(A.K.A. Mass Effect Big Bang 2014)
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Artist for the cover was MaxxieDemon.
Major Kudos to my Beta Reader AngelicSentinel. Sadly, I don’t have a link for her. But she’s the reason it all makes sense.
My name is Erin Leigh Ann. But everyone just calls me Commander Shepard. First Human Spectre. Savior of the Citadel. Hero.
I traveled to Ilos. Survived the Omega 4 Relay. Destroyed the collectors. Cured the Genophage. I’ve done and seen so many things. Great things. Terrible things. Amazing things. Things no one else can even begin to imagine.
Hundreds of thousands of people have lived and died by my words and actions. The words and actions of a single woman. Not just human lives, but asari, turian, salarian, krogan… batarian. I have killed many, but saved countless more. Civilization continues unhindered, irrevocably changed. They are no longer synthetic or organic, but something else entirely new. Something we have no word for.
I am supposed to be dead. “Add your energy to the Crucible,” that’s what the Catalyst said. “Everything you are will be absorbed and then sent out.”
I wasn’t supposed to retain my sense of self.
Now, I am omnipotent. I see, know, and hear everything. I have, I think, taken the Catalyst’s place. There is no way to confirm this, however, save my knowledge that it no longer exists. If it does, I do not recognize it as such. Though I am omnipotent, my knowledge of the future is hazy at best.
The past and present, they are clear as crystal, but too many choices of too many individuals effect the future.
I am pure thought. Many saw me as a close to a God as one could possibly be. But now, I am a God. I have no physical presence, so time is hazy. It seems to all happen at once, as well as stand still. As I watch, civilizations rise and fall. Wars are fought and lost. The Reapers come again and again. My own life plays out in seconds and yet takes lifetimes to conclude.
I am powerful, and yet powerless. The storm within me must remain unspent. Trying to manipulate the lives of others ends in only failure. I cannot change free will. I cannot even leave messages to those I have loved.
As if spawned by my thoughts, time spirals so that every moment spent with Thane plays, seemingly all at once. Suddenly, a thought forms. With all of this power, I could create life. I could bring him back. But… What about others? Anderson. I see him again. Sitting beside me, watching the destruction of our home. Dying of a gunshot from my own weapon, held by my own hand.
I hear his words again. “You did good, child. You did good. I’m proud of you.”
A glimpse of his future comes to me, unbidden. Kahlee Sanders, having recovered from her loss, has moved on. Anderson’s life, lonely. Drowning himself in alcohol. Lauded as a hero, yet miserable. Cursing me for subjecting him to this hell. The vision ends with a gun held to his temple.
I couldn’t do that to him.
Thane’s life is uncertain. If, as I assume, I can bring myself back, his life is entwines too much with my own. Would he be happy? Would he resent me? The words from his final message to me swim in the air, but it seems to me that I hear him whisper them as well, “I will await you across the sea.”
Yet my mind strays to the countless others I could bring back. Like Ashley, whom I left to die back on Virmire. Or Mordin, who sacrificed himself to give all krogan a future. My mother, whose ship was destroyed in the skies above Earth even as I spoke with the Catalyst.
Could I go further? Bring back another Prothean? More than one?
Even as the thought forms, I know better. I do not know enough about Protheans to do so, and even if I could, it would never be enough to rebuild a civilization. I ponder this dilemma for centuries, for seconds, for no time at all.
I am Commander Shepard, and I have made my choice.
Air forced its way into Shepard’s lungs and it hurt more than when she’d woken up in a Cerberus lab. The air was fire, scorching her lungs with its touch. For a while, she focused only on breathing.
After a time, however, she became aware of a presence beside her. She willed her eyes open and flinched as the blinding sun seared her corneas. The pain was excruciating, a headache springing into being immediately. Raising her arm to shield herself from the light, all other senses finally kicked in.
The sand she was laying on dug into each and every pore of her uncovered body, as though she were lying on a bed of miniscule nails. The heat, not only from the sun, but from the sand as well, burned every inch of her skin. The dry air smelled of too little rain and her own unwashed body. Above, indeed almost over-powering it all, was the scent of cinnamon, mixed with a woodsy undertone.
“Siha?” Thane’s growling, animalistic voice tinged with more than a little confusion, sounded next to her.
She felt the right corner of her mouth twitch upward. Letting her eyes drift closed again, Shepard let herself just enjoy the pain of living. She felt Thane moving beside her, and then something blocked the sun. Cracking her lids for a peek, Shepard peered up into worried eyes. His black eyes, tinted with green, had once looked too big for his head.
Now, as a hyper-sensitive hand reached up to cup a ribbed cheek, they were the most perfect things in the universe.
“Hey.” She had expected her voice to be rough from disuse, but it was surprisingly clear.
His eyes widened in surprise, transparent eyelids nictating twice before he spoke. “How? What?”
Before he could decide upon which question to ask, Shepard silenced him with a kiss. For a moment they forgot all questions as the pair enjoyed each other’s company like never before. Warm skin and warming scales caressed one another tenderly, each exploring the other as they’d never had time to do in the past.
After a time – perhaps it was only minutes later, perhaps hours – Thane froze. Before anything more than a faint blue glow could coalesce around her fingers, Thane was wrestling with the largest varren Shepard had ever seen. Its snout reached the assassin’s shoulder. Struck, as if for the first time by the fluid, almost dance like motions of Thane engaged in hand-to-hand combat, the biotic energy faded. Unspent.
Rubbing her temples, Shepard attempted to banish the migraine the action had summoned. Her eyes never once left Thane’s perfect, toned body as he dispatched the varren.
Though his posture gave nothing away, Shepard read confusion in his expression as he cupped her face in both hands. “Siha, I confess. I am confused. I recall dying.”
He paused as a shudder moved through him and he forced the memory down. “And yet, this is not what I was led to expect. But if you are here then-”
Shepard placed a hand over his lips. “Hush. You are not dead. And neither am I.” I think.
She forced the words to the back of her mind as she watched Thane process what she had said. And what she hadn’t. There was no doubt in Shepard’s mind that he noticed her hesitation.
For the moment, at least, he let it go. “How? I remember the assassin.”
“Kai Leng. I killed him.”
He nodded, no other sign given to acknowledge the interruption. “I remember his sword. Bleeding out. Kolyat comes to see me. I ask him to take my oxygen mask off. It is uncomfortable. Breathing is difficult. Black spots form at the corners of my vision. Shepard, my siha, nothing else matters. I worried for you,” he continued, little thought given to the Memory. “Until then, I was not certain if you had survived. Then… nothing. Darkness. Waking up here.”
Shepard nodded, a lock of red hair falling in front of her face. “I- something happened at the Crucible. It changed me, and I changed everything. I don’t know what happened after that.”
The lie tasted sour on her tongue and her throat constricted, but she hoped Thane wouldn’t notice.
“I’ll say,” a voice rumbled behind them.
Shepard stood, spinning to face the newcomer, hands and arms wreathed in the blue glow of biotics. Thane stood beside her, his shoulder turned so that he was between her and the krogan. The krogan laughed, waving a hand at them dismissively.
“Calm yourself, human. You may call me Urdnot Granek. The clan leader would probably like to meet with you.”
Climbing into the hold of the Tomkah, Shepard felt the first twinge of self-consciousness at her unclothed state. Thane appeared as calm and collected as ever. Clearing her throat, and hoping her face wasn’t red, Shepard turned to the krogan.
“So Granek, how did you know where we were?”
Granek shrugged one shoulder as he glanced over his shoulder at her. “Scout saw something two nights ago. Bright light or something. I was given the privilege of hunting down the cause.”
His tone made it clear that he was likely being punished for something. Shepard and Thane shared a brief look before the drell spoke.
“My apologies, but how is it you know that we were the cause?”
At this he let out a guffaw, his eyes turning back. “Because in the days since, I haven’t found anything but Void-damned sand. Then the great Commander Shepard shows up? Not a coincidence, but it ain’t my place to ask questions.”
After this admission, they fell into a not uncomfortable silence.
My name is Ryana Vemi. I’ve never held a gun before today. I’m only 165, I’m too young to die. Never wanted to be a Commando, like most Maidens. I’m a scientist. Footsteps come around the corner and I stuff a fist in my mouth to keep from crying. Then it’s quiet, but not really. Screams echo down the halls with intermittent gunfire. One precludes the other, but I’m not sure which is which. But it’s quiet under my desk. Telana doesn’t cry anymore. Her blue eyes stare at the ceiling, not seeing anything. My uniform is soaked with her blood.
My hand, the one not holding the gun, is shaking. I clench it to make a fist, but it doesn’t help. I didn’t even know Telana had a gun. Its weight is unfamiliar and heavy in my hand, but somehow it feels right. Maybe I should have been a commando. Then there’s movement and I swear my heart is beating so loud he – I know it’s a he because I hear him speaking into a comm – should be able to hear it plain as day. He’s standing inches away, arguing now, though I can’t hear the words over the ringing. The arguing stops and he’s just standing there. Holding the pistol with both hands – it’s a Carnifex, I think – I turn my head and squeeze the trigger. The sound is deafening in the small space and the human drops, a hand around the oozing hole in his shin.
Before he gets the hand half-way to his comm (and before I can think about it too much), my biotics flare and I Throw him against the wall. The sickening, wet crack of the impact is worse than the gunshot. His eyes, they’re green like my mother’s bondmate, still hold a hint of surprise, even in death. Crawling out from under the desk, I manage not to heave. The body (it’s just a body now, not a person never a person) is wearing a uniform. It can’t even really be called armor. It’s an indigo so deep that it’s almost purple, with black highlights. But it’s the symbol that makes me stare. Everyone in the galaxy knows it now, and though the colors are wrong (didn’t they wear white and yellow?), the shaking comes back. Double.
What is Cerberus-?
The thought is cut off as footsteps and voices come down the hall. How long had the screams and gunfire been silent? How long have I been staring at eyes that no longer see? I have to hide. The desk? No. Not with a – not with him right there. I duck behind it anyway. It’s cover if anything, and there is nowhere to run without being seen.
I won’t run.
“He came down this way not too long ago,” the voice is a woman. I guess human. No asari would work for Cerberus.
“Prob’ly had to take a piss, Meg. Give a man a break.” Ugh. Humans. So vulgar.
Only two of them. As they turn the corner, I take a shot at the man, hitting his shoulder. The woman’s Barrier deflects my second shot. A look of anger crosses the woman’s face and my biotics flare in response. What right do you have to be angry? I want to yell. But I don’t. I throw a Warp, hoping to take out her Barrier, but she shrugs it off, and suddenly the man is behind me, gun to my temple.
Nerveless fingers drop the gun as they bind my arms with special cuffs that dampen biotics. They don’t kill me. At first I’m relieved, but as they lead me away, I realize there are far worse things than death.
Shepard woke slowly, eyelids feeling like blocks of lead. Thane stared down at her, an inexplicable worry in the depths of his eyes. Shifting the blanket that she didn’t remember being covered with, she wrapped it around her body as an impromptu dress. As she stepped out of the Tomkah, the krogan Granek shifted uncomfortably, refusing to meet her gaze.
Brushing that thought aside for the moment, she followed him up a familiar pile of rubble. At the top they stopped. Waiting. Before too long a loud voice called, “Granek! What did you find?”
Granek grunted and stepped to the side, revealing Shepard and Thane. Wrex paused for a moment, staring at them before laughing. Nudging Granek out of the way none too gently, the Warlord came up to Shepard, two large hands landing hard on her shoulders. She tried not to wince at the pain.
“Shepard?” His voice was nearly a whisper before he laughed again when she nodded. “Shepard! Always show up after being dead. What is it you humans say? When you’re least expected.”
He shook her lightly before turning to Thane. “Who’s the drell?”
Another krogan stepped up beside him, light blue eyes peering down at them. “Thane Krios. Assassin. Thought you were dead.”
“Grunt?” Thane asked by way of answer.
“Heh heh heh. Two miracles in one day. This calls for celebration!”
“Grunt.” A female voice said behind him. “The Commander and her friend need clothing. And we need a place to speak. Alone. Your celebration can wait.”
Grunt dipped his head as he turned toward the newcomer. “Of course, Bakara.”
At a word from Wrex, Granek began shooing away the curious crowd that had gathered.
Bakara in turn lead Shepard and Thane away, eventually to a secluded room. Bakara sat in a large chair and looked at Shepard with a gaze so scrutinizing she almost squirmed. Quashing the uneasy feeling, she reminded herself that she’d faced down hordes of charging krogan, more than one thresher maw, Reapers, and countless thugs. And yet, the uneasy feeling did not dissipate.
“So, Commander,” she began finally. “It has been a year to the day. Where have you been? The Alliance reported you killed in action.”
Shepard shifted the blanket up her shoulder a bit more. “I- It’s a long story. The Crucible… changed many things.”
Bakara barked a short laugh. “We all know that by now.”
By way of proving her point, she held out her right hand, turning it so that the reflective green markings shone in the light. “Whatever you did, Commander, it’s obvious we are more than ever before. But, I must ask, you and your companion do not have these markings. Why is that, do you think?”
Shepard blinked once. Bakara had a point. And Shepard knew why. She couldn’t replicate what she didn’t know. Struggling not to fidget, Shepard shrugged once, aiming for nonchalance.
“I don’t know.”
Bakara’s eyes narrowed, and Shepard felt Thane stiffen at her side. “You are a poor liar, Commander.”
Shepard cleared her throat once. “Bakara, I promise, I will tell you everything I know, but right now, I would like some time to rest. To process… everything.”
It wasn’t technically a lie.
My name is Dresvin Bok’Bekk. I am one of the few batarians in the Shadow Broker’s Private Army. We do what the Asari cannot. Which normally means information runs, stakeouts, spying. Not this time. The information was gathered by someone else. I don’t know what group. Isn’t my job to know. I’m here to kill Cerberus scum. Re’vli motions me on ahead.
Turning the corner, I sight down the end of my pistol. Clear. Three doors to the left, two to the right. One of the left and both of the right are locked, the red glow ominous even in the brightly lit corridor. Others silently check the two unlocked doors as I move on ahead. The door at the end is locked as well. But it’s where we need to go.
The geth, Platform-116e, nicknamed Horde, moves to the door, starts some program to unlock it.
I don’t like the silence. All the rooms we open appear empty. No equipment or anything in them. On a hunch, I scan through other comm channels. A hand on my belt, I pull out a bomb, modify it for high explosives. Ataetrus, a turian lacking colony markings, sidles up to me, his head tilted questioningly. I point to my comm, then to the door, hoping he gets my message.
The geth clicks and whirs, the lock flickering orange before turning green. It opens and all hell breaks loose. Tossing the grenade, I dive behind a stack of crates. Don’t know what they held before, but I am merely thankful it wasn’t explosives.
Horde somehow survived, its lighted head looking to me for a moment before it overloads the shields of an Engineer. I take him out with a shot to the head. Cooper and Aida are down, caught in the first wave of bullets. Re’vli is on the other side of the hall, standing in one of the still open doorways. Four of the bastards surround Ataetrus but he takes down three of them with his shotgun before his head explodes in a shower of blue blood.
It’s just the three of us now. I blink one set of eyes at a time. First lower, then upper. Re’vli catches my eye; she has a cut on the side of her face, likely grazed by a bullet. She holds up four fingers. Four Cerberus troops left. My last clip. Half-charged. Horde hands me a spare. I nod once before stepping out from my cover. The first shot from the Cerberus bitch takes out my shields. She gets a bullet between the eyes.
Horde takes out the shields of the last Engineer, and Re’vli takes him down. Two left. A Guardian, fucking bastards. And a Centurion. The Guardian presses me. I don’t have a clear shot. I’m dimly aware of the Centurion taking out Horde. The shield slams into me. I stagger for a moment, before realizing was Re’vli Pulling it out of the Guardian’s hands. I put a bullet in his head, but not before he puts one in my gut. Re’vli screams in pain as the Centurion grabs two of her scalp crests and pulls. She’s dropped her gun. Dropping my pistol, I pull my assault rifle off my back. It unfolds into my hands. Unloading a clip into his back, the Centurion falls.
Re’vli doesn’t get up.
Biting back a few choice curses, I scoop up the fallen clips from the Cerberus troops and a few grenades from Ataetrus. Sitting atop the crates, I manage to build a makeshift bomb. Not pretty. Not precise. But big as all hell. It’ll do the job we came to do. Walking through the door Horde had hacked open moments ago, I pause on the threshold.
This room is obviously the center of operations. But it’s empty. Scanning comm channels again, I hear them. They’re at every door except the one I just came in. I sit in the chair behind the desk. The bomb is in front of me, my pistol lying beside it. I tinker with the bomb some more while Cerberus amasses. The bigger the better. There’s not much in the room for shrapnel, but a few more explosive grenades ought to do the trick.
I heft the Avenger in my hands as I hear the order to enter the room. The first wave dies before anyone says a word. The rest are surprised. They had obviously expected more. They surround me, guns all pointed at my head. I drop the Avenger, as they obviously want me to. A brief smile flits across my face as I grasp the dead man’s switch, depressing the button with my thumb. They may kill me, but I’ll take every one of the bastards with me.
Shepard woke with a start. Someone was banging on the door. Thane lay next to her. His eyes opened as she moved to answer the door. A krogan she didn’t recognize stood there, a small bundle of cloth in her arms. She thanked him and retreated to the safety of the room they’d given her and Thane.
The clothes were too big and loose, but they were better than nothing.
Once they were dressed, Shepard went out, searching for Bakara or Wrex. She found them both, holding court at the top of the rubble pile. She waited just out of earshot with Thane standing patiently beside her. He seemed to stick to her closer than ever before, and every time she looked at him, she saw worry deep in his eyes. She didn’t want to acknowledge it, even to herself, but she felt she knew why.
When Wrex and Bakara noticed them, they cut short whatever they were talking about and gestured her forward. Bakara’s eyes narrowed and again Shepard fought the urge to squirm.
“Shepard. Are you well?” If she didn’t know better, Shepard could have sworn there was something like concern in Wrex’s voice.
“Fine. Why?” Her confusion was genuine.
“You are looking quite pale, Commander.” Bakara informed her.
“Well,” Shepard said with a wave of her hand. “I’m fine. But I need to get ahold of some people. I was hoping you could help me.”
Wrex grunted. “Wondered when you’d ask.”
He tossed her an omni-tool. Brand new in package.
“Thanks.” She retreated with a small smile, pulling up the display and typing furiously.
Thane hung back for a moment, he and the two krogan exchanging looks for a moment before the drell spoke. “I am worried about her.”
“You mean for her,” Bakara corrected.
He dipped his head in acquiescence. “Of course you are correct, Lady Bakara. “
“The Commander has been through more in her life than many asari or krogan have. Dying and coming back, twice, cannot help but leave its marks on a soul. She will get through this, Sere Krios. Do not doubt that. But it will take some time.” Bakara said. “For now, just go and be with her.”
Thane bowed shallowly towards her. “Of course. You have my thanks.”
When he rejoined her in their room, she was in the middle of a call. The image of Garrus hung in front of Shepard; the turian’s face a mixture of surprise and delight.
“Shepard?” The turian’s subvocals revealed his surprise to those who couldn’t read turian facial expressions.
“Hey, Garrus,” Shepard said with a small self-deprecating smile.
Thane settled next to her, his hand braced on the bed behind her. Garrus’ mandibles flared in surprise againas the drell came into frame. “Thane?”
Shepard laughed quietly.
“Do you have Mordin hiding somewhere, too?” Garrus asked, a hint of teasing in his subvocals.
Shepard’s face fell, the earlier mirth forgotten.
Garrus winced. “Shepard, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have-“
She waved her free hand at him. “No. It’s alright. I need you to do something for me, Garrus.”
“Sure, but how-?”
“Not now. I promise, I will tell you some day, but not now. Too much has happened. I need you to find Miranda and Kasumi. Liara, too, if she can be spared. I need… I need their help. I can’t get into it now, just tell them where I am and have them find me as soon as possible. It’s urgent.”
“Of course.” Garrus nodded. “And Shepard? It’s good to have you back.”
She ended the call before the tears could form.
My name is Jamir Dexter. Lieutenant for Veiled Beauty, leader of Cerberus. I pace in my room. Waiting for the call. I review the footage from our Base of Operations in the Artemis Tau cluster. Demin facility. We were running tests to find out if we could remove the Synthetic code from our DNA. Following Veiled Beauty’s commands, we only test on asari. They say it’s because asari are closest to human physiology, but I think it’s something else. Something darker.
My omni-tool pings. A message. It’s time.
The hallways are subdued as I pass. No one will meet my eyes but they all look at me with pity. They know why The Beauty wants to talk to me. And they know it’s not going to end well. Somehow I straighten my shoulders, refusing to bend in sorrow.
I stop just outside of Veiled Beauty’s room. Take a deep breath. Another. Finally, I raise my hand to knock. She answers before I can.
“Come in.” Her voice is hoarse. I’ve heard it many times, yet it always sends a chill up my spine.
The door slides open silently.
It’s dark in here. It always is. The walls are painted deep shades of purple and blue. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they looked like asari and turian blood. Her back is to me. Not that it matters. She wears all black. A floor length dress with sleeves that meet her fingertips. A deep veil covers her face. If she didn’t rule Cerberus, I wouldn’t know she was human.
“Report. Jamir. The Demin facility. What happened to it?” Her hands are gloved. So even as she reaches out, gesturing to the chair I’ll never sit in, I can’t see her skin.
I clear my throat. “A handful of enemy soldiers managed to infiltrate the base.” A nervous swallow before I continue. “They made their way through the compound, killing all personnel they found. One built a bomb and managed to detonate it at the center of the compound. The entire facility and all personnel therein was destroyed. I believe no information was loaded off-site.”
Sweat forms at my temples at her quiet question. “Yes, Madame. I have reviewed all footage from the base and it appears none of the infiltrators approached the main console.”
A brief sensation of weightlessness, then pain as I’m slammed into the ground. Multiple ribs broken. Possibly a punctured lung. Breathing is harder and harder. Definitely a punctured lung. At least one of them is filling with blood. My vision starts to go black and hers are the last words I hear.
“Thank you for your report, Lieutenant Dexter. You are dismissed.”
Shepard’s waking this time was slower and more painful. The first thing she was aware of was the rock hard cot beneath her, digging into her bones. Then the emptiness. Thane was not lying beside her. Though she wanted to open her eyes and find him, her lids were slow in obeying. When they finally opened, she hissed as the light burned.
Squinting, she turned her head to gaze at the room’s other occupants. Kasumi, her normal hood down around her shoulders (revealing thick black hair) stared at her, mouth agape. Miranda, in a skintight suit the color of blood, looked as passive as always, but worry was etched in the set of her shoulders. Her gaze finally landed on Thane. Shoulders bowed, his hands were clenched in fists on the top of the bed. There was worry and not a little bit of fear written in his gaze.
“Shep…” Kasumi spoke first.
“Liara sends her apologies, Commander.” Miranda said after a brief silence.
“Just Erin, please. Just… call me Erin.” Shepard’s voice was hoarse. As if she’d been screaming.
Miranda stared at her for a moment before dipping her head. “Of course. But if she had known… I am sure she would be here.”
Shepard fought back a grimace. “If she had known what?”
Thane growled in frustration. “Siha, you were in a coma. For twelve hours.”
Shepard closed her eyes in a long blink. “Miranda, do you have any news of Cerberus? What have they been doing in the last year?”
All three were visibly confused at the change of topic.
Miranda answered slowly, approaching the bed. “Com- Erin, you need to worry about your health first. Thane told us that you do not sleep. It’s just the comas. If that’s even what they are.”
Shepard waved a hand. “That can wait. Cerberus?”
All present knew there was no arguing when she used her Commander Shepard voice.
“Since the disappearance of The Illusive Man, they have been silent,” Miranda started slowly.
“Contact Liara. I don’t think they’ve been idle. Tell her the Artemis Tau systems specifically.” A cough wracked her body. She could barely breathe.
Thane’s right eye twitched as he placed a hand on her bare shoulder. “Siha! You’re burning up.”
“We need to get Shep to a hospital,” Kasumi said, bringing up her omni-tool display and typing furiously.
“Earth,” Shepard managed once the coughs had subsided. “I want to go to Earth.”
My name is Merina Merring. It’s my 12th birthday. Mom and Dad think I don’t know about the surprise party they’re planning. I heard them talking last night when I was s’pose to be asleep. Morgan has kept me out all day shopping. Except for a snack, we didn’t buy anything, though. We’re going home now, it’s just getting dark.
When we get home, everything’s dark. No lights are on. I know why.
Morgan opens the door, but no one turns on the lights. No one shouts “Surprise!” Something smells bad. It’s wrong. Morgan turns on the light. I wish she hadn’t. People lie in the front room. They’re not asleep. I wish they were just asleep. Eyes that don’t see any more stare at me. Morgan takes my hand. Tries to tell me to run, but I can’t. Mom and Dad are there. By the stairs. Dad lays over her, like he was protecting her. He didn’t do a very good job.
Morgan turns to the front door. She stops. I hear voices. She tells me to hide. There’s a cupboard under the stairs. I have to step over people to get there. Some look at me afraid. Others just look confused. The door swings shut and a second later, guns. I never heard a gun before, but I know that’s what they sound like.
Morgan cries out and then falls. I hear it, but I can’t see her.
One of the blue aliens, asari I think, comes into view. Someone calls her T’Nasa. She’s giving the orders. Tells them to burn the house down.
“No!” I rush out of the cupboard, strange power flowing through my body as I throw a chair at her without touching it. Someone is shooting, but they’re not hitting me. My body is surrounded in blue. I’m doing it. I can feel it. But I don’t know how.
Suddenly, I’m tired. The blue fades away and my left cheek is on fire. The asari orders them to stop firing. It hurts. My face hurts. My hands are covered in my blood. T’Nasa comes towards me, I don’t like her smile. It isn’t nice at all. I can’t see straight. Everything is blurry. It’s dark.
Shepard was awake, but she couldn’t move. Her limbs were lead, and even with her eyes closed, the light burned. Every breath felt like it perforated her lungs, and she coughed, hoping to dislodge the imagined particles. It didn’t help. Someone placed a scaled hand on her arm. The touch was light, but it felt hard enough to bruise. She forced herself not to flinch.
“How long…?” Someone dribbled a bit of water in her mouth as she stopped, horrified at the sound of her voice.
“Fifteen hours,” Miranda’s voice was strained, unlike her normal cool indifference.
Shepard barely managed a minute nod. Forcing her eyes open, she gazed up at Thane, attempting a reassuring smile. Reaching up to cup his face, she stopped halfway, mesmerized by the too-thin limb. She just barely heard Thane’s quiet growl of frustration.
Turning her head, she looked to where Kasumi and Miranda stood. “What did Liara find?”
Both were hesitant to answer, but Miranda finally did. “You were right. A base was destroyed on Sharjila of the Macedon system in the Artemis Tau cluster. Scans show it is most likely Cerberus.”
Shepard nodded. “Good.” Taking a deep breath, she continued, avoiding looking at Thane. “I need you to help Liara, Thane.”
She continued, ignoring his objections. “I don’t trust anyone else with this. You, Garrus, and Kaidan are the only ones.” His eyes narrowed at the mention of the second human Spectre. “Kasumi will give you the coordinates for the rendezvous.”
“Siha…” Shepard closed her eyes as his began to water.
“Please, Love. You will do nothing but worry here. I promise you, they will take me to Earth and when you are done, I will be well. You can be angry at me then.”
“No.” He did not yell. Shepard thought it might be better if he had. Instead of this dead facsimile of his normal voice.
She closed her eyes, feeling the telltale prick of tears threatening to fall. “Thane-“
“No.” He turned from her, his shoulders bowed, cupping his head in his hands. “You cannot ask me to do this not since- My omni-tool pings with an incoming call. “I’m sorry,” the voice says. “Sere Krios, Irikah has been killed.” I end the call. I don’t want to hear more. I couldn’t protect her. And I will not leave you. I will never leave you.”
He turned back around to face her, dropping his arms to his sides. Shepard’s heart clenched in her chest as she caught sight of the tears trailing down his face. She couldn’t hold back anymore. The flood dams burst and her own tears began falling. She caved. Shaking her head, she reached a trembling hand toward him. He gently took her hand, placing a small kiss on the inside of her wrist before pressing his lips to hers for a brief second.
“Okay,” she whispered tremulously. Taking a deep breath, she hastily wiped away the wetness on her cheeks. “But I will still need you to contact Garrus and Kaidan. And see if you or Liara can find James to help them.”
The relief at her first word was palpable and his own tears stemmed. Thane nodded at the conclusion and took the omni-tool that she offered him. After pressing another kiss to her forehead, he took a seat on a stool in the corner.
As the orange display lit up his face, Shepard spoke. “Thane, when was the last time you ate?”
The drell’s head whipped up, but he said nothing, affirming her suspicions. “Go find something to eat. I promise I won’t leave the room, and Kasumi or Miranda will be with me at all times. All right?”
After a short hesitation, Thane nodded. Stepping toward her again, he leant down to press a kiss to her lips before he left the room.
Sighing quietly, she accepted a glass of water that Miranda pressed into her hands before she spoke. “Kasumi. You kept Keiji’s graybox. I assume you know the technology inside and out.”
Taking a sip, she waited for Kasumi’s nod before she continued. “Can you duplicate it? Making it so that all memories are transferable?”
Kasumi stared at her, mouth open, before pulling up her omni-tool display and typing quickly. Shepard took it as a possibility.
“Miranda, you still have access to The Illusive Man’s databases, correct? Can you duplicate Maya Brooks’ success?”
Both women stared at her. Omni-tool forgotten for the moment, Kasumi stepped forward.
Miranda cut her off. “You’re not seriously considering this.”
The way she said it made it clear she didn’t consider it a question.
Shepard, feeling weary, let her eyes drift closed again. “I’m not considering anything. I’ve made up my mind. I need these done as soon as possible. I don’t know how much longer-.”
Miranda cut her off too. “Erin, stop. We can fix this. We just need time.”
Shepard sighed. “No. You can’t. That’s the one thing we don’t have. You don’t understand, I’m not supposed to be here.”
My name is Pet. I used to be Merina Merring, but that girl is dead. She died on Jalese, along with her family and friends. I am useless. That’s what Vail tells me. It’s why she can’t sell me. Why she has to put up with me. When I am around her, I am mindless. When I am alone, I allow myself to hate. It fuels me. It keeps me going.
She is entertaining more guests. Selling more wares. She shows me off, I serve drinks, but refuses any offer of any price for me. She says I’m irreplaceable. Any chance she gets, her nails dig into the old wounds on the left side of my face. They have never healed correctly.
They became infected once, leaving, deep gouges where some hack doctor cut out the skin. Vail never lets me cover my face. She keeps my hair short so it never touches the scars, and once, when I tried covering them years ago, she gouged them deeper.
The way she sells them, it’s like an auction. Goes to the highest bidder. Asari and batarian both. They praise her for the select of stock. They’re healthier than they see elsewhere. It used to make me sick, now I’m just waiting for it to be done and over with.
Finally, when they’re all sold and off to their new prisons, Vail turns to me. She sneers. It makes even the beautiful asari ugly. But then, she’s been ugly to me for years.
As if reading my thoughts, she lunges at me with a knife. I don’t resist. As she slices into the flesh on my face, I don’t cry out. She berates me for some small slight or another. I didn’t refill the wine fast enough, I met the gaze of a customer. Something. I don’t pay attention. I just wait for it to be done and over with.
I am not allowed to cover the bleeding wound.
Vail T’Nasa sleeps in the room next to mine. She keeps the door locked. I sneak out of my room, break her lock with a small Warp. The door squeaks as I enter, but she doesn’t wake, merely tosses in her bed. I Lift her from the comfort of her mattress. She still doesn’t wake.
I Slam her on the floor again. And again. And again. Until I paint my skin with the blue bitch’s blood.
This time, Shepard woke in a hospital. As she came to her senses, she heard a persistent beeping. Her head throbbed in time with the noise. After an indeterminate amount of time (during which she fought down the panic that accompanies immobilization) she was able to open her eyes. The harsh glare of the light combined with white room (why were hospitals always white? Why couldn’t they be more cheerful?) nearly blinded her. But then, she was pretty much used to that by now.
She didn’t bother asking how long this time. She didn’t want to know.
“Welcome back, Commander,” a familiar, accented voice greeted.
Shepard squinted at the gray-haired woman. “Doctor Chakwas. What are you doing here?”
“Miranda called me, of course.” She said it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Perhaps it was.
“So what’s the verdict, doc?” Shepard asked before a fit of coughing overtook her. She grimaced as her hand came away covered in a fine mist of blood.
Thane, whom she hadn’t noticed sitting beside her bed, wordlessly pressed a glass of water into her hands, helping her sip at it.
She could tell by the way Chakwas froze that it wasn’t good.
“Don’t spare me the details, Karin,” she whispered.
She heard Chakwas take a deep breath before turning to face her. “Honestly, Commander? I don’t know. Your physical health keeps declining each time you sleep, but I cannot find the cause.” After a moment of staring into space, the doctor continued. “Your cells are deteriorating rapidly. I fear if we do not find the cause and fix it soon…”
Shepard nodded once as the door swished open, admitting Miranda.
“They’re getting impatient, Doctor.”
Chakwas made a face. “Oh, very well. I suppose there’s no dissuading them.”
She rounded on Shepard. “But you are not to move from that bed, clear?”
Shepard managed a weak smile. “Crystal.”
Before following the doctor out, Miranda nodded toward the corner of the room closest to Shepard’s feet. Looking, Shepard saw the faint distortion created by a tactical cloak. Before she could even nod, the door was opening again, a familiar scarred face entering.
“Admiral Hackett.” Shepard struggled to try and sit up, but her muscles were simply too weak.
“Relax, Commander.” His posture was as formal and stiff as it always was, but his voice hinted at the emotions beneath. He nodded in silent greeting towards Thane.
In the silence that followed, he moved to the table beside the cot that the hospital called a bed and leaned lightly against it. It was as relaxed as Shepard had ever seen him. Though by the set of his shoulders and the tightness in the muscles of his neck, she knew it was all faked.
“I won’t lie to you Commander,” (Shepard silently dreaded what was to come. The words next were always along the lines of ‘it’s not good.’) “There are a lot of people with a lot of questions.”
He paused again, but Shepard merely sipped at the water.
“I would just like to know one thing. What happened with the Crucible? And if you are here, where’s Anderson?”
Thane stiffened at her side. She just barely saw him from the corner of her eye. He wanted the answers, at least to the first question, as well.
Shepard took another swallow of water, contemplating the question. “The Illusive Man was there. Heavily indoctrinated, the Reapers had absolute control. Anderson died. So did the Illusive Man. I killed him.” None of it was an outright lie. But neither was it the entire truth.
“I see.” Hackett obviously knew a dodge when he saw one, but he didn’t pry. “How is it that you survived?”
The tilt of his head indicated Thane as well, but he didn’t voice his curiosity aloud.
Shepard allowed herself a small smile. “I am not sure of that myself, Admiral. But we are working on finding out. I promise, you will be one of the first to know.”
If Hackett caught wind of the lie, he showed no sign of it. “Very well. The Council is waiting outside. They wish to speak to you as well.”
Shepard smirked at the thought of the Council waiting in the hall, twiddling their collective thumbs. For a second, she could have sworn she saw a similar expression on Hackett’s face, before the mask was back in place.
Putting a gentle hand on her shoulder, he squeezed lightly. “Get better, Erin. I will come to see you again once you are well.”
He nodded to Thane once again and was out the door before she could formulate a response. Three figures entered before the door slid shut. Shepard found this odd. After all, did humanity not have a seat on the Council?
“Commander. It is good to see you are well,” the asari Councilor, Tevos, began.
“Please,” Shepard interrupted, taking a sip of water. “Just call me Erin.”
Tevos dipped her head, even as Sparatus ignored her request.
“Commander. We would speak with you alone,” the turian said with a not-so-subtle glance at Thane.
Shepard shook her head, taking a sip of her water. “If you want to talk to me, you will have to get used to Thane’s presence.”
All three pairs of eyes widened slightly (or a flickering of the mandibles in the case of Sparatus). Obviously, they knew who he was, particularly the salarian, Valern.
“Very well,” Tevos said dipping her head in acquiescence.
Sparatus kept his mandibles close to hide any emotions. “We did not merely come to ask after your health, of course.”
’Of course,’ Shepard thought towards the turian.
“Many questions were raised after the Crucible fired, and only more have been asked since news of your return.”
Sparatus raised a hand to stop Valern before he could continue. “But we are not here to ask any of them. They can wait.”
Tevos nodded again, folding her hands in front of her. “Indeed. What we are here to do is to extend you an invitation.”
When Shepard showed no sign of understanding, the turian Councilor sighed, linking his hands behind his back. “How would you like to become humanity’s next Councilor?”
Shepard stifled a laugh. Were they serious? Her? A Councilor? Allowing none of her mirth to show outwardly, she answered. “Perhaps this discussion should wait until I am no longer incapacitated?”
Sparatus’s mandibles flared in surprise, but the asari nodded. “Of course, Erin. Take all the time you need. We will be waiting.”
As they left, Kasumi decloaked, but Miranda and Chakwas didn’t reenter right away. Shepard sighed as she handed the thief the empty glass.
I am Veiled Beauty. I am Merina Merring. I am a powerful biotic. I am a scared little girl. I am all of these things at once, a hurricane boiling inside me, threatening to steal my mind.
I’m at the center of my main complex. Warnings are being blared over the speakers throughout the base. Someone is here. Someone who’s not supposed to be here. I tap my communicator. Silence. They’re blocking short-range transmission.
I type a few commands into my terminal. Nothing. They’re blocking all communication.
I will not panic. I will not panic. I Will. Not. Panic.
One of my guards looks to me for orders. Adela Shreves, I think her name is. Blonde hair held back in a tail, blue eyes showing signs of fear. I feel a sneer take its place on my lips. Fear. Such a useless emotion. They have their orders. I say nothing. Their only job is to keep me alive. They all know that. If they have to pay with their lives, so be it.
Eventually, the sound of someone hacking one of the doors. Two of my guards flank the door, another sets up behind my desk with a sniper rifle. The final guard, Adela, stands by me with her assault rifle readied. The last line of defense.
The door opens. They hacked it faster than they should have been able to. The intruders toss in a flash bang. No one has time to cover their eyes. The two by the door go down in a spray of fire. As the smoke clears, I can see them. The first is the most muscle-bound man I have ever seen. He wields an assault rifle, behind him follows a human man wreathed in the blue light of biotics and a turian with blue markings.
Humans working with aliens. Disgusting.
The biotic Lifts the table my sniper was using for cover and the turian takes her down before she can react. They turn on Adela, but her shields repel most bullets. My own biotics flare to create a Barrier as they begin closing the distance. I Throw the turian, and he goes sprawling across the far side of the room.
Adela’s shields are almost down. I can hear the whine from the woman’s emitter.
A spray of assault rifle fire bursts from the left. The Soldier had gotten around my field of vision. Her shields are down, and the biotic throws her across the room. Her eyes roll back into her head on impact and I can hear the crunch from where I stand. The Soldier turns his back as the biotic approaches. His biotics die down and he reaches for a pistol. I refuse to be afraid. I ready a Warp, aiming for the center of his chest, when suddenly I am Lifted into the air. I barely saw the flash of biotics. I can’t breathe.
Turning my head, I stare into the inscrutable brown depths of his eyes. They hold no pity, nor compassion. Only deep, unbridled anger.
Before I can say anything, before I can plead for my life, the man presses the barrel of his pistol into my stomach. Aiming upwards.
Shepard barely woke this time. A small part of her wished she hadn’t. Her skin felt like it was on fire and every muscle had glass imbedded in it. She heard movement then felt the cool burn of someone placing metal disk on her head. Four on her forehead and two on the back of her neck. After a moment of silence, she managed to open her eyes a crack. Thankfully, someone had thought to turn off the overhead lights. The only light now came from the machines monitoring her vitals.
“Where is Thane?” She accepted the water Chakwas pressed into her hands and let the doctor help her sit up.
Chakwas’ voice was quiet, in consideration to the migraine pounding behind Shepard’s eyes. “He wasn’t sleeping well, so I gave him something to help. He will be asleep until after we are finished.”
Shepard let out a sigh, taking a sip of water. Looking to Miranda she asked, “Will it work?”
Miranda wrung her hands as she paced the length of the small room. Kasumi once more had her hood pulled up, leaving her face in shadow, expression unreadable.
“I am as sure as we can be. We have looked over the numbers and tests a hundred times in the past week. The clone is nearly ready and we are mining your memories now. If I were anyone else I’d say this technology would revolutionize the galaxy.”
She finally stopped pacing and faced Shepard. Were those tears in her eyes?
Her voice was thick with emotion as she asked, “Why, Erin? Why do we need all of this?”
Shepard let her eyes drift closed for a moment, a sigh breathing past her lips. “Because, I’m not supposed to be here.”
“You’ve said that, Shep. But what do you mean?” Kasumi asked, pushing away from the wall.
Shepard, finally, explained.
“When the Crucible docked, I was given a choice. I could destroy the Reapers and all synthetic life. I could control the Reapers but lose my very life. Or, I could combine synthetic and organic life. I chose that Synthesis. I… don’t think I was supposed to survive the way I did. My… essence, I suppose you could call it, scattered. I was omnipresent, omnipotent. At first, I tried leaving messages, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t interact directly with the world, but I had so much power. So I returned. Brought Thane back, but…” She sighed again. “My… essence is rebelling against the physical constraint.”
All three stared at her in silence for a long moment. No one knew what to say, or even what to think.
“Shep…” Kasumi was the first to speak, her voice thick with tears.
“Please,” Shepard continued. “Just please don’t tell Thane. I want him to be happy. If he knew… I just don’t want him to hate me. I want him to live.”
I have returned to the state I was meant to be. Nonphysical. Omnipresent. Perhaps the feelings will fade with time, but right now I am sad and angry, yet at the same time happy that Thane can live a normal life.
I watch, as if I am in the room with them, when they wake the clone.
“We’re ready.” Miranda’s posture is stiff and her eyes are red, but she has not cried. Yet. I watch her do so twenty minutes from now.
Kasumi presses a few buttons on her omni-tool. The tears flow freely, but silently. Half an hour from now she punches a wall, nearly breaking her hand. An hour after, she and Miranda are drunk in the nearest hole-in-the-wall.
Chakwas is not present. She sits in the room where my body had lain, staring at the bed. The doctor does not cry. I believe she has lost too many friends to cry. She doesn’t move for over an hour.
The clone wakes, its eyes flickering open suddenly. It doesn’t know how to speak or walk. It barely manages to breathe. Miranda places the six metal disks to her forehead and neck. She doesn’t say or explain anything. She doesn’t need to. The Clone will not remember this time. The process finishes and Commander Shepard returns once more. No one will know the difference except the ones who made it happen.
If I could have done it alone, I would have.
Ten minutes after waking the Commander, Garrus, Kaidan, and James arrive with the news. When they enter the room, Commander Shepard is just finishing getting dressed. Assures them that she feels fine, really. Thane enters the room as the round of hugs and happy greetings are finished. He takes three running steps towards Commander Shepard and sweeps her off her feet, spinning once with her cradled in his arms.
They are happy. As they celebrate Commander Shepard’s recovery (and the destruction of one more arm of Cerberus) I cannot help it. My sorrow boils over and rain begins to fall from the blue sky above them. An unintentional use of my new power.
Thane’s omni-tool pings.
I am sorry, Love.
This is all I could do for you.
He deletes it. Unread.