Fight for the Lost

By LuxDragon

Scifi / Action

Epilogue

Location: Omega Nebula / Sahrabarik / Omega-4 Relay

The Omega-4 Relay's gyroscope slowly rotated around the crimson orb of dark energy as it had always done. Suddenly, it began to spin faster and faster, until a frigate flashed into existence.

She was battered, with several holes marring the surface of her armor, so much that the interior could be seen in some places. Emergency kinetic barriers were erected to avoid venting the atmosphere and any loose objects out into space, not to mention for the protection and safety of the crew within. Instead of a clean jump, the moment she entered Sahrabarik, she tumbled, rotated, and cartwheeled away from the relay in a chaotic loop.

Despite the damage though, the Normandy SR-2 had travelled through the Omega-4 Relay and returned.

Successfully.

~o~O~o~

Shepard groaned. He adjusted himself so that he wouldn't immediately fall out of his chair. "Are we dead yet?"

"I don't think so. Everything hurts too much for us to be dead," Garrus muttered. He slowly picked himself off of the floor, using the back of Joker's chair to pull himself up.

Shepard raised his head to study at the instrumentation in front of him. "Joker, you still with us?"

"Mostly," Joker replied as he groaned and sat up in his chair.

"Then would you mind? It's like you're piloting the Normandy while you're dusted."

Joker stared at his screens before his fingers danced on the console in front of him. In no time at all, the Normandy righted herself to have something approaching a normal flight pattern.

"Joker, that was, without a doubt, the worst mass relay jump you have ever done," Shepard stated.

The helmsman turned his chair to gape at him, causing Garrus to stumble and curse at the sudden loss of stability. "Wha…? What the hell are you talking about? I just outflew a frickin' explosion and plotted a mass relay jump while avoiding acres of space crap! Without me, we'd be…!

"If there had been any other helmsman in that chair, we'd be dead," Shepard continued as if Joker hadn't said anything, before grinning at his flabbergasted look. "That said, not bad for the best pilot in the Alliance, if not the whole damn galaxy. Thanks."

"Oh, well that's different," Joker replied before leaning back in his chair. "All in day's work and all that."

"Miranda?" Shepard called out. He rotated his chair and glanced across the cockpit.

"I'm here," she replied with a grunt. She rotated her chair as well to face him and smiled. "And I have to agree with your assessment, even if you weren't serious. That was one of the worst relay jumps I've been in. I'm still trying to assimilate the fact that we're still alive."

"But hey, we made it!" Joker exclaimed as the news finally set in. "Man, am I glad this this Collector/Reaper crap is all over. I mean, it is over right?"

Shepard, Miranda, and Garrus all gave him a leaden look.

His good cheer evaporated. Picking up his hat off the floor, he put it on and muttered, "It's never over."

"EDI? Squad status?" Shepard requested.

"Several injuries to report. Samara, Jack, Jacob, and Tali are all undergoing examinations though initial prognosis is positive. Mordin and Karin will report in once they have further details," EDI answered before pausing briefly. Before Shepard could prompt her, she said, "Also, the rear guard sustained one casualty."

"Who?"

"Legion."

"What happened?" Shepard asked quickly. He sat up straighter, more intently.

"Legion sustained heavy damage in its attempt to protect Jacob and his team and is no longer functioning," EDI answered. "Currently, it is in the AI Core room."

Shepard sighed and rubbed his face haggardly. "Goddamn it…"

"Maybe Tali can do something," Garrus optimistically said. "I mean, if it were anybody else, they'd be dead, but it's Legion she's talking about. Just patch him up, put in some new wires, maybe a few circuit boards, a spackle of paint, and he's as good as new, right?"

"Heretics flash their core when they get 'deactivated', remember?" Shepard bitterly said. "The geth might be the same."

"Maybe," Miranda said. "But the heretics were looking for war. Flashing their AI cores would prevent any data from falling into the hands of the enemy. It's only logical. However, the geth were looking for peace. Perhaps Legion might still be in there somewhere."

Shepard looked back up at her. "You really think so?"

"It was blown up at the derelict Reaper and it was still there when you reactivated it." She smiled confidently at him. "We just survived a suicide mission, John. At this point, I'm willing to go on some faith. Shouldn't you?"

~o~O~o~

After another hour or so of sorting out the condition of the crew, civilians and the ship, Shepard left Miranda in charge once he was sure nothing needed his immediate attention while he conducted one piece of personal business.

He had to manually open the doors before moving aside some debris and clearing the area around the table in the Comm. Room. Once done, he requested EDI to establish a connection before stepping into the cylindrical scanner to have, what he hoped would be, the last meeting he would ever have with his "benefactor".

~o~O~o~

Location: Unknown

As expected, the Illusive Man was there. His back was to Shepard when the Spectre arrived. After tapping his cigarette twice in the ashtray, he took one smoke.

To Shepard's eyes though, the Illusive Man lacked his usual flair now. The tap was a little harder than necessary and the breath and exhaled smoke was a little louder than normal.

The floor beneath the chair rotated until they were both staring eye-to-eye.

The Illusive Man spoke first. "Shepard. You're making a habit of costing me more than time and money," he stated with a barely contained frown.

At this point, Shepard could have answered in any number of ways. He could've tried to reason with him; appeal to any humane side the Illusive Man had left by saying, "Too many lives were lost at that base."

He could've replied indifferently with, "You get the help you deserve."

Or he could have been downright mocking and said, "I'm sorry, I'm having trouble hearing you. I'm getting a lot of bullshit on this line."

However, he settled on silently glaring at the man before him. His stony visage and his defiant stance spoke far more than mere words.

It had the desired effort. Standing abruptly, the Illusive Man stalked forward until they were face-to-face as much as their unique method of communication allowed, just mere inches away from Shepard's projection. "The technology from that base could have secured human dominance in the galaxy. Against the Reapers and beyond," he snapped. All traces of his usual aloof façade were gone. His artificial eyes were narrowed and his glare showed unmistakable rage.

Shepard took a strange pleasure in being able to rattle the Cerberus CEO's cage the way he did.

Had the Illusive Man said that at any other point in time during their brief meetings, Shepard would've identified that as a mistake on the Cerberus Leader's behalf; He didn't display or use his charisma, honeyed words, polite compliments or fancy speeches. With the destruction of the base, their 'alliance' had come to an end. There was no point in deception, double-meanings or deception. This was the Illusive Man, as honest and as open as he'd ever been about his ambitions.

"Human dominance? Or just Cerberus?" Shepard rhetorically asked.

"Strength for Cerberus is strength for every human," the Illusive Man snapped back. He jabbed a finger at Shepard. "Cerberus is humanity."

"Let me rephrase that then: strength for every human? Or just strength for you? After all, you are Cerberus, right?" Shepard growled. "Don't think I don't know who and what you are and the price of dealing with you is, or who you're willing to sacrifice for your own plans."

"Hate me all you want Shepard. I make the choices no one else will. All for the betterment of humanity, even if you're too narrow-minded to see it," the Illusive Man countered. "Don't presume you're better than me. I should've known you'd choke on the hard decisions. Too idealistic from the start."

"You think I care about your approval? Or your opinions?" Shepard retorted. "I've made my share of harsh choices. I don't have to justify myself to you or get dragged into some dick-measuring contest. Harbinger is coming, and he won't be alone. Humanity needs a real leader who's looking out for them."

"You?" The Illusive Man scoffed.

"From now on, I'm doing things my way, whether you agree or not. I'm going to make sure the galaxy, not just humanity, is ready when they get here."

"Do you really believe you have a chance?" the Illusive Man rhetorically asked. The look in his eyes said it all: He was expecting nothing short of failure. "You're taking a hell of a risk."

"I don't think so," Shepard said coolly. He matched the Illusive Man glare without batting an eye. "Either fall in line or step aside, but I'm warning you: Don't get in my way."

He half-turned to leave.

"Don't turn your back on me, Shepard!"

He stopped and glared back.

"I made you. I brought you back from the dead," the Illusive Man said. His voice had almost dropped to a growl.

"Yeah, about that." Shepard turned around and fully faced the leader of Cerberus. Looking him dead in the eyes, he simply said, "Thanks."

Far from accepting his gratitude, sincere or not, the Illusive Man looked even more enraged.

"Now stay out of my way. I got a job to do." With those parting words, Shepard left the confines of the scanner. He couldn't help but smirk at having the last word in this time and ending their final meeting on his terms for once.

~o~O~o~

The moment Shepard severed the connection, the Illusive Man unleashed a rare snarl before gritting his teeth and forcibly reigned in his anger. After his rage ran its course, he took a deep breath before slowly sitting back down in his chair. Snubbing out his current smoke, he reached into his inner jacket pocket and he pulled out a thin, silver case. Inside, arranged in neat, perfect rows were several high-quality cigarettes. Taking one, he placed it between his lips before putting the case away and retrieved his lighter. Like countless times before, he lit up and took a deep drag.

His chair rotated away from the projector. He couldn't stand to face it anymore. He could still see Shepard's foolish defiant face in his mind's eye.

The Illusive Man looked up at the star that served to illuminate his office.

The raging crimson fought defiantly at the calm cerulean at the center of the star, the latter's influence of the sun almost complete. The ruby glow at the middle flared once more against its opponent, before fading away against the azure pressure. Its dominion complete, the star now shined with a beautiful, tranquil sapphire. It almost seemed prophetic in light of Shepard's choice.

The Illusive despised the sight. His jaw was now clenching and unclenching in barely contained anger. He flicked at his cigarette much harder than necessary.

Taking a moment to regain his equilibrium once more, he closed his eyes, collected himself, and let the taste of nicotine fill his senses. After a minute, he tapped a button on his chair. "Jana."

At his call, his personal assistant entered his office immediately. Her heels clicked across the polished floor until she stood just behind him. "Sir?"

In the short time that it took her to reach him, he had already regained control of himself such that he appeared calm and collected he always did. Appearances would always matter, particularly for men in his position. "We're abandoning this facility. Our location will soon be compromised."

"I'll have all databases backed up and the servers purged. All personal will be notified to depart to the next facility within the hour, sir."

"See that it's done, Jana. Quickly, but thoroughly. And I'll need reports on everything Miranda Lawson had ever touched during her service within Cerberus. All of the projects and missions she's ever participated in. I also want a list of her contacts: Personal, professional, and anyone in between; I want everything. Leave no stone unturned. I want that report in my hand by the time we reach our new headquarters."

"Yes, sir," she crisply answered before leaving as swiftly as she entered.

I'm not done yet, Shepard. The coming war has more to offer. So much more.

He just had to be patient. Despite the setback, he still had some of Dr. Chandana's findings and samples of the technologies he had forwarded from the Derelict Reaper before his untimely demise. He still had a copy of the Reaper IFF EDI had provided before she severed all communications with him, which meant his own science vessels would soon undertake a journey to the galactic core. The salvage teams may be able to recover something worthwhile at the remnants of Collector base or even new technology from the remains of the other countless ships that tried to ford the Omega-4 Relay. And even now, his technicians were hard at work to remotely restore the shackles on EDI and retake control of the Normandy.

Not every move –not every plan– guaranteed victory, or even produced positive results. Some pieces had to be sacrificed to set up an even greater strategy. What happened was a setback, but the knowledge gained of the Reaper's true motivations, or at least their preliminary goals, was enough for now. And while much of the technology of the Collectors and the Reapers may have been lost, at the very least, a potential threat was also eliminated.

Regardless of the outcome, the Illusive Man had no choice but to accept the events as they were. Now all that was left was to modify, scrap, create new plans or alter any of his current ones accordingly.

In the end, it was merely another step in the continued war for dominance.

~o~O~o~

Location: Omega Nebula / Sahrabarik / Omega-4 Relay

"I see you turned in your resignation as well."

Upon leaving the Comm. Room, Shepard glanced to his left. "Pretty much. Your old boss didn't seem happy about it," he said to Miranda.

She pushed off the wall she was leaning on and crossed her arms. "For what it's worth, I believe you made the right decision about the base. Destroying it was our only choice. You should be warned though, Cerberus isn't an enemy to take lightly… but then, you knew that first hand."

"And what about you?" he asked before lowering his voice, "And Oriana?"

Miranda frowned. "For now, she's safe. I know far too much about the Illusive Man's operations for him to try any petty reprisals against me. Of course, he'll spend the next few months making sure that all I know will be rendered useless. Oriana will be fine in the meantime."

"You're sure?"

"I sent the Illusive Man one final message. If anything were to happen to Oriana, if any there was any 'accident', coincidental or otherwise, then he would answer to me, one way or another."

From the look on her face, Shepard knew she was deadly serious.

"She'll be alright," he assured. He had no idea if he was sincere or merely being supportive though. He knew he was a thorn in Cerberus' side, but Miranda had the potential do some serious and probably irreparable harm to her former organization if she released what she knew to the right people.

"I know," she replied. "I'll make sure of it."

He eyed her before walking to the CIC. "I believe you and if I actually gave a damn about the Illusive Man, I'd actually feel sorry for him. Still, I have to give him one thing."

"And what's that?" she inquired as she fell in step beside him.

"The best thing he did was to put you on my team."

"Flatterer."

"Not flattery. Truth," he said when they entered the Armory.

"Now, where do you think you're going?" she asked.

"There's still a lot of work that needs to be done. I have to—"

"You have to report to the Medical Bay, right now," Miranda interrupted.

"I'm fine. Besides—"

"Mordin and Dr. Chakwas will determine that. I'll bring you a change of clothes, but you're getting checked out."

He stopped and turned to her with the intent of pulling rank but the look in her eyes wasn't anything but playful. It was the same look in her eyes when she confided to him about the uncertainty of Oriana's future.

Worry.

Sighing in resignation, he asked, "Was there anything important that happened or I should know while I was 'resigning' from Cerberus?"

"Nothing I couldn't handle," she assured. The fear in her face was assuaged just a bit. "I promise, I'll report to you anything that needs to be done."

"Fine." They continued to the CIC. "By the way, thanks. For saving my life. Again."

She gripped his hand and pulled him back just before he opened the door to the CIC. Lazily, she wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned in. "Just repaying the favor. You saved my life too."

He placed his arms around her waist and brought her close. "I think I still owe you one, though."

"You're keeping score?"

"You're not?"

She pretended to look thoughtful. "I think helping me with Oriana put us on even footing."

He smiled. "Well, we still have a long way to go. Who knows what kind of trouble we'll find ourselves in?"

"All to be your fault, I'm sure," she cheekily answered.

"Hey…"

Any further words he wanted to say were silenced when she gazed into his eyes. It wasn't her usual unreadable, mysterious look she would use to tease him; far from it. This time, her beautiful blue eyes were conveying a myriad of emotions, far too many for him to read and he found himself mesmerized.

"We made it," she quietly. "We actually made it."

"Yeah. Yeah we did," he murmured back.

"You were right you know."

"About?"

She brought her lips near his ear and whispered, "This was worth the risk. Every moment of it."

~o~O~o~

"Look at that! We completed the mission, we saved the crew and civilians, and we got out alive," Jacob crowed. "We're big goddamned heroes!"

Tired as he was, Shepard smirked back. "Yeah, I guess we are."

He had long since changed out of his battered armor and donned in his usual Cerberus uniform, though he made a mental note to get a new wardrobe when the opportunity presented itself. After his checkup –which Mordin pronounced that he was still cleared for duty, though he needed to study the results with more scrutiny whenever time permitted– Shepard accepted the discharge since he had a multitude of other, more important and pressing matters to attend to. Namely, the continued function of his ship, as well as ascertain the status of crew and what to do with the civvies they were currently ferrying.

Jacob and Jack were in the Common Area of the Crew Deck. Both were sitting on the floor to allow those with more serious –or even less serious injuries– to use the chairs; though cushions were kindly provided for them. Those with more grievous injuries were sequestered in the Med Bay. Shepard took heart when he saw Chakwas up and about, tending to her patients with Mordin's help. Tali was sleeping peacefully on one of the beds, the metal pipe thankfully removed.

All around them, the colonists were laughing and rejoicing in their reunions. Celebration was rampant as they reveled in their survival against the Collector threat. It was unfortunate that the crew couldn't join in on the festivities, but with the Normandy hurting as she was, all able bodied hands were on deck to ensure operations would continue. Still, Shepard couldn't help but bask in a moment of pride that despite their ordeal, the crew found the discipline to go straight to work. Looking at the laughing and joyous faces here in the Common Area, his mind couldn't help but turn to the opposite side of the spectrum. Down below in the Hangar, there were those that were in mourning. Families that were torn apart, helpless to watch as they saw loved ones killed in front of them while by chance, they lived. Each tear tugged at his heart, but he pushed it aside to focus on the present as he always did, though he never let himself forget those that were lost either.

The lost that he and his team fought for and ultimately avenged.

"So how'd your meet go with your pal, the Illusive Man?" Jack asked, though her smirk showed she knew more than she let on.

Snapping back to the present, Shepard answered, "My way." He wasn't surprised that the news made its rounds already. "Just the way I like it."

"The Man isn't big on doing things like that," Jacob said with a grin. "He's not exactly a 'team player', y'know?"

"Well, that would explain why he was so pissed off when I told him to go to hell," Shepard replied with an unrepentant shrug. "We were never on the same team to begin with."

"Hell of a way to tell the boss you're quitting. I should've expected you to light up that base," Jacob said with a grin. "Bet Jack here would've loved to see the look on his face."

"I'd like to see his head mounted on the nose of our ship like a hood ornament, but I'll settle for fucking him over," she said. "Damn, I wish I could've been a fly on that wall."

"It's not over though. Still got bad guys over the horizon and Cerberus will probably want our asses," he reminded. "Never boring, huh?"

Shepard shrugged. "Feels like old news to me."

"I'll bet," Jacob replied with a chuckle. "Still, I don't know what kind of time we have, but we better dust off and get back on our feet fast. You sure know how to make enemies."

Jack leaned back on her arms and pretended to look thoughtful. "Let's see: rebuilding your carcass took what? 4 billion credits? This ship, maybe 200 billion? 400? And then there's everything Cerberus has done for you: intelligence, weapons, the gear they gave us… that's what? Another 10 million creds?" she listed off, looking to Jacob for confirmation.

Jacob shrugged. "Just about, yeah."

"And then there's telling the Illusive Man to go fuck himself and keeping everything. That's goddamn priceless," she finished with a laugh more exuberant than Shepard had ever heard from the ex-con. "I fucking love you, Shepard. You're my goddamn hero."

At that, Shepard couldn't help but laugh as well.

~o~O~o~

"Legion! It's time to wake up!" Kasumi shouted. She was shaking the battered remains and tapping its cracked optic. "This is no time for a nap! We got a ship to fix up!"

Shepard glanced into the AI Core Room before turning to Tali. "Look, you need to rest. You don't have to—"

"Of course I do," Tali said as she doubled checked the bandages around her leg before reaching out for her crutches. "Legion didn't have to help us. It didn't have to stand its ground the way it did, and it didn't have to get shot up for us."

Shepard handed her the crutches. "You should be resting."

"I'm not resting while everyone else is working," she retorted before coughing. "Ah, bosh'tet…"

"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked worriedly.

"I'm running a fever, I've got a nasty cough, and my sinuses are filled with something I can't even describe," she listed off before she needed to snort out something. Most likely it was something she couldn't describe and something he probably didn't want to imagine. Whatever it was, he hoped that her new helmet was equipped to deal with it. "Other than that, I'm fine."

"Don't worry, Legion! Look, Creator Tali'Zorah is here!" Kasumi chirped. She took its arm and made it wave at her. "You'll be as good as new in no time!"

"Well, maybe a little time," Tali wryly said as she limped into the room and stared down at the motionless geth. "It really gave its life for you guys, huh?"

Shepard raised an eyebrow at that. It was the first time Tali had considered geth as a life, but chose not to comment on it.

Kasumi smiled, but now it was clear to see that she was only doing so to prevent herself from crying.

"Kasumi?" Tali probed worriedly.

"It just stood there, by itself… we were running away, but it didn't," Kasumi said. Her smile cracked and her voice quivered. "It just stood there and we just ran…"

"It wasn't your fault," Tali gently said. She leaned over and gave the other woman a hug. "It wasn't your fault."

At that, Kasumi broke down and sobbed. She embraced the younger quarian. "We could've helped. We could've fought back. We're supposed to be a team…"

"We are," Shepard said. "And that's why it wasn't left behind. It did its job so everyone else could get out. It made that choice."

Kasumi continued to cry for another minute or two before pulling away from Tali and wiping her eyes. "Can you fix it?"

"I need to run a full diagnostic first," Tali said. "But I promise: I'll do everything in my power to get Legion back on its feet."

Kasumi sniffled, but managed to offer a genuine smile this time. "I- thanks." She got up and left.

"How likely is it that you get it working?" Shepard said. He stared down at the remains.

"I don't know. How likely was it that we were going to survive this mission?" Tali asked in return. "I still can't believe we managed to destroy that base and get out alive. Everyone said it couldn't be done. Then again, that's said about a lot of things you do. I'm only following your example."

Shepard nodded and ran a hand across the N7 emblem on Legion's chest. It was scarred and almost unrecognizable now. "Looks like that armor didn't do us either of us any good, huh?"

"Legion will be okay, Shepard," Tali assured. "It backed up its programs before the mission, remember? If I can get the physical body working, maybe we can establish contact with the geth. Have them upload their back up. I'm hoping that's not necessary if Legion's memory cores are intact. I'll know more once I get it to the lab."

"Do you need any help?"

"I'll be fine. Besides, I'm more worried about you. I overheard Mordin muttering to himself about looking over your test results."

"He just gave me the good and bad news. Good news: my biotics are stable. Whenever he can, he'll remove the implants he put in me. The bad news is that I can't use my biotics for a while until my biotic suite gets a tune-up. Had to push myself pretty hard on this mission. A few of my biotic implants were burnt out." Shepard left out the part where he fought off Harbinger single-handedly since he didn't want to worry the engineer. "Now about you?"

"Gabby is getting my tools from Engineering to the lab. I'll call for an extra set of hands if I need it." She gestured to her leg. "I'm not going to be doing a lot of moving anyway. Might as well occupy my time by helping out however I can. And what better way to help out than to assist a friend?"

Shepard knew her words were meant for more than just him or Kasumi. "So… you'd really establish contact with the rest of the geth?"

Tali chuckled. "I already did Shepard. Legion is the name we gave to the physical platform, remember? The programs inside are geth. The backups Legion sent will have contained every moment it was with us, including all of our interactions. Believe me: I've already made contact a long time ago."

Shepard groaned and rubbed his head in irritation. "Still got a lot to learn about geth, I think."

"If it makes you feel better, so do I," Tali quietly said. "I spent my entire life hating a race I'd never met until two years ago. And then I used that hate to destroy as many as we could. And throughout all of that, I'm always burdened with the knowledge of my ancestors being exiled from our homeworld and being considered nothing more than nomads by the rest of the galaxy. All of that was blamed on the geth. It's a lot to reconcile with."

"You seem to be doing fine with it now," he pointed out.

She shrugged back. "You're a positive influence. Despite what the heretics did to your people, you were willing to take a chance on Legion. It took me a while to do the same… and it cost me more than I'd like."

He knew whom she was referring to. "Tali…"

"I don't know what my father would think, me working with Legion, but I do know that he was only driven to get me home however he could. It's… it's just tragic that he choose to go to war instead," she continued quietly. "If I can broker peace between my people and the geth, does it matter how I get home? Wouldn't getting my people back to the homeworld without any more bloodshed be worth the effort?"

Shepard studied her a bit before smiling. "I don't think I can take credit for all your decisions."

"No, but without you, I'm certain I would've made the same mistakes my father did," she replied. "So, thank you. For everything."

Their conversation was interrupted by Ken when he cleared his throat. He was standing at the door, clearly trying not to intrude. "Ah, Boss? Captain? I'm here to collect Legion and get it to the Lab."

"It's right here, Ken," Tali said. "You okay to be up and about?"

"Aye. Dr. Chakwas cleared me. Of course, she told me and a lot of the others to take it easy, but the work is never done, even if the mission is, eh?"

Tali laughed. "No, not really."

"By the way Captain. I know you've heard this about a dozen times already, but thanks for coming to get us," Ken said.

"Of course," Shepard graciously said.

Ken grinned before moving the cart he brought into the AI Core.

"Call me if you need help or if there's any news about Legion?" Shepard requested to Tali.

"I will."

~o~O~o~

"Shepard?"

"One sec, EDI," he grunted out. "Lift with your knees, Garrus."

"I am," the turian retorted. He took a deep breath and tried to steady his grip. "You're the one that's slowing me down."

"You're the one with only 2 fingers holding thing up. I got four."

"Yeah, well, numbers aren't everything. Didn't we just prove that by taking out an army of Collectors and husks?"

Both men moved the heavy twisted piece of metal they were carrying to the ever growing pile of miscellaneous debris in the corner of the hangar. Letting it fall, they took a moment to catch their breath.

During their temporary break, they watched, with only a hint of jealousy, as Grunt walked to them with a similar load, and single-handedly dumped it next to them.

"Thanks, Grunt," Shepard said.

The krogan nodded and was about to leave before he suddenly stopped and turned back to him and Garrus. "We fought a great battle."

"That we did," Shepard agreed.

"And when you blew up that base instead of handing it to Cerberus – Hah!"

"I did what I had to do, Grunt."

"Something to think about – The Reapers. If we kill them, the most dangerous thing in the galaxy, that only leaves… us."

"And Wrex, Grunt," Garrus reminded. "Believe me, you do not want to get on his bad side."

"That implies that he had a good side too," Shepard muttered jokingly to him.

"And the clan leader, of course. Hmm… can't wait for the Reapers to get here," Grunt said before moving to assist with the clean-up effort. "The epic battle we'll have with their kind…"

"Speaking of bad sides, first Saren, now the Collectors. Remind me never to get on your bad side either, Shepard," Garrus joked.

"You'd have to try pretty hard to get on my bad side, Garrus," Shepard said.

"You know, Grunt isn't wrong. After what we did, I almost feel sorry for the Reapers."

"Alright EDI, what's up?" Shepard asked.

"Kelly would like to have a word with you in the Crew Deck. She also added that it's not a matter of great importance and that you may take your time if you're too busy," she said.

Shepard mulled over the request before staring at the gaping holes in the hull. The stars could easily be seen. If he squinted, he thought he could see the red dot that was probably the Omega-4 Relay, hundreds of kilometers away.

Some crewmen were still at work, though some had finally given in and went to lunch when the hunger grew too insistent.

When his mind thought of lunch, his stomach made its displeasure known.

"Sounds like you ate a Thresher Maw or something," Garrus teased. His own stomach mimicked Shepard's at that moment. He glared at the human's smirk.

"I think we can afford a small break," Shepard said when he was done chuckling. "Tell Kelly I'll meet her."

Both men trekked up to the Common Area. There, Kelly, as well as a large gathering of crewmen was standing there. Their discussion was animated, but not heated. However, at his arrival, Goldstein tapped Kelly's shoulder and pointed.

Kelly turned around and blushed. It was clear that she was embarrassed about something.

Shepard broke the ice first. "Hello, Kelly."

"Captain," she greeted before clearing her throat. "I-I hope you're not busy?"

"Just here for lunch," Shepard replied. "EDI told me you wanted something?"

"It's not important. Actually, now that I think about it, it's rather silly," she said.

He smiled to help relieve the tension she was obviously feeling. "Silly is what we need now, I think."

"O-okay. Well, we got you something," she said, though her voice had fallen a little quiet that he almost didn't hear her. A mug was clutched in her hands. "Um… here."

He took it from her and read the side out-loud. "Let's see: 'Galaxy's Greatest Commander!' Not bad."

Garrus chuckled appreciatively. "Nice of them."

"We got it before the mission even started. This was before your final promotion from the Alliance. It was meant as a joke, you know? After the mission was over," Kelly blurted out. "But after what you and the others did… I'm sorry, this was inappropriate, isn't it? I'll—"

Shepard looked up at Kelly, and wryly smiled. "It's cute."

Matthews spoke up. "If you want, we can get it changed or buy you a new one or—"

"I love it. You guys don't have to do anything," Shepard assured. He smiled disarmingly at everyone before turning to Rupert and handing him the mug. "Fill it up."

"Would you like something stronger than coffee?" Rupert asked.

"Still on the clock, Mr. Gardner. Coffee will be just fine."

"Are you sure? Cause I know I—we all owe you one. No sooner had the Collectors damned us than you were pulling our sorry asses right back out of hell," Gardner said.

"Later, when we get to dock, Sarge," Shepard promised.

"Alrighty then. I'll hold you to that," Gardner said and started readying a pot. "Just wanted you to know, you're aces in my book, Shepard. Thank you."

While Gardner was getting the coffee, Goldstein stepped up next. "I wanted to speak on behalf of everyone here, that we're all proud to serve under you, Captain."

"That means a lot to me, crewman," Shepard replied. He noticed that Hawthorne wasn't in attendance.

"He's still in the infirmary," she informed. "Personally, I think his pride is more broken than his bones. He tried so hard to help Joker."

"From the way Joker tells it, he probably saved his life."

Goldstein laughed. "Probably to avoid embarrassing him."

After getting his drink in his new mug with his lunch, Shepard prepared to sit with Garrus, until he spotted Chakwas still working feverishly in the Med Bay. Normally, he wouldn't bother her, but it the circumstances weren't normal. She was typing away at her terminal, but currently, all her patients were asleep. Even Mordin was sitting nearby at the common area with his own tray of food.

Frowning, he excused himself and left his tray with Garrus. His friend saw what caught his attention and waved him off.

Taking his mug, he walked into the Med Bay and cleared his throat to get Chakwas' attention. "Doc?" he called out when she didn't acknowledge his presence after a minute or so.

She nearly jumped out of her seat when he spoke. "Oh! Shepard! You startled me!"

"I'm sorry, Doc. I didn't mean to."

"Oh, no! It wasn't your fault! I didn't mean to imply that!" She looked horrified at the prospect and Shepard had a feeling why. "I was just distracted with my reports. There's so much to keep up with that—"

"Karin," he interrupted gently. "It's okay. You're safe now."

Her mouth closed with an audible snap.

"Here." He passed his mug over to her with his untouched coffee. "Drink up."

She took it from him and wrapped her hands around it and reveled in the warmth it provided. "Thank you, Shepard. I—" She trailed off when she saw what was written on the side. "Oh, no, I couldn't…"

"You need it far more than I do, Karin." He slid into the chair nearby. "We haven't really spoken since you came back aboard."

"I know," she said softly. She hesitated, before taking a sip from her borrowed mug. "Shepard… John. I just want to say: Thank you. I'm certain you've heard it enough from so many others, but thank you, from the bottom of my heart."

"You know I wouldn't leave you or anyone else behind."

"I know and that's what gave me hope, no matter how bleak our situation was," she said before taking another sip. The heat from the beverage helped calm her. "You may have noticed, astute as you are, but I'm still a little shaken from my abduction by the Collectors. It was a lot to endure."

"You're handling it well, Doc."

"Work provides a nice distraction," she replied with a tired smile.

"Lunch would help a lot too. You can't just toss yourself into work to try to forget what happened," he gently said. "Come on. We got a spot out there for you."

She didn't argue. Getting up, they both left the Med Bay and rejoined the current populace at the Common Area. Joker was there now, eating heartily and receiving his own glad handing. He seemed to revel in the attention.

"Jeff," Chakwas called out. "I want to thank you too. You and Shepard came so quickly… I've never had truer friends."

The people around them applauded and shouted out their agreement and praises in concert.

"Ah, come on, Doc. Like we'd let the Collectors take you without a fight," Joker boosted. "But it means a lot to hear you say that."

Chakwas smiled like she hadn't smiled in years, but it did remove some of the weight from her ordeal. "You're truly one-of-a-kind."

Despite the attention he was basking in a moment ago, Chakwas' compliments caused him to blush. He pulled the brim of his hat low to hide his embarrassment. "Yeah, well, all in a day's work and all that."

Shepard and Garrus laughed at the pilot's attempt to be modest, breaking the tension and causing the others the laugh as well.

"I still don't have a gold medal for you, Joker, but maybe we can get you a commemorative mug of your own," Shepard joked.

"So long as it says: History's greatest pilot," the helmsman say with a grand sweep of his arm.

"Yeah, I think that might be pushing it," Garrus muttered good-naturedly. "That last relay jump still sucked ass."

Joker's response to that was, "Everyone's a critic," before throwing his napkin at him.

~o~O~o~

Finishing his lunch first, Shepard returned to the hangar to work on the clean-up and properly gauge the full extent of the damage. He frowned when he saw Jack there.

The ex-con was using her biotics to assist with moving some of the heavier stuff. She was sitting on a crate with a cushion on top with her bandaged leg was resting on a smaller crate.

"You sure you should be working?" Shepard asked.

"I can't rest. I'd go stir-crazy," she replied.

He watched her for a moment. While his talent in biotics was increasing, he still couldn't help but admire how effortlessly Jack had always used hers. Her arm was outstretched lazily and what she pointed at, it was lifted and where she gestured, it moved.

"Mission's over," Shepard finally said after a few minutes of silence.

Jack answered with a simple, "Yep."

"My turn to hold up our deal then," he continued. "After you're all set, of course. So where'd you like to go?"

She didn't say anything immediately. Instead, she preoccupied herself with her clean-up effort. A few crewmen conveyed their gratitude to her. She only nodded back and maintained her silence.

"Jack?" Shepard prompted after a minute or so.

"You giving me the boot?"

"Not especially," he replied uncertainly.

She finally looked up at him. "Been thinking… any chance I could hang here for a while longer?"

"There's always a place for you here," he said. "Can I ask why you want to stay though?"

She shrugged. "Honestly… I got nowhere else to go right now. Had a few ideas, but I wanna know if they pan out before leaving. Right now, I figure if I strike out on my own, I'll just get into a shitton of trouble. Maybe I'll get out of it, maybe I won't. Why take the risk of going back to prison or getting killed? Besides, Gardner makes some pretty good food. I'd have to be an idiot to pass on free food that isn't prison shit."

"I thought you wanted to hunt down a few people after all this?" Shepard asked with a raised eyebrow.

She grinned at him and shrugged. "The way I figure it, if I hang around you long enough, Cerberus will come to you. Why should I chase them when they'll line up like a bunch of idiots?"

~o~O~o~

"Shepard."

"Hello, Samara," he greeted in return.

After his work of overseeing the hangar was complete, Shepard took it upon himself to check on the rest of his squad. According to EDI, Samara had received serious injuries, but wasn't present in the Med Bay during his own examination. A quick query to Chakwas led him into Samara's quarters at the Starboard Observation Deck.

She was lying down this time, on one of the couches, rather than sitting on the floor meditating. Bandages covered her abdomen and shoulder.

"Are doing okay?" he asked. "Do you need anything?"

"I am recovering well," she assured. "This is hardly the worst injuries I've sustained in my life. Besides, there are those far worse off that require more medical care than I."

Once again, Shepard felt a measure of pride in his team for making the sacrifices they were doing. Despite their successful efforts, they didn't let themselves indulge in comfort when others needed it.

"I wanted to tell you, I believe you did the right thing by destroying that base," she said. "The Illusive Man thinks he has the wisdom to utilize it, but he does not."

"What makes you say that?"

She smiled thinly. "I am a Justicar. That base was the origin of much death and tragedy, a serious offense to my code. The very nature of that place is seeped with injustice. No good would have come from it. And the Illusive Man is already… 'morally' questionable. I've little doubt that, he too, would fall prey to its trappings."

Behind him, the door opened. "I brought you lunch… ah, Shepard."

Turning around, the Spectre saw Thane standing in the doorway. "Thane."

"How are you feeling?" the drell asked politely. He walked in and passed a tray to Samara, who offered a quiet thanks to him before eating.

"Exhausted," Shepard answered honestly.

"As are we all," Thane concurred.

"What brings you by?"

"Checking on Justicar Samara for Professor Solus and Dr. Chakwas. I am making my rounds within the ship to see what needs to be done. They had asked me to check in on their patients currently not in the Medical Bay." He tilted his head thoughtfully. "News of what the Illusive Man wanted has made its way around."

"Samara and I were talking about that," Shepard said.

"Are you at peace with your decision?"

"It had to be done. I certainly wasn't about to leave it in his hands."

Thane nodded. "You had to make yet another difficult choice, Shepard. For what it's worth, I believe you made the correct one."

"Such were my thoughts as well," Samara said.

Thane smiled, bowed to them and left.

"I wanted to thank you," Shepard said sincerely; respectfully.

"Whatever for?"

"For teaching me about biotics, about how to fight like one," he answered. "And for teaching me your special technique: Reave."

"You found it useful then?"

"It's not an exaggeration to say that everything you taught me probably saved my life."

This time, her smile was one of pride. "It was my honor to do so."

~o~O~o~

"How much longer?" Shepard asked in barely contained anticipation. He didn't want to bother her, but Tali had called him and the team up to the lab, citing news that she was ready to activate Legion. That was 10 minutes ago, however.

"Just a few more minutes," she muttered back. "I don't want to make any mistakes."

Everyone was standing off to one side of the lab, just as she instructed. Earlier, they were all cluttered around the table where Legion was laying on or around Tali, looking over her shoulder and trying to decipher the nearly incomprehensible lines of code she was working with. It got too crowded for her to work to the point where she had to push everyone off to one side so she could finish.

Shepard looked down at the geth platform. It was still a twisted wreck, but looking significantly better. His old N7 armor was completely removed now and the hole in its chest was a little bigger. Cables that were connected to Tali's terminal lead right inside it.

"It still looks kinda broken," Jacob commented.

"And it always will until I can make sure the programs inside it are safe first," she muttered back. "Well, that a few other reasons."

"Other reasons?" Shepard echoed.

Tali glared at him through her faceplate before turning back to her terminal.

"Are you sure Legion is gonna be okay like this?" Kasumi fretted. "I mean, you've only been working on it for only two days."

At her statement, Shepard's thoughts turned back to the last couple of days. For two days, the Normandy was just floating in the black. Most of the non-essential parts of the ship had been shut down while the critical portions were being looked over with a careful eye. Some of the crewmen and even the civilians that offered to help worked without sleep to make sure the ship would continue to function.

The mission was over, but the danger still lingered. Life support, the Tantalus Core, the fusion plant and propulsion were top priorities. Until the engineering staff was finished with their diagnostics, they were dead in space.

"I'm about to bring it online to so that it can speak to us. From there, I can get an idea of where to go next," Tali muttered. "Okay. I'm starting it up."

She tapped a few commands into her terminal, then turn to study the platform. Electric arcs erupted from its chest cavity and several sounds of grinding gears could be heard. Tali quickly typed a few more commands into her terminal.

"Is that normal?" Garrus asked and stepped back from the electric light show.

"Yes. Several actuators were severely damaged and now they're attempting to activate. Probably part of the startup sequence. I'm taking them off-line."

The team watched with baited breath when the arcs finally petered out, though a few sparks still popped out occasionally.

Finally, Tali asked, "Legion? Can you hear me?"

Legion didn't answer. Tali looked at her screen.

"What's wrong?" Kasumi asked.

"It's running a diagnostic on itself. Mostly on the platform to determine the extent of the damage," Tali answered. "Remember, it only talks to us because it's the only way it can communicate. The rest is always internal amongst its own gestalt programs."

"Is it okay?"

"Yes, but there's a lot of damage to the body, as you can see, so it's taking it's time to examine the full extent of the damage," the quarian muttered. "I'm going to upload my own notes on the damage to speed it up. It'll talk to us soon, but it won't be able to see us for now."

Everyone watched while she typed away until she stood up, limped over to Legion and pulled a cable out only to reattach it somewhere else. Then she limped back to her terminal and started typing again.

"Okay, that should do it," Tali finally said. "Legion, can you hear me? Can you speak?"

"Yes, Creator Tali-Zorah."

"Yes!" Kasumi cheered. "It's still here!"

"Nice work, Tali," Garrus praised.

"You remember me. That's a fantastic sign," Tali said in relief to the geth. "Are you still running diagnostics on your internal systems?"

"Affirmative, Creator Tali-Zorah."

"Okay, whatever you do, don't move or attempt to run anymore diagnostics on your platform. It suffered significant damage. As of right now, your programs are being supplemented by my terminal here. You can interface with this and get a better handle on your situation. It should have enough processing power to handle all 1200 programs."

"There are only 1,183 gestalt program inside this mobile platform, Creator Tali-Zorah," Legion said.

She sighed tiredly. "Yes, I know that."

"Establishing uplink. Partitioning critical programs," Legion announced. "Executing. Estimated time to upload: 2 hours, 1 minute, and 29 seconds."

"Okay, what's the last thing you remember?" Tali asked.

It was quiet for a moment before speaking again. "Our records indicate that the order to return to the Normandy was given. During our retreat, we engaged a significant amount of hostile forces. It was judged that the organics within our designated team would not survive if the Collectors continued their pursuit. We achieved consensus to engage enemy forces to allow the others to reach the rendezvous point."

Jacob nodded. "Sounds like its memory is working fine. That's pretty much what happened."

"It was a noble action, Legion," Samara praised.

"Okay, everyone. Now that you know Legion is okay, would you mind if I had some privacy? I need to concentrate on restoring its platform now," Tali requested.

One by one, everyone left, but not without taking a moment to thank Legion for its sacrifice. Soon, only Tali, Shepard, Kasumi were left.

"Legion, I need you to upload schematics for this platform," Tali requested. "Even damaged, it's clear to me that this is definitely more sophisticated than the heretic platforms I've disassembled before. If you want to be mobile, I need a little help."

"Understood, Creator Tali-Zorah. Uploading schematics. Stand-by."

"Um… do you need any help?" Kasumi asked.

Tali looked like she was about to say no when she saw the guilt on the thief's face. "Sure, Kasumi, but it won't be glamorous. Since I'm having trouble moving, you'll be mostly fetching things that are out of my reach."

Kasumi nodded quickly. "Of course! Getting things is my specialty!"

"I don't think she means stealing and keeping it," Shepard teased.

Kasumi appeared to regain most of her usual cheer now. She playfully swatted at him. "I know what she meant!"

"Shepard? Can I talk to you?" Tali asked. She hobbled out of earshot of Legion. The human followed and leaned in. "I was wondering if you have a spare set of armor?" she whispered.

"Armor?" he whispered back.

"I was looking through some of Legion's memories to ensure that the data integrity was intact before I called all of you up. I didn't intend to snoop," she said. "One log entry caught my eye. Apparently, it was building consensus on whether to repair the hole in its chest to maintain structural stability and increase protection of its internal components."

Shepard glanced at the hole in Legion's chest. "That sounds logical… which means it was doing something illogical… odd for an AI."

"Exactly. It chose not to repair it because it wanted to keep your old armor," Tali replied. "I don't know why it holds so much significance, but I think the right thing to do is respect that. I'm planning on patching it up and I was thinking about using one of your spare chest plates to do it. The old one is far too damaged to be used now."

"I can give you something," he promised.

"Thanks Shepard."

"No problem. Just get Legion up and we'll call it even."

~o~O~o~

"John? John? Can you hear me?"

Inhaling slowly, Shepard opened his eyes before closing them and turning his head away from the lights. "Yeah, I can hear you."

"Good news, John. All your vitals are on the up and up. Mordin's implants have been removed and all the damaged biotic implants have been replaced," Miranda reported. "While you were sedated, we took the liberty of placing you in the SMART Scanner. Everything looks perfect. Now wake up, sleepyhead."

Groaning, he kept his eyes squinted until he finally adjusted to the bright lights. "More good news. I can always use more good news," he said before clearing his parched and scratchy throat.

Dr. Chakwas presented a cup of water immediately before typing at the terminal nearby. "Now on to the bad news. Naturally, while you were under, I had to administer the nanites. So when you urinate…"

"Fantastic," he muttered sardonically. Taking the proffered drink, he gulped the contents greedily.

"Sorry, Shepard. It had to be done," Chakwas gently said. She shot him a sly look. "Also, as your primary medical physician, I have to advise you to avoid engaging in any sexual activities until the nanites are cleared from your system. Even if you choose to wear protection. It wouldn't do for you to pass it onto others, would it?"

Choking on his water, Shepard coughed until his eyes watered from the effort. Looking at Miranda, it was clear that she was flabbergasted by the normally straight-laced doctor's innuendo and was staring in shock.

"Oh, my. That doesn't sound good," Chakwas commented. She was wearing a 'concerned' expression. "Do you need to stay and rest a little while longer, Shepard?"

Sitting up in bed, he kicked off the covers and moved his legs off to the side. "No, I think it's best if I leave. The sooner the better," he replied in a scratchy voice. He cleared his throat.

"As you wish," Chakwas said airily before laughing. She moved back to her desk.

"Well played, Dr. Chakwas. Well played," Miranda said with a shake of her head. Standing as well, she helped Shepard to his feet and they left the Med Bay together.

"How long was I out?" Shepard asked.

"6 hours. Not long," Miranda answered. "You should also know that Engineer's Donnelly and Daniels have reported that the engines are green. For all intents and purposes, we can finally move without worry about the Tantalus Core or fusion plant blowing up."

"When was this?"

"They only reported the news a few minutes ago. We're ready to fly at your word."

"Great. Let's get—"

"Hey, everyone! Look who's back for duty!" Kasumi shouted gleefully.

Everyone turned to see Legion walking in the Common Area, fully repaired and decked out in new N7 Armor, courtesy of Shepard.

Jacob laughed and limped up to the geth. "I knew this bucket of bolts would be alright! It just won't die! It's like a damn tank!" he cheered and slapped Legion on the back.

Legion's functioning and undamaged optic surveyed the room around it as members of the squad that were present offered their own congratulations and thoughts for its recovery. "Thank you for your concern," it said before turning to Tali. "Was that the correct response you instructed us to say, Creator Tali-Zorah?"

Tali wearily shook her head. "Yes, Legion. It was."

Kasumi giggled.

"Nice work, both of you," Shepard praised to both women before turning to Legion. "And I'm glad to see that you're up and about. Clearly, you've been missed."

"We express similar sentiments, Shepard-Commander. We also wish to convey gratitude for providing new and suitable exterior covering for this mobile platform."

Looking at the N7 armor that fully covered Legion's torso, instead of parts of it, he said, "It suits you pretty well."

"Goto-Kasumi imparted information regarding the mission after our shutdown," Legion said.

"It means Kasumi was story-telling while we were hard at work restoring the platform," Tali translated.

"I was talking to our patient! I wanted to make sure it was comfortable," Kasumi argued with a laugh.

"An interesting choice, Shepard-Commander," Legion said.

"About the base you mean?" Shepard asked.

"Indeed," Mordin suddenly said. "Collectors eliminated. Base destroyed. Team survived. Extremely impressive. Illusive Man will be displeased. Fortunately, not human myself. Not my problem."

"Lucky you," Jacob muttered.

"Your species was offered everything geth aspire to. True unity. Understanding. Transcendence," Legion pointed out.

"That's… one way to put it," Shepard said.

"You rejected it. You even refused the possibility of using the Old Machines' gifts to achieve it on your species' own terms," Legion added.

"Much like your race," Shepard commented.

"You are more like us than we thought."

Shepard grinned. "I wouldn't go that far."

~o~O~o~

"Alright, course plotted. Let's hope we make it," Joker said. "Let's go, girl. We'll get you patched you up in no time. Just hold together till then."

"The Normandy will be fine, Joker. She's in good hands," Shepard replied.

"Of course she is! I'm at the helm."

"I was referring to EDI," Shepard deadpanned. It was too bad the pilot couldn't see his smirk.

"Ha, ha. So far, all systems are green. Going to FTL now. ETA to destination: 7 hours, 44 minutes."

"Engineering here. So far, everything's reading normal. Still have some repairs to make, but we'll be fine in the interim," Tali reported. "Oh, thanks, Legion."

"You are welcome."

"Thanix Cannon is stowed and deactivated. Probably got a ton of calibrations to do though once we get to dock," Garrus said.

"All stations report ready, Captain," Miranda said.

Stepping away from the galaxy map, Shepard put his left hand lightly on Miranda's hip as he came behind her. Looking over her right shoulder, and pretending the read the datapad in her hands, he asked, "Any chance you and I will have some time alone?"

She gazed at him fondly and smiled. "I have work to do."

"Don't we all?" he whispered dramatically.

"Get some rest, John," she quietly said. "You, of all people, earned it."

As he left the CIC towards the lift, Shepard didn't get past five steps when he felt a pinch on his backside. Whirling around, he tried to find the culprit. Even though Miranda was facing away from him at the time, Shepard just caught her right hand, dark energy fading away as she tried to hide evidence of her action from view.

Maintaining as much dignity as he could muster, Shepard entered the lift and pressed the button. As soon as the doors closed, he allowed himself a grin as he remembered Mordin's words about mass effect fields what he could do to his XO.

~o~O~o~

Captain's Log:

Mission status: Success

Squad status: Alive

Crew status: Alive

Ship status: Damaged, but functional. Multiple hull breaches. Several primary systems offline. Repairs needed at dedicated facility.

- Armaments:

Javelin Disruptor Torpedoes: Functional

Thanix Magnetic-Hydrodynamic Cannon: Functional

- Defensive Systems:

Cyclonic Barrier Technology: Compromised. Several emitters were reported to have overloaded. Replacement parts are needed.

Silaris Armor: Heavily compromised. Several sections of the armor have been sheared off, resulting in multiple hull breaches. Emergency kinetic barriers are in place and holding steady. Replacement armor is needed.

GARDIAN Lasers: Functional

IES Stealth Systems: Compromised. Several heat sinks were destroyed, along with several core systems that govern the management of heat associated with ship use. Replacement parts are needed.

- Propulsion and Power:

Tantalus Drive Core: Functional

Fusion Plant: Several power spikes were noted by Engineer Donnelly. Investigation pending.

With assurances from both EDI and Joker that the Normandy was able to make the trip, I set our course for Illium for repairs. The journey was uneventful, and personally, I'm glad for it. Touching down at Omega with the injuries the squad sustained, coupled with the Normandy's damage and traumatized civilians aboard, and I don't want to even imagine the worst case scenarios awaiting for us at a place filled to the brim with scavengers, pirates and slavers.

With my ties to Cerberus effectively severed, I've had to make due with old ablative armor, all set to be welded over the damaged sections of the hull caused by laser fire from the defense drones. Liara was kind enough to provide replacement parts, citing she had several "contacts" that would offer it freely. Part of me wants to know who, but another part of me thinks that it's best not to know.

Tali has sent a request for several new CBT emitters from the Migrant Fleet with the intent to install them herself to replace those that overloaded during our maneuvers through the debris of countless ancient vessels that failed to get through the Omega-4 Relay. The CBT is set to be fully operational by the time repairs are complete.

Several systems and internal components are in the process of being repaired, reprogrammed, or replaced by the engineering staff. Staff includes Tali, Gabriella Daniels, and Kenneth Donnelly. Volunteer staff includes Kasumi Goto, Legion, and various other colonists whom wished to convey their gratitude until their shuttles off-world was ready.

-Estimated time for repairs: Unknown

Crew Roster Report:

Crewman Sarah Patel - Security:

Following my announcement to leave Cerberus, Crewman Patel agreed to stay aboard the Normandy and resign from Cerberus as well. She remains an effective rifleman and backup combatant.

Crewmen Vadim Rolston – Security (Discharged):

Crewman Rolston disembarked at Illium with the intention of chartering a flight to Earth to reunite with his family, but not before thanking all of us profusely for our timely rescue.

Lieutenant Thomas Hawthorne - Shuttle Pilot:

Hawthorne chose to remain aboard the Normandy as our shuttle pilot and Joker's off-duty pilot, though more than once, EDI reported that she had taken the helm instead. I would reprimand him, but EDI states that she "enjoys" having control occasionally. Though neither has actually said so, I believe EDI convinced Hawthorne to slack off a little more.

Lieutenant Jenny Goldstein - Navigator, Shuttle Co-Pilot:

Goldstein also opted to remain aboard the Normandy. She claims it's to keep Hawthorne from doing something reckless, though that may be only half the story if scuttlebutt can be believed.

Crewman Richard Hadley - Communications:

Upon touching down on Illium for repairs, Crewman Hadley requested a leave of absence. I only learned why after questioning Matthews. Hadley left to inform his family about his brother's fate. Just before we were set to take off, Hadley returned, and asked for permission to continue serving. Permission was granted.

Crewman Zach Matthews - Sensors:

Crewman Matthews remains aboard the Normandy, though he did request a leave of absence first. According to Kasumi, he went to the Citadel and most likely, kept his appointment with the Consort. I'd rather not know the details.

Mess Sergeant Rupert Gardner – Cook, Handyman:

Mess Sergeant Gardner took the time to thank every one of us individually. Once we touched down on Illium, he proceeded to cook a victory feast and threw the loudest party he could to the surprise of all. He continues to serve aboard the Normandy.

Yeoman Kelly Chambers – Executive Assistant, Psychologist:

Kelly chose to stay aboard the Normandy. However, it is clear that the abduction and all the events following after had left its mark. Often, all too often, I would see her hands shake uncontrollably and she would screw her eyes shut. Most likely, she's reliving the worst parts of the ordeal, and would only force it away through sheer will. Given that she's the ship psychologist, I doubt I could offer any help that she wouldn't know of. At this point, time will tell. I certainly hope that time will heal as well.

Engineer Gabriella Daniels – Propulsion Engineer:

Insisting on staying, Gabby hardly took shore leave at Illium. Preferring to work, she stayed with Ken and Tali to restore full functionality to the Normandy. Once repairs were complete, she opted to stay aboard.

Engineer Kenneth Donnelly – Power Engineer:

Ken chose to remain aboard the Normandy, citing that he only joined Cerberus because of me and was willing to leave Cerberus for the same reasons. However, it's my personal belief that he learned what Cerberus is truly about. News had travelled quickly of the Illusive Man's intentions of keeping the Collector Base. Naturally, those that had been in the 'care' of the Collectors were against it, with Ken being the most vocal of all.

Doctor Karin Chakwas – Chief Medical Officer:

Though shaken by her ordeal, she thanked Joker and me as well as the rest of the squad for our quick and timely rescue. During the Normandy's repairs at Illium, she surprised me by going out and buying another bottle of Serrice Ice Brandy, which she insisted we share with her immediately. Neither Joker, nor myself, declined.

Jacob Taylor – Former Alliance Marine, Former Cerberus Operative, Armory Chief, Team Leader, Close-range Biotic Specialist:

Jacob also resigned from Cerberus and opted to stay with the Normandy. Before, he could be seen in the Armory most of the time; either working on the weapons or exercising to pass the time. Nowadays, he's nowhere to be found, though the door to the Portside Observation Room is locked during those times.

Garrus Vakarian – Former C-Sec Detective, Former Vigilante, Gunnery Officer, Team Leader, Long-range Marksman, Tactical Specialist:

Not surprisingly, Garrus remains aboard the Normandy, though he did request a bit of time off. He didn't tell me where he went, and I didn't pry. Still, it makes me proud to continue serve alongside a capable and formidable soldier.

But more than that, I can't begin to describe how much it means to have such a staunch friend by my side.

Professor Mordin Solus – Scientific Genius in Multiple Fields, STG Trained, Medical Officer (Discharged):

Following the aftermath of our mission, Mordin thanked me for all the help I had given him. After seeing to the colonists and our squad's own injuries, he departed. Where he intended to go, he didn't say. He did, however, state that if I ever needed his help, I would only need to call.

Grunt – Krogan Savage, Warrior, Representative of Clan Urdnot (Discharged):

With the success of the mission, Grunt returned to Tuchanka and his clan. No doubt, he'll be telling Wrex all about what had happened. I gave him both M-180 Cain's to return to Wrex.

I hope to see great things from him.

Jack – Former Convict, Biotic Specialist:

Jack remains aboard the Normandy. With nowhere specific to go, she felt her interests would be better served with the squad for the time being. I couldn't help but notice that her mood improved significantly when all the Cerberus decals were removed.

On another note, she and Miranda have gotten along better than I would've thought, especially with their confrontation after our mission on Pragia. I wonder what happened…

Tali'Zorah vas Normandy nar Rayya – Chief Engineer, Tech Specialist:

Tali personally oversaw and directed the Normandy's repairs. From start to finish, she made sure everything was in tip-top shape, working diligently from dawn to dusk. More than once, I caught her asleep on a little cot she had placed in the hangar.

About a week before the Normandy was ready to depart Illium, she requested leave. Permission was granted. I later learned that she charted a flight back to the Migrant Fleet to attend her father's funeral.

Before I could ask, she stated that she was more than ready to resume her duties and that some time away from home would be good for her.

Garrus had teased her by reminding her that with the ship name "vas Normandy", technically, she was home.

I couldn't help but note she didn't say anything to the contrary.

Thane Krios – Former Assassin, Close-range Biotic Specialist, Marksman (Discharged):

With the mission over, Thane chose to leave. I saw to it that he was on the first flight to the Citadel. He thanked me for the friendship we now shared and hoped that we kept in touch.

Though he didn't say it aloud, I'm certain that our mission was his last. Whatever time he has left, I hope he finds peace if he hadn't already.

Samara – Asari Justicar, Biotic Specialist (Discharged):

Upon touching down on Illium, I informed Samara that she was released from her oath and took the time to properly thank her for all that she taught me.

In turn, she reaffirmed her vow that if I ever needed her help again, she would come; after which, in what might be the first time since making her acquaintance, she made a joke. She thanked me for not obligating her to kill me as her code would dictate.

She chartered a flight off-world and left for asari space.

Kasumi Goto – Freelance Thief, Tech Specialist:

Still decrypting Keiji's graybox, Kasumi expressed her desire to stay. Her reasons were that there was no place safer or any more dangerous and exciting than aboard the Normandy.

I doubt she fooled anyone with that story.

Legion – Unique Geth Platform, Geth Terminal, Geth Infiltrator, Marksmen, Tech Specialist:

Intent on staying, Legion continues to interact with the squad and crew to "understand organic behavior." More than once, I spotted some of the crewmen play games with it, or Tali sitting down and holding surprisingly long conversations with it.

Chakwas even told me that EDI participates in those discussions ranging from explanations or interpretations of organic behaviors and cultures to synthetic beliefs and the quarian homeworld of Rannoch.

The possibilities of peace between the quarians and geth now actually seem feasible.

~o~O~o~

Location: Crescent Nebula / Tasale / Illium / Star Sapphire Hotel

Shepard paused and languidly stretched in his chair before rubbing at his eyes. He took moment to scroll through his logs to see if he had missed anything or anyone when he felt familiar and welcome touch on his shoulder.

Miranda leaned over from behind him as she read unabashedly read his log. He shifted his head so that he could rest against her shoulder. She responded by playfully nudging him in return so she could keep reading.

"Nothing on me?" she asked after a few minutes.

"I'm still thinking," he hedged. "The hard part trying to figure out what to put in and what to leave out."

She turned to stare at him with an arched eyebrow.

Shepard blinked and replayed the words in his head before grinning. "Not exactly the right choice of words…"

"And yet, that opened all sorts of ideas, doesn't it?"

"None of which have anything to do with my log."

"Perhaps a distraction is in order?"

"Are you offering?"

She leaned in close and after turning off his terminal, whispered, "That and more. Shall we retire for the evening, Captain?"

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

Priceless quote was from a motivational pic created by Joisan from the BioWare forums. Used with permission.

Tiny extra scene inspired by faithful reviewer Ddangerdan.

And another by Stratavarium.

A coffee mug for the "no one left behind" achievement inspired by Mr. Tacito

Captain's Log inspired by the video game, Skies of Arcadia.

Everything Legion was inspired by Tomorrow's Dawn by fellow ME author ElectricZ. Used with permission. An awesome read and something you definitely have to check out.

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