She slept and woke and slept again. Still the Keepers had not returned. Staring mournfully at Adam’s remains, Shepard tried to formulate a plan around the roar of her stomach, the aching of her bones, and the swimming of her head.
Though she had a suit there was no telling how much power it retained without an omni-tool interface. Hers had been lost on Earth, and the one currently attached was passcoded to someone else’s biometrics. With enough time Shepard could bypass the security and recode it to herself. That would require an ability to focus, not to mention that the longer the bypass took, the more energy would be depleted.
Even with the suit functional, Shepard had no idea where in the Citadel she was. Neither was there any guarantee of finding an inhabitable area elsewhere in the ship. Infiltrator training and a childhood of scavenging had left her with survival skills suited to most planet-side situations. Stuck in the middle of space, however…no one would have been able to foresee this as a survivable situation.
In most cases it was recommended that the lost stay where they are and wait to be found. That implied that where you were wasn’t putting you in imminent danger. And, Shepard amended, that anyone knew to look for you.
A lack of hull punctures in this particular area meant a lack of any light whatsoever, other than what the shield cast. Like a trashcan fire, being close to the source made the area beyond seem darker than ever. From what she’d glimpsed of Earth previously, Shepard had to accept that it didn’t look like there was much, if any, space travel. She had lived through something meant to kill her. Did that mean the Catalyst had been wrong altogether?
If so, then—No.
Get the suit clean. Look for supplies. Life isn’t easy, Shepard.
Getting to her feet was among the hardest things she’d ever done, and that was including facing down a Reaper head-on. Twice.
Every bone was fit to break, every muscle wept, every fiber of her nervous system went off all in one jarring second. Shepard cried out and buckled, falling hard upon her knees and sinking to the ground with her head cradled in both arms.
For a long time she remained like that, panting and shivering. She’d been still too long; every muscle that had loosened before had tightened up all over again, a thousand times worse. She had to stretch them out. Properly, this time.
One limb at a time, Shepard reminded her body of its functions. The arms first, then her shoulders and neck, her back, hips, legs…
Feeling more Hanar than Human, Shepard collapsed against the blanket with a sigh of relief. She still hurt, and many of her wounds and sores were bleeding again, but now she could move with some semblance of her old freedom. That was something. Maybe someday she’d be thankful for it.
“Up,” she ordered. Three times she repeated this before rising. Sleep throbbed behind her eyes. Fortunately, her stomach was in league with her need to move. The ache of it helped her to drag the suit over to the remains of her water supply.
She washed the suit out as best she could, dried it with her blanket, and put the armor on piece by piece. Last was the helmet, then Shepard stepped to the edge of the shield.
The helmet wasn’t equipped with night vision, but once her head was beyond the source of light her eyes began to adjust. The cast light was enough to tell her that she was in a vast room with debris floating about—some of which was people-shaped. A chasm opened not too far from her current position, but was crossed over head by huge steel girders that seemed to be intact. None of it matched her memory of the Citadel, but she couldn’t muster any surprise.
Shepard stepped out and let herself float upward. Then she remembered the blanket.
Too late now.
Raising her hands, Shepard caught a rung of the nearest girder just before physics sent her floating back into the deadzone. With one last look at what had been her little home, Shepard tugged herself forward to catch the next rung, then the next, and the next.
The girder dead-ended into a wall, but beneath it was what looked like an air duct of some kind, large enough for a krogan to walk through.
Moving as slowly as she could, Shepard swung her feet toward the duct, then pushed herself gently from the girder and into the hole. She glided, feet first, several meters inward before spreading both arms to brace herself against the walls. When she’d slid to a stop, Shepard turned until she thought she was was facing the proper direction, and began to walk along the passage.
Without light it was difficult to tell where she was going. In fact, it felt more like death than anything had thus far. Maybe this really is what death was, she thought as she listened to herself breath, being trapped in an endless tunnel of darkness.
But it did end.
She banged straight into the wall with a yelp. Sailing backward, Shepard tried desperately to control her urge to flail. Flailing did not work in zero-g!
Through sheer will alone she went limp, allowing force to ricochet her off the floor of the duct. Once again, she braced against the walls, righted herself, and continued back down the tunnel. This time she was able to extend a hand in front of her and feel the wall before she reached it.
Ducts didn’t just end, did they?
Reaching up, Shepard sighed in relief to feel nothing above her. She took a deep breath and jumped.
Hands raised above her to prevent a repeat of her last mistake, Shepard almost didn’t register the light ahead until she realized she could see the outlines of her hands. A beam stuck out the opening. She grabbed it before she passed, then pulled herself hand by hand out of the duct and into a surprisingly open area of the wreckage.
“It seems my calculations were incorrect,” said the Catalyst.
Before her were the power cells she could have blown to smithereens, the conduits where she might have taken control of the reapers, and the platform that she had jumped from. They’d been blown apart from one another, now resting in a ring around the circular platform where Anderson’s body still laid, answering her unasked question about where that room had even been located.
The glass separating the room from space was a web of cracks in most places, though a few areas were still clear to see through.
As Shepard pulled herself further into the room her hands and arms grew heavy. Then her entire body slammed into the beam.
“Gravity is still in effect here.”
“You could have mentioned that,” she muttered. It was another few minutes before she pulled herself to her feet. “How?”
“The ship still retains emergency power in several areas,” the Catalyst said, from wherever it was. Its voice was rather…omniscient. “The supply is limited without the ship’s main generator online but the system was designed to support life for hundreds of sentients for at least a thirty days in Earth measures. There are no longer hundreds of sentients, so it should last for some time longer.”
“But there’s no…” Shepard glanced behind her at the shaft.
“This system is far more sophisticated than personal shielding. In these areas there will not be a noticeable line unless there is a problem. At the moment, there is no such problem.”
Shepard shifted and the beam creaked. It tipped inward.
Taking a deep breath, she jumped for the nearest pile of debris, right on top of the control conduits. Shepard slipped, slid, and stopped on a large chunk of intact platform just as the beam above gave way. It crashed into the rest of the debris, throwing up a cloud of smoke.
Slowly, she climbed back to the top of the pile and pulled herself up onto the platform. Anderson and the Illusive Man were exactly as she’d left them, he former slumped at the middle of the platform, the other sprawled on the ground. With a painful grunt, Shepard knelt by the admiral’s body. She touched his face, stiff and lifeless and beginning to turn green.
“There’s air in here?”
Shepard shut down the suit’s LS system and took her helmet off. Whaddaya know, she thought, the bastard was telling the truth. At least about this.
“What other areas of the ship have life support?”
The console behind her sprang to life with several all-too-cheerful chirps. Shepard stood, watching as warning screens flashed and were summarily dismissed. Finally, the screen rested on a familiar map of the Citadel. At first everything was a typical orange, then some areas became black, red, or, rarely, green.
“The green is what has life support, right?”
“Yes,” said the Catalyst. “Areas the sentients marked as emergency holding in the event of a high-level power failure, such as what we are currently experiencing.”
“I could kiss whoever thought of that,”she muttered.
“They are likely dead.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
Frowning, Shepard took a step back from the console and looked up, much as she had when speaking to EDI aboard the Normandy. As used to AIs as she was, it still felt strange to speak with someone she couldn’t look at. “No one knew this place existed. How was this a marked as emergency holding?”
“It was not. My power source is normally separate from the rest of the ship. This was lost shortly after your Solution was enacted. However, like you, I am programed to do what is necessary to sustain my own life. Most of my circuits were not damaged in the fight, and those which were have been repaired by my remaining Keepers. They patched me into the power reserves. When my sensors indicated an organic intruder, I activated shielding and life support for the immediate area.”
“I thought your purpose was to kill organics?”
“A new solution has been written.”
Shepard rubbed her temple with one hand, the other arm wrapped about middle. The adrenaline that had taken her this far was beginning to wear on her, and her stomach still gnawed at her spine. Shaking her head to clear it, she blinked again at the consol. It was beginning to blur.
“I…I need to sit down.”
The Catalyst didn’t reply, but the console crackled and died. Taking that for acceptance, Shepard plopped beside Anderson’s body.
Earth hung huge outside the view-port, beautiful and blue. A field of debris still hung around it: fighter ships, reapers, unidentifiable chunks of space junk…but nothing could detract from the sight of a hospitable planet. She prayed there were others left alive to appreciate it.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it,” she whispered, though she knew that Anderson couldn’t hear. “I hate them, but I couldn’t do it. There were too many consequences.”
Try as she might, Shepard coudn’t imagine what Anderson would have said to this. All she knew as she let sleep overcome her was a heavy sense of disappointment.