Autobiography of Commander Rai Shepard
Chapter One: Surviving Ground Zero by Ginger~tango
I've decided I should start this endeavor where most people seem intent on taking me when first I meet them since that day. Of course I'm speaking of the day the Reapers were destroyed, the day when, by all accounts, I should have died.
So many have questions, the most common being 'How did you survive the initial pulse from the Crucible when you were at ground zero?'.
That's the question I think I've been asked most my entire life long, by those who don't already know me. Well, not exactly, but something usually along those lines. Also, in this case, the devastation nearest ground zero is no secret. Everyone in the galaxy knows how badly the citadel was damaged. Yet somehow, I managed to be found amongst the rubble, barely breathing, a mess, but alive.
To be perfectly honest, looking back, every time I've survived against insane odds, except this last, my answer would have boiled down to 'Will'.
My knack for survival and 'getting the job done' despite seemingly impossible odds could be said to come from my will to survive, my will to do the things I say I will, my will to do the things I feel need to be done.
I'm speaking of my lone victories of course. I've been blessed by having so many good people by my side that they deserve much more credit than they ever give themselves. I've been praised for so much that wasn't my success alone and I plan to address those times later.
I can admit with certainty that the pain I experienced from being at ground zero would have been enough to surpass the strength of my will. No, I needed something substantially more in order to force myself to move forward in this lifetime. I needed 'Reason'.
I made a promise to my love, my partner, my bondmate, Dr Liara T'soni. She had already mourned my death once, a story for another chapter. Then, when I returned to her, I promised that if I knew she were mine and had her love to return to, that I would.
Honestly, I didn't think I would be able to keep that promise when we were making the final push to the transport beam that would allow us to reach the Citadel. Harbinger, the Reaper 'leader', was there cutting through our ranks, disintegrating organic life within the direct path of its crimson neon laser weapon while demolishing everything else. Lieutenant James Vega, Dr Liara T'soni and I were running toward the beam the Reapers were using to transport human 'material', dead and alive, up to the Citadel in orbit over London, England. They were following my lead as we raced down the hillside, zigging and zagging to keep from Harbinger's weapon path. I kept thinking, 'just keep running, we're almost there, we can make it'. Suddenly, not 500 yards from the beam, one of our few remaining ground vehicles was struck by Harbinger and it came tumbling through the air at me. No sooner did I jump out of its path, I watched helplessly as it continued past me toward my squad. They somehow managed to follow mostly in the wake of my luck, but not before Liara was toppled and knocked nearly senseless. I knew beyond doubt that if I were to see her die that I wouldn't care if I lived past whatever I had to do to destroy the Reapers. Honestly, I couldn't guarantee that I would have cared to continue the fight at all.
Knowing that I couldn't handle watching Liara die, I called for an emergency evacuation from the Normandy as soon as I had her up and behind some cover. When Joker arrived I handed her care over to Lieutenant Vega as we hobbled to the lowered cargo ramp.
The moment Liara realized that I was planning to carry on alone she began to fight against James, trying to remain by my side despite my insistence otherwise. I saw the pain in her eyes at the thought as she began to plead with me not to leave her behind. There was so much I wanted to tell her in that moment, but I only had time for the briefest summation.
I told her that she means everything to me and always would, no matter what happened next. I told her that I love her and kissed her with what I hoped was enough tenderness to convey everything else I couldn't say.
It seemed to work as I caressed her cheek and backed reluctantly down the cargo ramp. She stopped struggling. I knew she knew I was saying goodbye. Then she said the only thing that could have reminded me to come back home to her, 'Shepard, I am yours!'.
I turned away from the Normandy and back toward the transport beam while they began to pull as the cargo hatch began to close. I didn't dare turn to look for her again. Then I began to storm ahead with Liara's words still ringing in my ears only to be struck by the edge of Harbinger's next shot.
The next thing I remember I was waking up to the sounds of company commanders calling for retreat. They were words of the defeated as I learned that no one had made it to the beam. My body was in agony. I could feel the sticky, oozing heat of my blood soaking through the chinks in my body armor. I still don't know how I hadn't been obliterated. Theories abound.
I felt that if I didn't get up, if I didn't finish with what I came to do, that I would be responsible, at least in part, for the total annihilation of evolved organic life in the galaxy, including Liara's. I wasn't dead yet, the intense pain I was in and the feeling of my life seeping from me was proof of that, so we weren't finished, I couldn't let us be.
Somehow I was able to force myself to my feet. Everything felt heavy and stiff as if I were made of stone. Earth's gravity became my enemy as I lifted my sidearm to aim at a few husks which climbed from a crevice near the transport beam. I barely shot them enough to kill them before they'd reach me, which I hadn't the strength to withstand. I thought 'If there's a goddess watching over us as Liara feels then please let me make it, let me see this through to the end, even if I die, let me save everyone so that she might live without further misery other than mourning'.
I thought I was being answered with mocking as I tumbled over, my own weight pulling me off balance. Then I rescinded my scoffing, after getting my legs back under me, as a turian-reaper soldier appeared from seemingly nowhere in front of me. Considering the time it took me to regain my feet, I would have been too close to have survived an encounter with the creature had I not fallen. I barely killed it as things stood.
As I trudged into the light of the transport beam I remember feeling like innumerable razor blades both exceedingly hot and cold at once were slashing me apart with vertical strikes. It was over in just a few moments, but I'd never wish to repeat the experience. Literally, in the blink of an eye, I was standing in the light of the beam with my feet firmly planted on London soil, then in the next instant I was being flung through the air to crash roughly upon the floor of some section of the Citadel I'd never seen.
I felt ridged as if I had been frozen yet I was steaming like I had been wet and subjected to intense heat. I was coughing harshly from the shock of extremes when I heard Admiral Anderson over my omni-tool comm. Somehow he had managed to make it to the beam right after I did, but was spit back out somewhere else. I now surmise that those organics transported by the beam were sorted according to their vitals. Mine were obviously worse since all around me I saw the Citadel's Keepers sorting through remains of dead humans. It reminded me of the Collector ship which renewed my anger and helped me get up and continue moving.
Anderson and I both knew we needed to keep going, one of us had to reach somewhere we could control the Citadel's arms and open them to accept the Crucible or the galaxy as we knew it was finished. We kept in contact as we made our separate ways toward a central chamber. Then Anderson spoke of seeing a control panel before his comm cut out.
When I arrived I learned that the leader of the organization known as Cerberus, The Illusive Man, had been waiting for us. Only he wasn't really human anymore. He had changed himself, had bits of strange mechanics peeking through bits of skin and radiated a dark energy that increased with the exertion of his will.
I cannot detail the conversation or further the physical details of the scenario that occurred with the Illusive Man. Those details are still classified. However, I can say that in the end, I made him see that he had been indoctrinated and he took his own life to keep from opposing me further, but not before Admiral Anderson was mortally wounded.
Once I had the chance I opened the Citadel's arms using the control panel on the far side of the room. Then I went back to where Anderson reclined against a raised portion of the floor. He was struggling to breathe, clutching a gunshot wound in his abdomen. His last words were spent telling me he was proud of me.
No sooner did my mentor and friend slump over in death did I hear comm chatter asking me why nothing was happening. Like I knew?! Like I had the first clue?! It wasn't like we got a real set of instructions. However, I found myself trying to get back up yet again as my life continued to trickle out of deep wounds which were draining me. I clawed my way toward the control panel again. I'd use my last seconds of life to mash buttons and pray I'd get lucky if need be. I needed to try. I didn't quite make it back to the controls before I collapsed from exhaustion on the floor. I thought it was all over. I thought I failed after all I'd been through.
Suddenly I was moving, well not me, but the area I occupied lying on the floor. There was a sound, a change in what my surroundings felt like and I strained to open my tired eyes. Another sound, this time a voice. It commanded me to get up and I felt partially renewed.
What greeted me when I got to my feet once again was an ultra-advanced AI which had taken the holographic form of a child from my memories. I spoke with this AI, which I learned was the true Catalyst and the origin of the Reapers' harvesting protocols. The AI explained to me that it had been created many 'cycles' ago to find the answer to preserving all life. It told me it concluded that to preserve life it would need to harvest that life before it could evolve far enough to destroy itself. The AI went on to explain that my presence there with it had never been expected, that I had changed so much within our cycle, compared to all others, that it was no longer solely interested in the harvest because of those changes. Even it, with all its stores of information, with all its 'certainty' of the repeating patterns, conceded that I added too many unknown variables for it to calculate how our cycle would proceed. Then it told me I could choose something other than the continuing harvest, but I would have to do it quickly before it was too late.
First it directed my attention to a power conduit toward my left. It explained to me that through that conduit I could control the Reapers. When I asked how it would work, the Catalyst explained that I would give up my physical body and my mind would merge with the Reapers through the resulting pulse that would be sent throughout the galaxy via the Mass Relays. I pondered aloud that the Illusive Man had been right and the Catalyst confirmed my suspicions that he had indeed been indoctrinated already by the Reapers so he could not have.
I didn't even have time to wrap my mind around this possibility when the Catalyst added another choice, directing my attention ahead of us to, not a conduit, but a beam of light within a mechanical construct, not unlike the transport beam that had brought me to the Citadel from the Earth's surface. The Catalyst went on to explain that with that light I could choose synthesis with the Reapers. When I queried how this new possibility would work, it explained that I would enter this beam of light and give up my entire being to add my DNA to the resulting pulse. It continued to explain that my DNA in turn would merge all organic and synthetic life seamlessly which would result in the Reapers becoming obsolete. It actually suggested that synthesis would be the best option. However, the option made me feel uneasy, as if even considering it would be a betrayal of everyone in the galaxy and was ultimately allowing the Reapers to win.
Once the Catalyst continued with yet another choice, pointing toward a power conduit on my right, I had already eliminated the option of synthesis from my mind. Instead I was pondering what I'd do once in control of the Reapers and knowing that no species was ready to possess something so powerful. Therefore, when the Catalyst explained that the last option was destruction of the Reapers, all their related creations and itself I was skeptical. It explained there would be collateral damage and then it clarified that our galactic preparations made that damage minimal and nothing the galaxy couldn't fix or recover from. All I needed to do was destroy the conduit it had directed me to and the resulting pulse would take care of the rest. It added that some day a future generation could create technology that would surpass them and subsequently the cycles would start again in some form. However, I felt confident after reuniting the Quarians and the Geth that our cycle had already changed too much for that eventuality.
Everyone already knows I chose to destroy the Reapers. Not only was it exactly what I had always set out to accomplish and promised the galaxy I'd do, but I had to take the only choice that gave me any chance to keep my promise to Liara. I had to destroy them even if my odds of surviving were nearly non-existent.
I started limping down the path which the Catalyst had pointed out would be used in order to destroy them all. I expected to hear some sort of protest as I raised my sidearm, but it remained silent as I opened fire on the power conduit in front of me. Time itself seemed to be caught in the suspense of my decision, or maybe my perception of time was accelerated in those moments as each squeeze of the trigger felt an eternity. Each round loosed brought flashes of memory like still pictures, one after another. I thought, 'Is this what they mean when they say right before death your life flashes before your eyes?'.
I can't remember how many times I fired, but I knew when my next round would finish things once and for all. I held my breath and sent out a silent prayer as I squeezed the trigger once more. I felt both relief and terror as I watched the core of the conduit build a strange charge. Then the charge burst outward and as it passed through me it lifted me from my feet and sent me flying.
I've been asked so many times what it was like. How does one describe something like that? Yet here I am, about to try...
I can say with sincerity that the pain the pulse caused as it passed through me was a thousand times worse than the pain of suffocating in the cold vacuum of space. It was worse than dying. Dying was so much easier than what I did, what I went through.
I don't remember hitting the ground. I don't remember things crumbling around me. I don't remember any sounds or sights or sensations other than the pain. Then I felt this numbness creeping slowly over me and an image of Liara in tears clutching my dog tags in her fist appeared in my mind so I did the only thing I could to keep my love from mourning me a second time. I found that pain, which would make anyone beg for death, amidst the spreading serenity of the moment and made it mine. I concentrated on the feeling of my every molecule being torn apart and reassembled over and over in waves and owned it. This was my pain and I would not give it up, no matter how persuasive the temptress of the abyss made her offer. Pain meant life...
I'm not sure how long I was like that, stuck in a place where my instincts cried for rest and my reason-focused will screamed defiantly into the void. It felt like forever.
Finally, I was roused by the pain focusing in a single area due to a new outside touch. It wasn't that the medic was rough with me when he found me barely alive among the piles of rubble, it's just how any new touch was perceived by my nerve endings.
I couldn't open my eyes. I couldn't move. I was too weak to scream in my agony. I heard muffled sounds, like listening to someone talking outside when you're under water. I tried to focus on the sounds. Barely made out the words 'Shepard...miracle...alive...Medigel...sedation'. Felt the effects of an emergency medi-gel not a minute later and managed to croak the word 'wait' before being given sedation for transport. I know his next words were some sort of argument, but I couldn't focus on his words and making my own at the same time. Finally, I managed to groan 'Liara T'soni' and heard 'Yes, commander' before being relieved of my pain and consciousness without fear of slipping away.
So that's the best answer I have for how I survived at ground zero when the pulse that destroyed the Reapers burst forth. A lot of 'I have no idea' mixed with a good dose of stubbornness and a huge helping of a damn good reason to live.