“Logged: The commanding officer is aboard. XO Pressly stands relieved,” the VI’s monotone voice echoes through the chamber.
The airlock hisses open to let the shore party aboard the SSV Normandy. Jane Shepard takes two steps inside, allowing her eyes to slowly adjust to the semi-darkness of the ship, a sharp contrast with the bright lights inside the Citadel’s docking bay. She can sense her two companions following closely behind. A few more steps and they’re all inside, the hatch immediately sliding shut behind them.
Navigator Pressly nods at her as she heads toward the rear of the ship. She sees him open his mouth as though to speak but pretends not to notice and keeps walking. She knows he deserves a brief update on her dealings with the Council and more details about their next mission, but what she wants most of all right now is to unload her cargo. She will fill him in later.
Jane descends the stairs one level. Moving toward her locker to put a few things away, she notes Liara detaching herself from the party and heading in the direction of the medical bay with a muttered apology that she is tired and wishes to rest. Tali remains beside her, stoic and unreadable as always. Setting down her luggage in front of her locker, Jane can sense Kaidan coming toward them.
“What’s with Dr. T’Soni?” he asks as he moves in behind her, pressing his hands on her shoulders and massaging her stiff muscles with his fingertips to relieve the tension there.
Shepard shakes her head and shifts her body to get rid of his hands. She knows he means well, but she isn’t in the mood to deal with the various members of her crew vying for her affections. Not today. Meetings with the Council always tend to put her in a bad mood, and their treatment of Liara was heartless, especially when the girl had just lost her mother.
“You know how it is. They grilled her something fierce, and then Ambassador Udina gave her his own interrogation. He made it seem like she’s suspected of terrorist activities,” she explains as she bends down to pick up the large duffel bag.
Kaidan slams his fist into another locker. “That—!” He drops his head and sighs. “I’m sorry, Commander, but you know how I feel about the Ambassador.”
“I know.” Jane reassures him with a touch of her free hand to his forearm. “Let’s go.”
The trio takes the elevator down to the cargo bay. Ashley greets them and takes the bag out of Shepard’s hands before she has a chance to protest. She follows Ashley toward the locker area so they can distribute the new weapons and armor. Her crew’s careful attentions are not entirely altruistic; they are eager to see what new supplies their commander has brought back for them. Jane smiles. She’s not angry; they’ve earned it.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to bring back more,” she apologizes as she zips open the bag and rifles through its contents. “Delan, Morlan and the Expat did not have satisfactory selections. Only the rare stocks were worthwhile, and at the price those run for, I didn’t have the credits to get a full set of gear to outfit each of you.”
As she hands Ashley a new shotgun, she looks up, scans the room, and frowns. “Where is Garrus? I got him a new assault rifle.”
Kaidan looks around, perplexed. “I don’t know. And it looks like Wrex is gone, too. But I don’t remember seeing them go out.”
Shepard is on her feet in seconds and heading back toward the elevator. She searches the crew deck, the veins in her neck pulsing in agitation, but neither the turian nor the krogan are anywhere to be found. Ordinarily, she probably wouldn’t care. The members of her crew are responsible beings who can be trusted to follow their own initiatives without jeopardizing the mission. But today is not the day. Today is so not the day.
“Pressly,” she calls out as she approaches the bridge. “I can’t find Garrus or Wrex aboard the ship.”
Pressly scratches his beard, nods, and punches a few keys on the panel. “Let me check the logs for you.”
As the log’s contents are output line by line on a small screen nearby, Pressly examines the information, with Jane looking over his shoulder. Her eyes come to rest on the next-to-last entry in the log: Wrex and Garrus had exited the ship roughly four hours after her shore party had departed to meet with the Council. Their objective had not been logged.
“We probably didn’t stop them because we assumed they were acting on your orders.” Pressly shrugs his shoulders. “Sorry, Commander.”
Jane squeezes her eyes shut, massaging her fingertips in circles over her temples. The successive series of annoyances over the past two days aboard the Citadel have begun to manifest themselves as a physical headache.
“We can’t leave without them, so we have no choice but to wait for their return. However, do continue preparations for take-off. I will be in the command room. When Wrex and Garrus return, please send them to me. Until then, I would prefer not to be disturbed.”
As her crew nods in acquiescence, Jane turns and makes her way to the command room, grateful when the door whooshes closed behind her to save her crew the sight of her fighting through the waves of the oncoming migraine.
Reclining in one of the command room chairs, Jane has been drifting in and out of sleep. She had spent some time trying to catch up on her written mission reports but gave up when the throbbing in her head had become too distracting. She is startled to her senses when she hears a loud chortling on the bridge that’s growing louder as its source moves in her direction. She recognizes the rasping, screeching sound as being a turian’s laughter.
When the command room door slides open, however, only Wrex enters.
“Shepard.” He announces his presence in his usual gruff voice.
“Wrex.” Jane sits up and notes the absence of a turian in the doorway. “Where’s Garrus?”
Wrex comes further into the room and she could almost interpret his expression as a smirk. “Getting patched up by Doctor Chakwas. Don’t worry, it’s just a few scratches.”
Shepard jumps to her feet. “What!? ‘A few scratches’? Where the hell have you been?!”
She doesn’t usually raise her voice with her crew—she has the highest respect for all of them—but her patience has already been worn thin, and Wrex’s attitude, which suggests that he isn’t the least bit concerned about his commander’s reaction to his behavior, only serves to piss her off more.
“Training,” is Wrex’s matter-of-fact, one-word response, as though that should explain everything.
“Training?” she frowns. “Where? Why? Are our regular missions and side assignments not enough practice for you?”
Wrex shrugs one of his broad, armored shoulders. “Me and Vakarian, we like a challenge every now and then. We can move faster with just two.” He pauses, then adds, “No offense to your combat abilities, Shepard.” The tone of his voice isn’t quite as harsh, then.
Two things about that confession surprise her. First of all, it’s the use of the phrase ‘me and Vakarian’. When they had first met, Wrex had been quite frank about his dislike of Garrus, even though he had never let his personal feelings get in the way of the functioning of the team. Although she had sensed that the two aliens had since agreed to set aside their differences, she had not been aware of a significant change in Wrex’s attitude toward Garrus, let alone a sense of camaraderie and friendship. But then, Wrex is the member of her crew whom she finds the most difficult to read.
The most disturbing part, however, is Wrex’s admission that they had gone into battle with a team of just two. The standing rule aboard the Normandy is that no one leaves the ship to go into combat with a unit of less than three combatants.
“Wrex, you know the rule. Three soldiers to a unit, minimum. To maximize our safety as well as the compatibility of our skills and talents. So no one gets hurt unnecessarily.”
Wrex doesn’t look impressed. “We have it under control, Shepard. There aren’t many things out there that could take out a fully-armed krogan Battlemaster and a turian C-Sec officer.”
“What if you were ambushed? No one on the ship even knew where you were. How would we have known where to send a search party?!” Jane closes her eyes, breathes deeply, and counts to three before she continues, hoping to get through this without losing her temper. “Where the hell were you, anyway?”
“Quaji. Small uncharted world. A few reported geth sightings. We took out an outpost.” Stoic as always, Wrex sounds neither excited about their success nor remorseful about their insubordination.
“Styx Theta?” Shepard asks, incredulous. “You flew all the way out to Styx Theta without clearing it with me?”
Wrex growls, the tension in his stance evidence that he is beginning to lose his patience. “We had it under control! No one was seriously injured. The kid gained some more combat experience, and we even brought back a few weapons mods.”
Jane falls back into her seat, sensing that she is starting to lose this fight. She’d anticipated running into this problem with her non-human allies at one point or another: they had volunteered themselves to aid her in her mission to stop Saren, and she is thankful for their lending her their strength. She can certainly use it, and she has already been taking full advantage of it; Wrex himself has won them several fights almost single-handedly, proving himself to be an invaluable ally. She wants to keep it that way. But since he is a volunteer, how far can she restrict his freedom while respecting his sovereignty? The fact that he refuses to call her ‘Commander’ like the others is a constant reminder that he doesn’t really consider himself to be one of her subordinates. Despite being in someone else’s employ, bounty hunters consider themselves to be their own masters, and she ventures a guess that Wrex is no different. The fact that he accepts this arrangement with the Normandy crew is probably nothing short of a miracle, and she knows better than to risk appearing ungrateful for it.
“I hope you’re not planning to make this a regular occurrence. I need you in one piece and ready to go for the mission.” She gives him a stern look, hoping he’ll realize he hasn’t completely won her over. The safety of her crew is one of her highest priorities, and she’s not above restricting their movements if they get themselves in trouble.
“Shepard.” Wrex nods once, then turns and lumbers toward the door.
“Hey!” Jane calls out when he’s almost to the exit. “Take me with you next time.”
He scoffs, but he does come to a halt and turns his head in her direction. “Why would you want to do that?”
“It’s a commanding officer’s prerogative to appraise her crew’s training regimen,” she answers, a teasing edge to her voice. “And I could use the extra practice.”
Wrex keeps moving, giving no indication that he heard or acknowledges her response.
“Only if you can keep up,” she hears him grumble before the door hisses shut behind him.
The minute Jane steps back on board the Normandy, she feels as though she can finally breathe again. She knows it’s just an illusion, but the air inside the Citadel feels stale and oppressive. She would probably see it in a more positive light, glorying in the splendor of the Presidium or energized by the liveliness of the Wards, but the fact that she’s generally there on Council business more than takes the edge off the glamour.
The mission on Feros had been a success, but the Council wouldn’t see it that way. Returning to the Citadel to give them a more detailed report and debriefing had been a waste of time that she should have just left Ambassador Udina and Captain Anderson to deal with. She doesn’t have the stomach for diplomacy, and she could have done without their criticism and derision. Bringing back the Thorian for further study had not been a part of her objective, and any attempts would have been unsuccessful at best or hazardous to the crew any ship used to try to transport the creature at worst. But the Council doesn’t share the military’s philosophy of not second-guessing decisions made in the heat of combat.
“Shepard?” Liara places a hand on her shoulder, concern evident in her voice.
Jane shakes away her thoughts; she hadn’t realized she’d stopped walking and caused her companions to worry. “I’m sorry. Please, continue on inside.”
She moves out of the way to allow Kaidan and Liara to enter the ship and return to the crew deck. She had chosen these two to accompany her to her meeting with the Council because they were among the most diplomatic members of her crew, but it hadn’t helped. She knows Kaidan probably feels guilty for failing to defend her actions better, and Liara is likely concerned about the mental strain the encounter caused her. Both will be eager to give her what comfort they can, but she isn’t in the mood to deal with that right now.
Making her way toward the bridge to check in with Pressly, she considers going for a walk in the Wards. Maybe some time away from her crew would help to clear her head and calm her temper. But that would be dangerous; she’s become too recognizable, and law enforcement in the Wards is too slack for her to safely move about on her own. Besides, she realizes that she just wants to get the hell away from the Citadel.
“Commander,” Pressly greets her as she approaches. “Shall we begin preparations for take-off?”
“No,” Shepard instructs him. “I gave the crew two days’ leave, and it’s only been half a day. Garrus and Williams are still on the Citadel. We won’t depart until they return.”
“Understood. May I at least ask our next objective so I can enter it into the ship’s computer?”
“Virmire. We have a lead on Virmire,” she explains, a shiver of foreboding crawling up her spine.
“Very well,” he responds as she turns and heads down the stairs.
She pauses when she reaches the crew deck, still undecided as to what she wants to do. At a loss for other ideas, she waves her hand in front of the lighted panel to summon the elevator so she can descend to the cargo bay. If all else fails, she can always do a brief inspection and examine the Mako for needed repairs.
It’s dark and quiet inside the cargo hold, and with Garrus and Ashley on shore leave and the requisitions officer gathering supplies in the Wards, she mistakes the chamber to be empty at first. It isn’t until, running her hands over the side of the Mako and saying a silent thank-you for the many times it’s saved their lives, that she hears a soft shuffling in the corner and realizes that Wrex is still in his usual spot.
“I gave all of the crew two days’ leave. That includes you,” she says as she walks in his direction. “You could go out into the Wards, buy some new gear.”
Wrex moves his head slowly to look at her and growls. “Not interested.”
Suddenly, Shepard remembers the incident and the conversation she’d had with Wrex right before their last mission. She supposes that he did not leave to go train because Garrus had elected to spend his shore leave catching up with Executor Pallin at the C-Sec headquarters, but she’s also grateful to him for deciding not to go into combat all on his own. However confident the krogan mercenary might be of his own durability, it would’ve been a suicide mission that she could not condone.
“Would you be interested in training?” she asks, her hand lingering on her pistol holster as the urge to enter battle and drive a few satisfying bullets into a geth trooper’s armored skull washes over her.
“Training?” Wrex smirks, like he can’t believe she’s actually serious. “You sure?”
She shrugs. “Why not? I have no desire to stay out on the Citadel for another day, and we can probably use a little practice before the next mission.”
Wrex is turning his head from side to side in slow, halting movements but otherwise showing no indication of either a positive or negative response to her request. At last, he scratches his head and lets out a low grunt.
“If that’s what you want. I don’t really care.” He turns around and grabs his gear off the rack behind him, then heads toward the elevator, Jane falling into step behind him.
She knows better than to pester him with questions, but she does begin to wonder where they’re going as they disembark the Normandy and move through the hangar. Wrex summons the elevator but makes no effort to explain his actions while they wait.
“Um, Wrex? Where are we going, and how are we getting there?”
“I have a ship,” is the krogan’s gruff reply as the two of them enter the elevator.
“You have a ship?” Jane repeats, startled. This was the first she’d heard of it.
But then, when she stops and thinks about it, it does make sense. In fact, it probably wouldn’t make much sense for a bounty hunter not to have his own ship; Wrex needs the freedom to come and go as he wills it. Passenger transport is too slow, not to mention having the added risks of detection or civilians being caught in the crossfire. It’s just surprising that Wrex had never mentioned his ship before, or offered it to the crew of the Normandy to make use of. An extra vessel is a valuable asset.
Instead of descending all the way to the C-Sec headquarters, the elevator stops about halfway, on floor 278. The door slides open, and Jane follows Wrex into a hangar about the same size as the Normandy’s docking bay. However, this one isn’t dedicated to a single ship. At a glance, she counts about ten ships docked on this level, most of them small frigates.
Wrex comes to a halt in front of the third ship from the right. It’s the smallest vehicle in the hangar, but Shepard finds it to be astoundingly well-maintained. The ship itself is of an older model, but it looks like it’s been recently retrofitted with a brand new mass drive and modern fusion torches. The ship’s body may not be as sleek as some of the newest vehicles being designed today, but the construction is sturdy and the hull shows no signs of damage. She whistles appreciatively.
“You have a ship.” All her misgivings momentarily fade away.
“Well,” Wrex scowls at her, already moving through the open airlock, “are you just going to stand out there and gawk all day?”
Jane grins and follows him inside. “I’m just surprised, that’s all. You never struck me as much of a mechanic, but you must be, for your ship to be in this good of a condition.”
Wrex turns back to her and scoffs. “When you’ve got credits, you can afford a good mechanic.”
“You’re right,” she mumbles, hurrying to catch up with him.
Wrex has moved into the cockpit and is programming the ship’s controls. He seems to know what he’s doing so she decides to leave him alone until he asks for her help. As she takes a look around, she notes that the ship is spacious enough to hold a crew of at least a dozen men. However, she decides to settle into the co-pilot’s seat, figuring that if she sticks close to Wrex, she might have the opportunity to get to know the enigmatic alien a little better. To test what kind of mood he’s in, she props her feet up on the dashboard in front of her, but the krogan doesn’t react.
“So where are we going?” she asks him the question he wasn’t willing to answer before.
Wrex doesn’t look up from the controls. “Almacrux. After we hit the relay network, it’ll be about two, three hours. Maybe you should try to sleep, Shepard.”
Jane isn’t stupid; that last bit is Wrex’s way of warning her that he isn’t interested in making small talk. She could push him, but it’s more likely that she’ll piss him off than find out anything new and useful about her taciturn companion. As the ship’s engine hums to life, she sinks back into her chair and lets the ship’s gentle movements rock her into a light slumber.
Shepard is surprised to find the ship safely on the ground when she opens her eyes. She expected that their descent into Almacrux’s atmosphere would’ve woken her up. The fact that it didn’t attested to the fact that Wrex must be a trained and talented pilot. The krogan is just full of surprises today.
Wrex is fussing with the ship’s computer, so they must not have been on the ground long. Feeling refreshed and energetic, she hops to her feet and readies her gear to go outside.
“What are the surface conditions like?” she asks while strapping her weapons to her back.
“Low pressure. Mild temperatures. No known hazards. Just,” Wrex stands up and taps on the glass of the cockpit to direct her attention, “fog and rain.”
She hadn’t taken much notice of their surroundings yet so she had failed to see the thick mist that seems to be rolling in in waves. It looks mystical and mesmerizing, but her soldier’s instinct identifies it for the danger it truly poses. To go aimlessly wandering out into fog that dense would be suicide.
“Do you have a map? Or even a destination objective?”
Wrex takes a step toward her and smirks. “That would be too easy, Shepard.”
Squeezing around the armored lizard’s large body in the small confined space, she worms her way into the seat that Wrex has just vacated. Thankfully, the ship’s controls follow the galactic standard, and it doesn’t take her long to locate the functions she needs.
“I’m programming the ship to send an auto-distress call to the Normandy if we’re not back here in six hours,” she explains. “I’m not going to risk us wandering forever through the fog.”
She also programs the location of the vessel into the tracking device she wears on her wrist like a watch. Without a satellite to calculate its exact position, it’s not highly accurate, but under the circumstances it’s the best she can do.
When she’s finished with her preparations and heads toward the rear of the ship, she finds that Wrex is already waiting for her by the outer door, his gear strapped on and the vizor of his helmet covering his face. “Let’s move out.”
Wrex opens the hatch when she’s put on her helmet and closed the visor, and not a minute sooner. Aside from the difference in atmospheric gases, you never know what kind of contaminants might be in the air on a foreign planet. The sensors on her suit aren’t picking up anything hazardous, but until she has a compelling reason to go in without a sealed helmet, it isn’t worth the risk.
It’s warm outside, and probably damp, although that’s just a guess since her body is completely covered. Shepard can’t see the sky through the cloud cover, although plenty of light filters down to the surface, and she calculates from what she knows to be the approximate angle of the sun that it won’t be night for a while. Wrex takes five long strides outside and the mist already rises up to engulf him.
“Visbility is about… twenty yards,” she estimates. “We’d better stick together or we’re going to separated.”
She can hear Wrex chuckle over the radio. “That’s sweet.”
He gives no indication of slowing his pace, and she has to quicken her own steps to catch up to him. The ground is rocky and firm, not giving under their feet at all. It’s easy enough to walk on, but it’ll be hard on the legs to sustain a rapid pace. Wrex’s strides are twice as long as hers, so if he insists on continuing at the current rate, it’ll wear her out.
She considers chiding him but knows it’s of no use. Instead, she tries to press for more information about their objective. “What are we looking for?”
“My intel informed me that a merchant vessel passing through the Caspian system reported the sight of geth ships. If they set up an outpost, this would be the most likely planet to do it,” Wrex replies. It’s probably the longest explanation he’s given her all afternoon.
“If they set up an outpost,” she repeats. “And even if they did, we don’t even know for sure in which direction to begin looking.”
Jane turns to look behind her as she continues to follow Wrex’s lead, noting that their ship has already been swallowed up by the dense fog. Forcing herself to concentrate on what lies ahead, she can only wonder how they’re supposed to find a geth outpost in this mess. She can only hope that the geth aren’t sending out a jamming signal to block their scanners, or else they’ll be sitting ducks.
“Exciting,” Wrex says, his lips splayed out to reveal a wide toothy grin that’s anything but endearing, “isn’t it, Shepard?”
She just shakes her head and continues to scan for energy readings in their surroundings.
“It’s been two hours and we haven’t found a single thing.”
Jane is starting to sweat underneath her uniform, the oppressive humidity of the environment weighing on her like a heavy blanket. The fog hasn’t lifted, although it’s gradually grown less dense as they’ve moved away from the ship. However, in exchange, the rain has changed from a light sprinkling into a more steady drizzle, so overall visibility has improved little, and they now have the added annoyance of periodically needing to wipe rain from their visors.
Wrex hasn’t said a single word and if it weren’t for his heavy breathing she might’ve forgotten he was with her. Well, maybe not. It’s a little hard to forget about a big armored lizard walking beside you.
“This is pointless, Wrex. We don’t even know for sure if there’s an outpost here. Maybe we should just head back,” she continues, her breathing ragged with exhaustion.
Wrex grunts. “Are you giving up, Shepard?”
“It’s not a question of giving up or not. It’s a matter of having the prudence to realize when a course of action is futile.”
He doesn’t stop. She just assumes that he’s being stubborn, so she’s startled when he suddenly comes to a halt and calls out her name. “I think I see something up ahead.”
“What?” Jane fights the fatigue in her legs and quickens her gait until she’s level with him.
She peers into the mist ahead of them but at first she doesn’t notice anything unusual. She’s about to ask Wrex what he was talking about when she begins to make out forms in the distance. It takes her a minute to identify them, but they appear to be rock outcroppings, a sharp contrast with the rest of the landscape which up until now has been completely flat.
“The ground seems to be angling upward,” she mumbles, not sure what, if anything, that means but glad to break up the monotony of the fog.
In another ten minutes, they find themselves at the foot of a series of treacherous-looking crags and hills made of rock. The ones in front of them are relatively low and wide, but a little further down, steep outcroppings jut at least a hundred feet into the air. The area looks inhospitable, but Jane isn’t fooled: it would be the perfect place to hide a geth outpost.
Without saying a word, she takes the lead; she’s more limber and can wind her way around the rocks more smoothly. Aiming her pistol straight out in front of her in a strong two-handed grip while moving slowly but deliberately ahead, she checks her scanners every few seconds for any indication of life. Holding his shotgun in a tight grip, Wrex falls back to provide cover, less agile but also more able to blend into the environment.
About fifty yards further down, the outcroppings widen into a small clearing. On the far side, she can see two very large rocks wedged together at an angle. When the mist momentarily clears, she is surprised to find a familiar sight: a ramp with metal railings leading into passageway below. There must be a cave or an excavation site down there.
Motioning toward the passage with her pistol, Jane makes her way over to the entrance, followed closely by her krogan ally. Her sensors still aren’t picking up anything. She pauses for just a second to weigh her options, then stops hesitating and follows the ramp down into the cave. The rain has started to pick up so at least it’ll provide them with a little relief from the weather.
As her eyes fight to adjust to the darkness, she carefully places one foot ahead of the other, grateful that the ramp provides her with a steady base for her footing. When she begins to be able to make out what’s inside the cave, she sees that the ramp continues for only about five more yards. They’re not really below ground, and the cave is no larger than the Normandy’s hangar aboard the Citadel. Her radar is silent.
When they move off the ramp and into the cavernous chamber beyond, Shepard gestures for Wrex to take point, reversing their previous roles. While it seems unlikely that there’s an ambush awaiting them, an attack could come from all sides, and the krogan, with his large armored body and stronger kinetic shields, is simply better-equipped to handle it. One could accuse her of taking advantage of her alien ally, but she knows Wrex knows better than that and harbors her no ill will. They’ve performed this dance many times on previous missions.
“Clear,” Wrex announces when he reaches the center.
She relaxes her muscles just a little, although she continues to hold her pistol in a death grip. Something doesn’t feel right, but she’s not sure if her apprehension has grounds or if it’s just one of those bad feelings about everything that come with the territory. Then she realizes what’s bugging her. There are two lit lamps hanging at the back of the cave, which means it was, at one point, inhabited, most likely not too long ago.
Wrex follows the direction of her gaze and moves toward the rear of the cave, with Jane covering him from behind. The chamber grows narrow as they go in deeper, then widens into an alcove at the very back. She takes note of two small passageways that had been hidden from view at the entrance, one at three o’clock and one at nine o’clock. She motions to the left with her pistol, and Wrex leads the way down the passage.
The corridor is just large enough to fit them both through single-file. It ends abruptly into a high-ceilinged chamber roughly the size of the Normandy’s cargo bay. If this cavern was indeed inhabited, she guesses that this room served as personnel quarters or a supply room. However, if it did at one point contain supplies or furniture, all its contents had since been cleared.
“All clear,” Wrex confirms.
Squeezing their way back through the passageway, Shepard ponders who could’ve been staying here. Resources on Almacrux are scarce enough that the planet hasn’t been considered for active colonization, and from her short time here she can gather that while conditions are within acceptable parameters, no one could seriously want to live here for long periods of time. She wonders if asari or salarian scientists have been conducting illegal research here. It seems the most logical explanation.
Wrex is already inside the second corridor and Jane is about to follow him when she hears the sound of a gun being cocked behind her and freezes.
“Don’t move!” the owner of the gun barks out.
While she doesn’t recognize the specific voice, she’s all too familiar with the tone and the accent. It’s krogan. Wheeling around on her heels, she hopes to get a glimpse of her attacker, but she’s too slow: the opponent’s pistol comes crashing down on her helmet as she turns, and she finds herself falling to the ground.
For a moment, everything goes black.
She comes to fairly quickly, the impact having failed to knock her out completely although the blow did knock the wind out of her and caused her a few long moments of disorientation. However, she’s conscious enough of what’s happening around her to know that Wrex immediately rushed to her side and is aiming his shotgun at her assailant. Her attacker is standing at point-blank range, so she’s surprised he hasn’t taken the shot yet. When she’s able to focus her vision again, she rolls over to get a better look at their opponent.
As she’d guessed, it’s a krogan, though much smaller than any she has ever encountered. She estimates he would come up to her chin. Like all krogan, his body is heavy-set and his shoulders are broad, but it seems as though there’s somehow less bulk, proportionally, underneath his bio-suit when compared to Wrex. The two bear little resemblance. Whereas Wrex’s body is tan with bright red markings, the assailant’s skin has a bluish tint, and his markings are a rich verdant green. He has no visible scars and his face is wider, less pointed. It’s not until she notices the set of his eyes, which are wide open rather than narrow and suspicious, that she realizes she isn’t just looking at a smaller man, she’s being confronted by an actual krogan child.
“Is that—?” Jane looks to Wrex for confirmation.
Wrex nods. “A boy.”
She looks at the boy and then returns her gaze to Wrex. “Do you know him?”
She turns back to the boy. “Do you know who we are?”
The boy quickly shakes his head and doesn’t say anything. She gets the sense that he’s frightened, although she wonders if that’s just her trying to project human qualities on him. She knows she should assume that she has no understanding of what’s going through the boy’s mind.
Setting her pistol down on the floor and raising her hands in the air, she slowly straightens to a standing position. “I’m Commander Jane Shepard of the SSV Normandy. This is a member of my crew, Urdnot Wrex. We mean you no harm.”
At the mention of Wrex’s name, the boy gasps and stumbles backward, the pistol he had been holding falling out of his hand and clattering to the floor. Wrex doesn’t respond to his startled reaction, but he does lower his shotgun.
“So you do know who Wrex is.”
“Only by name,” the boy replies, then pauses for a moment before he continues. “My name is Zaj. Son of… Kanan.”
Wrex stiffens at the sound of that name, and Jane looks up in surprise at his visible reaction. “Wrex?”
The bigger krogan begins to walk away. She calls out his name but he doesn’t stop. When he’s reached the center of the cavern, however, he comes to a halt, and, to her astonishment, he sits down on the ground. Assuming it’s meant in part as an invitation, she and Zaj hurry over and join him.
For the longest time, Wrex doesn’t speak; he just stares off into the distance. At last, he asks, “What has your mother told you about me, boy?”
“Only that she used to be your chief lay,” Zaj says, his voice betraying no hint of emotion. “That you wanted her to lead clan Urdnot with you.”
“That’s right.” Wrex turns to Shepard. “We krogan have no formalized institution of marriage, not the way you humans do. Especially now that our fertility is low and the most important thing is just to breed. But clan leaders often choose a partner to lie with exclusively. Someone to support you and lead the clan in your absence.
“Kanan and I grew up together. I decided early on that I would make her my partner once I became leader of the whole clan. But one day while I was still a tribal lord, I went on a mission to help solve a territorial dispute in the borderlands. When I came back two months later, Kanan was pregnant.”
He shrugs. “It made sense for her to lie with others while I was gone. And Kanan became one of the very few lucky enough to carry a child to term.”
A deep silence descends over the cavern. Jane doesn’t know what to say. Her heart goes out to Wrex. She knows better than to use a word like ‘love’—Wrex would probably make fun of her and call her an idealistic human—but she does perceive a deep sense of affection in Wrex for this mysterious female krogan, Kanan. She also understands that he feels betrayed even though he’s tried to rationalize and excuse her actions.
“Why didn’t you stay?” Zaj asks suddenly. “Why did you leave the clan?”
“It had nothing to do with you or your mother, kid,” Wrex grumbles. “Besides, I’m not your father. Why do you care?”
The boy looks down and says, “Mother says you would’ve united the clan. That you would’ve stayed. With her. With us.”
When Wrex doesn’t respond, Jane asks, “What happened to your father?”
“Skell stuck around for a year. Then he left for war. He never came back. Mother went on to lie with other men, but… she never had another child, and none of them stuck around.”
The silence is deafening, the air thick and loaded with hurt and regret. Zaj looks tense, while Wrex is slouching, his expression unreadable. Jane can practically taste their pain, and she doesn’t know what to say, what comfort she can give them.
“I’m sorry,” she finally croaks, her voice hoarse.
“What do you know, human?” Zaj hisses, his voice all of a sudden dripping with contempt.
“More than you think,” she replies. “I was born on Earth, in the slums. I never knew my parents. Like so many, they got caught up in the space age and left their children behind. Probably went to one of the colonies. I don’t know.
“If you ask me, the krogan are lucky, in a way. Not to make light of the genophage, but at least you know the value of a child. Humans are fertile, but we’ve forgotten what it really means to have children. That they’re precious commodities to be treasured. Like you.”
Zaj looks taken aback. “Do you have children, Shepard?”
Now it’s Jane’s turn to be surprised. It’s a question she wasn’t anticipating. “No, I don’t.”
Giving it a little more thought, she continues, “I guess I never really thought about it. When you’re from the slums, you understand that having kids is a luxury that you probably can’t afford. So I always assumed I would never be a mother. But then I joined the Alliance, and I guess… Well, now I’m too busy to worry about starting a family.”
“Too busy saving the galaxy and the Council’s ungrateful asses,” Wrex grunts.
She can’t help but laugh, and even Wrex lets out a few chortles. Zaj obviously doesn’t get the joke, but he catches on to the easing tension and chuckles out loud as well.
“You’re all right, Shepard. For a human,” he adds. “Sorry about knocking you out earlier. I didn’t want to take any chances. I thought you might be with them.”
Jane abruptly stops laughing. “With whom? The geth? Have you seen geth?”
“Those tall black robotic creatures, right?” Zaj asks. “Yeah, they set up a base north of here. That’s why the rest of us came down into the caves to hide.”
“There are others?” Wrex stands up and prepares his gear to leave.
“Yeah. A few other youths. We came here to gain experience surviving away from the clan. We have weapons, but we’re not well-armed enough to take on those geth.”
Jane is grateful that Zaj has the insight to know when not to go into a fight. He’ll make a good leader someday. “Thanks. We can take it from here.”
“Wait!” he begs as Jane and Wrex make their way to the exit. “Take me with you!”
“Absolutely not.” She refuses to knowingly endanger one of the few krogan offspring.
But Wrex tosses the boy a sniper rifle and Zaj hurries to catch up with them, grinning.
“The base is just up ahead,” Zaj whispers.
Once outside, Zaj had led the way while the other two covered him from behind. He had taken them between the various rock outcroppings in a northerly direction. The terrain had grown more treacherous as they continued on, but Zaj had made it clear that he’s familiar with the area and knows when to warn them to watch their footing. At last, the spiky protrusions had given way to an area with a natural rock wall straight ahead and a massive boulder to the right. Shepard’s radar confirms that there are enemies on the other side of the wall.
The geth had done well to choose this location; the natural fortifications will make it almost impossible to sneak into the base undetected. As he lacks heavy armor and combat experience in the field, if Zaj follows them in, he will surely be killed. Jane looks around, and her eyes finally settle on the boulder.
“Can you climb that thing, Zaj?” She gestures in the direction of the structure with her pistol.
Wrex looks up and nods. “Good idea. You should be able to snipe a few of them from up there.”
Zaj begins to move toward the boulder, strapping the rifle to his back to free his hands for climbing. Luckily, there are enough nooks and crags for the krogan to be able to find a foothold and hoist himself up.
“Don’t fire at them until we do,” she calls out softly after him. “You don’t want to draw their attention.”
Wrex has already pressed himself against the wall in front of them, and Jane moves in beside him. On her signal, he begins to follow the wall around to the left. Her scanners indicate that there should be an opening about twenty yards further down. Looking back, she sees Zaj about halfway up the boulder, continuing to climb toward the top.
Having reached the gap in the wall, Wrex stops and looks to her for instructions. Beyond the opening, smaller outcroppings and boulders as well as large crates and supply chests provide some cover. Toward the center, a cylindrical structure with a satellite dish on top probably serves as the command post for the base. There are no other structures or vehicles in sight. However, the fog is thick toward the back of the clearing, so it’s possible that there is something hidden that lies just beyond.
She counts the blips on her radar: there must be at least ten troopers at the outpost, although it doesn’t look like they have any armatures or colossi. The closest soldiers are at ten o’clock, while there are two further down at one o’clock. She motions for Wrex to take out the two on the left, while she herself will take care of the ones ahead and to the right. They squeeze through the opening and then split up.
The sound of a shotgun blast rings in the air, and she can hear the armored body of a geth trooper hitting the ground to the left of her. She doesn’t hesitate, and the minute one of the robotic warriors enters her sights, she fires her pistol once, twice, her stance perfect and unwavering. Shepard is an expert marksman, and the geth trooper dies before he even has a chance to aim his weapon.
Wrex must’ve switched to his assault rifle because she can hear him unleashing a barrage of gunfire somewhere behind her. The sensation of a round embedding itself in her kinetic shields brings her attention back to what lies ahead. She’s about to target the second trooper when a round fired from above hits its head and it falls to the floor. Resisting the urge to look up so as not to draw the gunfire away from herself, she smiles. Zaj will make a good soldier someday.
There are six blips left on her radar. It looks like Wrex is already engaging one to the far left, with another trooper close by. Zaj should have a clean shot at the two toward the middle. This leaves her with two hidden to the right, one at four o’clock and one at five. She crouches down behind a small rock outcropping while she surveys her surroundings. The two geth she is chasing must be hiding in the shadows of the large boulder; she can’t make out their forms, but her scanners confirm it. Opting for a direct approach, she switches to an assault rifle and breaks cover, charging toward the shaded area. With one eye on her radar, she fires into the semi-darkness, and a moment later both blips disappear.
In the background, she hears the sniper rifle discharge another round, but she can’t tell whether it hit home. Then, without warning, a pulse blast hits her from behind and nearly throws her off balance, and she stumbles forward. Her kinetic shields absorbed the hit, but as a result her sensors indicate that her shielding is down to less than 40%. Whirling around, she has just enough time to recognize her assailant as a geth destroyer before another blast hits her full in the face. The electricity that shoots out when the blast impacts her barriers temporarily blinds her, but she can hear her sensors emit a warning beep to indicate that her shielding is beginning to fail.
“Wrex!” she yells into her radio. “Back-up, please!”
Spots of light still clouding her vision, she fires her gun without being able to tell whether she’s aiming correctly, but she hopes that her shots get close enough to buy her some time. It seems to work, because her shields are down but she’s not feeling the painful impact of pulse blasts.
Her vision clears in time for her to witness the destroyer being thrown high into the air and then crashing back down to the ground. Taking full advantage of the situation, she switches back to her pistol and fires at the incapacitated destroyer. She doesn’t stop until her clip is empty and she has to pause to reload.
“All clear,” Wrex grunts, and she realizes that the destroyer is down for good.
Her radar is silent, confirming Wrex’s statement. Shepard straightens and puts her weapons away. The krogan is looking at her for further instructions, so she motions in the direction of the command post in the middle of the clearing.
The base must’ve been constructed very recently, because the only message sent via the transmissions tower had been a brief affirmation that the outpost had been successfully set up. No other transmissions had been received. Aside from a couple of weapons mods and a new assault rifle, there isn’t any noteworthy loot. The mission wasn’t quite as lucrative as Wrex had made it seem.
But looking at Wrex as Zaj half-climbs, half-slides down the boulder and scampers over to rejoin them, she muses that this trip was hardly a waste. Her taciturn companion finally opened up a bit more, and she’s grateful that she had the opportunity to learn more about his past, even if it is rather painful.
“Well, we’d better head back.”
They’d reached Wrex’s ship in the nick of time to keep the distress call from being sent to the Normandy. Jane had hurried inside to cancel the transmission while Wrex remained outside with Zaj. When she emerges again, the two krogan haven’t moved, and the air is filled with an uncomfortable silence.
“Will you be all right?” she asks Zaj, turning to give Wrex a stern Look to suggest that maybe he should say something.
“There’s a ship coming to pick us up next week,” Zaj explains, oblivious to the exchange between the two adults. “With the geth gone, we’ll be all right until then.”
“Okay.” She straightens. “Well, it was good to meet you, Zaj. Best of luck to you.”
The boy nods. He’s looking at Wrex, not at her.
“Hey,” he says, taking a step closer to the bigger krogan. “Who would win in a fight between you and Shepard?”
“Huh?” Wrex narrows his eyes and looks at the boy as though he’d forgotten he was even there.
Jane chuckles. “He would. But it would be a close contest.”
But Wrex is already ascending the ramp into the ship. She can see the raw disappointment in the boy’s eyes, and his tangible pain squeezes down on her heart. Still, she knows there’s nothing she can do.
All of a sudden, Zaj lets out a frustrated cry and dashes over to the ship’s outer door. Punching the hard shell on Wrex’s back, he yells, “You better come back!”
The bigger krogan pauses for just a moment, then disappears inside.
Forming her lips into an apologetic half-smile, Jane follows her companion. She waves at Zaj until the airlock closes behind her with a hiss, sealing the door shut to prevent the depressurizing of the interior cabin. She removes her helmet, takes off her gear, and makes her way to the cockpit.
“You could’ve said something to him, you know.”
Wrex is busy programming the console and doesn’t visibly react. Even after spending a whole day with him, she finds it impossible to read his emotions.
“There was nothing to say,” he says finally, his voice almost drowned out by the roar of the engines as the ship rumbles and takes off into the air.
Back aboard the Normandy, the rest of the crew had returned and Navigator Pressly had begun to grow worried. He lets out an audible sigh of relief when Shepard emerges through the outer door into the ship, with Wrex at her flank.
“Logged: The commanding officer is aboard. XO Pressly stands relieved.”
She smiles. It feels good to be back. Though their training expedition wasn’t as action-packed as she’d anticipated, the time away from the Citadel and her crew had been just what she’d needed. She feels rejuvenated and ready to tackle the mission on Virmire.
Pressly salutes her. “Commander. Shall I prepare for departure?”
“Please,” she addresses him, then turns to Kaidan, who is standing nearby and has been trying to catch her attention.
“Commander. I’m glad you’re back. We were worried,” he says, though it’s obvious that he’s really trying to ask her, ‘Where have you been?’
Jane knows she owes her crew no explanation but does feel a twinge of guilt about causing her crew to worry. “Thank you, Lieutenant. I did not mean to make you worry. We were just off on a family visit.”
Wrex scoffs and tramps in the direction of the stairs. He hasn’t said a word since they left the surface of Almacrux. While that in itself is not too unusual, she’s still concerned that the episode caused him undue emotional distress, and she makes a mental note to check on him later—because it’s both her responsibility as Commander and her duty as a friend.
Kaidan raises an eyebrow but doesn’t comment. She pats him on the arm and excuses herself to check on the rest of the crew. After making a bit of small talk with Joker and letting the rest of the personnel on the bridge know that they’re preparing to take off, she heads down to the crew deck. When she approaches the medical bay, Doctor Chakwas won’t let her off without a brief check-up of her health. The medical officer comments that she looks unusually tired, although all her vital signs are stable. Jane uses that as an opportunity to duck out of the room before any further action is taken.
Down in the engineering room, Engineer Adams reports that the minor repairs he performed on the Normandy’s drive core were successful, and that she should now once again function at 100%. He adds that Tali was enormously helpful with the modifications, so Shepard compliments the quarian on her knowledge about and passion for the technical aspects of the ship. Similarly, she thanks Garrus for overseeing some needed repairs to the Mako.
Ashley is full of stories about the video conference she was able to hold with her sisters from aboard the Citadel. Jane is glad she had this opportunity because she knows how much her family means to her. She senses that the battles will get much tougher from here on out, and helping the crew to remember what, or who, they’re fighting for may help to strengthen their resolve.
At last, she circles over to the port side of the cargo hold, where Wrex has taken up his usual spot. He appears to be deep in thought, and she hesitates, wondering whether she should approach him, but to her surprise he turns and greets her. “Shepard.”
“Wrex.” She carefully considers how to word her next question, since Wrex doesn’t normally respond well when she asks, ‘How are you doing?’ “Ready to go?”
He grunts, shifts his head from side to side, then finally remarks, “You never asked me what my ship is called.”
“What?” She’s taken aback. Not only does Wrex not usually volunteer personal information, but she doesn’t think she’s ever heard him solicit someone to ask him what could be a very personal question. “All right, what’s she called?”
Wrex focuses on Shepard’s face, then looks down at the floor. “She’s called the Kanan.”
Her chest feels heavy with the pain implied by Wrex’s words. She searches for a way to offer him some comfort, but her mind goes blank. Still, even though neither of them speaks, a moment of deep understanding passes between them. She hopes he notices her sympathetic gaze and realizes that her heart goes out to him.
When the ship’s engines hum to life, she straightens and clears her throat. “So long, Wrex.”
She hurries back up to the bridge, where Pressly is standing at attention, awaiting her final command. Many of the crew members are looking at her expectantly. Sometimes it scares her, the confidence all of these men and women have in her to lead their missions to a successful completion and bring them all safely home. Today is not one of those days.
“The salarian camp on Virmire needs our help,” she announces as she takes her place in front of the galaxy map. “Let’s do this!”