The captain's quarters are far off from the engineering deck, but I can still hear the hum of the engines if I shut the music off and listen to the quiet. Most nights, it's enough to get me to sleep.
I'll lay back and watch the stars crawl by through the skylight, or watch the fish flit around in their tanks. Slowly, it becomes harder and harder to keep my eyes open. I'll roll over so the glow of the fish tank doesn't penetrate the darkness behind my closed eyes as I drift off to sleep.
The darkness is overwhelming. If I squint really, really hard I can just barely make out the pinpricks of distant stars. But it's so hard to keep my eyes open. I'm cold. Freezing cold, so cold I feel like my bones will implode and my skin will tear as it shrivels and tightens and I open my mouth to scream.
I can't. I open my mouth, try to suck down a breath and my lungs collapse, my heart thunders frantically in my chest and if it goes any faster I know it's just going to…
Stop. My heart stops. My vision stops. It's silent and cold and I swear to god my bones actually are imploding, shattering into slivers and fragments that slice through my muscle tissue as it tightens further. The pain is unbearable. I'd rather be dead than experience this for even another second-
Dark. It's the kind of dark that encircles you, that flings itself at you at lightning speed, closing in on your eyes and your consciousness until it suffocates you. Claustrophobic. I feel like I've been buried alive. I'm trapped, can't breathe, agonizing pain-
And then I wake up. Relief floods my senses. Just another nightmare, I'm not dying again.
I roll over and look at the clock, shoving away the pillows that obscure my line of sight. This bed is too damn big for just one person.
Three AM. The stars float by outside the hull and the fish flit around in their tank. My bedcovers and pillows are strewn around the bed. I'm freezing.
I gather the blanket up around me and pad over to my personal terminal. I don't know what I think I'm going to do. I stare at the screen with tired eyes, trying to think of something other than my nightmare.
I check my messages; take a look at some of the galactic news. Eventually I decide to take a shower.
It's 3:30 by the time I finish, and now I'm wide awake. Nothing to do at 3:30. But this is the Normandy. My ship carries the most eclectic crew in the galaxy. Someone has got to be awake.
I find myself outside the starboard observation door. Samara always makes me feel better about damn near anything when we talk. I envy her, to a degree. Everything is clear cut for her; she knows exactly what she must do. If only it could always be that simple.
She doesn't seem to be up, though. The doors to the starboard observation deck hiss open and there on the floor sits Thane Krios. Silently meditating before the ocean of stars. I guess Samara really does sleep after all.
"Shepard," he says without turning to look at me. Ever the assassin, Thane seems to have eyes on the back of his head.
"Do you sleep?" I ask bluntly.
"I rest my body as needed so that it may be prepared to meet the challenges of combat against our adversaries."
There is silence between us. I don't know Thane as well as I'd like. I'm not sure what to say. But he breaks the silence for me.
"I might ask the same of you, Shepard. Do you sleep?"
Staring out at the passing stars, I sigh heavily.
"Can I sit with you?"
I sit next to him, legs folded, trying to see what he's searching for out there in the great darkness of space.
"Do you ever have nightmares, Thane?"
Something in his posture relaxes as he understands why I'm awake at this odd hour.
"Sometimes, yes. They are very vivid, like reliving a memory that I am unable to stop."
I feel guilty for asking. I know about his late wife, his son, his career. "Curse of a perfect memory…" I mumble. "I'm sorry, Thane."
"You needn't be. Time may not erode the memories of a drell, but it does numb the pain. I've grown accustomed to my occasional nightmares."
I contemplate his words, rubbing my fingers on my temples before I lace them together beneath my chin.
"I dreamed that I was dying again. Out in space."
"A painful experience to relive."
The silence grows between us. He gazes out the window and it's impossible to tell if his mind is here or elsewhere.
The words leave me before I can even think about them. "Does meditating calm you down?"
"How do you do it?"
He rearranges his posture, rolling his shoulder and stretching ever so slightly before he settles back into the same position.
"My meditation is… difficult to explain. I ask the gods for forgiveness, for guidance to set me on the correct path. I often get… lost… on an ocean of thoughts and memories. Thoughts about my place in the universe. Thoughts about how insignificant my actions really are, but how I must continue to do good nonetheless."
"Do all drell meditate like this?"
"Some of them, yes. My teacher was a spiritual man. He taught me many things beyond how to grant swift and merciful death. He used to… guide me through meditation." He pauses. "If you would like, Shepard, I could do the same for you."
I look over at him and he meets my eyes. I'm nervous. I've never been a spiritual or meditative person and I don't want to let him down by… failing to do it right. I shift uncomfortably on the floor. "I guess we could-"
"There is no need to be nervous, Shepard. I can see that you are distressed from your dreams. I would be very happy to assist you."
A deep breath. "Okay. How do we start?"
"Sit before me and give me your hands."
I do as he asks. His hands are warmer than I expected. It feels good to touch another person.
"Close your eyes and clear your mind. Listen to my voice. Breathe deeply."
This much is familiar at least. I inhale and exhale slowly and I can hear him do the same.
"You are on a beach. White sand, blue sky. The sun warms your back and a breeze cools your scales."
I picture a beach. It's already clear that he is channeling a memory from his past, so I fill in the gaps as they apply to myself. Soft sand beneath my feet, a light breeze ruffling my hair. I can almost hear the waves cresting on the shore.
"The sea is an infinite expanse before you, stretching for miles and miles until it meets the sky. Light glitters off the water's surface. Step into the waves."
The water is a little chilly at first, but I adapt to the feeling quickly. It feels nice, the surf rolling over my bare feet and receding back, tugging away the sand under my toes. It's been well over 20 years since I've even seen the ocean. I'm surprised I remember it as well as I do.
"Take another step. Then another. The waves break against you but they are not aggressive. The sea is inviting you in. Go to it. Do not stop. Your feet will no longer touch the ground, but do not stop."
I pace into the frothing surf, water at my knees, my hips, my chest, until I lose my footing and I'm floating. I focus on the sensation. The waves aren't as placid as they had looked from the shore. The choppy water makes it hard to stay afloat. I turn around and look back at the beach… distress tightening my chest as I realize how far away it suddenly is.
"The sea can be a harsh mistress. She can be rougher than she seems. But you should not be afraid. Feel my hands, do not let go. As long as you grasp my hands, you will not drown. Feel the waves around you, the sun on your face, and your body beneath the water. Calm your nerves. You are safe here."
I feel his hands in mine, grasping them tightly. Safe. I inhale deeply. The air smells like salt. Clean and fresh. I'm bobbing and floating in the waves and I can't see the shore anymore. I allow the water to take me where it wills. With each breath I feel a little bit of tension leave my body.
"This is the domain of Kalahira, Mistress of Inscrutable Depths. The resting place of all living things. Feel her embrace. Feel the warmth and love of all those who have come before you, and consider my words. In order to take a life, to purge a soul from its body, you must understand Kalahira. You must understand the sea. Kalahira is the sea. She embraces departed souls, severed from the material body. It is here that the soul finds peace.
You are her ambassador, her messenger. Those who do evil deeds are lost, un-whole. Their souls are sleeping, unaware of the sins of their bodies. Yours is not a vengeful task. Send their souls into her loving arms. Do this with mercy. Pray for their safe transition into the afterlife. Prayers for the wicked must not be forsaken."
I remember those words. The first words I had ever heard him speak. He is reliving the guided meditations of his teacher. Although these words were never intended for me, it's haunting how relevant they are. I feel better about a lot of things now. About Saren, about the countless lives lost on the Destiny Ascension during the battle with Sovereign. I feel better about the lives lost on Virmire. I think of Ashley, sleeping peacefully in the arms of the sea. Even my own death. I spent two years in the waves of Kalahira's ocean. Suddenly, I'm okay with that. A massive weight has been lifted from my tired shoulders.
"The sea is a living entity around you. I will release you into her depths, but you must not be afraid. She will not take you; it is not yet your time. Take a deep breath and release my hands. Release yourself. You have as long as you require."
And with those simple words, he lets go. I sink like a stone, the waves closing above my head. If I look up, I can see the waves from a different perspective. They dance with the sunbeams reflecting on the water's surface, entrancing, even as they grow more and more distant. In the depths of the ocean, I feel myself coming apart. There is darkness, but it is not oppressive, as if my eyes are adjusting to the dark, pupils dilating to let in every particle of light that faintly illuminates the water around me. I'm melting, disintegrating, dispersing into the waves and undercurrents of Kalahira. My awareness expands, it has no limits, encompassing the sea, the sky, the thick ground and the core of all things. Movement, swaying to and fro, the currents take me everywhere all at once. I'm liberated. Free. Dancing with life itself. My body is long forgotten. There is nothing but the very essence of myself and the depths of eternity.
I don't know how long I float like this, suspended in the center of things I can't even begin to comprehend, but are familiar and comforting at the same time. There is soft warmth around me, like tendrils of water encircling my infinite form, pushing me, moving me…
I'm gently extracted from my reverie, surprised but unperturbed to discover myself in a familiar setting. The crew deck of the Normandy. A man sits before me. He's not human. He's… drell. Green scales, enormous black eyes. His name is Thane and I'm happy to see him because he is smiling at me. Slowly at first, I begin to remember why I'm here, why he's here, what I was doing.
"What time is it?" I damn near whisper. My voice is unfamiliar, softer than I intended.
"If you wish to gauge how long you were meditating, I can tell you that roughly four hours have passed. I do not know the exact time."
I feel rested. Like I've finally been given an opportunity to sleep as long as I want. I'm shaking off the faintest bit of grogginess, but I am happy and relaxed.
He smiles at me again. His smile makes me smile.
"Thank you. That was… the most incredible thing I have ever experienced." There is no untruth in my statement. I have never meant anything more in my life than I mean it now. Everything is suddenly clear. Hopeful. Limitless.
"I am glad I was able to assist you, Shepard," he says. "You should know that there are members of the crew who wish to speak with you."
"Yeah." Back to reality. I haul myself up off the floor, stretching out of the cramps that formed while I was sitting still for so long. "Thanks again, Thane. I can't even begin to describe how I feel right now."
His smile is infectious. As the doors hiss open, he interrupts my departure.
I pause. "Yes?"
"I would be very happy to do this with you again sometime," he says without turning.
My face lights up.
"Yeah, I think I would too."