The Brightest Stars Burn In The Darkest Places.
"How bad is it?" Anderson asked.
"Bad. We lost contact with two of our deep space outposts and there is something massive on long range scanners." Hackett told him grimly.
"Is this what Shepard warned up about?" Anderson asked.
"I'd stake my life on it." Hackett nodded.
Anderson sighed, shaking his head. "How long do we have?"
"Not long." Hackett affirmed. "I sent word and the Fleets are mobilizing."
Anderson looked out of his window, towards the stars as thousands of tiny flickering lights shone overhead.
"God help us all."
Jane took a deep breath as she tried to focus on her biotics, blindfolded to give her complete darkness as she tried to carefully lift the crates and pile them.
It was meant to be an easy task and she had done it before, but the Collector base had left her afraid of the dark and every time someone or something made a sound near her when she was like this, it brought back those terrible memories and she lost her focus, dropping the crates as she ripped the blind fold from her face. "I can't..." She said, "I can't do this."
"You can, Jane." Nihlus assured her softly, "You just need time." He added, "Come on, lets go see what Liara has sent to us today, we can try this again later."
"Ok Nihlus." Jane said smiling as Lieutenant Jennix stood from his seat and followed them silently.
They made it home just as the sky began to darken, then with a terrified scream, Jane could only run, clutching Jennix’s hand as the young lieutenant lead her and her family to the safety of their shuttle, covering the docking bay as Nihlus helped the elderly members of the Kirana family into the shuttle and ordered the few soldiers into action as Husks attacked the house.
Jane clutched her head and tried to keep calm, but the memories of the screaming people on the Collector ship an the horrors she had seen there all came flooding back and she felt herself slipping into the dark memories of that place for just a brief moment, shaking and trembling as the shuttle rattled and shook violently with impacts and turbulence.
A gentle tri-fingered hand touched her back and she looked up with tear-filled eyes to see Nihlus and Jennix were there and gently Nihlus placed a warm blanket around her. “We’re clear of it, Jane.”
“Where’s Marie?” She asked.
“We’re looking.” Jennix assured, “But Auntie Marie won’t go down in this.” He added looking at something out the window as they left Earth behind.
She'd been right.
This whole time, she'd been right.
Sparatus snarled into his hands as he tried to think clearly through the mess of reports he was now getting one after another after another, over and over again from every Colony and planet the Turian race called home. Tevos covered her mouth with her hand as the reports came in to her as well, horrified by the ever growing number of losses and Verlan having to turn away from his console as they realized just how wrong they had all been.
“Admiral Anderson!? Alliance Command?! London Base?! Hackett?! Kirara?! Shepard?!” Udina demanded, into his comm channels. “Someone answer me damnit!!”
~ "Shut the fuck up and clear the comms." ~ A familiar voice snarled and slowly, the fear left Udina's face as Admiral Hackett spoke up though the signal was broken with static and white noise. ~ "Shepard got out. *fizzbleepbleep* On the Normandy. I sent her to Mars. *staticcrackcrack* Doctor T'soni. She's. *fuzzbuzzwhine* on her way to you." ~
The signal cut off and for a time the four were silent.
"Now what?" Udina hissed.
"We focus on making sure our people are safe." Tevos said. "Until Shepard gets here, it's all we can do."
And they did, hour after hour reports came in with bigger and bigger losses and only small pockets for people, people who had listened to Shepard all along were reporting any good news, small lines held, small pockets of safety that held and held and held until help finally arrived and families were carried to safety. Human colonies with spare ships and crafts flew into the air space of the Citidel, creating floating shelters for the misplaces and homeless from all the races, food stocks were torn open and brought into the makeshift kitchens and hot meals were bought around those who needed it.
Few people knew where the food was from or who had stockpiled it for so long, but they didn’t question it. Nor did they question where the sudden influx of soldiers and security came from, Udina demanded answers, he always did, but when he took his demand for answers to the head of C-sec, he was given a glare and told that the people helping had ALWAYS been there, and he was just to blindly ignorant to notice them before.
Then, after what felt like an eternity, the Normandy flew into the docks, but instead of joy or happiness, Marie Jane Shepard had all but shoved the fool reporter aside as she and James Vaga carried Ashley William’s unconscious and badly beaten body through the suddenly parting crowds and followed Pallin to the nearest medical wing, Liara coming at a much slower pace as she helped Joker down the gang plank, his left leg badly twisted out of place.
Clearly, Mars wasn’t an easy trip.
“Move.” Was the only warning anyone got.
Chakwas ignored the hollow sound as Shepard’s fist dented the wall of the room with one solid impact, expertly sidestepping as the tool try and thrown aside and ducked as an unfortunate datapad was thrown through the reinforced glass of the room.
“Lola?! What are you doing?!” James Vaga asked in shock, sheltering behind the door of the room.
“I am NOT doing this again,” She said ripping the dog tags from around her neck and tossing them aside, those Chakwas followed the path of, smiling her thanks to Liara as the Asari caught them before they could be lost in the ruins of the room and neatly held them in her own hands, safe for the moment as Shepard continued to rage. “Fuck the damn lot of them! I am not going through this hell again! Not this time.”
“No!” Marie hissed, cutting James off. “I'm not going through this again, I can't! Twice I told them shit was going to happen and did they listen? No! They ignored me! They left themselves wide open to this attack and now they're still bickering over whose more important!”
“Shepard please, you are the only one who can do this... the data we found on Mars-”
“At the cost of thousands of lives! They don’t care!!” Marie screamed and this time Liara had to put up a Biotic barrier to keep the table from hitting them.
“Commander please!” Liara pleaded as she brought her arms up, Biotics flared around them as she blocked the punches Shepard threw at her. “What is all this? You’ve never let the thoughts of others get to you... not like this!”
“Didn’t you hear Ashley?! All she sees in me is some Cerberus puppet! Its what they all see!!” Shepard screamed and buried her fists into a wall panel again and again. “Three years they fucked me over, three years they make me out to be insane, they ignore everything I say and now, now they can see it for themselves rather than the video feed and the reports from aliens NOW they want my help?! No. I am not playing this fucked up game anymore!!”
“Shepard...” James began then fell silent as Chakwas waved him off and he realized the commander wasn’t directing her anger at them, even as she now focused on Liara with her anger.
“I am done being everyone's damn savior! I didn't want this! I did everything I could to stop it and when all hell comes down its suddenly my number they all call?!” She screeched. “I am fucking done! They want proof Cerberus isn't controlling me then they can damn well deal with the mess they made for themselves! Tell Joker to find the nearest dead world from here and drop me off on it. I am done being the hero!”
“And what about Jane?” Liara asked, catching Marie’s fist in her palm as the commander went silent, “What about Garrus? Tali? Samara? Thane? Legion? Jack? Doctor Chakwas? Admiral Moores? What about the people who do care? The people who fought for you all this time? Do you think we want to go through this again?”
“You don't have to,” Marie spat, “Grab a ship, stock it with fuel and solar panels, pack food and water, set cause and go into warp space, go after the Arks.”
“Do you really think we would do that?” Liara asked.
“Billions of others did.” She reminded, “And why shouldn't they have? At least out there they can't be destroyed. They won’t have to see the death of their loved ones happening before their eyes, or hear the screams of families and innocent people struggling to get free... I wouldn’t be surprised if they find their golden worlds have already been destroyed by the Reapers where they are going. Or if the Reapers follow them when they are done with us.”
“A grim way to look at it.” Chakwas said.
“Would you like me to lie to you?” Marie asked. “Tell you that somehow I can pull the means to build this weapon out of my ass and the credits to build the fucker too? That we'll get it right first time and somehow win this war?” she added, shaking her head. “No, its not going to get any better, its just going to get worse and worse.”
“How can you be so sure?” Liara asked.
“Because I've seen it... Liara I'm still seeing it. Every night since I was given that vision from Eden Prime, I’ve seen it, the end of the Protheans, the end of everything they were and had been, lost and destroyed in one swoop.” Shepard shook her head. “It just gets clearer and clearer every night and these last few nights, it's been so clear, so real... I'm not even sure I'm sane anymore.”
Liara stood silently, watching as Shepard slowly sank to the floor, hugging her knees to her chest and trying to keep the tears from her eyes, the room was a mess and while normally the staff would have come in and started clean up, Chakwas had sent them away before and so te only ones there to witness this were herself, the good doctor and James.
“I'm tired... tired of doing this over and over again... I just want it to end.” Shepard whispered, “is that too much to ask? Just once, for the fighting to be over? To just go home and just enjoy some kind of peace?”
“Then make it end.” Liara said, “Be the Commander who saved me from the Prothean shielding, the Commander who made Wrex see through the lies Saren told about a cure for the genophage. Be the commander who gave Tali and Garrus someone to follow when no one else would give them a chance. Prove Ashley and all the others wrong.”
“And if I can't?”
“As a very kind Drell once said,” Liara smiled and offered Shepard her hand. “You have made a career out of doing the impossible.”
“You've spoken to Thane?” She asked.
“He's on the Citadel right now, we keep in touch. It was through him I leant a little more about so many of his close acquaintances and why those who know you call you by your Wolf Gang name and not your Alliance one.”
“You did some research in to me?” Shepard asked with a very weak smile.
“No, more into the creatures you call Wolves. They are fascinating creatures and I can see why you like them.” Liara smiled. “If I might be so bold as to say, I even think I understand why you are so protective of all of us and why you behave the way you do sometimes.”
Shepard smiled and Liara heard the first real laugh from her in a long time, “Pack mentality.” She said, “I never could get away from it... even in training.”
Liara nodded and offered Shepard the dog tags she’d thrown aside early. “You can make this end Marie, I know you are tired and I know you want it to be over, but we can’t do this without you at the front.”
Marie looked at the tags and after a long moment she sighed and nodded, taking the tags and putting them back around her neck. “One last time.” She said gently rubbing her thumb over the few tags that remained there. “One last time…”
“I’ll clean up this place,” Liara assured, “Thane might be up and around by now, maybe you can talk to him for a while?”
Chakwas nodded, “I can show you to him Marie, then I’ll go make sure Joker behaves himself while we wait for the ship to restock before we leave.”
“We?” Marie asked.
“I’m not leaving you to fight this battle alone.” Chakwas smiled softly, “Come now, James go do whatever it is you feel like doing, Marie doesn’t need a baby sitter while she’s here.” She added and waved Vaga off while leading Shepard away.
Councilor Tevos was in the medical wing when Shepard arrived, though the Asari councilor hadn’t approached as Chakwas cleared her visit with the main desk and then lead her to a seating area where a Drell was seated, watching the sky cars go by.
“Hello Thane.” She greeted as Chakwas left them and the Drell nodded, waving to the seat beside him. “How are you holding up?”
“I am as well as I can be.” Thane said calmly, holding his hands out to her and reluctantly Shepard brought her hands from her pockets and let him take them, showing her bleeding and raw knuckles. “Are you alright?” he asked gently cleaning her hands with a small personal medical kit.
“I had an argument with a wall.” She admitted, “Liara’s cleaning up the mess but I’m not sure if it’ll be the last time I snap and destroy a room.” She added, letting him tend her hands.
“Are you going out again?” he asked.
“No one else will.” Marie said, “No, no one else can.” She then corrected herself with a heavy sigh. “No one wanted to help me before, now that hell's at everyone’s doors they suddenly want my help and my guidance. Me, the one they painted as the insane loon who was as mad as the fucking hatter.”
“Not all of us were so cruel.” Thane reminded softly, gently rapping a clean bandage over her hands. “I would come with you, Shepard. But I am not as I was, my blood doesn’t hold the oxygen it needs, my skills have dulled. I am at the end of my life.”
“Don’t die on me yet, Thane.” Shepard pleaded softly, “I need someone to help me stay grounded here… Someone who talks sense and makes the world brighter.”
“My wife said the same thing to me once,” Thane chuckled gently squeezing her hands in his. “You may not feel like it now, but you make the world bright just by being in it Marie, you are liken to star fighting to shine bright against the Reapers’ black hole of darkness.” He told her, “You’ve faced impossible odds before, fought against everyone and everything that had stood in your way, now you will go and finish the fight that remains and when you need someone to hold you in place and remind you there is hope left in this darkening world, you need only turn around and see the people stood behind you, willing to follow you into the darkness and fight at your side.”
Shepard shook her head. “How can you always make things sound easy and believable?” She asked and he chuckled softly, a sound that was cut short as he coughed into his hand. “Thane?”
“I am alright Marie.” He assured gently, “I will watch out for your friend, Lieutenant Commander Williams, your enemies may try and finish what has been started while she is here.”
She smiled a little. “Thank you, Thane. For everything.” She said, slowly standing and taking the offered tissue to wipe her face.
“I am at the end of my life,” He reminded, “It is a good time to be generous.” Shepard nodded and turned to leave, passing another Drell on the way with a nod before she vanished out the doors.
Tevos followed her at a distance, watching as Shepard passed by people who had offered aid to others and each one turned and gently brushed their hands against her arms or catching her hand for a few brief seconds, a unspoken message Tevos realized was slowly building and stoking the embers that had once been a raging fire inside Shepard.
These people were total strangers to Tevos and the rest of the Council, likely to everyone else who knew Marie, but the Commander allowed them to touch her, to reach through the tightly wrapped protective bubble of personal space and actually touch her however briefly, a gentle unspoken exchange of trust, understanding and something akin to friendship that Tevos doubted even her crew mates shared with her.
Shepard came to a stop at a small alcove where a Turian, Asari, Quarian, Drell and another Human were stood, looking over some papers and D-pads, though each one stopped and offered Shepard their hand as she came to them, the Turian gently catching her arm, the Asari nodding her head while the Drell placed a gentle kiss to the back of her hand and the other human shook her hand. Whatever was said was lost to Tevos and before she could get close enough to hear anything, she was called back to her office to talk with her fellow Councilors.
She reported what she had seen to Sparatus and Valern, but she did not mention it to Udina. It would only lead to more trouble than it was worth, especially now when Shepard was on her way to speak with them at last. As the doors to the elevator opened and she stepped out, a young girl from the crowd raced at the Commander.
Sparatus watched as Marie fell to one knee and caught Jane in her arms, holding the younger girl close and protected as Jennix saluted to her, watching Shepard stand, carrying Jane up with her and exchange a few words with the two before gently setting Jane down on her own feet and nodding to Jennix, who lead the girl away and back to the elderly family that had been with her before.
Former Admiral Moore saluted her and she returned it, letting him gently place a hand on her shoulder and whisper something to her as she passed him, standing for a short moment with another older man the Turian Councilor had never seen before, but clearly he knew Shepard as he offered her his hand and she shook it, nodding in understanding as the man left. She passed Nihlus with a weak smile that the old Spector returned and gently grabbed her arm for just a moment in a true greeting before letting her continue on her path towards them. Udina was uncomfortable with it. The uncertainty was almost visible in his face as Marie stepped up to the platform and leveled them all with a heated glare.
“I don’t have time for your bullshit politics or your sob stories of how your planets are suffering greater losses than ever before, I already know its happening and now that you are all in agreement that I’ve been right from the start, you are going to listen to me and you WILL do whatever you are asked to do from here on out or I will come up there myself and strip the four of you of your ranks as Councilors, hand you weapons and throw you into the field myself.” She told them. “Is that in anyway unclear for any one of you?”
Tevos looked to her fellow Councilors and noticed only Udina was showing any sign of not accepting the terms that had been set down, truly they had deserved a lot worse than just a firm ‘do as I say or else’ from Shepard, how many times had they allowed their own fears and their own mistrust of the Human Spector and her growing power with the people become the basis for not believing a word she said?
No longer. Tevos refused to let her world and people burn because she had made a mistake.
“What do you need from us Shepard?” She asked.
“Liara found the blue prints to an ancient weapon the Protheans were trying to build before they were wiped out. You are going to give her complete access to the Citadel files and codex so that she can work her magic and find whatever more she can that can help us. In the meantime, you are also going to get your asses out of your offices, off this damn stage and help the people you claim to represent with their efforts to fight the Reapers. You will also get in touch by ANY means with your world leaders and tell them that when I come knocking on their doors to get their asses out of the fire, they had better be willing to bend over backwards and play nice with each other so we can at least attempt to win this fight, anyone who doesn’t want to play nice will be removed from their seat of power and replaced with someone willing to get shit done without political gain or benefits.”
“And if that is not enough?” Valern asked.
“Then you better fucking pray death is swift and painless.” Shepard told him coldly, “One way or the other, I am getting that weapon built and ready to take out as many Reapers as possibly before they take me out.”
“You do not see yourself walking away form this?” Sparatus asked.
“I died when the Collectors blew the SSV Normandy apart, Cerberus brought me back and now I’m dealing with a mess you allowed to happen.” Shepard reminded, “You get one chance. Help me save as many as we can or go the way of Saren and let the Reapers claim you as puppets to be left to starve without them when this is done with.”
There was a moment of quiet as the Councilors looked to one another and then back to Shepard as Sparatus spoke up. “We will do what we can from here, but it will take time to reach each of our leaders, communications are sporadic at best and we have no solid connection to any of our home worlds at this time.”
“Then get on with it.” Shepard told them and turned to leave. “I don’t want to hear anything from anyone of you unless it’s to tell me you’ve got the shit I need.” And with that she was gone.
Shepard lifted Jane up again as the young Biotic ran to her again once she left the Council chamber, tears flooding down her face as the older woman held her close and gently petted her hair. “I thought… It all happened so fast and we… I was sure-”
“Shhhh, shhh, its ok Jane. I’m here and you’re safe now.” Marie soothed softly, nodding as Jennix came closer, his shoulders shaking even as she pulled him close and held him, letting him hide his face in her shoulder, fighting to keep the tears at bay. “There’s no shame in admitting you’re scared of what’s happening.” She told them both.
“What do we do?” Jennix asked after a short time, looking at Shepard for some kind of guidance he couldn’t get from anyone else. “Where can I go to help you?”
“You’re so like your dad.” Shepard smiled and shook her head slowly, “I want you to stay with Jane, protect her for me. I know you want to come with me and help on the front, but I can’t take you with me on this mission.” She told him. “Be my eyes and ears here, keep me up to date with everything that happens here every day. No matter what time it is, no matter what anyone says, send me messages and report everything to me.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Jennix nodded, crying his eyes.
“And me?” Jane asked as Shepard set her down again and gently dried her eyes. “What can I do?”
“I need you to be brave for me Jane.” Shepard told her, “stay close to Jennix and if he ever can’t watch you, you go to Pallin, Nihlus, find Sparatus if you have to and you stay with them. No matter what Udina says, no matter what the guards say, you do not leave them until Jennix comes to get you or your family collects you.”
“And if they don’t come get me?” Jane asked.
“Then you go to the Huerta Memorial Hospital and you find Thane, he’ll help you.” Marie assured gently pressing a soft kiss to Jane’s forehead. “Now, I need you to promise me something.”
“Anything.” Jane nodded.
“Promise me that no matter what happens, no matter what you hear or what you see, no matter how scary this gets or how dark it gets, promise me you will never lose hope.”
“Good girl.” Marie smiled. “Go on now, go back to your family and stay safe.” She instructed softly and watched Jane return to her parent’s sides, nodding as the Kirana family headed to do whatever they could to help the injured and sick.
“What’s our next move, Marie?” Nihlus asked and Marie shook her head.
“You aren’t coming with me old timer.” She told him, “I need you here, away from the front and ready to put a bullet in the heads of any indoctrinated bastards that show up.”
“You need allies Shepard, and the ships aren’t controlled by the Council anymore. The power is with our world leaders, and you will need to play politic if you want their help.” Nihlus said.
“Then I go where I know I can find help.” Shepard said. “Tell Sparatus to call home and find out where the Primarch is then send me the location.” She added and then smiled when Nihlus gave her a confused look. “Turians have the skill and tactical planning and structure to fight Reapers, I need them to plan the attacks and evacuations. Krogan make the ground shake and rattle just by walking, and they have no fear of death, I need their strength and their endurance to protect the sights that are being evacuated. Asari can hold ground and keep lines strong with Biotics, I need that if I’m going to set up any kind of assault and they have the knowledge of path events and victories to share. As for the Salarians, they have weapons they haven’t shared with the other races, and I plan on making sure they are used to bring down the Reapers in any way they can be.”
“Spirits be with you, Marie.” Nihlus prayed as he watched her return to the Normandy.
“I don’t go by that name anymore.” She told the young man stood at the docks. “What do you want?”
“We have people on Eden Prime. They’re reporting Cerberus activity there, digging for something. We’ve not heard form them in over six hours.”
“I’ll look into it.” She nodded, “Now get.”
“Thank you.” And he was gone.
“Joker, set course of Eden Prime.” Shepard ordered as she boarded the ship. “I heard Cerberus was there, I want them gone.”
“Yes Commander.” Joker affirmed as the Normandy began to hum to life.