This is it. Book Two is here.

I hope this one will be just as fun to do as Book I was.


The Aspect of Fire

Book II - Skyfall


Aspect of Change


I don't know how long I have, how long we have… which makes using a recorder much more… it makes it easier… fuck, I'm just nervous, is all… I hope…

Okay, so… I haven't done one of these since the mission to Virmire, and I lost my recorder there when my Omnitool went to hell… back on track. We're going… going there, and I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to do now. I've told Jane what is waiting, so… do I just wait? Fuck, fuck, fuck…

There's… the chance, that things go really, really bad. That people might die… that I might die. Funny, once, this used to be… I dunno, just… different. But, I'm recording this, and everything else I can think of, in case my fears are right. I don't know if I should name them, like naming a nightmare, which usually would be a good thing, but…huh… okay. So… from what I've been able to gather so far, there's the risk that the Collectors might be going after me, not Jane or John…

Neither of them killed Saren, or blew up Sovereign, and… fuck, what do I do?

We're near the system now… the system where it could all go so far to Hell that… I can't even think of a metaphor. So, I suppose this is where I spill all the beans, come clean with all my secrets and emotional shit and… damn, I'm not good at this kind of stuff, confessing to a mike while hiding by the brig. Hehehe… I remember keeping Jacob locked up here, right next to me… I wonder if he's still alive.

So… for starters, and to get past the obvious: Ash, if you find this, and I died or… I love you. I love you, Ashley Madeline Williams, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I don't know if that means marriage or just being with you. It doesn't matter, not to me, as long as I can be with you… oh crap, don't start cho- choking up now…

Ashley, since the day I first met you… you've been… been my guardian angel, the light of my life. You never betrayed my trust, and always seemed to trust me, even back when I still held secrets from you. I could always tell you about my problems, what troubled me… and now, if… no. No, we're going to make this. I have a special question for you, but… but I'll hold onto it for now. That'll be all, Chief Williams.

Okay… next… to all my friends on the Normandy.

Serving with you have been the best time of my life, regardless of the fucked up shit that happened during so. I know, that we lost people, good people. Sev… Scorch, Boss, I know you miss him. We all do. Sev was… more brave than any one of us, and… more than just a clone. He was a valued comrade, just like Fixer was…

Garrus… Garrus was… Gods, he was one of my best friends, and… a part of me knows that… feels that it was my fault he died. If I'd just been faster… What we can do, is to make sure no more people die. I… … … I don't know if that came onto the recorder, but Joker just announced we entered the Amada-system… this is it. Maybe I should… say a prayer…

For my deeds, Talos protect me

For my deeds bad, Mara forgive me

For my deeds good, Stendarr preserve me

And should I die, Arkay guide me.

Service Chief Thomas Vestergaard Fisher, Alliance Marines - December 21th, 2183


December 21st

SSV Normandy

Deck 3. Gym, brig and crew quarters.

18:28

Thomas groaned, getting to his feet by the brig. He, as well as most of the ground crew, was wearing armor and suit instead of uniforms. He worried that Roku, who might try to fulfil the task his master had given him, would sense that Shepard, both of them, knew what was wrong. Thomas just hoped the aspect would write it off as caution, going into a system with multiple missing ships.

Turning his Omnitool off, he took his right index finger and thumb up, touching the small hammer around his neck. Ashley had given it to him, on the last date they had before shipping out for the current mission. In a way, he felt it provided him with some base good luck.

He was alone on the deck, not even the usual crewmen standing around, chatting and enjoying their shifts being done for the day, or night, depending on luck. He had tried pulling nightshift once, with Hillary… Gods, was that a shitty way to spend the night; sitting up, downing six cups of coffee, trying to explain the bending and breaking of science and reality to a confused and tired woman.

As he walked for the lift, Thomas felt his legs starting to buckle beneath him, shake as if he hadn't eaten in days. It wasn't lack of food though, but anxiousness that was settling in. Thomas had full confidence in Joker being able to outrun the Collectors, if he actually had a notion they were capable of peeking through the stealth-field around the Normandy.

Thomas really hoped he did.

As the lift came to a stop one deck above, at the mess hall, he stepped out while feeling ready to both drop dead and jump high. Each second brought him both more adrenaline, coursing through his veins, and more fatigue, as the knowledge of what might happen. Roku, once more, surfaced in his thoughts.

What the hell was he going to do, if Roku really wanted one of the Shepards dead?

"Hey Chief." He was brought from more dark thoughts by Hillary, the private now armored in her trademark pink-and-white phase-II armor. She had definitely started warming back up towards him, and Nicolai, Jane and the rest of the people responsible for breaking reality. Still, he knew to be wary of what he said, as she still had no clue that he knew it all as a game, back then.

"Hey Hillary." He responded. She blinked at the informal words, trained to address superiors with rank and surname only; "What're you doing?"

"Waiting." She said, looking at the table. While Thomas doubted she had been told of what was impending exactly, they had all been told to suit up, just in case. Maybe she was nervous?

"For…?" He urged as he leaned against the wall next to her.

"I dunno… some sort of shit, I suppose. Hell, ten ships were lost out here, you bet I'm concerned."

"Ah…" He nodded, then stopped. Could he tell Hillary what was going to happen? What would she do, how would she react to it? Would it make a difference for the better or worse?

"You know, I still remember back on Eden Prime, how we picked your scorched ass from the grass." She then said, chuckling lightly at the memory. Thomas was tempted to reply that he too, had picked her scorched ass from Eden Prime, but decided not to. For Hillary, what happened on that planet was still fresh in mind, as she had been sleeping through most of the campaign.

"You do?" He ended up asking instead.

"Yeah… Donkey had just shared his wisdom that we were going to have some shitty weather…" She said, and as she spoke, her smile faltered and became a thin line; "… I can't believe they are all gone…"

"I'm sorry…" Thomas said, and what else could he say? Sure, he missed them as well, but knew that it was just as much his fault that they had died, and so he had no right to say he missed them too.

"It's just the three of us left now…" She muttered, and blew a puff of air into her hair, blonde locks dancing at the gust of wind; "The guys… were they buried?"

Thomas winced at the question, as he knew perfectly well what had most likely happened to them, to his, Ashley's and Hillary's friend and team-mates. They were probably Husks now, roaming the countryside of Eden Prime, or just lying as corpses, gunned down by Alliance teams.

"I… don't know."

"So… they became those things, huh?" She muttered, looking down at her hands; "Jimmy, Mikhail… Bolin, Donkey… everyone?" Thomas winced once more, this time as he was taken aback by the direct question. No point in lying to her, then.

"I guess so…"

"…Figures…" She muttered, clenching a fist beneath the table. Thomas looked around for a subject of conversation, as he was really uncomfortable with the one reminding him of his greatest mistake so far: To let Dog-Squad be slaughtered.

"I'm heading up to the CIC… wanna come?" He said. He really did need to get going, as they were in the system where the Collectors might be waiting. He wasn't going to be caught unaware, or to risk Joker making the same mistakes. If push came to shove, he would kick both John and Jane into the escape pods, then haul Joker's crippled ass into the one next to the cockpit. If Roku tried anything… things would get nasty. Hillary blew out a sigh and stood;

"Might as well…" She said with little enthusiasm. Thomas pushed out from the wall and walked next to her as they headed up the stairs. He felt more and more anxious as time passed, and as they emerged in the CIC, he saw Jane and John stand in conversation near the map, the rest of the ground crew standing around elsewhere on the bridge, or waiting in the briefing room. Tali, of course, was still in engineering, and Nicolai was down in the hangar, working on his weapons.

With a nod to the Shepards, Thomas left Hillary at the CIC and continued up towards the cockpit. Here, he was surprised to find that Roku was standing behind Joker's chair, arms crossed. The geth turned its head and gave Thomas a brief look, then looked back at Joker.

"So, you ever do the robot?" Joker asked, not looking up from his systems.

"…No."

"Oh come on! Why not?"

"I have no interest in fulfilling one of your juvenile fantasies, Joker. Your Asari - Hanar files should be adequate." Roku stated with close to no emotion in his voice.

"But you have the epic body for it!"

"No."

"Dammit…" Joker muttered, returning attention to his displays and panels; "Alright, the board is green; we're running silent."

"We're wasting our time. Turian ships already combed this place over four times, and they haven't found any sign of geth or pirate activity, Reaper-ships included." Pressley huffed annoyed, tapping in commands on his datapad as he walked up next to the cockpit. Thomas repressed a wince as he found the sentence far too familiar for comfort.

"Ten ships went missing here the past month. Something happened to 'em." Joker replied, not taking his eyes off of the displays. The feeling of dread that Thomas had noticed earlier, had now started settling completely over him. Roku turned his head to look at him, pedals flat against the head, as if silently expressing sympathy or an apology; "Besides, cap said it might not even be any of those baddies out here."

"My money are still on slavers. The Terminus are crawling with them." Pressley betted, entering a new set of commands on his datapad. The timeline was horrifyingly restored as the female ensign in the chair next to Joker's, received a new signal.

"Picking up something on the long-range scanner…unidentified vessel. Hmm, looks like a cruiser…" Even as the woman spoke, alarming beeps started calling out from her console.

"Doesn't match any known signatures…" Joker muttered. Thomas stared straight into the optical lens of Roku, mustering every ounce of willpower he could.

"What are you going to do?" He asked in a low tone.

"…Ensure that what must happen, happens…" The aspect said, though he sounded none too pleased about it. Thomas clenched his fists, feeling his teeth grit.

"I'm not going to let you do it, Roku." He muttered with a strained voice, even as more alarms started going off.

"Cruiser is changing course… now on intercept trajectory." The ensign said, mild confusion in her voice.

"Can't be. Stealth-systems are engaged, there's no way a geth ship could possibly-" Pressley started, hands dancing over multiple systems and displays as he tried finding the error. Joker though, cut him short;

"It's not the geth! E.T baddies inbound!" the pilot shouted, activating alarms within the ship. Thomas felt his stomach churn as Joker sent the Normandy into a relatively vertical descend; "All hands, it's the new guys!"

The vertical descend Joker kicked the Normandy into, was proven to save lives as a beam of sickly, yellow particles carved through space just where the Normandy had been only moments earlier.

"To your posts! Battle stations!" Pressley shouted, opening up ship-wide comms; "All hands, man your stations! We're under attack from a heavily armed unknown enemy!"

The ship became a living chaos at that, with the crew running to their posts, to their equipment to be somewhere they were overall useful. The ground crew was on its way down to the second deck already, a few of them aware that they would soon lose the Normandy, if things came to pass.

The second attack came right after the first, this time aimed with far more lethal precision.

The beam carved into the armored hull of the Normandy, only briefly stopped by the barriers and shielding that was supposed to block all but a direct barrage from even cruisers. The plating was torn to shreds above them, causing the kinetic barriers to spring to life, only to overheat an instant later. Panels started exploding around them as Thomas gripped the wall for a hold, seeing Roku do the same.

"Joker! Jump out of the system! NOW!" Thomas yelled.

"I'm trying! The engines-"

"I SAID NOW YOU CRIPPLED JACKASS!" Thomas now nearly screamed, feeling adrenaline pump through his body with each lurch and tremble going through the ship. Just then, a new series of explosions went through the bridge and cockpit, and a blast sent Pressley flying into the opposite wall, out cold.

"Presley!" The ensign shouted, getting up from her chair to help the man, just as a new beam washed over the Normandy, carving off the right wing and essentially leaving it dead in the water. The resulting explosion blasted the woman off her feet, and straight into the wall. As she hit, a wet, disgusting crack could be heard as her neck broke, killing her on the spot.

"Where's the Captain?!" Joker yelled as a crewmember started putting out a fire that had broken out at the dead ensigns post.

"I think she's launching the distress-beacon, down on deck 2!" The man yelled. Thomas fought to remain standing as Joker desperately tried maneuvering the Normandy out of harm's way. Only, with just half the wings left, it was a futile effort.

"Roku! Get down there and help her!" Thomas yelled as he yanked the unconscious Presley onto his shoulders; "And by Talos, if I find out you did something…" the unspoken threat was enough to make the aspect pause, as Thomas slammed the button for the escape pod.

"Good luck." Roku said, then was off down the hallway to the CIC. Thomas sneered in frustration, the situation being so much more overwhelming than he had ever thought it could be. Constant fire, alarm, explosions and trembling groans as the ship was carved apart by the Collector vessel. As he placed the unconscious navigator roughly in a seat, the alarms sounded, signaling for evac.

'Abandon ship', was a signal even he knew.

Now he just needed to haul joker out of the cockpit, into an escape pod and wait for either John or Jane to show up, then promptly shove the Shepard into the escape pod as well. In the background, Joker started yelling, even as a new blast tore straight through the hull above the CIC, opening up to the open, cold and dead void. Thomas, in raw panic at the sight, slammed the side of his own helmet, activating the armor's air-supply. As the air was sucked from the CIC, so was everything not welded down.

Crewmembers included...

As he saw the silent trashing of the remaining crewmembers being sucked into space, he prayed his ten minutes of air would be enough. Next to him, the moment the hull had been breached on the bridge, a blue barrier had sprung up, sealing off the cockpit from the void. The magnetic soles in his boots kept him grounded, as a voice sprung into his helmet's comms;

"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is the SSV Normandy!" Joker's panicked voice was the only sound Thomas could hear now, as even the brilliant explosions around him made no sound at all, only small ripples in their own pockets of released air as the fires came into being and instantly were snuffed again. I have to get Joker to the pod before anyone dies! Oh fuck, this is so wrong!

"We've suffered heavy damage from an unknown enemy!" Joker shouted again, and Thomas had no choice but to recall the exact same sentence from the game. He knew what would follow now, and had no longer any time left to waste.

Pulling each step from the floor, he stomped into the cockpit, where the pilot was frantically trying to save his ship;

"Come one, Baby! Hold togeth-!" Joker was begging his ship not to die on him, not that the Collectors would answer his prayer though. Thomas made it to the pilot before he finished his sentence.

"Joker! Get to the escape pod!" Thomas yelled, yanking the pilot's shoulder hard enough that he normally would have worried about breaking something. Now though, he didn't give a shit.

"No! I'm not losing the Normandy! I can still-" Thomas cut him off by grabbing the man with his bionic hand, pulling him violently from his chair even as the cripple protested and yelled in pain.

"Let go of me! I can save the Normandy, just let me-!"

"Joker! The Normandy's a wreck! I'm perfectly willing to let you kill yourself afterwards, but get to the fucking escape-pod!" Thomas yelled desperately, not letting up on his forced march with the pilot. If he could just kick Joker into the pod, then the same with whomever was coming, he could avoid whatever sick twist Roku's "master" was planning. I can do this! I can do this!

"Auw! You don't have to break my arm!" Joker protested as he was roughly shoved into the pod, landing on the floor of the small craft with a thud and a few breaking noises, likely his legs. Hopefully… Still, the agonizing yelps indicated it was more serious…

"Thomas!" He snapped to the right at the voice, seeing John walking towards him by way of mag-boots. The Quarian was already fully armored, meaning Jane must have told him to be ready; "What-"

"John! Where's Ashle- Where's Jane?" He demanded, giving hell in chain of command for the moment. He needed to do this, and he just had to pray Roku would at least keep Ashley safe. He had to.

"She sent the beacon and went to engineering to make sure everyone was out. Where's Joker?"

"In the escape-pod. Now please get in too!" Thomas begged, feeling hiss blood almost boil. John nodded and headed for the pod.

If one could hear in space, Thomas would have been no less horrified or surprised as a new beam, radiating malice, carved through the Normandy altogether, severing the forward bridge from the rest of the CIC. Almost in slow-motion, he saw the shockwave slam John into a wall, then back off as the Normandy trembled even more violently, smacking the Quarian away from the wall. NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!

Shutting the escape-pod's hatch, Thomas leapt from the floor, after John. The Commander was unconscious it seemed, floating calmly away from the ship, even as more explosions racked the vessel. In the near distance, Thomas saw the blue trails from the escape-pods as they shot out from the ship, leaving the burning husk that had once been home.

"JOHN!"

"There was no response to his call, and Thomas tried to grasp for the limp Quarian's hand, fingers dancing only inches from those of the Quarian's. Why didn't Roku ever teach me to fucking fly!? Come on! Come on!

He tried to will everything he had left of energy into his feet, praying to every single god and divine being that he could just this once manage to fly. He only just need to do it to get John and get back to the ship. I just have to get him! Please! Talos! Akatosh! Mara! Help me goddammit!

He was getting closer now, close enough to see small wafts of oxygen, visible as gaseous or steamy air, streamed from the back of John's armor. The impact with the wall had damaged the suit's air-supply somehow. Oh gods no! No no no nonono!

"Come on you bastard!" He yelled through building tears. No matter what he did, John remained out of reach, and no fire came to his feet. He could only kick and scream as he saw the commander slowly drift ahead of him, towards the surface of the ice-covered planet. A planet Thomas right now wanted nothing less than to nuke on a global scale, simply for the crime of existing.

"No! No! NOOO! John!" tears fell from his eyes, floating in the small space inside his helmet. He screamed without sound as he felt John, his commander and friend, remain out of reach and float further and further away; "COME ON YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!"

Fire suddenly sprung from his feet, catapulting Thomas forward through the void with substantial speed. He was so shocked and surprised at this, that he remained in the middle of accursing the universe, even as he gained on the unconscious Quarian. Quickly however, he got over the surprise. Finally! Come on! I'm not letting this happen!

Boosted by the fiery jets of emerald springing from the soles of his boots, Thomas sped towards the Quarian, reaching a hand out to grab him. It was only when he closed in to almost being able to touch his friend, that Thomas realized something that made the blood freeze in his veins: he had no idea what to do when he did catch John.

Currently though, all his effort was directed at getting to John, now only a few meters away. Tears were still floating in the small space of his helmet, occasionally splashing wet warmth against his skin or eyes when he moved his face. He was so close, just a meter now. He could reach out for John now. Nearly there!

He reached out and grabbed John's wrist, using his bionic hand to keep a tight grip on the Quarian, as he started using the right hand to spew out fire, directing towards aid the best he could.

Suddenly, the problem ceased to be finding a place to land, a safe place. Maybe he could have found the Kodiak-shuttle, forced it open and sought refuge there. But what happened then, was outside his immediate ability to process.

A form, a shape that was almost human, appeared in the void, hovering just in front of him.

"What in…" Thomas started, unable to understand what was in front of him, before him. It was, by all accounts, a Collector. Only, it wasn't. This, was a Collector, but with azure skin, ornamental clothing, almost like armor, and a quad of eyes with twin-linked pupils, glaring at him with a stern expression.

"I see Roku failed. No matter, it was to be expected." The entity stated, looking at Thomas like he had done the… thing, aspect maybe, a personal insult. Thomas still had absolutely no clue what or who the hell he was looking at, only that his own air supply was rapidly dwindling.

"Wha…" Thomas mouthed, trying to speak as the talking Collector made a casual, sweeping movement with his, its hands. Instantly, Thomas felt his arms, his entire body, completely lose control. The blood stopped in his veins, and his muscles went into spasms, causing pain to wash over him as well as nausea.

"You are important… you shall live."

"Whaaa- What the- Fuck!" He groaned and cried in frustration and agony. He had no control at all. His own body was releasing John from safety, even going as far as shoving the Quarian away, towards Alchera; "JO- JOHN!"

Thomas couldn't even find any power to attempt catching John again. He was held, floating in space as he watched John drift away from him. Tears were streaming from his eyes as the Quarian became smaller and smaller against the icy planet. NO NO NO! NO PLEASE GOD! DIVINES! GODS! JESUS, HELP ME!

He had no idea who the entity was, or why it would, could be thís cruel. He had had him. Gods be damned, he'd had John right there. He had saved him!

"Sleep, young mortal. Sleep and be safe. Time has been restored once more, and all is as it should be."

Thomas wanted to scream, to grab a hold of whatever the thing, the Collector or whatever the hell it was, and tear out its eyes, one at a time. He wanted to make it suffer. The bastard had just doomed John, doomed him to fall to his death on the shitty world of Alchera, and there was nothing Thomas could do about it now.

"Sleep. Sleep and forget." The second time the being spoke, the word had so much more command to it, that Thomas had no choice, but to comply. His body started shutting down even as he protested and wept, trying to maintain eyes on John as the commander became a small speck against the planet. No… no please…


Normandy Escape Pod 2

18:59

Ashley worked desperately at getting the scanners to work. She had called around to the other pods, ending up with the one Joker and Pressley were in, and all gave the same response.

Thomas wasn't there.

She knew he had to be alive. He had already survived so much worse than this, there was no way he would die now. Not like this. She just had to find him. Next to her, Liara knelt beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder. Ashley knew it was an attempt at providing some comfort, but God dammit, couldn't the Asari see she just needed some space to get the fucking apparatus working?

"Ashley…"

"What!?" She snapped, not bothering to look away from her work. This was more important than offering Liara a burning glare. The Asari could go stuff her sympathies for all she cared. She didn't need them, because Thomas was alive.

"Are you… well?"

"You know how to operate a Languor Mark Five close-range scanner?" Ashley snapped again, causing Liara to frown. Scorch was in the pod, so at least the Asari knew her boyfriend was safe. Ashley knew Thomas was safe too, she just had to find him.

"I… no. I do not know how to operate sensitive equipment like this. But Thomas will make it, I know it."

"OF COURSE HE'S GOING TO MAKE IT!" Ashley shouted, snapping at the relatively younger woman with all the pent-up frustration and anger in her. The feeling of panic from the destruction of the Normandy had been completely replaced by anger and desperation as she could account for all but two members of the ground team.

"Ashley. Liara is just trying to help. Shout at me if you have to, but don't vent on her." Jane said from her place in one of the seats, wearing a phase-II set of armor. Her Bulwark had been lost in the explosion, seeing how she would have never been able to fit it in a pod-chair, nor leave any actual room for the others.

"Where the fuck is Roku when you need him…" Ashley growled, hitting the panel in front of her with a fist. Instead of getting a response from the geth-platform, she received the signal that the scanner was finally online and searching; "Finally…"

"Captain, do we know the whereabouts of all members of the team?" Boss asked from his seat. He was keeping a remarkably calm expression, looking like he was calculating and processing the recent events, instead of panicking. Ashley, even in her rage and frustration, couldn't help but see the look of defeat on the red-head's face.

"We have no idea where both Fisher and John is… so far, the death-toll is confirmed to ten of the engineers, Tali thankfully excluded, as well as almost the entire bridge-crew… God, why didn't I prevent this?"

"Because you can be a bloody moron at times." Ashley was surprised at her own words, but continued even as her eyes remained on the scanner, praying to see, if not two, then at least the one life-signature she needed to see; "And the emotional part of me wants to punch you in the floor for… a lot of things. Now shut it, I'm trying to look for a signal."

"Thank you, for your loyalty and support, Williams." Jane grumbled, though kept it at thát, likely knowing that the Gunnery Chief was nowhere near in the mood for anything but hard facts. Insulting her would mean starting a fight in an escape-pod.

"I said shut it, ma'am. I need-" Ashley was interrupted by a sudden ping that came in on the small display in front of her, hunched over as she was. She brought up the display, and was presented with the radar-layout for their immediate surroundings. The screen showed her one ping, one dot of life that was merely a hundred meters away. Instantly, she brought up the visual displays from the exterior cameras.

"Williams?" Boss asked. Ashley could feel her heart almost hammer its way through her armor.

"I found him! Thank you God! Thank you!" She cried, staring at the still, but living figure of a human marine in a green-tinted phase-II suit. It had scorches, yes, but it was intact.

"Fisher?" Jane asked. Ashley wasn't going to waste time answering that, and instead began going through manual controls for the pod. Each escape-pod was equipped with enough fuel to navigate away from potentially hazardous areas, like an exploding starship, and could be manually controlled by even a toddler.

"If you have located the Service Chief…" Boss started, a solemn and saddened expression on his face.

"I don't think Tali will like this…" Scorch finished. His expression was much more emotional and unguarded than what his immediate superior displayed.

"Goddess…" Liara whispered, hand covering her mouth; "Oh no."

"Shut up! I'm trying to steer this thing…" Ashley barked. She didn't care for even a moment that, aside from Liara, everyone else in the pod outranked her. She just cared about getting to the human floating in space, now just seventy meters away and closing.

"Any sign of John?" Jane asked quietly. She knew that Tali was likely growing just as desperate as Ashley was, and that the young engineer had likely hacked the entire swarm of pods, just to hear anything said in relation to John. Jane knew all too well what it meant to lose the ones you love.

"I don't see him. If he's alive out there, the scans aren't picking him up." Ashley said with a professional voice that startled the entire group of survivors; "I… I'm sorry. I didn't mean…" She muttered, trying to form an apology. There was nothing after that, and the pod assumed an almost dead silence, aside from the heavy breathing of the distressed crewmembers.

As the pod closed in on the man she was emotionally bound to, Ashley started noticing a shimmering light dancing over his body. It was faint, and only registered when she looked at the scans again and again, trying to understand what was in front of her. It was Thomas alright, thank God for small mercies, but… there was something covering him.

"He is in a stasis field." Liara stated from behind her, with such suddenness that Ashley almost jumped right up from shock alone; "The armor holds but ten minutes of oxygen. It has been longer since the attack…"

"So he's kept alive by the field?" Scorch asked, trying to eek around the blue girl to get a look at the screen.

"Yes, I think so. Maybe John is out there too, encased in the same protection?" Liara said. Ashley shook her head slowly. If John was out there, he'd have been picked up by the scans, stasis or not. She didn't say this, though, as she felt enough pain was caused without putting word to it.

"Can we bring him inside the pod?" She finally asked as she stopped the vessel, just a few meters from the man she loved. Through the cameras, she could see there were no ruptures or gashes in his armor, none apart from what had already been there. Relief flooded her.

In one of the other pods, after having listened through the channels of the pods, a young Quarian girl had already broken into hysterical weeping and screaming.

"I don't see how... The pods only have a single door. Open it, and we suck everything out…" Jane muttered.

"Then what? Just leave him out there?" Ashley demanded, glaring at her Captain. The red-head remained calm and collected in the face of a furious and desperate pair of brown eyes; "We don't even know how long that stasis field is going to last!" Ashley shouted, hitting the nearest panel with a tight fist.

"Stasis fields can last for hours, days even. If we leave him alone, the field will feed off his own energy, maintaining itself until we-" Jane started.

"This is the BSV Guardian Angel, responding to Systems Alliance Normandy distress call. I repeat, this is the BSV Guardian Angel, responding to distress call in the Amada system."

The entire pod once more fell silent, this time in disbelief more than anything else. Jane looked around at the other occupants, and decided to answer the call the moment she realized that it wasn't just her own imagination.

"This is Captain Shepard of the Normandy. We were attacked by a cruiser of unknown origin, approx twenty minutes ago. My crew is scattered in escape-pods nearby. Oxygen is fine, but we have men in space, at least one of them suspended in stasis. How copy?" She said. It was only after she had spoken that she realized what 'BSV' stood for.

Blue Suns...

"Solid Copy, Captain. We already spotted one life-form drifting in biotic stasis. A shuttle will be dispatched to collect him."

"Can you see a Quarian out there too?" Jane asked, praying that the answer would be yes, like 'yes, we do and will pick him up'. She would even settle for a 'yeah, but we don't like suit rats', as that would mean they had seen John.

"Negative. A single life form, and it's human." The Voice, Turian if she guessed right, said.

"Fuck… oh fuck, Tali isn't going to… oh God."

"Captain Shepard?"

"Right, yes. How soon can you be here?"

"We're two minutes out and closing. Do you or your crew require immediate treatment upon arrival?"

"No, I think injuries have been minimal. The only injured is my pilot." Jane said, then added;"He suffers from Vrolik's syndrome."

"I see. Captain, we have you on visuals now. Is… Spirits, the wreck, is that…"

"The Normandy, yes."

"I am sorry for your loss, Captain. It was… a good ship, I have heard."

"It was." Jane muttered, keeping her eyes on the still form of her Service Chief, floating in space as he was. She had yet to process, much less accept or come to terms with the fact that she had lost John. She had sworn to make sure they both survived, and she had just…

She stood in front of the emergency controls, having just prepped the Distress Beacon, while the crew around her was running around, seeking positions and ways to make sure they made it. She turned the final handle, being rewarded with a ping as the beacon was ready.

"Jane!" John'Shepard had called from behind, bringing her attention back as she secured her helmet. It had been some time since she had worn the regular phase-II, but she had kept the armor, just in case.

"Distress beacon is ready for launch" She had said, just as the beacon did launch.

"You think the Alliance will get here in time?" John had asked, doubt in his voice. Around them, electronics sparked and died in bursts of fire, more than one forcing her to bring up an arm to brace herself.

"I'm sure as hell not doing this just to present some late team with a bunch of frozen corpses. How's the ship?"

"Fucked. Shields are gone, barriers down and we have more breaches-" An explosion rocked the ship; "Kazuat! Jane, we can't save the ship!"

Jane nodded and slammed the haptic display, calling for ship wide evacuation. She hated this, hated it all. She had lost the Normandy once already, by dying herself. Now, she would lose it a second time, to a species she had never even seen before.

"Get everyone to the escape-pods!"

"Jane, Joker's still in the cockpit, he won't leave. I'm getting him." The Quarian had said. It was one of those moments where he commanded such an aura of respect that she was compelled to nod.

"Just don't die on me, okay?"

"Captain, I'll be-"

"I mean it, John. Don't you fucking dare leave me with a heartbroken Tali." And he had run off. He had run off, up the stairs.

Now, now she had lost him. John had broken his promise, denied her order. He had gotten himself killed… She clenched her fists and cursed and swore beneath her breath, accursing whatever God or gods were really controlling the universe.

She looked at the other displays, showing a cruiser of Turian make slowly glide towards their little cluster of pods. It felt… empty, knowing she had failed. They were saved now, yes, but it had nothing to do with her efforts to keep people alive. She had failed. Thomas had bloody warned her, and she had still chosen to just go ahead and wait things out. Stupid, stupid thing to do. Idiotic. Insane. Careless.

"Captain Shepard, are you still with us?" She was jolted from her cursing and grinding of teeth by the Turian over the comms. Swallowing her frustrations, she forced herself to present the calm and collected face she knew a superior officer was supposed to carry at all times.

"I am. Status?"

"We're dispatching shuttles to bring your pods into our main hangar. We're sending out a shuttle with crew to bring in your man from space. Prepare for transit."

As the Turian spoke, Jane slumped down the wall of the pod, closing her eyes. She didn't bother reacting when a tremble went through the pod, as it was grabbed between a pair of outdated UH-42 Grizzly shuttles. Everything… it all just… I lost another one. Why… why do I keep losing my friends? Why does everyone I care about DIE?!


December 24th

BSV Guardian Angel

Medical facility, deck 2.

12:19

When Thomas woke up, he wasn't immediately aware of having even been under, or out of it. He knew he wasn't on the Normandy, for one. There was a whole new type of light here, where he looked up. It was like lying in the Medbay, actually. Except, the light here was… softer, sort of. That was the second thing he noticed, that he could see. That meant his eyes were open, which meant he was alive.

He could feel his entire body ache with soreness and pain, his arms mostly. It was impossible, as he wasn't even supposed to be able to be sore in the left arm. Part of it being bionic meant it was supposed to leave out that sort of stuff. He tried moving his head around, just looking around, but found that he simply didn't have the energy for it. It was as if all effort was directed at simply remaining awake.

Gods, but the pillow was soft. He found that he wanted nothing more than simply relaxing against the soft, cushioning material of a real, actual pillow. This one was far, far better than the Normandy pillows.

The Normandy…

What was it about the Normandy?

He was supposed to remember something about the Normandy, wasn't he? It was something rather important, he was sure, but… what? He sighed as memory eluded him, leaving him to simply enjoy the cool, soft pillow beneath his head. And a nice cover too, not too heavy or warm, and just thick enough that it was nice. But he was still sore. Maybe he had gone too much over the top in training?

The next thing he felt was a crushing hug, followed by what almost felt like desperation in the form of a kiss. Hot, soft lips pressed against his, with quick breathing being the only sound he could process as he tried understanding why he was being kissed, and by whom.

Obviously, the 'whom' had better be Ashley, or someone would be in serious trouble. Wait, he hadn't gotten drunk on leave and ended up with a hooker, right? No, no that would just be… besides, he didn't even like prostitution. It was wrong and… okay, yeah, that was definitely Ashley. He could recognize the taste of her now, the sound she made when breathing during a kiss. So, he did what he felt was right, and tried wrapping his arms around her back as he felt some of her weight on top of him, separated by the sheets. He could hardly move his arms though, so instead he settled for returning the kiss the best he could.

As it ended, his eyes could start taking in the appearance of his love, Ashley. She was teary and smiled at him with such relief that he started wiggling his toes, just to see if the relief was caused by her being glad he had survived getting his legs torn off. The again, what would have torn his legs off? Maybe Wrex, though the Krogan wasn't on the ship anymore. He'd gotten off the last time they were on Arcturus.

Kind of a shame, as it meant the Battlemaster, or Warlord or whatever he was, could escape being dressed up as Santa for Christmas. Ah well, would have probably looked silly too, so what the hell.

The next thing he noticed, was just how battered Ashley looked. There was a healing gash on her cheek, and she had a small amount of purple bruises on the chin, as well as a cracked lip. Funny, how he hadn't felt thát when they kissed.

"Oh thank God." She breathed, hugging him closely again. Thomas looked around, trying to process what was going on, as the woman he loved hugged him like he had just come back from the dead; "Thank God, thank God, you're awake."

"I… am glad to see you too, Ash?" He tried. Why was she so relived he was awake?

"I thought… God, I thought… when we couldn't find you, I…" She stammered, pressing the words out through tears. He did his best to comfort her, but as he really had no idea what the cause of her distress was, it was less than easy.

"I'm here. It's okay. I'm here, Ash." He tried, nudging the top of her head with his chin, his head being about the only part he could move right now. As he looked around, the fact that he wasn't on the Normandy, came back to him; "Ehm… where am I?"

Ashley pulled a little away from him, which wasn't as nice as before, because now he missed her warmth and the feeling of her body against his. She looked at him with mild surprise, though her eyes still radiated with both distress and immense relief.

"You… we're on a… after the attack, the Blue Suns…" She started.

"We were attacked by the Suns?" Thomas exclaimed. Last thing he had heard, the Suns had pretty much turned good-guy vigilantes. Why would they attack the Normandy-crew? Or, was it an attack on him personally? He hadn't killed any Suns mercs yet, had he? Honestly he couldn't remember. Maybe the Suns had been paid by Cerberus to kill him, as revenge for ruining their operation on Pragia?

"What? What, no I… you don't remember?" Ashley managed to stammer, confusion clear in her voice. What was he supposed to remember? The last thing he remembered… oddly enough, he couldn't remember what the last thing he remembered was.

"I… no?" He tried, feeling a slight throbbing in his head as he spoke, as well as a severe case of parcel-throat. Ashley looked more than a little disturbed for a moment, then looked at him with the saddest eyes he had seen since… actually, he couldn't remember having ever seen her thís sad before, and it looked more like sympathy than anything else. Oh gods! Who's dead!?

"Three days ago, the Normandy was attacked by… Jane called them Collectors, or said she suspected it was who'd done it. We were completely overwhelmed, and the Normandy was lost." Ashley spoke slowly, as if he was mentally incapacitated. In a way, he supposed he was, as an attack on the Normandy was clearly something he ought to remember.

"What?" Was all he managed to utter, fear rising in his mind. There were so many questions flying through his head now, that he started feeling dizzy; "How… how…who…"

"You were somewhere near the bridge, I think, when it happened. Joker said you forced him into one of the pods right before the ship itself was cut in half…" As Ashley spoke, Thomas started adding two and two together. If he had been the one to save Joker, then both Shepards had survived. YES! YES! Fuck yes!

His smile faltered though, as Ashley remained somber, and a cold, icy feeling crawled up his spine.

"Thomas…"

"Ash… who…" He whispered, fearing any response that would mean he had failed.

"We lost John…" She said with teary eyes; "He's dead."