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            Reapers.

            A name that now strikes fear into trillions across the Milky Way galaxy – those of every race and rank.

            The last Harvest was fifty thousand years ago. A pattern that has repeated itself more times than anyone could ever fathom. When an organic civilization would rise, evolve, and advance, they’d be extinguished at the apex of their glory. The Protheans are the most recent example. The Reapers would wait until a civilization developed to the level that they needed and harvest them. For what? No one really knows. Their origin has no beginning and, to this cycle that is just a blip on a timeline amongst billions of years, the Reapers are seemingly infinite. It’s unsure how many Reapers there actually are. Is there only a couple? Are there many - a legion, whose numbers would darken the sky at their return? There’s never been evidence of the so-called Reapers, so it’s unimaginable that out of nowhere, and pretty much blindsided, that artificial sentient creatures emerge out of dark space to eradicate whole populations. How could anyone prepare and fight against such a thing that they don’t even know is coming?

            It all changes with this cycle.

            Young asari scientist and information broker, Dr. Liara T’Soni, has spent the last fifty years studying and collecting data on the mysterious disappearance of the Protheans. Barely an adult by asari terms at only one hundred and six years old, her research has been consistently overlooked, though now she’s uncovered evidence that’s hard to ignore. A time capsule with artifacts, beacons, and vids from the Protheans with warnings about the Reapers and information on them.

            Having shied away from the role of a Matriarch's daughter for so long, Liara was hesitant to bring forth the evidence to her mother, but she had no other option. She needed to pass on the warning, and fast.

 


 

            “Another Noverian rum over here!” Alexandria Shepard yelled messily, barely able to keep her head up as she slumped over the counter in Afterlife.

            “This is your sixth one, human. What devils are you trying to silence?” the batarian bartender asked as he slid down over the requested drink.

            “You don’t want to know,” she murmured before swallowing a big gulp, immediately feeling the warm fluid induce the numbness she was looking for. When the sun goes down, and darkness engulfs her, Alex is forced to combat her demons. Therefore, she's in a constant battle on Omega. The dimly lit station has no artificial lighting like the Citadel – capital of the Council and place to settle galactic affairs. Even that being the case, she chose Omega where she'd never run into anyone she knows. Omega is a place she can disappear. Where no one would expect a decorated Marine to make their home.

            The bar stool beside her creaked as a new body occupied the seat that had been left empty for the last couple of hours. Alex preferred it that way.

            “A drossix blue,” her new companion ordered.

            This turian again.

            Turians have a distinctive flanging effect in their voice, their native language using subharmonics as a secondary tone when communicating. A characterizing trait of their species that Alex always found calming. Just not tonight. And not with this turian.

            “What do you want?” she asked, obviously irked, yet not bothered enough to look.

            “Can’t I just sit at the bar and enjoy a drink?” he replied, feigning innocence.

            “Not when you’ve been following me around Omega for the last couple of days. This damn pisshole.”

            “Hm,” he hummed. The subharmonics of his voice projected content. “Impressive. I expect nothing less of the Lone Survivor.”

            Her small but strong human hand clenched around the glass tighter. All the emotions she had worked so hard to dull with liquor slowly bubbled to the surface.

            “You want something,” she declared. “What is it?”

            “You.”

            “Flattered. Not interested,” she replied dryly. “Try the human on the other side of the club that’s already half naked.”

            She chugged another gulp of her drink.

            “Not what I meant. You must’ve heard the news by now. The impending arrival of the Reapers.”

            It must’ve been the volumes of alcohol that eliminated any restraint because Alex threw her head back in uncontrollable laughter at his words. The turian let her have her fun and paid no mind to the surrounding patrons shooting uncomfortable and inquisitive looks. After some minutes, Alex was done, and she caught her breath. She finished off the remainder of her drink before sliding the empty glass back to the bartender. She was unable to wipe the amused smirk off her lips.

            “Yeah, that’s rich. The race of advanced machines that come out of hiding every so thousands of years to eliminate all organic life in some fucked up plan for population control or something. What the hell does that have to do with me…” She spun her chair around to greet her pursuer, leaning in to look him dead in his stupid green eyes. “...Spectre? Don’t the Council’s lapdogs have anything better to do?”

            She never met Nihlus Kryik in person before, but she recognized the most decorated Spectre from the vids. Always on the news for some big breakthrough on a case or a heroic act. Alex was inches away from a maroon turian with brilliant white clan markings shaped in a tribal-like skull pattern. She always thought he was one of the most handsome turians she’d ever seen, and maybe, in a different time under different circumstances, she’d be more than happy to have him approach her at a dingy club on a run-down space station.

            But it’s not. She’s a spiritually broken soldier on a discretionary leave of absence, and he’s an agent for the galaxy’s governing body who’s prying into her personal life - sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.

            So here she is, in a stare-down with one of the most talented operatives the Spectres have to offer. He remained statuesque, matching her intimidating look.

            “Maybe you should speak for yourself, Shepard. Don’t you have anything better to do than drink here every night until Aria’s men have to drag your unconscious body up to her lounge – and they haven’t always been gentle may I add – so you can wake up alone on her couch to do it all over again? You drink day in and day out to help black out the memory of your comrades running away from the thresher maw; to drown out the screams as they were hit with spews of acid, and to erase the smell of their burning flesh as it disintegrated right off of their bones.”

            That’s exactly the point of her drinking. Her unit was sent to Akuze to investigate missing colonists only to find an intact settlement with no inhabitants. The events that transpired after weren’t anything she wished to remember. Alex’s eyes narrowed as she gritted through her teeth sounding out each word.

            “Tell me what you want Kryik or fuck off.

            “Justifiably, you’re suffering from PTSD after surviving the attack on Akuze, where your team was attacked by those abominable acid-spitting worms at night. Out of fifty marines, you’re the only one that survived. And even amidst the chaos, you managed to plant and set off bombs killing the thresher maws.” Nihlus waited for a response. Her expression glazed over with watering eyes, but she doesn’t blink. “I admire your calmness under pressure, and you showed a remarkable will to live – a particularly useful talent. The galaxy could use a Spectre like you.”

            “Me? A Spectre?” she questioned, dumbfounded and caught off guard.

            “Your time is nearly up. It’s been months, and it’s time to decide. Do you return from your leave of absence with a resignation from Earth’s Alliance military? Or do you return with resiliency and help trillions prepare for the return of the Reapers? An even more morose option: you stay here on this criminal-infested space station with the lowest people in the galaxy drinking yourself into a coma knowing families of all over need someone like you to protect them.”

            Alex hadn’t ever been awake long enough to experience the reflective and self-loathing effects that came along after drinking. She blacked out by now. For the first time tonight, Alex spoke without hostility.

            “Why would a turian want a human in the Spectres?”

            “Believe it or not, not all turians resent humanity. Some of us see the potential of your species. We see what you have to offer to the rest of the galaxy…and to the Spectres.”

            Given the history between the two species, Alex was surprised to hear that Nihlus was accepting of humans. It’s been twenty years since the First Contact War. It only lasted three months, but the emotional ramifications have been abiding. Many on both sides hold onto their bitter feelings. Though, neither Alex or Nihlus are one of them.

            “We are an elite group. It’s rare to find an individual with the skills we seek. I don’t care that you’re human, Shepard. I only care that you can do that job.”

            “So, you’re recruiting me?”

            “I am offering you a mentorship. An opportunity to serve under me, on a turian ship, and train to become a Spectre.”

             “Train on a turian ship? Does the Alliance know about this?”

            “Your Commanding Officer, Captain Anderson, supports this fully. It’d be a big step for humanity to have one of their own in the Spectres. It could lead the way for your kind to gain a seat on the Council.”

            Nihlus’ words rang true – sincere in his offer. For just a moment, Alex was ready to jump on board on the romantic idea of going adventure with an avian creature to save the galaxy – something she could’ve only dreamed of. But that silly little idea was fanatical. Instead, she shook her head and motioned the bartender for one last drink.

            “I’m in no shape to help anybody.”

            Nihlus released an exasperated sigh.

            “Have it your way, Shepard. I will not partake in your pity party.”

            He paid for his drink through his omni-tool and left. Nihlus hadn’t taken one sip of the drink he ordered. Evidently, his one sole purpose was to try and pick up the shattered pieces of the Lone Survivor. To convince Alex to get off her drunk ass and make something of herself once again. To make her two dead parents proud.

            Hannah and Ryan Shepard were famous in their own right for their honorable work in the Alliance. Two legends who gave birth to another. They hoped the child would uphold their legacy. In her time with the Alliance and the N7 program, Alexandria Shepard far exceeded that. Wouldn’t they be so proud to see her like this now?

            Alex stared down at her cup, mindlessly swirling drink and listening to the ice clink against the glass. She scanned her surroundings, and all she could see was a bunch of inebriated low lives jumping to the ground-shaking music. Immersed in their fantasy of a perfect life, which in Alex’s eyes, isn’t much. But no matter what Alex thought of the way they chose to live their life, shouldn’t they at least have the opportunity to make that decision themselves?

            Only until then did realize how pathetic she must seem – sitting at the same barstool at the same bar on a regular schedule utterly alone. Alex pushed her drink away.

            “Close my tab, will you?” she called out to the batarian.

            “That turian paid for your drinks. You’re good to go.”

            Ping!

            Alex opened her omni-tool to read the incoming message.

            [NKryik]: Ship leaves at 0600. Dock 45. In case you come around to your senses.

            Alex climbed down from the bar stool carefully while she grasped onto whatever sense of balance she had left.

            “Heading up?” Aria’s turian bodyguard asked as she walked past the stairs where he’s stationed as sentry.

            “No. Out. Tell Aria thanks for everything, but I’m leaving. I have business to attend to. Here.” Alex typed into her omni-tool, and the bodyguard’s device beeped upon receipt. “This is all the intel I’ve gathered. Inventory, shipment activity, names, locations, scandalous blackmail material. All she needs to keep those mercenary groups under her thumb.”

            “Well aren’t you sweet?” he teased.

            “Go fuck yourself, Grizz.”

            “I wouldn’t have to if you’d just let me at you for one night.”

            “You wouldn’t be able to keep up,” she replied flirtatiously, patting his cheek crudely.

            Grizz had been after her since the day she stepped foot on the station. Even introduced her to Aria – much to her indignation – to serve as recon scout and provide reports of activity around Omega in exchange for credits. Alex’s first-rate information quickly put her on Aria’s good side. Her good side paid well. Though, Grizz’s kind and moving gestures weren’t enough to get the incredibly attractive commander to jump into bed with him. He held no bitter feelings about it.

            Alex was suspicious of the human-friendly turian at first, but she was in no position to turn down a friend at the time. They looked out for each other. Whenever he messed up, Alex helped cover for him so he wouldn’t be thrown out the airlock. And the nights he worked at the club, Grizz carried Alex to the second floor to lay her down gently on Aria’s couch. The other bodyguard, a batarian named Bray, was the one that left bruises on her body after carelessly dragging her up the stairs.

            “Take care, Grizz.”

            “Good luck out there, Shepard.”

            Alex walked out of the club half-coordinatingly and hailed for a skycab. She punched in coordinates into the self-driving vehicle to the nearest motel. It’d be the first real bed she’s slept in all of her time on Omega.

 


 

            Dock 45.

            Five more minutes. Nihlus would give Alex five more minutes to show up. After the state he saw her in at the club bar, he couldn’t remain too optimistic that she would. Still, he said 0600.

            “You saw how much I was drinking last night. You couldn’t have picked a later time?”

            Nihlus watched as Alex walked up with a small duffle bag strapped over her shoulder – a completely different person from the one he met just last night. For starters, Alex looked clean. Underneath the layers of dirt and grime revealed radiant porcelain skin. Her raven hair was silkier and softer without the grease build-up. Her posture now resembled a soldier – chest proud, head high, unbreakable, and commanding of respect. But what Nihlus noticed more than anything else was her eyes. At the bar, her crimson colored eyes were hazy and vacant. But now, he couldn’t stop looking at them as they lit up her face so brightly, bringing forth the robust, unyielding soldier he came to find in the first place.

             “You seem just fine to me,” he noted. What Alex consumed in a span of a couple of hours would’ve put any other human in the hospital. She didn’t appear the slightest bit hungover first thing in the morning.

            “Only because I’ve been building up my tolerance here. Not that I was a light drinker before.”

            Only a krogan could possibly match her shot for shot.

            “What made you change your mind?”

            “A change of heart,” she exhaled. “And you making me realize that I was doing the most cliché thing in existence by drowning my problems in the strongest, cheapest drink Afterlife has to offer. I think if you hadn’t stopped by…”

            Uncomfortable with being emotionally open, she shifted her weight from side to side.

            “…I might’ve turned in that resignation letter. I’ve never felt cowardice before. Not until Akuze. I don’t want to ever cross that feeling again.”

            Turians can’t exactly smile, yet when the mandibles on Nihlus’ face flared, Alex could read it as an expression of happiness.

            “Excellent. Then let’s get going, shall we?”

            “A human serving on a turian ship, huh? This should be interesting.”