In the night, unable to sleep, I sometimes went to sit with the body bags in the freezer. Not every asari’s body could be returned to the universe in the manner that tradition dictated, and the siari teachers of my youth would have reminded me that all things, in time, join the universe’s entropy. But – I had a sister once.
We had not been close, Falere being so many decades older than me, and the only memory that truly persisted was the news, received, of her life bravely given to protect the evacuating civilians of a backwater planet from one or another pirate organization. Her body had been unrecoverable. Donor-mother had been inconsolable. There had been a truncated, secular memorial service, for the siari priests could not immolate a body which was not present.
You must promise me , were donor-mother’s words which rang in my ears even centuries later, you must. Her name must not pass from our family.
It was a heady burden for a girl of forty, unsure even if she might ever wish to have a child. But I had promised.
There would be questions about the way my comrades had died. I could have made those questions disappear in a moment by consenting to space the bodies. But this one, Hadria, had had a mother who sent her frozen desserts to share with the team. And this one, Poran, had had three sisters, each surgeons of a different stripe, each working at the same Citadel hospital that Poran visited whenever they returned. And this one, Gilatareme, had had a daughter – a babe of merely twelve years. I would not and could not regret my choice, but I would not deny those families their grieving because I did not like the consequences.
As the freed captives enjoyed the fresh air of the planet, the first backwater colony they could find to begin repairs on, I sat and slowly chilled.
My helmet, discarded next to me, chirped. Shaking off my stupor, I punched the button to answer, and said, “Speak.”
“Samara? It’s - uh, it’s Candace.”
Candace was the yellow-haired girl who liked to be called Candy when I, smilingly, led her to bed, who liked to remember herself the way she had been when she tinkered with terraforming equipment before slavers came to her system. “Progress with the repairs?” I asked.
“No - I mean, I think so, but that’s not - we have something on sensors. Judging by what it’s, um, squawking, we think it’s a Cerberus frigate.”
Cerberus . Cerberus would take good care of the captives, at least - try to return them to any family they had, or do something to make this right. They would not look so fondly on the only living survivor of their captors, no matter how compelling her story. But this ship was barely functioning, and could never outrun or outfight a fully-equipped human warship.
I was not ready to die. A newly colonized planet was a big place, I thought; it was time to disappear.
I had hoped the Cerberus team would simply give up when they could not find me immediately, but I had had no such luck. In fact, it had taken barely two days for the crew to track me to the overgrown thicket I had found to hide away in. I felt almost insulted, though - they had sent only three people after me, and none of them particularly inclined to stealth. One of them was a quarian - had Cerberus taken up indentured servitude while I had been paying attention elsewhere?
I watched from the thick weeds as the team tried to track me. Initially, I took the one wearing the Cerberus uniform for the leader, but he turned out to be deferring to the third member of the team - a female figure in full body armor and a covered helmet.
In fact, he mostly seemed to be complaining to her about the weather and the plant life. When she looked back at him, even I, fifty yards away, could sense the raised eyebrows under that helmet. He shut up, thank God.
I shifted to relocate. Their leader froze, so I did too. They stood, for ten painful seconds, and then the leader said, “She’s here.”
“Where?” said the one in the uniform.
“I don’t know.” She looked around, and, seeing the same surroundings, I guessed what the woman was thinking: but we’re fucked .
To be sporting, I loaded concussive ammo into my rifle before I bounced a round off the leader’s helmet. “Leave,” I called, “before I make sponges of you all.”
The leader clutched at her head for a moment, then cursed and simply pulled off her helmet. Underneath was a striking woman - dark-skinned but for the fading yellow scars that jagged across her face and cheeks, as if her face had been sewn onto her body like the Witch of Challere in the stories her mother had told her.
“Shepard,” said the quarian. “What are you doing?”
“You heard her,” said the leader - evidently, Shepard. “Samara, we’re not here to hurt you. We want your help.”
“Why would I believe you?”
“We debriefed the captives from your ship. They say you freed them while they were to be taken by the Collectors. Our mission is similar.”
I looked up from my rifle for a moment. Similar?
“There’ve been abductions of human colonies in the Terminus Systems,” the one named Shepard called. “I’m putting together a team to stop them.”
I considered. It was a good story - it matched up with the things I had been hearing about colonial worlds, though my work had rarely taken me to the actual human colonies in the Terminus. And it was something Cerberus might do, putting together a special operations team to exact retribution on those who targeted humans. On the other hand, I had heard better stories from those about to die. I leaned back down to the rifle.
Something cold and metal pressed into the back of my neck. “Stand,” said a soft voice. “Leave the rifle.”
I did, so slowly… then laughed. Nothing ventured… I turned, swinging out my leg, and caught nothing but air. I had been expecting the solid muscle of a human and encountered the whip-fast reflexes of a drell instead. Well, I could adapt. An elbow to block his predictable jab, a faked headbutt to drive him back, two steps forward to cut off his space, a hard foot stomped onto his own…
I heard the two sharp cracks from far away, the familiar sound of a well-trained sniper, before darkness took me.