“Captain Shepard, I presume?” The asari behind the desk smiled politely, her typing never ceasing.
Hannah nodded, tucking her hands together at the small of her back. “That’s me.”
“She’s expecting you. It shouldn’t be more than a moment. Excuse me.” The asari keyed up a comm link on her terminal and spoke again. “Liara? Captain Shepard has arrived.”
“Send her in, Nyxeris.” The voice that answered was cool and professional, detached.
Hannah wondered for the thousandth time what this was about. Six months after the Normandy had been destroyed, taking her daughter with it, she’d received a message asking her to come to Illium at her convenience. The sender, one of Jane’s former crewmates, had something of interest to her, about her daughter.
So here she was, wearing her dress blues, attending a meeting on Illium while on a furlough. The pistol she carried on her hip, concealed by her jacket, was for her own protection. The whole thing was so secretive that she couldn’t help but be suspicious. She didn’t intend to start a firefight on Illium unless she absolutely had to, though.
“Captain? She’ll see you now.” The assistant inclined her head towards the door.
“Of course. Thank you.” Hannah nodded and made for the door.
The fresh-faced asari seated behind a desk with dozens of displays at her back and an open terminal in front of her was not what Hannah had been expecting. Although she probably had lived twice as many years as Hannah herself, the woman looked young. Very young.
“Captain.” The asari keyed the door closed from her terminal as she spoke. “My name is Liara T’Soni. I was aboard the Normandy.” Her eyes were blue and sad, showing her hurt as much as the slight downturn of the corners of her mouth did. “I’m sorry. I wish there was something more I could do, but it all seems rather trite, I’m afraid.”
“You’re Liara. Jane had mentioned you, in some of her mail.” Now it made sense. Her daughter’s one-time lover had contacted her… but why? “She had plans for us to meet, but I doubt this was what she had in mind.”
Liara tried to crack a smile in acknowledgment. “No, I don’t imagine it was. Captain, forgive me, but is that--?” She gestured to Hannah’s chest, where she wore her own commendations and medals, along with Jane’s Star of Terra.
She smiled faintly, touching the medal with her fingers. “Jane never liked the publicity so I’m not sure how much she told you. She was awarded this after holding off pirates during the Skyllian Blitz, rallying the troops so they could hold out for reinforcements. By regs, I’m not supposed to wear it, but…” she shrugged.
“She looked just like you, Captain,” Liara remarked, her voice quiet. “So much. It’s rather unnerving. I—I apologize for the secrecy, but it was necessary. You understand, don’t you?”
Hannah just nodded. “Of course I do. My daughter was an N7 operative and then a Spectre. I’ve been on classified missions; a large chunk of my career has dealt in secrets. But you didn’t call me here in secret just to remember.”
The asari reached for something on her desk and came up with something held in a closed fist, but Hannah could see the flash of metal and a length of ball chain. Oh, god.
“These were recently recovered,” Liara said, opening her hand to reveal a set of Alliance dogtags. “It occurred to me that you might like to have them.”
Hannah took the battered tags from the other woman, blinking as she looked at them.
SHEPARD, J.A., the text stamped on the metal read, 5923-AC-2826 N7. Name, number, MVC. All necessary identifying information for a soldier. These had definitely belonged to Jane—she didn’t even have to look at the line that stated blood type to know for certain.
Reflexively, Hannah closed her hand around them and then shook her head. “I don’t want to know how these came to be in your hands,” she told Liara, “and I would rather you keep them.”
“But I—I had thought you would—”
Hannah pressed the tags back into the asari’s hand. “I have more than enough to remember my daughter by. You probably don’t. Keep them.” It’s not as if two little pieces of stainless steel on a ball chain will bring her back, she wanted to say. “Jane probably would have wanted you to have them.”
Liara smiled fondly, her expression becoming distant for a moment as she held onto the tags. “I was fortunate to get her to tell me her first name. You’re the only person I’ve met who called her Jane.”
“I’m Shepard. She was Jane. Military families, see—it’s a pain to keep us all straight.” Hannah reached out a hand to Liara, feeling her long-alleged ‘nerves of steel’ fail her for an instant. What the hell can I say to her?
“I would have come sooner,” she said, deciding to start on neutral ground, “but I couldn’t get the leave.”
Liara just shrugged, setting the recovered dogtags down on her desk carefully. “I understand. I imagine with all the secrecy, you were more than a little wary and understandably so. You’re here now, though.”
“And Liara? I don’t know if it means anything to you, coming from me—but from what I got from her mail, Jane loved you. She didn’t do anything casually….”
“Never. Shepard—Jane—never did anything lightly. It was rather… ‘all or nothing’, I believe is the human turn of phrase, with her.” Liara shook her head. “She never stopped, even if it got her into trouble.”
“She didn’t love casually either. I know soldiers have that reputation, but she just didn’t.”
“No. I know, Captain. Thank you.”
Hannah reached up and after a moment’s fumbling, unfastened a medal from her uniform. “This isn’t one of mine,” she explained when Liara just blinked at her. “It’s another one of Jane’s; the Alliance gave her three commendations posthumously. I couldn’t see them sitting in a box at home and I didn’t know what else to do with them.”
“So you wear them in memory. It seems… fitting, Captain.”
She laid the medal in Liara’s palm and said, “that’s the Silver Star they awarded her. My husband wears her Bronze Cross and Heart of Sol, regs be damned. I have her Star of Terra and I’d like you to keep that. Because you weren’t her spouse and maybe because you weren’t human, the Alliance ignored you.”
“You’re her mother, Captain. I—I can’t.” Liara tried to hand the medal back. “I can’t keep it.”
She gently folded the woman’s fingers around the medal and said, “you can. Keep it. No one’s going to ask me for it and you’re every bit as entitled to the memories as I am. You’ll remember her long after I’m dead and gone. And someone has to remember her.”
Liara bowed her head respectfully, holding onto Jane’s Silver Star. If she shed a tear, Hannah decided she wasn’t going to say anything about it. God only knew, she’d shed enough of her own tears.
“Thank you, Captain,” Liara said, raising her head after a moment. “Although we’d never met before, your… acceptance means a great deal.”
“Call me Hannah. I know it’s not much—a medal and an old pair of tags—but things like that mean a lot to us military types.”
“You giving them to me means a lot to me--Hannah.”
“My daughter loved you. That’s good enough for me.” She straightened up, stretching her back. “Before we both start crying, do you have time to have a drink with me? I’d like to give you copies of a few holos I have.”
“I’d like that,” Liara said, rising to her feet. “Truly. It seems as if I seldom see anywhere outside of this office.”
“I know how a desk job feels and after that shuttle trip and… this, I think I could use a drink.”
“I could, as well.”
“Then it’s agreed. Come on. I’ll tell you all about how Jane would curse me up and down the Traverse if she could see this, me giving you pictures.”