“All right, back to work. This isn’t going to clean itself.” The captain barked. A few groans went up. A young marine snickered, shoved his buddy and nodded over the pile of corpses, all human.
“Makes you kind of wish they would get up and walk now, huh?” Before he could continue; a tattooed hand gripped him tightly by the shirt.
“You got jokes?”
“Didn’t think so. Because that would be disrespectful. And do you know what I do to disrespectful little shits still waiting for their balls to drop?”
The terrified marine only managed an imperceptible shake of his head.
“I. Fucking. Destroy. Them.”
The musty tang of urine reached Jack’s nostrils. Her lip curled into a sneer. “Go clean yourself up.”
As he scurried off in shame, she looked around at the other members of her detail. If any of them had been watching, they had the sense enough to look busy. Jack sighed and surveyed their progress.
It had been weeks since Shepard had activated the crucible and stopped the Reapers. The convulsing orange and magenta wave that looked, for the entire galaxy, like a wall of divine fire that purged the universe of synthetic life and intelligence, leaving nothing behind except for the hollowed out shells of Guardians. With no Reaper remains, it was starting to seem like a dream…
-except it wasn’t.
The corpses piled throughout the Citadel were evidence enough, but the estimates put the “recovery” work completed within a week.
Jack snorted. It was a prettied up way of saying corpse disposal.
The fleet had sent rescue teams to the Citadel the same hour as victory had been struck. Everyone knew who had fired the crucible. There was no shortage of volunteers, of whom Jack was one of the first, to retrieve survivors. There were few survivors. After a week, the objective of the mission had quietly changed to ‘casualty identification’. The day that happened, she had received an encoded message from T’Soni:
Don’t stop looking.
Jack wasn’t fond of orders but she knew Blue was special to Shepard. If anyone had a clue if Shepard was alive or dead, it would be her. Besides, the way Jack figured it; it would be better to stay on the Shadow Broker’s good side.
“Captain, you might want to come look.”
The shout pulled her attention to a small group near a pile of rubble underneath what used to be the pinnacle of the station. Jack hurried over, unceremoniously shoving a few marines to the side. She stopped short at the object of their attention.
Sticking out from underneath a pile of rubble was a melted, mangled armored chest piece that was unrecognizable except for a blackened N7. Her heart started beating faster as her biotics flared. “Stand back.”
In a display that she wouldn’t ever be able to recreate; Subject Zero blasted the debris violently away, but yet the figure underneath remained untouched.
“Holy…” Rodriquez breathed, shaking dust from her hair. “How did you do that?”
Jack just ignored her student and moved towards the deathly still form on the floor.
Blood. Guts. Viscera. These things had never bothered her. Shit. She was the cause of it mainly. But, for the first time in a long time, she felt a heavy sickness settle in the back of her throat.
Between the soot, scorching and tissue damage it was hard to make out much of anything. Jack reached out a hand and hoped that her squad didn’t notice the slight tremor to it. As she pressed her finger tips gently against the neck, the hitherto motionless form took a painful gasp.
“Get a fucking corpsman!” Jack bellowed.
Holding on to Tali, she reached her left hand towards Shepard. As if by some miracle, the gesture would convince her bond mate to either come or let her stay.
“I am yours…”
Liara shot upright in bed, heart beating so hard it felt as though it was trying to smash a hole through her ribs. Between the rapidly fading haze of the nightmare, muted glow of terminals in rest state and the burden of fatigue; it took a few moments for her to get her bearings.
It felt like it had been years since she had really slept. It had been two exhausting weeks since she left Shepard behind in London. Dr. Chakwas had been in the middle of cutting Liara’s injured right leg out of her pants when they felt the Normandy make the emergency jump to hyperspace. The doctor had known that the silent tears that poured down Liara’s face afterwards had nothing to do with her injury.
Shepard had done more than just unite the galaxy’s fleets. She had poured countless hours and resources into ensuring that all the fleets were in the best possible state of readiness. Few knew this though. Shepard had done so much under the turned, blind and ungrateful eyes of the Council. The Normandy had survived the destructive wave of the crucible, more or less, intact…
Liara futilely slammed her fist down on her bed, remembering the last words EDI spoke before a natural silence cut her off. Natural. No hum of operating systems. No white noise. The lack of it confirmed what they had always debated…synthetic life was life. It could cease to exist. And, really, wasn’t that death?
“I don’t think Shepard’s dead.”
The crew had looked at her like she had grown a second head.
“I-I would know if she was dead.”
It had been more of a confession than she would have normally made. But, the memorial service had been impromptu. The Alliance had found Anderson’s body within a day. However, after three days of searching and hardly any survivors found, an Alliance message was sent galaxy wide stating that Shepard was presumed dead. However, the Normandy’s crew had not questioned her confession. They trusted her. Commander Williams, who had received a battlefield promotion; simply nodded and ordered the Normandy to Sol space from the nameless jungle planet that, had served as their emergency landing.
That had been a week and four days ago. And still, nothing.
A feeling of hopeless pain threatened to crush her. She cursed. What had Shepard done to her? She wasn’t acting her age. She wasn’t even acting her species. The emotions of losing Shepard again were too much. She felt like a human, a child. Tossed about by every emotion that happened upon her. She knew that an asari could, possibly, take on characteristics of whomever they joined their consciousness to, but she had never dreamt that joining with a human would unseat her rationality. If that was even the reason for the raging emotions that attacked, unexpectedly, and at the worst times.
The soft chime of an incoming personal com pulled her back from the edge of an emotional abyss. Taking a deep breath, she hoped her voice only sounded rough from sleep.
“You might want to hear this,” Traynor spoke without formalities.
Specialist Traynor had spent nearly as much time scouring the scores of communications involving the Citadel as she had, looking for any sign of Shepard. The two had formed an unspoken bond. Liara wasn’t a fool. She could see how Traynor looked at the Commander. She couldn’t blame her. It was hard not to fall in love with the woman behind the legend.
There was a short burst of static as Traynor patched Liara into an active channel.
“Where are the motherfucking medics?! I will kill every single fucking person here until I get a fucking corpsman!”
Liara flinched at the profane violence of the threat.
“I believe that is Subject Zero,” Glyph intoned.
“Indeed. Thank you, Glyph,” she replied, absently. Attention rapt upon the hacked link. She could hear the sound of running feet and shouted orders. Whether she knew it or not, Jack had left her com on. She could hear Jack moving, pulling something towards her. Then, unexpectedly:
“Hang in there, Shep. Don’t you fucking die on me;” The consummate badass’ voice began to crack, “You don’t get to fucking die on me.”
Liara did not hear the rest as she was out the door, racing for the shuttle bay.
She felt first.
She willed to move, to speak. She gasped; a painful affair that renewed the torment in her body and somewhere her mind decided that the pain wasn’t worth breathing. So, she stopped.
“…Shep-” That wasn’t her voice… “Don’t…die…on…me.”
The earnestly pained voice was so dulcetly familiar. A memory stirred somewhere… The pain was too much. She couldn’t remember the voice, but she knew it. And if she knew it then she should listen and follow…
No. Listen to us…
Her consciousness tilted as a new chorus of voices whispered together; calling her back into oblivion that had held her for an eternity right before she had drawn a ragged gasp. The voices sung a sweeter song than the tortured voice that begged her back into agony. She let go and fell back into the sweetest of nothings.
Hang in there, Shepard.
“Can’t you move any faster?” Jack demanded, her eyes revealing barely controlled anger.
“No, but we are almost there,” the young medic moving the biotic stretcher replied nodding towards the newly reconstructed docking bay doors. As if to punctuate the fact, a trauma team rushed from them.
“I thought Huerta was up?” she asked.
“Orders are to bring the casualty to the Mercy.”
“Casualty? What the fu-” Jack was forced aside before she could finish. The controlled chaos of triage began. Jack trailed as far as the gangway to the AFS Mercy, at which point she was stopped by two C-Sec monkeys.
“Authorized personnel only.”
“The fuck you mean, ‘authorized personnel only?’” Jack’s biotics flared. The guards flinched but held their ground.
“I’m sorry, Captain. It has been the order of the day since the Mercy docked: crew and patients only.”
Growling, she looked past them. Shepard was already through the doors and getting herself thrown into the brig (for the two minutes it would take her to break out) was too much of a hassle. Still pissed, she feinted towards the guard who had spoken; this time he did jump.
“Bitch,” she ground out before storming off.
Liara had spent two hours searching the Citadel for Shepard.
“Sorry, Doctor. There hasn’t been any traffic since we lost Jack’s com. I’ll keep looking though.”
“Yes. Thank you, Traynor.” She keyed off her Omni-tool and rubbed the bridge of her nose absently.
Something wasn’t right. Huerta had no record of any emergency admissions in the past twelve hours. She had checked with both the Alliance and the Council. If anyone knew anything, they were doing a splendid job of hiding it. She didn’t have to be the Shadow Broker to know a cover-up. But why?
She tried to reason the worry burrowing deeper into her gut for her bond mate away. She could think of a few reasons why the Alliance would want to keep Shepard’s survival a secret for now. However, she couldn’t fathom a reason why Hackett would keep her out of the loop. And that was the crux of her concern. Liara keyed her Omni-tool back on.
“Jack, its T’Soni. We need to talk.”