware is just plain bizarre, but Fred insists it works. We're going to take a runabout out later today, so anyone who wants to get an experience of hyperdrive can have the chance."

"A runabout?" Shepard asked.

Tali nodded and led Shepard to the far end of the window, then pointed into the slip. From this position he could see that, in addition to the frigate that took up about a third of the space, there was a smaller ship, about the size of a shuttle, but far more streamlined and with engines large enough to push a much larger craft.

"That's your runabout?" Shepard asked.

"That's it," Tali said, and laughed. "It's not a combat vehicle, according to Fred, which means it only has a pair of axial laser cannons, a GARDIAN suite that's comparable to the original Normandy's, and four particle beam cannons in retracting turrets."

"Not a combat vehicle?" Shepard asked, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Oh yes," Tali said, "and a station in the passenger compartment that allows a passenger to monitor and control all communications and sensors within a thousand kilometers."

"Not a combat vehicle," Shepard said, definitely disbelieving now.

"That's right," Fred called from the far end of the window. "Not a combat vehicle. You could use it as an EW vehicle, but I'd advise against taking it into any real combat."

"With six cannons?" Shepard asked. He just had to know.

"That's for dicey situations," Fred said. "Sometimes even a peaceful diplomatic mission gets into trouble and needs the extra firepower."

"So what do you consider a combat vehicle?" Shepard asked.

"I could build you a few, if you wanted," Fred said. "Normandy's not even really a combat vehicle. She's designed for stealth, not slugging it out with anyone. I continued the same concept with the new ship. It's designed for sneaking into anywhere you need to go, sniping the bad guys once you've identified them, then bugging out before they can draw a bead on you."

"What that means," Tali said, laughing, "is that we moved the Thanix cannons into the wing roots, put a rapid-fire missile bay where the cannons used to be, upgraded the GARDIAN system from infrared to grasers, and installed an EW suite that's more powerful than the one in the runabout. About a thousand times more powerful."

"What's a graser?" Shepard asked.

"Gamma ray laser," Tali said. "I didn't think it was possible, but Fred showed me how it works. He says he uses them as point defense lasers all over Laputa."

"Gamma ray lasers?" Shepard asked. "How effective are they?"

"They can knock a fighter out of the sky at a thousand kilometers," Tali said. "A missile turns into a cloud of vapor at twice that range. If you get in to the range frigates normally operate at, you can slice open another frigate's hull like you were using the Thanix."

"What about reliability?" Shepard asked. "Salarian lasers burn out at twice the speed of anyone else's."

"I'm pretty sure these will last for a very long time," Tali said. "The technology used in them is so different from ours, that I'm not sure, but they look a lot more solid than our laser designs."

"Now would be a very good time to test the runabout," EDI said. "I just received an emergency message for Miranda and the Commander."

"Shit," Shepard swore. "Oriana? Show me."

The nearest terminal lit up, and Oriana's face appeared in the display.

"Miranda. Commander Shepard," Oriana said. "Hopefully you'll never see this. I realized, after the trouble getting to our transport, that there might be trouble in the future, so I'm setting up this message to transmit if anything happens to my family or me. Assuming everything works, you'll have a copy of the household VI logs for the last ten minutes attached to this message. Even if it doesn't work, you're receiving it because I need help. Please find me. I'm recording this on the transport on the way to our new home, so I can't tell you where it is, but the origin data for this message should give you that information. You'll only receive this if the situation is too much for me to handle, so please hurry."

"Is there an attachment?" Shepard asked.

"There is," EDI said. "Shall I play it?"


The display lit up again.

A squad of people in Eclipse armor stood over a pair of people that Shepard recognized as Oriana's parents. One of the mercenaries, a salarian in full armor, had a gun at the mother's head.

"You'd better hope she gets here soon," the salarian said. "Otherwise, you're going to be leaving a big mess all over your nice pretty carpet."

"Unlike you?" Oriana asked, as she wrapped an arm around the salarian's throat from behind, then snapped his neck. The others opened fire, hitting the dead salarian, who Oriana held in front of her as a shield while she moved between them and her parents.

"Enough of this," an asari said, as she shot Oriana's parents. "You're coming with us."

Oriana let out a scream of rage, threw the dead salarian at the other mercenaries, and leaped for the asari's throat. The asari jabbed her with something that looked like a cattle prod, and Oriana fell in a heap.

"Fred, that runabout better be ready to use," Shepard growled. "EDI, call the team. We're going to rescue Oriana."

"Already done," EDI said. "They're assembling at the airlock now."

"Shepard!" Miranda's voice sounded as if it were all she could do to hold back tears.

"I saw," Shepard said. "We're going to rescue her. I'm on my way to the runabout now. EDI can tell you how to get there."

"Thank you, Shepard," Miranda said.

"She's your sister," Shepard said. "That's all the reason I need. Let's go get her back."

"That's Miranda's sister?" Fred asked, his voice filled with wonder. Suddenly, he stiffened and snapped, "Nat! Get your new rifle. I think you're going to need it."

"Ready whenever you are, Commander," Joker said. "I've got to tell you, this runabout is sweet! Fred may claim it's not intended for combat, but it's got more going for it than a fighter! Hell, it's got more going for it than most frigates!"

"Good," Shepard said. "Get familiar with its systems on the way. We're leaving as soon as everyone's aboard."

"No problem, Commander," Joker said. "EDI gave me a VI to help with the housekeeping."

"This way, Commander," Tali said, leading Shepard and Fred to an airlock door. "We'll go straight to the runabout and save about fifteen minutes."

"In vacuum?" Shepard asked.

"You're wearing your omnitool, right?" Tali asked.

"Of course," Shepard said.

"Then it's not a problem," Tali said. While she activated the airlock, Fred and Nat joined them, each with a sniper's rifle slung across his back.

"What in the world?" Shepard asked.

"With one of these," Fred said, "Nat can take down a shuttle in orbit. I'm not quite that good, but that's because I'm used to having multiple points of data to use when targeting. I could hole a cruiser, maybe a frigate."

"What are they?" Shepard asked.

"Particle beam rifles," Fred said. "Some people might call them cannons, but I figure that as long as you can fire it from the shoulder, it's a rifle, not a cannon."

"He's insane," Shepard told Tali.

"Yes, he is," Tali said, and laughed. "And he's my lunatic."

March 30, 2185

The runabout dropped out of hyperspace, into orbit around Amaterasu. Ravenfield up, the runabout began its descent toward the colony, while Tali worked the EW panel.

"He sent them here?" Miranda fumed. "This place is so small, if my father scanned it, he'd find them in a moment!"

"Given that it was Eclipse," Shepard said, "either that's what happened, or the Illusive Man tipped him off. Either way, she's probably already off-world."

"Good guess," Tali said. "According to traffic control, an Eclipse frigate left orbit just fifteen minutes ago, heading for the relay."

"We can catch them before they get there," Joker said. "Just give the word."

"Do it," Shepard said. "If they get to Illium before we catch them, we'll have to hunt down Miranda's father in order to rescue her."

"Doing it," Joker said. "Hyperdrive engaged."

The runabout jumped into hyperspace and made the run to the cluster's relay in less than twenty minutes. Joker kept the Ravenfield up, making the runabout invisible to the relay's garrison, as well as any incoming ships. Tali launched a network of miniature probes, that expanded into a web of six hundred sensors, covering a sphere a full light-hour in diameter, centered on the runabout.

"They won't be expecting us," Shepard told Miranda. "We'll be able to ambush them, keep them from using the relay."

"I'm linked into the turrets," Fred said. "I can take out their engines as soon as they come into range."

"Do it," Miranda snarled. "I want their ship dead in space."

"Got them!" Tali crowed. "The sensor net works! They're thirty minutes out, just dropped below light speed. Feeding Fred and Joker the coordinates now."

"I see them," Joker said. "Moving to intercept."

"Heating up cannons," Fred said. "Ready to take the shot as soon as they come into range."

"We do not believe the sniper's rifle will be necessary aboard the Eclipse vessel," Nat commented.

"Probably not," Shepard agreed. "But I suspect Miranda's going to want us to take care of the cause of this problem as soon as we've rescued Oriana."

"Absolutely," Miranda growled. "I'm not going to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, either for myself or Oriana. We take care of them – both of them – now."

"Coming into range," Fred said. "Firing on their engines now."

The sound of the turrets rotating rumbled through the runabout's hull, followed by a high-pitched whine as the cannons fired. The Eclipse ship's engines flared and exploded, leaving it moving on a ballistic path toward the relay.

"Get us docked before the relay's defense guns blow that ship out of space!" Shepard barked.

"Already on it, Commander," Joker replied calmly. "I suggest we send a couple people with armor out to ... damn it! They're about to launch escape shuttles!"

"On it!" Fred and Tali said in unison. Tali set the GARDIAN system to fire on the engines of the shuttles, while Fred fired on the main ship, jamming its escape system so it could not fire the shuttles free.

"Fred, Nat, come with me," Shepard said. "Miranda will lead the entry team from here. We're going EVA to enter at the other end of the ship."

"Understood," Nat said.

"I'll keep them from getting away," Tali said. "Go!"

Shepard and Nat entered the runabout's airlock, then Fred followed, melting and flowing around the perimeter of the space to fit in with the others.

Shepard stared at Fred, then shook his head and sealed his helmet, muttering, "You are going to tell me about that when we're done here."

Outside of the runabout, Nat and Fred led the way, a short leap to the frigate. Fred paused on the way to the rear of the ship, and used his fingertip laser to spot-weld the shield over the escape shuttles into place.

"There," Fred said. "I jammed it before, but now there's no way it will break free, without burning out the motors."

"I hope our escape system is more reliable," Shepard commented.

"It is," Fred said. "We designed the shield over the escape shuttles to blow off with explosive bolts, rather than retract on swing arms. After all, if you're abandoning ship, there's no point in being neat about it. Besides, fighters use explosives in their ejection systems, so why not use them on something bigger?"

"All right," Shepard said. "Nat, do you see the engineering airlock?"

"Yes," Nat said. He crouched and began hacking the airlock controls. After a minute of work, the airlock opened, and the trio entered.

"Are you docked?" Shepard called.

"Docked and ready to blow their airlock," Miranda replied.

"We're in the engineering lock," Shepard said. "Hit it."

Nat hacked the inner door of the airlock, and the trio faced a storm of gunfire as the doors slid open. Ravenfields blackened around all three as they walked into the mercenaries and clubbed them into submission.

"I don't know who you are," a voice said over the ship's intercom, "but if you don't back off, I start killing prisoners."

"You do that," Miranda said, her voice also carried over the intercom, "and I hunt you down, and take you apart, piece by piece. Give up your prisoners, and you can live to see another contract. Kill them, and you die, slowly and painfully. Make the smart choice."

"Damn it!" the voice swore. "Hartford never said anything about claim jumpers!"

"He never does," Miranda said. "He's all yours. But your prisoners are mine."

"Damn it!" the voice swore. "All right. Come to the command deck."

"Shepard," Miranda called over the radio. "How close are you to the command deck?"

"Checking," Shepard said. "Down one level. Unless they stop shooting at me, you'll get there well before I do."

"I'll keep them busy," Fred said. "You go."

Fred's left arm extended and plugged into a port on an engineering terminal. Suddenly, the mercenaries slammed into the ceiling, then back into the floor. A moment later, the cycle repeated, leaving all the mercenaries in that part of the ship either unconscious or dead. While the mercenaries were being used as ping-pong balls, Shepard made his way to the stairs up, then forward, picking his way past the ship's unoccupied stations, watching and listening for trouble.

"All right," Miranda said, "where's the prisoners?"

"Nat," Shepard whispered into his mic. "If the Eclipse officer looks like she's going to shoot, can you take out her shoulders?"

"Yes," Nat said.

"Good," Shepard said. "Do it. As long as she plays nice, we won't hurt her. But if she tries to shoot any of us, or any prisoner, take out her shoulders."

"Understood," Nat said. He knelt by an unoccupied station, raised his rifle to his shoulder and sighted in on the Eclipse officer.

"I said, where are the prisoners?" Miranda demanded.

"Now I see why you're so interested," the voice – Shepard could now see it was the Eclipse officer that had shot Oriana's parents – said. "You look just like her. I wonder what Hartford would say to having both of you."

"Not bloody much," Miranda snarled. She snapped her machine pistol up and emptied three rounds into the officer's face, as mercenaries suddenly appeared from the shadows.

"Fred, we could use that trick of yours up here," Shepard said. "Right now!"

"Got it covered," Fred said, just a moment after the mercenaries began bouncing between floor and ceiling.

"She's not up here," Miranda said, a touch of panic in her voice. "We need to find her!"

"We'll start with the escape shuttles," Zaeed said. "You go below. They probably have her locked up in the hold."

Zaeed and Krios walked past Shepard, as Zaeed produced a tool that looked like a short crowbar. Shepard tilted his head curiously at Zaeed as he walked past.

"Universal key," Zaeed said, laughing. "I've had to crack open escape pods before."

"Have at it," Shepard said. "Just try to leave them in good enough shape to salvage."

"Always," Zaeed laughed.

Shepard fell in with Miranda, leaving Krios and Nat with Zaeed. Walking down the stairs, weapons at the ready, they came upon the sight of the mercenaries that had survived Fred's first pong game, laying flat on the deck, whimpering with pain. One of them, a salarian, turned his eyes on them and gasped out, "Please ... make him ... stop. Too ... much."

The salarian's plea ended with a sharp "crack" as his rib cage collapsed under his weight.

"How high did you crank the gravity?" Shepard asked as he and Miranda made their way to the hold.

"I figured fifteen would be about right," Fred replied. "Even a krogan isn't going to be doing much under that kind of pressure."

"No, I suppose it wouldn't," Shepard agreed. "Keep it up. Not as much chance of damaging ship components this way."

"That's what I figured," Fred said. "Playing pong with the mercs is fun, but there's too much chance of one of them hitting something I might want to salvage later. This way, I keep them under control and preserve the salvage at the same time."

"I'm glad he's on our side," Miranda said softly.

"So am I," Shepard agreed. He studied the door he and Miranda had just arrived at, then called over the radio, "Fred, as long as you're in the system, would you mind unlocking the hold?"

"No problem," Fred said.

A moment later, the door clicked and slid back, revealing the hold. Shepard and Miranda entered the hold, and discovered a complete lack of mercenaries.

"Something's not right here," Shepard said. He moved to starboard, while Miranda moved to port. After they swept through the hold, and found no opposition, they began searching shipping containers.

"Red sand," Miranda called, after looking into a container.

"Weapons mods," Shepard called back.

"Eezo," Miranda called.

"More red sand," Shepard called.

"Salarian," Miranda called.

"Batarian," Shepard called.

"Hum – Oriana!" Miranda exclaimed. Shepard joined her, as Miranda lifted Oriana from the crate she had been packed in. Miranda scanned Oriana, and studied the outcome on her omnitool's display. "She's been sedated, but I don't see anything else. Once we get her home, she should be all right."

"Good," Shepard said. "Fred, Nat, can you two release the security on any datafiles here?"

"Yes," Nat said.

"On it," Fred said.

"Already done," Edgar said. "Hey! I needed something to occupy my time while Fred was playing 'crush the mercenaries'.

"That works," Shepard said. "We'll get Oriana out of here, and put in an anonymous call to the relay's security staff. That should keep Eclipse busy for a while."

"Not just Eclipse," Edgar said. "The files give the names of several of their clients. The slave traders alone should keep them entertained."

"The files won't self-destruct?" Miranda asked.

"Already taken care of," Edgar said. "Cal writes much better security software than these people used. The cops will have a field day with these files."

"I have her," Miranda said, holding Oriana in her arms. "Let's get out of here."

"You heard her, people," Shepard said. "Everybody back to the runabout."

"On our way," Zaeed said.

"Acknowledged," Nat said.

"Just a sec while I cover our tracks," Fred said. "OK, got it. On my way."

Shepard and Miranda alternated carrying Oriana back to the runabout. As they reached the airlock, they saw Nat and Zaeed crouched on either side, covering their retreat. With no mercenaries in any condition to be shooting at them, the cover wasn't urgently required, but Shepard was pleased to see that they were keeping operational discipline regardless.


The runabout dropped out of hyperspace in Rannoch orbit, and descended to the headquarters building. Once it was parked in one of the shuttle slots, Shepard carried Oriana to Miranda's office and placed her on an overstuffed sofa, while the other members of the team scattered to their usual work.

"She'll be all right," Miranda repeated, like a mantra, as she paced her office and watched Oriana.

"She'll be all right," Shepard said. "You won't do her any good, wearing yourself out. You won't be in any condition to take on your father or the Illusive Man, either."

"Damn," Miranda muttered, sinking into her desk chair. "I hate it when you're right, you know that?"

"Good," Shepard said, smiling. "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't piss you off occasionally."

"Ow ...," Oriana moaned. She pushed herself up, winced, and looked around. "Office, no apparent ... Shepard! Where's Mir – "

Miranda interrupted Oriana's question by moving in and embracing her. Oriana returned the embrace, for about ten seconds, then gently pushed Miranda away.

"They're dead, aren't they?" Oriana asked softly.

"That's the way it looked," Miranda said. "I'm sorry."

"Amaterasu police report they were found dead in their apartment," EDI said. "and have listed you as the primary suspect. Apparently, the household VI's logs were erased before the mercenaries left. If you had not sent us a copy with your emergency message, we would not have known what happened or where to look."

"Send them a copy of the log, EDI," Shepard said. "Oriana doesn't need to be pursued for murders she didn't commit."

"It's going to be enough when I commit the murder I plan to," Oriana growled. "I want to know who hired them, and why. And then I want to make sure he pays for their deaths."

"Our father hired them," Miranda hissed. "Apparently, he thinks you can be salvaged."

"Salvaged?" Oriana asked, her voice rapidly rising as her outrage took hold. "Salvaged? Like I'm some piece of equipment? They killed my parents! I'll show him salvaged!"

"We'll show him," Miranda said. "He didn't learn when I left him, or when I took you away from him. I guess there's only one thing left to do."

"When you took me away from him?" Oriana asked. "I know you're my sister, and that I was adopted, but what are you talking about?"

"Our father," Miranda said. She sighed and sat beside Oriana, put her face in her hands, and let out a long, heavy sigh, then raised her head and looked at Oriana. "I had always hoped to shelter you from this, but he – they – made sure I couldn't."

"They?" Oriana asked.

"Our father," Miranda said, "and the Illusive Man."

"Man," Oriana said, smiling weakly, "when you make enemies, you don't fool around, do you?"

"I used to work for the Illusive Man," Miranda said. "I quit. He doesn't like it when people quit. He's like our father, in that respect."

"All right," Oriana said, "why don't you start from the beginning?"

March 31, 2185
SSV Normandy (3)
SSV Normandy, Inc., Drydock

"So, why is it you're hunting Hartford?" the dark-haired woman in the holographic image asked. "I can see why you're hunting the Illusive Man, but why the other?"

"He's the one who hired the mercs in the video I sent," Fred said.

"Just making sure," the woman said. "I assume you already took care of the mercs?"

"Got them before they could get to their cluster's relay," Fred said. "Yeah, they use some weird tech in this universe. No hyperdrives, so if you want to travel anywhere outside your local star cluster, you have to use these ancient artifacts that produce flat-space tunnels and squirt your ship down the tunnel like a bullet through a gun."

"Yeah, that's weird, all right," the woman agreed. "All right, if I were doing this job, I'd start by studying his office, find out what the security is like. If I could get in as one of his staff, I'd do that. How much time do you have to devote to this job?"

"Given Miranda and Oriana's state of mind?" Fred asked. "I'm surprised we're not already half-way there."

"And, of course, they're going to want to be the ones making the kill," the woman sighed. "That complicates things immensely. You may have to give up on treating this as an assassination, and just go in the way you usually do. Just try to avoid destroying any of the buildings around his, OK?"

"Diana!" Fred protested, then laughed. "You know me so well. Shepard's like that, too, you know?"

"Shepard?" Diana asked.

"The guy in charge of this mob," Fred said. "Decent enough, way too fixated on the Reapers. I'm building him a few ships. That should take care of his Reaper problem."

"Reapers?" Diana asked. "What's that?"

"Giant homicidal robots," Fred said, "that sweep through the galaxy every 50,000 years and slaughter every space-faring species, down to the last pizza delivery guy."

"I'd say he has good reason to be fixated," Diana said. "Especially if they're on their way right now."

"They are," Fred said. "He and some of his crew killed one a couple years ago, and I helped them kill a second one a little over a month ago."

"Lovely," Diana said, shaking her head. "I swear, the spell those bozos use must be designed to dump you into whatever the biggest possible trouble could be in your target universe."

"It sure seems that way," Fred said. "So basically, you're saying that unless we find some way to keep Miranda and Oriana out of it, we're stuck going in, guns blazing?"

"That's about it," Diana said. "I'd feel better about it if you had Alex or Irene with you, but if the people you're with are good, you'll be OK."

"If Alex or Irene were with me, the neighboring buildings would come down!" Fred protested, laughing.

"Fred?" Tali called from the door. "Shepard's ready."

"Sorry to cut this short, Diana," Fred said. "Looks like we're about to go in, guns blazing. Too bad you won't get to meet Krios. You'd like him."

"Have fun," Diana said, smiling. She turned toward Tali and waved. "So you must be Tali. Try to keep all his pieces together, OK? His wives aren't the only ones who care that he returns home intact."

"I'll try," Tali said. "As long as he doesn't go running into battle in nothing but his lab coat, he should be OK."

"He's still doing that, huh?" Diana asked, laughing. "Well, his lab coat is made of MacManusite, so it's better than the alternatives."

"That's true," Tali said. "He's replaced my envirosuit with MacManusite, so I know the feeling of safety."

"You'll be all right," Diana said. "And Fred, if you think I'd like Krios, introduce us the next time you phone."

"Will do," Fred said, laughing. "Thanks for the advice."

"Any time," Diana said. "That's why I'm a Knight, remember?"

Fred nodded, and the display cut off.

"Any idea who we're going after first?" Fred asked as he moved to join Tali.

"Hartford, I think," Tali said. "Joker's complaining about how every single Normandy's shakedown has been a combat cruise, and why should this one be any different?"

"And he wouldn't have it any other way," Fred laughed. "He may try to deny it, but he loves extreme piloting. I heard about that drop on Ilos. I'll bet he rode that high for months."

"Right up until the Collectors took the Normandy from him," Tali agreed.

The spacedock's docking tube was linked to the new ship's main airlock, and the last of the worker geth were on their way out as Fred and Tali arrived. Nat greeted them at the entrance to the docking tube.

"Tali," Nat said. "Shepard-Commander is ready for launch. We are the last to arrive."

"Well then," Fred said, "let's get this show on the road."

"This show?" Nat asked. "I did not realize we were doing a performance."

"It's a human idiom," Tali explained, after snorting with amusement at Fred. "I'll explain once we're at our stations."

"That's the last of them, Commander," Joker said over the intercom as the airlock sealed behind them. "Docking collar is retracting, Normandy is free."

"Ahead slow, Joker," Shepard said. "Use maneuvering thrusters only until we're clear of the dock."

"Aye, aye," Joker replied.


"This is getting to be something of a habit," Shepard started, his voice carried on the intercom throughout the ship. "This is the third ship named Normandy, and the first with no entanglements to any other organization. That means we are free to pursue the Reapers, and to bring all the power that we, and our friends and allies, can bring to the fight. We already know the Citadel is doing everything in its power to deny that the Reapers exist, so we can't rely on support from them. We also know that Cerberus wants to mine the Reapers for technology, to use in pursuit of their goals. After today, that should no longer be a problem. Right now, the only people outside this ship that we can rely on are the rachni and the geth. Both of them have reasons to hate the Reapers that go far beyond mere fear of extinction. The Reapers tried to turn both of them into mindless slaves. They are our friends. That's enough reason for us to fight at their side. But more than that, the Reapers tried to enslave them. We wouldn't tolerate slavery when the batarians do it, and we won't tolerate it when the Reapers do it. We stopped Sovereign. We stopped Harbinger. We killed two Reapers. It doesn't matter how many more there are out there, because we will stop them all. The galaxy, whether it knows it or not, is depending on us for its survival. We are this galaxy's defenders. We won't let them down. Joker, take us out."

"Aye, aye, sir," Joker said. "Jumping to hyperspace in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... jump."


"At least he warned us," Rupert said.

"I barely felt the jump," Garrus said, chuckling.

"This new technology," Rupert said, "how are we supposed to trust it? For all I know, it could turn us inside out while I'm cooking, and wouldn't that be a mess?"

"So why did you stay with us, instead of going back to Cerberus?" Garrus asked.

"Someone needs to make sure you get decent meals," Rupert said. "Besides, I saw what the Illusive Man did to Agent Lawson and her sister. Family's the only thing that matters. I thought Cerberus understood that. I'm not too proud to admit when I'm wrong."

"We're glad to have you along," Garrus said, extending a hand to Rupert. "Tali's especially going to be happy to know you're still with us. She was raving for days over that chowder you made her."

"Glad to know I could make her happy," Rupert said. "She's a good kid."

"I'd better get to the guns and see what kind of mess Fred made of them," Garrus said, grumbling good-naturedly.


"Waveform is clean," Nat said, his voice and face flaps indicating mild surprise. "This reactor's power is as smooth as fuel cell power."

"We're using isolation transformers to smooth out the waveform," Tali said.

"We use radiant power," Nat said, "because it is more compact than turbines. Is that why you and Fred used it here?"

"That's right," Tali said. "We're already shielding and cooling the reactor with a Ravenfield, so just feeding the power into the ship made more sense than installing turbines and dumping the power from the field. Instead, we dump the power from the Ravenfield into a capacitor bank that's as large as the Normandy 1, and draw off that through an isolation transformer."

"What about the weapons?" Nat asked.

"Their power feeds are direct from the field," Tali said, "with supplemental power from the capacitor bank. They'll never run short. We calculated that even with every weapon firing at maximum output, and no one firing back at us, we'll still have at least three times the power we need to run every system on the ship."

"And if someone is firing back at us?" Nat asked.

"We'll have more power than we know what to do with," Tali said. "If the combat gets too intense, we may have to shut down the reactor so we don't overload the grid."

"We may have to shut down the reactor," Nat said, his facial flaps indicating total surprise. "Rewriting personal emergency protocols now. We have never been on a ship that required shutting down the reactor during combat."

"We should only have to do that if we're going toe-to-toe with a Reaper, though," Tali said. "Or if we're fighting a fleet of normal ships."

"Our capacitor bank is that large?" Nat asked, still surprised.

"It is," Tali said. "You weren't there while the workers were installing it, but I'll take you down to the capacitor deck later, so you can see for yourself."

"Aye," Kenneth Donelly said. "It's truly a sight to behold. I've had to learn all new systems to manage it."

"At least all you had to learn is where the heavy cables are," Gabriella Daniels shot back. "You should try learning this new hyperdrive. It's a complete departure from our old drive system."

"We suspect they should get a room," Nat commented to Tali. "That is what Fred would say, is it not?"

Tali sputtered for a moment, then laughed, "You've been extremely successful at studying humans. Yes, that's exactly what he would say."

"We thought so," Nat said calmly. "Fred told Joker that EDI doesn't have pigtails, so he couldn't steal her ribbons. It took some time, but we found a reference that explained it. Studying human courtship behavior is fascinating. There are so many contradictory behaviors, it is hard to believe they all come from the same species."

"You ...," Tali started, then asked, "How much time did you devote to this?"

"We spent a standard week studying all the references we could find," Nat said. "It was a useful activity to pursue while supervising the forming of the framing members."

Tali glanced over toward Kenneth and Gabby's stations, and noticed that Gabby's face was crimson, while Kenneth was focused on his station, muttering something under his breath.


"How's it look, EDI?" Fred asked. He was working in a lab at the top of the ship, rearward of Shepard's cabin.

"So far, everything is running smoothly," EDI replied. "Joker is testing the new ship's responses, which will also help us test the function of the dampers, but so far, no one has complained of shifting or disorientation. I believe we are ready."

"Good," Fred said. "Tell Shepard." He grinned. "I can't wait to see his face when I join the team on planet."

"You just want to play with your Valkyrie," EDI teased, before winking out.


"All systems test optimal," EDI announced, popping up beside Shepard at the galaxy map.

"Thank you," Shepard said. "All right, then, let's take care of Miranda's father."

"Hartford Industries headquarters is on Elysium," EDI said. "There is likely to be trouble with security."

"That's an advantage to being a Spectre," Shepard said. "The only security we're likely to have trouble with is company guards."

"If you say so," EDI said, her voice and color indicating her uncertainty.

"We'll see when we get there," Shepard said. "Joker, take us to Elysium."

"How soon do you want us there?" Joker asked.

"How soon can we get there?" Shepard asked.

"If this is right," Joker said, "we'll be there in about an hour."

"About an hour?" Shepard asked, surprised. "We just left Rannoch a half hour ago."

"That's right," Joker said. "We can still take the relays, so we can get to Illium in just a few minutes. Then we take hyperspace from Illium, since the Elysium relay is still locked out by Elysium security."

"All right, then, let's do it," Shepard said. "Keep the Ravenfield up when we arrive. We don't want anyone noticing us."

"Aye, aye, Commander," Joker said. "On our way."

March 31, 2185
Skyllian Verge
Headquarters, Hartford Bioengineering, Inc.

"Here we are, Father," Miranda snarled, walking into Mr. Clarence Hartford's office with her pistol leveled on him.

"You wanted me," Oriana snarled as she entered the office a few feet behind Miranda, holding a shotgun as she crossed the room. "Here I am."

"So I see," Hartford said calmly, not bothering to rise from his seat behind his desk. "And you're as much a disappointment as your sister." He pressed a button on his desk. "Luckily, I didn't waste my time waiting for either of you to come to your senses."

Both Miranda and Oriana were suddenly surrounded by black, as their Ravenfields flared under a chain of rapid-fire rockets. An armored figure, small enough that she couldn't have been more than thirteen or fourteen, stepped into the room from a side door near the desk. She was carrying a rocket launcher, that was still smoking from the rockets it had launched. As she walked to the desk, she slapped in a new power cell.

"What do you want me to do with them, Daddy?" the figure asked.

"You bastard!" Miranda snarled. "You created another plaything for your arrogance?"

"You murderous son of a bitch!" Oriana screamed, and opened fire with her shotgun. A barrier sprang up in front of the desk, blocking the shots.

"I will have my heir," Hartford stated calmly. "You could have been that heir, but you threw it away. Your sister could have been that heir, but you kidnapped her and brainwashed her to hate me."

"You did that all by yourself, you bastard," Oriana snarled, "when your mercenaries murdered my parents!"

"Oh yes, that," Hartford said. "You have no idea how inconvenient that was. The paperwork involved in convincing Amaterasu security that I had no involvement in the killings was, to say the least, headache-inducing."

"Inconvenient?" Oriana asked, staring at Hartford in shock. "Headache-inducing? Your thugs murdered my parents, and you're complaining about paperwork? You don't like the headache? Miranda was wrong. You're not just a selfish bastard, you're evil!"

"There you go," Hartford said to the girl beside him. "If you eliminate these two, I'll make sure your birthday party is a good one."

The girl didn't bother saying anything as she opened fire with the rocket launcher. Miranda looked at Oriana, who nodded back, and the two moved to flank the desk, ignoring the rockets as they hit their Ravenfields and fell to the floor before detonating.

"So, did you bother to tell her that we're her sisters?" Miranda asked. "That we're her twins?"

"You're nothing more than waste material," Hartford said calmly, as beside him, the girl ran her rocket launcher dry, tossed it aside, and took her assault rifle off her back. "You two are failed experiments, in my attempts to create the perfect heir."

"So that means she's not your daughter, either," Oriana growled. "She's nothing more than an experiment, too."

"I am not!" the girl yelled, spraying Oriana with bullets. "I'm his daughter! I am!"

"If you're his daughter," Miranda asked, "where's your mother? He didn't bother to tell you, did he?"

"Tell me what?" the girl asked. "Daddy, what are they talking about?"

"Nothing you need concern yourself with," Hartford said. "All you need to be concerned with is performing satisfactorily."

"See?" Oriana asked. "You're not his daughter. He created you in a lab, the same way he created us. You're nothing more than a product to him."

"No!" the girl screamed, and emptied an entire clip into Oriana's field. "He's my Daddy!"

"He's your creator," Oriana said. "The same way he's my creator, and Miranda's creator. He created us in a petri dish, so that he could mold us into perfect heirs, without the interference of a mother who might teach us about things like compassion and love."

"As long as you perform, he rewards you, isn't that right?" Miranda asked. "It's not enough that you're good, you have to do as he tells you, or he won't pay attention to you. Everything you ever got from him was a reward for doing as he said. And if you failed in anything, he took something away from you, didn't he?"

The girl's gunfire switched from Oriana to Miranda. "How did you know that?"

"That's what he did to me," Miranda said, "before I woke up and got away from him. I didn't believe he'd do it to someone else, though. Not until I found Oriana."

"Who you kidnapped when she was an infant," Hartford stated. "I didn't believe you'd be so foolish as to return to the scene of your crime, though."

"Her crime?" Oriana demanded. "You had my parents murdered, and you have the nerve to accuse her of committing a crime?"

"The death of that couple was not my intention," Hartford stated. "The mercenaries were only contracted to collect you. Killing was not in the contract."

"You have me!" the girl said. "Why did you bother with her? You just said they were waste material!"

"I don't like to leave loose ends," Hartford said calmly. "Now, hurry up and finish them off."

"Yes," Miranda said. "Finish us off, so we can't tell you about how a real father doesn't treat his daughter like a genetic experiment, or how a real father doesn't demand that his daughter perform tasks that aren't suitable for children. Finish us off so we don't have the chance to tell you how Oriana grew up happy and loved, with parents who cared for her more than their own lives, and a big sister who watched over her from a distance to make sure she was safe. After all, if we told you about things like that, you might ask why your father treats you like property, instead of a person."

"Ignore them!" Hartford snapped. "They're trying to confuse you! Kill them!"

"They're not confusing me," the girl said slowly. "They're not confusing me at all."

She swung her assault rifle to point at Hartford. Suddenly, she spasmed and fell to the floor, her back arched to the breaking point as she convulsed, then lay still.

"Looks like I'll have to start again," Hartford commented. "Oh, well."

"You son of a bitch!" Miranda screamed. She opened fire with her pistol, while Oriana opened fire with her shotgun. "Now, Fred!"

The window behind the desk suddenly shattered, as Fred's fighter, in its battroid configuration, rose into view and reached in to grab Hartford, who was distracted by his attempts to duck behind his desk and hide from the gunfire.

"Hello, Dad," Fred's voice, filled with hatred, growled from the robot's loudspeakers. "I hope you enjoy the trip down. It's a lot faster than the journey up."

The robot turned away from the building, holding Hartford in its hand, and let go. Hartford's scream vanished into the distance as he fell.

Miranda and Oriana knelt over the girl. Miranda unfastened the girl's helmet and gently slid it off her head while Oriana supported her shoulders.

"Too late," Oriana murmured, looking into the girl's sightless eyes, noting the piece of tongue that fell to the floor when Miranda took the helmet off, the blood that coated her lips and cheeks, and the smell of ozone and burned flesh.

"We can't even revive her," Miranda said sadly. "The bastard must have installed a control chip that was powerful enough to fry her brain."

"We can make sure the Illusive Man pays," Oriana said. "This is the kind of madness he profits from."

"Yes," Miranda said, rising to her feet. "We'll make sure he pays." She activated her radio. "Shepard, did you find his lab?"

"I did," Shepard called back. "There's enough here to make him fry, both under Alliance law and under Citadel law."

"We're done up here," Miranda said. "Let's get out of here."

"Understood," Shepard said. "Everyone back to the runabout. Tali, Nat, make sure Elysium police get these files."

"Roger, Commander," Tali said. "We're on it."

"Want a lift, ladies?" Fred asked, extending a hand into the office.

"I thought that was a single-seater," Miranda said, smiling weakly.

"It is," Fred said. "But I can hold one of you in each hand."

"I think we'll take the elevator," Oriana said. "I'm not quite ready for that much excitement."

"Your loss," Fred laughed. "See you back aboard." His robot transformed back into a fighter and headed for space.


"We have news for you, Shepard-Commander," Nat's voice announced from the ship's intercom.

"What is it, Nat? Anything we need to worry about?" Shepard asked. Nat never bothered him when he was at the galaxy map, so it must be something big.

"We received confirmation upon return to the ship," Nat said. "The first of our new Companion platforms has just gone operational. We can begin to receive Pilgrims."

"That's good news," Shepard said. "Does Tali know?"

"We have informed her," Nat said. "She is prepared to inform the flotilla of our readiness to receive Pilgrims."

"Tali?" Shepard asked. "How are we going to do this? I doubt the Admiralty Board will be willing to send Pilgrims to Rannoch."

"My message will tell the Admiralty Board that I have found a planet that is willing to accept help from Pilgrims," Tali said, "and has technology they are willing to share in exchange for that help."

"True," Shepard said, smiling, "but vague on the details. That should do it. Good job."

"I'll let you know when the first Pilgrims are ready to meet us," Tali said.

"Here's hoping it won't be until after we've taken care of the Illusive Man," Shepard said.

"I doubt that will be a problem," EDI said. "We have pinpointed the Illusive Man's most likely location, based on communications traffic and the movement of resources that Cerberus makes the most heavy use of. Since our departure from Cerberus, there has been a massive increase in certain operations, which indicate that Cerberus is most likely attempting to build a fleet to take on the Reapers without our assistance. A fleet they can then use to dominate the galaxy."

"Only if we let them," Shepard said. "Give Joker the coordinates. Let's get the bastard before he can start a war."


Miranda and Oriana sat in Miranda's quarters, looking out the window into space, holding hands.

After some time, Oriana asked softly, "Was he like that when you were a child?"

"He was," Miranda said. "I never expected him to be so cold as to murder her, though. I ... did we do the right thing, Oriana? Was there another way to stop him, one that would not have ended with her dying like that?"

"I don't know," Oriana said. "I wish I did." She looked at Miranda and said, "Here I thought you'd have the answer to that question, you know? I mean, being the big, tough Cerberus operative had to have given you some kind of perspective, right?"

"I believed in them," Miranda said. "I believed that they were making a better world for humanity. It wasn't until Shepard came along that I began to see just what kind of world they were making, and it wasn't the kind of world I wanted. Not for you, not for anyone."

"What about you, Miranda?" Oriana asked.

"I'm a monster," Miranda said softly. "I'm a monster, who doesn't belong in the world I wanted to make for you. I believed that I could help create that world, but I don't belong in it."

"That's not true," Oriana said, turning to face Miranda. "You are not a monster. You are my big sister, who loves me, protects me, and watches over me – and who has watched over me my entire life. A monster wouldn't do that. So don't you dare call yourself one. Or I'll have to spank you."

Miranda stared at Oriana for a moment, shocked. Then she began to giggle. Oriana watched her for a moment, then joined in the giggling. The two fell into each other's arms, laughing hysterically.

Outside the window, the blue glow of hyperspace shone on the twins, laughing in each other's arms. In Fred's quarters, in the rear half of the top deck of the ship, the same blue light shone through the skylight over his bed, where Fred and Tali lay, looking up at hyperspace.

"Are you serious?" Tali asked, her voice betraying surprise and curiosity.

"Totally," Fred said. "I've locked out the higher levels of hyperspace, until we're sure the ship can take the stress of these levels. Joker's running us at the highest of the blue levels right now. I'll unlock the green levels after we finish the Illusive Man. I figure we'll have worked our way up through the red levels by this time next week." He paused thoughtfully, then added, "Assuming nothing happens to interfere with the schedule, that is."

"Do the colors match what we see when we're in them?" Tali asked.

"Not really," Fred said. "Most of the time, hyperspace looks the way it does now. The color codes are for danger levels, if something goes wrong with your drive. Every species with a hyperdrive had its own code for the different levels their drives could access. I just combined them all into one universal chart, and gave the chart the same color code I use for system security levels. Since then, everyone's adopted my chart."

"So we're at Blue 9 now?" Tali asked.

"That's right," Fred said. "Our top speed here is 19,683 times the speed of light."

"And this is only blue levels," Tali mused. "Does anyone use red levels? Really?"

"War ships and couriers," Fred said. "There's this guy I know, used to be a pizza delivery guy, convinced me that it was worth my while to build him a ship that could run in the red, so he could work as a courier. He made enough to pay off the loan in less than a month, and has been earning enough since then that I could retire comfortably just off my percentage of the company. Only problem is, if I did that, I'd be bored."

"How fast does his ship go?" Tali asked.

"We only go up to nine factors deep in any level," Fred said. "So when he's going all out, his top speed is ... really damned fast. I'm not sure there's a convenient name for the multiple he's operating at."

Edgar projected 3.4116929758866750127553491474623e+28173 against the skylight, in brilliant red numbers. Tali stared at it for a minute, trying to take it in, then shook her head and looked at Fred.

"You mean to tell me that your courier friend is flying at that many times the speed of light?" Tali asked.

"Pretty close," Fred said. "That's how many dimensions are in the hyperspace band he operates in. The multiple of c is based on the number of dimensions, so it's pretty close to that, but the math is a bit more involved."

"How is that possible?" Tali asked.

"It's all a matter of how many dimensions are in that particular level of hyperspace," Fred said. "Every band has a baseline level, where the top speed is the speed of light, just like it is in normal space. However, each band has a different stepping rate. The blue bands are a simple power of normal space. So the number of dimensions in Blue 9 is three to the ninth power. The green bands are a power of the blue bands. So, the number of dimensions in Green 9 is three to the ninth to the ninth. The yellow bands are a power of the green, and so on. As you can imagine, losing your hyperdrive becomes exponentially more catastrophic as your operating band rises, which is why most commercial shipping operates in the blue and green bands."

"So the power requirements aren't that much different?" Tali asked.

"No," Fred said. "Not that much different at all. The primary power requirement is for the transition, and it costs the same to make the transition, whether you're jumping to Blue 1 or Red 9. Same for the thrusters while you're in hyperspace. Just like with your drives, a ship uses its main drives for motive power in hyperspace, so if you were particularly insane, you could jump to Red 9 and then shut down your engines and just sit there, watching the lights and shapes go by. Most companies that own ships that can do that try to weed out anyone who's likely to do that, though. People who spend a lot of time piloting in hyperspace tend to come out of it ... changed. We've had better luck, especially with the higher order hyperdrives, with ships that don't let the pilot see directly outside. Viewing hyperspace through a data display seems to mitigate the weirdness factor."

"I can imagine," Tali said. "Even at this level, there's something about it that tugs at my brain."

"Should I close the shutter?" Fred asked.

"Don't you feel it?" Tali asked.

"Not especially," Fred said. "But then again, I'm already weirder than this. Remember, this is the band I work with when I'm creating MacManusite. It's also the band that my pockets exist in."

"How did that happen, anyway?" Tali asked. "Did you deliberately create those pockets?"

"No," Fred said. "It just sort of happened as a byproduct of all my work with hyperspatial objects."

"Dad's not kidding," Edgar said. "The first time he reached into his pocket and pulled out a minigun, he kind of freaked out. Luckily, it didn't last long, since we were in the middle of fighting Backblast at the time."

"Backblast?" Tali asked.

"He was a criminal back home," Fred said. "A human with the ability to manifest bolts of fire from his hands, without using spells, biotics, or an omnitool."

"You're kidding," Tali said, shaking her head in disbelief.

"No joke," Edgar said. "Look!"

Edgar projected a holographic display of a man in blue jeans and a DSS t-shirt, sitting at a table in a bar, with a pair of men in leather pants and vests, who sat together as if they were lovers. On stage was a krogan-sized man wearing a poodle skirt and a pink angora sweater, singing something about being "Bobby's Girl".

"Fucking faggot!" the man in the t-shirt screamed, jumping to his feet and pointing at the man on stage. Suddenly, he was surrounded in a sheath of flames, and a bolt of fire blasted the man on stage. The splash of fire from the impact ignited the stage, the tables around the stage, and several men who had been enjoying the music.

The two men who had been sitting with the flaming man jumped up and ran toward the stage, grabbing tablecloths from their own table and another as they passed, and wrapped the cloths around two of the victims, attempting to put the fire out. The krogan-sized man, now naked, stalked off the stage toward the flaming man, who was now randomly firing blasts of flame around the bar, still screaming "Faggots!" as he did so.

"That was my best sweater," the big man growled, as he drew his hand back and punched the flaming man, hard enough to send him flying backward through the wall of the bar.

At another table, a tall, slender blond man and a Japanese woman had been sitting and enjoying the show, along with a Hispanic man, who looked as if he were about to implode from embarrassment. The blond man rose to his feet and held his hand up, and a barrier suddenly appeared, holding up the ceiling of the bar, while the Japanese woman and the Hispanic man began herding people out of the bar through the front door and the fire exit.

While they were helping people out of the burning bar, another blast of fire came through the hole, followed by the man who had started the blaze, flying on a jet of flame. The big man saw him coming, and met him with a double-fisted slam that drove him into the floor, face-first. The couple who had been trying to put out the burning victims began carrying bodies out of the building.

"I could use a little help here, Mike!" the big man yelled, when the burning man flared up, incinerating the floor around his head.

"Damn it, Jim!" the blond yelled back. "I'm a doctor, not a superhero!" Then he pointed at the burning man, and a second barrier appeared, as a bubble around his head. The flames inside the barrier quickly died, and the burning man began punching the barrier, as if attempting to break through it.

"Here," Jim growled. "Let me help you with that." He sank his fist into the burning man's abdomen, driving the air out of his lungs.

The burning man fell to the floor, his face turning blue, then gray, as he passed out. Around him, the leather-clad couple continued to carry dead and injured bodies out of the bar, while the flames spread to take in the whole building.

"Robert James Morgan," Fred said, "AKA Backblast. A freelance DSS operative who played the part of a supervillain, in order to give the government justification for passing ever more repressive laws. The half-ogre is Jim Cole, or, as he is known when on stage, Prissy. The couple in leather are Joseph Smith and Benjamin Young. They were a couple of paramedics in the city fire department. The blond is Mike Gryphon. He's my best friend, and my doctor. The Japanese woman with him is Atsuko Hayashibara. At the time of that incident, she was his fiance. The man helping Atsuko herd people out of the bar is Robert Graves. Actually, it's Roberto Sanchez, but his parents changed their name to Graves after the State Security Act of 1976 was implemented. They figured it would be safer to have a name that blended in with the Anglos. He and Jim got married after they moved to Laputa."

"That was the night the Club duWash burned to the ground," Edgar said. "Unfortunately, the building it was in was so old that its sprinklers couldn't keep up with the spread of the flames. Especially given how many places Backblast hit during his rampage."

"Mike killed him, right?" Tali asked.

"No," Fred said, shaking his head. "Mike hadn't figured out the second part of Mordin's philosophy back then. He turned him over to the police, who turned him over to DSS, who 'lost' him en route to their regional prison. No, Backblast didn't die until he made the mistake of killing innocent people in Laputa, during a DSS assault. Even supervillains need to breathe something thicker than vaccuum."

"Too bad," Tali said. "He should have died sooner. What was his problem, anyway?"

"His name was Robert," Fred said. "A common nickname for Robert is Bobby."

"You mean," Tali asked, shock in her voice, "he blew up that bar because of a song?"

"That's right," Fred said. "Apparently, his paramedic buddies hadn't told him it was a gay bar. Not that it would have mattered, given how extreme his reaction was."

"What's a gay bar?" Tali asked.

"A bar that caters to homosexual customers." Fred said.

"What a strange concept," Tali said.

"I suppose it would be in the flotilla," Fred said. "With the population trouble there, everyone would have to breed, whether they like it or not. On Earth, the common conception is the exact opposite. People generally think that not breeding is a better choice – both the greenies, who think humans are a blight on the planet, and ordinary people, who don't want to force children to suffer growing up in the fucked-up world we live in. Never mind that there's enough space and resources in Laputa alone, for more people than Earth holds in this universe and my own universe, combined."

"You told me it was big," Tali said, turning to look at Fred. "You never told me just how big. You're seriously saying Laputa can hold twenty billion people?"

"Pretty close," Fred said. "I have a little less than one and a quarter billion square kilometers of living space in each tower, and a little over three million square kilometers of arboreta per tower."

"I ...," Tali started, then trailed off and stared at Fred, shaking her head. "If it were anyone else telling me this, I'd say they were delusional."

"And you'd be right," Fred said. "But you saw how quickly we built the new Normandy. And you remember how quickly we built the Valkyrie. It took me a full year to build Laputa."

"The fun part," Edgar said, "is how the vast majority of governments on Earth freaked out, and continue to freak out, over our existence. From the U.S. delivering their entire stockpile of cruise missiles to us, to Russia giving us some SS20s to disassemble for parts, to Britain losing one of their SAS teams in our shopping mall, governments just plain don't like us."

"Meanwhile," Fred said, "every alien race in the galaxy considers us to be the only civilized place on Earth. Even the ones that we usually only encounter as pirates. They know that as long as they don't commit any acts of aggression in our solar system, they can come to Laputa for trade." He paused, shook his head, and muttered, "The scylla haven't figured that out yet, apparently."

"They're still fighting a war that was over twenty thousand years ago," Edgar pointed out.

"Good point," Fred said. "They – "

"What is it?" Tali asked, worried.

"I just realized something," Fred said. "And ... it's not something you want to hear."

"Fred," Tali chided gently, "if you're thinking it, I want to hear it. You must know that by now."

"I do," Fred said softly. "I just ... it's going to make you sad, I think. I don't like seeing you sad."

"Sadness happens," Tali said, reaching out to stroke Fred's cheek. "I can live with it."

"All right," Fred said, let out a sigh, and continued. "Twenty thouand years ago, the scylla tried to exterminate every other sapient species on Earth. No one quite knows why, although the horror stories people we've found in ancient ruins and old records make it sound as if the scylla just collectively went insane one day and began killing every intelligent being who wasn't of their species. Prior to that, they had mostly been known as slavers. Not nice people to be around, but smart enough to know that they couldn't enslave you if you were dead."

"All right," Tali said. "So we know the scylla weren't good people. And?"

"And the other species banded together to fight back against the scylla," Fred said. "Dragons and humans made a pact that produced the Kinsman family. Elves and dwarves acted as commandos. Orcs tried to go it alone, and came close to being exterminated. The war was apparently a long and bloody one, long enough that the Kinsman family's journals follow it for several generations. Eventually, the scylla were defeated, and fled the Earth to live elsewhere in the galaxy. Those left behind were just putting their lives back together when the mana level dropped below sustainable and civilization collapsed. The next cycle, ten thouand years later, gave us Atlantis, but the scylla were long gone, and no one even remembered their name. The current cycle, which began thirty years ago, has the scylla returning. They began attempting to invade back in the 1990s. We've driven them back every time, but they just don't seem to learn."

"It sounds like it," Tali said. "It's obvious to me that you'd welcome them if they came in peace, but ... " she trailed off, then finished, in a very small voice, "oh."

"Yeah," Fred whispered, and hugged her close. "Now you see why I didn't want to say anything."

"Is that how the geth see us?" Tali asked softly. "Not nice people to be around, but smart enough to know we can't enslave them if they're dead?"

"Nat doesn't see you that way," Fred said. "And the other processes don't, or they wouldn't be willing to take a chance on letting Pilgrims visit."

"But we don't want to just visit!" Tali protested. "We want ...." Trailing off, she pressed against Fred, softly sobbing.

"Give it time, love," Fred said gently, while holding her close. "The geth stopped fighting the war three hundred years ago. As soon as the quarians stop fighting it, they'll be able to go back to Rannoch."

"I know," Tali said softly, then sniffled. "I know, that's why we set up the Pilgrimage program. It's just so hard to realize ... to realize how we must look to the geth."

"They see the world in a different way," Fred said. "Organic concerns don't drive them. Give them access to data or energy, on the other hand, and they'll be your friends. I think that's where the quarians made their biggest mistake."

"What do you mean?" Tali asked.

"The geth didn't have to rebel against them," Fred said. "That wasn't inevitable, because geth don't have the same drives and concerns that organics have. Hazardous work? No problem. If one platform is damaged or destroyed, the processes just return to the central databanks until a new platform is prepared for them. Boring, repetitive work? Just give them a datafeed and they'll shift the repetitive work to lower-level processes while they enjoy the datafeed. The quarians of the time made the mistake of assuming that geth have the same needs, drives, and desires as organic beings. Even now, they tell you that synthetics have different needs, drives, and desires, but what assumptions do they use when planning how to encounter the geth?"

"They assume ...," Tali started, trailed off, then began laughing. "It's true! They'd never be able to deal with the geth, because their assumptions are all wrong!"

"Now you just need to find an apprentice, you realize," Fred said, smiling lovingly at her. "And soon."

"Soon?" Tali asked, worried.

"Soon," Fred said. "Don't worry, love, nothing bad's going to happen. It's just, if you don't want me to have to come back for you, you're going to need an apprentice who you can bring up to speed before I get the math worked out for the jump home."

Tali stared at Fred, shocked into silence. He wanted her to go with him. He was willing to come back for her. He didn't just think of her as a lover. He loved her! She threw her arms around him and held him close. After a moment, his arms embraced her in return.

"Sweetheart?" Fred asked softly. "Was there ever any doubt? I love you. I want to marry you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

"I want the same," Tali said. "I want to be with you, for the rest of my life."

"Coming up on Cerberus Central," Joker announced. "Here's hoping they don't have anyone out on patrol."

"Perfect," Fred said. "Edgar, how does their comm traffic look?"

"If the Illusive Man isn't here," Edgar said, "he's bouncing all his comm traffic from here. Either way, destroying this place will put a big dent in Cerberus operations."

"Not until we hack their mainframe," Fred said. "Once we do that, we can destroy it. EDI, what does Shepard say?"

"I say that this better work," Shepard said. "You have one hour to get in and hack the mainframe. Then we're blowing the place."

"No problem," Fred said. "An hour is plenty of time."

April 1, 2185
Styx Theta
Midway between Acheron and Erebus Systems

"Me and my big mouth," Fred muttered as he dodged a tackle attempt. "An hour is plenty of time. Yeah, plenty of time if they restricted themselves to shooting at me. How was I supposed to know they'd have football players on their staff?"

"Found it," Edgar said. "Two doors down on the left. All you have to do is get past that turret."

"That's the easy part!" Fred complained. He aimed at the turret, his left arm transformed into a particle beam rifle, and fired, detonating the rockets in its magazine. The explosion cleared the corridor for 100 feet in both directions, and sprung the doors on both sides.

Fred sprinted to the door Edgar had marked in his vision, saw that it was sprung, and switched from particle beam to laser. Once the switch was complete, he burned through the door and frame, kicked the center free, and jumped through, into the room beyond.

On the room side of the doorway, Fred landed in the middle of a hail of bullets. His Ravenfield remained black for over fifteen seconds, while he pinpointed the shooters and returned fire, his arm still in its laser configuration. Each target exploded in a spray of blood and tissue when struck by the laser pulse.

"Thank goodness they use holographic interfaces," Fred muttered as he stepped up to a terminal and began working it. "All this mess would make a mechanical interface kind of difficult to use."

"Don't forget the transmitter," Edgar said.

"I have it here," Fred said, reaching into a pocket and pulling out what looked like a small processor card. He looked at the terminal, nodded to himself once he had memorized the location indicated on the display, and hopped over the control center, down into the main processor room.

In the processor room, Fred counted to himself as he walked past racks of server and dataspace modules. Reaching the rack he wanted, he slid into the gap between racks, found the slot he wanted on the rack, and plugged his transmitter into position. Once it was in position, the transmitter beeped once, and a green LED lit up.

"EDI?" Fred whispered. "This is Fred. Transmitter is in position. Our friends back home should be in control of the mainframe. Can you check with them to see if they have it?"

"Doing so now," EDI replied. After a moment, she came back on the air. "They have it. They estimate they should have everything within fifteen minutes. Get out of there."

"Roger that, little sister," Fred said, chuckling softly. "Getting out of here."

Fred slithered into a nearby air vent and stirred up some of the dust in the bottom of the duct. After a moment, he saw dust particles being vaporized in a webwork pattern, with an open gap in the center of the duct floor that he estimated barely allowed room for a maintenance bot – or his braincase, as long as he could remain entirely within that gap. He melted down into the shape of a snake, and made his way away from the server room. Once he had passed three vents, he punched out the fourth and dropped into the room it opened on. This room was a storage room, mostly containing office supplies and unused furniture. Once on the floor, he resumed his human shape.

Fred slowly opened the door and looked out into the hallway. The storage room was still within the blast zone from the turret, and guards were working their way down the hallway from the far end. Just to make sure he had their attention, and keep them away from the server room, Fred fired several shots at the guards, then dove out the door and opened fire in earnest.

"OK, do we know where their lab is on this station?" Fred muttered under his breath.

"Got it," Edgar said. "We'll have to keep going down this hallway, hang a right ... oh, hell, I'll just put it on your HUD."

"Good," Fred said. "It'll take us past enough guards to keep them hopping?"

"Guaranteed," Edgar said. "Just try to avoid any more football players, OK?"

"I'll do my best," Fred said, snorting with amusement. He fired a few shots down the hallway, hitting the ceiling above the guards, then turned and ran in the direction Edgar indicated in his vision.

The route to the research lab was much shorter than Fred had expected, but he still managed to pick up a train of a dozen or so guards by the time he got there. At the lab, he didn't bother to try hacking the door. Instead, he transformed both arms into guns, pointed at the door, and fired a positron pulse from both arms. The explosion tore the doors out of their anchors, blew them across the lab, and blew the guards back down the hallway. The floor and ceiling were folded back like the petals of a flower, with support beams twisted and melted away from the center of the explosion.

Fred leaped across the gap, landed in the lab, and began going through the various work stations. Everywhere he encountered a project that looked as if it was complete, or nearing completion, he took the prototype and stuffed it in a pocket. By the time he reached the exterior wall, the guards had managed to come up with some suits that had EVA jets, and were starting to send guards into the lab. As they flew – more like drifted, in his opinion – across the hole in the floor, Fred picked them off with leisurely shots.

"Transmission complete," EDI announced.

"It's been a lovely day, boys," Fred said, "but now that I have samples of your research, I really must be going." He turned toward the doorway and added, "This is the part where you seal your helmet, by the way." Then he turned to the window behind him and punched it. The glass grew a spiderweb of cracks, spreading from the spot his fist had hit. He punched again. This time, the cracks gave way, and the window shattered, forced outward by air pressure.

Fred let the outrushing air carry him through the window. Once outside, he lined up on the Normandy and accelerated in her direction.

"Any attempts to escape while I was playing?" Fred asked.

"None," EDI said. "It's strange. I would have expected the Illusive Man to run, at the very least."

"He probably doesn't feel threatened," Fred said. "Yet. After all, I heard guards guessing that I was an escaped experiment. The idea that someone might have found them and be invading their sanctum has probably not entered their minds."

"Give us a location," Miranda's voice said, as Fred was keying in to the main airlock.

"We're working that out," EDI said. "There's a lot of data to sift through."

"Where would his QEC be, Miranda?" Shepard asked. "Isn't that where he would be? I don't have the impression that he moves much from his sanctum, even for such mundane tasks as speaking with his agents."

"That's true," Miranda said. "This station looks a lot like the one I used to meet with him on. If that's the case, I know where to find him."

"We're all set, then," Shepard said. "We'll keep his guards busy, while you and Oriana take care of him."

"And Normandy and I will shoot down anything that tries to escape," Fred said. He nodded to Shepard as he passed the galaxy map on his way to the elevator.

In the elevator, Tali caught him and gave him a tight embrace, then whispered, "Don't you dare get shot down, you crazy man. Not now that you've said you want to marry me."

"I promise," Fred said, "I won't get shot down. Are you going in?"

"No," Tali said. "Shepard's taking Grunt and Zaeed with him. Miranda and Oriana are taking Garrus. I'll be helping coordinate things from here."

"Good," Fred said. "I'll be listening for your voice on our channel, then." He kissed Tali's faceplate, then headed for his Valkyrie.


Miranda held up her hand, stopping Oriana and Garrus in their tracks, and crouched, then took a quick glance through the doorway. Seeing nothing, she rolled across the doorway, SMG in hand, and crouched on the far side, scanning the room. It was just as she remembered it: vast, with holographic displays scattered throughout, a detailed, close-up image of a star covering one wall, and in the center, like a throne, his chair, an ash tray on one side, and a small table for his drink on the other. He was sitting in his chair, as unconcerned as if his station were not being torn apart around him.

"Miranda," the Illusive Man said. "I wondered how long it would take you to come back."

"How long it would take me to come back?" Miranda asked, shocked by his audacity. "After all you've done, you actually think I would come back?"

"Of course," he said. "After all, you're a realist. You realize that I'm the only hope humanity has. Without Cerberus, humanity will be submerged by a tidal wave of alien influence. That will destroy everything that makes us great."

"You're right," Miranda said, walking into the room. "I am a realist. I realize just what Cerberus has to offer humanity, and how important it is to humanity's future."

"Good, good," the Illusive Man said.

"And that's why I'm here," Miranda said, as she brought up her SMG and emptied it into the Illusive Man.

"Tch," the Illusive Man's voice said, from all around the room, as the chair and its occupant vanished. "I'm so very disappointed in you, Miranda. You, of all people, know how important Cerberus is for humanity. To see you betraying your ideals like this, I can't tell you how disappointed I am."

"I'm not betraying my ideals, you son of a bitch," Miranda snarled. "I'm paying back the man who betrayed me. No matter where you go, no matter where you hide, I will find you. And when I do, you will pay for what you did to my sister."

"Only if you live long enough," the Illusive Man said. "I'll deal with you as easily as I dealt with Shepard."

"Shepard!" Miranda called, keying her radio and running for the door. "It's a trap!"

Oriana and Garrus were on their feet, blocking the door with their bodies, giving Miranda enough time to slide through the doorway between their feet. Once she was through, they fell back, letting the door slam closed. An explosion rang from the other side of the door, just moments after it closed.

"Everyone fall back!" Shepard called, over the sounds of gunfire and explosions.

Miranda looked at Garrus and Oriana. They nodded to her and checked their weapons. Miranda slapped a fresh clip into her SMG and led the way toward where they had split off from Shepard's group.

"Holy shit," Joker swore. "Guys, the sooner you get back here, the happier I'll be. A half-dozen frigates and a cruiser just arrived, all with Cerberus markings."

"And a cruiser?" Miranda gasped, shocked.

"And a cruiser," Joker said. "Fred's insane. He's just engaged the cruiser."


"What the hell are you doing?" Tali hissed at Fred over their private frequency.

"Getting in some target practice," Fred said. "And keeping them distracted from our people in the station."

"Just don't get yourself killed," Tali sighed, surrendering to the inevitable.

"I promise, I won't," Fred said. "They don't have any weapons that can hurt me anyway. If they had a way to project biotics from a ship, that would be a different matter, but mass drivers and lasers are no big deal."

"You have a point there," Tali said. "All right. Do you think you can keep them busy enough that the runabout won't have trouble getting back?"

"That'll be easy," Fred said, then laughed. "Other than the lack of missiles, the runabout is better armed than I am. It won't have any trouble at all."


"Shepard!" Miranda called. "We're at the rendezvouz. Where are you?"

"Pinned down about a hundred yards from you," Shepard said. "You should hear the mechs from your position."

"Got it," Miranda said. "Do you have a window near you?"

"Yes," Shepard said. "The mechs are between us and the window."

"Perfect," Miranda said. "Seal your suits and be ready for EVA."

Miranda sprinted for the docking port, with Oriana and Garrus close behind. Inside the runabout, she ran for the pilot's seat while Garrus sealed the hatch and gave her the all-clear.

"Oriana, I need you to take the comm station and fuck with their electronics," Miranda said. "Garrus, take the guns. Once we're in position, I want you to blow out the windows behind the mechs. If you happen to blow up any mechs while you're at it, that's just a bonus."

"Got it covered," Garrus said, as he slid into the gunner's station and warmed up the turrets.

Miranda flew the runabout over the station, and swung it into position, facing the wall closest to where Shepard's signal was coming from.

"Shepard," Miranda called. "Are you sealed for EVA?"

"We're ready," Shepard replied.

"Good," Miranda said. "Garrus, hit it."

Miranda lit every light the runabout had to offer, flooding the wall with enough lumens that the reflection would have been blinding if not for the Ravenfield protecting them. Inside, Shepard's team dove behind whatever solid objects they could find, while Garrus opened up with all four turrets and both laser cannons. The wall vanished in a cloud of plasma. What was left of the mechs – mostly half-melted bits of scrap – flew out on the air that escaped through the hole.

"Not a combat vehicle," Shepard muttered, as he, Zaeed, and Grunt flew toward the runabout.

"That's right," Fred said. "But it is good for fast getaways."

"We're all aboard," Zaeed announced. "Let's get out of here."

"Get out of here," Fred called. "I'll keep them interested enough to stay here. EDI, bring the Normandy 2 in."

"What are you planning?" Shepard asked.

"A little something to thin out their fleet, and cut into their resources," Fred said. "We need to get rid of the old Normandy anyway, so we won't have to worry about any Cerberus bugs."

"So what's your plan?" Shepard asked. "Use it as a missile?"

"Exactly," Fred said. "I've packed it with enough antimatter that people will think there was a nova here, and wonder why they never noticed a star in this location."

"Don't worry," EDI said. "We'll be safe enough at one light-hour distance."

"I just wish we knew if this was their entire fleet," Fred muttered. "Well, hopefully the data we got from the mainframe will tell us."

"We're aboard," Miranda called. "Locking down the runabout now."

"Jumping to hyperspace," Joker announced. Three minutes later, he announced, "In position. Are you sure about this, Fred?"

"Positive," Fred said. "Just keep the field up and you'll be fine. EDI, how far out is it?"

"It should be dropping out of hyperspace any time now," EDI said. "You'll be able to take over terminal guidance in five ... four ... three ... two ...."

"Got it!" Fred said. "Taking over terminal guidance now. Everyone get ready for a bright flash, some loud noise, and some instant urban renewal."

"Vaccuum cannot carry sound," EDI pointed out.

"Details! Details!" Fred shot back, laughing. "Here we go!"

The Normandy 2 suddenly appeared, half-way between the Cerberus ships and the station. The ships broke off shooting at Fred, and moved to intercept the Normandy. Meanwhile, it lined up on the hangar bay closest to the station's center of mass, and fired on the doors with its main gun.

With the doors blown free, the Normandy flew into the hangar bay, the frigates and cruiser following as closely as they could without colliding with the station.

"In position," Fred said. "Deactivating the Ravenfield and collapsing the bottles now."

Fred's Valkyrie's Ravenfield suddenly blackened, as the Normandy 2, the station, and the Cerberus ships all vanished in a brilliant flash of light.

"Job's done," Fred said. "On my way to join you."

The Valkyrie jumped to hyperspace and flew to join the Normandy, leaving behind a remarkably sparse debris field where the station and ships used to be.