Chapter 14: Head First

November 28, 2537; 2016 Hours

Meridian, Avignon

"Break, break! Darkstar Actual, this is Sierra-057. What's your location, over?" Shepard asked into the frantic B-Net, slotting a new magazine into her MA5B.

"Sierra-057, this is Darkstar Actual!" The Army trooper's voice was frantic, bordering on panicked. "We're holed up in the University of Meridian. We have civilians with us, and are requesting immediate evac!"

"Acknowledged, Darkstar. Diverting to your location." Shepard affirmed, taking off at a full sprint towards the waypoint that was automatically uploaded to her VISR over the Battle-Net. The smoke-choked air of Avignon was weighing heavy on her suit's systems. Her motion tracker was flickering, struggling against the onslaught of debris and particulates in the air around her.

As she approached the center of Avignon, she could hear the distinct rattling of 7.62mm rounds firing off, the distant chittering of the Geth, and the occasional shout of confusion or pain from the buildings around her. This deep into the city, the smoke was so thick she could practically walk on it. Even the incredibly efficient filters in her helmet were having trouble keeping her air pure, so she fully pressurized her armor and watched the O2 timer flare to life in the top-left of her peripheral.

As she advanced down the boulevard, making sure to keep her right flank against the buildings, she came upon a makeshift barricade made up of wrecked cars, deployable roadblocks, and the occasional military-grade deployable cover. A small fireteam of Army troopers were hunkered down behind the barricade, respirator masks pulled over their faces.

"Jesus..." A trooper managed, clutching his side where his blood had soaked his BDUs. "Didn't expect a Spartan..."

"You alright, trooper?" Shepard asked, dropping to one knee and reaching for a hardcase on her thigh, producing a small canister of biofoam.

"Tagged me in the side. Ran dry on biofoam an hour ago." He coughed, nodding off to his right. Sure enough, Shepard saw a trooper with the red medic's cross on her helmet whose body had been torn to ribbons. Punctured biofoam canisters littered the ground around her, the white foam now black with soot. She shook the image from her mind as she delicately removed the trooper's hand from his ribs, poking the biofoam nozzle into the wound and dispensing it. "Fuck!" The trooper sucked in a pained breath as the local anesthetic took a moment to kick in.

"Fuckin' hell… got another platoon of them coming our way." One of the troopers dropped his head back down below the barricade. "One of the big fuckers, too."

"How far?" Shepard asked, glancing over to the squad's marksman.

"Two hundred meters, maybe. I dunno, just saw the glow from their heads." The trooper began, searching his rig for a magazine. "We need a resupply, but the birds can't get over the city with all these fuckin' things and their gunships flying around."

"Then you four stay down. I'll be back." Shepard nodded, standing upright and vaulting over the barricade. Before the DMR-wielding marksman could call out for her to stop, she had already disappeared into the smoke. He poked his head above the barricade again, seeing those same twelve glowing points in the smoke were maybe a hundred meters out now. He glanced down to his rifle, seeing the LEDs on the upper receiver read out '09'. Right when he was about to start cracking off what little ammunition he had left, he heard a deafening crack sound off from down the boulevard as he watched six of the glowing dots disappear in an instant. They started moving almost frantically. Before long, he heard the distinct sound of six 8-gauge rounds firing off, and watched the last of the glowing orbs disappear in time with the last round.

Both the marksman and his wounded comrades watched in awe as the Spartan walked back up to the barricade, slotting six more rounds into her shotgun. "Can all four of you move?" She asked, getting her answer when the autorifleman's eyes darted over to their wounded specialist, who had a tourniquet wrapped tightly around her upper thigh. Wordlessly, Shepard slung the shotgun back onto its magnetic holster at her back as she offered a hand to the specialist. The trooper managed to shake off the awe just long enough to accept the offered hand, and quickly found herself pulled into a fireman's carry over the Spartan's shoulders. Shepard reached down to the pouches at her waist with her free hand and passed a single, fully-loaded 60-round magazine over to the marksman. "Re-pack your mags, trooper. We're moving."

The two kilometer trek towards the University of Meridian's main campus was a slow one, owed mostly to the slow-moving wounded. Shepard's motion tracker and VISR system were a great help, letting her call out a distant Geth sniper for the marksman to tag with a single AP round through its glowing head. As they drew closer to the massive campus, the sounds of frantic battle became nearly deafening. Shepard sent a quick hand motion for the small fireteam to halt as the marksman moved up to an overturned car to get a view of the situation. After scanning the area with his optic for a moment, he ducked back down and darted back to their position.

"Spartan, got at least a company-strength force pushing on the university. Some big fuck-off four-legged thing's pounding away at them."

Shepard wracked her brain for a moment, eventually settling on an idea. "Normandy, this is Sierra-057, what's the status of the orbital engagement?"

"Three Geth ships disabled, one fleeing to the atmosphere." Haggard's gravelly voice filled Shepard's ears for a moment. "Hestia V's magnetic field is preventing MAC strike on the frigate at this time."

"Can you get an Archer strike approximately two hundred meters due North from my current position?" Shepard asked.

"Negative on Archer strike, Spartan." Lawson's accented voice came over the comms. "The Geth's primary target appears to be the university campus. We need to understand what drew them here. I'm vectoring two Longswords for precision ground strike, but I need your VISR system to guide the munitions in."

"Acknowledged, Normandy." Shepard affirmed. A moment later, the voice of the Normandy's strike wing leader came over the B-Net.

"Sierra-057, this is Vampire. Five mikes out from strike, uploading flight data to your VISR now, out" Sure enough, Shepard had a countdown appear on her HUD, alongside a new symbol next to her MA5's ammo counter, showing that her rifle's smart-link system was now acting as a laser designator to break through the magnetic interference.

Shepard quickly tapped the marksman on his pauldron before gently lowering the wounded specialist to the ground. "Keep this team covered, I'm guiding in a strike." Before the marksman could offer an acknowledgement, she had already darted off towards

Right as she got into position behind a burned-out wreck of a pelican and started painting the target for her incoming airstrike, a knot formed in her gut as she heard the defending troopers call out over the Battle-Net. "057, this is Darkstar! Where the fuck are you, we're getting chewed up!"

"Airstrike is four mikes out, Darkstar." Shepard did her best to stay calm. This was getting too familiar for her. She had been deployed to Harvest when the Batarians hit the planet, and those troopers didn't have a Spartan with them.

"And we'll all be dead in one fuckin' minute if that thing gets any fucking closer! Where the fuck are you?!"

The knot in her gut got just a bit heavier when she sighed, standing upright and severing the link to the incoming Longsword's targeting systems. "Copy, drawing fire." She rounded the wreck, immediately jamming down on the trigger of her MA5 and cutting a pair of Geth heavies to ribbons. Just as the rest of the Geth company turned their attention to her, she tossed a frag grenade as hard as her augmented strength would allow. She watched it bounce twice before detonating, taking a quartet of Geth with it.

As she slid into cover behind a wrecked Warthog, Vampire's voice came back over her comms. "Spartan, I lost your lase."

"Lock onto my transponder, give me a countdown to splash." Shepard barked, waiting a moment for her shields to recharge before breaking into a sprint again, closing another forty meters before the incoming fire from the Geth forced her into cover behind a decorative wall. She didn't bother paying attention to the pilot's voice, as her attention had been grabbed by a pair of red blips on her motion tracker closing fast. The first drone to cross over the wall didn't even have a chance to fire off a round before a burst of fire from her rifle sent it to the ground in pieces. The second managed a short burst into her half-strength shields before meeting the same fate.

She waited another few moments, tossing another frag grenade over the wall at a cluster of blips that were approaching her position, hearing a momentary screech in the mechanical Geth language before being abruptly cut off by the grenade's detonation. With her shields finally recharged, she crossed thirty meters to an inert fountain at the center of the university campus, her shields nearly depleted by this last run, sending a warning klaxon through her helmet as her shield meter blinked red.

Just as a quartet of significantly larger red blips began closing in her position, she watched all four of them disappear. She noticed notably fewer rounds heading her direction. "Got you covered, Spartan!" Brynna's voice came over the B-Net, accompanied by the distinct barking of an SRS-99 sending a 14.5mm round into a target.

After giving both her shields and herself a moment to recharge, Shepard darted back out from cover. The distracted Geth didn't have a chance to react before she slam-fired a trio of 8-gauge slugs into the direct center of a Geth Prime, overloading its kinetic barriers and evidently striking something important within. The massive bipedal machine let out a mechanical roar before a series of detonations racked its body, scattering pieces of it in all directions.

Seeing the countdown to the munitions deployment hit twenty seconds, she slid underneath the Geth Colossus, scrambling behind one of its legs to give her half-strength shields a bit of a break. The gargantuan machine evidently didn't notice, being too focused on returning fire on the ODST platoon, so Shepard stuffed the last of her frag grenades into some exposed machinery in the Colossus' joint just as the countdown hit one second.

"Package out for delivery." Vampire's voice filled her ear.

"Lock guidance!" Shepard declared, sprinting back towards the decorative metallic wall, the grenade detonating a few meters behind her and causing the Colossus to stumble backwards. Shepard was a mere few feet from her destination when her shields finally broke in a small golden flash, a round punching through her gel-layer causing her to tumble over the wall. A moment later, the entire world seemed to stop as a trio of guided bombs fell on and around the Colossus, sending a cloud of dirt and smoke well above the tallest building in the area. The blast managed to shake Shepard to her core so thoroughly that her vision went blurry for a moment.

Shepard was finally brought back to reality by the soft hissing of her armor's automatic biofoam injectors pumping a cool jet of biofoam into the wound in her shoulder, sending a chill down her spine. She looked up over the wall, letting out a breath as she saw a trio of massive craters with a distinct lack of Geth nearby, save for one Geth trooper that was attempting to crawl for a nearby weapon. Before she could even react, a single APFSDS round from her ODST overwatch put the lone Geth down for good. Shepard took a moment to collect herself before motioning to the small fireteam she left behind. "Darkstar actual, area clear."

"U-Understood, Sierra-057." The trooper managed shakily. "Standing down."

Shepard gave a quick motion to the nearby ODSTs to regroup with her as she started moving towards the fireteam of troopers she brought this far, bringing the specialist back over her shoulders, grinding her teeth to keep from yelping in pain. "Fuckin' hell, Spartan!" Brynna declared, jogging over with the rest of her platoon, meeting Shepard right before she reached the first of three craters. "That was batshit!"

Shepard was simply too drained to offer a reply, simply giving a curt nod to the Helljumper as she kept trekking towards the entrance to the university's main building. As she approached the entrance, she was greeted by the sight of a pair of slack-jawed Army troopers standing guard by the door, who simply let her pass without so much as a word. There were dozens of troopers holed up in the lobby alone, with a scattered few students evidently taking up arms to defend their colony. A reverent silence had fallen over the entire lobby as every pair of eyes stared at the seven-foot tall suit of armor that was carrying a wounded trooper over its shoulders, only broken by the woman underneath. "Medic!"

That evidently spurred the defenders into action as a pair of corpsmen jogged over, taking the wounded specialist off the Spartan's hands and bringing her back to a makeshift triage center. Shepard turned her attention to a corporal that was handing a few spare magazines to the troopers she had escorted here. "Corporal, your command center?"

"U-upstairs, ma'am… third story." The young man managed, seeming to shrink back as the golden visor seemed to stare right into his soul.

Shepard gave a nod as she gestured for the ODSTs to follow, making her way up to the third story of the building and finding a voice that matched the one she had talked to over the net. "Colonel, sir." Shepard began, seeing a grizzled old man in battered and scuffed UNSC Army gear.

"Spartan, don't you even think about going formal on me after that shit." The colonel let out a long sigh. "I'd heard stories, but… Christ almighty, you saved a lot of lives today."

"Just doing my job, Colonel." Shepard nodded, the anesthetic in the biofoam finally starting to kick in.

The colonel scoffed. "Right… ODSTs go feet first, you Spartans go head first. Don't suppose I can convince you to stick around? We just got word that these things are moving on an archeological dig in the Mathon mountain range, and we're barely able to hold this position, let alone convoy up and bring the fight to them."

"Why the hell are the Geth interested in a dig site?" Brynna asked.

"Couldn't tell you, dig got real hush-hush a few days ago. Local ONI goons rolled on the site and locked it down."

That sent alarms ringing in Shepard's head. "Let me pass it up the chain."

November 28, 2537; 2238 Hours

Meridian, Avignon

Shepard gave a curt nod to Garrus, Liara, Tali, and a platoon of Marines as they stepped off the Pelican. "Captain give you the brief?" She asked.

"Geth attacking a dig site, got their frigate hovering overhead." Garrus nodded, silently noting the fact that Shepard's formerly pristine-looking MJOLNIR armor was now decorated with a few new scrapes and scoring marks.

"We've got a mechanized company moving in from a nearby army garrison. The Geth seem to be pulling all their planetside assets for this." Brynna added, nodding towards the distant frigate that was hovering over the nearby mountain range. "Frigate took damage, so her barriers are down, but we can't chance an orbital strike on it. Naval Intelligence wants to recover whatever the Geth are after, preferably intact."

"Any insight, Tali?" Garrus glanced over to the normally-quiet Quarian. "You're the closest we've got to a Geth expert."

"Well… they're networked intelligence, so taking down that frigate will really hamper them. And since they're so far out from comm buoys, there's a good chance that taking out the Geth servers on the frigate will actually kill these Geth for real."

"Works for me." Shepard nodded, seeing their mechanized company rolling towards their position. It was mostly armored personnel carrier variants of the M12 Warthog, standard chaingun-bearing 'hogs, a pair of Warthogs with rocket pods, a trio of Scorpion tanks, and a small collection of AV-14 Hornets to give limited air support. "Bravo-Eight, you're covering T'soni and Tali'zorah. Garrus, you're with me." Shepard nodded to the Turian as she made her way towards the convoy's lead vehicle, the massive quad-tracked M808B Scorpion main battle tank. This one was evidently one of the up-gunned variants, equipped with a 105mm smoothbore cannon in place of the more-common 90mm. She couldn't help but chuckle as she saw the black stenciling on the cannon's barrel, showing the tank's name to be "Beats Walking."

"Really gonna do me like that, Spartan?" The army trooper chuckled, seeing the armored woman climb up to the operator's hatch. He quickly clambered into the rear seat, taking control of the tank's command and control system, comms system, and secondary sensor equipment.

"Garrus, you're on the front-right track pod." Shepard nodded as she dropped into the seat. "When we hit the dig site, you're leading a fireteam." She pointed to the trio of troopers that were already riding on the other three track pods. "You three, follow the Spectre."

As the convoy set off towards the dig site, a wealth of information started flooding through the B-Net from the Normandy's sensor suite. Just as they reached the edge of Avignon, a familiar voice came over the comms. "Sierra-057, Vampire's on station for assistance. Let's try for no heroics this time, yeah? Out."

"Copy, Vampire." Shepard affirmed. "You cleared for ASGM-10s?"

"Affirm, Spartan, but only as a last resort. Boss-Lady wants data recoverable from the frigate. We'll keep their fighters off you. Vampire out." Shepard sighed. Yet another directive from Naval Intelligence that made her job far harder than it needed to be.

As the convoy slowly approached the dig site, based out of an old quarry at the base of the mountain range, the 'small' Geth frigate's damage finally came into view. Entire sections of armor plating were stripped from the superstructure, and it looked to be having trouble keeping level while hovering over the site. Much to her surprise, there were a few friendly IFF pings from inside the site, joined by the occasional rattle of gunfire and streaking tracer. "Check fire, we've got friendlies." Shepard barked out, swinging the turret around to send a 105mm sabot round towards the rear of the damaged frigate.

The transport 'hogs rushed ahead with their armed variants at their side to drop their dismounts off behind the mounds of loose gravel that surrounded the old quarry, the night sky overhead lit up by the streaking green tracers from the chainguns or dull orange glow of fired rockets. The Hornets did their best to cover the ground-pounders, sending bursts of 20mm fire downrange with their autocannons alongside the occasional pair of missiles.

Shepard watched as Garrus led the three troopers towards the left flank, evidently looking to cause some trouble from the nearby treeline with his rifle. With all of the dismounts deployed, Shepard sent a quick signal through the net for the armor to move up to the entrance to the quarry, escorted by the armed warthogs. She grunted as a mass driver round impacted a few feet to the tank's right, the impact throwing her to her side as she wheeled the turret around again to slam a HEAT warhead through a Geth Colossus, happy to see that even the massive quadrupedal walker was just a speed bump to 66 tons of titanium alloy and hate.

The unshielded frigate eventually fell under the combined firepower of a mechanized company throwing everything they had into its already-weakened hide. Its list to port eventually became a full descent towards the ground as it crashed hard into the rocky surface below. Tali's explanations on the Geth went a bit over Shepard's head, but she was definitely right about the frigate. When it went down, the Geth suddenly got far more reckless. They started throwing themselves into the line of fire in almost suicidal desperation… at least that's what it looked like while Shepard swept the coaxial MG across a platoon of them.

"Bravo-eight, clear that frigate!" Shepard barked out, seeing Brynna's platoon getting ready to move from behind their cover. It seemed that the loss in intelligence extended to the Geth fighters too, as one of Vampire's pilots called out over the comms as he came in for the pass.

"Fifty mike-mike; guns, guns, guns!" Shepard watched as the Longsword came in for a gun run, sweeping a neat trail of 50mm rounds across a small herd of Geth that were making their way out of the wrecked frigate, leaving a series of craters in their wake. Even as a Spartan, she had to appreciate the showmanship that pilots could give when they were good and cocky.

With the firefight winding down to little more than a cleanup operation, Shepard transferred control of the Scorpion back to its original operator and climbed out, boots hitting the loose dirt as she made her way towards the dig site. There were a few Army troopers emerging from behind cover, looking battered and exhausted, but all of them immediately perked up when they saw a Spartan heading their direction with a full company at her back.

"Get medics down here!" Shepard shouted back to the company, seeing that this was evidently a dig operated by the university. Just like the campus in Avignon, there were a few students that had taken up arms, including a few aliens. There was a small smattering of Asari that were evidently helping in the defense of the dig site by projecting biotic barriers for the Army troopers and ONI personnel that were here, along with a few Turians that were just as quick to pick up rifles and fight back. She certainly had to admire the tenacity.

A few of the Asari were looking at the Spartan with surprise, evidently quite interested to see a Spartan motioning for one of their own kind that was dressed in full UNSC military garb and carrying an MA5. Shepard spotted what looked like a Marine in blacked-out armor, immediately recognizing him as an ONI agent thanks to her VISR's IFF system being linked with ONI's databases. "When we sent that SOS, I wasn't expecting a Spartan." The agent sighed, looking positively ragged. A bandage covered much of his right cheek, and he had more than a few fresh cuts and scrapes on his bare hands and forehead. "I ever see you or Lawson out there, I'll buy you a drink..."

"Appreciate the thought, Agent Singh." Shepard nodded. "Hate to tell you, but Captain Lawson will be planetside in a few minutes."

"Not surprised..." Singh nodded, running a hand through his black hair after removing the helmet. "I assume the Asari's got clearance, judging by the kit, so I'll at least get you up to speed on what we found."

November 30, 2537; 2351 Hours

UNSC Normandy, Hestia System

Miranda let out a sigh, finally feeling the ship transit to slipspace as the warm static prickling ran across her bare arms for a moment. "Just had to open my damned mouth..." She sighed, glancing over to the clock. She hadn't gotten so much as a wink of sleep in the past two days.

When she saw the dig site had uncovered both Prothean and Forerunner ruins on Meridian, ONI's quick move to secure the site suddenly made a lot more sense. But the fact that the Geth of all things had managed to find out… that scared her. This all but confirmed it to her. Someone was leaking information from ONI's systems out to the wider galaxy. She wasn't sure how, or what they had access to, but if they had access to files relating to the Forerunners, then they likely had access to far worse.

To add to her list of stresses, the Spartan under her command had gotten wounded. Sure, it was a minor wound at absolute worst to an augmented super-human, but the point stood: one of her people was wounded because the Office couldn't cover its own ass. As she glanced up to the screen before her, she saw the single frame from Shepard's helmet camera that had been practically burned into her brain. She was stuffing a fragmentation grenade into the exposed joint on a Geth Colossus, while under fire from the Colossus' infantry support… all to save the Marines hunkered down in a university campus on a human colony that had come under attack.

This woman went far above and beyond what was expected of her, even as a Spartan. She could've just as easily stood behind that Pelican, kept her lase on the Colossus, and nobody would have looked down on her for it. But because she threw herself headfirst into hell, hundreds of people now had more time in the universe. All this did was make her want to understand this woman a bit more.

She had already tried to get clearance to see the redacted sections of her file. Even with her current clearance, and the fact that Shepard was now on indefinite assignment under her command, her request for clearance had been denied by none other than one Lieutenant-Commander Kurt Ambrose, commanding officer of the entire Spartan-III program. To give Ambrose credit, he also denied her requests for the rest of Shepard's old team's files.

With a heavy sigh, Miranda finally powered down the displays, giving her eyes some much needed rest. FLEETCOM was expecting her after-action report, but she was simply too tired to give a damn at the moment. As she made her way to the crew deck, she was surprised to see so many crew up and about, especially this far into the night. Being so exhausted, she was convinced he was having some sort of hallucination. Shepard was visibly laughing… laughing of all things; at their resident Turian Spectre no less. The Spartan was down to her basic fatigues, joined by all of Bravo-Eight and even Tali. "Bull-shit!" Brynna's heavy accent rang out among the howls of laughter. Surprise surprise, there were more than a few empty bottles litting the mess table.

"No joke!" Garrus returned the laughter, taking a quick sip from his glass of neon-blue liquid before continuing. "I'm pretty sure I've still got the recording from the fight."

"No fuckin' way!" Bravo-Eight's sniper cackled. "Big man's got receipts and shit? Let's see 'em! Who won the tiebreaker, by the way?"

"Like I said… I had reach, she had flexibility." Garrus did his best attempt at a suave 'lean-against-the-table' maneuver, accidentally knocking over an empty bottle in the process. "Wound up calling it a draw."

"Probably had you walkin' all bow-legged after she twisted your ass like a pretzel, don't lie!" Brynna managed, earning another eruption of laughter from the mess table and gathered crowd.

Miranda didn't have the full picture, but she managed to piece enough together. Despite herself, she found herself smiling. Sure, they could lower the volume a bit, but there were definitely worse ways to blow off steam after something as high-stress as a major colony coming under attack. It came as no surprise to her that Shepard was the first to notice their Captain watching from the end of the walkway, arms crossed over her chest and a smirk on her face. Miranda decided to pre-empt the Spartan's call for 'captain on deck' by bringing her index finger up to her lips. She wanted to see where this went before she broke it up. Seeing ODSTs, a Spartan, and Turian getting along was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Garrus scoffed. "Please!"

"Next you're gonna tell me that you've got her waiting back home, you sly motherfucker." Bravo-Eight's corpsman added, giving Garrus a playful punch to the shoulder.

"No such luck." Garrus smirked, finishing off the last of his drink. "Lost track of her after I finished up my time in the military. I decided to take the job with C-Sec, she stuck around. Last I heard, she got an assignment with the Blackwatch."

"Eh, we've all got one of those." Brynna gave Garrus a consoling pat on the shoulder. "The one that got away! A tale as old as time! Betcha' even Miss Naval Intelligence has one. Hell, I'd put five hundred creds down right fuckin' now that even she's got one." Brynna smiled, nodding towards Shepard. Color Miranda surprised to see the normally-stoic Spartan glance down to her hands for a moment. "Fuckin' called it!" More laughs came over the group.

Miranda's smirk turned into a full-blown smile as she watched Shepard take her out. She quickly stood at attention and called out. "Captain on deck!" It took every ounce of composure that Miranda had to keep from doubling over in laughter, watching the ODSTs, pilots, and Marines all scramble to their feet, doing their best to look sober and attentive. Even though they weren't doing anything necessarily wrong, given the UNSC's lax regulations on crews during long deployments. Most of it was left to the CO's discretion, and nobody had tested to see how far they could go… until now. Miranda decided to let this slide. They'd all earned it.

"At ease!" Miranda declared, broad smile still on her face. Most of the crew still had worried expressions on their faces… all save for Shepard, who sent her what she could only guess was an apologetic smile. "How you all spend your off-hours is your business… just don't let me get any noise complaints, yeah?" She chuckled. "Pretty sure if you were any louder, the stealth systems would be useless."

"Secondly..." Miranda began, pointing to a marine that was doing his best to stand in front of the empty bottles. "I don't wanna know how you got that on board, and I don't really care. After what we all went through on Meridian, I can look the other way. Just keep it on long jumps, and there won't be any issues." She chuckled, seeing a pair of the ODSTs give each other a stealthy fist-bump. "And before I forget… Tali'Zorah, come by my office at some point over the next few days." The young Quarian fidgeted for a moment, being the only one still sitting at the table. "Don't worry, I just have questions about the Geth. The rest of you, hit the racks."

Miranda watched all of the ODSTs and Marines slowly disperse back to their sleeping arrangements. Tali headed for one of the stairwells, preferring to sleep closer to the drive core for some reason or another. Garrus gave a respectful nod as he headed for his own accommodations. With everyone gone, save for Shepard, Miranda leaned against the wall and crossed her arms over her chest. "Okay, but seriously… how the hell did they get that on board?" She nodded towards the bottles that were still littering the table.

Shepard offered a small smile, tapping the nearest bottle with her knuckle. "Ceramic bottles, ma'am… and Haggard helped."

Sure enough, the small holographic avatar fizzled into view from the small projector beside the door to medical, arms crossed. "So that's what the underside of the bus looks like..." That finally got a laugh out of Miranda.

"I swear, they gave me a zoo." Miranda chuckled. "Next time you help them smuggle alcohol aboard, have them save me something."

"Not… at all what I was expecting." Haggard admitted. "Any other parts of naval code you want me to toss out the airlock, or are we playing it by ear?"

"We'll go by ear for now." Miranda smirked.