Mass Effect: On the Edge

The Vindicator

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a part of Mass Effect: On the Edge, by The Ghost Writer.

Aboard the Vindicator...

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Setting

The reason why the Vindicator looked like a passenger cruise frigate was because, at one time, it actually was a cruise frigate. Eventually the luxery travel organization that owned it had to cut their expenses where needed due to the galaxy-wide geth threat a little more than a year ago. Cerberus saw its potential and used CHA to purchase it for repurposing. This explains why there are twenty-five officer quarters, two crew barracks, a bar, and a gym. Other rooms were stripped to their original architectual skeletons and redesigned to fulfill a more militarized purpose. The spa became the medical bay, the large recreational center became the mess hall, and so on and so forth. Originally, the cruise frigate it was, was only meant to be leased out to the more wealthy human companies. It wasn't at all a major travel liner for entire families. Only company VPs, chairmen, and multi-billion credit tycoons could book passage on such a ship.

Today, the Vindicator retains much of the original sparkle and glory that it was. The crew lived comfortably; the kitchen maintained four commercial-grade, high-quality ovens; the gym still had all of the original exercise equipment; and, indeed, the aquarium floor in the captain's quarters was left installed. Barrium sulfate lined the inside of the exterior hull to prevent third-party scanners from detecting military grade hardware (such as the thanix cannon). Thus, the Vindicator made the perfect infiltration vessel, aside from the late Normandy.

-Excerpt from the original publications.
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The Vindicator

Aboard the Vindicator...

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The Vindicator is a part of Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware.

1 Characters Here

Martin Grien [1] Mercenary Gunner and Soldier-for-Hire

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine

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Titus sat behind his desk in the captain’s quarters and tapped the key on the side of his computer’s screen to bring up the haptic interfaces. An unread message was waiting for him in his secure inbox, indicated by a flashing icon in the corner of the desktop. He tapped the icon the screen flickered to show a message sent to him personally by the Illusive Man. This wasn’t entirely uncommon. Sometimes there was simply no need to use the communications room, especially if the mission wasn’t critically regarding the Collectors or Reapers. Sometimes Cerberus Command would stumble across issues that needed to be resolved with a more militant approach, rather than using their clandestine resources. That’s where Omni Cell came into play. While the Omni commanders were primarily focused on slowing down the Collectors, standard Cerberus missions could still be delegated to them; and if the details were sent from their employer personally, it had to be of some importance.

Titus:

As you may be well aware of by now, I’ve had a special package delivered to your frigate’s shuttle bay. The M-44 Hammerhead will assist you in your next mission.

Your friend, Captain Marcus Shire, has mobilized Aurora resources on Noveria, in the Attican Traverse. We’ve pinpointed their activity in a remote region on the ice planet, far from the controlling grip of the Noveria Development Corporation. Shire is believed to be investigating Cerberus involvement in the NDC, and if his suspicions are confirmed to be true, will proceed to launch an attack on their headquarters. Since Noveria is outside of Counsel space, an Alliance-sanctioned attack on the company would go unquestioned, if simply scrutinized.

Yes, we are involved in many of NDC’s projects, as we just so happen to be one of their larger financial supporters. In return, the company provides us with reliable, high technology. Some of the twenty four other technology corporations established on the independent planet are actually Cerberus front organizations.

Commander, if we allow Aurora to interfere in our operations on Noveria, the setbacks would be detrimental. Since you’re the one that attracted Aurora’s attention to us in the first place - and, no doubt, sparked what appears to be a need for revenge from Captain Shire – I’m assigning the Vindicator the sole task of driving them from the system. Use the Hammerhead to destroy their forward operating compound, as well as any and all heavy militarized equipment they’ve imported.

I’ve assigned the Call of Victory to their own mission involving the Blue Suns, so you won’t have any assistance from them during this ordeal. Take care, Titus, and be sure to let Shire know to never interfere with our business.


The commander closed out of the message and leaned back in his seat for a moment, smiling to himself. “It seems I’ve started a war. Nice.”




“Can I at least have the chance to breathe fir-!”

“Nope!” Lizzie insisted as she shoved another spoon of Braden’s dinner in his mouth. The turians joining them only chuckled. “You’ll eat and you’ll like it.”

“Yesh, muhm,” Braden mumbled as he chewed as the food and swallowed. His cheeks were red with embarrassment, but he couldn’t do a thing about it. He was stuck in that seat, being force-fed by his girlfriend in front of everyone in the mess hall, and all so he wouldn’t pass out again.

The stern figure of Commander Titus gliding across the mess hall in Lizzie’s background caught Braden’s attention. When she had brought another spoonful up to his mouth, his hand intercepted her wrist and gently lowered it. “I can feed myself, now,” he said. “Thanks.”

Lizzie grimaced, but silently sipped her coke. The two of them sat and ate their meals quietly for a long while before she finally spoke up. “Where’d you get the tags?” she asked, nodding to the dog tags hanging down on the outside of Braden’s black shirt.

The boy’s hand reached up and gently tightened around them. “They were my father’s,” he said, looking down and away from the rest of group. “Titus gave them to me.”

“The son of a soldier,” Villayn commented. “I’m sure he would be proud of what you’re doing, kid.”

A shadow suddenly loomed over the table and everyone glanced up to see the commander standing at the end, hands behind his back and shoulders broad. “Reynolds… You up for a mission?”




Sentry, Braden, and Titus stood inside the briefing room, watching as the distorted blue light around the Vindicator’s tower faded away when the frigate exited FTL speeds. The large blue and violet planet of Noveria dominated the view. Simply looking at it made the young man shiver; an icy cold tingle running up and down his spine.

“Noveria,” the commander said as he turned to face the hologram in the center of the conference table. It was a layout of a particular surface area dominated on one end by what appeared to be a large military compound. The other end was nothing but cliffs, ice, and snow. “The mission is simple. The Vindicator will drop into low orbit, using the dense cloud cover in the atmosphere for cover. Darcy will keep the stealth systems while you-” Titus pointed across the table to Sentry “-pilot the Hammerhead down to the surface from the shuttle bay. Once on the ground, hit ‘em hard. EDI’s scans haven’t detected any heavy armor yet, but don’t be surprised if you run across a Mako or two. If that’s the case, the Hammerhead can easily outmaneuver them; even get the drop on them… if you know what I mean. Your objective is simple: destroy any and all militarized equipment in sight.”

Sentry nodded, studying the holographic map. He then asked, looking to the teenager standing next to Titus, “One question: What’s up with the kid?”

“His name is Braden Reynolds, and he’s a biotic… the best in my book. The Hammerhead doesn’t have much room for an entire fire team dressed in full combat armor. Only Braden and you will be planet-side. I’ll be in the CIC with Operative Taylor coordinating as your handlers and battlefield operators. Mr. Reynolds is along for the ride to simply learn; but if you find yourself in a sticky situation, he can use his own talents to your advantage. He’s a quick learner; give him a chance.”

"You've got it, bossman. One thing, though: If he comes back in a box, don't come hunting for my head. You won't have to hunt very hard seeing as how I'll be in the next box over, but I frown very heavily upon corpse desecration."

“Noted,” Titus replied with a smirk that he couldn’t help. Even Braden found the man’s surprisingly facetious response to be amusing. “Alright. We drop in one hour. Both of you need to get ready.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine

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#, as written by Gunneh
Sentry cheacked over the controls one last time before he strapped his safety into place across his chest. The Hammerhead was online and ready to go, but that didn't ease his nerves in the slightest: His first op with the Vindicator and he was basically starting a full-on war. He sighed and pressed an almost invisible button on the side of his helmet, and a full HUD sprand to life in his view finder, complete with a compass, a link to the Hammerhead's defense systems, and a health monitor that read his own and Braden's vital signs. Everything checked out so far.

"Hammerhead to Viper," Sentry said in a monotone as he fired up the Hammerhead's engines. "How copy?"

“Loud and clear up here, Hammerhead,” Titus’ voice came back over the net.

"Spectacular," Sentry replied, forcing a smile. "How close are we to the drop zone?"

"About three hundred meters, actually," Darcy cut in. "I've brought us in as low as we can go. The hammerhead's thrusters should last long enough to bring you safely down to the surface; so long as you kick them on at one-hundred and fifty meters. Too soon and they'll burn out before you touch down; and too late, and you'll-"

"Land as softly as a feather being dropped onto a goose-down pillow? Why thank you for those kind, reassuring words of encouragement, Darcy my boy. I'm so glad that you wouldn't say something that would, oh I dunno, scare the kid half to death and/or make me wet myself in my new armour."

"You are most certainly welcome, kind sir," Darcy replied. "I do what I can. Mother always told me I was a giver. Two hundred meters."

Sentry looked over at Braden and nodded. "How're you feeling, boy-o?"

The kid looked back at him from one of the haptic interfaces inside the cramped piloting compartment. His face was pale, but he put on a defying smile and replied, "Fine!" He instantly glanced back at the terminal when he realized that he didn't need to yell it as loud as he did.

"Shit," Sentry said in mock surprise. "The kid's excited about work. Titus, where can I find more of him and what do you think a good price for them would be on the slave market?"

"Ooh," Darcy interjected. "That's tasteless and hilarious. I like this guy."

There was a pause on the net before Titus' voice came back over. "Braden... he didn't know...," he said slowly in a manner meant to calm someone down from bashing another's face into a bulkhead.

"Didn't know what," Sentry asked, looking over at Braden. The kid was staring at a fixed position on the wall of the Hammerhead with enough intensity that he could have melted a hole through the steel. And that's when it clicked in Sentry's mind.

"Oh. My. God. I am soooooo sorry," he pleaded. "Braden, dude, I had no idea and I just started and-"

"One hundred fifty meters," Darcy interrupted. "Green light."

"Thank you, Darcy," Sentry said sternly. His hands moved quickly around the console and the Hammerhead's thrusters burst to life, slowing their descent. "Braden, I'll tell you what: When we get back, I'll buy you a beer. Wait, how old are you? Nevermind. A cupcake. I'll buy you the best damned cupcake you've ever eaten."

The Hammerhead lurched a bit as they bumped into the planets surface a bit before the hoverjets shoved them back into the air. "Hammerhead to Viper, we've just touched down. Proceeding to target area."

"Roger, Hammerhead," Titus responded. "Stay safe."

"Aye, aye, commander," Sentry replied. "See you boys on the flipside."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: The Illusive Man

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"You need a haircut," Lizzie insisted with her fingers combing through the mess on Braden's head. The young teen only snickered and let out a chuckle of amusement as he watched her reflection massage his neck and shoulder muscles in one of the windows of his - or their, really - room's starboard windows.

Eventually, his gazed focused on his own reflection. He had matured greatly since joining the Vindicator; not just mentally, but physically as well. His chin and jaw line were becoming more distinct, as well as his muscular tone. The training with Captain Villayn and the frequent use of his biotics kept his body in shape. He was still small, but he felt great; and looked it. From time to time, however, it wasn't just his body that he would find himself admiring. While Lizzie herself hadn't changed much since they first met, her body was always attracting his wandering eyes. Her eyes and lips were gracefully cute, and the rest of her was... irresistible. Especially now that he was sitting down on the foot of the bed and she had risen up on her knees to press down on his shoulders. The tilt in the window had given him a cruel, teaing angle and perfect reflection of her womanhood.

"You're staring again," she whispered, making him blush and divert his eyes elsewhere. As if to torture him more, her hand reached down and slowly slid across his bare chest. When he felt her lips on his neck, he squirmed and laughed. It was foolish, but he couldn't help it. She started laughing too.

Braden pulled himself away, but only turn around and gently push Lizzie back onto the mattress. Every nerve in his body screamed out, and a tiny voice in the back of his head was trying to say that what he was doing was wrong. Yet his adolescence and sexual desires urged him to keep going. As Lizzie laid out straight on the covers, he crawled over her, bringing his chest close to her, feeling her breasts press into him when she breathed in.

"Braden...," she started, stopping the boy from kissing her at the last second. "What are we doing?"

The young teen pulled himself up enough to look at her with fresh eyes. She was concerned, perhaps even frightened; and as she should be. Braden quickly pushed back and away, nearly falling off the side of the bed. He was red with embarrassment, but also felt guilty and overwhelmed with fear. "I- God, I'm so sorry! I don't know what I was thinking! I just-"

He felt her hands over his shoulders a second later, stopping him before he could ramble. "Its okay," she cooed. "Its okay. We're not ready yet."

"Yet?" He turned to see Lizzie smiling out of his peripherals. She leaned in and pecked him on the corner of his lips.

"Yet," she promised.




The next morning seemed to drag. By the time Titus had made it to the helm, he was already sipping down a second cup of coffee; which was a rarity for him. At most, the commander would hardly finish one cup, preferring to take only a few sips and let the rest sit on the edge of the galaxy map all day until Operative Taylor insisted he toss the cup in the trash. Maybe the recent increase in stress was causing him to act differently, or perhaps he was beginning to feel older.

No, it wasn't age, he told himself. He had been one of the youngest soldiers to hold the rank of Captain in the Alliance. In Cerberus, he still held that same rank. “Commander" was simply a title to them, and it wouldn't change unless the Illusive Man hand picked him to be promoted to one of his esteemed generals.

The thought of Cerberus becoming its own army only disturbed him. They were supposed to be covert, but with how things were going, the Illusive Man was making them look like any other galactic fleet out there: generals and their troops, ships outfitted with thannix cannons, and entire space stations devoted to the research and development of weapons. How much longer until Titus left Cerberus like he left the Alliance?

"Something on your mind, Commander?" Darcy asked, glancing up at a gloomy Titus standing just over his shoulder.

"Just stuff that's better kept to one's self, Darcy," John replied.

A tone sounded from Darcy's haptic interface. "Look's like the boss wants to see you upstairs,” he said, tapping a key to acknowledge the notification. John silently nodded in response and spun around to hastily make his way back down the bridge and into the CIC. He past by the multitude of technicians and navigation experts, offering a nod in greeting to Taylor as she gazed over the galaxy map, and entered the elevator. Stretching his index finger out from its snugged position around the warm coffee cup, he pressed the command to take him up to deck one, and then took a final, long gulp of the miracle liquid. In the back of his mind, he prayed the Illusive Man had not read his thoughts light years away. The timing of this summoning was uncomfortable, if he were to say the least.

At the ping and opening of the elevator, John stepped out and headed straight forward into the conference room, only stopping for a single second to leave the near-empty coffee outside. Once inside, EDI, as usual, had begun closing the outer shutters to darken the circular room, and the table disappeared into the floor. The Man's familiar office materialized around John. Today's star an odd complexity of deep reds and a tint of violet. As usual, nothing about it was recognizable.

“Commander Titus,” the Illusive Man greeted, lighting a fresh cigarette. “You look a little tired. I hope your burning out too quickly. The threat hasn't gone away over a few weeks.”

Titus straightened himself out before replying, “Don't worry about me, sir. I'm willing and able for whatever task you have for the Vindicator next.”

The Man smiled after letting go of a stream of smoke. “That's what I like to hear.”

Before the conversation carried forward, a figure came into view next to John. The commander shot a surprised sideways glance to Terrance Sinclair. “Professor?”

“Commander,” Sinclair said in return before turning his attention to the Illusive Man. “Happy to report, sir, that Operative Buchan's nervous system has received the immunity to O-E without rejection; and her new L5x implants are operating as hoped. She'll be fit for duty again in no time.”

“Excellent news, Professor,” the Illusive Man said, well pleased.

Titus was lost. “O-E?”

“Omega-enkaphalin, Commander,” Sinclair explained. “It's a biotic-supression drug that was secretly developed by Cerberus in 2169; codenamed 'Project Trapdoor'.”

“I'm having all of our biotics undergo nanosurgery so their bodies can adopt an immunity to the drug,” the Man said. “I don't want our own weapon turned against us.”

Titus nodded his understanding. “I see. What about Serena Taylor, or Braden Reynolds? They're both biotics, and on my crew. Will they have to undergo the same surgery?”

Sinclair shook his head. “Operative Taylor received her immunity shortly before Sovereign's attack of the Citadel. Braden received his at the Ascension Project when they installed his amps and implants. Cerberus is making sure all of the human biotics trained at the Grissam academy are made immune to omega-enkaphalin as part of our agenda to advance our race's own biotic abilities.”

“Well put, Professor,” the Illusive Man commented. “Thank you for your report. You're dismissed.” Sinclair bowed and humbly stepped out of the three-dimensional conversation; leaving Titus and his employer alone to carry on.

“How much do you know about our history with the quarians, Commander?” the Man asked.

John smirked. “Enough to know that we royally pissed them off, recently. Something about a bomb and a girl from the Ascension Project. Grayson's doing, right? Before he went rogue?”

“Vaguely, yes. Since that incident, we've had trouble to inserting spies into the Migrant Fleet, and I'm rapidly running out of eyes and ears inside their flotilla. Their entire population is strictly quarian-only; so we have to rely on converting some of their own to be our agents; and that's not always easy. If they're still apart of the tight community that makes up their fleet, then they're usually loyal to the core. Quarians aren't ones to have loose lips these days. Any small thing that threatens the security of the Migrant Fleet sends them over the edge. Thus, our only viable option left is to infiltrate and install our bugs. But to do this, I need the best infiltrators we have. Unfortunately, Vala still needs time to recuperate; and I have Kai Leng on an important assignment of his own.”

Titus shrugged his shoulders, not quite understanding why the Illusive Man was going to him about this. The Vindicator had no other infiltrators that were capable of the mission. He was right about Vala still needing to recover after the surgery; and other than her, no one on his crew had the technical or strategic know-how to replace her. “So... what do you need me for?”

“The truth is, Commander, I don't. But within a few hours, I will. I'm dispatching another infiltrator to your crew. Like Vala, he deserves high praise from me. In fact, he's so skilled at his job that I have working as an inside man in an organization I believe you've recently discovered. Does the name 'Oracle' ring a bell?”

John's eyes widened and his mouth almost flew open. “Ugh... Yes; it does.” He then folded his arms across his chest. “But I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that you know about my relationship with Sibyl Carson, that particular organization's director, now should I?”

The Illusive Man smiled and took another drag of his cigarette. “No,” he said while blowing out the smoke. “You shouldn't. The agent's name is Janis; Janis Freeman. He makes infiltration, sabotage, and assassination his profession; practically an art. Where Operative Leng performs with the grace of a magician; Operative Freeman dazzles with the charm of a politician. They're both cunning, deceptive, and highly skilled; but for this particular mission, Freeman's expertise is preferred.”

“So how shall I proceed with the mission once Janis is aboard my ship?”

“He's on his way now via another Cerberus frigate. Once he transfers under your command, I want you to travel to Omega. In the past, I had one our agents bargain with an exiled quarian to gain the secrets of boarding the Migrant Fleet. He taught us how its done: through the use of unique pass phrases. Unfortunately, he couldn't provide us with what was required. The pass phrases taught to him in particular had been black listed per his banishment from the flotilla. We had to torture a captured quarian for his phrases. One denotes an 'all secure' message; where the other is a duress phrase. This time, however, we've cut a deal with a quarian whose not banned, and he's willing to trade his phrases.”

“What was the deal?” Titus asked, looking sharp for the catch.

“The quarian's name is Jal'Ishtet nar Idenna. It just so happens that the Idenna is the particular vessel in the flotilla that I need bugs installed inside the most. In exchange for getting you on that ship, he's asking for a large amount of the drug Hallex. We're not entirely sure of the reason for this odd request. Perhaps that's something you and Janis can find out while talking with him; though I have a feeling its a simple drug triad business.”

“Anything else I should know?”

The Illusive Man stood up from his chair, holding his cigarette down to just above his waste line. “There is one other thing...,” he replied, taking a moment's pause as he considered his words. “I'm well aware of your last visit to Omega, and Braden's particular attempt at exacting revenge on his former slave master. While I'm not concerned about that in particular, I am concerned about the possible consequences that situation may have led to in regards to Aria T'Loak. I hope her seeing you again won't be problem, Commander.”

Titus placed his hands behind his back and straighted himself with the discipline of the soldier he was. “No, sir. I can assure you that Cerberus presence on Omega is of no concern to her right now. I managed to smooth things over when we last spoke.”

“I know you did, Titus. I'm just making sure you understand that Cerberus - I - can't afford to be on bad terms with her at the moment.”

“Understood, sir.”

The Illusive Man took a final drag of his cigarette. “Good.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: EDI Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine

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#, as written by Gunneh
Well, in a neat little town they call Belfast, apprentice to trade I was bound
Many an hours sweet happiness, have I spent in that neat little town
A sad misfortune came over me, which caused me to stray from the land
Far away from my friends and relations, betrayed by the black velvet band .


Sentry swayed along with the music as it poured from the computer console in the corner of the room, cradling an M-8 Avenger assault rifle in his arms as if it were a newborn baby. The swaying soon turned into what could only barely be described as a waltz, and the assault rifle became a dancing partner. The dance became more intricate as the music continued, with Sentry spinnng and swaying along to the melody. As then chorus kicked in, Sentry brought the barrel of the gun up to his lips and sang along with the music:

Her eyes they shone like diamonds
I thought her the queen of the land
And her hair it hung over her shoulder
Tied up with a black velvet band.


"What the...?"

"Holy Christ," Sentry exclaimed. Braden's voice caused him to jolt and the Avenger slipped from his grip, but he moved with an almost inhuman speed and caught the assault rifle, ejected the thermal clip from the weapon, and caught the clip in his left hand. He turned to look at Braden and laughed heartily at the boy's expression.

"Sorry, Braden," he said as he laid the weapon on a nearby table with the thermal clip beside it. "I forgot what time it was. I was just getting some work done, you see."

"And practicing unsafe weapon procedure," EDI added.

"Yes," he added. "And practicing unsafe weapon procedure. First lesson: Don't dance with your weapon and/or sing into the barrel like a microphone. For one, it could get you hurt, and two, it makes you look like a jackass."

"Agreed, Operative Valentine," EDI replied.

"Hush, woman," Sentry chuckled. "I didn't hear you complaining during the performance." Valentine focused his attention back onto Braden and smiled. "What's going on, big man? You look confused."

"Just wondering what kind of... music... that was," Braden replied.

"It's a traditional Irish song called The Black Velvet Band," Sentry said with a smile. "See, I'm a spacer. I was born and raised on Alliance stations and Alliance ships, but my mother and father, they were both from Dublin. My father was an engineer who was extremely grounded in all of Ireland's history, especially the music, and my mother was a nurse who was a little more 'with the times' than my father happened to be."

Sentry brought his arm up and his Omni-Tool sprang to life. He tapped a few buttons on the interface and the music started playing again, only at a lower volume this time.

"I was raised almost the same way wither of them had been raised, and I was brought up with a lot of the traditional things from back home," he continued. "Especially the music. I know it's a lot different than anything you might've ever heard, but I love it."

"Only music I really know is the club and trance played on Omega...," Braden said, casting his eyes across some of the weapon racks to distract himself from what appeared to be a creeping thought.

"Looks like there's a story there," Sentry said with a soft smile as he noted Braden's expression. "We'll get to that another time. Till then, let's get to teaching you about shooty things, kay?"

And the lesson began.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus

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Titus stood on the other side of the conference room table with his arms crossed over his chest, and one foot and shoulder back as he scrutinized the man named Janis Freeman, standing directly across from him. From the start, when Operative Freeman first set foot on the Vindicator, the commander didn't like him. He seemed sly, full of himself, and all-around untrustworthy. According to the man's Cerberus dossier, he was a political infiltrator and veteran double-agent; sent to work for the enemy, only to find and exploit their greatest weaknesses. Perhaps it was simply the Cerberus influence of distrust that was influencing Titus to eye the man with the utmost suspicion, but one thing was for certain: you can never fully trust a man that hasn't lost something. Everyone so far on his crew has had to either make hard sacrifices, or witness something – or someone – close be taken from them. Mr. Freeman seems to have lost nothing, nor does he have anything to lose.

“So,” the commander began, “Oracle, huh?”

Janis smiled and nodded. “Oracle.”

“How's-?”

“-You're friend? Oh, she's fine. Not to worry, though, Commander; the Illusive Man has no plans for Ms. Carson yet.”

“Yet...”

There was an awkward, hanging silence in the room as the two men continued to exchange dubious looks. Finally, through saving grace, the door to the briefing room whooshed open and Serena Taylor came inside and down the few steps leading to the center of the room. When she joined her own section of the table, she broke the ice by asking, “So... Omega? We've already been their once during this mission.” She looked over to Janis. “Mind filling us in on what exactly needs to happen when we arrive back on that infested station?”

Freeman smirked at Taylor's implicit prejudice and then raised his arm to bring up his Omni-tool. A few key strokes had projected a holographic map of the station in the center of the conference table. He commanded the image to zoom in on a particular area of the station and the render the more minute details of small dive bar. “One of our alien contacts on the station, a volus named Korvin Don, has offered his bar for the meeting with our quarian to take place. Its not exactly a 'safe house', but its out of the way from any of the major gang activity. Now, knowing quarians, our contact is probably going to ask for his petty Hallex right away; which is currently sitting in the Vindicator's port side cargo bay.”

“Nice to know I've got drugs aboard by ship,” Titus retorted. He quickly withdrew when he saw Serena's cold 'shut up' glance from the side.

Ignoring the comment, Freeman carried on with his briefing. “The quarian, Jal, will find that his requested Hallex has been moved to the bay of his choosing once we meet up with him. We're obviously not going to be dragging a dozen crates of Hallex through Omega streets. That's just asking for it.”

“A dozen crates?” This time it was Serena that had interrupted.

Janis nodded without loosing his bearing. “Jal has been trading illegal intoxicants for some time now. He found the business to be more... profitable than his pilgrimage. Whatever floats his boat, I guess; Cerberus is happy to trade whatever street drug he desires for the valuable information he's offering.”

“About that,” Titus interrupted. “How can we be sure he's giving us the right codes? What if he tricks us into giving the Migrant Fleet a duress code when he attempt to board?”

Janis grinned. “Let me handle that, Commander.”

The whoosh of the door echoed in the room again and the three occupants turned their heads to stare at Braden marching through the threshold. There was a tempered fire in his eyes, and both of his fists were clinched. “You're going back there?” he demanded.

The teen stopped just short of Titus, who began to beg the question, “How did you-?”

“Darcy told me,” Braden responded.

The commander sighed and rubbed his temple. “I'm sorry, son; but I won't be taking you with me this time. This particular mission requires a lot of expertise in a certain art – something you haven't been properly trained in yet.”

Braden looked heartbroken, and also furious. He turned his head down to hide the creeping emotions. Serena placed a hand on his shoulder and gently turned the young man around to guide him out of the briefing room. When the blast doors closed behind them, Janis was the first to speak.

“I've read his dossier. Tragic... what happened to him.” The man's icy gaze peered over to the table to Titus. His arms crossed over his chest and head tilted low, he muttered, “He'll make a good asset to Cerberus one day.”

John only glanced to Janis out of his peripherals, his body still facing the door that Serena and Braden walked out of. The man's heartless words struck a chord somewhere within him and he could only blame himself for that cold truth. An “asset”? Is that what Janis sees in the boy? Just another assassin stripped of his free will; ordered to do the Illusive Man's bidding?

“Something wrong, Commander?” Janis asked, pulling John from his doubtful thoughts about the organization he worked for.

The soldier straightened himself out and rolled his shoulders back. “No. Let's carry on with the plan.”




Titus wasn't too surprised to find that the same turian from last time was standing at the end of the docking bay, waiting to register the commander's now-second arrival to the infamous station. The Talon mercenary looked his customer up and down with a suspicious eye as he took the CHA credit chit that John extended to him.

“Back again, huh?” the turian asked rhetorically. “Where's the armor?”

John, Serena, and Janis were wearing typical civilian clothes. Titus had chosen to sport a tan leather jacket and black cargo trousers. A Hahne-Kedar Kessler pistol had been concealed by the jacket, attached to the belt. He knew the merc wouldn't care what kind of fire power they brought onto Omega; his job was to simply collect credits. Everyone on the station was carrying some kind of piece. Guns weren't intimidating to the people here; they're merely a means of protection.

“Won't be needing it this time,” Titus replied with a small smile to try and lighten the stiff mood.

“Uh-huh...” The turian swiped the credit chit over his Omni-tool and handed it back. “Enjoy your stay on Omega.”

The trio walked out of the docking station and into the crowded streets. Janis led the way to Korvin's bar with Titus taking up the rear to watch their backs. Serena walked in between, tapping at her Omni-tool to complete the transfer of the Hallex crates into the Talon's cargo depot at the dock. The fees the merc group was charging for the shipment were unbelievably high, and she silently thanked herself for Cerberus' funding.

When the three of them stopped at a taxi port, Serena punched in a summon command for the next available skycar on a nearby console. After completing a nominal fair towards the volus merchant that ran the small-time cab business, the woman turned and said, “Our destination is near Afterlife in the upper districts. It'll be faster if we hitch a ride instead of taking the primary elevators that run through the station's pylons.”

“You want us to take one of those filthy-ass things?” Janis asked.

Serena shrugged her shoulders. “If it gets where you need to go, what does it matter?”

“It matters because I don't want to step out of a cab with alien piss on the bottom of my two-thousand credit pants.”

John exchanged a bemused look with his second-in-command and then said, “Well at least Mr. Clean, here, won't set off any contamination alarms when we infiltrate the Migrant Fleet.”

“Oh, you're funny...”

The skycar landed a few feet away from them and Serena popped the hatch, taking the driver's seat. John sat shotgun, while Janis carefully positioned himself in the back, ensuring before he sat completely down that the seat was free of any foreign substances – liquid or otherwise. When the hatch closed, Serena skillfully piloted the cab up into the higher portions of the station, following a single pylon to the top. Details of the underbelly of the mined asteroid became more apparent the closer they got; and within a few more minutes, Serena saw an available cab port near where they wanted to go, and expertly straightened out the skycar for a gentle landing.

A tone sounded when the hatch popped open and the haptic control interface on both the driver and passenger side faded out of existence. Janis was the first out of the skycar, quickly twisting around to check the underside of his trousers, brushing away at whatever nonexistent disgust had attached itself to him.

“Question,” Titus began, “do you always such expensive taste to on missions?”

Janis finished checking himself and then straightened out to face Titus with a wide grin. He slid both hands into his trouser pockets, pushing back the folds of his pearl white blazer, and replied, “Expensive taste is a sign of success. Success yields respect. Respect yields power.”

John leaned back and folded his arms. “But you're an infiltrator. What kind of respect and power do you hope to hold over someone's head when you technically don't exist?”

Janis' grin seemed to morph into a wicked smile as his head tilted downward. “All the more reason to be cautious when dealing with someone like me. Too many unknowns.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Charlie Welles Character Portrait: Dusk Trafford Character Portrait: Martin Grien

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“See, I’ve been noticing the core’s been spiking when I run up the secondary weapon systems.” Dusk spoke quickly, almost too quickly for the technician who’d come to her assistance. “It’s not going to cause anything critical to explode, but in a heavy combat situation, the excess heat and burn off could cause some malfunctions. Eezo is not my area of expertise, but I’m thinking it’s cause the core is starting to get a little old…” The tech scratched his head, raising an eyebrow at the pilot.

“The core shouldn’t be causing the spike, even if it’s got some years on it. It might be something with…” He blinked, pausing for a moment. “The…ah…” Dusk tilted her head slightly at his sudden choke up, lowering the omni-tool displaying the read outs. The tech noticed, shaking his head sheepishly. “Sorry, just uh…” He gestured over her shoulder. “Do you…know him?”

Blinking once, the merc turned on her heel, frowning when she spotted Martin sitting casually on the lip of Daedra’s passenger cabin. He waved lightly, inclining his head ever so slightly as the woman heaved a heavy sigh. “Yeah, that’s my partner. Gimme a minute…” She muttered, stalking forward without hearing the tech’s response. Once close, she leaned forward slightly, face just above his as she stared down her nose at him. “Martin.”

“Dusk.”

“You’re hovering. You know I hate when you hover.” He raised his eyebrow curiously, which only deepened her frown. “Don’t even deny it. What do you want?” The two held their stare down for a moment, before he shrugged carelessly.

“Lunch.”

Straightening, she laughed humourlessly. “Then get some. I’ve got work to do, unlike someone else I know.” There was a beat before she quickly added. “You did finish your checks, right? And the maintenance? Calibrations? Any repa-”

“Yes, I did.” He cut in swiftly, seemingly amused by her worry. “And I already got lunch.” The statement derailed her worries, earning an incredulous look from the pilot. Martin didn’t waste any words, gesturing to a tray just behind him with two plates of food and a pair of mugs. “Some company would be nice though.”

Blinking incredulously, she shot him a withering glare. “You are not eating in Deadra!” She thumped him in the arm threateningly, earning a chuckle from him as he nursed the hit. “Not a chance in hell! And I don’t have time for some ‘lunch date’ with you, the engine isn’t gonna adjust itself, and then the guns need cali-”

“Dusk.” She paused, clearly not fond of being interrupted in the middle of a tech rant. “I’d like to have lunch with you.”

“I told you-”

“Dusk. I’d like to have lunch with you.” He insisted, and she ran her hands down her face in exasperation. “Otherwise I’ll be eating in Deadra while you work.” With an aggravated growl, she nodded sharply, jerking her head off towards an area behind the gunship as she turned back to the technician.

“Take 15.”

“20.” Martin called over her head as he retrieved the tray. Dusk glared over her shoulder at him, but nodded agreement to his statement. The tech, clearly confused, nevertheless complied; heading off towards another section of the hangar for his other duties. “Thank you.”

“Yeah yeah…what’d you get?” The two rounded the ship as they spoke, coming into a small nook in the storage area that had been arranged into something of a living space. At least, a living space combined with a mechanic’s station. The twin tables that dominated the space were littered with tools and parts in various states of assembly, several miniature screens displaying status of the various projects. Tucked into the back was a pair of low chairs around a short almost bistro-like table, the only one not buried under machinery. Off to the right of the table, a hammock had been fastened to the bulkhead, with only a meagre pillow in it.

“Chilli. The kitchen is apparently very well stocked.” Her eyes sparked at the mention of it, and he set the tray down on the table without any further delay. The pair took their seats, Dusk swiftly digging in while Martin examined her little nook. “They did provide you a room, you know…”

She fixed him a look, fork held tightly between her lips. Pulling the utensil out, she jabbed it towards him. “Uh-huh, and I don’t want it. Private rooms are so quiet. Makes you forget you’re on a ship without the hum. How people sleep when it‘s so quiet is beyond me…”

“And the hangar is better? Ignoring the possibility of violent decompression, that is.”

She nodded enthusiastically, speaking between mouthfuls. “This place has some great acoustics. Can feel the vibrations when the drive kicks in. Best lullaby I ever heard.” The mercenary chuckled at his companion, slowly picking at his own food. The conversation fell to the way side for a few minutes, a companionable silence between them before she spoke . “…so how’s your room, anyway?”

“Nice, I suppose. Has it’s own bathroom.” He tapped his fork on his lip. “Right near the battery, so makes it easy to handle my work for the day.”

“That‘s important, yeah…” She muttered, glancing over his shoulder for a moment before going back to her food. Once her bowl was picked clean, the pilot hopped up from her seat, seemingly eager to return to work. Despite her apparent eagerness though, Dusk glanced towards Martin once more. “It’s pretty well lit down here all day, you know.” He flicked his gaze up to her, but remained quiet. “And I still have your old hammock, in-case you…you know…” She trailed off awkwardly, causing him to grin.

“Lonely in the hangar?”

She pinked slightly, giving him a furious glare. “No! You’re just like a lost puppy without me around, so I thought I’d be nice and make a spot for you, and you’d come down, and then we could have lunch an-” He laughed lightly, earning another glare, although it was far weaker than the first. “Oh shut up! Just set up your damn hammock, Martin! I have work to do!” She stomped back towards the Deadra, pausing mid-step to glance back at the still smiling battery officer. “…and get that grin off your face before I smack it off.”

“You’ve got it.” His smile didn’t falter, and despite herself, the pilot had a matching one as she returned to work.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The entrance to the gym hissed open, revealing Charlie with Vala in tow to the occupants. In what seemed to be their typical fashion, the Commander noted, the commandos had seemingly taken the entire facility for themselves for the time being; not a single marine present amongst them. As the first few faces turned, Charlie cleared his throat and shouted over the din. “Officer on deck!”

Regardless of task, each commando stepped swiftly into a salute, some leaping off their treadmills to do so. None of them moved an inch once the stance was assumed, and she couldn’t help but enjoy the show of respect for a few seconds longer than necessary. It might have been her ego talking, but it was a welcome change from two months of being treated like dirt. “As you were!” She called, and as quickly as they’d stopped, the Hounds were right back at their training; easily chatting amongst each other as they went about their various work outs.

To her right, Charlie whistled towards the lone solitary figure in the room, who perked up ever so slightly at the sound. The woman turned, a gentle smile stretched across her soft, rounded face. She crossed the room quickly towards her superior; the auburn braid hung round her shoulder swaying with each step as pure golden eyes regarded the pair. Once close, she gave them both a respectful nod before speaking. “You called, Charlie?”

The commando leader nodded, gesturing to Vala with a hand. “Indeed I did. I want to properly introduce the unit to Commander Buchan before we have any further ops, and you are the best starting point.” Looking to Vala, he grinned lopsidedly. “This is Staff Lieutenant Heather Driskel. I may lead the Hounds, but for all intents and purposes, she pretty much runs them. Any questions you have about the unit, or any concerns about any of the operatives, she’s the woman to go to.” He snickered. “She’s also the only dog I’ve got trained to respond to a whistle.”

Heather’s smile didn’t falter for a moment, replying without a moment’s pause. “I could only hope they were calls for attention, since a cat call doesn’t suit a hound, hm?” The lieutenant looked to Vala properly, offering a hand for a polite shake. Vala took it quickly, noting the woman’s gentle grip. “It’s a pleasure to properly make your acquaintance. As Charlie said, I handle most of the day-to-day business involving the Hounds. Please, don’t hesitate to ask me any questions if they arise.”

Vala tapped her cheek once in thought. “Well, I am curious about one thing…why did you send two? It seems excessive for a simple armour delivery.” Heather glanced at Charlie, seemingly surprised by the question but she answered all the same.

“It’s how they operate, Ma’am.” She turned, motioning over to a pair of the commandos chatting. “We never accept a single recruit for the unit, we always take pairs. After a few training missions, they’re assigned to each other. From their training to schedules and even their missions, a pair is stuck together.” Her smile widened ever so slightly, like a parent taking pride in their children. “It makes them quite the team, and highly effective in the field.”

Vala followed her gaze with some incredulity, speaking bluntly. “I’ve never heard of that before. Seems counter-productive to make a commando dependant on another.” Her eyes flicked up to Charlie. “Your idea, I assume?”

He shook his head, arms crossed over his chest. “Not exactly. I actually took the idea from asari huntresses, if you can believe it. I was assigned to a sabotage operation a little while before I made the Hounds, and got intercepted by a pair of asari. It was incredible, watching two lone huntresses so expertly juggle the entire raid team and lead them all on a wild goose chase. They moved and reacted to each other faster than I thought possible…”

Scratching his chin, Charlie shook his head slowly. “It was the day that I started to believe that turian saying. ‘The asari are the finest warriors in the galaxy. Fortunately there aren’t many of them.’” After a pause, he laughed. “So, I stole it for myself.”

“I see…” She looked back to Heather, pausing as she noticed a trend. Glancing towards another pair of the commandos, Vala tilted her head slightly to view their eyes. Which were the same solid gold. She turned slightly, scanning the various faces for a moment. “…are all your eyes tattooed?”

Heather nodded. “Good eye. It’s something of a little ritual for the recruits. Once they’re partnered up, they get the retinal tattoo that makes their eyes look like ours. Charlie is the only one without it because he’s afraid of needles.” He scoffed.

“I have to actually look presentable for the higher ups.”

She giggled. “Right…and you’re afraid of needles.” Sighing, he waved her off, clearly knowing a hopeless battle when he saw one. Heather looked back to Vala and continued her explanation. “It was an idea from another member of ours, to increase the solidarity of the unit. A bond with our partner is good, but all the hounds view each other as a sort of second family.”

“Complete with it’s own crazy traditions?”

“Something like that. Oh, we should introduce you to Sorin. He’s the primary trainer for all the pairs.” She placed a finger on her lip for a moment, brow creasing ever so slightly. “Although, he’s been in something of a mood today…”

Vala raised an eyebrow while Charlie snickered. “Sorin is always in a mood, Heather. He’ll behave.” Stepping past the women, he moved towards the small ring set up in the corner of the gym. Inside the ring, a lone figure stood, flexing a pair of sparring gloves on his hands. As the light revealed more of his features, Vala immediately noticed the pale, tarnished glaze over the right eye. Dozens of micro scars surrounded the blinded eye, as well as an imposing tattoo of a fanged grin that dominated the side of his face. Before she could really examine it, his head jerked over quickly to regard them, as if he‘d heard their approach over the din. His remaining eye was the same solid gold as the others, although it lacked the mirth she’d seen amidst the commandos prior to him.

Heather, seemingly aware of something Vala wasn’t, moved a few steps ahead of her, climbing up into the ring with who she assumed was Sorin. The two were an interesting contrast to each other, she immediately noted, the rich dark brown of his complexion a sharp contrast to her olive white. They exchanged hushed words as she approached, and the man eased back on his heels as she reached the ring with Charlie. “Commander Buchan.” He grunted, voice hard and hollow.

“Yes, that’s me. You would be Sorin?”

“1st Lieutenant Sorin Malcoms. I keep the Hounds from being useless, Ma’am.” His tone was curt, and she couldn’t help but wonder what exactly his issue was. “If you need anything improved, I figure I’m the one you should talk to.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Lieutenant.” She spared only a split second glance to Charlie, who seemed slightly exasperated at Sorin’s attitude, but made no comments. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

Sorin tilted his head slightly upwards, showing more of the jaw tattoo as he did so. “No. I’m just not one for chit-chat. That’s Heather’s department.” Heather elbowed him sharply in the ribs, but the trainer didn’t even react to the hit, staring down at Vala with his one good eye.

As she looked at the two up in the ring, a thought occurred to her and she quickly voiced it. “Should I assume you two are a combat pair, since you both lead?” Heather stiffened in the ring, while Charlie muttered an ‘oh boy’ underneath his breath. “What?”

Sorin’s expression darkened; eye flicking to Charlie suddenly and glaring accusingly at the man. “You didn’t tell her.” Heather opened her mouth, but the trainer stifled her with sharp intake of breath. “Fine then.”

“Introductions isn’t the best time you know, Sorin.” Charlie commented, clearly not bothered by the sudden anger in his subordinate.

“Sure they are.” He stepped through the ropes and dropped down to the floor. “Charlie and Heather forgot to mention something important about the three of us. We’re the Old Dogs of the unit.” He stepped up to her, holding up a finger for silence when she opened her mouth. “Before you even ask, Commander, it means the three of us don’t have partners.”

“Don’t all of you have to have partners?”

“We get one. One partner. That’s it.” The gym had fallen silent as the hounds wizened to the scene playing out in the corner. “No. Heather isn’t my partner, and I’d appreciate you don’t make any assumptions about something you don’t unde-”

“Alright,” Charlie snapped, stepping between him and Vala. “That’s about enough. She didn’t know, and even then, Buchan is the boss. That means you show some respect.” The trainer narrowed his eyes, but Charlie didn’t let him get a word in. “Not up for discussion.”

His mouth opened and shut several times before his eye fell to the floor. “I apologize, Commander.” Part of Vala simply wanted to strike the man across the face, or take his ear off herself for a few minutes for showing such insubordination. And yet, another part quietly reasoned that she had struck a nerve, clearly a sore one. She’d have likely done the same, hell, she HAD done the same in the past.

The commander nodded. “It’s fine, Lieutenant Malcoms. We all have our own demons, and I didn’t mean to stir yours. If you’ll ignore my faux pas, then perhaps we can leave this behind us.” It was far more diplomatic than they’d expected her to be, and if she’d had access to a mirror, Vala would have seen a similar expression on her own face.

Sorin inclined his head. “Of course, Ma’am…” As quickly as his apology had come, the man snapped back into his personality from before, barking loudly at the commandos. “I didn’t give you bastards permission to gawk! Get back to work, or it’ll be suicides instead of dinner tonight!”

With a collective groan and a few grumbling ‘yes sirs’, the gym returned to it’s previous noise level. Sorin gave a lazy salute as he brushed past her, clearly wanting to bury himself in work for the moment. Heather took a seat on the lip of the ring with a sigh. “I told you he was in a mood…”

Charlie scratched awkwardly at his neck. “I’ll trust your women’s intuition next time…sorry about that, Commander. Sorin is a bit of a…handful some days. He’s good though. No one else I’d trust with whipping these lightweights into proper shape.” She nodded idly, clearly distracted as she watched the man work. “Something on your mind?”

“Only one partner?”

Heather diverted her gaze from Vala’s inquisitive stare but Charlie instead held it with a sombre expression. “Yeah, just one. Hounds don’t come home alone.” The statement hung in the air as he searched for words. “…they bond heavily in training. It’s kinda impossible not to. We don’t define what they have to view each other as, but the relationship is always…close. So, when one half…bites the bullet, and the other doesn’t…it’s like losing a sibling.”

“Oh.”

“I tried in the past to get new partners but…things linger. It just dug up more wounds, so I changed the plan. If one survives, they can either retire from the unit, or help me run things, as one of the ‘Old Dogs’.” He glanced over his shoulder at Heather. “Out of everyone, only Heather and Sorin wanted to stay on.”

“He certainly doesn’t look like he wants to be here…” She noted, earning a slight chuckle from the two. “What?”

“That’s just how he is. Always. Leave him to yell at everyone, and you’ll get along fine.” The man in question roved between the hounds, constantly watching, constantly tossing out criticisms and improvements for all of them. She watched him out of curiosity, lingering on the oddity he was for longer than she perhaps should have, before partially looking to Charlie.

“I’ll take your word for it.” Brushing a few fingers across her forehead, Vala made a few mental notes on what she’d been told, even as she continued to scan the assembled commandos. It didn’t take long to begin seeing the pairs, as they shifted between stations and exercises, only two in each ‘group’ would remain with each other. It was an odd system, but she was eager to see the results of such rigid policy. “Well, I trust that you three will be more than capable of keeping the Hounds running properly. If there’s anything you need…”

“We’ll take care of it.” Heather smiled, earning a similar one from the commander herself. “I’ll only trouble you with them if it’s necessary, Ma’am.” The woman was clearly used to the task, and was obviously well suited for it with her seemingly maternal nature. “All I ask is you don’t run them completely ragged.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but I don’t get to call those shots.” She shot Charlie a dry look. “Although that should be changing here very shortly, hm?” He grinned sheepishly, rubbing his neck awkwardly under her sharp gaze before the commander continued. “But, I think that’s enough for today. I have a report to file, and we should be safe to leave the Citadel.”

The ‘Old Dogs’ nodded, following her to the door and offering polite salutes as she set off to handle her tasks for the day. The pair watched Vala’s back until she disappeared around a corner; only then did Heather speak up. “Odd.”

“What’s that?”

“Dozens of things, really…she‘s young but leading a vessel chief among them. I’m not really sure if she can handle it…” He fixed her with a quizzical glance, and she continued lightly. “I don’t mean much by it. It’s a lot of responsibility, and not everyone is equipped to handle it. I’m just worried she might not be.”

Charlie blinked once, before looking out into the hallway. “Would she really have a ship if she couldn‘t handle it?” The pair exchanged curious glances, before the Lieutenant simply shrugged her shoulders with a smile. “Doing wonders for my confidence, Heather.”

“My job is support, not soothing your destructive curiosity. Doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on things, does it?”

“Isn‘t there an old saying about cats and curiosity? Something involving dying?”

“Good thing you’re a dog then, Charlie.” Heather patted his shoulder with a smile; promptly turning on her heel and trotting off towards the furious barking of Sorin’s instructions. The commando chuckled humourlessly to himself, before glancing off down the hall. “Besides,” She called over her shoulder. “Isn't the assignment to help?”