That was what consumed Commander John Shepard’s body when he opened his eyes and slowly came to consciousness. White hot fingers of agony were lacing their way through his body; reaching from his left leg, both his arms and his rib cage, leaving him in a cocoon of pain.
He opened his mouth and took in a deep breath, the hot ash and dust that hung like a scorching mist in the air around him filling his mouth and travelling down to his lungs, causing him to cough and almost retch.
He choked and gasped for air, only serving to swallow even more of it, resulting in a horrible circle of gasping for oxygen and choking on the debris he would swallow. As his eyes began to water from the choking, and from the increasing pain from his ribs that the coughing and gasping caused, Shepard attempted to reach out his hand for something to grasp hold of. To his dismay, his arms wouldn’t respond to his brain’s command, only resulting in additional shooting pains from the two limbs to add to the maelstrom of agony in his body.
Fighting back the feelings of panic and helplessness, Shepard forced himself to calm down and to take slow and shallow breaths, enough to get the needed oxygen into his body but not to cause a choking fit on heated ash. Slowly his feelings of panic and distress began to recede, as did the burning need for oxygen in his lungs.
Looking around him, all that Shepard could see was darkness, an inky blackness that oppressively assaulted his retinas. Even if he was able to, he was sure that he could wave his hand in front of his face and not see a thing.
Deprived of his sight, Shepard attempted to use his other senses to determine his surroundings. He could hear the crackling of a far-off fire, with the smell of smoke and burning accompanying it. As he listened, he could hear various pieces of what he assumed was rubble shifting and falling with crashes, causing another wave of dust and tiny debris to pelt his face.
After a few moments, and a little painful shifting of his neck, his eyes managed to adjust to the meagre amount of amber, flickering light that made its way to his eyes throughout the cavernous space he was in. He could see the blurry outline of jagged pieces of rubble and twisted metalwork all round him, balanced precariously on top of each other and looking like they could fall down at any moment.
Directed his eyes downwards, he could see that he had rubble covering move of his body, with an especially large piece of stone pressing down on his leg left, which explained the pain coming from that limb, with Shepard sure that it must be broken. His arms were similarly trapped, his left by a large metal girder and his right by a large piece of stone debris that trapped all of his arm and his shoulder.
While his ribs, chest and head were thankfully free, he had obviously received a heavy blow to his ribcage if the pain was anything to go by. He attempted to move his arms again and, while he could see a vague twitch in his fingers, they could hardly move, and he could feel another white-hot stab of pain in response. He attempted to activate his omni tool to try and send out a distress message, but it had obviously been damaged in the blast, as it feebly flickered with orange sparks before dying completely.
Breathing slowly, feeling the pain level back out once more, he laid still for a moment, trying to suppress the pain that still permeated his body hoping to seek solace in his memories. He cast his mind back to the last thing he could remember before waking up in his current, pain filled state.
He remembered his final confrontation with the Illusive Man, being horrified at seeing the Reaper tech infused with his flesh, a visual representation of the indoctrination that he had been subjected to that had made him believe that attempting to control the Reapers was a good idea. While the Catalyst had told him that he could have brought the Reapers under his control, there was a part of Shepard that didn’t think it was the right idea, mainly because it was the idea of an indoctrinated Illusive Man, someone that he hadn’t trusted before his indoctrination.
He remembered activating the Crucible, shooting at the covered circuitry that had caused the crimson blast to fire from the weapon, before he was blasted backwards by the resulting explosion. He remembered the last thought that went through his head was of Liara smiling warmly at him, illuminated from behind by her wall of computers in her office aboard the Normandy SR2.
The thought of his love filled Shepard with both happiness and despair. Happiness at remembering her; the sight of her smile, the sound of her laugh, her warmth and kindness. And the despair that it was likely he wouldn’t ever see these traits in person again, likely that he wouldn’t leave this impromptu tomb.
He thought of the Normandy flying away from the surface of Earth before he had entered the conduit, carrying his friends, his family, away to what he hoped was safety. He hoped that they had managed to outrun the shockwave the Crucible had created, or the very least hadn’t been too badly damaged by its effects and had managed to escape unscathed.
Shepard wondered what effect his actions would have on the galaxy at large. The Catalyst had told him that the option he had chosen would wipe out all synthetic life throughout the galaxy, but Shepard wondered what effect it would have on the vast amount of crucial technology that there was, not least of which the cybernetic implants and adaptions that he had within his own body from his reconstruction at the hands of Cerberus.
As he lay alone in the dark, consumed by pain and his troubled thoughts, Shepard could feel his perception beginning to become hazy, his eyes beginning to close as the world around him began to blur and then fade into darkness.
Shepard slowly came to consciousness once more, with no way to determine just how long he had been out.
This time however it was different.
Before, while unable to move anything other that his head, his perception and mind had been quite clear, despite him not being able to see much due to the dim lighting. This time things were more…. fuzzy, like a thick mist had descended across his mind. While the pain was still present, it also felt significantly reduced, almost as if he was having an out of body experience.
There was something freeing about the experience, not being burdened by the excruciating pain he had before, or the troubling thoughts that had plagued his psyche. Shepard revelled in it for a while, embracing the ability to ignore his situation for a moment.
He lay there in the silence and darkness, for how long he had no idea, with the only sounds being the steady beating of his heart in his ears, with the fires having died out.
Suddenly he heard a voice.
His eyes snapped open, instantly recognising the voice. He looked around wildly, feeling his body protesting through the murky mist in his mind, trying to find the source. He opened his mouth to call out to her but no sound came out.
“Shepard,” came the voice again, but despite him craning his neck in every direction, Shepard couldn’t pinpoint where the voice was coming from.
The sound of her voice filled him with happiness once more, even if there was a small voice in the back of his head that told him that she couldn’t possibly be here. He suppressed this dissenting voice, holding onto the faint slimmer of hope that she could have been there.
“John,” came Liara’s voice once more.
However, this time Shepard merely closed his eyes, trying to quell the rising bitter feeling of disappointment as he realised the truth.
She wasn’t there. He was hallucinating.
“I am yours,” her voice then said, echoing the last words he had heard from her, when he and Garrus had carried her onto the Normandy during the final push to the Conduit.
Shepard squeezed his eyes shut, trying to hold back his feelings of disappointment while at the same time feeling a rush of happiness and satisfaction at hearing Liara’s voice once more.
“I love you, Shepard,” her voice said again, repeating her words from their night together before their assault on Cronos Station in the Horsehead Nebula.
He opened his mouth to reply, to tell her that he loved her too, that she meant more to him that anything in the galaxy, but still nothing escaped his mouth, not matter how much he tried.
His despair swallowing hm, Shepard both hoped he wouldn’t hear anything else in her voice and also prayed that he would, so that he could hear her voice again.
However, it wasn’t Liara’s voice that he heard next.
“Hey, lad,” came a familiar male voice, one that he hadn’t heard in years.
Despite himself, Shepard opened his eyes, and desperately opened his mouth to try and form words… but nothing happened.
Dad! Shepard thought happily.
He knew that his father had died years before. He had found out from his mother, when Cerberus had brought him back, that his father had thrown himself into his work after Shepard’s death at the hands of the Collectors and had died himself during what had seemed like a routine run in with a batarian slaver gang. The revelation had devastated Shepard, as he’d had a close relationship with his father and the knowledge that he would never again see him or hear his voice had caused him to retreat into himself for the early part of his mission against the Collectors.
But now he was hearing it again.
“I’m proud of you, son,” his father’s voice echoed through his mind. “I’m so proud.”
Shepard scrunched up his eyes, to stop the tears that were welling up in his eyes from falling. He recognised his father’s words. It was from when he had returned home to tell his parents that he had passed the training and was now an N7. He remembered the beaming look on his father’s face when he had told him, the happy tears of pride that had welled up in his eyes upon hearing his only child had become an N7.
Before his feelings could fade, another voice entered his mind, another that he recognised instantly.
“I just wanted you to know that I am proud of you, honey. So proud.”
Mum, Shepard thought.
This time there was hardly any time for him to process the voice and its words before the next came thundering into his mind.
“Go out there and give them hell. You were born to do this!”
Garrus, Shepard thought, with a smile spreading across his face at the thought of his best friend, his own words coming to his mind.
There’s no Shepard without Vakarian.
However, the voices were coming thick and fast now, with him only just managing to recognise who they were before the next followed behind, with them often repeating the last words he had heard from them, from the people close enough to be his family.
“Whatever happens, I’m proud to have served with you, Captain.” Tali, the young quarian who had become one of his closest friends and allies, accompanying him from Saren to Earth.
“You’re gonna kick some Reaper arse. That’s what you do. And I’ll be flying you there in style.” Joker, the best pilot in the fleet, without whom they would all have died several times over.
“Guess we’re old soldiers, hey Shepard?” Kaidan, another old ally, who had overcome the issues and distrust between them to fight their common foe.
“No matter what else happens today, you did what no one else could – you united a galaxy. That’s a victory right there.” Wrex, the krogan who had risen from being a standard mercenary to being the de facto leader of the krogan people.
“I promise. And you too, Shepard”. Miranda, who had risen from her blind loyalty to Cerberus and the Illusive Man due to her love for her sister.
“There’s this great little bar in Rio we have to check out.” Jacob, who had escaped his ties to Cerberus to find love and family with Dr. Brynn Cole.
“Thanks… for getting me out of that tank.” Grunt, the tank-born krogan who had almost become a surrogate little brother to Shepard.
“Let’s gut the bastards!” Zaeed, the grizzled mercenary who had begun to shed his tough exterior during his time aboard the Normandy.
“It’s been an honour serving with you commander.” James, his budding protégé who had quickly made himself an invaluable member of the crew, both on the battlefield and as the centre of attention during squad down time.
“Thanks for making me believe again.” Cortez, another new member to the Normandy family, whose easy camaraderie with James Vega had fitted in well with their motley crew.
“Good luck, Shepard. If you live through it, drinks are on me.” Kasumi, the lone wolf thief with a mischievous streak and a heart of gold, despite her chosen profession.
“It has been my great honour to be with you through this journey. I’m proud of you.” Dr Chakwas, the stalwart medical officer aboard the Normandy, who was always there for any member of the crew. The ship just wouldn’t be the same without her.
“I won’t let you down, Shepard. Go kick some arse.” Jack, the ‘psychotic biotic’ who had become something akin to a sister to Shepard after bonding during the Suicide Mission to deal with the Collectors.
“Thank you, Commander… for letting the last voice of the Protheans speak. It has been a privilege.” Javik, the last of his kind, who, despite his often gruff and antagonistic behaviour, had developed a mutual grudging respect with Shepard.
“Only your actions will be remembered. May you choose them well.” Samara, her parting words as mystical and spiritual as always.
The thoughts brought a beaming smile to Shepard’s face, despite his ominous predicament. The thoughts of his loved ones, his friends, his family. Their faces had flashed in his mind as he heard them speak, causing him to feel a rush of happiness at the sight of them.
However, the voices and faces didn’t stop there.
“Commander, I’m afraid I won’t be joining you again.” Thane, another of his closest friends, who had died during the attempted Cerberus coup, still managing to hold his own with Kai Leng, despite his terminal illness.
“Had to be me. Somebody else might have gotten it wrong.” Mordin, the brilliant scientist who had died attempting to rectify his work on the genophage.
“The Illusive Man ordered my creation years ago. Jeff was the one who allowed me to think for myself. But only now do I feel alive. That is your influence.” EDI, the Normandy AI, an unfortunate collateral damage in the destruction of the Reapers, a decision that Shepard had not taken lightly.
“Shepard-Commander. I must go to them. I’m sorry. It’s the only way.” Legion, a geth who had shown Shepard and the Normandy crew that not all geth were as the legions who had followed Saren and Sovereign, and he had died to give his people freedom.
“I understand, Commander. I don’t regret a thing.” Ashley, one of the bravest people Shepard have ever known. When he had made the decision to save Kaidan on Virmire, to protect the nuke they needed to destroy the base, she had agreed and gone along with his painful decision without a word of protest.
“You did good, son. You did good. I’m proud of you.” Anderson, his mentor figure in the Alliance. Someone who no matter how outlandish and far fetched Shepard’s protestations had seemed, had always believed in him and always had his back.
“If anyone has to take over for Captain Anderson, I’m glad it’s you.” Pressly, their navigator who had overcome his distrust and prejudice of aliens during their hunt for Saren, only to perish in the destruction of the original Normandy.
“Don’t worry, sir. I’m not gonna screw this up!” Jenkins, his rookie squad mate who had perished on their drop onto Eden Prime, all those years ago. The tragic irony being that he had come hope to where he had grown up, only to die there.
These faces and voices, while eliciting happiness in him, also produced strong feelings of loss and grief. It was then that the full weight of the losses he had suffered crashed down upon him, when he realised the toll of the war with the Reapers.
The tears came flooding to his eyes and his grief crashed over him, wave after wave of it as he remembered all of his lost friends and loved ones. A strangled sob left his lips as he lay there alone, cocooned in his pain and grief.
As he struggled with his feelings, Shepard became aware that his consciousness was beginning to fade and become hazy once more. And this time he embraced it, embraced the oncoming darkness and the welcome break from his grief.
Shepard closed his eyes and the world faded into oblivion once more.
As Shepard slowly came to once more, he could immediately tell that this time was again different than the others.
In contrast to before when the initial sounds were simply the steady pounding of his heartbeat and the occasional shifting of the rubble around, and later the sounds of his friend’s voices in his head, this time there was sounds all around him.
He could hear several voices talking to each other, with some sounding quite far off and a couple that were clearly quite close to him. However, unlike before he recognised none of them.
There was also a lot lighter this time, with several beams of light moving in arcs around the vast space, illuminating the thick layer of dust and ash that continue to hang in the air, like an oppressive blanket.
Despite it being so different from before, Shepard was still half convinced that it was another hallucination. Not wishing to sit through yet more manifestations of his loved ones, Shepard closed his eyes once more and willing for the darkness to engulf him once more.
However, before he could lose consciousness once more, a light blasted him directly in the face, searing his retinas even through his closed eyes. Shepard blearily opened his now watering eyes and attempted to raise a hand to block out the jet of light, forgetting that he could move neither of his arms, a jolting stab of pain rewarding him for his absentmindedness.
Shepard opened his mouth to say something, just as the jet of light lowered from his face and he guessed it was now aiming towards his chest. No words could escape him, but before he could even attempt to do anymore he heard a voice from close to him shout out.
“He’s here!” it yelled, making Shepard’s ears ring. “We’ve found him!”
Shepard couldn’t believe his ears, although he was becoming more and more convinced that it wasn’t another hallucination.
Or was it?
“Commander Shepard?” came the voice again, closer to him this time. “Commander Shepard, can you hear me?”
He opened his mouth again and attempted to speak but all that left his mouth was a strangled grunt, that was hardly audible. Despite this, it took a tremendous amount of effort for him to make any sort of sound, resulting in his beginning to swim once more.
Closing his eyes in response, Shepard heard the sound of several more people arriving and beginning to talk amongst themselves, but Shepard’s mind was swimming so he could hardly begin to tell who was saying what.
“Holy shit, it is him!” came a gruff voice that Shepard vaguely recognised as being that of a turian.
“He’s in a bad way,” came initial voice once more, sounding concerned. “Body scan is showing broken arms, left leg and several ribs. Potential pancreatic trauma and massive internal bleeding.”
“This should stabilise him for now.”
As this third voice said this, that of a salarian, Shepard felt the familiar soothing and numbing feeling of medi-gel entering his body, and sighed deeply in spite of himself, with the constant feeling of pain that he had been experiencing lessening slightly.
“We need to get him out of here,” the first voice said urgently. “Thompson, Kalon. Get the stretcher so we can get him of here. Listeris, get the oxygen mask. I’ll maintain the medi-gel intake and keep an eye on his vitals, but we need to get some oxygen into him.”
“I’ll get to work getting all this crap off him,” came the turian’s voice.
There was a flurry of activity all around Shepard but he could hardly see any of it as his vision was blurred, the medical staff’s omni tools appearing as a hazy orange glow to his eye, attached to vague dark shapes that drifted across his vision.
Shepard heard the rubble surrounding him being shifted, with muttered curses and grunts from the turian accompanying it. Before long, Shepard felt the pieces that was pressing down on his body beginning to shift as the turian began to remove them. The first to go was the large piece obstructing his right arm and shoulder. While it was clumsily done, resulting in another burst of pain as it was practically rolled off him, Shepard was glad at the release of the pressure there.
The girder on his left arm was the next to go, which seemed to give the turian trouble as Shepard could hear his muttered curses increase, including a couple that the translator program in his sub-dermal implant couldn’t find a corresponding word in English. Either that or it too had been damaged in the blast.
As an oxygen mask was strapped to his face, and he breathed in a lungful of clean air for the first time in who knows how long, Shepard felt another rush of numbing bliss as more medi-gel was pumped into him, this time accompanied by an increasing drowsiness, and he guessed that they must have also introduced from anaesthesia into his blood.
Soon he felt several sets of hands lift him gently and place him upon the stretcher, and he felt straps tighten around his arms and legs, although he no longer felt the pain, thanks to the combination of pain relief in his system. His drowsiness increased even further, to the point where it was growing difficult to keep his eyes open.
As he began to succumb to it, and closed his eyes once more, he heard the doctor’s omni tool begin to beep frantically.
“His vitals are dropping!” came the doctors voice, sounding as if it was coming to Shepard down a long tunnel and travelling further away with every syllable. “He’s crashing!”