Every beginning has an end and every end is a new beginning. — Santosh Kalwar, Quote Me Everyday


• SYSTEMS ALLIANCE DOCK CHARLIE-SEVEN, BERTH ZERO-THREE · CITADEL •
0745, FRIDAY, 25 JANUARY, 2188 ◦

Commander Armando Bailey walked up to the Kong Kong's port side airlock and addressed the Marine standing by the entrance. "Your captain on board, Private?"

"Yes Sir. Do you need to see her?"

"I realize it's a bit early, but yes, if I could have a few minutes …"

Private Abbott was about to activate his comlink before pausing to say, "My captain is on board, but I need to ask for some clarification, Sir. Do you need to speak with Captain William Cody, or Captain Yuán Xiùlán?"

Puzzlement was apparent on Bailey's face as he replied, "I need to speak with Captain Cody … is he aboard this vessel, or? …" Bailey's question trailed off in confusion as understanding dawned on Private Abbott.

"Captain William Cody assumed command of the Normandy at 0001 yesterday morning, Sir," Abbott replied. "Do you still wish to speak with him? He is currently on Deck Two, packing his personal gear for transfer over to the Normandy."

Bailey was beginning to grasp what had transpired during the past couple of days. "So, if Cody is now in command of the Normandy, who? …"

Abbott answered his question before Bailey could finish verbalizing it. "Staff Commander Yuán Xiùlán was promoted to Captain and assumed command of this vessel at 0001 yesterday. She is on board as well … I can request that someone escort you down to see her, or … both of them, if you like."

"Thank you, Private. Comm … er, Captain Yuán will be perfect, actually. She was a lot more involved than Cody in all the crap involving the Blue Suns."

Abbott grinned in acknowledgement. "Yes Sir, she certainly was." He touched his ear, activating his comlink. "C-Sec Commander Bailey is here to see Captain Yuán." He waited for a few moments, then addressed Bailey. "XO Cross will come up to escort you to the Captain's office, Sir."

Abbott remained beside the open outer hatch; in less than a minute, Lieutenant Cross entered the short passageway, stepped out onto the dock and offered his hand. "Commander Bailey, it's a pleasure. I'll escort you down to see the Captain."

"I understand Captain Cody is also on board, Lieutenant, packing up to leave the ship."

"He is" Cross replied. "Captain Yuán is breaking with tradition, choosing to stay on the port side of the ship. Captain's quarters have always been on the starboard side, but she's a practical person … doesn't see the need to move. Easier for all three of us … once Captain Cody has all his gear out, I can move into his former quarters without having to wait for Captain Yuán to move from port to starboard."

They walked past the crew mess area and stopped outside Yuán's quarters. Cross touched the glowing red haptic door lock; the sound of wind chimes could be heard inside, followed by the lock's color changing to green and an invitation to enter. Cross turned to Bailey as the hatch segments retracted and said, "Good to have you aboard, Sir. Enjoy your visit."

Bailey thanked him and walked into Captain Yuán's office and living quarters. Xiùlán stood behind her desk and waved him to a chair as she extended her right hand. "Commander Bailey. What a surprise. Must be serious to bring the head of C-Sec out so early in the morning. She returned to her seat as Bailey sat down across from her. "Can I get you anything? Coffee or tea, or water?"

Bailey thanked her as he declined, then said, "Congratulations, Captain, on your promotion and your new command. I had intended to speak with Captain Cody …"

Yuán grinned as she leaned back in her chair. "Not sure if I should feel insulted or not." Continuing on, she added, "So, what did you need to talk to Captain Cody about? Anything you can share with me?"

Bailey grimaced. "My apologies, Captain … no offense intended. It's just that Cody was the first one that involved me in these Blue Suns attacks. I know you were involved in rescuing Miranda Lawson from her captivity on Earth." Bailey smiled. "Seems you were also involved in every attack made on Ms Lawson since then."

Yuán chuckled and responded, "Miranda as much as blamed me for all the attacks directed at her since her rescue from those bastards." Xiùlán leaned forward, arms crossed on her desk. "Thing is, their attempts at kidnapping or killing her haven't been repeated since we captured their ringleader and put him in irons."

Bailey smile was grim. "That's why I'm here, Captain. I would like to talk to the creepy little dirt bag that took a shot at you. I know he was actually aiming for Ms Lawson … you had the misfortune of standing in the way."

"Joesiar?" Yuán said the name and made a face, as if it left a foul stench and taste in her nose and mouth. "You want to talk to Joesiar?"

"Can you get me in to see him, Captain? I'd like to talk to him about a room filled with explosives … a compartment inside an InNetCo warehouse that is … or was … a front for Suns activity in Delta Ward. It was the destination originally programmed into your shuttlecraft's navi-computer when you accompanied Ms Lawson from the Hong Kong … you had to reprogram Huerta Memorial as the new destination."

Xiùlán finished her tea and asked, "What happened at this warehouse, Commander?"

"Remote detonation, by someone watching a vid-monitor nearby. A number of my squad was severely injured in that explosion … some of them didn't survive the ensuing 36 hours." Bailey paused as he thought about that day. "I want to find out if this … Joesiar … had anything to do with that explosion, Captain. As head of C-Sec I need to add my own charges to those the Alliance is bringing concerning the attempts on Miranda Lawson and …," Bailey paused as he looked directly at Xiùlán, " …you, Captain Yuán."

"Commander, you may be in luck. I believe it would be in our best interests if you did go see the cǎn [慘 – awful] … ah, that is, the alleged perpetrator. He might even be willing to talk to you if I can persuade a certain party to accompany you."

Bailey's expression flashed surprise for an instant, causing Xiùlán to smile as he asked, "Who'd you have in mind?"

"Joesiar doesn't have an advocate … he's been kept under wraps since his arrest. I'd like to have Major Kaidan Alenko accompany you. Joesiar is a craven little coward. Having a Council Spectre at your side just might be enough to loosen his tongue. I know you're aware Spectre's don't have their hands tied by rules and regulations … Joesiar's facing charges of terrorism, tampering with and destruction of Alliance property, assault with intent to commit grievous injuries and multiple charges of attempted murder."

Xiùlán poured herself some more tea as she continued, "He might manage to skate on one or two of those, but I'm the main witness against him for the attempted murder charges." She paused as she contemplated punishments meted out for various criminal activities. "It sometimes seems a shame that humanity eliminated the death penalty as a possible sentence for kidnapping, rape and murder. The ancient Chinese legal system is rife with tales of torture to extract confessions from miscreants. I expect batarian practices of justice these days may be similar—maybe even worse—but Joesiar had batarians working for him and with him, so I expect he might fare alright in a batarian court of law, if there even is such a thing." She grinned as she asked, "Do you know if any of his transgressions were against the Hegemony?"

Bailey smiled as he replied, "I don't know Ma'am, and there's no batarian embassy on the Citadel. It'd be nice to be able to ask them if they have any grievances against him."

Yuán chuckled at the thought of a mob of batarians standing outside Joesiar's cell, waving torches and pitchforks and hollering for his head.

"I'll ask Alenko to meet you at your office tomorrow, set up a meeting for you the day after. That work okay for you?"

Bailey stood and offered his hand; Yuán stood up as well. Taking her hand, he said, "Thank you, Captain Yuán. Having Spectre Alenko along just may prove useful in persuading Joesiar to talk."

"Good luck, Commander," Yuán replied. "I hope you get some positive results."


• ALLIANCE CRUISER SSV SHANGHAI, HIGH EARTH ORBIT · SOL SYSTEM •
◦ FRIDAY EVENING, 25 JANUARY, 2188 ◦

Captain Reuben Warner propped both feet on his desk and leaned back in his chair as he read through the orders he'd just received from Admiral Hackett. Captain Bill Cody was as good as his word – he'd promptly talked to the 'old man' about transferring Gunnery Chief Sandra Patton to the Normandy, and Hackett had sent the authorization and proposed promotion to him on the Shanghai every bit as promptly.

Warner had just read through the text a second time when a chime sounded at his door. Keying the lock, he asked his visitor to come in as her stood to greet her.

Sandra Patton walked into her captain's office and came to attention in front of his desk. "Gunnery Chief Patton reporting as ordered, Sir."

Warner replied, "Stand easy, Chief." Waving to one of the chairs in front of the desk he continued, "Take a seat … I have something here that requires your attention," as he returned to his own chair.

"I've received a transfer request for you, Gunnery Chief." Warner handed her a datapad containing the information he had received from Cody yesterday, along with the promotion offer guaranteed by Admiral Hackett. "You made an impression on an old mercenary when you were groundside in London … Zaeed Massani? Well, he currently has a berth on the Normandy and spoke to the new CO on your behalf. Seems they have need of an NCO with your qualifications. Interested?"

Patton quickly glanced through the text contained on the datapad—just several lines outlining a transfer to the SSV Normandy as a … "Is this for real, Captain?" She could hardly believe her eyes as she took a closer look at the datapad. 'Promotion to Master Gunnery Sergeant … position as Chief of the SSV Normandy's Weapons Systems Division'. She looked back at Captain Warner. She knew him as a 'no bullshit' kind of man; she also knew he treated everyone … everyone … on the Shanghai with the same sort of respect he demanded in return.

"It's for real, Ms Patton. As you can see, the promotion actually skips a rank; Admiral Hackett himself has signed off on this, but it's contingent on you agreeing to transfer to the Normandy."

"I don't know what to say, Captain. I haven't requested …"

Warner held up his hand to stop her. "I know that, Gunny. This offer came totally out of deep space, believe me, and if it didn't have that skip rank promotion tied to it, you wouldn't be sitting in that chair; being offered a skip rank promo is a golden opportunity for you to advance on up the NCO ladder, Ms Patton." He pointed at the datapad she was holding. "The Normandy needs a Master Gunnery Sergeant; you are more than qualified for the position, and that promotion offer is simply icing on the cake!"

Patton brought a hand up to her mouth to cover an ear-to-ear grin. It took a bit of mental effort to regain her professional mask. Removing her hand to speak, she haltingly asked, "When … when would this transfer … take place, Sir?"

Warner smiled. "A shuttle from the Normandy will be here in a few hours or so, after it makes a stop at Alliance HQ West, so you can get your gear packed and ready."

"You already told them 'yes'? How did you know I'd …"

" … accept the offer? You're a smart person, Gunny … you wouldn't still be on this ship if you weren't, just like it wouldn't make sense for you to turn this offer down. Besides, I'm told this shuttle's flight serves a secondary purpose. Couldn't get the details out of Cody … er, Captain Cody, your new CO. I do know you will do quite well under his command, Ms Patton. He just relinquished command of the Hong Kong to his XO, and there was never any negative comments heard or complaints filed during his tenure there."

Patton stood up, still not quite believing her good fortune. Warner stood as well and offered his hand across the desk. As she reached out to take it, he said, "The Shanghai will undoubtedly get by without you, Sandra, but I'll surely play hell trying to fill your position here."

"Cassie … um, Cassandra Marissa Harper, Sir," she replied. "Corporal, in my company. She has a good head on her shoulders. She should be considered for promotion to Sergeant; she has the required time and training. Then someone a bit further up the chain could go into my old slot." She released his hand, and as she turned to leave said, "Thank you, Captain, for everything. I've really enjoyed working on the Shanghai."

"You're welcome, Gunnery Chief. Oh, and if you truly believe Ms Harper has what it takes to make a good sergeant, send the particulars to me through the Shanghai's Extranet account … having the recommendation in writing will make it that much easier for me to make it happen for her. Hell, the work everyone's been doing outside? I think we should all get a month's paid leave, somewhere nice, if such a place still exists. Good luck, Gunny … and fly safe."


• CHARON RELAY · 2350 HOURS •

The UT-47a from the Orizaba appeared in the distance, a white point of light wreathed in shifting blue waves of energy that rapidly grew in size as it approached, then just as rapidly decelerated to sub-light velocity upon coming abreast of the enormous containment rings, which also slowed their rotation back to their normal stand-by speed of twenty revolutions a minute.

Lieutenant Sherri Morse's transfer to the Normandy wouldn't be final for another day; she had said 'yes' when Lieutenant Commander Cortez had asked her if she was really interested, and her captain on the Orizaba hadn't objected. As she was technically 'between' assignments—though no member of the Alliance military was ever 'between' assignments—she had been tasked with going to the local cluster to retrieve another transfer, this one from the SSV Shanghai. Hong Kong Captain Yuán Xiùlán had also requested she deliver a package to a general on Earth, which would be her first stop. She entered coordinates into the navi-computer and initiated the in-system jump towards the third planet from the sun. Glancing at her companion in the co-pilot's seat, she asked, "How're you doing, Ms Coré? Any problems?"

Edi turned her gaze to the Lieutenant and replied, "It is curious. I can feel the absence of the Normandy, as if there is a … hole … in my mind. I do not believe it affects my abilities, but I will continue to run diagnostics as we get closer to our destination."

Morse looked at Edi with some concern. "We're about two and a half hours or so from landing in Vancouver. I asked Commander Cortez to keep an eye on Shepard, just to make sure she's able to maintain her own stability without you on board."

Lieutenant Morse had spent the previous day aboard the Normandy being read-in to everything concerning Edi and the ship's computer, along with Commander Shepard's history on the Normandy SR-1, beginning with that ship's destruction and her death at the hands of the Collectors, then her subsequent rebuild and tenure with Cerberus. Her history fighting the Reapers as Commander of the confiscated and reconfigured Normandy SR-2 was less of a mystery than was her time spent with Cerberus.

Actually meeting the commander had been a real treat for Morse; she had been pleasantly surprised—after hearing all the horror stories—at just how friendly and welcoming Shepard had been. And having served on a dreadnaught for so long, she was astonished at the amount of space available inside the Normandy; after her first conversation with LC Cortez, she had pictured the ship in her mind as not having much more interior volume than the shuttle she was currently flying.

Keying the comm system to the secure channel for Alliance HQ, she made her first call to its adjacent airfield. "Alliance control, Orizaba shuttlecraft zero-charlie-one, requesting an approach vector for landing."

The reply came back almost instantly. "Shuttle charlie-one, Alliance control. Your flight is not listed. Please state the nature of your business."

"Alliance control, Charlie-one … delivering a package from Hong Kong Captain Yuán Xiùlán to General RaeLee Park."

"Charlie-one, Alliance Control … squawk four-six-two-eight-two, ident and standby."

Morse repeated the instruction back word for word; after resetting her transponder and pressing the identification control, she leaned back in her seat just a bit so she could talk with Edi as she waited for clearance and an approach vector.

After ten minutes, the comms came alive with, "Shuttle Charlie-one, Alliance control. Your operation has been verified … transmitting your approach vector and landing clearance. No further communication is required until your five-minute out checkpoint."

"Control, Charlie-one … acknowledged and thanks." Sherri slaved the shuttle's navi-computer to the signal being transmitted from the Alliance field; she felt a slight shudder through the deck as the signal synched up with her previous navigational input.

She could now sit back and let the computers fly them down to the field – she only needed to monitor their progress for the rest of the flight and take over at the last minute or so to actually set down on the flight line.

Once there, the Navy lieutenant and Marine sergeant seated in the crew compartment would deliver the special package—a titanium case secured with diplomatic seals and marked TOP SECRET—to General Park.

Afterwards, Morse would fly back into high Earth orbit to rendezvous with the cruiser Shanghai, where she would be picking up a gunnery sergeant being transferred to the Normandy. She also had a gift of Bushmills 21 single malt for Shanghai captain Rueben Warner … Captain Cody's way of offering his personal thanks for allowing him to 'poach' the gunnery sergeant from Warner's ship.


• EARLY SATURDAY MORNING, 26 JANUARY, 2188 •

Flight Lieutenant Jeff 'Joker' Moreau was not happy; he was lying on a Med-bay gurney, dressed in little more than a flimsy piece of gauze, open at the sides and held in place with cloth ties. True, he was here by his own choice, but thinking of that only served to intensify his acerbic mood.

Dr Karin Chakwas was going to perform a bone-weave surgery on the brittle-boned pilot, similar to what she had done for Commander Shepard before … well, before her confinement in BC. The nanites circulating throughout Jeff's body as a result of Shepard's choice to end the war had done a remarkable job of lessening the severity of the Vrolik syndrome that had afflicted him since birth. Dr Chakwas had assured him this procedure would significantly lessen the breakage of even the tiny bones in his feet when he walked, along with lessening the disease's impact on his everyday life.

Joker had had a serious discussion with his new CO, Captain Bill Cody, before agreeing to undergo the procedure; he didn't want his required medical leave to keep him ashore when the Normandy left to hunt the Blue Suns. Cody had assured the usually snarky pilot that the Normandy would not be the same ship without him occupying the pilot's seat. "Get the procedure done, Flight Lieutenant," Cody stated. "Your leave and convalescence will be complete before the Normandy is ready to fly again; trust me, once we're back in space, it'll be a long time before you have to perform another docking maneuver." Even Commander Shepard had encouraged him to have the procedure done.

He was thinking about Cody's words when Karin entered the room. "How are we doing this morning, Flight Lieutenant?"

Ignoring her use of the plural pronoun, he answered, "Ready for this to be over so I can wear real clothing again, Ma'am."

"Well, we're ready for you in the surgical suite, so I thought I'd come down before I get sterile and see how you're doing."

Joker sighed. "I wish Edi was going to be here when you get done with me."

Karin's reply was sympathetic. "She should be back from her trip to the Sol system by the time you wake up. Surgery will take about five hours, recovery another 90 minutes to two hours. I cannot imagine her being gone any longer than that." Placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, she smiled and asked, "So, ready to get this done?"

Joker sighed again; normally, he'd have had a snappy comeback, but the only thing he could think of to say was, "No, but let's get this done anyway, before I embarrass myself by getting up and hobbling out of here in this flimsy excuse of a nightgown."

Karin looked behind her and signaled the two orderlies that had been patiently waiting out of sight beside the door to the room. Turning back to Joker, she said quietly, "You'll be fine, Jeff."


• ALLIANCE CRUISER SSV SHANGHAI, HIGH EARTH ORBIT · SOL SYSTEM •

Corporal Cassie Harper had just finished her shift outside; working with a sergeant, she was in charge of a group of eight servicemen at work on the recovery of bodies and body parts scattered in space above the scorched, partially destroyed shell of planet Earth. She had gathered her bathing supplies and, much like Gunnery Chief Patton had done a few days ago, Cassie headed towards the women's showers to get cleaned up.

She knew … really knew … she did not smell 'bad', other than the normal scents of sweat mixed with deodorant, body wash and shampoo; but she was absolutely convinced that, after ten hours of working in a suit outside, the stench of death clung to her like a shroud inside, and no amount of body wash or deodorant or shampoo, no amount of scrubbing, would ever eradicate the bouquet of decay she felt permeated every piece of wreckage, every body part, (including internal organs) every splash of solidified blood floating about outside the ships' hull. She knew, but she wasn't convinced. She had to bathe.

She turned a corner in the passageway and nearly ran into her friend, Gunnery Chief Patton. "Damn, Gunny, I'm sorry! Guess I'm lost wandering around in my thoughts. How's it going?"

"Actually, we need to talk, Corporal. You heading for the showers?"

"What gave me away? The look of anticipation? The armload of …," Cassie had an entire line of snarky comebacks ready for just such an encounter.

"Stow it, Cassie. Walk with me … I have something I need to tell you."

Harper stared at her friend for a moment before nodding. "Sure, Sandee. Come on … I only have a short time to get this done, just like you." Cassie began walking again as she asked, "What's up?"

Patton wasn't about to beat around the bush with her friend. "I've been transferred off the Shanghai, Cass. Captain just gave me the official word." Patton looked away and hung her head, thinking that Cassie might feel she was being abandoned, which Patton knew was not true. She waited nervously for Cassie's reaction.

Cassie stopped and turned to face Patton. "Just like that? You're leaving?"

"I'm so sorry, Cass. It's not something I was looking to do. The offer came from … ahh … a Captain William Cody! It was even endorsed by the Admiral." Patton was still having trouble believing this was happening to her, so wasn't surprised by her friend's response.

"Admiral Hackett? Admiral Hackett is part of this? What the hell, Sandee?"

"I know, right? Here, take a look." Patton offered the datapad she'd been carrying, her orders and promise of promotion plain on the screen. Cassie traded her bath supplies for the datapad and read Patton's orders.

"My god, Sandee! You're gonna be a Master Gunnery Sergeant!? And Chief … of the SSV Normandy's Weapons Systems Division!? Sonovabitch, Sandee, that is really extraordinary! And … that's a skip-rank promo! I'm so happy for you!" Cassie flung an arm around Sandra, hugging her tightly. Letting go and stepping back, she handed Patton's datapad back as she retrieved her bath supplies. "So, when do you have to leave?"

"In a few hours. A shuttle from the Orizaba is coming for me, soon as it gets done dropping a package at BC/HQ."

Sandra felt bad immEdiately as Cassie's face fell. "So, no 'going away' party?"

"'fraid not, Cassie. But, I did make a recommendation to Captain Warner." Harper looked back up at her friend. "I gave him your name and rank, told him he should promote you to sergeant." Patton paused, then added, "Don't know how much good it'll do, but I'm going to put the recommendation in writing, forward it to 'im. You've earned a promotion, Cass, more so than me. The recommendation to the new CO of the Normandy came from a civilian on board. I've certainly done nothing …"

" …but your damned job, Gunny!" Cassie interrupted. "Don't you dare be shy! You deserve the higher grade. Hell, we all should be getting hardship pay and extra leave for having to do what we're doing, and now I've said that out loud, I feel really bad for surviving." Cassie looked at the stuff in her arms. "Look, I have to get cleaned up, get a bite to eat. I'll make sure to be in the hanger bay when you ride shows up, okay?"

Cassie started to go, then turned and added, "And Sandee? … Thanks. I really appreciate you putting a word in for me. Means a lot to know … well, you know …" With that, she turned and entered the women's shower, leaving Patton to go to her quarters to begin packing.


• CITY of VANCOUVER, BC · WESTERN N. AMERICA · 0335 HOURS •

"Shuttlecraft zero-charlie-one, Alliance control. This is your five-minute out warning prior to landing. Approach vector is locked. Parking location has been transmitted to your Nav-Comm. Prepare to resume manual control over the northern field boundary. Welcome back to Earth, Charlie-one."

Lieutenant Morse responded by repeating the instructions back word for word, then finished with, "Charlie-one … acknowledged and thanks."

Sherri began her pre-landing checklist as the shuttle continued to descend towards the field, banking gently in a wide turn over the Fraser River delta.

She completed the checklist as the navi-computer began an audible thirty-second countdown to the one-minute-from-touchdown mark. She released the guidance system and took manual control as the decelerating UT-47 crossed the Northern field boundary at 15 meters altitude; Morse turned into the parking pattern and headed for her parking location, already plotted on her HUD. Drawing abreast of a row of shuttles already on the ground, she arrested her forward motion with deft applications of reverse thrust as she slowly increased the apparent mass of her craft, causing it to descend towards the parking spot, delineated by small lights along the painted lines forming the rectangular box on the tarmac. She continued to decrease the field charge to the mass effect core until, at a hovering altitude of 15 Cm, she cut the power to the belly mounted thrusters, dropping the UT-47 to the pavement with a slight jolt.

Before securing her flight controls, she quickly entered coordinates for her departure from the base, knowing her next stop would be the hanger bay of the SSV Shanghai. Thinking she would be leaving in less than thirty minutes, she kept the core 'hot' so she could get back in the air quickly, then stood and stretched, smiled at Edi and moved around the bulkhead to the crew compartment, where she punched the door control and said, "Gentlemen, we're here." Lieutenant Morse felt the cool dampness of a Vancouver afternoon through her flight uniform as she stepped out of the shuttle.

The Navy lieutenant and Marine sergeant stood as one, with the lieutenant carrying the sealed case for General Park. Each nodded wordlessly to Morse as they stepped out of the shuttle, followed by Edi, who stopped beside Sherri as the two men walked purposefully towards the operations building at the end of the line of parked shuttles.

"Lieutenant Morse," Edi said quietly as she looked at the men walking away from them. "I believe that Lieutenant is a member of the Blue Suns."

Sherri looked at Edi, doubt plain in her expression. "What makes you think anyone from the Blue Suns could be an Alliance Lieutenant, Ms Coré? That pair is from the JAG office on the Citadel. I can't imagine anyone being assigned there that hasn't been vetted all the way back to the womb!"

"The tattoo on his neck – it has been removed; the collar of his SDU partially hides the scarring left behind by the removal process, but it is certainly recognizable."

Morse leapt back into the shuttle without a word; Edi quickly followed, where she closed and sealed the hatch as Sherri opened a channel to the airfield supervisor. "Alliance control, Shuttle zero-charlie-one, please respond."

"Zero-charlie-one, Alliance control."

"Control, I believe there is an intruder, an imposter, inside the building – possibly Blue Suns, dressed as a Navy Lieutenant – he's accompanied by a Marine Sergeant. They are supposed to be delivering a sealed diplomatic case to General RaeLee Park. Case may contain a weapon or explosive device. Please intercept and detain."

"Acknowledged, Charlie-one … standby."

Edi sat next to Lieutenant Morse and logged herself into the shuttle's computer. "Ms Coré, what the …"

Edi looked at Sherri as she continued to enter commands on the haptic interface. "I am sending a warning directly to General Park's personal extranet account. Her terminal will sound a unique alarm to warn her of the imposter, or imposters. The General is directly involved in the upcoming prosecution of Jason Joesiar, the human that held Miranda Lawson in captivity and made several attempts to murder her and Captain Yuán after the then-staff commander rescued her from this very city."

Edi finished sending her warning, then stood and moved back to the crew compartment, where she methodically inspected all the seats, storage compartments, deckplates and overhead, her vision enhanced by her tinted visor. Morse had followed Edi and waited as the bio/mechanical woman finished her inspection. "It does not appear the shuttle has been sabotaged inside. I should inspect outside."

"I'm coming with you," Sherri replied.

"No," came Edi's firm response. "You will need to seal yourself inside and wait. I will conduct the inspection, and I may need you to hover the shuttle high enough for me to thoroughly inspect the underside." Edi opened a locker and withdrew an M-5 Phalanx. Checking to make sure it had a full heat-sink, she grabbed a couple of extras and added, "You should also monitor the comm system for any news from Alliance Control."

"Edi, you're a civilian, a contractor for the Alliance. I need you to …"

"Please, Lieutenant … I fought beside Commander Shepard, Garrus Vakarian and Liara T'Soni during the Reaper War. The majority of the enemy forces we faced were humans – Cerberus engineered soldiers. I can recall each kill I made. I got this."

Morse gave Edi a resigned look. "Okay, but I want you to keep an open comlink at all times, understand. We didn't come her looking for a fight – neither of us is armored up."

"This platform has certain … advantages … over a purely organic body, Lieutenant." Edi stepped out of the shuttle and closed the hatch. "I'll be fine."

Morse activated the virtual windscreen as she returned to the pilot's seat. The view allowed her to watch the route taken by the Marine sergeant and Navy Lieutenant, just in case they eluded capture and returned to the flight line. "Sitrep, Ms Coré."

"I am almost finished inspecting the aft thrusters, Lieutenant. Please standby."

Sherri called the airfield supervisor again. "Control, Zero-charlie-one. Do you have a Sitrep for me?" She waited for a twenty-count before trying again. "Alliance control, Shuttle zero-charlie-one. Please respond." After another twenty seconds without a response, Morse shifted to a low-frequency emergency channel and repeated her query with the same lack of a response. "Edi, something is very wrong. I'm not getting any reply from the field supervisor, even on an emergency channel. How are you doing?"

"I have discovered an object jammed in the pivot point of the aft starboard thruster module," came the reply. "Attempting to dislodge it now."

Edi braced her shoulder against one of the heatsink vanes protruding from the aft end of the crew compartment, grabbed the object with both hands and pulled. It was jammed between the thruster's shell and the body of the shuttle. Working it slightly up and down as she pulled, it finally came loose. Moving away from the shuttle's aft end, Edi inspected her prize and quickly discovered it was an explosive device. She threw it as hard as she could towards the empty 'approach' area north of the field; she watched and waited as it landed with a bounce, then rolled several times before coming to a stop. Edi pulled the M-5 from her hip, selected the 'incendiary' mod and sighted in on the package. One shot was all she needed to cause an explosion seemingly out of proportion to its size.

Morse came over her comm, anxiety coloring her voice. "Edi! What the hell was that?"

"The device I dislodged from the thruster pivot would have severely damaged the shuttle, possibly even breached the hull. I caused it to detonate harmlessly on an empty part of the field." Edi paused as she cocked her head towards the operations center. "Lieutenant Morse, I believe I have detected the sounds of weapons fire coming from the field operations center. I am returning to the shuttle."

Morse unlatched and opened the hatch for Edi; retaking her seat up front, she saw movement at the far end of the line of parked shuttles.

"Edi, I need you to activate the cannons. Be ready to target and fire on my command … I'm putting this bird back in the air." Without waiting for Edi to answer, she quickly dropped the shuttle's apparent mass as she fired the ventral thrusters, launching them straight up to a hover six meters above the pavement. With fore and aft thrusters firing intermittently to keep the shuttle relatively stationary, Sherri glanced at Edi, noting with satisfaction she had the cannons warmed up and ready to fire.

The comm system came to life with, "Zero-charlie-one, Alliance control." Edi held her hand up, indicating Sherri should not answer that call.

"That is a different voice, Lieutenant. Ask them for today's security code."

Sherri opened the comm system and replied, "Alliance control, Zero-charlie-one. We have detected the sounds of weapons fire coming from your location. Please provide today's security code."

"Charlie-one, Control … ahhh, the code is three-delta-niner-sierra x-ray."

Sherri looked at Edi and shook her head once from side-to-side as she said, "Edi, bring up our shields, now!" Pivoting the aft thrusters and applying emergency power for a maximum rate of ascent, she responded, "Acknowledged, Control. We'll be back shortly." As Edi complied with Morse's request she asked, "Where are we going, Lieutenant?

The new voice from Alliance Control came over the comm before Morse could answer. "Charlie-one, Alliance Control, you are ordered to return to the field. This is your only warning before we open fire."

"Dammit, Edi, we have to get some help! … Wait, what are you doing?"

Edi had started entering commands into one of the Kodiak's interfaces as Sherri began jigging the shuttle to prevent the ground-based defenses from obtaining a weapons lock. "Your maneuvers are unnecessary as of …" Edi entered the final command. " …right now, Lieutenant. I have disabled their auto-targeting protocols." Tilting her head slightly, she continued, "May I suggest you contact the Shanghai … request they send a couple of Marine squads down to retake that field."

"Good thinking!" She grinned as she contacted the ship orbiting above them and added, "Are you sure you shouldn't have received a commission from Admiral Hackett?"

Edi smiled enigmatically. "I don't believe that would be in the best interests of the Alliance or me, Lieutenant. As you have previously stated, I am a civilian, a contractor for the Alliance. I have a … freedom … that you do not possess. I will only act in the best interests of the Systems Alliance and of my friends on the Normandy. Wearing a uniform, being bound by more rules and regulations, would not improve my performance. It would only hinder me."

Sherri nodded in understanding as she touched her ear. "I have confirmation from the Shanghai … reinforcements are on the way, ETA two minutes." She set the shuttle to 'orbit' at one and a half klicks above the field so they could quickly descend to see how the op played out.

The 'two minutes' seemed to take forever, but the ETA provided to Sherri proved to be accurate as Edi confirmed rapid approach of two A-61 Mantis Gunships from the Shanghai; the pair screamed past them on their way to the field below. Sherri followed them at a slower pace, coming to a hover twelve meters above the line of parked shuttles as the Marine squads from the Shanghai deployed from the gunships.

It was a treat for both of them to witness the precision with which the ground teams worked their way into the complex; as they moved, the A-61's took positions above and to each side to provide tactical cover with their heavy weaponry. The operation was over almost before it began … the Marines quickly took control of the entire complex, taking down the two intruders and their twelve inside confederates; all were marched out of the main building, chained together with their hands bound behind them.

Sherri set the shuttle down near one of the two squads as the gunships landed twenty or so meters away. A Marine Sergeant met them at the hatch as Edi opened it from within, allowing Lieutenant Morse to step out. "Nice work, Sergeant. Any casualties inside?"

The sergeant gave Morse a sketchy salute as he answered, "A few injuries, Ma'am. Nothing serious and no casualties. They had a number of weapons in that case the fake lieutenant was carrying." He paused for a moment, then added, "Your warning to General Park probably saved the day. She was able to quietly spread the word without alerting our bad guys. How'd you tip her off?"

"Private channel," Sherri responded. "They were supposed to be delivering depositions in the sealed diplomatic case. Guess they thought it would be a good way to smuggle in weapons so they could take the general out. I'm happy those guys didn't come from the Orizaba. The admiral does not like being blindsided … it's good you arrived so quickly."

The sergeant grinned. "Someone's ass'll be spinnin' in the wind over this. I'm just glad it won't be mine!" He stepped back, saluted Sherri again and left to rejoin his squad.


A/N: Welcome to the first chapter of the continuation of Transformation. As I said at the end of Chapter 51, there are a lot of loose ends that need to be tied. The crews of the Normandy and the Hong Kong II will be working together to take down the Blue Suns wherever that are discovered to be operating, and to find, with the help of Harbinger and Žiuk'Durmah, a Cerberus engineered cloned body for Commander Shepard, currently a disembodied presence in the Normandy's computer core. And we need to check in with our favorite turian and asari, currently approaching a Cerberus facility in the Anadius System. Constructive criticism is welcome, along with Favs, follows and reviews.