Shepard sat down at her desk and rubbed her face. Time was starting to blur together. She felt like she’d done nothing but run since leaving Earth. How much longer would she be able to keep it up? How much longer would the Reapers allow, before dealing the final blow?
They’d done so much, come through so much. Cured the genophage. Saved the Council and the Citadel—again. Hit Cerberus, time and again. Pulling Jack and her kids off Grissom, keeping Samara from killing herself, or her last daughter, Felere. Fighting with Grunt against Reaper-born rachni, and saving the queen. Again.
I feel like I’m running in circles. Doing things I’ve already done, and losing more people, every time.
Mordin was gone. Thane was gone. Miranda was off doing who knew what. God, I wish she’d let me help. I get she doesn’t want to add to my problems, but still. At least Grunt was healing. Wrex had kept her posted on his progress. Stupid krogan kid. Thinking of him made her smile, though. In some ways, she felt like his mom. Even Wrex had said something like that.
Her humor faded though, as another wave of exhaustion rolled into her. God, I’m tired. So tired.
“Commander, we’re about an hour out from the Migrant Fleet.”
She sighed. “Thanks, Joker.”
Is it ever going to end?
Shepard held the laser target steady as the Reaper loomed large in front of her, its laser canon priming. She could see the charge crackling, moments from turning her into so much vapor, but she held her ground, finger hard on the trigger.
Come on, EDI.
The Reaper shrieked as the first missile impacted, followed by a thousand more, as every ship in the Migrant Fleet targeted it, hammering it into the ground. When the smoke cleared, Shepard was still standing. The Reaper wasn’t.
She stepped towards it cautiously, watching as its lights flickered.
Her eyes widened. “You know who I am?”
“Harbinger speaks of you. You resist. But you will fail. The cycle must continue.”
Anger burned through her. “And what if we don’t let you continue?”
“You have no choice.”
“I disagree, and so do the billions who are rising up to resist you.”
“You cannot comprehend the magnitude of our presence.”
Shepard walked closer. The Reaper’s sheer arrogance, as it lay there dying, astounded her. Angered her. “We might surprise you.”
“You represent chaos. We represent order. Every organic civilization must be harvested in order to bring order to the chaos. It is inevitable. Without our intervention, organics are doomed. We are your salvation.”
Shepard shook her head. “You’re just machines. This time, the organics are taking control.”
“A philosophy reminiscent of the quarians. Observe the results of their efforts to maintain control.”
Anger surged again. She brought the laser target back up to bear, training it on the Reaper. “They’re doing fine. You’re the ones who should worry. Tell your friends we’re coming for them.”
Another salvo from the fleet struck, rendering the Reaper into slag.
“Never mind. I’ll tell them myself.”
Tali stepped up behind her. “We did it. We killed a Reaper. Keelah…”
Shepard nodded quietly. Her head hurt. Hell, all of her hurt. But by God, it was worth it. She turned, watching Legion work his omni-tool.
“We can confirm that the geth are no longer being directed by the Old Machines. We are free.”
Admiral Han’Gerrel‘s voice came over the comm. “You did it, Shepard. The geth fleet has stopped firing. They’re completely vulnerable.”
Shepard’s eyes widened as she realized what Gerrel was saying.
“Shepard-Commander. The geth only acted in defense after the creators attacked. Do we deserve death?”
She stared at Legion, hoping he had a plan. “What are you suggesting?”
Legion continued. “Our upgrades. With the Old Machine dead, we could upload them to all geth without sacrificing their independence.”
Tali gasped beside her. “You want to upload the Reaper code? That would make the geth as smart as when the Reaper was controlling them!”
Legion nodded. “Yes. But with free will. Each geth unit would be a true intelligence. We would be alive, and we could help you.”
Tali spun to look at Shepard. “Our fleet is already attacking! Uploading the code would destroy us! Shepard, you can’t choose the geth over my people!”
Legion’s head lowered, and his light dimmed. “Do you remember the question that caused the creators to attack us, Tali’Zorah?” He stepped forward. “‘Does this unit have a soul?’”
Shepard took a deep breath. God, I hope this works. “Upload the code to the geth. Tali, call off the fleet if you can.”
Legion set to work. “Uploading. Ten percent.”
“This is Admiral Tali’Zorah. All units, break off your attack!”
“Belay that order! Continue the attack!”
Tali stepped to him. “I beg you, do not do this. Please.”
“We regret the deaths of the creators, but we see no alternative. Forty percent.”
Shepard looked from one to the other. This has to work. “No. Nobody else dies today. Legion, keep going.”
“Shepard?” Tali’s voice was desperate, but there was a hint of hope.
I can do hope. God, let me do hope. “All ships. This is Commander Shepard. The Reaper is dead. Stand down.”
Tali’s hand flew across her omni-tool. “This is Admiral Tali’Zorah. Shepard speaks with my authority.”
Admiral Koris’ voice came over the comm. “And mine as well.”
“Negative! We can win this war now!” Admiral Gerrel’s voice held a hint of panic. “Keep firing!”
Shepard ground her teeth. “The geth are about to return to full strength. If you keep attacking, they’ll wipe you out. Your entire history is you trying to kill the geth. You forced them to rebel. You forced them to ally with the Reapers.”
Come on, come on, come on! I can’t…I can’t do more death. I need to be able to save someone. And isn’t this what we’re fighting for? “The geth don’t want to fight you. If you can believe that for just one minute, this war will be over.” Shepard took a deep breath. “You have a choice. Please. Keelah se’lai.”
The moment after Shepard stopped speaking seemed to drag on forever. But finally, Admiral Gerrel answered.
“All units….hold fire.”
“Error. Copying code is insufficient. Direct personality dissemination is required.” Legion turned to her. “Shepard-Commander. I must go to them. I… I’m sorry. It is the only way.”
Shepard’s eyes widened as his words sank in. But it was Tali who stepped forward and spoke. “Legion…the answer to your question…was yes.”
Legion’s head ducked. “I know, Tali. But thank you. Keelah se’lai.” He turned away, before suddenly falling to his knees, and collapsing to the ground. Slowly, his lights faded, until only his empty shell remained.
Shepard closed her eyes. Another friend, gone. Beautifully, and for the best of reasons, but still.
Gone. And at what cost?
Her chest ached with the loss she hadn’t expected to face.
Tali’s hand touched her shoulder. Shepard opened her eyes, glad to see another quarian approach. “Admiral Raan.” Her voice sounded strange in her own ears, tired and distant. “I heard your ship made a crash-landing. Glad you got out in one piece.”
Raan clutched her side, leaning slightly, but nodded. “I was listening over the radio. If Han’Gerrel hadn’t stopped—”
“He did.” No need to share her own worries. She was sure they both knew.
Raan nodded again. “We’ve taken heavy losses. I don’t know if we can… Where are we supposed to go?”
Tali’s gun came up suddenly, drawing their attention to an approaching geth prime. Raan backed up even with Shepard as the geth came closer.
“You are welcome to return to Rannoch, Admiral Raan. With us.”
Shepard’s heart caught. “Legion?”
The prime bowed his head. “No. I’m sorry, Shepard-Commander. Legion sacrificed itself to give us all intelligence. It will be honored.”
The brief, short-lived spark of hope died, replaced with the overwhelming weight of her sadness. Shepard’s head throbbed, her body ached, and she wanted so badly just to sleep, without dreams, without guilt. “Good.”
“And we will honor Legion’s promise. The geth fleet will help you retake Earth, and our engineers will assist in building the Crucible.”
Shepard nodded as Raan turned. “As will ours, of course.”
The prime turned to Raan. “Admiral, had you considered possible settlement sites?”
Raan twisted her hands, an act that conveyed shock, confusion, and hope all at once. “We…the southern continent had excellent farmland, as I recall.”
This, at least, is promising. And more than I dared hope for. “Are you going to be okay?”
Raan turned. “I…believe so, Commander. Thank you.”
She stepped away, happy to let Raan and the prime sort things out. Legion would be proud. In front of her, Tali stared off into the distance. “Shopping for another house?”
Tali laughed. “Beachfront property.”
“Claim it fast. It’s a buyer’s market.”
Tali shook her head, still laughing, and sat.
Shepard dropped beside her, wrapping her arms around her knees, and forcing herself to focus on her friend. “You okay? I know working with the geth will be difficult.”
Tali looked away, back to the horizon. “I’m not staying. I’m coming with you.”
“I wasn’t gonna ask.”
The quarian looked back at her. “I think you’ve earned a few favors with the fleet.”
Shepard stared past the edge of the cliff on which they say. “I’m asking them to launch an assault on the Reapers. Figure that makes us even.”
“If the Reapers were going to stay on Earth, sure. But sooner or later, they’ll come to Rannoch.”
Shepard snorted. “We did just kill one of them.”
“So I’m coming with you to stop them….if you think I can help.”
“You sure about this?”
Tali nodded once. “Yeah. I look at all this…this picture of hope and peace. And all I see is everyone I’ve lost. My team on Haestrom. My father. Even Legion. I’m mourning a geth. How crazy is that?”
Shepard smiled softly, understanding far too well how she felt. “It’s not crazy at all.”
Tali shook her head, then pushed to her feet. Shepard followed her as she stepped to the edge of the cliff.
“It’s beautiful though, isn’t it?”
Shepard glanced from her friend, to the homeworld they’d finally regained. “Yeah. It is.”
They stood in silence a moment, before Tali continued. “It’ll be years before we can live without our suits completely, but right now…” She reached up, pulling off the faceplate of her suit. “Right now, I have this.”
Shepard stared at her friend, remembering the scared but defiant young quarian she’d found on the Citadel, and smiled. Together, they watched the sunset in silence, and the sight soothed Shepard’s battered soul. She thought back to her last conversation with Liara, on the Citadel. They’d talked about the past, about her mother.
“I wish we could spend more time together like this. Just…friends.”
She’d smiled, and pulled Liara close. “Friends doesn’t cut it for me anymore, Liara.”
Liara had smiled, in that way she does. “Well. That sounds serious.”
“I am serious. Whatever happens… I’d like to spend my life with you.”
“Then you are extremely lucky that I feel that way too.”
Shepard shook off the memory, but held the feeling close. This was why they were fighting. Moments like this. Moments where Tali could take off her mask, and breathe the air of Rannoch, the first quarian to do so in over a century. Stolen moments on the presidium. Peace between fully-sentient geth, and their quarian creators.
She stared off into the twilight sky, and pushed away her exhaustion to breathe out silent defiance to the Reapers.
This is why I fight. And this is why you’ll never win.