Ashley took another container of supplies from Vega as they helped the bar employees unload Lanna Hayes’ ship.
“So why don’t you elaborate on what just happened, Hayes,” Williams ordered the new recruit, while sweat trickled down her face in the warm afternoon sun.
Lanna took the box from Ashley and handed it off to Jack, who in turn gave it to the next person in the human chain. Lanna stepped out of the line and searched the ground for a moment. She walked over to one of the larger pieces of the destroyed ship that had managed to bring itself down before the ace pilot had delivered the killing blow herself. She picked up the scrap and turned it so that Ashley could see it. The lieutenant commander narrowed her eyes in recognition of the insignia that was still partially visible.
“Eclipse,” she said.
“Fucking mercs,” Vega said, looking around Ashley’s shoulder.
“They’ve been attacking anyone carrying supplies around Earth for the reconstruction efforts. I’ve been freelancing while the fleets repair and my private sector reputation has had my message box filling up. I’ve been picking up the biggest runs and taking down these thugs left and right. Eclipse, Blue Suns, Blood Pack, you name it. Even some ragtag group calling themselves Cranks or some such nonsense. Anyway, I guess they don’t appreciate all my hard work. This was an unlisted run since it was last minute and I just happened to be coming here to meet you all. Mercenaries must have been scanning the comms, set up an ambush, all the good that did,” Lanna finished, smiling at the path of destruction she had made of her enemies.
“Shepard will want to hear about this,” Jack said. “He should have dealt with that blue bitch when he had the chance on Omega Station.”
“Yeah, but then we wouldn’t have had Aria’s scum as cannon fodder for the Reapers,” Ashley said. “You’re right, though. I’ll report it to Shepard and I’m sure he’ll come up with a plan. And now that we have our new pilot, we don’t have to waste anymore time waiting around. Let’s get back to the Normandy.”
“Need a lift?” Lanna asked, motioning to her ship that was almost finished being unloaded.
“Why not,” Williams said,”Ericson and Murphy have been raving about that thing. Wouldn’t mind seeing it up close.”
“Ha ha, yeah, you’ll definitely make the boys jealous,” Lanna laughed. “Those two have had a hard-on for my baby ever since I sent them the first scans of it. After you, Lieutenant Commander,” she said, waving an open arm towards her ship.
The last of the cargo was retrieved and the Normandy crew boarded the part fighter and part shipping vessel. Ashley took a seat in the co-pilot’s seat while Vega plopped down on a cushioned bench seat in the aft section of the ship. Jack rejected the offered spot on the seat next to Vega and stretched out across his lap instead.
“Keep it decent back there, you two,” Lanna cracked.
Jack stood up, walked to the doorway separating the two halves up the ship, and looked dead in Lanna’s eyes with a blank expression. Lanna cast a sideways glance at Ashley and saw that the officer was equally questioning the biotic’s actions. Suddenly, Jack flashed a playful smile and hit the button to close the solid door.
Lanna Hayes rolled her eyes. “Great,” she moaned.
* * * *
Shepard sat at the desk in his private quarters aboard the Normandy. He rubbed at a scar on his bare chest. He had opted out of anything but a pair of loose fitting black pants that were his go-to choice for the gym. He was trying to relax in the longest stretch in years he could ever remember having gone without having to wear his armor. Thanks to Ashely’s report, unwinding was far from his list of accomplished tasks for the day.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
“What doesn’t, love?” Miranda asked as she stepped out of the bathroom, fresh out of the shower, coming up behind him.
Shepard turned and looked over his shoulder and saw Miranda in nothing but a towel, a towel wrapped only around her hair.
“That’s a good look,” he said with a roguish smile. “You should dress like that more often.”
Miranda shook her head with an incredulous look. “You can ogle at me all you want up here, Captain, in private, but I’m not stepping a foot outside that door naked.”
“That works for me,” Shepard answered, still grinning.
“Mm hmm, I bet it does,” Miranda said with an amused smile. “But back to my question: What doesn’t make sense?” the dripping brunette asked, sliding into the marine’s lap with an arm wrapped around his shoulders.
“Really?” he asked, feeling the left over water on Miranda’s body dripping on him and soaking into his pants.
“Really,” she answered, grinning merrily as she stole a quick kiss.
Shepard rolled his eyes, smiling back and got back to the topic at hand. “What doesn’t make sense is Aria T’Loak. Sure, she’s a ruthless tyrant, controlling dangerous criminal organizations, but that’s why it’s wrong. She loves her independence and her control. Why provoke the largest concentration of military personnel in the galaxy and risk losing both?”
“Desperation? She has no way to leave and only military personnel know about the mass amplifier technology. Fewer know which ships are in the first wave of upgrades for it. She’s trapped and wants to carve out her niche before it’s too late. Isn’t this what everyone thought was going to happen?”
Shepard considered the thought. “True, but not this soon. It’s only been a couple months and the news vids have been pushing the mass relay repair story for a while. No one should have reached this point of impatience yet. Hell she’s an asari. Two months is like an hour to them. But, only one way to find out.”
“Find her,” Miranda stated.
“Yeah. One more damned delay.”
“I’ll get EDI on it . . . if you want, that is, Captain.”
“Really, Ms. Lawson? Formality doesn’t suit you,” he replied, poking fun at the sexy woman pressed against him.
“I know. But practice makes perfect for in front of your Alliance crew,” she teased back, poking at his chest.
“Right. Go ahead and get EDI tracking communication signals and scanning any reports that seem connected to any of this. Aria really shouldn’t be that hard to find. She doesn’t tend to hide.”
“No, I guess you’re right on that point.”
“Just tell her to let me know as soon as she has a location. And tell her the sooner the better. The yahg aren’t wasting any time out there,” the Normandy’s commander added.
“No pressure, huh,” Miranda said with a sarcastic tone as she stood up and made her way to the dresser.
* * * *
“Out of the question, Captain,” Hackett said firmly.
“Admiral, this is something that needs to be taken care of. I brought her into this. I should be the one to take her down.”
“Shepard, I understand where you’re coming from, and I agree that T’Loak needs to be taken care of, but I need you where you’re best. That’s on the front lines, right out of the gates. Find somebody else, someone you trust to get the job done. Someone who can lead a team after Aria.”
“Listen to him, Shepard,” said Admiral Anderson. “Leave this one to someone else.”
The three men sat in the same room aboard Admiral Hackett’s flagship in which they had last met following the end of the Reapers. Shepard looked over to his mentor and friend. He knew he wasn’t going to win the argument against the two highest ranking commanders in the Alliance fleet. He only had one choice, really, but as soon as it had come to mind, it had made him able to swallow the bitter pill a little easier.
“Ashely,” he said.
Hackett and Anderson looked at each other with poker faces. Shepard looked from one to the other. They both nodded.
“She’ll need a team,” Shepard said. “And a ship.”
“We’ve been thinking the same thing,” Hackett admitted.
“You have?” Shepard asked.
“She’s a Spectre, Shepard, just like you. I don’t know all your rules or if you even have any, but a human Spectre is not going to be playing co-pilot to another Spectre under my watch. Each of you needs your own resources to do things your own way. You proved how valuable that can be in the right hands. We trust Williams to be that capable,” the older man said.
“She is,” Shepard confirmed without hesitation.
“She’ll get a ship, a crew, and someone other than you to report to,” Hackett added. “Anderson, think you can add that to your busy schedule?”
“Shouldn’t be too much trouble, Admiral. Now that Gelten and Tolchik have us up and running with the mass amps. Plus, Kasumi Goto has come to help me and Kahlee on . . . the project.”
“Good. Shepard, you let her know. Tell her to pick her team and report to Anderson for orders. I’ll have a ship waiting for her when she’s ready. Dismissed.”
The men stood up and Shepard saluted and then walked out of the room. Anderson was quick to follow him.
“Shepard, hold on.”
The Spectre turned and slowed his pace. Anderson caught up.
“Anderson,” Shepard acknowledged.
“Shepard, things are about to get dicey all over again. You up for it, Captain?”
The marine looked at Anderson, ready to laugh at the joke, but the face he was looking at killed that thought. “You’re serious?”
“Am I missing something? We just defeated the damn Reapers. How could I not be ready for this?”
“I’m not doubting you, Shepard. I just have a bad feeling about the way things are playing out. There are too many unknowns. The yahg have technology more advanced than ours- or did- and have a fleet we had no clue about. They have forces in numbers that have us questioning every intelligence agent we’ve ever had as to how they hid that. And then there’s that mysterious flagship that has yet to engage in a single battle. I don’t like it. Just stay on guard. We’re definitely going to get thrown a wild card in the mix at some point. I just hope it doesn’t cost us too many lives,” the veteran Alliance soldier said gravely.
“I’ll stay alert, Anderson,” he assured his superior with a salute.
“See that you do, Captain.”
“Just make sure you give Ashley the same pep talk, Admiral.”
“I intend to. You go fill her in. I’ll be in touch with her orders, shortly. Good luck, Shepard,” he said, putting out his hand.
Shepard took the hand and shook it with a firm grip. “You too, sir.”
“Oh, and give her these,” he said, handing a couple of small metal objects to Shepard with a smile. “A little overdue, but these days, everything is.”
Normandy’s leader looked down into his hand and smiled.
* * * * *
“I’m getting a ship and crew?” Ashley asked in shock.
“Something wrong with your hearing, Williams?” Shepard asked in a mock stern tone.
“No sir! But why? And why did you want to tell me this in here?”
Shepard stood facing Ashley in the ship’s vid comm room. “Maybe because what I have to tell you doesn’t need an audience. This is one of the few private areas on the ship and I’m sure as hell not inviting you up to my cabin for a one on one meeting,” he answered with a smirk.
Ashley blushed and chuckled in understanding. “Alright, skipper. What’s going on?”
“Skipper? I haven’t heard that one in years.”
“Probably because I haven’t said it.”
“Yeah, so I’ve been told.”
“Ash, here’s the situation: these mercenary raids are a major concern, not only because they’re interrupting the reconstruction, but because it keeps the public guessing, fearful, unwilling to come out in the open and get life moving again. They need reassurance and they need safety. That’s why Hackett and Anderson have decided that this situation needs to be handled now. It can’t wait until after we save the galaxy.”
“Again,” Ashley stressed, rolling her eyes.
“Again,” Shepard agreed. “I have to lead that assault. And I can’t be in two places at once.”
“What?” Ashley acted shocked. “The great Captain Shepard is only human?”
“Ha ha. Refer to my ‘smartass’ comment previously.”
“I’ll make a note.”
“Point is, Hackett wanted someone trustworthy to go after Aria T’Loak and her scum. I nominated you.”
“You did this to me?” Ashley’s eyes were wide with disbelief.
“For you, Ash. This is your chance to lead. Take control and do things your way. Like a Spectre. Like the leader you are,” Shepard said, placing a hand on her shoulder. He lowered his hand to take one of hers and turn it palm up, and open. He placed the items Anderson had given him into her hand. He gave her hand a little squeeze with a sincere look in his blue eyes locked with her brown ones.
Ashley looked down to her hand and saw two metal pins. She gasped and shot her eyes back up to Shepard’s face. He was smiling. “We couldn’t send you off with a ship and crew without that, now could we?”
“Shepard . . . I . . .” Words failed her.
“Congratulations, Commander Williams,” Shepard said, coming to attention with a salute. Ashley stood tall and returned the gesture.
“Thank you, sir!”
“Thank Anderson when you report to him. He got that pushed through for you.”
“Will do, Captain. Now, about my new crew.”
“I’m listening,” Shepard said.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to pick . . . from our crew,” Ashley said, hesitantly.
Shepard nodded. “I’d be wonder about you if you didn’t. And don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you, Ash. I was going to have to start assigning bunk beds pretty soon, the way we keep picking up new members.”
The new commander laughed. “I’m sure a few of them would volunteer for it.”
“Garrus and Tali or Jack and Vega?” Shepard asked with his own laugh.
“Well them, but I was thinking more about Specialist Traynor and-“
“No,” the captain cut her off in disbelief, anticipating the answer.
“Allers?” Ashley finished the sentence on the rising tone of a question. “Is that a problem?”
Shepard shook his head. “Not at all. I just didn’t really think it had done any good.”
“Didn’t think what had done any good, sir?”
“Ah, well- just between you and me- Traynor asked for my assistance . . . with that.”
“Really? That was nice. I’ve never seen that girl so happy since she came on board. Good work, Shepard.”
“That part remains to be seen. As long as it doesn’t affect Traynor’s work or have her leaking sensitive information . . . she’s a good kid. It’ll be fine,” he finished in more an attempt to convince himself than anything else.
“Of course it will. Now, about my selection . . . honestly, I don’t want to feel like I’m robbing you. I’m not sure how to go about picking from them. Maybe take volunteers?”
“Sounds like a place to start,” Shepard agreed and then pressed a button on a panel on the wall. “Traynor?”
“Yes, Captain?” came the specialist’s voice.
“Tell the crew to gather in the CIC. There’s a few new developments to brief them on.”
There was a slight pause followed by,”No, thank you, Shepard.”
“See?” Ashley asked, leaning in close to whisper to Shepard.
“Uh, sure thing, Traynor,” Shepard replied shakily.
* * * *
“. . . so things have changed and our new Commander Williams will be going after Aria T’Loak to stop the mercenaries.”
Ashley stepped up to the platform of the galaxy map, facing away from it and towards friends and crew mates, both new and old. The hologram of the Normandy, floating above the combat stations behind her, cast an orange hued light onto the Alliance officer’s dark hair and shoulders, spilling just down the top of Ashley’s white casual shirt. “And I’m going to need a decent crew. I know you all love the Normandy as much as I do. That’s why I’m going to ask for volunteers to join me. I want to start my command with people I know and trust to have my back. At least within the core of my crew. So . . . any takers?”
Ashley’s eyes scanned the small crowd and found a pair of piercing eyes locked in on her. She was not surprised to find Lieutenant Ericson staring at her with a look of a man struggling with an internal conflict. Ashley smiled at the short haired pilot who she had caught a few times looking her direction when he had thought she wasn’t paying attention. The smile seemed to break him.
“With the Captain’s permission,” Ericson started,”I would like to volunteer. Any commander going up against an enemy with the ships that the mercenaries have will need a a few good pilots to watch her back.” Ericson broke the hold of Ashley’s smile and turned to look at Shepard.
Shepard crossed his arms and put one hand to his chin in thought. “That’s a good point, Lieutenant.” Shepard wrestled with the idea of how to replace Ericson and then realized that Wayne and the Normandy’s newest squad mate, Lanna, were both looking his direction as well. If he let one of them go, he knew he’d have to let all of them go. He didn’t want to split up that team.
A flashing circle caught the captain’s attention and he suddenly had his answer. “Tinman, would the geth fleet be able to lend us a few fighters for you and the other two geth to take our Locos’ place flying support?”
“Easily, Captain Shepard,” came the synthetic’s answer.
“Then Ericson, you and your team- yeah, I saw you two looking- are free to go with Ash.”
“Thank you, sir,” both Ashley and Ericson said at once.
Shepard nodded to them. “So. Who else?” he asked.
The next voice heard was Zaeed’s. “Takes a merc to fight a merc. Gotta remind these little shits who the real players are. You’ve got me, Williams.”
Grunt shouldered up to the front of the gathering. “If I sign up, are we going to make it back in time to help out on Tuchanka?” asked Grunt.
“There’s no telling, Grunt,” Ashley answered. “It will all depend on how quickly we find Aria and how much of a fight she’ll put up. We could be there easily, or we could miss it completely.”
Grunt cracked the knuckles of his destructive hands, thinking. He looked to Wrex who could offer only the advice of an indifferent shrug. The tank-bred krogan faced Ashley again. “I like that you have Shepard’s honesty, Commander. I’ll do it. There shouldn’t be any team running around without a krogan, anyway.”
“Glad to have you,” Ashley said with a smile. Her crew was shaping up nicely.
Tali and Garrus were conferring in hushed tones near the back of the crowd.
“We’re in, Ash,” Garrus said. Seeing a surprised Shepard, he quickly added,”With me and Tali working with Ashley like we always have, you know we’ll be back before you can miss us, old friend.”
“See that you do, Garrus. Those guns don’t calibrate themselves.”
“No, but I’ve got them in decent shape for now and whatever Alliance piece crap they find for Ashley is going to need a turian’s touch,” he only half joked.
“Well, Ash, that leaves you with needing a rachni for your ship and a pilot. And I’m drawing the line at Joker. You can’t have him. Hell, you’ve taken half my crew already. I have to stop the bleeding somewhere,” Shepard joked.
“Steve, would you mind?” Ashley asked.
Cortez stood up straight and saluted. “A chance to fly something other than the Kodiak? I wouldn’t miss it, Commander.”
“Well then I think we’re done here, skipper,” Ashley said, stepping down from the platform and giving it back to the captain.
“Commander Williams, you will need a translator for the rachni crew member,” Tinman reminded her.
Ashley looked back at the geth prime and swallowed the disdain and flashlight comment that had popped into her head. She had never forgotten what they had done to her on Eden Prime all those years ago, but she knew the machine was right. “True,” she said,”but I don’t know how big the ship will be yet . . . Tinman. I doubt you would fit in anything other than a hangar if they give me anything smaller than the Normandy and that is very likely. Besides, you three are staying to fly support.”
“Logical conclusions, given your information. However, there is new data to process.”
“And that is?”
“There are again four geth platforms operational on Normandy. Captain Shepard only requested three.”
Shepard narrowed his eyes in slight concern. “When did this new geth get on board? Not that I have problem with a replacement for your fallen member, but I need to be notified of this sort of thing, Tinman.”
“There is no new geth platform on the Normandy, Shepard. The geth that was damaged in the Mars battle has been repaired and his programs have nearly finished being restored.”
“You were able to save all of those even though he was . . . killed in a an unexpected attack?”
“In the geth’s previous iteration, before Legion brought us individual consciousness, it would not have been possible as all programs would have been required. In our current evolution, we each hold unique core programs that differentiate us from each other, they are vital, but they are also far fewer in number. I was able to transfer those and store them in my platform until the destroyed platform was repaired. It has taken sometime, but the core programs have been restored to the platform and the remaining programs will be finished shortly. The geth platform will be tested and available for duty, as you say, when one-hundred percent functionality has been confirmed. He can provide the translation service for Commander Williams.”
Shepard realized that as much as he knew the geth were inherently different lifeforms, he couldn’t help but think of them in organic terms more often than not. “Being synthetic has its advantages,” he admitted.
“It does,” Tinman agreed.
“Well, how ’bout it, Ash?” the senior Spectre asked.
“Works for me, I guess,” she answered.
Shepard looked around at his crew. He looked at the faces of the ones that were leaving and felt a sense of loss. Each one of those faces, excluding Hayes, had saved his life at some point or another, some at many points. Yet, when he looked at each of those staying on with him, he knew he wouldn’t want to lose any of them either. He was glad to keep those that remained and was equally glad that Ashley would have the high caliber team that had quickly assembled for her. “It will all work out, in the end,” he told himself.
“Well, who’s gonna name this geth?” Vega asked. “Cuz apparently my nickname magic has run out,” he finished, giving Jack a serious look with an overly raised arching eyebrow.
“Aw come on, wittle buddy. Turn that frown upside down,” she mocked the marine. There was a small outbreak of laughter that was cut short when Vega’s glaring eyes searched for the offenders.
“I had anticipated such a question,” Tinman said and everyone turned to look at him, thankful for the distraction. The geth took a slight step back. Shepard wasn’t sure if the geth was mimicking the organic reaction of surprise or had actually developed the trait. “I thought the name Lazarus was fitting given the human fable of a man dying and then being brought back to life.”
Everyone turned back to Vega, for the master namer’s approval. He opened his hands to them, asking,”What?” The eyes stayed trained on the soldier. “Fine. It’s good.”
Jack patted him on the head. “See, was that so hard?”
The crew smiled, nodded, or laughed lowly in amusement, then looked back to Shepard.
“We’ve got some work ahead of us people. Let’s make sure we do it right and we’ll all make it through this no worse for wear.”
“And drinks are on you, right Shepard?” Zaeed asked.
He laughed. “Ha, that depends on who’s asking. There’s more than a few people in this room who promised me drinks and haven’t followed through yet.”
The unnamed individuals were easily spotted having suddenly found far more interesting subjects of study on the ceiling, floor, or their fingernails. They took great effort to avoid eye contact with Shepard. He waved off his comment after a few well earned moments of awkwardness for the accused. “Yes, Zaeed, drinks will be on me.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Captain.”
* * * *
Admiral Anderson walked, Ashley at his side, down a hall under repairs on the Citadel, the station still in orbit over Earth. Every species was represented in the rebuilding effort of the one time center of galactic politics, the vast majority of them being the faster and more efficient geth. However, each geth team had been paired with two organics. Those either directed the the living machines, design plans in hand, or were learning from and assisting the synthetic engineers. Anderson noticed that even a few krogan could be seen grudgingly lending their hands. They had accepted Wrex’s “advice” to grow the krogan race’s basic skills and knowledge to include building and repairing and not just killing and destroying.
“Man, the last time I saw this many geth crawling on the Citadel . . . it was not a good day,” Ashley said as they moved past a work crew outside the elevator on what used to be the embassy level. The Reapers’ ability to rearrange the Citadel had not yet been understood, never mind reversed, so many crews were adapting the new layouts to conform to the old functions with varying degrees of success. The enigmatic keepers seemed to also be aiding the process, though what issued their orders was still unknown as was the source of their creation. Each was bracketed by C-Sec guards per Commander Bailey’s orders to shoot to kill if the keepers showed signs of subversion.
Anderson pressed the button for the elevator. “I thought Shepard was crazy to trust them, but once again, he turns out to be right. They may be the one bright spot to come out of that damned war. If we can keep the peace with them, they may help to cut the rebuilding of galactic civilization from hundreds of years to just decades.”
“Or sooner seeing as how there aren’t nearly as many people to rebuild for,” Ashley remarked.
“Sad but true, Commander. And even fewer if we don’t take care of the yahg. Eventually they’ll have rebuilt worlds with their slave populations to a point where they won’t need them anymore. We need to stop them before they reach that point.”
“About as long as waiting on this damn elevator,” Anderson joked. Ashley laughed, a small smile spreading across her cheeks. “Our experts say five to ten years,” the admiral added, returning to a more serious tone.
“The same experts that didn’t even know the yahg were everywhere and had spaceships?” Ashley asked.
“Yeah . . . I know how you feel. I’m giving it less than two years. It could turn out that we advance that to an immediate time frame once we begin our offensive. Maybe they hold the prisoners as hostages, maybe they slaughter them in spite. We have no idea how the yahg think. And there are a hell of a lot of planets under their rule, from the looks of it. We’ll lose as many as we save. And that’s if we’re lucky,” the admiral said as they stepped on to the elevator.
“Welcome Admiral Anderson and Commander Williams. What is your destination?” asked an unseen feminine voice.
Ashley looked over at the admiral with an inquisitive expression. He shrugged. “One of the engineers thought adding a more personalized experience to the Citadel would be a reassuring touch. They want people to come back to the station and want it feeling inviting to shake off the feeling of death and despair left by the Reapers. They’ve more or less embedded those overly friendly and oh so helpful VIs into the various systems.”
“Great,” Ashely said, shaking her head.
“Destination: Docking Bay,” Anderson said.
“Please identify the specific docking bay you desire, Admiral Anderson.”
“Blasted machine, there’s only one up and running right now. Destination: Docking Bay 5.”
“Proceeding to Docking Bay 5,” announced the cheerful female voice.
“So I take it you asked me to come up here to see the ship I’m getting?” Ashley asked.
“That’s right. The Citadel is the only facility left in orbit where any sort of ship repairs can be done in a zero-gravity environment. Sure the ones left on Earth are back up and running and doing the majority of the work, but the larger ships can’t land on planets so they’re all on a waiting list for the Citadel.”
“That doesn’t explain why I’m up here. I’m not naive enough to think I’m getting a capital ship. Is their some wrecked craft that crashed into station and I’m getting that? Some small hand-me-down beater?” the new commander asked. Anderson shot a look her way and and she quickly added,”Not that I wouldn’t take it. Whatever the Alliance thinks will do the job, I’ll take.”
“Arriving at Docking Bay 5,” the VI informed the passengers. “Please enjoy your time on the Citadel, Admiral Anderson and Commander Williams.” The door opened and the two officers exited the elevator. Anderson led the way down a walkway straddled on either side by shields holding back the deadly vacuum of space. Ashley followed him, her head swiveling from left to right and back again, looking at all the carriers and dreadnoughts tethered to the Citadel either being repaired or awaiting repairs.
“Well that’s good to know, Commander. No, it’s not a hand-me-down beater. Hackett has had me assigned to various projects, most of which I can’t talk about yet. The one I can talk about, now, is your ship. You’re a Spectre, Williams, and we expect to keep the human Spectres on the bleeding edge, not just for the galaxy’s sake, but for humanity’s as well. We did that for Shepard. The Reapers delayed us doing that for you. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time for an effort to give you a duplicate of the current Normandy, but,” the admiral said, rounding a corner and pointing to the nose of a ship just coasting into view from around the nearly retrofitted Destiny Ascension.
Ashley’s breath escaped in a gasp. “Is that . . . the SR-1?”
Anderson gave an appreciative smile, but shook his head. “Why would you want that old tripe?” he asked with a laugh. “This is our best take at a compromise between the SR-1 and the SR-2, with a few new features you’re sure to like. What you’re looking at, Commander, is the SR-1B. It’s everything you remember from the original Normandy with the upgrades to weapons, shields, sensors, communications, and some cues from the layout of Shepard’s bird. The only thing you won’t have in it is a Mako, or shuttle. We wanted room for a pair of interceptors.”
“What about Lieutenant Hayes’ ship?”
“That gun with wings wouldn’t have fit in the hangar by itself. It’s already having one of our new mass amplifiers installed. She’ll lose half her cargo hold, but she’ll be your permanent escort, in and out of FTL. So . . . what do you think?” Anderson asked.
The SR-1B came fully into view, directly in front of Ashley and came to a stop. A little ball of emotion rose in the commander’s throat as she looked at the spitting image of the ship that had rescued her from death at the hands of Saren, Sovereign, and the geth so many years ago. “She’s beautiful,” she said. “What’s her name?”
“She doesn’t have one yet. We’re leaving that to you, Commander,” Anderson told her with a smile.
Without missing a beat, Ashley answered,”The Eden Prime.”
Anderson pulled a small data pad from a pocket on the thigh of his pants. He tapped it on and Ashley could see him type in the name “SSV Eden Prime SR-1B” and sign off on it. “Done, Commander. The Eden Prime is all yours, now. Treat her well.”
Ashley saluted, holding back a grin threatening to shatter her desire to remain serious and not give into the Christmas morning child ready to burst forth from inside her. “Yes, sir!”
Anderson returned the salute. “Congratulations, Ashley.”
“I wouldn’t be here if you had never picked me up from Eden Prime, sir. I owe this to you.”
“No, you owe it to yourself. You’re a damned fine soldier, Williams. I saw it back then. Shepard has had nothing but the best to say about you and your development into an able commander, titled or not. Your father and grandfather would be proud.”
Ashley felt her lip quiver and bit down on it. She forced a smile so as to not breakdown in tears. She looked upwards, silently saying,”I hope you are. All I’ve ever wanted to do is make you proud, dad, and restore our family’s name grandpa.”
Anderson gave her a moment and then said,”There’s no time to lose, Commander. You’ve already assembled your crew, now put them on your ship and get after Aria T’Loak. We’ll need you in the fight against the yahg. The sooner the better.”
“Yes sir, Admiral,” Ashley answered with another salute.
Anderson did likewise. “Good luck, Williams. Dismissed.”
Anderson did likewise. “Good luck, Williams. Dismissed.”