Kaiden Alenko sprinted from his hiding spot under a hail of gun fire. The geth were all around him, closing in. Racing towards the edge of the AA guns platform he could see the Normandy leaving the planet. Fruitlessly Kaiden waved his arms screaming, "Shepard! Ashley! Don't leave me behind!"
Just as an explosion ripped him apart Ashley sprung from her bunk sitting upright. Panting and sweating heavily she rubbed the temples of her head. All the while murmuring to herself repeatedly, "It's just a dream."
"Are you okay?" asked a concerned asari through the darkness.
Slowly Ashley began to realize where she was. The incident on Virmire happened nearly a year ago. Kaiden was dead. Left behind to die because of her love for Shepard. No matter how Shepard tried to rationalize it Ashley knew better. In any case it doesn't matter because he was dead too.
Now Ashley found herself aboard a frigate named the Isandlwana. Tasked with recovering the cruiser Madison which went dark in a remote region inside the Voyager Cluster. The cruiser had picked up an unidentified organism when it started it's journey back. The Madison's mission was classified so nothing more than an anonymous distress signal was sent.
"Yeah I'm okay," Ashley finally responded then swung her legs over the side of the bunk resting her feet on the icy steel floor. "Have we reached our destination?"
"Just a couple hours away," answered the asari, "I was about to wake up the team."
The room slowly came into focus. Ten identical beds lined the walls. The other two members of her team lay sound asleep. A few other bunks were occupied by the Isandlwana's crew members. Small running lights helped to illuminate the room without keeping the crew awake.
"Let them sleep a little longer. I doubt we'll find anything to get excited about," yawned Ashley. Getting up, she went to the locker at the end of the bunk to retrieve her uniform.
"I'm not that tired. Do you want to get breakfast with me?" asked the asari taking her clothes out of her own locker as well.
"What was your name again?" Ashley had only met the asari the day before.
"Alenia," she smiled. Like most asari she had light blue skin with dark eyes inherited from a krogan father.
"I remember now, you're the scientist," said Ashley while zipping up the standard Alliance blue uniform. Even when she served on the Normandy everyone had to wear the snug shirt and pants.
"And you're the famous Ashley Williams," Alenia said cheerfully. Despite technically being a civilian she too had to wear an Alliance uniform while aboard. Her eyes wandered over Ashley's body. As an asari she preferred human women, who resembled asari, but without the pure blood stigma.
"You're not going to ask for my autograph are you?" Ashley smirked as she finished dressing. Leaving the room Alenia walked along with her.
"No no," said Alenia with a laugh, "I just remember seeing your face on the news vids quite a bit when everything went down on the Citadel."
"Yeah, that was me," sighed Ashley. The resulting semi-fame from defeating Saren was getting old. After Shepard's death, the galaxy's attention turned to her.
The mess-hall is directly connected to the crew quarters making it a very short walk. The cook snapped off a quick salute before handing her a tray of what passed for food on starships.
Sitting down at the long rectangular table Ashley grimaced at the synthetic eggs, ham, and toast. A cup labeled only as 'nutrition drink' accompanied the tray as well. A video she saw on the extranet explained how military meals were grown in labs to incorporate all of the human body's essential needs. It also explained why everyone is in great shape despite the stagnate lifestyle among spacers.
"I love traveling on human vessels. I don't have to worry about eating something that might kill me," laughed Alenia biting into a corner of toast then spoke with her mouth full, "I did a study on a krogan vessel once."
"How did that turn out?" Ashley felt annoyed by the Alliance's asari guest but she decided to at least make small talk.
"Terrible. Nothing gets the blood flowing like being stuck in a small space with a bunch of aggressive males," Alenia continued eating as she spoke, "Didn't you serve with a krogan on the Normandy?"
"Yeah, how did you know?" Ashley became surprised since most of the reports on the Normandy were highly classified.
"Being a top researcher for the Alliance has it's priviledges. I usually do a background check on everyone I work with," grinned Alenia bumping Ashley with her elbow playfully.
"I'm here to do a mission, not chat about my time on the Normandy," said Ashley scooting a few inches away from Alenia.
"Sorry about that. I didn't mean to offend you," the smile disappeared from Alenia's face, "I've been told I come on a little strong."
"Forget about it," said Ashley picking at her bland eggs, "So what exactly are you doing here?"
"I actually work for ExoGeni. The Alliance hired me to be an advisor on situations like this. Whatever organism the Madison picked up I'll be the one to identify it," explained Alenia.
"Do you think the organism is responsible for the Madison's shut down?" Ashley started drinking the 'nutrition drink' trying to ignore the chalk like taste. The fact that Alenia is employed by ExoGeni did bother her a little considering the company's actions on Nodacrux.
"It's always a possibility. I honestly don't have a clue what it is. The organism could be a sentient being or an animal. I was told so little that it could be a virus. Considering my field is in zoology I doubt it's a virus," Alenia said while moving closer to Ashley recovering the few inches. She found herself hopelessly attracted to Ashley. Strong feminine humans were just her type.
"That's good," sighed Ashley finishing off the rest of her meal, "Hopefully it's just an engine failure."
"Can I ask just one personal question?" Alenia began smiling again resting her head in the palm of her hand. Her free hand lightly twirled a few strands of Ashley's hair.
"Um sure," responded Ashley defensively staring back at the flirtacious asari.
"Are you single?"
A queasy feeling hit Ashley's stomach. Sternly she answered, "I'm not into women or aliens for that matter."
"Hard to get eh?" grinned Alenia completely undeterred.
Getting up from the table Ashley said, "Don't make an issue out of this. I can have you detained on the ship."
"Okay fine Chief Williams. I'll keep my hands to myself," Alenia held her hands open in a sign of surrender.
"I have to report to the bridge. Try to stay out of trouble," Ashley turned her back to Alenia exiting the mess-hall.
Captain Briggs stood on the bridge monitoring his crew. The old man ran a tight ship making sure there were no slackers. The Alliance Navy's handbook was his bible. In any given situation he could recite the navy's protocol. Deep set wrinkles and a greying beard showed his age. Through-out his career he never managed to see combat which hindered him from moving up from captain. This fact left him a little bitter.
"Gunnery Chief Williams reporting for duty sir," rattled off Ashley while snapping a salute.
"At ease," said Capt Briggs. It bothered him to have an 'attached' unit aboard his ship. Ultimately he didn't have much say over Chief Williams. This is her mission. Briggs only played the part of a taxi service. Still, he appreciated that she addressed him as her superior.
"Have we learned anything new?" Ashley approached a computer screen bringing up the dossier on the Madison.
"We have the Madison on our sensors," Capt Briggs spoke with a deep raspy voice, "Just as before all attempts to communicate have failed."
"How would you like to proceed with boarding the Madison sir?" Ashley searched the Madison's schematics for a reasonable opening.
"We'll dock at the main hatch," explained Capt Briggs, "I want to secure the Madison's bridge first. Entry will be conducted via an umbilical connection. I want it done by the books Chief, search every room for whatever they picked up."
"What's the next step when we find it sir?" Ashley studied the layout of the ship. The size wasn't daunting but it was considerably bigger than the Normandy. The Madison had five decks to the Normandy's three at twice the length.
"Alenia will take it from there. I believe she has equipment for detaining the subject." Capt Briggs took his hat off rubbing the top of his balding head. "Chief Williams I do not relish the idea of ending up like the Madison. If anything goes wrong you will not be allowed back on this ship until the situation is completely under control."
"Yes sir," responded Ashley. By the tone of his voice she could tell he meant what he said.
"Go get your team ready Chief," ordered Capt Briggs, "We're nearly there."