An air hose. In the end (in the beginning), what damns her is the air hose. She reaches for it, vainly, half-thinking to re-attach it. Her body spasms out of her control as she spirals through the dark, gasping for breaths that come thinner and thinner and then don't come at all.
Black spots like feathers dance at the edge of her vision. At the end (in the beginning), she looks up and sees dark eyes, knowing but unknowable as any cat's.
And if she could, she would reach for an outstretched hand.
"Don't worry," she says to herself (the other tells her, because she lives in a sunless land already, and what more can there be to fear?).
Jane Shepard has been on Omega for all of ten minutes and she hates it already. The background conversations she hears all grate with both desperation and fatalism. It's a station of people tearing themselves and everyone around them to pieces to make a cred. But the money doesn't make a damn bit of difference.
She swallows her disgust and shoulders her way through the crowd.
"Watch where you're going," a turian snaps, irritation in one voice and something identifiable only to turians in the under-echo.
She mumbles an apology over her shoulder, already moving past him and toward Afterlife. It's instinct to keep scanning the people around her as she goes.
Pallid gray skin flashes in view. Shepard stops in her tracks. For an instant, she sees a naked batarian, all four eyes dull, half-lidded. Tired-looking. But the cuts draw Shepard's gaze immediately after; they cover the batarian's body.
A moment passes. The woman is gone.
Shepard lifts her eyes to the flame-engulfed sign. Bright characters scroll across it, wriggling in her vision before the translator makes them read Afterlife.
For such a small colony on the outskirts, Horizon is a damnable maze. She keeps her assault rifle out as she goes through.
The colony seems to sprawl. Every street branches outward, reaching for the rest of the planet. If it could have, Shepard has no doubt it would have covered this world the same way other cities have swept across Earth. But even despite all the branches, all the haphazardly strewn boxes and prefab houses that overlook themselves, the paths all seem to lead inexorably to one place.
For an instant, Shepard hears the chime of metal against metal even over the buzzing of the seeker swarms. She looks up, trying to identify the sound, trying to see see where it's coming from.
And then she sees him. A male quarian stands over one of the frozen colonists, his head tilted down, as if staring at the body. She can read no emotion from his posture. Unlike the other quarians she's seen, his envirosuit swaths him in brown. The seal on his chest is a matte gray.
All the other quarians she's seen have decorated their envirosuits with colorful, patterned fabrics. And no quarian she's ever seen has bound an actual paper book to his right hand. Certainly not one of brown leather. She doubts the Migrant Fleet even has access to leather anymore.
He tilts his head, turning toward her. The sun is high overhead; at first she thinks that's why she sees no eyes glowing beneath his mask. Then she realizes that despite the sun, he casts no shadow.
"See something, Shepard?"
She turns to Garrus, who flicks a mandible impatiently.
When she looks back, the quarian is gone.
Illium is so beautiful she has to keep herself from gasping. Skyscrapers shimmer against a purpling horizon, arcing up gracefully. Everywhere she looks, she sees asari in all their bluish shades in long, lustrous dresses with upswept collars.
And then her ears stop ringing.
Illium is a dressed-up Omega. It sounds and stinks a bit less of desperation. All she hears is I want it, I want you, give me this, sell me that. It makes her almost as sick.
"There's no way those are worth that much," a salarian snaps at an asari shopkeeper.
The shopkeeper makes a rude noise. Somehow dignified, it flows from somewhere high in her throat, pefectly illustrates deeply affronted pride.
And another human customer chuckles, low and lovely in a way that sends shivers down Shepard's spine. "Of course they aren't."
Shepard, the salarian, and the shopkeeper all turn their heads to look at the human. She receives an impression of golden eyes and a knowing smirk. Dark hair — or maybe a coppery, burnished auburn flecked with blond — and a tailored suit the Illusive Man would kill forty people to own. But she's not sure if the suit has a flowing skirt or sharp, high-waisted trousers.
"They're worth more," the human says, lips curling into a shape three times as wicked as an asari dancer's curves.
She's still entering one of the autologin strings into her Omni-Tool when (her world changes) everything flashes. It all happens in an instant, green-bright and lurching.
Pixels burst before her eyes, popping and blooming all over like pretend fireworks trailing glitter as they fall. When she gets close to them, they reflect fish swimming through the air.
The system override tugs her forward for a moment. She follows the impulse, hears a door hiss closed behind her. Jack shouts her name, but her name (means nothing) unlocks nothing. Certainly not doors.
So Shepard keeps moving, staggers through hallways she never walked before. Geth appear and for a moment she's clear again, herself, has to fight this madness (has to fight through it like molasses, one foot in front of the other like a good soldier, where's your assault rifle?).
The moment passes. And David Archer The Rogue AI shows her his memories, offering them to her from the barrel of a gun, sharp-edged and screaming.
"I'm sorry, David," says (the realest, because you don't have to be there to be real) an imaginary Gavin Archer. "You didn't deserve that. Now, can you please repeat my notes from last week?"
One of the (not imaginary, not imaginary, just because it's in your head doesn't mean it's not real) lab techs in the memory looks up. The lab tech fits so poorly in her role, her labcoat pristine and white only half-covering grungy black leather and stained orange lace, that for an instant Shepard wonders: Jack?
The tech meets her gaze with masmatched eyes. One eye is blue, but the other glitters pixel-green.
The tech vanishes. The memory ends.
Shepard looks to the geth (she'll have to fight) she's imagining and draws her sidearm. One foot in front of the other, like a good soldier. (Where is her assault rifle?)
Her luck has run out; when she wakes she will be no saner than Kenson. The last thing she sees is Kenson's face, her eyes glowing yellow-gold in a way that terrifies Shepard.
The first thing she sees is white fabric pooling on a dais. She looks up, and up, and up, and up. A robe, a raven, a throne, a boy.
"Death liked you, you know. I wanted to meet you."
She feels her eyebrows rise in disbelief.
The boys laughs like eyes opening after a long nap. "I've never met a visionary who wasn't mine or Delirium's."
"A visionary?" That forces a hollow laugh from her.
He smiles sadly. "You dream of a future, don't you, Jane Shepard?"
"I knew you did. I like your vision better than Harbinger's."
"You know what Harbinger wants?"
He shakes his head, making his hair flop about wildly. It floats in the air, as if they're underwater. "No. I know what Harbinger dreams. There's a difference."
She stares, incredulous. Harbinger is a machine. She thinks, for an instant, of Isaac Asimov.
And that makes the boy laugh again. "Everything dreams, Commander. Just like everything dies."
The last thing she sees is the raven flapping its wings.
The first thing she sees is a white ceiling. It's hazy, like she's viewing it from beneath the surface of a swimming pool. Somewhere away from her, a woman swears about something not being a glitch.
The Citadel is surprisingly calm for a city populated by people whose homeworlds could all wink out of existence in the next instant. But the Citadel has always been full of the blind, Shepard thinks, bitterly. No surprise there; it's led by the blindest of all.
That's unkind. Some griefs are too big to feel. They're just vast empty spaces in the brain, a flickering numbness that sometimes gives way to sorrow and sometimes chills everything it touches. This truth is too big to see and know you're seeing it, too big to acknowledge.
She shifts her weight on the bar stool. The bar is so cold she can feel a bare echo of it through the metal of her armor.
A bearded man in a battered chestplate over casual clothes that have seen better days points to the stool beside her.
She shrugs, takes another careful sip of her unidentifiable green licquor. It tastes like midori might, if you were drinking it through a kick to the throat.
"You'd expect rioting, wouldn't you?" The light tone hints that his voice is usually merry, but now he just sounds like he's confessing something. Or expecting her to confess something.
Shepard downs the rest of her glass, signals her favorite turian bartender for another. He pulls his mandibles upward and back in the turian version of an eye roll, but he hits her up with a third, regardless.
The human next to her has red hair, she realises. It glints red as blood one moment, then the red of Incendiary Ammo, and then it's red-orange-gold like living flame. His eyes are the exact color that flickers in the air when hardsuit shields reach full charge.
"Stampeding, actually," she says, suddenly hoarse.
"Harbinger called me his salvation for you." His voice sounds like the Thanix Cannon superheating plasma. "I walked away from it all, you know. I knew it would all keep going; I just didn't want it to be my fault."
"Walked away? Your fault? How could the Reapers be anyone's fault?"
"You don't remember me, Jane?"
She realizes, in that instant, that she does know Olethros. His face is as familiar to her as her own. Maybe she's been seeing him in the mirror since she enlisted, or maybe she only thinks she has. It doesn't matter. For an instant, she longs.
He sighs like two infantries clashing, shakes his head ruefully. "Salvation through destruction? I can't even make a drinkable cup of coffee."
"What is Destruction doing in the Dark Star, talking to me?"
"Because it's time for me to come back, I think. And I think we're going to be walking together awhile."
She can only stare. A thousand questions flash through her head. Only one makes it past her mouth: "And how do I know you?"
That draws a smile from him. She sees pearly white teeth, cupid's bow lips the red of Samara's armor. "Easy. You're mine."