There was a feeling of inevitability when I met you. The sense that we would be together; that there would be a moment when you would look at me in a certain way, and we could cross the threshold from friendship into something so much more. We spoke once about lovers who kept finding each other, no matter how many times the world came between them. And I think I had to break your heart, and you had to break mine. How else could we know the worth of what we were given? I think you were always meant to know me a little better than anyone else. And our lives were fated to converge like some cosmic dance. I know there is terrible distance between us. But our bodies are made of celestial light, and we are hurtling through space and time, toward the most beautiful collision. — Lang Leav, The Universe of Us


CO – Commanding Officer
Inamorata – A woman with whom one is in love or has intimate relations; a female lover (Italian)
NDA – Non-Disclosure Agreement, signed by Yuán and Traynor at termination of the Ø7 program
SDU – Standard Duty Uniform
VI – Virtual Intelligence
X3M – a contragravity speeder designed for transporting individuals in metropolises and space stations.
XO – Executive Officer


• FRIGATE SSV NORMANDY, FINAL OUTFITTING · ARCTURUS SHIPYARD •

Specialist Samantha Traynor was completing the final connections linking the ship's new flight computer to the flight controls at the pilot's and navigator's stations on the bridge of the newest ship in the Alliance Navy. Unlike the standard accepted practice of the pilot, navigator and deck officer—be that the captain or the executive officer—all being grouped together on the ship's bridge, the pilot would be seated to the left of the centerline in the cockpit, all the way forward on deck one; the captain or his second, generally the XO, would direct ship operations from the Combat Information Center, or CIC, through the use of integrated comms units, while standing on a platform behind a projection of the galaxy map. A raised walkway between the bridge and the CIC—the tactical passageway—ran between eight operations stations where specialists in various aspects of starship operations would sit, monitoring for and correcting problems as they arose.

Traynor had been meticulously tracing and connecting all the light conducting control cables between the galaxy map interface and the flight control interfaces on the bridge. Additionally, she had to ensure that the generator for the bridge's internal kinetic barrier—designed to protect the pilot from vacuum exposure should a catastrophic decompression occur in the CIC—would activate automatically without fail each and every time she triggered the test cycle.

Sammy had just finished closing the access panels to the flight controls in front of the pilot's seat when a man she didn't know hobbled onto the bridge with the aid of crutches. "May I help you?" she asked politely.

The man took a few moments to look around the bridge, apparently with a great deal of interest, before turning to smile at Sammy. "Name's Moreau … Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau. I brought General Invectus to the shipyard control center—he's the turian assigned to evaluate the Normandy's readiness after its test flight. I'm just taking a look around the ship before Captain Anderson comes on board."

"You sound … I don't know, disappointed somehow. Are you not the assigned pilot?"

Moreau's response was bitter. "I applied. Aced all the written tests, flew the wings off the simulator, but …" he held up his crutches as he continued with a self-deprecating chuckle, " … as soon as the brass sees my sticks, all of my accomplishments are conveniently forgotten."

Traynor shook her head slightly in sympathy. "That's tough … I'm sorry." Checking the chrono in the bulkhead beside the hatch, she said, "I have to finish my checklist, Flight Lieutenant, so if you'll excuse me?"

Stepping aside, Moreau touched the brim of his cap and replied, "By all means, Specialist. I'll be right out."

Traynor nodded, picked up her toolkit and strode out the hatch towards the CIC, there to go down to the engineering deck to inspect and verify the connections from the flight controls on the bridge and from the navigator's station at the galaxy map.


• SYSTEMS ALLIANCE R&D CENTER · OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM · EARTH •

Samantha Traynor had been surprised to learn the Alliance research and development facility was not actually located in London, but 92 kilometers northwest, in the city of Oxford, literally a stone's throw from the college she had attended thanks to the tuition paid for by the Alliance. She had been flown in from Earth orbit aboard a heavy-lift freight shuttle that had touched down at the London-Oxford Airport; from there, she was assigned an air car from the small Alliance fleet in order to travel the 13 kilometers south to her new posting. The X3M would be hers to use for the duration of her stay in Oxford, as her work would involve a significant amount of travel between the several research centers scattered about the city.

Upon arriving at the main facility next to Oxford Castle, she set her speeder down in a spot reserved for visitors in order to check in with her new CO, Marine Major Leland Hansen. She stepped out of the vehicle and looked around at her surroundings with a great deal of interest. Not much had changed since she had graduated college and left for Vancouver. Not much here, came the thought. Just everything in my life has changed, and now here I am, back where I started. She slung her small bag over her shoulder before sealing the X3M against intrusion—the rest of her kit was inside, and she would be sick if any of her special weapons were stolen.

Walking confidently through the main entrance, she stopped in front of the receptionist, a seemingly small woman with a sergeant's chevrons on her sleeves. Showing her orders, she announced herself: "Specialist Samantha Traynor, here to see Major Hansen?"

The sergeant entered several commands into the haptic interface in front of her; after waiting a few moments, the terminal chimed its response. Looking back up at Traynor with a smile, she said, "Welcome to Oxford, Ma'am; you're right on time. If you wouldn't mind, please have a seat while I inform the major you've arrived."

Moving to one of the nearby chairs, Sammy mused, Damn! She's really polite. Is everyone here gonna be that way? Sammy had barely taken a seat when a door beside the receptionist's desk swung open to reveal a trim man of medium height and build, dressed in a crisp uniform. "Ms Traynor?" he said as Sammy stood up. "I'm Major Hansen."

Traynor came to attention and saluted before Hansen had finished speaking; after acknowledging her salute, the major stepped up and offered his hand. "Good to meet you, Specialist. Captain Anderson spoke quite highly of you … please, do come in," he said as he waved her into his office. "We have much to discuss." Turning his attention to the sergeant, he said, "Would you mind sending for a tea service, Michelle. Just bring it in when it arrives, thank you."

The major walked in behind Sammy and closed the door; waving her to a chair at his conference table, he sat opposite her and referred to a datapad he had retrieved from his desk. "I'll get right to it, Traynor. I've read through your service record; quite frankly, I'm surprised at some of what's here. Seems Lieutenant Commander Garrett Sutton was reduced in rank and relieved of his command at Arcturus … Malfeasance. Serious charge. You provided Anderson with the ammo he needed to get that done, yet you still have a black mark in an otherwise spotless service record—a record, I might add, that has a fair amount of redacted information. Care to explain?"

"I'm sorry, Sir. I had to sign a legally-binding NDA concerning my time in a … special training program."

"That's too bad, Specialist. Without violating that NDA, can you answer one question for me?" Clasping his hands in front of him on the polished table, he leaned forward as he asked, "Just why in the name of all that's good in this world aren't you a Marine?"

Traynor was at a complete loss for words. "Sir? Does my answer have some connection to my assignment here?"

The major leaned back and roared with laughter. Still chortling, he wiped his eyes as he said, "I'm sorry, Specialist. I should have warned you … I was included in a conference call with Anderson and General RaeLee Park." As sudden understanding colored Sammy's expression, a knock at the door was preceded by Sergeant Delaney entering with hot water and mugs for the requested tea. "Ah! Excellent, Michelle. Set that tray right between us. We can serve ourselves. Thank you."

She quietly set the tray down and left, closing the door gently behind her.

Hansen stood, waving Traynor down as he did so. After he had poured them each a cup of hot tea, he retook his seat, sipped from his mug and sighed, before continuing, "I know a great deal about your education, Ms Traynor … top of your class … just down the street, if I'm not mistaken."

"Yes, Sir."

"That education cost the Alliance a significant number of credits; it's nice to see their faith in you wasn't misplaced." Hansen continued to smile as he looked through her record. "I'm more interested in the knowledge and abilities you've acquired since college, Specialist … real world experience … in electronics, computers, communications systems. Still, it was quite refreshing to hear from General Park that a supposedly meek tech-geek has a titanium spine and isn't afraid to defend herself."

Not knowing what else to say, Sammy simply nodded as she responded with, "Yes, Sir."

"The general indicated you graduated from an unnamed special program at the top of your class, Specialist—a class she said included a helluva lot of combat training. Now, I seriously doubt you'll see any combat while you're in Oxford, Ms Traynor, but you may be happy to know we do have a well-equipped gym downstairs, should you feel the need to keep to an exercise regimen."

Hansen polished off his cup of tea; making several notations on his datapad, he touched a control with a flourish. This activated Sammy's omnitool, the deep purple glow indicating it had received and archived the material for later reading. "All the info you need is right there, Ms Traynor—your quarters are in the building just to the south. There are a number of nice ale houses and restaurants close by. As soon as you're settled, come see me … I'll introduce you to our comms systems R&D director. I think you'll get along famously here." Standing, he stuck his hand out again and concluded by saying, "Welcome to Oxford, Specialist Traynor."


• SSV TOKYO, AT LARGE · UTOPIA SYSTEM, EXODUS CLUSTER •

"You're not in Vancouver?" Xiùlán was surprised at Sammy's news. "I don't understand … you didn't expect this, did you?"

Traynor smiled at her Inamorata's confusion. "Captain Anderson recommended me to an old friend, Major Leland Hansen … he's the CO of the Oxford R&D facility." The high regard Traynor had for the facility and the personnel she was working with was evident in her radiant smile and happy demeanor. "It's the perfect fit for me, Ai! [愛 - Love (Sam's meaning is 'luv')] It's the first time since our program ended I've felt truly relaxed at my job! Everyone is so pleasant—none of the bullshit I had to put up with at Arcturus."

Yuán was thrilled her lover appeared to be so happy. "That's wonderful news, Sà mi! I'm so pleased for you."

Traynor couldn't keep the concern from her voice as she asked, "What about you, Lieutenant? I've tried to keep up with the Third Fleet's movements in Arcturus and Hades Gamma, but most of the information about ship movements is classified, and I'd be the first to agree that's a good idea, but … I really hate that I can't point to a spot on a galaxy map and know that's where you are. How are you doing under your new captain?"

"It only took a few days to get used to Captain Tyler's way of doing things—she's not that different from Captain Anderson." Xiùlán looked down for a moment before bringing her head back up and continuing. "Rumor mill is working overtime out here, and I seriously doubt you can confirm anything I've heard concerning the Normandy."

Sammy chuckled. "No news from the Citadel, which was supposed to be its first port of call, but …" suppressing a giggle she continued with, "The brass did leave the thing unlocked … partially my fault, I guess."

Xiùlán looked intently at the image on her screen as she reluctantly asked, "Just what, exactly, was your fault, Sà mi?"

"A flight lieutenant entered the bridge as I was leaving for the engineering deck … I was in the process of tracing and confirming all the connections between the galaxy map in the CIC, the cockpit, and engineering. He said he'd be right out …" Traynor paused as she thought back. "Damned if that son of a bitch didn't seal the kinetic barriers after locking himself in the cockpit; he fired up the engines and took the ship out for an unauthorized joyride, Xiùlán."

"What the hell, Sà mi? How could that happen?"

"He must have known all the correct pass-codes—told me he'd brought General Invectus to the yard to certify the ship after its test flight." Traynor's expression was one of total amazement. "He had to use crutches to get around—told me he'd aced all the written tests and the simulator, but no one would give 'im a shot at the pilot's chair after they caught sight of his sticks." Shaking her head from side-to-side, she concluded with, "Guess he figured stealing the ship and demonstrating his prowess was the only way to make an impression."

"So, did the brass clap him in irons and drag him off to prison?"

"That's the really strange part of the entire episode, Xiùlán!" Sammy's amazement was readily apparent. "Brass gave 'im the damned job! Actually flew rings around the interceptors sent after him. They were under orders to target propulsion, but he was able to evade every shot they took at him."

"So, Anderson's the captain of a stealth frigate being piloted by a rogue flight lieutenant? What about punishment for stealing the ship?"

"Anderson told him he'd have to accept some form of punishment for being so brazen, but I don't know what that was. The captain was kinda forced to accept Moreau as his pilot … and the turian general is the one that came to his defense! He told Captain Anderson in no uncertain terms that since Moreau beat all their trials with time to spare, and successfully adjusted to unexpected conditions while under weapons fire, he was exactly the kind of man the turians wanted piloting the Normandy."

"I'll just bet Invectus is now the Alliance's most favorite turian," came the snarky comment. "So, what happened next?"

Sammy laughed again as she replied, "He suggested, in no uncertain terms, that Alliance brass had better listen to him—in the interest of continuing good turian-human relations."

It was Yuán's turn to express amazement. "Never heard of a human that was able to impress a turian … about anything! So, nothing at all about what happened when the ship got to the Citadel?"

"There are a few stories floating around concerning a rogue Spectre … and there's been some mention of geth, but they're just that … stories, and they cannot be independently corroborated. Besides, you know how the brass is, Xiùlán. We're not supposed to talk about anything but the weather …" Sammy turned her head, as if looking out a nearby window. "Touch of fog and a cold drizzle here right now. You?"

Xiùlán laughed. "It's cold outside … damned cold! No air to speak of, so no fog, rain or wind. Pretty much the same thing every day. Kind of boring, really." Grimacing slightly, she said, "I have to cut this short, Sà mi. You take care! Send me a text when you get a moment."

"Okay then … Wo ài ni, Xiùlán! Stay safe out there."

"You too. Wo duì ni de ài tiānchángdìjiu, Sà màn shā." [我對你的愛天長地久,薩曼莎,– My love for you is as enduring as the sky and the earth, Samantha.]


• SYSTEMS ALLIANCE R&D CENTER · OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM · EARTH •

Samantha Traynor had spent a full six weeks researching ways to gain even greater performance from existing quantum communications nodes—perhaps enable one node of a connected pair to have its entangled pairs doubled, effectively allowing for real-time communications among four similarly connected nodes. The laboratory tests had been promising, but real world results had ultimately proved disappointing—the limited bandwidth of one entangled pair was effectively halved when the entangled particles were doubled—where a single entangled particle was capable of transmitting a single quantum bit of data at once, doubling the number of entangled particles significantly reduced the quantity of data that could be transmitted between the entangled pairs. After a lot of reconfiguring and retesting, Sammy was forced to concede to Major Hansen's assessment that it would simply be more efficient—and cost effective—to have multiple QEC nodes in one central location, such as Arcturus Station, with matching nodes installed in the flagship assigned to each of the fleets calling Arcturus 'home'; each Alliance colony would also maintain a QEC at its military headquarters, connected to matching nodes in Arcturus.

At this, Traynor expressed fear that, however unlikely, the destruction of the comm center at Arcturus would collapse the entire network. She had mapped out her solution and presented it to Major Hansen—each of the ships connected by QEC to Arcturus would have an additional node installed; this would be paired with a node at either the Alliance headquarters in London, or the HQ in Vancouver, BC. When asked why she felt that placing very expensive QEC nodes on Earth and installing the matching nodes on the ships was a good idea, she explained how simple it would be for an unknown enemy to destroy the comm buoys that were the fallback communications tools for everyone, should the communications terminals in Arcturus be destroyed.

"If comms on Arcturus were crippled or destroyed and the comm buoys in the Serpent Nebula, Sol, the Exodus Cluster and the Horse Head Nebula were eliminated, real time communications with the majority of our fleets would be non-existent," she had explained. "The further away our fleets operate, the more important reliable comms with the brass become, wherever they're located."

To his credit, Major Hansen endorsed Traynor's recommendations and sent them up the chain to the Defense Committee; additionally, he placed a commendation in her record praising her original thinking, research methodology, and reasoning skills. Saying, "We'll just see if all their soft living has completely blinded them to the necessity of being prepared for any eventuality, no matter how unlikely."

As it turned out, Traynor's foresight turned out to be the safety net the Alliance needed.


• SSV TOKYO · AT LARGE, EXODUS CLUSTER •

The Tokyo's arrival in the Utopia system had been welcomed somewhat ambivalently by a majority of the colonists living on Eden Prime. Captain Alicia Tyler had entered the system unannounced shortly after the Normandy had left for the Citadel in order for Captain Anderson to present their findings concerning an unprecedented—and unprovoked—attack on the colony by geth forces, inexplicably led by a turian Spectre, Saren Arterius. More disturbing than that news were numerous reports of an enormous dreadnaught that had actually landed on the outskirts of Constant, the colony's capitol. If true, then the geth had developed and constructed an incredibly huge warship, able to generate mass effect fields powerful enough to land on a planetary surface, the implication being that it possessed a massive eezo core—with the ability to produce enormous amounts of energy. The only naval vessels belonging to any species that were capable of landing on a planet such as Eden Prime were frigates and smaller vessels.

Lieutenant Yuán had been placed in charge of collating all the reports from various sources; to that end, she was given a shuttle and a Marine escort in order to obtain the data files and interview the few surviving eye witnesses to the attack.

She began by interviewing the head of Constant's security forces; after obtaining copies of all the available vid-files of the attack, she traveled to the site where the Prothean relic had been dug up. The site was empty of anything worth investigating—the relic had been relocated before Shepard and her companions arrived. Going up the hill behind the dig site led her to a small freight shipping area—it was here she encountered several workers that had hidden themselves during the geth attack—they had spoken to Commander Shepard as she pursued Saren to the small spaceport where the Prothean beacon had been taken.

As much as she hated the task, she performed a cursory examination of Nihlus Kryik; the murdered Spectre had been placed in a container with a stasis generator. As it was obvious he had died from a gunshot at close range to the back of his head, she reactivated the stasis generator and called down a shuttle to transport the unfortunate turian back to the Tokyo—Captain Tyler could make arrangements for a transport to retrieve the Spectre once they returned to Arcturus.

Taking the shuttle to the small shipping port where the remains of the Prothean relic was located, she noted a number of inactive geth platforms on the ground and staging areas; these she ignored, as there was no known method of retrieving any data from the machines once they had been deactivated.

Of more immediate interest were the four bombs Saren had caused to be placed in an effort to destroy any trace of his presence on the planet. Yuán once again called the Tokyo, asking for a bomb disposal crew to come down in order to either remove or disassemble them before any colonists could unintentionally trigger an explosion.

After spending the entire day on the surface of Eden Prime, Yuán was happy to be back aboard the Tokyo—she still had to finish her report, but it would be much easier aboard ship than attempting to do so in the cramped confines of their shuttle. Having scheduled a meeting with Captain Tyler for the next morning, Xiùlán finished writing her report before taking a soothing shower. She was not sure how, but the distinctive smell of charred plant life had combined with the unearthly stench of spilled non-organic lubricant and hydraulic fluids from the geth machines to cover her in an unhealthy smelling odor. Once out of the running water, she quickly wrapped her long hair in a smaller towel, then dried her body.

After pulling on a pair of shorts and a crop top, she tossed her soiled clothing into a laundry bin, then sat down at her desk to consider her report. The entry of Olivia to their shared quarters brought a welcome sigh from Xiùlán as she greeted her roommate and friend. "Kenzie! How was your day?"

"Pretty routine, until I had to go dirtside to lead the retrieval of a bunch of unexploded ordinance. Where in hell would the geth obtain Alliance grade explosive devices? Just one of those damned things could have obliterated that entire platform and a significant portion of the colony. All four together would have left a crater big enough to hide this ship!"

Xiùlán's mouth fell open at this revelation. "Then I guess it's a good thing they were all deactivated before they could detonate. The report I read mentioned Shepard personally disabled each of them. And the geth didn't bring them—that damned turian procured them from somewhere, probably from Arcturus—then had them shipped to that transfer station. He couldn't take the artifact with him—he actually had no further use for it—so he was going to make damned sure no one else could use it after he left."

McKenzie shook her head in amazement. "Commander Shepard is really something. Don't know how she managed it, but rumors from multiple sources say the Council gave her command of the Normandy so she can track down Saren and put a stop to whatever he's planning."

It was Xiùlán's turn to look amazed. "If that's true, what about Captain Anderson? Surely he was given some assignment in consideration of his rank and standing."

"If he was given a new job, there's no news of it." Pausing for a moment, she then dropped an unexpected bombshell. "Ambassador Udina felt that Anderson's past involvement with Saren would taint any investigation he was involved in. The good news is the Council named Shepard a Spectre … the first human ever. It was the only way to free her from Alliance oversight, and with Anderson ashore on the Citadel, Shepard's free to pursue Saren wherever he goes."

Xiùlán's mind was reeling at everything she'd just learned from McKenzie. Finally finding her voice again, she asked, "So, what in hell is Saren's endgame, Kenzie? I gather from everything he did on Eden Prime and the fact the Council felt it necessary to name Shepard a Spectre that the bastard really hates humans. Is that his goal? Eliminate humankind from the galaxy? Why else would he employ the geth?"

"Don't know," came the response, accompanied with a shrug of her shoulders. "I'll speak with Commander Nolan, see if he has any official word from Fleet Command—they must know something, although I'd bet they won't want to share anything."

"Guess we just have to be ready for whatever shitstorm is coming our way," Xiùlán concluded.


• SSV TOKYO · ORBITING EARTH, SOL SYSTEM •

Instead of traveling to Arcturus Station, the Tokyo had been ordered back to the Sol System, there to transfer the unexploded bombs—picked up from a trans-shipment platform on the outskirts of Constant on Eden Prime—to an an Alliance engineering depot at the Quonset Point spaceport in Rhode Island. The plan was to ferry the recovered ordinance down—one at a time—to a fortified bunker near the spaceport. Once their cargo was secured in Alliance custody on the planet, the Tokyo would return to Arcturus to await further orders—scuttlebutt going around told of a significant number of geth having been discovered on the Knossos system's planet of Therum, with lots of wildly fanciful reasons put forth to justify their presence there.

On the off chance that Sammy could get away for a day … or even half a day, Xiùlán sent an encrypted message to her Inamorata as soon as the Tokyo entered the system. A shuttle flight from Oxford would only take a short time; with any luck, she could have lunch or dinner with Sammy before the Tokyo's scheduled departure.

Traynor had a surprise of her own—she and a pair of junior technicians was going to be ferried up to the Tokyo, along with the parts, equipment and tools needed to install a QEC terminal in the ship's secure communications compartment. The link for this second terminal would be placed at the northwestern division of Alliance HQ in Vancouver, which would be Sammy's next port of call. The Tokyo would remain in Earth orbit until Traynor declared the new QEC terminal ready for use.


Sammy bounded out of the shuttle ahead of the other techs and jogged up to an impatiently waiting Lieutenant. Literally skidding to a stop in front of Yuán, Traynor came to attention and executed a smart salute, which was enthusiastically answered by Yuán. "Sà mi … it is so wonderful to see you!"

As they were standing in the very public light transport shuttle bay, Traynor managed to keep her exuberance reined in as she replied, "Ni de ài shi wo de shēnghuó wánzhěngle!" [你的愛使我的生活完整了, 秀蘭 – Your love makes my life complete, Xiùlán!] I cannot begin to tell you how much I have missed you since you departed for Eden Prime; it looks like we'll be able to have our meals together—if being seen with a non-com specialist won't get you into trouble, Ai [愛—Love (Sam's meaning is luv)]."

"Sounds wonderful, Sà mi! I'll speak with Commander Nolan, see if we can sync our meal breaks." A brief wave of discontent washed over Xiùlán's expression, to be instantly replaced by her happy smile. "Unfortunately, I don't think we'll be able to share sleeping quarters aboard—I generally won't be allowed in the guest quarters, and you certainly won't be allowed in officer's country." Nodding towards the shuttle, she concluded by saying, "At least I can show you around the ship just a bit. Go get your bags so I can escort you and your tech team to your quarters."


Specialist Traynor and her team spent an intense eleven days installing and testing the QEC terminal on the Tokyo—the first on any Alliance ship that was not connected to a matching QEC on Arcturus Station. On her next-to-last day aboard ship, she had been led down an unfamiliar passageway by XO Nolan; he knocked on an unmarked door at the end. When the Haptic interface turned green, he opened the door and waved Traynor inside ahead of him. Standing behind and to one side of Sammy, he announced to the woman sitting behind a massive desk, "Captain, this is Specialist Samantha Traynor … Specialist, Captain Tyler. She wanted to speak with you before your departure from the ship tomorrow."

Tyler stood and offered her hand across the desk, which Sammy took and pumped once before stepping back and waiting. Tyler waved her to a chair next to her desk as she said, "Specialist, I need you to fill me in on the modifications you and your team have made to my comms system … specifically as to why in hell we need a second QEC node in a compartment already crowded with equipment."

The corners of Sammy's mouth tipped up ever so slightly as she sat down; she offered a succinct explanation of her theory concerning the likelihood that an unknown enemy could conceivably blind Alliance command and the fleets by simply destroying a few comm buoys and the communications center on Arcturus Station.

"I've been doing research on advanced quantum communications for the past eight weeks—two weeks ago, I presented my findings and proposed remedies to the major in charge of my R&D unit. He, in turn, presented all of the facts and figures to the Alliance Defense Committee, who ultimately agreed with our assessments, and our warnings."

Alicia smiled slightly as she scanned through the report on her datapad. "Specialist, the Defense Committee is not known for thinking about the future—certainly not to the degree we would like. I find it just a bit incredible that you were able to convince them to spend millions of credits to retrofit ships with additional QEC capacity." After a brief pause, she asked, "So, the other node for this additional system will be on Earth?"

"Yes, Ma'am. In Vancouver, to be precise."

"Can you tell me how being able to communicate with Earth will benefit this ship?"

"The unit will be your comms backup, Captain," Sammy replied easily. "Under normal conditions, you'll work through Arcturus, just like always. You'll only need to use our add-on during extreme conditions."

Tyler sat back in her chair; clasping her hands together in her lap, she said, "Specialist, I'm going to take you at your word. I don't really believe there's an enemy powerful enough to simultaneously knock out comms at Arcturus and destroy the comm buoys in four or five systems. If that were to happen, I'd expect Earth would be attacked as well."

"The QEC nodes on the planet will be installed in hardened bunkers, away from the actual core of operations in Vancouver, Ma'am. The Defense Committee doesn't want the comms on Earth to be as vulnerable as those on a space station."

Tyler nodded as she thought about Traynor's words. "Well, let's hope your version of the apocalypse doesn't come to pass, Ms Traynor." Standing, she asked, "So, you and your team heading for Vancouver when you leave the Tokyo?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Sammy replied as she matched Tyler's move. "We have to install the mate to the system we just placed in your comms center." Offering her hand, she said, "It's been a pleasure to meet you, Captain. With any luck, you'll have real-time comms ability with Earth by the end of next week."


Xiùlán faced Traynor as she stood beside the waiting shuttle. "This just seems to get more difficult each time, Sà mi, and not having had any alone time really makes it tough."

Sammy was having a difficult time keeping her emotions in check. "I can only hope we'll get some time together when you get your next shore leave. I'll be in Vancouver doing installations for the foreseeable future—two more teams will deploy from R&D in Oxford to carry out installations on the heavy cruisers and dreadnaughts." Pausing for a moment, she glanced around the vast hanger before returning her attention to Xiùlán. "You think we should … I don't know … maybe … get married, Ai?"

Xiùlán had to force herself to remain calm. "Where in hell did that come from, Sà mi?"

Traynor's face, for all its normal coloration, could not completely hide the blush she felt was setting her cheeks on fire. "I've been thinking about it … a lot … ever since my melt down on Arcturus. It's just … I'm unable to live without you in my life, Xiùlán … you know that, don't you? I want to be your wife, and I want you to be mine. Is that wrong, or …"

Xiùlán placed a finger vertically across Sammy's lips to stop her from rambling. "It's not wrong, Sà mi. I admit, I have thought about it myself. And the answer is yes, my darling. I want us to take that step." Xiùlán thought the sun couldn't get any brighter than the radiant smile on Traynor's face. "Let's think about it, okay—see what we need to do in order to pull it off."

Sammy could only nod as she attempted to get her voice working against the tightness in her throat; changing the subject completely, she asked, "So, where's the next port of call for you and the Tokyo?"

"Scuttlebutt says we'll be going to a colony in Attican Beta—something about krogan mercenaries and geth attacking ExoGeni colonists on Feros. The Normandy is already in the system—we'll be going in as their backup, should they need us. Can't imagine there's that many geth or krogan out there."

"Well, you be careful if you have to go dirtside. I don't think they'll let me come rescue your sweet ass if you get in trouble," Traynor concluded with a grin. "I love you, Yuán Xiùlán."

"Wo ài ni, Sà mi! [我愛你,薩米 – I love you, Sami] Zhùyì ānquán!" [注意安全。– Stay safe.]