Ascension (3/?)



She felt helpless on starships. She was a marine. Sfhe needed a gun in her hands and the biotics at her disposal to fight. Aboard the Normandy, none of her skills mattered; techs and targeting computers had to be trusted to protect her crew. But still the fear remained that something could happen to the Normandy again that she could not stop again because she was no tech, because shipboard systems made no sense to her; because she could barely work at a terminal without a bad case of static shock.

Worst of all, battles in space gave you nowhere to run. Not if something happened to your ship, that is. Shepherd had long ago learned the value of running when situation required it, and not having an escape root made her restive and irritable. Too many days between planets and missions made her almost downright disagreeable. She knew it hadn't been this bad Before (with capital letters: it was the word to which the entirety of her life before Cerberus had rebuilt her had been condensed. Her first life) and knew it was a senseless worry with Joker and EDI at the helm, but after three days in Collector space (which had immediately followed an excursion to The Sea of Shadows, which had itself come of the heals of a trip to Hawking Eta) with most systems damaged, fried, or less than useless, she'd been on her last nerve.

The inbound ship, at least, provided her with a reasonable release for her tensions, though the seals on the engine repairs were still setting, half the cannons had had their targeting computers damaged, the other half seemed in danger of burning down the ship the first time they were fired, and the only thing that she could do in situations like this was work on repairs and pray for the best. Seeing as how any attempt she made to fix anything on the ship would likely end with her making the problem significantly worse, that left only praying, and she had not done that in a long time. Her parents had been nominally Sikh in the same way they were nominally French which is to say their parents had owned copies of the Adi Granth and come from the region of Bordeaux but had failed to empress much of either upon their daughter before their deaths, and the only traces of either ancestry she'd kept was a tic-mark on a if-you-die-while-in-Alliance-service,-what-should-we-do-with-your-remains form when she enlisted and the tendency to count to dix rather than ten when trying to calm her nerves.

Shepherd indulged in this habit as she made her way back through the CIC and to the access shaft, muttering an, "Un, deux, trois," as she slid rather than climbed her way down a level, feeling rather too much blood coursing through her veins to put up with an elevator at the moment. She passed through "quatre" and "cinq" in something almost akin to calm, having decided the best place to "watch" the flight from the unknown ship would be in the mess, where she was fully out of the way of anyone who might actually be doing something useful. The entire point of the exercise, however, became moot a moment later, when she heard the click-click-boom of the Normandy's working cannons from the battery behind, and "six, "sept," and "huit" quickly followed through clenched teeth as she jumped out of the seat she'd just taken and headed for the main battery. Seeing three crewmen busy connecting and reconnecting cables in the narrow aisle between guns in addition to the two aliens she'd expected to find there, "neuf" came out like a curse and "dix" an angry hiss as she dropped down beside a pair of Turian legs sticking out from under the nearest cannon.

"How we doing, Garrus?"

"We've been worse," he said confidently, sliding farther back so that his next words became somewhat muffled, "but we've certainly been better."

The cannons fired again and Shepherd started another round of counting. EDI chose that moment to announce on a private comm channel that the unknown vessel had altered its course to intercept the Normandy at the relay and, at its current speed, would likely catch them. Faster wasn't an option, because there simply wasn't a way in the debris field to go any faster, even with Joker's exceptional skills...

Unbuckling her chestplate, Shepherd remembered just how much she hated space battles, and slid under the opposite cannon, looking for something even she could fix.

"Fire on that ship!"

Enough of the servicemen at the battery controls must have been stationed with the Fifth Fleet during the Battle of the Citadel or knew to obey without question an order like his, because immediately the ship shuddered as it shot dark energy-charged torpedoes at the unknown vessel.

His comm to Captain Cameron was still open and she, hearing his command, relayed it to her gunners, the Okinawa, and the Turian cruisers.

"Aim for the arms. They're the most vulnerable points."

"You've seen something like this before, Commander?"

"It's-" The ship was vaguely squid-like, with three long claws or tentacles or arms surrounding its glowing mass effect core at its stern. Its core, however, didn't glow blue with eezo, but a sickly, twisted red that writhed angrily and sent out tendrils that licked at its cage and tried so far unsuccessfully to escape its bounds. It bulged around the middle, nearly doubling in width, before narrowing again to a flattened, reflective bow that flashed with the orange light of Sahrabarik as turned to face the Passchendaele- No, the unknown ship was turning a full hundred-eighty degrees, completely disinterested in the ships firing at it. It provided perfect positioning to fire at its arms, but also a fear, because anything so willing to expose a weakness couldn't be as weak as expected, though the blood-coloured drive seemed to almost be aflame from the way it flickered...

"The relay is activating again."

"Holmes," Alenko asked the navigator, "Any read on the new ship?"

"Not yet. Just that it's a hell of a lot smaller, sir."

Kaidan didn't hold a hope that it was the Normandy. No, his thoughts were quickly tripping down a path of thought he did not like, causing a stab of fear to pierce him that his grandmother, were she still alive, would have called the chill of someone walking over his grave:Shepherd, no matter which flag she sailed under, would never let a Reaper vessel into an inhabited system if there was anything she could do to stop it. Ergo, there was nothing she could do to stop it. As she'd do anything, up to and including all methods self-destructive, to stop such a thing, than she had to have failed. Failure meant death. He'd only just gotten her back; he didn't know if he could take her death a second time. Not before he'd a chance to-

He shook himself, reminding himself that this was what Shepherd did to people. He was a solider. A marine. Any smaller ship that was likely to follow this unknown was bound to be a corvette of some type; something manoeuvrable but with limited weaponry. The servicemen aboard would know how to handle them. The best Commander Alenko could do was let them do their jobs and refuse to think about implications. Those could be saved for after if there was an after. So he concentrated on the ship with the red drive core instead.

A shout of disbelief came from the CIC behind, startling him out of his contemplation. "Something has to be wrong with the scanners! They're saying it's an Alliance vessel coming through the relay. But that can't be- Commander, it's saying it's the Valmy, but I know for a fact that it's still in the shipyards at Arcturus-"

It wasn't the Valmy. It couldn't have been. But the Valmy was a stealth ship of experimental design. A frigate, more specifically, of Normandy-class.

A moment later, the Normandy SR-2 shot through the relay.

The First Movement: Incalzando