Great leaders are most wanted. They are most wanted for what they do with their gifts and talents. Their dreams are so unique in such a way that their presence becomes a source of hope and courage for others to thread on along. Why won't they look for them? — Israelmore Ayivor, The Great Hand Book of Quotes


• SSV NORMANDY · DECK TWO, CONFERENCE ROOM •

Steve Cortez and Greg Adams approached Captain Cody before he could leave the conference room; Steve spoke first. "Moment of your time, Captain?"

Cody caught Traynor's attention before she left the room. "Ms Traynor? Would you wait outside for a few moments? I'd like to speak with you about a personal matter."

"Of course, Captain." Traynor moved out into the passageway to stand near the security station so Cody could speak with Cortez and Adams privately.

Cody looked back at Cortez and asked, "Okay, Commander, what can I do for you?"

Cortez looked at Greg before jumping in. "Sir, I was wondering if it's too soon to be asking about a transfer."

Cody frowned and replied, "You're not even under my command yet and you want out already? That has to be some kind of record."

Cortez blushed and stammered, "Ah, no … not … oh no, not for me … Sir. I'd like to have someone transferred onto the Normandy, Sir. A replacement, for me … that is, my former position … as a procurement officer and a UT-47 pilot, Sir."

"I take it you already have someone in mind?"

"I do, Sir … a lieutenant on the Orizaba, Sherri Morse. She's already doing the same jobs over there, but I believe she'd welcome the opportunity to deploy on a frigate."

"Okay, Mr Cortez. Give her a call; confirm that it's something she wants to do. Soon as you get back to me, I'll contact the Orizaba's captain and see if he's amenable to losing a crewman; if we can come to an agreement, we'll take it to the admiral."

Cortez looked pleased for a second, then had to ask, "Sir, you didn't ask me if I felt she was qualified."

"She must be qualified, Cortez, or you wouldn't be asking me to bring her aboard."

"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."

Cody responded with a grin. "You're welcome, Commander." He looked at Greg as he motioned both to sit. Speaking in a quiet voice as he closed the door, he said, "Let's talk for a few minutes before we leave the ship. You two are still on leave until 22 February, but I'd like you both to be thinking about your new positions … and your new responsibilities … on this ship."

Activating his own datapad, Cody opened with, "For starters, I prefer a bit of informality with my command staff, so when it's just the two of us or three of us in private, you can drop the titles, okay? My name is 'Bill'—if that's too informal for you, 'Cody' will work as well." With a cheeky grin he added, "It never worked for Commander … er, Captain Yuán, either.

He continued as he turned towards Adams, "Greg, you and I will be meeting a lot. I've never taken to putting on airs like some people do when they're wearing silver or brass. In the common areas, it's 'Captain' and 'Commander', but privately …" here Cody shrugged his shoulders. " … names will work just fine. And I'm not a dictator like some captains, so for the most part, you two are going to be running this ship. I suggest you both have a meeting with Captain Yuán to see how I let her run the Hong Kong before she shoves off."

Adams looked at his own datapad before meeting Cody's eyes. "That will take some getting used to, Sir. Ah, was there anything else?"

"Your assignments. I've been thinking about the division of responsibility on this ship, and I believe that by the time the retrofits are completed and additional crew is assigned to bring the compliment up to the recommended level for a vessel this size, I'm going to need my XO," here he looked at Adams and grinned, "to supervise all the ops and personnel on Deck Two, plus Food Services and Life Support on Deck Three."

He referred to his datapad again and directed his next comments to Steve. "Mr Cortez, as my new Space Warfare Officer, you'll supervise the new Weapons Control Officer in the Main Battery on Deck Three, along with all the ops and personnel on Decks Four and Five. We'll find a good person for the WC position formerly held by Garrus Vakarian; you'll still have Donnelly and Daniels in Engineering, and we'll bring in some enlisted folks to take care of the armory and supplies. If we can get Lieutenant Morse on board as our shuttle pilot, she may be your procurement officer as well. Any questions?"

Steve was just trying to get used to this new captain's style—so much different, he felt, than Commander Shepard's. "We'll make it happen, Sir." Adams echoed Steve's comments.

"Okay then. You two enjoy the rest of your leave. Check in with Yuán if you like. And you might want to check back with me in a couple of weeks, just to see how we're doing. I may even have some info about Lieutenant Morse, along with a replacement WC officer."

"Thank you, Sir," Adams replied.

"Sir," Cortez said as both took their leave.


Cody stood and walked to the forward end of the compartment, where he tapped on the clear panel to get Traynor's attention as Cortez and Adams walked past her. He motioned her into the compartment, then took a seat at the forward end of the table.

Sam reentered the conference room and asked, "You needed to speak with me, Sir?"

Cody waved her to one of the chairs next to his own. "Ms Traynor, I needed to have a little chat with you before you head back to your apartment ashore."

"What may I do for you, Captain?" Sam was nervous, but schooled her expression into a neutral, wait-and-see mask as she waited for Cody to speak.

"I wanted you to know I am very grateful to you for saving the life of Yuán Xiùlán back in the day. Right before Harbinger informed us the Normandy and her crew were being carried back home from the outer reaches of the galaxy, I had a private conversation with Ms Yuán. She told me you're the reason she's still alive … as I understand it, one of your missions in the Terminus went sideways in the worst possible way. She didn't give me the details, other than to say she'd been shot by a batarian pirate … said it shattered her left thighbone?" Cody sat back in his chair, adding, "Looks like you worked very hard, above and beyond actually, to keep her alive and get your team extracted."

"No more than she did for me on a previous mission, Sir." Sam wondered where this discussion was leading.

"When I learned of this, I promised myself I would personally thank you for saving her, Specialist, as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Ms Yuán is a very special woman, something I suspect you are already well aware of. Truth be told, she's very special to me, as an officer, a friend … hell, as a person."

"I agree … She is a very special person, Sir." Traynor added so Cody would have no doubt, "And she's more than very special to me, Sir." Traynor looked down at the table for a moment before thinking, To 'ell with it! She smiled at Cody and asked, "Permission to speak freely, Sir?"

Cody returned her smile as he said, "That's something that has always been unspoken between myself and Yuán, Specialist. I'll extend the same courtesy to you … when it's just the two of us, in private, you may always presume to have that permission."

Samantha was a bit taken aback by this revelation. "Captain, I just wanted you to be aware that I fully intended to request a transfer to a position ashore once the Normandy arrived home. I discussed this at some length with Commander Shepard after … my confrontation with Javik, then EDI and Doctor T'Soni."

Cody's expression changed to reflect his curiosity. "I've looked over the records of every crew member on this ship, yours included. There was no mention of you having problems with anyone else onboard. What happened?"

"Prothean bastard attempted to murder me right after we docked inside Žiuk'Durmah, Sir. Tali'Zorah saved my life … used her shotgun on 'im … wounded 'im. Žiuk'Durmah intervened when she and Garrus were going to take his head off … popped 'im in a force field, took 'im deeper inside the structure. Condensed version? I injured my shipmates because I refused to obey a command from a computer, Sir. I did not believe Commander Shepard was real, was still alive in this ship's computer, especially as she took Javik's side when he refused to apologize for his actions."

Cody was beginning to understand, but asked anyway, "Specialist, I'm just guessing, but it would seem you had to sign the same non-disclosure agreement as Ms Yuán. You've obviously changed you mind about transferring off the Normandy. What happened?"

"I had a private meeting with Commander Shepard, Sir. We came to an understanding concerning her existence in the computer. She convinced me to stay, had Major Alenko assign me as Dr T'Soni's assistant. We were a family, Captain. Sounds funny to say it aloud, but … yeah, we worked well together. If it were possible, I'd love to be assigned to the Hong Kong, but I don't believe the Alliance would allow me to work on a ship captained by …" Traynor hesitated a moment before finishing with, "my lover."

Cody nodded and replied, "You're probably correct about that. I'm glad you chose to stay on this ship, Ms Traynor. I believe your knowledge will be a real benefit, as we finish the refit, and going forward afterwards." He smiled as he stood to leave, his action mirrored by Traynor. Offering his hand, he finished with, "Thank you, Ms Traynor. I'm glad you and the Normandy returned safely, and I'm really looking forward to working with you on this ship."

Sam took his hand and nodded as she replied, "No more happier than I am … and you're welcome, Sir."


As Cody left the elevator to step onto Deck Three, he was accosted by Zaeed Massani. "Cap'n, might I 'ave a few minutes ov yar time?"

Cody had nearly forgotten the old merc was still on the ship. "Massani, good to see you." Cody walked around the elevator tower to his right. "Let me grab a mug of coffee. You?"

"I'll grab a beer, if yew don't mind greatly?"

"Of course." Cody poured a mug of coffee for himself as Zaeed grabbed a bottle of beer from the 'fridge. Motioning to the closest table in the mess area, he sat down with a sigh. As Massani slid into the bench across the table, Cody took a long pull from his mug and made a face. "Need some fresh brew," he said in a tired voice.

"Long day fer ya, eh?"

"Every day is a long day; nothing unusual there, Zaeed. So, what's on your mind?"

Zaeed took a long pull from his bottle, swallowing a third of the contents with no effort. "I'd like ta request an addishun ter der crew, Cap'n, an' I think you'll agree she's someone that'll be needed on this boat." Zaeed fixed Cody with the gaze from his one good eye as he took another pull on the bottle.

"You've got my attention, Massani. Who do we need to add, exactly?"

"I believe dis ship needs a weapons officer in da forward battery. Met dis little bi' ov fluff on Earth when der Leningrad found me, name ov Sandra Patton, Gunnery Chief on der Shanghai. Thing is, she don't suffer fools gladly …" he paused as he used the thumb on his free hand to point to his own chest, "particularly dis old fool."

Cody studied the old merc, trying to decide if he was serious or just pulling his leg. "What makes you think she'd be a good weapons officer, Massani? Sounds like she's just a chief—a non-com, and a Marine at that."

"Call it a 'unch, Cap'n. She's tough, knows 'er business." Zaeed polished off his beer, leaned back and belched loudly. "Call tha cap'n of the Shanghai, offer ter take 'er off'n 'is 'ands. Ya could offer 'er a nice promotion, or per'aps a commission, same as what was done fer Lawson."

Cody smirked, "News travels fast."

Massani grinned at him and snarked back, "Small ship. Anyway, tell 'er I asked abaaht 'er."

Cody finished his coffee. "Okay, Zaeed. Can't hurt to ask, and we do need a specialist in the battery. I'll check into it, pull her personnel records, see if she'd fit in." Cody stood, grabbed Zaeed's empty bottle and took it to the recycler and rinsed his own mug as he said, "Thanks, Massani. I'll be seeing you soon," and headed back towards the elevator.


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

Gunnery Chief Sandra Patton was beyond tired after several months of six day weeks consisting of 'ten on/ten off'. The Shanghai had been assigned, in conjunction with most of the Alliance ships in the vicinity, with recovering the remains of people, no matter their race, from orbit around the planet. It was a heartbreaking task for everyone, and the strain was really beginning to show.

The only break she'd had in this grim routine had been a trip to the surface to retrieve an old merc needed by the Alliance for help in tracking down the leaders of the Blue Suns. She'd found him, had even had breakfast with him—his treat!—before she'd accompanied him to the Leningrad. She'd never met a more disrespectful old bastard, ever, particularly where women were concerned! He was difficult to like … had even gone out of his way to provoke her, yet she found herself occasionally thinking about him, wondering if … shit, Patton! He's old enough to be your father—probably even your grandfather! What the hell are you thinking?

Patton had just grabbed some necessities and was heading to the showers when she was interrupted by a squad mate. "Gunny! Have you heard the news? At the Citadel?"

"What news have you got, Harper?" Patton was almost too tired to care at this point … she just wanted to take her shower and put in some rack time before she had to go out and do it all over again tomorrow.

"It's the Normandy, Gunny! She's in port!" The young corporal could barely contain herself. "Can you believe it!? After all these months, the damned ship made it back to port! She's docked with the Hong Kong. Admiral Hackett welcomed them back!"

"Finally!" Patton sighed. "First bit of good news I've heard in a long time."

Pausing to yawn, she continued with, "Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a shower down the passageway with my name on it. If I'm fast, I can get cleaned up and in bed in time to get maybe seven, seven and a half hours of sleep before I have to get up, shove some food down my throat and spend another ten helping with recovery of …" she pointed a thumb over her shoulder, "all those people out there. I'll talk to you later, Cassie … and thanks for the info!"


• SSV HONG KONG II, OFFICER'S MESS · 0725, 24 JANUARY, 2188 •

Captain Yuán Xiùlán had made a quick, pre-breakfast trip to the Naval Personnel Supply Store; she had sent a couple of texts—one to Miranda, one to Samantha, requesting they both meet her on the Hong Kong for breakfast before she jogged back to the ship.

She was having her second cup of tea when they both walked around the elevator tower to join her. Miranda was the first to speak. "Good morning, Captain Yuán. Very good to see you!"

Yuán couldn't hide the smirk as she replied, "Good morning to you as well, Ms Lawson. You too, Ms Traynor. Grab some food, then both of you sit. We need to talk."

After they'd each grabbed a tray of food, some tea and taken their seats, Xiùlán looked at Miranda and said, "It's going to be a busy day for you, Ms Lawson."

"Why me?"

"You questioning your captain, Ms Lawson?" Yuán still had a touch of smirk on her face.

"Ahhh, no Ma'am!" Miranda was instantly on the defensive. "Not in the least. My apologies, Captain. I thought …"

Xiùlán waved a hand dismissively as she grinned at Miranda and said in a low voice, "My apologies, Miri. Just giving you a bad time, something I'm always doing to Sammy. Bad habit … need to stop being such a big tease. I actually have a gift for you." She reached into a thigh pocket and pulled out a pair of oblong disks on a chain. "I bought these for you … thought you might be needing them." Xiùlán handed Miranda a shiny new set of dog tags on a ball chain. "Navy and Marines are long on tradition, and these actually still serve a purpose. Didn't want to order 'em when we bought the rest of your stuff … wanted to be sure we'd convinced you to join …"

Lawson looked at the pair of stainless plates with her name and vitals stamped in the surface of each, then looked back at Xiùlán and said, "Thank you, Captain," as she slipped the chain over her head and tucked the tags inside her undershirt.

"You're welcome, Ms Lawson. Oh, and that is how crew on this ship is supposed to refer to you from now on. I suppose we could also call you 'Specialist', or 'Specialist Lawson', but for now your last name will do. Nice to see you have all your badging correctly in place. You'll make a good impression at the JAG offices later this morning."

At Lawson's questioning look, Yuán took another sip of tea and continued, "We have an appointment with the Judge Advocate Rep ashore. I'm afraid it will be most uncomfortable for you when they start asking about your captivity with the Blue Suns. Other than that, the session will probably be mostly boring."

Yuán took a bite of toast, chewed and swallowed before continuing, "Just remember, Alliance is looking for any reason, any excuse they can find to hunt these jackals down. Be as forthcoming as you can, but don't hesitate to ask for a break if you need one. They're totally on our side, and everything we tell them will be held in strictest confidence. They're willing to do whatever they can to eliminate this group of scavengers from the galaxy, okay?"

Yuán took a few more sips of tea; holding her cup with both hands, she pointed a finger as she looked across the rim at Traynor. "You! I have a little something for you as well, Specialist." Lowering her left hand, she reached into a pocket, grabbed something that made a metallic noise and brought her hand back up, holding it clenched over the table in front of her lover. Sam slowly put her own hand out, palm up under Xiùlán's, who dropped a few pieces of metal. "Insignia to denote your new rank, Ms Traynor. Congratulations on your overdue promotion!"

Sammy's grin wouldn't have looked out of place on a small child as she inspected the insignia. "Congratulations yourself, Captain! And thank you … thank you very much."

"You did a great job out there, Specialist. It was really tough, being stuck in Arcturus, not knowing what the hell had happened everywhere else. When we heard the Normandy was on its way home, it was like a stim-shot in the arm. And now you're back …" Yuán ran out of words, eyes glistening as she thought back over the previous months.

Looking around quickly, Traynor took a chance, quickly reaching out and placing her hand on top of her lover's. Whispering, "You once told me that you had loved me ever since we met. I was unable to find the words to respond to that, remember?" Sam withdrew her hand before any other crewmembers saw them. "We were trying to get away from some batarian slavers that had captured us on Klensal. Our first covert mission, and it all went bloody sideways when our Mako drove over an anti-tank mine."

Xiùlán nodded. "Lost our driver … Sergeant Tobias Perkins. Still haunts me to this day."

"Yeah. Murdered and mutilated by the batarians. Our injuries forced the program directors to cut that assignment short, made us return to Mars." Traynor smirked as she looked at Xiùlán and snarked, "That wasn't all that got cut short, was it?"

Xiùlán looked down at the table, then up at Miranda as she responded, "You're not the first human woman to be on the wrong side when dealing with batarians. One of them cut off my hair while I was unconscious. Certainly not equal to the horrors you were subjected to, but we weren't captives for more than a day, either; they were going to sell us to the highest bidder, but they never bothered to tend to our injuries … maybe we didn't give 'em enough time. The asshole with the knife got my blade through his spine after Traynor slowed 'im down with a bullet." Xiùlán ran her hand across the top and down the back of her head, stroking her hair. "I'm just glad none of 'em thought to strip us of our armor."

"Didn't get our omni-tools either," Traynor said quietly. "I'll always wonder why they never attempted to remove our bracelets. Got all our hardware back thanks to Captain Mosley." Traynor said, then added with a bit of sadness, "It was the last time we saw her before the Battle of the Citadel. Hong Kong was destroyed with all hands."

Yuán said, "I was on the SSV Tokyo when that happened. And now? To be the captain of the second frigate to be named Hong Kong? How coincidental is that?" She shook her head, looked at the chrono on the wall and said, "We need to shove off Miranda." Xiùlán looked at Traynor and smiled. "Walk out with us, Sà mi? Bring us some luck?"

"The only luck you'll need is the ability to speed up time so you're not answering questions all day," Sam snarked before doing a double-take upon seeing how Xiùlán was dressed when she rose from the table. "My god, Captain. That's some pretty fancy armor you're wearing. Looks brand new."

"It is new … Cap'n Cody obtained it for me after I was attacked in Miranda's hospital room," she responded. "Bullet destroyed my backplate and shield generator." Running her fingers across the Alliance Navy badge above her breast, she added, "It's all Spectre equipment, best of the best."

"Damn! You planning on finding trouble, or is trouble going to come looking for you?"

"Figure I'm prepared either way," Yuán replied. "I'm real leery of walking off this ship unarmed, which is why …" she paused at the armory as they entered the hanger bay, "there's this." She reached in her weapons locker and retrieved the finishing touch.

Sam's eyes lit up when she saw what Xiùlán had retrieved. "Is that an N7 Crusader?"

Xiùlán held it horizontally at its balance point. Saying, "Check it out," she handed it to Samantha, whose whole face was alight with wonder as she hefted and admired the new shotgun. She really grinned when she inspected the receiver before handing it back. "This is why Captain Cody needed me to provide the Hànzì characters for your name and this ship! He had the bloody weapon custom engraved just for you!"

Xiùlán smiled as she collapsed and latched the weapon into its dock across her lower back. Opening another locker, she retrieved a heavy pistol and handed it to Miranda. "I seriously doubt we'll be able to wear these into the meeting, but at least we'll be armed for the walk there and back."

Sam accompanied the pair to the point where she needed to head back for her apartment. Stopping in front of Xiùlán, she grinned and said, "Thanks for breakfast." Giving her lover a quick hug and a kiss, she added a whispered, "Love you!" then turned and left.

Miranda grinned as Yuan watched Traynor walk away. "Never gets old, does it?"

"What's that?" Xiùlán continued to watch Sam until she disappeared around a corner.

"Being the object of someone's affection … being hugged, being kissed … being … loved," Miranda answered with a smile. "It's what makes life worth living."

Xiùlán turned back towards Miranda. "First time I laid eyes on her was special." She started walking towards the JAG offices. "Might as well get this over with …"


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

Captain Reuben Warner was finishing a late dinner in the officer's mess when he received a 'page' over the ship's comm system—he was needed in the QEC compartment. 'Never fails,' he thought to himself. He responded to the page as he took his tray of dishes to the cleanup area. 'Bet it's Admiral Hackett again with another shit assignment …' he grumbled to himself, then thought, 'Ah, be fair, Reuben … the old man doesn't have a lot of vessels to choose from for assignments.' He walked into the QEC area, surprised that the party calling him was wearing captain's bars. He stepped up to the rail and toggled the 'response' control. "This is Captain Warner … what may I do for you, Captain …?"

"William Cody, SSV Normandy," Cody said with a smile. "How're you doing, Captain?"

Warner rubbed the short, graying hair on his head with his left hand. "Just call me Reuben … and I'm sure you're not calling me just to inquire about my health, so again, what may I do for you?"

Cody's grin got a bit wider. "Call me Bill … and I have a request you may find a little … odd."

"Everything's been odd … hell, worse than odd, ever since the damned Reapers moved into the galaxy. Point of fact, last I heard, Commander Rachaél Shepard was in charge of the Normandy. What changed?"

"There are more changes happening than I can cover in a short exchange through the QEC, Captain. I assumed command of the Normandy this morning, minute past midnight. Admiral has tasked me with replenishing the crew and completing the retrofits interrupted when Vancouver's Naval Yard was hit." Cody paused for a moment to glance at a datapad. "Reason for the call is to request a transfer of one of your crew, if you're amenable to parting with her."

Here it comes, Warner thought. "Who's the lucky lady you'd like me to part with, Bill?"

"Name's Sandra Patton … Gunnery Chief. I've looked at her records … extremely well-qualified for the position I need her for."

Cody's grin disappeared as he continued, "I wouldn't ask if I didn't have a serious need to fill this position, Reuben. Start of the war, Normandy left Vancouver with less than half its recommended crew compliment. I have to correct that while the tech crews finish the retrofits that were also left incomplete when the VI and the ship's pilot released the tie-downs and made a run for Mars." Cody paused for a moment, then smiled again as he continued, "Ship would have been destroyed on the ground at the beginning of the war, and we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Warner's smile was grim. "A lot of good ships were destroyed that day, Bill … and in the days after. That's why we're on cleanup detail over Earth—trying to recover bodies and body parts, and not just humans. Haven't seen this many dead and dismembered turians since the First Contact War. It's a miserable job—one of the worst assignments I've ever been required to do, including what we did at Arcturus." Warner shook his head and added, "I've got a ship full of people—all a lot younger than me—all walking around the decks like zombies. Been doing this work since we returned from Arcturus."

Reuben was silent for several moments, thinking about what was lying just outside the pressure hull in orbit around the charred planet below, silent witnesses to the devastation. He looked back at Cody and asked, "So, what brought Patton to your attention?"

Cody's answer was completely unexpected. "A civilian we have on board, old merc named Massani. Met Patton in London when the Alliance was attempting to locate him. She was one of the people on the ground, convinced him to talk to Captain Martinez on the Stalingrad. I'm no expert, but I think she must be pretty special to have made such an impression on the old guy."

"That wouldn't happen to be Zaeed Massani now, would it?" Warner asked with a chuckle and a shake of his head. "When she returned from that mission she told me what a right proper ass the man was. Always struck me as odd she would say anything about him at all."

"I need to wrap this up, Reuben. How about it—just between you and me? You willing to let her transfer to a frigate? I haven't talked to Patton, neither has Massani, and neither of us will call her if you're not willing to let her go." Cody's face took on a solemn look. "But if you are willing, I'd like to talk to the Admiral first, see if he'll sweeten the pot by allowing her to skip a rank, offer her a promotion to Master Gunnery Sergeant with a position as the Chief of the Normandy's Weapons Systems Division."

Warner's mouth fell open in surprise. After a few seconds of stunned silence, he placed a hand on the back of his neck while tilting his head back to stretch the muscles there. He finally responded in a quiet voice, "Dammit, Bill. How the hell can I say no to an offer like that? If word about this leaked …"

" …it won't, Reuben." Cody interrupted in a firm voice. "Between you … and … me. You say 'no', that's the end of the matter. I'll keep looking, and Patton will probably finish her career as a gunnery chief." Cody played his final card, saying, "But if you say 'yes', you'll be the one getting the credit for offering Patton an unprecedented opportunity to advance her career."

Reuben Warner was like most high-ranking officers in the Fifth Fleet, in that he would never knowingly hold a person back when a golden opportunity came along. "Hell, Bill … how can I turn you down? You go talk to the old man … ring me back when you have something, in writing mind you, that I can present to her. And," he leaned forward a bit as he concluded, "the credit for this is all yours, okay? I would never stand in the way of any of my crew taking a position that would advance their career."

"Thanks, Reuben. She'll thank you too! We'll talk tomorrow." Cody terminated the connection, leaving Reuben Warner to lean on the rail in front of the empty projection pad, thinking about all the vagaries of life in the Alliance Military.


Bill Cody left the QEC compartment and strolled around the raised walkway surrounding the war status table and display, taking care to stay out of the way of the many technical specialists reworking the power and data cables all around the circular compartment.

He had requested the transfer of twelve Marines and eighteen to twenty-four servicemen and NCO's; the Orizaba could certainly spare the personnel, yet knowing Admiral Hackett would be involved in helping to boost the Normandy's complement, he suspected some people would be transferred from other ships in the Fifth Fleet, perhaps even some of the survivors from ships destroyed during the war. Having already sent a note to Admiral Hackett concerning Lieutenant Sherri Morse, he was going to contact the admiral concerning Gunnery Chief Sandra Patton as soon as he reached his quarters.

As he thought about the 'captain's quarters' on this ship, he remembered he still needed to get all his gear out of his old office and quarters on the Hong Kong, mainly so her new XO could relocate and get settled into his new position. Tomorrow. He'd visit Captain Yuán tomorrow, get some assistance, get his stuff moved out so Cross could move in. As for the Normandy, once all the retrofits were complete, the ship would be ready to fly once again, wherever their hunt for the Blue Suns might lead them …


• SSV HONG KONG II · 1845 HOURS •

Miranda Lawson and Yuán Xiùlán had returned from a tiring day; each of them had been questioned individually and at length by representatives of the Alliance's Judge Advocate General's Corps. Fortunately, it had been deemed unnecessary to question either woman any further—the daylong session each had endured seemed to have been quite enough.

For Xiùlán, the questions concerned the multiple attempts to kidnap or murder Miranda Lawson after Yuán led the team that rescued her from Blue Suns captivity in the ruins of Vancouver, BC. There was little mention of the actual rescue operation itself, other than to determine Xiùlán's opinion of Lawson's condition when she was first discovered.

For Miranda, the questions were of a much more personal nature, dealing as they did with the nature and frequency of the assaults during the period of time she had been held captive. The JAG assigned to perform the interview was a woman; additionally, Miranda's advocate was a woman. Both were sympathetic to the physical brutality experienced by Lawson at the hands of her captors. Miranda was allowed to leave the room a number of times when she broke down from memories dredged up by the intrusive questioning; accompanied by her advocate, she was able to regain her composure when the questions became too intense or dredged up exceedingly unpleasant memories.

The JAG may also have been swayed somewhat by Miranda's physical appearance—her remaining facial scars, overall gauntness compared to her look when she was still employed by Cerberus (a part of her history that was known, but not asked about), and the eye patch she was still wearing to protect her newly implanted eye.

It had been an emotionally draining day for the former Cerberus operative, and by the time she reentered the Hong Kong, she felt as if she was ready to collapse from exhaustion. Xiùlán escorted her to her new quarters, (shared with the other female mid-level specialists on board), made sure she was going to be okay showering and changing on her own, then left to get cleaned up herself.

Xiùlán was sitting at the desk in her quarters, looking over a datapad while eating a snack of braised eggplant in brown sauce, when the door lock chimed. She remotely unlocked the hatch as she said, "Come in." Miranda stood outside the hatch as the sections retracted. "Ms Lawson?" Xiùlán stood up and added, "Come on in … take a seat. Just looking over some reports."

Miranda slowly walked up to her captain's desk and sat heavily in one of the chairs. "Ma'am, I hope I never have to go through anything like today, ever again." She massaged her temples between thumb and middle finger, hand covering her eyes.

Yuán waited for more; when Miranda remained silent, she replied, "I can't even begin to imagine what being forced to relive all your recent past must have been like for you." Xiùlán poured a small glass of water from the pitcher beside her. "I'm sorry, Miranda. I wish there had been some other way for them to learn what you went through."

Miranda dropped her hand, picked up the glass and drank the water straight down before answering, "I know, Captain. And I really thought I was ready, you know? It's just that, some of the questions the JAG asked me … I felt in my heart I was a lot stronger, and … dammit, I'm not. Some nights when I'm trying to sleep, I still see their faces … leering at me; their hands …" Miranda brought a shaking hand back up to her face. "It's never going to go away, is it?"

"Unfortunately, no …not without some outside help," Xiùlán answered quietly. "I'm going to make a call, see if I can get an acquaintance of mine to either come visit you or recommend someone to meet you, but only if you'd be willing to enter into a light meld with an asari. Will that be okay?"

Miranda was silent for several moments as she thought about Xiùlán's question. "At this point, I'm willing to try anything, Captain. Call her, please."

"And Miri? … when we're alone, in private, it's just Xiùlán, okay? You are a member of my crew now, yes, but you have become my friend—despite our respective ranks in the Navy, that is something that will not change." Xiùlán stood and came around the desk; taking Miranda's hand, she gently pulled to bring Miranda out of the chair. Facing her, she brought her arms around her friend and hugged her tightly; it was all the trigger Miranda needed to start weeping silently, tears trickling down her cheeks to dampen the fabric covering the strong shoulder on which her chin rested. They stood there together for several minutes until Miranda had exhausted her tears. Voice hitching, she asked, "You this sympathetic to all your crew, Cap …uh, Xiùlán?"

"I am, but …," Xiùlán brought her hands to Miranda's waist, pushed away slightly and grinned as she finished, "you seem to be the only one that needs to be hugged on a regular basis." Stepping back, she moved to her bathroom, picked up and dampened a washcloth and came back to her unhappy friend, where she carefully wiped Miranda's face. When she was done, she smiled and said, "That's better. You should go get some rack time, Miri. You'll be working with Lieutenant Cross tomorrow, learning the ins and outs of our CIC. It should serve to keep your mind occupied, and I think you'll find Cross is a very patient teacher."

Miranda actually smiled as she replied, "Thanks, Captain. I'll see you in the morning." With that, she turned and left Xiùlán alone in her office.

After a minute, Xiùlán opened her omnitool and sent a message directly to Lieutenant Cross, asking him to come see her.

Xiùlán had already assigned Cross as the ship's Executive Officer, effective at the same moment she assumed command of the Hong Kong; along with the 'paperwork' she had already filed regarding his new position, she had requested authority to promote him to the rank of Staff Lieutenant, something she had promised when she first discussed all the changes with him and Miranda Lawson. For morale's sake Hackett wanted to make Cross's promotion a public affair in the presence of the Hong Kong's crew, which Xiùlán had agreed with wholeheartedly.

After giving Cross a 'laundry list' of instructions (most of which involved training Ms Lawson in the tasks she'd be responsible for in the CIC) for the next few days, she'd dismissed him so she could contact Mallene Calis.

Although she not heard from the Serrice Council rep for a number of months, she had heard Ms Calis had gone back to Illium to ride out the end of the war. She typed a quick message outlining what she needed, marked it urgent and sent it off, hoping she'd be hearing back from the asari sooner rather than later.

Leaning back in her chair, she crossed her long legs left over right and planted the heel of a boot on the edge of her desk as she thought about the task ahead. She would soon be taking the Hong Kong into the Terminus to search for and recover (or destroy) remnants of Cerberus' operations; once they left the Citadel, they'd be on their own for weeks before returning. Xiùlán needed Miranda's expertise, so would do whatever was needed to help her friend deal with her memories before they destroyed her sanity.


• INSIDE THE DESTROYER REPOSITORY IRINGÙ-EẞIZKUR •

Dr Liara T'Soni and Garrus Vakarian gazed in awed silence at the nebula ahead as Iringù-Eßizkur continued traveling towards it, her velocity a mind-numbing multiple of light speed. Liara finally broke the silence with a whispered, "Goddess. I wish Rachaél was here to witness this."

Garrus looked at the asari, flared his mandibles slightly and replied, "That's why we're out here, Liara. We're going to help make it possible for the commander to witness sights like this, independent of a computer server." Garrus' eyes took on a steely glint when he added, "Any Cerberus personnel or property we find that does not aid our search will be destroyed." He paused as he looked at the projection of the galaxy map before activating the internal comlink. "Iringù-Eßizkur, please set course for the Anadius System. We need to find whatever remains of the Cerberus facility known as 'Cronos Station'—it was supposedly orbiting the sun outside the asteroid belt."

As you request, Garrus Vakarian. Course correction will commence immediately. Is there anything else?

"That will be all for now—thank you, Iringù-Eßizkur."


A/N: This is the final chapter for 'Transformation, Part Two: Going Home'; the next chapter will be the first chapter for a story that will continue telling the tales started here—'TRANSFORMATION—Part Three', to be sub-titled 'NEW BEGINNINGS', will debut in September, two years since I began writing this story. There are many loose ends still needing closure, not the least of which is that of Liara T'Soni and Garrus Vakarian as they continue their voyage within the Destroyer Reaper Iringù-Eßizkur. I would love to be able to post more frequently, but am still working on "From Shanghai to the Hong Kong II", which I am attempting to update on the last day of each month.

My thanks, once again, to Desert Sunrise for assisting me with those bits of military protocol of which I've written here. The 'skip-rank' promotion for Gunnery Chief Sandra Patton is something that is not unheard of in present day military ops. With so many Naval and Marine personnel having lost their lives in the war to stop the Reapers, finding enough people to fill out depleted ranks—or, in the case of the Normandy, ranks that were not filled at the start of the war—is nearly impossible. Ship captains are more likely to hoard their people, saying 'No' to proposed transfers in an effort to keep their own crew compliments at an optimal level. Fortunately for Bill Cody, captains in the Fifth Fleet are more inclined to work together for the common good, no doubt due to the leadership example of Admiral Steven Hackett. D.S.'s work as my Beta reader is also appreciated, far more than I can relay with just a few words of praise.

My sincere thanks to each of you for following, for adding this to your list of favorites, and for your reviews, including those of you without an e-mail link. I appreciate each new follower, whether I can reply personally or not. Stay tuned!

O_G