Tidbit Tuesday: Shepard's Punishment, Part 2

His face changed as he saw that I was serious and he stepped into the doorway looking ready to talk rather than...other things. When he realized I had on only a towel he froze. He closed his eyes and took a moment to remind himself of what we'd been discussing.

"Okay," he said, opening them again, "let's talk about Cerberus. Let's talk about you flying around the galaxy with a crew full of attractive men. Let's talk about that."

He had to have heard my side of the story on news reports and through Alliance channels. Part of the reason I had agreed to so many interviews and written so much was in the hope that he would see them and realize how very dead I had been shortly before he accused me of abandoning him. I may not have been able to talk to him directly but a girl deserves a little slack for having been reconstructed in a four-billion-credit medical experiment, doesn't she?

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 10

The Game’s Afoot

Once we’d recovered from the idea of Garrus rubbing up against Joker in a dark closet Anderson briefed us on our objectives and procedures. “Trust me, you wouldn’t want to see the encrypted forms of the messages he sends,” Anderson assured me. “He hides them in the sorts of pictures that have made him infamous on the extranet.”

I cracked up again at the idea of some staid intelligence handler opening cross-planetary, 3-D porn every time Joker had something to report. I supposed it was someone with whom he’d served on another ship so that it would look natural for him to keep sending smut like he did to half of the people he’d ever met. On certain subjects Joker was pretty easily entertained.

We finished the actual details and left the Cone of Silence, wandering over to Anderson’s desk. Garrus, Jack, and I replaced our comm links and chatted about how little Anderson enjoyed his diplomatic duties on the Council. As we did so, I became more and more curious about the photo on his desk. He’d never mentioned family to me and I had been under the impression that he’d been as much a loner as I always had. Spectre status didn’t lend itself to spouses and children.

Frustrating Fridays: Frustrations, Chapter 10

After another round of bridge and stairs, we reached the lowest level and slew the Darkspawn guards. From the smell of it, we faced a cul-de-sac filled with tainted flesh. Rank gobbets covered the floor in various shades of nasty and dangled from the walls much as it had in the Deep Roads beneath Orzammar where I’d first faced—and defeated—a broodmother. Pods like those from which various childer forms had sprung along our path lined what little distance we could see.

We may never find The Architect’s main lab, the place where he’d kept the bulk of his research and presumably a stronghold for those converted Darkspawn who remained on his side in this conflict, but I hoped that he was one of the few, if not the only one, who knew how to make and administer his “cure”. That he had sent so high a lieutenant to draw me to The Mother’s lair lent me hope that he had committed most of his forces in the long string of recent battles and perhaps the two sides had reduced each other’s numbers to the point where we could eliminate both factions.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 10

Despite our new connection, I couldn't put my interest in Thane before the mission. It seemed that every time I turned around one of my crew had an issue that needed to be addressed.

Grunt was going through puberty, Jacob had discovered the location of his long-missing father's ship, and Jack needed closure at Pragia before she could focus. There were mercenary bases to destroy, geth infiltrations to investigate, and planets to explore. While I made time to talk to Thane and the new easiness between us meant that I was less distracted by my growing interest in him, neither of us seemed to be in a hurry to get more physical.

I was intensely aware that I still had one more piece of unfinished business that stood between us. It took me two weeks, but finally I mustered the nerve to face this last concrete connection with the love that I had lost simply by being dead for a couple of years. As the Normandy cruised through yet another nearly-empty system I dragged myself to my cabin.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 8

Pirates and Play

Clearly I lack Varric’s facility with weaving elements into a story so seamlessly you barely notice their beginnings. In telling this tale I have neglected to introduce both another of my companions and the force that complicated the lives of everyone in Kirkwall.

Yet Isabela was as entwined in these events as any of us, perhaps more so at the beginning, and without the Qunari I would never have been named Champion of Kirkwall in the first place. Had I known how byzantine my life would get after returning from the Deep Roads I might have taken my spoils and returned to Ferelden, familial mansion be damned.

There was plenty else afoot in the city to occupy us even before we solved the mystery of the Starkhaven assassinations and brought Sebastuan into our fold for good. It seemed that Fereldens and exiled princes had not been the only folks washing up on the shores of Kirkwall. In the midst of the flood of blight refugees came a ship’s worth of Qunari from Par Vollen.

Tidbit Tuesday: Shepard's Punishment, Part 1

My team and I had gone on a jaunt through the dreaded Omega 4 relay, taken out thousands of the ancient race of mutant bugs, rescued a few dozen people, given Cerberus the finger, and returned as heroes. That was a month ago and I'd been stuck on the Citadel giving reports ever since. I was bored.

It had been a very lonely, frustrating journey for me. I had clung to my belief that Kaidan and I could rekindle our love, fending off advances from Jacob the lackey, the sweat-inducing smoothness of the assassin Thane, the fun and fit Donnelly, my crew psychologist, and even my best friend Garrus.

But as soon as I returned I'd called his number only to get a recording saying it had been disconnected. I tried to reply to his tentative apology message but it bounced back to me. Apparently, he'd changed his mind.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 9

Raising the Specter of a Spectre

Captain Anderson was the man, or at least he had been. His long and storied career with the Alliance contained enough daring exploits and classified ops to make a rank private green with jealousy. He would have been the first human Spectre but for the sabotage of his turian evaluator, the same Saren who’d later been indoctrinated by the Reaper, Sovereign, whose defeat had been a spectacle of human-alien cooperation and had led to Anderson’s place on the Council. I guess the Captain had gotten the last laugh, after all.

I respected him like I had no other commanding officer in my career. But by the time I was shown into his office I was ready to kick him somewhere completely impertinent. Not only had he put Hackett into the uncomfortable position of pissing me off but he’d kept me waiting more than half an hour for the appointment that he’d scheduled. Whatever shady dealings were going on between Anderson and the Alliance the time I’d spent pacing in the reception area for the Council had me ready to spit nails. Even Jack was more relaxed than I.

Frustrating Fridays: Frustrations, Chapter 9

Anders and I lagged farther and farther behind as the day wore on to sunset. Anders had been casting rejuvenation spells on us but each only lasted so long and his exhaustion limited how often he could afford to renew them. When the other two were out of sight over a rise he smiled at me and asked, “Was it worth it?”

I squeezed his hand and answered, “Definitely.” It was the only time either of us referred to the night before but I was glad for the opportunity to let him know that, regardless of the circumstances and how badly it was slowing us down, I did not regret our exertions. I may well do so in time, but for the moment I was content.

When Sigrun circled back for the third time to check on us I finally called a meal break. Though we knew our approximate destination we needed to decide whether we would press on and take the chance of fighting again before we made camp. I wasn’t sure I could strike hard enough to discourage Ser Pounce-a-Lot much less a more fearsome creature.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 9

Thane’s high spirits continued aboard the shuttle as we returned to the Normandy.  Zaeed and Tali were deep in conversation.  I don’t think the man had ever talked to a Quarian and he seemed fascinated by her suit, at the very least.  She loved to explain things in intricate detail so the two were absorbed in a discussion of parameters and functions.

Thane and I smiled at each other.  I didn’t even care that I must have smelled like the ship gym after a full day’s worth of workouts.  This had turned out to be the best day I’d had since I’d awoken at the Cerberus base.  “I have never heard you laugh so freely,” Thane said to me.  “It suits you.  I had a great deal of fun thinking of ways to make you do so again.”

I refused to spend time picking that statement apart to decide if it should ruin my mood.  “What about you?” I asked.  “I’ve never seen you have fun.  We’ll have to find more chances for you to let loose like that.”  Thane chuckled and replied, “I never thought I would enjoy someone’s company so much again.”  In my head I kicked my conscience in the ankle and told it to shut up if it couldn’t say anything helpful.  I settled for saying, “I know what you mean.”

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 7

The Frisky Prude

When Sebastian and I arrived at the Hariman estate the front door hung open and a foreboding silence surrounded the property. The neighbors studiously avoided looking at the place when they passed and I wondered for how long everyone had been pretending it was fine. Certainly they’d been ignoring the neglect that Fenris visited on the mansion in which he squatted nearby. The residents of Hightown seemed to put self-preservation above property values.

Fenris and Varric arrived and we walked into the foyer. Sebastian told us how close the Harimans had been to his family. They would never have left their home so vulnerable when he had been regularly visiting the place as a boy. We saw no servants and no Harimans as we explored.

Something was clearly amiss in the mansion. Half of the doors were blocked from the other side and we could hear a woman shouting somewhere deeper in the building, muffled by the stone walls and tapestries.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 8

Evasive Maneuvers

Admiral Hackett looked a little older and a little greyer than I remembered but not dramatically so. The battle with sentient robots and the ship creature they had worshiped as a god had taken a heavy toll on both the Alliance and Citadel fleets alike. The aftermath had been near-chaos, particularly without a Council to make overarching decisions and enforce cooperation between the various species.

The mess of politics that had existed when I’d died must have been settled by now, at least in part. I had recommended the original Normandy’s previous captain, Anderson, for the human seat on the new council but who knew how that had all shaken out in the end.

The ambassador for us Humans had been a slimy, life-long politician named Udina. Choosing between an Alliance officer who was almost ready to retire anyway and a professional snake like Udina had been vastly easier than deciding to let the old Council fend for itself in battle. I imagined Udina making an argument before the Council while Anderson yelled at him to stand up straight and stop waffling. That made me smile as Hackett waved me in. He smiled in return though his eyes seemed guarded.

Frustrating Fridays: Frustrations, Chapter 8

True to form, Anders’s response took a teasing tone. “I think you already know the answer to that,” he joked. But he shifted tactics almost immediately, clearly aware that things had not been quite as he had thought. “Didn’t you want me to…join you?” He spoke hesitantly. “You didn’t say anything when I first came in but you responded so quickly…” He paused, thinking. “When you stopped I...did you change your mind, have sudden doubts?”

Apparently he’d had no idea that I hadn’t realized it was him with me from the beginning. He continued uncertainly. “I just thought…well, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I thought you were willing to give in, just this once.” He trailed off, sounding disconcerted.

My anger at his presumption melted as I realized that he had done only what he’d thought I’d wanted. Obviously I’d misjudged his interest and his restraint in waiting for some clear signal from me. He hadn’t sought to trick me, to seduce me when I was at my most vulnerable. He’d intended only to give and receive some comfort in the face of what could well be the end of our time together, one way or another.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 8

It seemed that a detachment of Quarians had traveled to a colony planet from which they’d been exiled by the geth. The details were sketchy but Yeoman Chambers seemed to take excessive pleasure in letting me know that that the system’s sun had become unstable and that the heat hazard on Haestrom would require heavy shields and environment suits. I was coming to hate that woman. Joker sure seemed to like her, though. I wondered if I’d been too convincing in warning him away from her. It must be a lonely existence for him, being so fragile, but Kelly would probably break him in half.

I shuddered and pushed the mental picture away as I made my way to the shuttle bay. I had enough horrible images in my head without pursuing that train of thought. Since Dr. Chakwas was doing some work on Garrus’s poor, blown-up face I’d asked Thane and Zaeed to come along for an all-sniper team. With sentient robots it was best to shoot from as far away as possible.

As the shuttle approached Haestrom I checked the readouts and cursed them roundly. “It’s 123 degrees in the shade and I have to wear full armor!” I yelled. “Stupid geth.” I added a few more choice words about geth, their parentage, and what things they could stick in which awkward places. I could hear Thane laughing at me as the shuttle descended. “I suppose this hot, dry air will be wonderful for you,” I said sourly.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 6

A Stolen Sister and a Princely Request

When finally I arrived at my uncle’s grotty little apartment it was to find Knight-Commander Cullen at the door and my mother screaming. It seemed Bethany had been forced during my absence to be more open in completing jobs and had come to the notice of the Chantry. Cullen could no longer pretend not to see her.

Our previous help was not for naught, however. He promised as much leniency for her as he could manage and tried to ease the sting by vowing that our family would not be punished for hiding her. He offered as courtly a bow as the circumstances allowed before he and his men took my resigned sister and headed back to the Gallows.

Naturally, mother blamed me for this development as well, particularly since I’d given most of our coin to Bartrand for the expedition and taken the two most helpful friends we’d had with me. I tried to deflect some of the blame on Gamlen, the lazy lout who had put us in this position in the first place, and asked if she would rather Bethany had gone to work at the Blooming Rose. Mother was having none of it.

Tidbit Tuesday: Out on Patrol

Because I knew that something was very wrong on the planet of Virmire I was stunned by its beauty. I’d expected a wasteland, blasted and ruined by the evil forces we’d come to destroy. But the Mako rover had landed on a white-sand shelf that was almost a river but still part of the ocean that stretched to the eastern horizon under bruised clouds that dropped lightning in the distance.

We drove down the winding path, intent on our mission. I'd brought Kaidan Alenko and Garrus Vakarian with me, the most powerful fighters in my squad. Geth lurked around every corner and controlled the gatehouses and anti-aircraft turrets that were keeping our comrades in the Normandy from the source of the distress call we'd come to investigate.

We fought our way to the first set of gates and climbed out of the Mako. “Who taught you to drive that thing?” Garrus complained rubbing his head. We'd had a few rough maneuvers as I tried to avoid getting fried by rockets. The rocks and giant crabs made for a bumpy ride if you didn't have time to plan your route. The last skirmish had been particularly nasty and I'd almost overturned us before Garrus had finally managed to mop up the last of the robots.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 7

Everything Old Is New Again

The mass relays tossed us across the galaxy until we finally reached our destination. Joker let me know that we were within thirty minutes of docking and I made my way back to the bridge. I intended to be ready, in the airlock, the second we were cleared to open the door.

As I strapped on pieces of armor I imagined taking the chest plates in to have the hateful logo removed. I wasn’t about to throw away perfectly good armor any more than I’d let Cerberus have the Normandy back just because they’d built her but both needed a new paint job. At least my guns don’t have little traitorous symbols on them, I thought as I clipped them into place on my back and my hip. I wasn’t expecting trouble but I wanted to look as large and in charge as I possibly could.

I’d already asked Garrus and Jack to get suited up as well. They met me on the bridge. I should have thought to ask Jack what she had for armor because apparently she considered a belt around her nipples to be all the protection she needed. Biotic barrier or not, that left an awful lot of carefully-applied ink to get wrecked. Maybe we could stop somewhere and charge a new chest plate and some greaves to Cerberus before they figured out I’d jumped ship.

Swingin' Saturday: The Swing of Things, Chapter 7

“I just thought I should get to know you a little better, since we’ll be spending so much time together.” Kaidan cringed at stilted how that sounded. “I barely know any of you except Anderson, and him mostly by reputation.”

He asked some general questions about what ships Joker had served on, why he’d joined the Alliance, and where he was from. Joker’s answers were typically evasive but his love of flying and his disdain for most of his fellow pilots was clear. He admitted that he’d been yanked from his last assignment for insubordination not long before Chakwas had come up with the idea for the combo and that getting everyone together had kept him from going insane while he was stuck on the Citadel. The doctor’s name cropped up again and again in Joker’s stories, in fact.

“So, are you and the doctor close?” Kaidan finally asked. Joker chuckled. “Well, she’s seen me without my pants more times than every other woman I’ve known combined,” he replied with a leer.

Frustrating Fridays: Frustrations, Chapter 7

We were too exhausted to head straight to another string of battles. I ordered the guards to bring any news from the keep to me immediately and my companions and I retired to the temporarily-abandoned inn near the Chantry. The recent fighting had left Darkspawn corpses strewn about the ground floor but the rest of the building was relatively untouched. Anders magicked enough life into the dead to march them out to the street and into a relatively tidy pile.

I appropriated Kristoff’s old room and the others found quarters of their own. Our belongings settled, we rummaged in the kitchen for something to eat then sat around the fire fruitlessly considering our approach to the Dragonbone Wastes where The Mother had hidden herself. This occupation paled quickly. One by one we wandered off to make any preparations we could conceive for a place none of us had been and the unknown enemy at its heart.

Time seemed to stand still that afternoon as we rambled about the inn, too restless to lie down and too tired to commit to setting out for the Wastes. We bathed, cleaned our weapons and armor, bumped into each other in odd corners, and generally got in each other’s way and on each other’s nerves time and again.

Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 7

I returned to the galaxy map and set about organizing the tasks I knew needed to be addressed. The Illusive Man had been feeding us all sorts of tidbits through Miranda so we had plenty to do. My theoretical second-in-command had warmed toward me since we’d “rescued” her clone that she called a sister from the clutches of her controlling “father”. It seemed to me that she had determined the course of this young girl’s life for her, which was almost as wrong as what their father had intended to do, but being forced to act as a Cerberus puppet at times had made me a bit sensitive to manipulation.

At least I’d forced her to talk to the girl. She deserved to know the real situation and to make choices for herself. The girl was the age Miranda had been when she’d run away. Perhaps if Miranda got over her obsession with being “perfect” and started to talk to people instead of at them she could be a friend. Unless, that was, I had to kill her to keep her from killing Jack.

The petty issues between crew members always flared after a long stretch in space. Since I’d let everyone ashore at the Citadel most folks were more relaxed, if not completely hung over, having blown off some steam. Dr. Chakwas let me know that she had bought another bottle of brandy but I wasn’t ready for another session of reminiscence and heartfelt talk with her just yet. She was a piece of the old Normandy and one of the few people who would openly talk to me about Kaidan. Unlike some of the crew she wasn’t intimidated by me in the least and had pulled no punches in letting me know how much she thought of him and how thrilled she’d been to see us together. I was so angry with him that I couldn’t face the good doctor for a while.

Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 5

There remained one thing to finish before we embarked: the delivery with which Flemeth had charged us on that death-filled hill back in Ferelden. Mother had begged Bethany and me to put off meeting our end of the bargain even once released from Athenril’s service and free to roam outside of the city itself. But for all her fears I was determined to see the dragon’s demands met before we ranged far from the relative safety of the stone courts and well-populated streets of Kirkwall. One can never be too careful when dealing with dragons.

Two days before the expedition was to depart Fenris, Anders, Bethany and I made our way up Sundermount north of the city. We found the Dalish encampment just where Flemeth had so long ago assured us it would be. The Keeper welcomed us like lost elves returning to the tribe but the rest of the clan kept their bows trained on us and their eyes narrowed in suspicion.

All, that is, but the waif the Keeper introduced as Merrill. Her enormous green eyes stared in wonder at each of my companions in turn, the lyrium-burned elf with his enormous blade, the robed mage who looked as though he had not slept or eaten in days, and the proper young woman who yet bore a staff clearly intended for magic.

Tidbit Tuesday: Dearest Alistair

My Dearest Alistair,

I know that you don’t want to talk to me just now. You’re angry and hurt at what you probably see as my betrayal. I’m sorry that things happened the way they did. It must have looked like I was leading you on while I was building my relationship with Zevran. But you did not give me a chance to explain anything and I believe that it is important that I do. Even if we never talk about this please do read what I have written.

You probably think I’m an unfeeling bitch at this point, someone who toyed with your emotions for sport. But that’s not true. I love you, Alistair, I do. One thing holds me back from flinging myself at you entirely.

How do I put this delicately? Look at the size of you, dear.

Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 6

When I got to the bridge, Joker and EDI both stopped talking. We'd had the Normandy for two weeks and already he was keeping secrets with it. Having stumbled over some of the things he'd managed to arrange with the VI on the SR-1, however, I knew better than to pursue the matter. He had a nasty and creative imagination and access to a lot of sites that would have gotten a less-talented pilot court martialled. He knew how to use the power of the mostly-idle data banks to put those things in full-sized animated combinations best left alone.

In a formal voice, he asked EDI to finish scanning the remaining planets in the system and then head back to the nearest mass relay. That would take at least a few hours and I wondered why he was willing to relinquish control for that long. He turned to me and said, “Commander, I have to show you something.”

He laboriously climbed out of his chair and started for the airlock. I followed, pacing his shuffling gait. He removed his comm unit and put it on a ledge as we passed, gesturing for me to do the same. Just before the corner where the large exit sign glowed he pressed a panel and a door I'd never noticed opened.