“You must choose, Shepard.”
Shepard swayed, exhausted. The voices pressed close, whispers tugging and pushing at her mind, darkness on the edge of her vision.
But the choice was an impossible one.
God, I’m tired.
She looked from the three device controls and back, wondering how it had all come to this. It was wrong. All wrong. Anderson dead in the room below her, millions more dead and dying in the space outside, on Earth, on Thessia, on Palaven…and the remnant waiting, hoping.
But it all felt so wrong.
Shepard glanced back at the glowing…thing…behind her. She refused to call it a child, not with the way its non-existent eyes bored into her. The Intelligence that Leviathan had warned her about, the Reapers’ creator and guide.
“You must make a choice.”
The room felt tighter at its words, and she felt her chest constricting. Shepard looked down at her broken body as she struggled to breathe, took in what was left of her armor fused into her skin, and the blood running down burns and tears in her arms. Her abdomen and shoulder ached from where bullets had torn through them, one fired by a marauder before she could reach the beam, one fired by Anderson…
Wait, that wasn’t right. Hadn’t the Illusive Man forced her to shoot him?
Wasn’t that why the admiral was dead?
Shepard clutched her head, and wished it would stop pounding so loudly, so she could think.
“Shepard. You must choose.”
She clenched her teeth. “Why? Why me?”
“It must be you. Only you.”
That makes no sense. She stared at the panels again. No sense at all. None of this did. Not the choice, not the controls, not the words spewing from the glowing projection. But especially the choices. The choices… Control was out. She’d never give that Illusive bastard the satisfaction of being right. Synthesis…she could save EDI. The Geth. The eternal conflict between synthetic and organic would finally be over. Never again.
She could save them all.
The pressure in her head seemed to ease.
She could do it. No more war. It was an appealing thought. Because the Catalyst was right, they’d never be able to find peace between machine and man.
Wait, what the hell?
But didn’t I already accomplish that? The Geth and Quarians are at peace, after centuries. I did that. THEY did that. They’re even sharing Rannoch. And EDI has never wanted to be in conflict with us, her organic creators, her friends. Has even gone out of her way NOT to be.
Shepard’s brows pulled together. That was right, she knew it. Only the Reapers continued to fight, to destroy. And if she chose Synthesis, as somewhere in the back of her mind she realized the Catalyst obviously wanted her to, she knew she wouldn’t survive.
Liara would never forgive her.
“Promise me you’re always coming back.”
She hadn’t even hesitated. “I’m always coming back, Liara. Always.”
The memory surged through her, even as the weight closed around her again. I’m always coming back.
It was a promise she wanted desperately to keep.
But that meant destroying not just the Reapers, but the Geth and EDI as well. Could she be that selfish? I would happily give my life. But break a promise to Liara, if there was any way to avoid it? And the Catalyst seems to want it, so badly…
That felt wrong, too. The whole thing felt…wrong. There just wasn’t another word for it.
It was so, so wrong.
“You must choose, Shepard.” The Catalyst’s echoing voice teemed with impatience.
They had worked so hard for this. Worked so hard, with one goal in mind. Destroy the Reapers. The choice should have been easy.
The cost is too high.
Synthesis would save them all.
She wanted to drop there on the floor, to scream until the whispering stopped, and the pressure eased, but it only got worse.
She could shoot the Catalyst. But then, wouldn’t the Reapers win?
Goddess, Liara… I wish I didn’t have to do this.
The memory of their last night together tore through her mind, wrenching the breath from her lungs. Such painful, bittersweet beauty. But with it, came another memory. Something Liara had said to her one night, when they were both sick with worry over what would come, and Shepard had felt the overwhelming weight of her responsibility, the momentous task before her, and the weight of Harbinger’s threats.
“You have to remember, Shepard. The Reapers lie. It’s what they do. They dig into your mind, prey on your fears, give you just enough truth that you will swallow the lie.”
The Reapers lie.
The pressure around her intensified, but Shepard held onto that thought.
The Reapers lie. And hadn’t Catalyst-boy behind her flat out said he was basically one of them? That he had created them?
And Reapers always lie.
She held onto that truth like a lifeboat and stepped forward. Not to the center, but to the right, her staggered movements slowly gaining momentum as she repeated the words over and over in her head. Reapers lie. The voices around her grew louder, but her memories rose up to combat them, memories of her crew, her friends. Her family. Liara, Tali, Garrus, Ash, Miranda, James, all of them.
She raised her pistol with a smile as the last memory crashed over her, in all its irony. Jack, the Psychotic Biotic, a woman she’d be proud to call sister, and was damn proud to call friend.
“I will destroy you all!” Jack’s unrepentant battle cry, and the first words she’d heard her say.
Shepard pulled the trigger, and her gun fired, over and over.
You bet your fucking asses I will.
The glowing conduit in front of her blew in a giant red ball of flame. Shepard fired one last shot and turned back to the Catalyst with a feral grin. The creature seemed to ripple with rage as red light engulfed them. The next explosion knocked her down, but she laughed, even as the Catalyst howled.
Another explosion, and another.
Time seemed to contract. Scenes flashed faster and faster through her mind. A wave of red knocking Reapers out of the sky. The Normandy riding the red tide, crashing as it caught them. That didn’t seem right… London rejoicing.
And then the vision spun faster. Aftermath. Recovery. Mourning. The Geth gone, EDI gone.
The Citadel crumbling, the relays in pieces.
Liara placing her name on the memorial wall of the Normandy’s crew deck, tears coursing down her face, and too, too many names.
A far distant future, peace followed by war, as the cycle began again.
“Noooo!” A flash of biotics, pushing the weight off of her.
And then another voice, echoing hers. “No!”
Shepard forced her eyes open. What the fuck…?
“How, Shepard?” Her vision cleared enough to see Major Coates standing over her, his eyes wild, one hand on his head, the other holding a gun, pointed at her. “How? How can you be so strong?”
His teeth clenched, and Shepard dug for the energy for one more biotic throw, even as he continued to shout.
And then his head exploded.
She smiled. She’d know that growl anywhere. “Wrex?” She pushed up, gasping in pain. “Help me up.”
He reached out a hand. “Damn, Shepard. You look like you took on Kalros herself, and got spit back out.”
Shepard grimaced, taking quick stock. “I feel like it.” Her left arm was almost useless, and her armor half gone, burned off by Harbinger’s laser. Her head shot up to the conduit beam and beyond, where the Reaper still hung, red lightning skittering over its surface.
Wrex followed her glance. “That happened a minute ago. Dunno how long it’ll last, so we better move.”
The krogan shrugged. “Got me. It locked up, about the same time that pyjak started screaming, and then tried to shoot you. What did you do?”
She winced again, pushing forward. “I got hit by Harbinger’s laser. I should be dead, but… I think it actually tried to indoctrinate me. I remember being on the Citadel…”
Wrex bellowed a laugh. “Damn, Shepard! You must’ve fried it. Shoulda known better than to try that shit with you.”
Shepard shook her head, stumbling forward. “Whatever it did, or I did, we can worry about it later. We need to get to the Citadel, now, while we’ve got a shot.”
Wrex glanced back, nodding the other krogans forward. “You heard her! Move!” He turned back to her. “You realize you’ve got a piece of metal sticking out of your side, right?”
She glanced down in surprise. Sure enough, a section of rebar had gone right through the remains of her armor. “Fuck.” She used a bit of biotics to sheer off the end, but she didn’t stop moving. “Worry about it later.”
Wrex laughed again. “You sure you’re not really a krogan?”
One corner of Shepard’s mouth pulled up, just as she stepped into the conduit beam. “Maybe.”
She landed hard, the metal floor driving the breath out of her in a broken cry, and wrenching the rebar in her side. “Fucking hell.” She could hear screams around her, and gunfire. Guess the Citadel isn’t as lost as we thought, after all.
Wrex hooted as he flew out of the conduit beam, landing just beyond her. “Yeah! Just like Ilos, right Shepard?”
She grunted and pushed up slowly, before his hands lifted her the rest of the way. “Just like. Except for no Mako.”
“Thing was a piece of shit, anyway.”
She laughed, which made her wince. “Sure was. Never had anything that drove so impossibly bad.”
He grunted. “Yeah, I remember you letting me drive. I thought the tomkahs were bad.” He gave a small shudder, then winked.
“Nobody could drive that thing. Were you there when Tali tried? I was sure we were all gonna die. Did you know it survived the Collector attack, though? Damn thing landed on its wheels, fully intact.” She’d laughed her head off at that, when they’d found the last resting place of the SR-1 on Alchera.
Wrex grunted. “Figures. Where are we headed?”
Shepard looked up, trying to get her bearings, and pointed. “There, I think. Top of the control arm.”
Wrex bellowed orders to his krogans, and they were off. Fortunately, it wasn’t far, and if she remembered right, there ought to be an elevator…
A banshee’s scream tore through the air from behind them, tearing her from her thoughts. Shepard instinctively turned to confront it, but Wrex pulled her forward. “Looks like our reprieve is over. They’ve got it, Shepard. We have somewhere to be.”
The scream cut off in a dying wail just as they reached the elevator. Wrex ushered her in, cramming six more of his krogan squad with them, and punched the controls. She had just enough time to see several of them filling a second car before the door shut, and the carriage moved.
The ride seemed to take forever.
A prick along her neck startled her out of her drifting, only to realize she’d been leaning against Wrex’s chest.
“It’s not gonna fix that hole in your side, but the medi-gel should help a little. At least keep you awake.”
She grunted. “Thanks. I think my suit’s dispenser got fried.”
Wrex grinned. “You’re the only person I know who could fall asleep in the middle of the greatest battle the galaxy’s ever seen.”
Shepard didn’t answer, just gave an exhausted grin, and waited for the doors to open.
Her whole body buzzed by the time it did. “How much of that did you give me?”
Wrex shrugged and directed her out. “All of it. Where to?”
She nodded. “Well, the false high will keep me awake, at least. Operations should be through that door. We need to get the arms open.”
Wrex indicated, and two of the krogans pushed ahead of them, checking the room. “It’s clear.”
Shepard made a beeline for the main panel, pulling up the holographic interface controls with her omni-tool. “Glad the back-up power is still on.” She tapped a few controls. “Alliance fleet, this is Commander Shepard. Admiral Hackett, do you read?”
Static filled the room, turning to words as the signal pulled together. “…ackett, I read you Shepard.”
She grinned. “Get that Crucible moving, the arms are coming open.”
The station shook, confirming her words, as locks and seals released, and the blackness of space shone through.
“What’s your status, Commander?”
“I’m here with Urdnot Wrex, and a full compliment of krogan. They followed our charge, got me up here when the Reapers froze.” The fingers of her right hand flew across the controls, jumpstarting the enormous station’s main power, making sure life support and the kinetic and atmospheric shields were up. “Hammer’s main force was decimated by Harbinger, I don’t know more. I don’t know what the Citadel’s status is, either, but I can hear fighting, and I’m restoring main power. Looks like the back-ups held, so there’s at least a chance there are more than just a few people alive.”
A shout from outside, followed by the sound of guns firing made her look away for a moment. “Looks like we’ve got company, Admiral.” She didn’t ask if they were in place, she could see from the primary screen that the Crucible was already moving in, even as the station’s arms continued to open.”
“We’re moving as fast as we dare, Commander. Just hang in there.”
“We’ll take care of her, Admiral.” Wrex practically grinned at his promise. “Just get your damn contraption in.”
“Thank you, Warlord. Keep me posted, Commander. Hackett out.”
Shepard cut the com. Her right foot bounced, a nervous habit she hadn’t succumbed to in years, as her eyes darted across the feeds and screens. The medi-gel and fatigue were making her feel slightly loopy. Come on, come on, come on…
As the station opened wider, and power levels climbed, reports filed in. She was glad to see there was fighting in almost every section of the Citadel—fighting meant that there were people who were alive.
Not rotting corpses, waiting to be harvested. Alive and fighting.
Fuck yeah, hoo-rah.
Proximity sensors lit up as the Crucible closed in, the bulbous head coming to a rest surrounding the operational section of the control arm where Shepard was. The station shook again, and whined as power began to build.
From her omni-tool, Shepard activated the Prothean VI, Vendetta. It flickered to life.
“Detecting. The Crucible is in place, and complete. Energy levels at sixty-five percent and rising. Initiating startup sequence.”
More panels flickered to life around her. “Vendetta, how long until full power?”
“Eighty percent. Another ninety-three seconds to full capacity. Bringing up controls now.”
An entirely new holographic display unfolded before her.
“Full capacity. The Crucible is ready to fire.”
“You must initiate the sequence, I cannot. The control is before you.”
Shepard stared at the simple display. A giant red holographic button. Now this, this is right. No weird shit, no insane choices, just a big-ass red button.
“Come on, Shepard. What are you waiting for?”
She grinned, and covered the button with her hand, activating it with her omni-tool. “Not a damn thing, Wrex.”
The world turned white and gold.
She wasn’t sure if the light faded, or her cybernetic eyes adjusted, but the room dimmed moments (or hours) later. Shepard felt, more than heard, Wrex pulling her up, dragging her away. Come to think of it, she didn’t hear much of anything, just her lungs breathing, her heart beating. Wrex seemed so far away, even after she felt herself picked up and cradled against him. He ran for the elevator, his krogans all around them, and then they were in, the doors closing behind them.
And then they were falling.