Shepard woke up with a gasp, and her mind reeling. What happened? All she could feel was pain, so much pain, and endless darkness. Then, all came back in a rush - the hammer, the beam, the citadel. Anderson, the Illusive man, the crucible, the catalyst . Had it worked? Did they win? Was she dead ?
No. She could feel the pain, and the hardness to breath. She wasn’t dead… Yet. But as she tried to access her body, she gathered she had very little time till death reached her.
“Fuck…” She tried to move her right arm, and more pain came. She then tried to help with her left, but got no response. So she endured the pain, gasping for air, and activated her omni tool. She brought up her recording program and stress beacon signal, struggling with the pain, before settling her arm down.
“This is... Commander Shepard of the Normandy. If… If you're hearing this, follow... The coordinates on the signal.” She paused, a series of coughs stopping her from continuing. She could feel the metallic taste of blood in her mouth, and wondered how much of that she had already lost. “I need immediate medical care. Repeating... This is commander Shepard of the Normandy.” A ragged breath. “I need... Immediate medical care.” She coughed again, this time spitting blood. “Aw, fuck. I don't know if... I can stay conscious for... Much longer.”
She took a few deep breaths, thinking of how to continue this message. She knew she was dying - and the chances of someone finding her in time were… Slim at best. If they had really won… She had to do something.
“If you find me alive, get... Miranda Lawson. She will… She’ll know what to do. But if... If i’m already dead by the time... Someone finds me, tell…” Another coughing fit. “Damn… Tell the Normandy crew that I’m... Sorry. Tell Joker… Tell him I’m sorry. Tell them…Make the whole galaxy remember… That something that was once build, can be... Rebuild.”
She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for just a second. Shepard could feel her energy flowing away, exhaustion settling in her bones. She opened her eyes again, set to finish her message.
“The Geth, EDI… Rebuild them. Unite the galaxy. Liara… Liara can help, we... Talked about it.” The commander could now feel the tears threatening to spill, all the dreams of living a peaceful life with her bondmate now passing through her eyes. “Liara… If I die here... My only regret is... Not making out alive to... Have all our beautiful blue babies.” Another coughing fit, and more blood spitted. “But you too must rebuild… And go on.” She paused, trying to regain her breath. “The galaxy... Survived. We won. So... They’ll need... All of you. This is... Commander... Shepard... Signing off.”
There. She had said what she needed to. At least the very tip of the iceberg. There was… So much she regretted. So much she wanted to say, to do, to live . But apparently, this was the end. Now, all she could do was rest. Succumb to the endless exhaustion, and let go into the dark void of death. Again. She chuckled a bit. Life really wasn’t fucking fair.
And, as Shepard closed her eyes for a bit, she only wished her sacrifice at least brought the galaxy some peace.
“I got it!” Traynor’s voice could be heard from all the ship. “Commander, the comms are open and there is a call from Admiral Hackett!”
“You’re a genius, Traynor!” Said Ashley. “Ground team, we answer this call together!”
“I’m going too.” Said Joker, leaving the cockpit. “It’s not like we’re flying right now.”
“Gabby and Ken are working on it, Joker.” Said Tali, leaving the elevator with everyone from the ground team. “We estimate that by the end of the call the Normandy will be in flying conditions.”
“You don’t need to mask your concern behind excuses, Joker.” Said Garrus. “We’re all a nervous wreck here.” He nodded discreetly in Liara’s direction, who didn’t even seem to notice. The asari marched with purpose to the war room, where Traynor had slipped into first to redirect to call to the table’s comm. With a urgency expected from the team, the room was filled quickly and Ashley hit the button.
“Normandy, do you copy? What is your status?” They could hear the voice of the Admiral before his image appeared.
“Lieutenant Commander Williams reporting, Admiral! The Normandy had a forced landing in Terra Nova with no casualties, sir. Repairs to get her fly worthy again are being finished as we speak.”
“Good.” Hackett was going to say something, but Javik intervened.
“What is the Crucible status, Admiral? Did it work?”
“As of 30 minutes ago, since the Crucible firing, there is no synthetic activity reported, the Geth included. The carcasses of the Reapers who were on ground are falling towards the hubble, and the others are now derelict in space. As it seems, we lost the Geth too but, as soon as the comms are fully restored, the council will declare this war... Over.”
There was a visible sigh of relief from all the crew, and even small acts of commemoration. But that didn’t help at all when Liara asked the question no one was daring to.
“Admiral… What about Shepard?”
There was a pause.
“There is no sign of the Commander yet.” Said Hackett’s voice. “We have every damn search party available looking for her. Hell, even the other races volunteered their arms. But… I’ll be honest. Looking through all the rubble that is the Citadel right now, things are looking… Grim.”
“Please, Admiral.” Said Ashley, side glancing Liara, who gave a few steps back and was becoming too pale for any asari standards. “Give it everything you got. We’re trying to get there to help as fast as we can. She’s not… With all due respect, Admiral, the commander is not a price we’re willing to pay.”
Hackett was silent for some seconds. “Understood, LC.” He stopped short of turning the call off. “And… For what it’s worth, I'm also unwilling to pay that price. Hackett out.”
There was a stiff silence in the war room, no one really accepting what had transpired. Yes, they won. The Reapers were dead, their carcasses falling one by one on the same ground they destroyed or floating aimlessly in the void of the space. The war was over. But at what price?
Millions of geth platforms lied lifeless too. Hell, even EDI’s own body was a grim reminder of that, laid flat on the now non-functional AI core. And now, everyone knew that their commander might as well be the next piece they needed to pay.
The first person who broke the silence was Tali, with a tiny sob that escaped through her suit speakers. Garrus put an arm around her, trying to comfort her at the same time he was trying to get a hold of himself. Then it was Liara, holding her heart with one hand while the other covered her mouth, trying to contain the sobs as the tears flowed freely from her eyes. She crouched, losing the strength to keep standing, at the same time James punched the table. Cortez crouched besides Liara, pulling her into a half hug, crying silently. Traynor put her hands in her eyes, trying to wipe out the tears before they even fell. Javik was standing in the corner, silent, with his eyes closed and muttering thing in prothean that no one could understand, almost like a prayer. On the other corner was Joker, with his arms crossed and his cap covering his eyes all out of tears already. Still, the pilot trembled. Ashley was holding herself up with both hands on the table, her head down, tears threatening to spill. She forced her eyes closed for a second, getting the will to clean them.
“No.” Said the LC. “I refuse. I refuse to break down, not now. And I refuse to give up.” She looked around in the room. “Shepard didn’t give up in any of us when we needed her the most, so I refuse to do that to her. She got us through this hell with a sliver of hope, and she made it . She ended the war. So while there is a sliver of hope that she’s alive, I will keep on fighting .”
There was a brief silence before someone spoke again.
“She’s right.” Said Garrus, taking one step forward. “Look at us. We’re the crew of the Normandy. We don’t give up, and we might as well be taxed as reckless - spirits know we already are. So why are we giving up now ?”
“We’re not.” Said James. “We’re not giving up on Lola. We gave too much to this damn war.”
“Besides, we don’t have proof.” Said Tali, sniffing. “Last time we thought she died because we didn’t have proof she was alive, she came back kicking two years later. At this point, I would bet my life against death itself and only believe she is gone when I see it.”
“The Commander does have a way of getting out of sticky situations alive.” Said Traynor, with a half laugh between tears.
“And her luck haven’t failed us yet. Counting on it one last time won’t hurt.” Said Cortez, still holding Liara, but drying his tears. The hope was starting to spread around them, slowly.
“Blind faith can be dangerous in times like these.” Javik intervened, opening his eyes and taking a step forward. “But… Lieutenant Vega is right. This war took too much. It is time for us to fight back and demand what is ours . It is time, to once again, defy the Reapers refusing to give them what they wanted to take, one last time.” He walked to Liara and crouched besides her. “Refusing to give in to despair , Liara T’soni.” The asari looked at him, still crying.
“I… Can’t. I can’t lose her again, I’m not…”
“And you won’t. The commander is still out there, reaching out for help. Will you crouch here and give up, or will you fight for the life of your mate, asari?” Javik stood, offering a hand to help Liara up.
It took some seconds for Liara to regain her breath before she looked at the hand Javik was offering her.
“One more fight.” She said, taking the prothean’s hand and getting up. “One more fight before this is all over.”
Javik nodded, and you could almost see a hint of a smile on his face. They all looked at each other and saw the hope that came from Shepard once more.
“This is it, then.” Said Joker. “Alright. You better get your asses tied up to something.” He started wobbling to the door. “This is going to be one hell of a flight.”
“Joker.” Said Ashley. The pilot turned to her. “Plot a course to the Citadel. Get us there ASAP, flight lieutenant. We have a Commander to save.”
He saluted. “Aye aye, commander.”
It wasn’t an easy flight, that’s for sure. The shuttle had to maneuver a lot until the pilot found a place in the rubble that he could land. Miranda was biting her lip when she looked at Jack as soon as they touched down, and the other woman only nodded as soon as the door opened. They both went first, Jack’s students following behind.
“All right, listen up!” Said Jack, turning to the teens. “Our first priority is to find Shepard! There is a krogan squad covering the grounds, and we’re gonna join them as the heavy lifters, understood? Rodriguez, I want you and Prangley to handle any barriers we need when digging through the rubble, so keep your eyes peeled!”
“Yes, ma’am!” They both said.
“Alright, move it out, people!” She said, taking point with Miranda. She side glanced the other woman, who still seemed worried. “She’ll be fine, cheerleader. She already came back from death once.”
“And I’m afraid that we don’t have the resources to do it again, Jack. This time, if we get to her too late…”
“We won’t. Hell, the Queen of the Girl Scouts won’t give up that easily. She has a lot to fight for now this fuckery is over, isn’t that what she always said? That she would retire somewhere with Blue? Shepard wouldn’t give up, and so won’t we.”
Miranda stared at her for a second. “Damn, Jack. Alright… Alright.”
“I found something!” They heard one of the students yell. He was a couple of meters away from the rest of the team, typing frantically in his omni tool. Jack and Miranda jogged to him, and caught the words coming from a very recognizable, if not strained, voice.
“But you too must rebuild… And go on.” There was a pause where she struggled to breath.
“That’s Shepard! Find where this signal is coming from, Higgins! Bone, contact the Alliance!”
“I’m calling Grunt.” Said Miranda. “He’s on the krogan S&R ground team.”
There was a couple seconds of intense silence, when no one even dared to breath while Higgins worked.
“Found it!” Said the boy, triumphantly. “It’s not far from here, ma’am! I am patching you through the connection!”
“Great job, kid! Now take us there!” Jack raised her hand to her comm in her year. “Shepard, do you hear me? I’m getting a team of biotics and Krogans to you!”
There was a brief moment of tension while they followed Higgins through the rubble where no answer came.
“That’s it, you fucker! Don’t you dare die on me now!”
“Me...? Dying?” A cough. “I’m… Offended, Jack. I thought… You knew… Me.” Another loud cough, and Jack could swear she heard it outside the comms too.
“We’re close, Jack!” Called Higgins. “It’s somewhere around that pile!” He pointed to what seemed like a big pile of debris and rubble.
“I won’t… Make promises.” She heard Shepard’s voice say.
“Oh hell no, Shepard! I’m patching Miranda through, keep talking!” Jack finished patching Miranda before turning to her students. “Song! Ray! Tackle the right side! Prangley, Rodriguez, watch the barriers! Keep it from moving too much! Reyes, stand by for when we get to her, I need your stasis field ready! Higgins, Inada, you both to the right! The rest of you go and tackle it from behind! Go!” She and the rest of her students started working through the rubble, with Jack doing most of the heavy lifting herself.
“Shepard, talk to me. What are you feeling?” Said Miranda.
“....Hey, Miri.” There was a pause with heavy breathing, something moving and a grunt. “I think there’s… A pole through my…” A cough. “Waist. I can’t… I can’t move... M’ left arm. I’m pretty… Sure my right side… Been severely burned.” Another coughing fit that was supposed to be a self depreciating laugh, and this time the kids could hear it from the outside. “Sorry to… Ruin your work.”
“You didn’t ruin a thing.” Said Miranda, calling for an emergency medical team to arrive with her omni tool. “As long as you’re still alive, my work still holds. Damn, if you’re still talking right now my work must be damn good.”
“You’ll have… To redo… Most of it, though. Sorry if I… Can’t pay you… For damages.”
“Consider it as repayment then. For saving the galaxy. Again . You have no boundaries, do you, Kayllish?”
“Ha!” Shepard said, her voice getting fainter by the minute. “You know… Me.”
Suddenly, there was a booming “SHEPARD!” and the thuds of a charging krogan. Grunt appeared, attacking the rubble pile, and Shepard grunted in pain.
“Careful with that!” Said Miranda. “She has rubble embedded in her waist, if you move it too much you might hurt her more!”
“Is that… Grunt?” The Commander asked, the same moment a ray of light reached her. A few seconds passed and more rubble was taken of her, and soon she could see the shape that Grunt was against the light.
“Shepard! I’m taking you out of here!” He said, his hands reaching for the pole in her abdomen.
“Leave it in, Grunt!” Said Miranda, going to help. “Try to cut it if you can!”
The krogan broke the metal pole with his hands before lifting Shepard up. Reyes immediately put a mild stasis field on Shepard, helping to stabilize her until help arrived. The other students from Grissom, along with Jack, threw the rubble they were holding away as soon as it was safe. In the distance two shuttles were arriving, both with Alliance colors. Miranda turned to take a good look at her friend, and had to fight to mask her emotions. In Grunt’s arms was the broken shell of what once was a human body. Her right leg was practically carbonized, and her right arm was bent at a twisted angle as well as burned. Her left leg was entirely gone, as well as half of her left arm; the metal pole pierced her from the front to the back and beside it was a wound that looked a lot like a gunshot. Her face was a mess, with cuts and bruises everywhere, and pieces of skin falling from the right side, showing the cybernetics underneath.
Apparently, Miranda wasn’t so good at hiding her emotions, cause Shepard gave a weak smile.
“I’m not so… Pretty anymore, right?”
“Pretty pretty to me, Shepard.” Said Grunt, with a grin.
“Ha! Thanks… Kiddo.”
The alliance shuttles were settling down, and a medical team was already out, ready to take Shepard with them. Grunt put her in the cot, reluctantly.
“I won’t leave her.” Said the krogan.
“You won’t have to for long.” Said Miranda. “Take the other shuttle, both are going to the same place.”
“Vitals declining! We need to stabilize her!” Called one of the guys from the medical staff.
“Don’t talk, Commander.” Said another.
“Liara…” Shepard continued.
“I got it, Shepard.” Said Jack. “Now shut up and let the docs and Miranda take care of you.”
Shepard just sighed and closed her eyes while being loaded on the shuttle. Miranda nodded to Jack and Grunt and followed, taking a deep breath. Now, her work began.