At first Shepard thought there was only the one Keeper. Gradually she realized there were five.
As her eyes adjusted to the blue light of the generator it became possible to distinguish between them. The first she now called Adam, as much for Mordin’s homage to Eve as the fact that it seemed as generic a Keeper as any of them. The second she deemed Lucy for the patch of red atop its head. A third was “Short Stuff” because he was smaller than his fellows and had lost half of one antennae. Speedy was the fourth; ironically for the fact that he limped along at a snail’s pace. Last was Larva, who never came to her alone. This one was always watching whichever of the others it was with and mimicking them, like a small child might its parents. She’d never claimed to be an overly imaginative person.
They came to her in turns, bearing gifts of water, food, or medi-gel. Somehow they were able to walk outside of her safe little bubble of life support, stuck to the walls of the hull like they had built in mag-shoes. Maybe they did.
The blankets they’d wrapped her in were the ones designed to insulate against cold in case of temporary Life Support failure, usually kept in emergency panels hidden around the citadel. They wouldn’t last against the hard freeze of space—nothing would—but between them and the generator tapping into the old LS systems, Shepard was kept warm enough to survive.
It could have been days or weeks that she drifted in and out of consciousness. Time was meaningless here. She woke when one of the keepers came to shove bits of stringy, cold and raw meat between her lips, or pour water down her throat, then fell back into the comfortable torture of dreams. There, at least, was an escape from the blinding pain wracking her bones.
“Won’t last, y’know.”
Lilo’s grin belied the resolve in her voice. Three years Shepard’s elder, the ten-year-old Lilo shared her sister’s freckles, dark skin, and heavily lashed eyes. But that was where their similarities ended. Where Shepard was heavily boned and short, even for a seven-year-old, Lilo was tall, made of wire and whipcord. Her dark brown hair hung to her shoulders in dirty, disheveled locks, and there was a smear of what looked to be machine oil across her twice broken nose.
The beam they sat on was rusted through and missing in places, but it held them well enough. Gaps in the tin roof of the old warehouse allowed enough light for Shepard to see the machinery littering the ground below. Most of it was useless; the working parts had been salvaged years ago, the rest left to rot. Just like them.
Shepard followed Lilo’s gaze up, through the nearest hole in the ceiling, to where the moon hung barely visible in the polluted sky. “Naw,” said Lilo, and she drew an arm around Shepard’s shoulders. “Can’t. Needs fuel, just like you. You gotta wake up, Maki.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Think’a Liara.” The arm around her shoulders tightened, shaking her. “Think’a Tali. Kaidan. Edi. Garrus .”
Shepard snorted. “You’d hate Garrus. He’s a Turian.”
“Think’a me , then.”
This wasn’t how this memory was supposed to go. Frowning, Shepard met her sister’s cold, dead eyes.
She startled and the world was lung-wrenching pain. Lucy clicked and whirred over her, little talons prodding at Shepard’s cheeks and shoulders in the flickering light.
Biting back grunts and groans as her she forced her muscles to work, Shepard levered herself up on her elbows and squinted at the shields.
A rush of adrenaline got her onto her feet, and to the generator. Sinking to her knees, she fumbled with what looked like a control panel. It wouldn’t open. None of the panels would. Even if they did, what could she possibly do?
Lucy tap-danced at her left, drawing Shepard’s attention. The little creature pointed frantically behind them, until Shepard looked back.
A moment of hope seized Shepard’s throat, only to break in a sob when she realized the person being pointed at was a corpse. But it was a corpse with armor.
Using the generator to pull herself to her feet, Shepard limped over and fell beside the body. An Alliance soldier; 103rd division. The name on her breastplate was too scarred over to read, but it looked like it might fit well enough. Hopefully the suit’s LS system was still functional.
The Keepers were probably better judges of that, anyway.
A faint crackle from the generators signaled that she didn’t have much time. Her fingers tugged at the straps and buckles, prying them off the long dead woman. Space had kept her corpse from deteriorating, but the flesh was turning black from cold.
Next, Shepard began to remove what was left of her own armor. She nearly lost her stomach as she peeled away the leg pieces and pants. Pulling one of the blankets to her, she wiped away as much excrement as she could. Done, she tugged on the fresh armor. It was a little big in places, tight in others, and decidedly uncomfortable against her sores and bruises. The helmet, however, fit perfectly.
She hit the button for the LS. For one long, terrible moment nothing happened. Then a familiar, low-frequency tremble ran from her toes to her head. A puff of fresh air blew against her face.
A second later the generator died with a short-lived puff of smoke.
Shepard grabbed on to the nearest beam as her body floated from the hull. Lucy scuttled to her, and offered a claw. Shepard took it.
As they ventured through the husk of what was once the Citadel, Shepard began to realize they were out at the furthest point of one of the arms. Holes were punctured into the hull itself at random intervals, likely the effects of stray beams or shrapnel.
Through one such gape she got a good look at the Earth below. There were no more fires, no smoke. But there was a lot of black, and no sign of ships.
“One day,” Lilo should have said, “We’ll be up there. You ‘n me. And everything will be perfect.”