eponymous_rose: (ME | Victus)
[personal profile] eponymous_rose
Title: Paradigm Shift (1/2)
Word Count: 7,500 total
Characters: Ashley Williams, Garrus Vakarian, Liara T'Soni
Rating: T (violence, language)
Notes: Many thanks to [personal profile] rivendellrose for the excellent beta!
Spoilers: Set early in the first game.

Summary: Today's forecast: Thunderstorms, with a chance of giant killer space worms. Tomorrow: Partly cloudy.



The sky was spectacular.

Rumbling thunderheads sent sparks flashing from cloud to cloud, smearing purple light across her vision with every strike, and the stars were strange and stark and bright along the quick-shifting edges of the storm. She caught herself remembering the thunderstorms in Brazil back in basic training, all the long runs backlit by the violent skies, and smiled.

Wait. The sky-

Her smile flickered and faded, and she gradually became aware of a slow, persistent throbbing in her head, a new catch in her breath. The sky, she shouldn't be able to see the sky, not like this-

A sound, somewhere beyond the roar of wind and the mumbling of distant thunder. A voice, high and frightened and urgent. "Chief! Chief, can you hear me?"

Ashley coughed and tilted her head back. The world slanted back into focus. They were sideways, she realized slowly, and God, they must have crashed spectacularly for the Mako's door to have warped partway open to the sky like that. Helluva squad leader you are, soldier. Gonna get another bunch killed? Everything seemed too loud, the rush of air through the new breach, and there was that voice again, coming through the squad comm link, directly in her ear. "Chief!"

She jerked, opened her eyes, couldn't remember having closed them. Sluggishly, she raised a hand to her forehead, pushed away her dented helmet, and prodded at the stickiness in her matted hair. "Ow."

A relieved sigh, loud enough across the link to make her cringe. "Goddess, I thought you were..."

Steeling herself against a wash of nausea, Ashley rolled onto her stomach, pushed herself to her hands and knees, and stayed like that a moment, panting. No time to hesitate. Get that sitrep, soldier. She looked up, and had a dizzying moment of disorientation when she saw Dr. T'Soni, still strapped into her chair, hanging at right angles to her.

"Ah," said T'Soni, sounding more embarrassed than anything else, "the release mechanism appears to have jammed. I cannot-"

Ashley reached up, then braced herself and stumbled to her feet to get a closer look at the straps. She still had to stand almost doubled-over in the cramped confines of the Mako. "Are you hurt?" Her voice slurred, and she had to repeat the question before the translator seemed willing to pick it up.

"Y-yes," said T'Soni. "I cannot see how severe the injury is, but my left leg-"

Ashley saw, and winced. Compound fracture, bone jutting out through a gash in the light armor at her shin. Her medigel dispensers seemed to be working, at least, because only a small trickle of blood was dripping from the wound, and T'Soni certainly didn't seem to be in agony. Still, the faster they got her back to the Normandy and Chakwas's scolding, the better.

After a moment, Ashley realized that T'Soni's complexion had grown alarmingly pale, watching her reaction. "It's pretty badly broken," she said, quickly. "I'm not even sure I should try moving you. The safety harness seems to be doing a pretty good job of immobilizing it."

"Oh," T'Soni said in a small voice, and shifted slightly against the restraints. "Can you see Garrus? He was manning the turret - I tried calling to him, but he didn't answer."

Ashley inhaled sharply, turned toward the back of the Mako. Dammit, what the hell kind of squad leader forgets her squad? God, her head was pounding. "Vakarian, you on the line?" With a curse at her slow-wittedness, she picked up her helmet again and activated the HUD. T'Soni's life signs had crept into the red, which suggested a lot more damage than a busted leg, but Garrus's were... gone. No telemetry, which meant that either his hardsuit's electronics had been damaged in the crash, or- "Shit," she said, with feeling. "Shit. I'm going to see if I can find him. Did you try to raise the Normandy?"

"No response. I think the acid must have damaged some important connections-"

"Right. The acid." Sometimes, she thought, God had a helluva sense of humor. Create a giant horrible worm monster that lives underground and only wants to consume everything in its path? Sure, fine, but let's add some acid-spitting in, just for fun.

T'Soni was looking at her strangely, and it took Ashley a moment to realize she'd been speaking aloud, rambling. "Er," she said. "Sorry. My head-"

"I understand." T'Soni attempted a smile, and the expression was so like Sarah's when she was trying to be brave that Ashley couldn't help smiling back.

"Right," she said, and gritted her teeth against a fresh wave of nausea, then started the cautious, stumbling clamber across debris and detritus to the back of the Mako. "Vakarian, you back here?" The turret station of the Mako had collapsed inwards entirely, and she was starting to register a smell of something burning. Great. That's all we need. She had a wild, panicked, giddy vision of herself getting back to the Normandy somehow and having to report in to Shepard. So, Skipper, you took a chance on me and let me run a routine recon mission. In the process, I grievously wounded one of your crew, probably killed another, and by the way, the Mako caught fire. How'd I do? Yeah. Probably better to find another thresher maw to finish her off before giving that report.

A sound. The storm? The wind? No, there it was again. Heart pounding, Ashley moved toward the noise, a faint rumbling – there. Scraps and shards of metal were shifting, and she started to drag them away, then paused at a yelp of pain and drew back. "Vakarian?"

"Damn it." The weird, echoing undertone to his voice was louder than usual, and she could hear his breathing catching. "Just a second. There's something snagging, here-" A clatter as some of the debris shifted. His voice returned, weaker still. "Ah. Probably shouldn't have done that. I think I need a hand."

She tugged the last of the debris away, then stumbled back a step, breathing hard with the exertion. Vakarian was half-curled in on himself, but she could see blood spattered here and there, and his hands were clenched over the weaker armor just above his waist. His mandibles flared as he met her eyes. "I thought that piece of metal was just caught on my armor," he said, and gave a shaky laugh. "I guess it was stuck a bit deeper than that."

Shaking herself out of her dazed exhaustion, Ashley moved to crouch beside him and gently pulled his hands away from the deep gash in his side. It was bleeding profusely, brighter blue than usual, she thought. "Your hardsuit's systems must be damaged – I'm not seeing any medigel." After only a moment's hesitation, she reached out and applied pressure. He hissed, and tilted his head back for a long moment, gasping for breath. "Hey, don't pass out on me now, Vakarian." She drew one of her hands back, painted a startling blue, to snatch at the medigel dispenser on his hardsuit. Applying the gel manually was slower than the armor's automated systems, but it did stop the external bleeding, and she finally released the pressure, settling back on her haunches. Her hands, she realized, were shaking as she tried to smear the blood off them and onto the floor beside her.

Vakarian's eyes were tightly closed, but she could pinpoint the exact moment when the analgesic hit his system by the way his breathing slowed, becoming more measured. He opened one eye, squinting at her. "Thanks."

"Anytime." Now that the surge of adrenaline was fading out, the smell of smoke was becoming much more immediate, and yet all she wanted to do was to curl up in the rubble and just be part of it, another discarded piece, drifting and blissfully unconscious-

"Hey! I thought I was supposed to be the one passing out, here."

She blinked at the voice, jolted, and realized she'd been sinking forward. Her hand drifted again to the matted blood in her hair, and then she shook herself, straightening and clambering to her feet, extending a hand for Vakarian. "I keep smelling smoke. I don't think we can stay here – Dr. T'Soni probably shouldn't be moved, but I think we're going to have to risk it. Can you walk?"

Vakarian heaved a sigh. "Do I have a choice?"

"Not really, but it's a nice thought, isn't it?"

That got her another humorless laugh, and he grabbed her arm, dragging himself to his feet. She found herself staggering, not expecting to have to take so much of his weight, but her armor helped make up for the difference in their sizes, and she caught her balance again, draping his arm over her shoulders.

God, this whole situation was bizzare – going from all those shitty groundside postings to this, to dragging a wounded turian out of a crash on an unexplored world. The funny thing was, it didn't even seem that surreal, not anymore. She wasn't sure whether that particular paradigm shift was inspirational or insane.

T'Soni, she was glad to discover, had managed to remain conscious and more-or-less motionless in their absence, and she brightened visibly at the sight of Vakarian. His mandibles flared, and he called out, "Seems like every time we meet, you're just hanging around, T'Soni."

She smiled faintly in reply, and Ashley, feeling weirdly out-of-place, steered Vakarian toward the mangled remains of the door. "I'm going to figure out how to get her down without hurting her. Can you get us out of this box?"

Humming, he pushed up against the metal. "Looks like the mechanism's jammed." He paused. "I suppose that isn't exactly surprising. And I suppose communications with the Normandy are down, too?"

"Yeah. See what you can do about the door, and then we'll worry about communications. Listen, Vakarian, I blacked out for a while, there, so I don't really remember, uh." With a glance back at T'Soni, she lowered her voice. "Did we kill the thresher maw before it took us down?"

His mandibles drew in tight, and she realized, with a start, that she could already identify that as the turian version of a worried expression. "I'm not sure. I got off one shot before the last burst of acid, and then-" He shrugged, with a gesture at the wound in his side. "If it helps," he added, "I think we'd be dead if it were still around."

"I was making for the rockier terrain, best speed," Ashley said, thoughtfully. "It's possible we just managed to get out of its range. Or it thinks we're dead." Do thresher maws think?

"In which case it might be waiting to dissolve us with acid, horribly and painfully, as soon as we get out the door." Garrus snorted. "Are you always this much of an optimist?"

"I try. See what you can do about the door." She turned back to T'Soni, and instantly felt ridiculous for having tried to keep her voice low – the Mako wasn't exactly a massive space for the three of them, and even with the sound of the storm, their voices were carrying well enough. Besides, T'Soni was older than she was. Way older. So why do I keep thinking of my little sisters every time I talk to her?

She smiled, as reassuringly as she could. "I've got to try and splint this leg, T'Soni. Medigel or not, it's going to hurt." T'Soni nodded, but her face had gone that particularly wan shade of blue again, so Ashley added, conversationally, "How many times have you broken bones?"

"Only once," T'Soni said, and Ashley was forcibly reminded that civilians did a lot less in the way of getting wounded for a living. "It was during an archeological dig. I hadn't taken the proper precautions – there were rumors of a Prothean artifact, and I'm afraid I rushed to secure the site. Without the supports in place, the ground just caved away beneath me."

Ashley turned to the seat she'd been in – the added weight of her heavy armor had apparently been enough to snap her own restraints during the violent deceleration of the crash. Otherwise, I'd be stuck up there, too. God, that'd be embarrassing. She dug in one of her armor's containers for the pocket knife she carried, the one that had belonged to her grandfather – not standard Alliance issue, but it wasn't exactly meant for combat, anyway – and started sawing her snapped restraints into strips to hold the splint together. "Go on."

T'Soni smiled ruefully. "I put out my hands to cushion my fall, which was probably a foolish thing to do. I could have rolled, or used biotics, but I was still young – barely sixty years old – and had perhaps neglected my physical and biotic training in favor of other pursuits, so my reflexes were not as honed as they should have been. As it was, I fractured two bones in my left wrist and one in my right."

"Ouch." Ashley eyed the strips of material carefully, then shrugged, satisfied. A brief search yielded one of the long, thin metal boxes that housed the more delicate spare parts of the Mako, which she dumped out. She then carefully prized the two halves of the box apart to serve as the splint itself. And then she paused, racking her aching brains for a topic with which to distract T'Soni from the most uncomfortable part of the process.

To her surprise, T'Soni spoke up first, her voice soft. "I was alone on that stage of the dig. I'd wanted some time to myself. The hole I'd fallen into- well, it was deep enough that I couldn't climb out. Especially not with two broken wrists. I tried using my biotics to lift myself out, but I was terrified and exhausted and only succeeded in falling again and again."

Ashley blinked, startled, then snapped back to herself and carefully positioned the two pieces of the splint on either side of the wound. "What did you do?"

T'Soni's expression grew grim. "I waited. I stopped trying to use my biotics, because I knew I'd starve faster that way. Nobody was scheduled to come by for weeks. It was a very wet planet. If it rained-" She gasped as Ashley started tightening the splint into place, gritted her teeth. "If it rained, I knew I would probably drown."

Ashley winced sympathetically, tightening the straps as much as she dared. Blood oozed from the wound again, but the armor's medigel dispensers kicked in, delivering another dose that stanched the fresh flow. "What happened?"

"It didn't rain," T'Soni said, in a thick voice. "After three days, a courier made a wrong turn and ended up at my dig site, then decided to go for a walk. Her curiosity saved my life. I'm-" She gasped. "Goddess, that feels strange. It doesn't hurt much, it just- bones aren't meant to move like that."

"You're doing fine." Satisfied with her splint, Ashley moved through her first aid training, trying to feel for other concealed fractures or wounds before she attempted to cut T'Soni down. From the looks of things, she hadn't actually lost that much blood, and shock probably couldn't account entirely for the worrying readings she'd seen on her HUD. If she could find the other injuries, she could try not to make things too much worse. Ah yes, the Williams family motto: you're guaranteed to fuck up at some point, so when you do, at least try to make sure your degree of fuck-up-itude isn't any higher than absolutely necessary. We must have some standards, after all. "Three days, huh?"

"Yes," T'Soni said, and her voice had a strange, quelling tone that Ashley had never heard her use before. After a moment, she sighed. "I am sorry. It was a difficult experience. And then to trap myself again, on Therum, and to have to rely on someone else just stumbling through-" She jerked as Ashley's probing fingers reached her side - broken ribs, feels like - then laughed, shakily. "This isn't exactly the pattern I wanted my life to follow."

"Trust me, I know the feeling," Ashley murmured. "Okay, I think we're ready to cut you down, now. Vakarian?"

"Door's still jammed," he said, and banged a fist up against it. "Everything's twisted. I'd suggest shooting our way out, but I don't think we're ready for suicide just yet."

"Save it as a last resort," Ashley said, humorlessly. "C'mere and help me. She's got some broken ribs, so try not to jostle her too much."

He stumbled over, and between the two of them, they managed to cut T'Soni free without much trouble. She balanced unsteadily on her good leg, leaning heavily on Vakarian for support, then slumped forward and vomited. Vakarian kept his grip on her, murmuring something soothing in a low, rumbling tone. Feeling a little ridiculous, Ashley patted her on the shoulder, then managed to dig out a bit of cloth she kept on hand to polish her weapons. Gratefully, T'Soni used it to wipe her mouth with shaking hands. "I'm sorry."

"No need to apologize," Vakarian said, quickly. "Trust me, getting in a crash is a good excuse for being sick. The last time I got really sick, it involved ryncol. That one, I had to apologize for."

Ashley blinked, fascinated in spite of the fact that she was reasonably sure he was making this up as he went along. "Wait. Ryncol's krogan alcohol, right? Wouldn't that be poisonous to you?"

"Well, yeah." Garrus coughed and shrugged. "My thinking was that it was pretty much poisonous to everyone, so it was worth a shot. Or three. Wound up in the hospital for two days. Got banned from twelve bars in the process, once word of mouth spread. Apparently ryncol doesn't hit you all at once, so I had plenty of time to humiliate myself thoroughly before passing out." He paused. "Wait. Is it too late to pretend that happened to a friend of mine? Because, uh, that definitely wasn't me dancing on the table in Chora's Den, and anyone who says so is a damn liar."

T'Soni was shaking, and Ashley moved forward automatically before she realized the quivers were due to laughter, not pain or tears. She hadn't seen T'Soni laugh much, she realized with a start. Understandable, probably, what with her mom getting indoctrinated and dying and all, but she's always so serious. In the face of the whole near-certain-doom thing, it was startling how good it felt to see that smile. She glanced over at Vakarian, and okay, she still wasn't exactly an expert on turian facial expressions, but she was pretty sure he was thinking along the same lines. Paradigm shifts. Inspirational or insane. Maybe both.

"Okay," she said, and was about to say more when a small, whirring crash from the back of the Mako caught her attention. She turned, and the side of the Mako shifted under her feet. For a terrible moment, she thought the thresher maw was back, and for an even worse moment she was relieved that she wouldn't have to come up with a brilliant solution to save them all. In the next moment, when they still hadn't died horribly, she realized what was happening. "I think we're on a slant," she shouted – the wind had picked up outside, and even the small amount passing through the warped door was threatening to smother her words. "I think we're sliding."

The Mako gave another groan and the floor shifted again. "Of course we are," T'Soni said, with a grimace, and extricated herself from Vakarian's supporting hold, teetering precariously on one leg. "Excuse me, Chief."

"What? Oh." Ashley finally registered the dangerous spark of biotics flickering around T'Soni, and backed off a step, dragging Vakarian with her. The top of their shelter – the former door of the Mako – tore easily off its warped hinges under the force of a single burst, clattering somewhere out of sight, and the Mako shuddered again before stabilizing. It was raining outside, Ashley thought a little dazedly, and again she remembered those clammy, storm-sprinkled nights in basic training. For all that she'd spent most of her childhood moving around, it still seemed strange for it to be doing something as mundane as raining on an unexplored world like this. The coolness of it felt good against her face.

T'Soni wobbled, but Vakarian moved quickly enough to help her catch her balance. "I'm going to go back and grab what I can in terms of supplies," Ashley said, and was momentarily distracted by fresh drops of red on the ground beneath her before she realized the rain was washing the blood out of her hair. "You two get out and stay down."

"Understood," Vakarian said, and boosted T'Soni, with the help of her biotics, out of the new hole above them.

Ashley gathered the first things she saw that appeared important – there was a small electrical fire burning near the back of the Mako, the source of the growing scent of smoke, so she didn't take her time about it. Her final haul included a handful of energy bars for T'Soni's biotics, all the dextro and levo ration packs within reach, a toolkit that looked tech-y enough to be of some use, three medigel packs, and all the omnigel she could carry. Between T'Soni's biotics, Vakarian's considerable reach, and Ashley's muttered swearing, they managed to evacuate the stash in its entirety.

Gasping, Ashley flopped down on solid ground at last, staring up at the sky, watching the play of lightning, feeling the thunder rumbling through the soil beneath her. She supposed she should be grateful they hadn't landed on one of those marginal worlds, the ones with killer temperature spikes or unexpectedly high concentrations of noxious gases or crushing atmospheric pressure. Oh, sure, the atmosphere's lovely this time of year. Just watch out for the giant killer worms, she thought, and had to stifle a giggle. Her eyes drifted shut.

A touch on her forehead caught her attention, and she glanced up to see Vakarian looming over her, which was a slightly alarming perspective. "Sorry," he said, backing off, and she realized she must have jerked away without realizing it. "I was just trying to get some medigel on that cut on your scalp."

"Oh," she said, feeling thickheaded and clumsy and slow. "Right. That. Thanks." She accepted the container from him and finished applying the treatment herself. From what she could tell by prodding the edges of the cut, it didn't seem too deep – thank God and her Alliance-issue helmet for that – but she was definitely nursing some sort of concussion. Lovely. She sat up, shakily, to assess the situation. Her training officer in Brazil had drummed that into her, that being a soldier was less about shooting and more about paying attention. She wasn't doing so well on either front, lately.

T'Soni was lying down with her eyes closed, her wounded leg propped up slightly against the toolkit, the empty wrappings of two energy bars next to her – that seemed about right, Ashley thought a bit muzzily – and Vakarian had gone back to sorting through their rations, taking stock. They were a few meters away from the Mako, which looked-

"Wow," she said. "That is not the sort of crash people generally walk away from."

"We did do a fair amount of staggering," Vakarian pointed out, helpfully.

"Even so."

The vehicle's entire frame was twisted, with a couple of deep gouges along its undercarriage, the melted edges of which suggested a run-in with some substantial bursts of acid. Smoke was beginning to rise from the back of the vehicle, though it looked like the rain was starting to extinguish the fire underneath.

"I had a more precarious position in mind when we started sliding," Ashley said, after a moment. "The incline's not all that steep, and there's not far to fall."

"Yeah," Vakarian said, pointing to what looked like fresh grooves in the rock. "I think we actually skidded down from there. Maybe we would have been better off staying in the Mako after all."

There was a crackling whoomph as something mildly explosive caught fire in the back of the Mako. Vakarian blinked. "Or not."

"On the plus side," Ashley said, staring up into the cool rain again, "the fact that we didn't manage to reach rocky ground makes it a little more likely that we did kill the thresher maw. Otherwise, it'd be attacking as we speak."

An ominous thunderclap followed her statement. Vakarian rolled his eyes – she wondered whether he'd picked up the habit from Shepard, or if it was a turian thing, too. "Well, now that you've doomed us to a horrible death by irony, what are our orders?"

"Don't die," she said, before she could stop herself. Vakarian just stared. "Er. More specifically, we should determine how rations are gonna work."

"We have enough for nearly two weeks," Vakarian said, learning back and regarding the stacks he'd made of their supplies. "Assuming starvation rations for you and me."

"Oh," she said. "Right. Well. I'll go out on a limb and guess they'll notice we're missing before then." Her hand made an abortive movement toward the cut on her head, then settled back to rest at her side. "Okay. We're supposed to check in every six hours, so they'll notice we're missing in, what, one or two?"

"That sounds about right." Vakarian shrugged. "I was unconscious for a while, there."

"So there's probably no need for starvation rations, then." About time our luck turned. "Eat something, Vakarian. That's an order."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, and tossed her one of the levo packs. She tore into it mechanically, then tried holding it up for a few minutes to let the rain soften it a little. Didn't help. She glanced over to see Vakarian looking equally nonplussed by his own meal. He caught her expression, flared his mandibles in a grin, and raised his voice. "Hey, Liara?"

A grumpy murmur confirmed that Dr. T'Soni was, indeed, still with them.

"Next time you're on a dig, could you see if the Protheans ever invented a halfway edible field ration?"

T'Soni's eyes flickered open, and she propped herself up on her elbows. "Actually," she said, "I did discover the remains of what looked like some sort of hyper-dense protein bars during my last expedition."

Ashley snorted. "Maybe that was what Saren's goons were after."

"Shh, I want to hear this," Vakarian said, and leaned forward. "Here's the most important question, Liara – what did they taste like?"

She stared at him. "I was joking, Garrus. For any food product to remain unchanged over fifty thousand years- well, I cannot even imagine its composition."

Ashley looked glumly at her dinner again. "I think this stuff could be a prime candidate."

To her surprise, Vakarian gave a short bark of laughter, then coughed and raised a hand to his mouth. "Sorry. I guess I'm a little giddy. Blood loss and all. That wasn't particularly funny."

"Oh, thanks."

"Not that I'm sure you can't be howlingly funny when you put your mind to it," he said, soothingly, and she tamped down an urge to reach over and smack him on the arm like she would one of her sisters. She wasn't entirely sure how he'd take it.

"This is truly an unusual situation," T'Soni said, in such a mild and dazed tone that Vakarian guffawed again, and Ashley had to strangle another attack of the giggles before it could get started.

"You," she said, once she had her breathing under control, "have a talent for understatement, Dr. T'Soni." She hesitated a moment, and then, because it seemed like the right time, added, "You know, you remind me of my sister sometimes."

"Really?" T'Soni went quiet for a moment, long enough that Ashley started wondering if maybe she'd just managed some horrible asari faux-pas. Then T'Soni ducked her head, a shy smile playing across her face. "I have no siblings. It is... it is kind of you to say that."

"No sibs?" Belatedly, Ashley remembered that quizzing T'Soni about her family would probably not be a good plan, just now. An awkward silence threatened to stretch interminably, so she added, a little desperately, "I've got three sisters. We bicker like crazy, and I think we're probably closer in some ways now that we're in different parts of the galaxy, but I really do love them."

"I think that's a universal law of siblings," Vakarian put in. "They drive you insane, but you wouldn't have it any other way. My sister and I-" He cut off abruptly, cleared his throat and looked away. "Uh. We're a lot like that, I guess."

"Huh," said Ashley, and it was the same ridiculous feeling she'd had with the rain, the clash between the ordinary and the... alien. Somehow she'd never really thought about it, or it had just never sunk in, that the same turians who'd mowed down civilians on Shanxi could do something so normal as have sisters and bicker with them. Look at you, soldier. Never happier than when you've found yourself some new baggage to unpack. Everything changes.

She realized she was staring and looked away, out at the wide, flat plains that had seemed so threatening not long ago. There were still long furrows in the grass marking out their desperate battle, but she had a feeling they'd grow over in time. Everything did.

"Hey," Vakarian said, and there was a new, sleepy drawl to his voice that made her wonder just how much blood he'd lost before she'd found him. Nothing they could do about it now. "I think the rain's letting up."

She stared up at the sky, at the fresh breaks in the clouds and the stars flickering back into their rightful places, and cleared her throat, and said,

"The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
"

"Huh," Vakarian said.

"It is a beautiful night," said T'Soni.

Ashley smiled, seeking and finding a strange, comfortable stillness somewhere deep inside herself, and closed her eyes.

That was, of course, when the ground rumbled, a horrible growling roar split the night, and she discovered that thresher maws tended to wait under shelter for storms to pass, just like everyone else in the galaxy.

Part 2
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