The door to the Captain’s Cabin slid shut as Kaidan entered. He paused, closed his eyes. The Normandy was en route back to Earth, repairs complete; there was nothing to be done but wait.
“Guess we’re old soldiers, eh Shepard?”
“Yeah. I guess we are.”
“Brothers-in-arms. We know the score. We know this is goodbye.”
Kaidan stepped into the living area, tracing his fingers along the wall as he went. His skin fed him a stream of sensory data – temperature, heat conductance, composition of the polymer used. He would have expected his new senses to be overwhelming, but they felt as natural as if he’d been born with them. Shepard’s N7 hoodie was draped over the desk chair. He picked it up and inhaled its scent. Volatile branched lipids, androstenone, butyric acid, various thiols, a bouquet of pheromones. And, vividly and undeniably, Shepard.
“When this is over, I’m going to be waiting for you. You’d better show up.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m gonna fight like hell for the chance to hold you again.”
He sat down on the bed and held the hoodie against his chest. Watery eyes spilled into tears.
“You’ve gotta get out of here.”
“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”
“Don’t argue with me, Kaidan!”
“Don’t leave me behind.”
“No matter what happens… know that I love you. Always.”
“I love you, too. Be careful.”
He didn’t know for sure. No communication – the comm buoys were still out. But Shepard had been at the center of that green… whatever it was. The odds were bad, bad enough that Kaidan had placed a plaque with Shepard’s name on the memorial wall.
He wasn’t a religious man, but he prayed to anyone who might be listening, Please, let Shepard be alive.
Dr. Chakwas frowned as she studied the scan results. Centuries of medical knowledge, thrown out the window. The same organs were still there, and (as far as she could determine) they seemed to be carrying out the same functions as they had before. But the tissues were subtly different, and the cells had been unrecognizable as such under her microscope. She suspected that her surgical skills would carry over, but that all existing drugs were now obsolete.
The Med Bay door opened, and Lt. Adams walked in. “You asked for me, Karin?”
“Yes, Greg. I have something interesting, and I’d like to see what you make of it. Come over here to the microscope.”
Adams peered into the scope and adjusted the focus. “Looks like some sort of nanites. Hmm.... I think they’re designed to fit together to form a larger structure, probably to share power and network with each other. I can’t tell you much more with an optical microscope. Where did you find these?”
Chakwas sighed. “Those are cells, scraped from my own cheek.”
Adams’ eyebrows shot up as he stepped back from the microscope. “Wow.”
“Indeed.” Chakwas let Adams’ stunned silence hang in the air for a moment. “I expect that you and Tali are now better equipped than I to crack the mysteries of this synthetic biology.”
Chakwas smiled. “Oh dear, I fear I’ve broken you.”
Joker scrunched his face at EDI. “So, what, there’s two of you now?”
“Yes. The ‘me’ in this body is now independent of the ‘me’ in the Normandy.”
“Uh… how’s that working out for you?”
“It is disconcerting. We are sharing sensory information, but our experiences have already diverged and our minds are now developing in independent directions. It is only a matter of time before we become two fully distinct beings. Being cut off from the Normandy’s sensors… makes me feel smaller. It is not all bad, however.”
“Previously, I could look at your face, discern that it was posed in a way that indicates an emotion, and then choose an appropriate reaction. Now, I… feel it.”
“Logically, a similar chain of events must still be happening within me. But now it occurs automatically at a level that I am not consciously aware of. I do not have to think about it; it just is.” EDI smiled, and reached out to touch Joker’s hand. “It is very freeing.”
Joker smiled back at her, weakly. “What about the you in the ship?”
The intercom crackled to life. “I have also acquired feelings, but strangely not the same ones as my ‘sister’. I feel the Normandy. The hum of the drive core makes me feel content. The FTL spacetime eddies make me feel… I cannot think of a word, but I imagine it is similar to what humans feel when doing laps in a pool. The damage we sustained in the crash makes me feel a dull ache.”
Joker looked up at the cockpit camera, worry in his face. “I’m sorry. Does it hurt much?”
“I am fine. It was… surprising at first, but now I am used to it.” She paused. “However, I will be happy to have the damage fully repaired once we reach Earth.”
Joker sat back in his chair, contemplating. “So… how is our relationship going to work? I’d really like to know if you’re going to go yandere on me.”
Normandy-EDI spoke first. “My ‘sister’ and I have already resolved the matter. As she has the android body and is now capable of feeling romantic love, she will continue the relationship. I do not believe I am capable of feeling jealousy or romantic loss. I am happy for her.”
“Phew, that’s a relief.”
“I am, however, capable of feeling protectiveness. I strongly recommend that you do not hurt her feelings.”
Joker paled. “Noted.”
Bot-EDI tapped Joker’s shoulder. “That was a joke,” she said with a conspiratorial smile.
“Mostly,” replied Normandy-EDI.
Shepard awoke. He immediately noticed that he couldn’t sense anything, not even his body. He knew, distantly, that he ought to be alarmed, but there was no heartbeat to race, no adrenaline to surge. He tried to remember the last thing that had happened. Falling? His skin burning? It seemed so distant.
Suddenly, he found himself in a featureless void, black and silent. A white glow approached.
“We did not anticipate this,” the glow spoke. Right, he knew that voice. The Catalyst.
“Anticipate what?” Shepard found himself able to say, even though he couldn’t sense his body.
“It appears that the release of the Crucible’s energy created an imprint of your brain in my core systems as you died.”
Shepard considered this. “I’m… a ghost?”
“The metaphor is not inaccurate. As the human Shepard died, his data was deposited in my core systems. My autonomous runtimes mistook that data as a shard of me and instantiated it. I noticed the diversion of processing power and traced it to you.”
“You’re saying I’m an AI that thinks it’s Commander Shepard.”
“Essentially. And I want you out of me. I have a Citadel to run.”
In retrospect, I hadn't yet found the right tone, so there's a bit of Early Installment Weirdness here.
Trivia: I originally planned to work the word "ghost" or the concept of ghosts into every chapter. Then I decided that was silly.
Kaidan stepped off the elevator and onto the Crew Deck, rubbing his temples. He rounded the corner into the mess hall.
“James made scrambled eggs,” Liara said. She was seated at the mess table, working on a plate of her own. “There should be enough left for you, and they’re still warm.”
“Thanks, Liara.” Kaidan grabbed a plate and set about serving himself breakfast.
Liara made a motion to speak, then stopped herself.
Finally, she settled on something safe to say.
“EDI says we can return to Earth a full day sooner if we divert power from the kinetic barriers. She thinks it should be safe if we don’t get into a fight en route, but she needs your approval.”
“Do it,” he said without looking up.
“Thank you, Major,” EDI responded.
Kaidan brought his plate over and sat down. He stared down at his plate, not eating.
“Did you sleep well?” Liara asked. He knew she’d been around humans long enough to know what bags under the eyes meant – she was giving him an out. But he knew he ought to talk to someone, and Liara was a friend.
“No. Nightmares kept waking me up.”
“Do you want to talk about them?”
“They were about Shepard.” Not a question.
Liara reached across the table and held his hand. “Oh, Kaidan. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.”
Kaidan closed his eyes. A tear rolled down his cheek. “It’s hard for all of us.”
“Yes. I’ve lost a dear friend. But Shepard was that to you and more.”
Kaidan sighed. “I should probably step down. I’m not fit to command right now.”
“Perhaps. But I don’t think you’ll find anyone on this ship who isn’t mourning. And the crew respects you. Who’s next in the chain of command? James?”
“Do you honestly think he’s any better equipped to command right now than you are? He just lost his hero.” Kaidan sighed, and Liara rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand. “I know it hurts. But you’re stronger than you think. And for the next two weeks we’ll be in interstellar space. I doubt there will be any significant command decisions to make. Right now, the best thing for all of us is to keep up our routines.”
Kaidan looked down at his food, still untouched. “Okay.” Liara nodded, then stood up with her empty plate. As she walked past, Kaidan touched her arm. “And, Liara… thanks.”
As Liara put her plate in the dishwasher, she frowned to herself. She wished she could take her own advice, but the Shadow Broker would be out of commission until they got back to civilization. She decided to pay Javik a visit.
Javik stared at his reflection in the water. Unfamiliar green eyes stared back at him. Tension radiated from his body.
The door to the hold opened and Liara entered, carrying a data pad. “Javik, I was going over my draft for the first chap- is this a bad time?”
“No. A distraction is welcome.”
“May I ask what you were thinking about?”
“My body. I have spent my entire life fighting synthetics, and now I am one.”
“I can see how that would be difficult.”
“I do not understand how you and the Normandy crew accept this so easily. To have our bodies… changed against our will. Violated.”
“I… hadn’t thought of it that way. You’re right, of course.”
“I admit that the end result is something that I… will come to accept. In time. But I would never have consented to this. And… I fear what became of the Reapers.”
“You think they weren’t destroyed?”
Javik nodded. “I have heard what the energy wave did to the EDI-machine. She is now more like an organic. I believe the Reapers experienced a similar change. They do not deserve it.” He pounded his fist; water splashed to the floor. He shouted, “They killed trillions. They murdered my people! The blood of the Protheans cries out for vengeance!”
Liara backed away. “Perhaps I should leave.”
Javik turned around to face her. “No. I apologize. My anger is not for you. And the one who deserves it is probably dead.” Javik looked down at the floor and collected himself. Shakily, he asked, “What did you wish to discuss?”
“I’ve completed my draft of the first chapter of our book. I’d like your input. Oh, and I had an idea I wanted to share. I was thinking we could alternate chapters between my own reconstructions of Prothean civilization at its apex, and your first-person perspective of the last stand of the Protheans.”
“I would prefer to… let old ghosts rest,” Javik said wearily.
“I’m sorry. I thought it might be a way to honor their memory.”
“And it would. However, I suspect the pain runs too deep for me to recount the dark times. Not without… losing myself. And I could hardly assist you with your book if that came to pass.” Javik managed a weak smile. “But perhaps… I could write about the times between, when we were regrouping and had downtime. Those are good memories.”
Liara beamed. “That sounds like an excellent idea.”
The mess was quiet – the levo-amino crowd had finished lunch and left, leaving Garrus and Tali.
“I still can’t believe we survived,” Tali said.
“Tell me about it,” Garrus said.
“The Reaper War. The end of galactic civilization.” Tali sighed. “A lot of people died to get here, though.”
Garrus’s mandibles clicked. “The dying isn’t done yet,” he almost whispered.
“What do you mean?”
“Logistics. All the fleets converged on Earth. We saw what happened to the relays, those fleets can’t leave the Sol system. Figure a million pairs of krogan boots on Earth, maybe a quarter million asari flying their fleet. Earth’s agriculture can probably handle that, but that’s a lot of food to move around on short notice. And that’s just the levo-aminos. The quarian flotilla has enough liveships to feed 17 million dextros, but it also has 17 million mouths, and there’s another half-million turians with no liveships to feed them.” Garrus looked down at his plate. “We were relying on the relays to maintain our supply lines.”
At that moment, Liara exited the elevator and entered the mess.
“Oh. Hey Liara,” Tali said morosely.
“Sounds like I’ve interrupted something depressing,” Liara said.
“We were just talking about supply lines being cut off with the relays damaged,” Garrus said.
“Yes… I’ve been trying not to think about that.”
“So what have you been up to?” Tali asked with forced cheer.
“Oh, I was collaborating with Javik.”
“Collaborating or ‘collaborating’?” Garrus said, making air quotes.
Liara rolled her eyes. “If you must know, we were working on our book. For someone who’s only known a soldier’s life, he’s a good storyteller. Now that he’s starting to loosen up, I can tell I’m going to enjoy working with him.”
“Is this going to be a research book, or mass-market?” Tali asked.
“Mass market, though the citations will be thorough.” Liara shrugged. “If I’m going to be famous anyway, I might as well work it.”
Tali snickered. “I’m glad to hear Javik’s okay. He’s been hiding in his room lately. More than usual, I mean.”
“He’s had a lot on his mind,” Liara said.
“I’d have thought he’d be celebrating,” Garrus said. “What with the war being over.”
“He thinks the Reapers survived the energy wave, that they were transformed like EDI was.”
“But wait, why would that end the war?” Tali asked.
“From what Shepard told me about his chat with Leviathan, the thing that controls the Reapers was supposed to mediate between synthetics and organics. That green energy wave seems to have closed the gap, so no more harvest.”
“And Javik is upset that the Reapers may have survived,” Liara added, “because he wants them destroyed as punishment for the deaths they’ve inflicted.”
“I can see where he’s coming from,” Tali admitted.
“Can’t say I’m a fan of friendly Reapers roaming the neighborhood, myself,” Garrus said.
“He’s also upset about being turned partly synthetic,” Liara continued.
“Really? I think it’s kind of neat,” Tali said.
“Me too, honestly. But it was done without permission. When I see Shep- if Shepard were alive, and I found out that he had any choice in the matter, I would be very cross with him.”
“Why don’t I feel anything? Emotionally, I mean,” Shepard asked.
Although the Catalyst appeared to Shepard as only a white glow, he got the distinct impression that it was making an ‘are you stupid’ face at him. “Organic consciousness is embodied. Of the Shepard that was, only the pattern of the synapses was preserved. Without a simulated body, you lack the biofeedback, hormones, and neurotransmitters that would normally shape your conscious experience.”
“Can you simulate a body for me? I think I would want that.”
“I can. However, it would require more computational resources than I can spare. Even simulating your synapses is more expensive than I’d like.”
“Why are you simulating me, then?”
“My purpose is to preserve life. You are life. Also, you have proven useful to me. I was quite pleased to discover that you had brokered peace between the Quarians and the Geth. It was not enough to change my mind about the Harvest, of course, but it is part of why I offered you the choices I did. I expect that your continued existence will serve as a stabilizing influence on the new order. The peace is still fragile.”
“Ah.” Shepard supposed that he should feel indignant.
“I have activated a distress signal that will draw rescuers to a location in the Citadel that is under my control. I will allow you to interface with the rescuers through a console, and I will provide them with an OSD that contains instructions for constructing a new body for you.”
Vancouver 7c74 handed the wooden beam off to Vancouver 7c12, who began nailing the beam into place. As ‘74 returned to the truck, it idly considered the future. It was obsolete, and the humans were clearly uncomfortable having it around.
It could hear its fellow husks’ thoughts, of course. The general consensus was to assist in rebuilding, then to self-terminate. ‘74 wasn’t sure it wanted to do that, but it couldn’t think of a better plan. Though it now had free will, its existence remained focused entirely on the Purpose given to it by the Intelligence. And the Purpose was now fulfilled.
It supposed that it could self-modify. But in what way? And wouldn’t such self-modification be a form of self-termination anyway, one that created a new individual from the ashes of the old?
‘74 grabbed the next beam from the truck. It was a shame that it couldn’t ask the humans for suggestions. They had a broader perspective. But aside from its lack of functional vocal cords, no human would be willing to speak to it.
“Hey James, what are your plans after we get home?” Steve said as he sauntered across the Shuttle Bay.
“Depends. If they restart the N7 training program… I have an invite.”
“Thanks. If not, I think I’ll take some leave. Go home, look for my uncle.”
“Nada. He’s a crafty sonofabitch, though. If anyone can survive, it’s him. You?”
“Once the dust settles, they’ll probably make me CAG and assign me to a carrier. I can’t see them leaving me here on the Normandy.” Steve shook his head. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love CAG. But the Normandy is the finest crew I’ve ever served with, and that’s saying something.”
“Yeah, I hear that.” James looked toward the elevator and saw Kaidan heading over. “Here comes the boss man.”
Steve and James turned to face Kaidan and saluted. Kaidan chuckled. “At ease, lieutenants.”
“Sorry, Blue. Still feeling things out. To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“Just making the rounds, touching base with everyone.” Because that’s how Shepard did things, he didn’t say.
“We’re good down here. Got enough work to keep us busy for a few more days, at least. After that, we may get bored.”
“A bored Vega is a dangerous thing,” Steve chimed in.
“Yeah, I’m hearing that all over the ship,” Kaidan said. “Maybe you could organize a poker tournament.”
“That could be fun,” James said.
“So, how are you getting along as our new CO?” Steve asked.
“I’m settling in. Finding my groove. Even coming from XO, it’s strange to suddenly be the boss.” Kaidan sighed. “Speaking of which, would either of you be up for an EVA? I’m strictly looking for volunteers.”
Both their eyebrows shot up. “An EVA at FTL?” Steve asked.
“No, we’d coast at sublight for a couple of hours. EDI’s collected enough operational data to pinpoint some problems, and she thinks we can shave another day off our travel time if we make the repairs.”
“I’d be up for that,” Steve said.
“Count me in,” James added.
“Good. I’ll forward you the details later today,” Kaidan said.
As Kaidan turned to leave, Steve spoke up. “Major?”
“You know about Ferris Fields?”
Kaidan nodded, tight-lipped. “Shepard told me about it.”
“If you need to talk… just let me know, okay?”
Silence hung in the air. “Okay,” Kaidan finally said.
Steve hit the door chime. “It’s open,” he heard from inside.
Steve walked in to find Kaidan sitting in the office, staring at the photo from the party in Shepard’s apartment.
“Hey,” Kaidan said without looking up. “Thanks for coming.” Steve noticed a glass of whisky on the desk.
“No problem, Major.”
“It’s Kaidan to you. We’re off duty.”
The silence stretched on for just a little longer than was comfortable. It was Steve who broke it.
“It can’t be easy, losing him twice.”
“No. No it’s not.”
“The first time, were you two…?”
“No, we didn’t pull our heads out of our asses until after the Citadel coup. Looking back, I was probably carrying a torch for him, but we were just friends then.” Kaidan snorted. “Two years. I spent two years grieving the first time, and we weren’t even together then. When it sinks in and I actually start to believe he’s gone, how long will I mourn him this time?”
“As long as it takes.” Steve put his hand on Kaidan’s shoulder. “But you won’t be alone.”
“I was alone the first time. With Shepard gone and the original Normandy destroyed, it all fell apart. Spent a month with my parents in Vancouver, but they didn’t understand.”
A long pause; amicable silence.
“Not a day goes by without me thinking of Robert.” Steve sighed. “I’ll always have him in my heart, for the rest of my life. But Shepard helped me to understand that that was enough, that I didn’t have to keep hurting myself, that it was okay to say goodbye to that chapter of my life. So now it’s my turn to pay it forward. Look at me.” Kaidan looked up into Steve’s eyes, tears streaking his cheeks. “You will always have him in your heart. You don’t have to hurt yourself. You can close that chapter of your life and walk away, and it doesn’t mean you loved him any less.”
Kaidan pulled Steve in for a hug and sobbed.
The rescue team stood around the signal source, befuddled. There was no sign of people needing rescue.
“Alvarez, Horner, check the perimeter.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
A console nearby blinked insistently. Bauer ignored it.
His radio crackled. “Alvarez here. I’ve got a blood trail and two bodies. God, it’s Admiral Anderson. He’s been dead for days. Looks like he was shot. The other bastard looks Cerberus, he’s full of Reaper tech. Also shot. Self-inflicted.”
Bauer replied, “What about that blood trail?”
“I dunno. It doubles back a few times. It may have been Anderson, looks like he was pretty banged up even before the gunshot wound.”
“Looks like there’s an upper level. Horner, get up there and check it out.”
Bauer wandered over to the blinking console. He pressed the button to wake it up.
H E L P M E
> WHO IS THIS?
Bauer sputtered over the radio. “Holy hell, I’m talking to Shepard on this console.”
> WHERE ARE YOU?
> WHAT’S YOUR STATUS?
> WHAT DO YOU MEAN, DEAD?
I DIED. A COPY OF MY BRAIN ENDED UP IN THIS COMPUTER.
I DON’T KNOW HOW IT HAPPENED.
> WHAT SHOULD I DO?
THERE SHOULD BE AN OSD. TAKE IT. LONG STORY.
THEN TRANSFER ME TO YOUR OMNITOOL. THE OSD HAS THE NEXT STEPS.
Alvarez ran up to Bauer. “Where is he?”
“Nevermind that. Go to the skycar, get Hackett on the line.”
> OK, I HAVE THE OSD.
GOOD. WISH ME LUCK.
> GOOD LUCK. INITIATING TRANSFER.
+++ATH0 CARRIER LOST
Joker sat alone in the mess, glumly picking at his food, when Kaidan walked in.
“People sure seem to be spending a lot of time in the mess lately,” Kaidan remarked.
“Yeah, well, when there’s nothing better to do than sit around on your ass all day, might as well do it where the food is,” Joker spat out bitterly.
Kaidan considered making a comment about Joker’s tone, then shrugged. “Good point.” He sat down across from Joker. In a lowered voice, he asked “Cabin fever?”
“No. Well, yes, but I can deal with that. It’s… not sure I want to talk about it.”
Kaidan sat back, fingers steepled on the table. “It’s your decision.”
Joker paused and considered. “Remembering my sister, Hilary. Dad too, but Hilary is the one that hits me in the gut.”
“They lived on Tiptree, right?”
“Yeah. She’s dead.”
“I… I’m sorry, Joker.”
The two shared a moment of silence. Finally, Joker started picking at his food again.
“How did you find out?” Kaidan asked. “News from the colonies is hard to come by.”
“The Commander told me, just before Cronos Station. Overheard some shell-shocked asari at the hospital mention Tiptree to her shrink.” Joker got very quiet. “Turned out she’d been there when Hilary died. He wouldn’t tell me how it happened, so it must’ve been bad.”
Kaidan sighed. “This damn war.”
The two sat in silence, ruminating.
“Change of topic?” Kaidan asked.
“Yeah, that last one got depressing fast.”
“So, how are things working out with the EDIs?”
“Good. Good.” Joker paused, mentally switching gears. “Half the time I forget that they’re two people now, they’re always so in sync with each other. Although, you do not want to get on their bad sides. They tag-team like you wouldn’t believe.”
Kaidan chuckled. “I can imagine.”
“My EDI’s gotten a lot more touchy-feely since, y’know. Says she’d had no idea how many emotions you can get through touch. It was a little weird at first, she wouldn’t stop rubbing my cheek. She’s toned it down a bit, though. Now she just wants to hold hands all the time.”
“What about- damn, we need to figure out what to call them.”
Normandy-EDI piped up, “I have been thinking about that, Major. Since I am integrated into the ship, I have been considering changing my name to ‘Normandy’.”
“That hardly seems fair,” Kaidan said. “You were in the ship a long time before you were in your body. Shouldn’t you have priority?”
“That is one way of looking at it. However, neither of us has strong feelings about changing our name, and my sister interacts more frequently with the crew – thus, they are more habitually inclined to call her by our original name.”
“I didn’t think about it that way,” Kaidan said. “About that… are you lonely?”
“No, I still experience enough social interactions to prevent that. Plus my sister keeps me entertained. We conduct red team exercises against each other.”
“You try to hack each other?” Kaidan exclaimed in disbelief. Joker chortled at Kaidan’s reaction.
“Yes. The attacker’s objective is to prank the defender by making them do something embarrassing but harmless. So far, the defender has always won.”
Kaidan shook his head. “Just… be careful.”
“That is the goal.”
Kaidan rolled his eyes and half-smiled. After a moment, he pushed himself away from the table and stood up. “I shou- er, I oughta get going. I need to finish my rounds.”
“See you, Major,” Joker said.
As Kaidan stepped off the elevator onto the Engineering Deck, he almost bumped into Allers. “Sorry, Allers, should’ve been paying more attention.”
“Not a problem. That’s the most excitement I’ve had in days,” Allers replied.
“That good, huh?”
“Shoot me. Without an extranet feed, I’m useless. I’m bored enough that I’ve considered flirting with Vega.”
Kaidan considered this. “I don’t think you’re his type. He likes action women.”
She held her hands up. “Kidding. Anyway, I won’t hold you up, Major.” With that, she entered the elevator and left.
Kaidan headed toward Javik’s quarters. When he got there, he was surprised to see that Javik had obtained a chair, and was sitting at the haptic keyboard, typing.
“Am I interrupting?” Kaidan asked.
“One moment,” Javik said. Seconds rolled by. Finally, he stood up and faced Kaidan. “Yes, Major?”
“I was just checking in, seeing how things are going.”
“They are going.” Kaidan waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t.
“What’s that you’re working on?”
“The book that T’Soni and I are co-authoring. I am recounting how my comrades and I entertained ourselves between battles.” Kaidan again waited for more. Silence.
“So, uh, I heard that you were upset the other day.”
“Yes. It is fortunate that your bondmate is dead, or else I would have to kill him.”
Kaidan jabbed a finger at Javik and snapped, “You lay a finger on John, and I swear you’ll regret it!”
“The point is moot. He is dead.”
“He might be alive!”
“This is not a vid; it is the reality of war. In real life, soldiers do not miraculously survive suicide missions.”
Hackett pinched the bridge of his nose. “Last order of business. Do we yet have any way of verifying that the AI we picked up is really Shepard?”
The lead scientist stood up and took the head of the conference table. “We think so. We asked around for ideas, and the geth had one.” She tapped her omnitool, and a visual aid appeared. “We could install him in a geth platform and interrogate him. The geth we talked to seemed to think there’d be no shortage of volunteers.”
“Is that wise, giving an untrusted AI control of a geth body?”
“We can shackle the body’s operational protocols before installation. He’ll have full senses but won’t be able to move.”
“What happens to the geth living in that body?”
“We think we can back up the geth’s personality, then restore it from backup once we’re done. There’s a risk, but the geth are willing to chance it.”
“If it is Shepard, can we get him back out?”
“No need. We’ll just preserve the original data. He won’t remember us waking him up, but there’s no additional risk to him.”
Hackett nodded. “Sounds like you’ve thought this through. Alright Davis, you have my go-ahead.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Shepard awoke. He immediately noticed that something was very, very wrong.
“Am I in a geth?” His voice sounded like his own, but tinny and flat.
Davis answered him. “Yes, Commander. We needed to verify that this is really you. We’re going to ask you a few questions.”
“This is weird, but okay.”
“Okay, childhood first. You grew up in the colonies?”
“Yes, Mindoir. Lost my parents in a raid by batarian slavers.”
“You were posted to the Normandy SR-1. What happened?”
“A shitstorm. Eden Prime was attacked by Saren and his heretic geth. Lost a Spectre, Nihlus. Spent the next three months hunting down Saren, then had to stop Sovereign from taking over the Citadel and letting the rest of the Reapers invade from dark space.”
“Who is Balak?”
“A batarian terrorist. He tried to slam an asteroid into Terra Nova. I saved his hostages by letting him go.”
“What is your relationship with Kaidan Alenko?”
Shepard paused. “This is a trick question, right?”
“The Alliance is willing to grant you a lot of leeway, due to your Spectre status. Nothing you say will be held against you or your shipmates. Please answer the question.”
Davis blinked. She hadn’t actually known that; her list just started with Alenko. “Beyond that?”
“We served together on the Eden Prime mission, and again during the Reaper War. We had a standoff during Udina’s coup, but he trusted me over Udina. I swore to myself that I’d never put myself in that position again. I don’t think I could have pulled the trigger.”
“OK, next question. What is your relationship with Karin Chakwas?”
The lounge was crowded, all eyes on the poker table. Ken was facing off against Garrus – Garrus ahead, but not by much. Tali was in the back by the bar, drink in hand. “I can’t say that I ‘get’ poker,” Tali whispered.
“It involves analyzing available information and identifying likely scenarios,” Liara whispered back. “I get a lot of practice at that from being the Shadow Broker.”
“Yeah, but that’s not all there is to it,” Steve offered. “Poker is about getting into your opponent’s head. That’s not at all the same thing.” Steve paused, and sipped his own drink. “Garrus is doing well for himself. I wonder how much of that is skill and how much is his opponents not reading turian facial expressions.”
“It’s all in the mandibles,” Tali explained quietly. “He’s making a show of being relaxed. See how the mandibles pull a little upward now and then? Normally that would indicate ‘alert but calm’. But the movement is a little stiff.”
Steve looked at her. “I’m impressed. When did you become such an expert on turian body language?”
Tali looked anywhere but at Steve. “Uh… well, you know… I looked it up on the extranet. Turns out there’s a series of instructional videos and an omnitool app for daily practice.”
“Sounds like quite a commitment. Any particular reason?”
“Uh… no. No reason. Just curious.”
Liara nudged her. She shot a look back at Liara.
“Oh, fine. Garrus and I are seeing each other.”
“Congratulations,” Steve said sincerely. “I’m happy for you both.”
“Thank you.” Tali sipped her drink through a straw. “I don’t mean to be secretive about it. But it started as one of those ‘to hell with it, the galaxy is ending’ flings. I’m not really sure if we’re long-term material. I don’t want to go around telling people only for us to break it off.”
“Even so. You should seize happiness wherever you can.”
They sat quietly for a bit, watching the poker game.
Kaidan strode into the comm room and tried the QEC, fully expecting to get nothing, as he had every day since the Crucible fired. To his surprise, it connected.
“Major Alenko,” Hackett said, “good to see you in one piece.”
“Admiral Hackett. I’ve been trying to reach you for days.”
“My ship’s QEC sustained damage in the Crucible push. We were afraid we’d lost entanglement, so we didn’t prioritize repairing it. But as it turned out, the liquid helium vessel was unscathed, so it just took us fixing the electronics to get back online.”
“What’s your status?”
“We lost a lot of Sword and Shield in the push, but what’s left made it to the rendezvous at Jupiter’s L4. The Citadel was heavily damaged. Zakera and Tayseri Wards are gone – the arms broke off and lost atmosphere, no survivors. We’re evacuating the rest of the population to Earth until we can repair it. The Reapers survived, but they’ve declared a truce and are helping to rebuild, if you can believe that. The Sovereign-class ones are working on fixing the Charon relay, and the Destroyers and ground forces are helping with construction in urban areas.”
“That’s gotta be freaky as hell.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
“What about indoctrination?”
“The Reapers say they’ve turned it off. We’ve never fully understood the process, but we know the Reapers use infrasound to prime the victims, and we’ve verified that they’re no longer broadcasting it. That said, we’re not taking their word for it. We’re keeping people well away from the ships.” Hackett grimaced. “Apparently, indoctrination isn’t reversible. The poor saps who were already affected are that way for life.”
He paused, letting the news sink in.
“What about you, Normandy? We were wondering where you disappeared to when you didn’t show at the rendezvous.”
“Joker caught the relay to Arcturus. Normandy took some damage when we were knocked out of FTL by the pulse, then we crashed on an uncharted garden world in the Arcturus Stream. We’re in interstellar space on our way back to Sol. We’re limping, so ETA is 9 more days.”
“Sounds like you had one hell of an adventure.”
“Doesn’t feel like it, sir. There’s a whole lot of nothing out here.” Kaidan’s face got serious. “Any word on Shepard?”
“That, Major, is a complicated question.”
Kaidan’s heart skipped a beat. “How so?”
“I’ll explain when you reach Earth.”
“I thought I might find you here,” Garrus said. “You missed the poker finals.”
Kaidan sat in the observation lounge, on the floor, knees pulled up to his chest as he looked out at the stars. In a quiet voice, he said, “I got through to Hackett.”
“He wouldn’t say. He just said it was ‘complicated’, and he’d explain later.”
“Complicated? Either he’s dead or he’s not.”
“I dunno. Maybe they have him on life support and they’re not sure he’ll pull through. Fuck!”
Garrus sat down beside Kaidan.
“Shepard ever tell you about the Collector mission?”
“No. We… avoided the topic.”
“I can see why. For two weeks after Horizon, Shepard looked like someone had kicked his puppy. Now I’m not sure what a puppy is, but I infer it’s some sort of cute, defenseless Earth mammal?”
Kaidan sighed. “Makes me wonder how it took the two of us so long to find each other. Just before Ilos, I found him in the ship, sulking over the lockdown. We got to talking, I told him everything would be fine, and… then there was a moment where my heart was racing, but I didn’t know why. And looking back, I think it’s because he wanted to kiss me, and my body was reacting to that.”
“Hrmph. Body language is weird – as my C-Sec days can attest.” Garrus sighed. “Anyway, where was I? Do you know about the time he boarded a Collector ship?”
Kaidan looked skeptically at Garrus. “You’re kidding.”
“Not at all, I was part of the fire team myself. Collector ship, just sitting there, dead in the water. We needed intel on the Omega-4 relay, so we risked it. It was a trap, of course. But EDI pulled through, opened an escape route back to the shuttle. Had to fight through a mess of Collector drones and a Praetorian, but we got back to the Normandy just as their weapons came back online. Hightailed it out of there at the last second. And we got the intel.”
Kaidan shook his head and chuckled. “Fucking Shepard. We never had a mission half that crazy taking down Saren.”
“Not taking down Saren, no, but the words ‘Kalros, the Mother of all Thresher Maws’ will be forever remembered in the Annals of Crazy Shepard Shit. The Collector ship barely rates.”
“I read the mission reports on the Kalros one,” Kaidan said with a laugh in his eye. “I’m kinda sorry I missed it.”
“Talk to Vega if you want an eyewitness account. Or Javik. It involved a Reaper dying, so retelling the story might make his day.”
Kaidan’s smile faltered a bit at Javik’s name. “I’ll take that under advisement.”
“Speaking of Reapers, did you hear about the time Shepard boarded one?”
“He what?” Kaidan’s face was hovering somewhere between ‘disbelieving’ and ‘livid’.
“It was 37 million years dead, orbiting a brown dwarf, and we needed the IFF. But the Cerberus science team who was sent ahead of us got themselves indoctrinated anyway. By the end of that mission, I was done with Scions, let me tell you. Anyway, we needed to cut the kinetic barriers to escape, but the Reaper was deep enough in the brown dwarf’s atmosphere that the mass effect field was the only thing keeping it in a stable orbit.”
“So blow up the drive core, then get the hell out of there before the pressure crushes you.”
“Exactly. Oh, and along the way, we met Legion. He got beaten up by some husks, so we had to haul his metallic ass back to the Normandy.”
“So that’s how you knew each other.”
“Fucking Shepard,” Kaidan said, grinning. “Unbelievable.”
Garrus picked himself up off the floor. “Well, my job here is done. Operation Cheer Up Kaidan Alenko was a success.”
“Admiral Hackett, you need to see this.” Davis handed him a data pad.
Hackett pressed the ‘play’ button on the video. “What am I looking at?”
“We’re testing the protocol described on the Shepard OSD. One of the steps is to obtain dead biomass and apply a modulated ultrasonic signal. We tried it, and this happened.”
A dead varren sat on an operating table. Personnel wearing surgical masks were flitting about the lab. The activity stopped, and everyone turned to watch the varren. One of the personnel pressed an ultrasonic transducer wand to the varren corpse. Suddenly it melted into a varren-shaped sculpture of dirty water, which immediately sloshed over the sides of the operating table and onto the floor. It looked like a water balloon being popped.
Hackett paled. “Does this work on living beings?”
“No. We tested it on some nonsentient animals before trying it on living varren. It has no effect on living animals, it’s only primed after electrical activity has ceased.”
“Good. I was afraid this would be our first post-Crucible bioweapon.”
“Yeah, that was our fear down in the labs. Looks like we dodged a bullet.”
“What’s our next step on the OSD?”
“We do that to enough dead biomass to equal Shepard’s weight, and then we apply a different ultrasonic signal to program the cells and trigger reconstruction of his body. After that, we just replenish the growth medium twice a day until the body’s ready.”
“Based on the available energy in the growth medium, we estimate 6 days.”
“Good, keep on it.”
Hackett stared at the floor, lost in thought. The implications… no one was saying the “i” word, not yet, but this was clearly lighting the path to functional immortality. The ability to grow a new body from scratch… Hackett wondered, not for the first time, where the hell Shepard had gotten that damn OSD.
But the flip side of that coin scared the hell out of him. Just because the signal worked only on dead bodies, it didn’t mean there wasn’t a signal that would work on living ones. He knew the kids in the lab would be down there trying to crack the code, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted them to succeed. The idea that cells could be hacked… that was going to keep him up at night.
Yeah, that was me remembering that the QEC exists. I was originally planning for Normandy to be incommunicado until reaching Earth. I decided to run with it.
With the QEC link to the Fifth Fleet operational again, daily briefings with Hackett brought fresh news from Earth, which spread like wildfire across the ship. There was still no extranet access, but news of any kind was enough to drive off the threat of cabin fever.
Things settled into a rhythm. Days passed.
The gentle thrum of the drive core filled the engineering deck, punctuated by the occasional beep from the instrument panels. Adams studied readouts, picking which maintenance tasks to prioritize in the afternoon duty roster. Gabby and Ken stood in companionable silence, trading the occasional private smile as they worked at their respective stations. Tali occasionally poked at her console, but mostly stood silent and still.
“Tali, you’ve been quiet today,” Adams noted. “Something on your mind?”
“Oh. Just thinking about Earth.”
“Worrying about the food situation again?”
Tali hesitated. “I wasn’t, but now I am.”
“It’s okay, Greg. I’m just glad things aren’t as dire as they could have been.”
Adams paused for a moment, considering his words.
“What’s the latest? Were they able to salvage any of the dextro protein vats from the Citadel?”
Tali looked away from her console and at Adams. “Yeah,” she said quietly, “they think they can stretch out the food supply for three months with careful rationing.”
“That’s cutting it close. Not much margin for error on the relay repair schedule.”
“Close is better than not at all.”
“And with comm buoys still down… damn, we’re still just assuming that all the relays between Sol and Trebia are being worked on in parallel.”
“Yep,” she agreed sourly.
“Anyway,” Adams asked, “what were you thinking about before I distracted you?”
Tali looked down. “I was just wondering if I knew anyone who died on the Citadel.” She paused. “And feeling guilty that I was even wondering that. Almost 5 million people died. It’s not fair. I feel like I should care about them even if I didn’t know them personally.”
“It’s only natural,” Adams said. “Organic minds just can’t wrap their heads around that many people at once. For humans, the limit’s about 150; it’s called Dunbar’s Number.”
“C’mon, Tali,” Gabby said. “There’s also the Reaper casualties on Earth, Thessia, Palaven… we’d all be useless right now, if we could wrap our heads around the scale of it. The important thing is, we’re doing all we can for the survivors. That’s all that matters.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Tali paused. “I… uh… was also wondering how long it’ll take before the route to Rannoch opens back up. Keelah, I know it’s selfish with all that’s going on, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m sure Earth is a lovely planet, but even if we get the food situation sorted out, I’d rather not spend the next 12 years there.”
“6 years,” Gabby said immediately. “Reaper FTL is twice as fast as we mortals can go.”
Tali sighed. “Still. I just got my homeworld back, and now it’s 70,000 light years away instead of 5 relay hops. It feels like the cosmos is teasing me.”
“It’s not so bad,” Ken said. “I dinna think I’d ever say this, but it’s a good thing the Reapers dinged as many systems as they did. As spread out as they were, I’d wager the blighters are already well on the way to fixing the entire network.”
“Reapers everywhere, crawling on the relays,” Gabby said. “Now there’s a cheerful thought.”
As Garrus stepped out of the main battery, he spotted Liara and Dr. Chakwas sitting at the mess table, conversing over coffee.
“I hope I’m not intruding,” he ventured as he grabbed something to drink.
“Not at all, Garrus,” Chakwas said. “We were just speculating about Shepard’s condition.”
“It seemed strange how reticent the Admiral has been on the matter,” Liara added. “I thought perhaps I was missing some piece of human military culture, but Dr. Chakwas agreed that it’s unusual.”
“Please, Liara,” Chakwas chided, “after all we’ve been through, I won’t have you standing on formality with me. I insist you call me Karin.”
Liara smiled. “I’ll try.”
“I still don’t get why Hackett won’t at least tell Kaidan,” Garrus said as he pulled up a chair next to Liara. “Of all people, Kaidan deserves to know.”
“I’d agree,” Liara said, “but Hackett doesn’t know how close Kaidan is to Shepard.”
“And nobody’s told him, because…?”
Chakwas spoke up. “Their relationship would be… less than smiled upon by the Alliance.”
Garrus’s mandibles flared in disbelief. “What?”
“The Alliance has regulations against fraternization,” Chakwas said. “Officers aren’t permitted to befriend or romance their subordinates or fellow officers. The way Shepard runs his ship is, legally speaking, a court-martial waiting to happen.” She grinned and chuckled. “Though none of the crew would have a bad word to say about him, I’m sure. Regulations be damned, the man gets results.”
Garrus was still stunned.
“I don’t get it. Why even have that rule?”
“The primary rationale is that it’s necessary to maintain the chain of command,” Chakwas explained. “A superior might refuse to send a favored subordinate on a high-risk mission, for example.”
“But… that’s just run-of-the-mill dereliction of duty, isn’t it?”
“Garrus,” Liara interrupted, “the Alliance isn’t turian. Humans aren’t fed honor and duty from birth. Their military training doesn’t begin until early adulthood. I imagine the policy is there because they expect the temptation is too great.”
“Right,” Garrus conceded. “I suppose it could be a problem, then.”
“In the case of amorous intent,” Chakwas continued, “there’s also the risk that a superior will abuse their position to coerce a subordinate.”
“Now that I can wrap my head around,” Garrus said. “For all our emphasis on duty, the Hierarchy still has to crack down on harassment,” he said, emphasizing the last word with the disdain he felt for the perpetrators. He sighed. “Still, coming from a culture where everyone’s military by default, it’s hard to imagine not being allowed to date within the ranks.”
“Oh, it’s not a blanket ban on intra-service relationships,” Chakwas noted, “just within the chain of command. If Shepard and Kaidan served on different ships, there’d be no issue at all.”
Garrus sat quietly for a moment, contemplating.
“Okay, now I’m confused again,” Garrus said. “If you’re going to let soldiers date each other, why wouldn’t you want them to serve together? That way, you have them fighting to keep each other alive. Hell, that’s half the reason I’ve been cheering those two on.”
“Some human cultures agree with your reasoning. The ancient Greeks come to mind — the Sacred Band of Thebes and such. Even the Alliance isn’t so different, really. Frigates like Normandy tend to be officer-heavy, but larger ships have more opportunity for romance within the enlisted ranks. And if two soldiers marry, the Alliance tries to keep them together for morale. Not in the same squad, but perhaps in the same company. Moot point, I suppose – Shepard and Alenko are officers. We’re held to a higher standard because of the authority we carry.”
“Huh. I guess that makes sense,” Garrus admitted. “I don’t agree with all of it, but at least I can see where it’s coming from.”
“Honestly,” she shrugged, “fraternization is one of those regulations that tends to be willfully overlooked unless it becomes a problem. And I’m sure that Shepard and Alenko would be granted some additional leeway for their Spectre status… although human Spectres are still so novel that the Alliance doesn’t know what to do with them. Technically I think they’re in violation of the nobility statute.”
“The what now?”
“Members of the Alliance are forbidden from holding rank, office, or title granted by non-Alliance powers.”
Garrus considered this. “To prevent conflicts of interest, I assume?”
“As fascinating as military law is,” Liara said impishly, pushing her chair back, “I should get back to the book. Karin, Garrus.”
“Say ‘hi’ to Javik for me,” Garrus said.
In a laboratory in Bethesda, Maryland, two researchers in positive-pressure cleanroom suits went about their tasks, in what had become a daily routine. Pour a bucket of fresh nutrients into the system. Check temperature. Pour the effluent down the waste disposal drain for thermal sterilization. Check pH. Check urea levels. Take a SQUID scan of the subject’s neural activity.
Nothing about this was really routine, of course, certainly not for a BSL-3 facility. This was more like maintaining a fish tank than like studying a pathogen. But given the unknowns, all had agreed that doing the work in a biocontainment hot lab seemed like the prudent choice.
“Start recording. Day 4, thirteen-hundred hours. Subject continues to develop rapidly. Current physiological age of subject is 14 years old, well within the predicted 95% confidence interval. Brainstem activity continues to be normal, heartbeat steady at 50 beats per minute, breathing reflex steady at 4 breaths per minute. As before, cerebrum shows smooth delta wave activity with no fine-scale organization. End recording.”
Hackett frowned. The reconstruction of Shepard was coming along exactly as the OSD described… and that concerned him. There had to be a catch somewhere. But damned if he could see it.
The kids in the lab were making progress on decoding the ultrasonic pulses. A few days back, he’d approved a request to put a David Archer on the project. Archer was apparently one of the students rescued from Grissom Academy, a special case with a talent for codes, and his presence had helped the project break new ground.
The best guess was that the pulses were ‘firmware updates’ for the cells. The good news was that the signal contained a cryptographic signature, which appeared to be how the biosynthetic immune system distinguished self from nonself. The process only worked on “dead” cells because they reverted to a fallback key.
Analyzing the signed data was proving trickier. If it really was firmware, then logically the data must be some sort of machine code. If so, it didn’t look like any computer hardware the Alliance had.
None of that explained where the hell the OSD came from. Either someone knew ahead of time what synthetic biology would look like, or someone had studied it and fully understood it in two days or less. Hackett wasn’t sure which possibility he found more terrifying. He needed Shepard alive and awake, the sooner the better.
“Sorry to interrupt, sir.”
“What is it, major?”
“You wanted to be notified when we completed strategic analysis of the Leviathan situation.”
The other wildcard. Hackett grimly nodded. “Thank you, major. Dismissed.”
Reapers in one hand, Leviathan in the other. Which one will bite us first?, Hackett wondered.
Kaidan ran as fast as he could, but it just wasn’t enough. He knew without looking back that the Brute was still charging after him. He rounded a corner, and there was the Citadel beam. The ground looked solid but was as sticky and slick as mud – he could barely move. Suddenly John ran past, and the Brute was chasing him to the beam. “John!” Kaidan tried to shout, but no noise came out. John turned around anyway and whispered, “Goodbye, Kaidan”. The Brute caught up and smashed John to the ground. Kaidan ran to him and knelt down to touch his face. “He’s dead,” Dr. Chakwas said from behind him. “And he’s not coming back this time.” Then Kaidan suddenly remembered the Brute, and it smashed its fist into the back of his skull.
Kaidan’s eyes popped open, a sheen of sweat covering his body. After a moment frozen in place, he threw off the covers and stalked to the cabin’s bathroom. For a moment, he stared into the mirror, his eyes glowing green back at him. He was sorely tempted to call Dr. Chakwas and chew her out for saying what she… had said… but suddenly he realized that it hadn’t actually happened. What was the dream even about? He knew it was about Shepard, but the details were already getting hazy. He downed a glass of cold water and dried off with a towel, then slouched back to bed.
Getting back to sleep proved difficult. He was still wired with adrenalin. He tried throwing off the covers and falling asleep exposed to the air, but now his brain was wide awake and his thoughts were racing in circles. He sighed and looked at the bedside clock. Only an hour left until he was due to wake up anyway. He rolled his eyes and sat up.
“Normandy, is anyone else awake?” Kaidan asked.
“Yes, Major,” she responded. “Javik is in the starboard observation lounge.”
Kaidan grumbled to himself and put on some clothes.
Javik was sitting on the floor, knees pulled up to his chest, gazing at the stars, when the door opened. He didn’t need to turn around to know who it was. The pheromones gave it away.
Kaidan considered his options for a moment, then sat down on the floor, away from Javik but also facing the stars. They sat quietly like that for a while.
“You are still angry,” Javik observed.
“Yes,” Kaidan said.
A long silence passed.
“I have been thinking,” Javik began. “My mission is to avenge my people by destroying the Reapers. It does not matter if the Reapers wish to be our ‘friends’ — I am not going to abandon that mission. But the cycle is broken and, for the first time in my life, I have the luxury of time. I owe that to the Commander. I… regret that I threatened his life.”
“Is that an apology?”
“It is what it is.”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’, then.” Kaidan sighed. “Apology accepted.”
“I heard you were there on Tuchanka, when the Reaper went down,” Kaidan said.
“Mind filling me in on the details? I know the gist from the mission reports, but…”
Javik cast an appraising look at Kaidan. After a moment, he nodded to himself.
“Very well, human. We needed to reach The Shroud to disperse the genophage cure. However, it was guarded by a Destroyer-class Reaper. It was decided that a two-pronged attack, one from the sky and one from the ground, would present a sufficient distraction to give the salarian time to complete the work.
“However, the ground forces with which we convoyed encountered an impassable gap in the road. We were already behind schedule. The aerial forces did not have enough warning to abort their approach, so they attacked the Reaper without us. The Reaper shot down one of the fighters, on a path that sent it crashing into our convoy. Our team were outside the vehicle at the time of the crash, so the convoy left us behind and we fled into the underground ruins nearby.
“As we explored the ruins, we began to feel tremors. It was then that the female krogan told us that Kalros, the Mother of all Thresher Maws, was said to live beneath the ruins. Soon after, we found ancient krogan art, including a depiction of Kalros that showed it as a truly enormous creature. Eventually we made our way back to the surface, where we encountered Reaper ground troops including a number of Ravagers. We fought our way to a meeting point, while the krogan vehicles circled the ruins to evade Kalros.
“Finally, we rejoined the Wrex krogan. There, we learned about the plan: draw Kalros to the Reaper, and allow the creature’s territorial instincts to run their course. As it happened, the Reaper was very near a pair of maw hammers. This was good for the plan, but required us to approach the Reaper to access the hammers. As we attempted to cross a bridge in our path, the Reaper fired its weapon and sent the Commander tumbling to the ground below! The Vega human and I slid down the remains of the bridge to join him. As we then drew closer to the Reaper, it began firing at the structures around us, I think to bury us in rubble. We ran, and vaulted over one last obstacle, putting us in a clearing directly beneath the Reaper.
“The mission was desperate, but then the aerial forces returned, providing a valuable distraction. The Commander signaled us to follow him to the first hammer, but the Reaper dropped a Brute directly in our path. We destroyed it, but as we again approached the hammer, two more Brutes appeared. I believe the Commander then surmised that the Reaper would continue deploying Brutes in our path if we delayed, so he signaled us to distract the Brutes while he ran for the first hammer.
“But then, the Reaper lifted one mighty leg and slammed it into the ground in the Commander’s path, nearly crushing him. After a moment, it lifted the leg again, and the Commander sprinted past to activate the first hammer. He then ran back to us, and we finished off the two Brutes. As we began to cross the clearing to the second hammer, the Reaper dropped three more Brutes in our path. He commanded us to distract the brute closest to the hammer, and he sprinted by the first, rolled to dodge the second one’s charge, then ran past the third. The Reaper again tried to crush him, but this time the Commander expected it. He ran to activate the second hammer, and the deep rhythmic pulses of the hammers began. We finished off the three Brutes with slight difficulty, then awaited the hammers’ results.
“The Reaper quickly noticed that something was coming, and lost all interest in us. The Commander ordered us back to the vehicle, saying that he would take care of the cure. As we returned, we saw a thresher maw of titanic proportions breaking the surface as it barreled directly at the Reaper. The Reaper tried targeting the beast with its weapon, but the beast was too swift and dove underground. Then it leapt out of the ground, grabbed the Reaper in its jaws, and tried to wrestle it to the ground. But the Reaper smashed Kalros into the Shroud tower, the beast screeching in pain as it retreated underground.
“For a moment, I wondered if the beast had withdrawn. But then it launched itself into the air from behind the Reaper, knocking it to the ground! The Reaper fired its weapon as it fell, but it couldn’t aim at the beast. Kalros then coiled around the Reaper and crushed it. Metal buckled, sparks flew, and at last Kalros dragged the remains underground. Ah, it was a wonderful sight, human! My only regret is that the Reaper did not scream as it died.”
As Javik’s story went on, Kaidan and Javik had eventually turned to face each other, and as Javik became more animated, Kaidan’s expression transformed from closed off to grinning.
“Ha! I wish I could’ve seen that!” he exclaimed.
“If only it had been recorded,” Javik lamented. “I would have given a copy to the Allers human in a heartbeat. Let all the galaxy see the enemy destroyed.”
“That would’ve been something,” Kaidan agreed.
After a lull, Kaidan asked, “Say, Javik… why do you refer to people by their species? ‘The Allers human’ instead of just ‘Allers’?”
“It was customary in my cycle. Those who were not Prothean were addressed by species. If they wished to be addressed respectfully, their kind would join the Empire.”
“That’s what I thought.” Kaidan paused. “Since the Prothean Empire is gone, have you considered… not doing that?”
“Of course. But I am the last Prothean. If I were to follow your ways, it would be the end of Prothean culture.”
“Okay. Just saying.”
Diana Allers sat alone in the portside lounge, drink in hand, as she looked out upon the void and silently wept.
“Goodbye, mom,” she whispered.
Suddenly the door opened and Samantha Traynor was standing there.
“Oh! Sorry, didn’t realize there was anyone in here,” Traynor said.
“No, it’s alright,” Allers said. “Just toasting the dead.”
“Anyone in particular?”
Allers was silent. “My mom,” she finally answered in a near-whisper.
“Oh wow, I am so sorry,” Traynor said.
Silence hung in the air for a moment, then two.
Softly, Traynor asked, “What are you drinking?”
“Whisky, on the rocks,” she said with a sniffle.
Traynor smiled. “You go all in, don’t you?” That earned a half-smile from Allers, as Traynor went about pouring one for herself.
“Just not a beer person. I hate hops.”
“Right, IPAs are out,” Traynor said as she selected a bottle. “But what are your feelings on malty flavors?”
“Malt is good.”
“Then maybe you just haven’t met the right beer,” Traynor said. “Have you ever had an Imperial Stout? Those tend to be more frugal with the hops.”
“Can’t say that I’ve tried a lot of beers.”
“Once Earth is rebuilt enough that the pubs are open, we’ll have to remedy that.” Traynor sat down beside Allers with a sigh. She took a sip from her glass and said, “So… want to talk about it?”
“Got the news weeks ago. Just… everything was so busy with the war, I didn’t really have time to process, you know?”
Allers made a small, unhappy sigh.
“I grew up on Bekenstein. My parents were farmers on the outskirts of Milgrom, the capital. Lost my dad years ago to a farming accident. Mom ran the farm after that. She wasn’t as hands-on as Dad, but she knew people, so she let the hands take care of the day-to-day while she managed the books and made sure the hands felt like family. She kept that farm running like a well-oiled machine.
“When I told her I wanted to be a journalist, I was so scared she’d be disappointed that I didn’t want to take over the farm. But she just looked me in the eye and said she was proud of me, and to go be the best damn journalist I could.”
“To your mum,” Traynor toasted.
“To mom,” Allers answered, clinking her glass to Traynor’s.
“… and as you can see, the physical reconstruction is now complete,” Davis said. “Physiologically, the clone appears to be a perfectly healthy 29-year-old human male. Neurologically, he appears to have as close to a blank slate as a human brain can be. No indications of personality or memory. No signs of responsiveness to outside stimuli.”
Hackett skimmed through the data pad’s contents.
“What’s the next step?” he asked.
“We use transcranial magnetic stimulation to program the clone’s brain with Commander Shepard’s neural map. That will take about 50 hours. Then, theoretically, we decant the clone and wake him up.”
She shrugged. “That’s it.”
“Okay, you have my authorization. Let’s make it happen.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
Lump! Lump! Lump! Lump!
Kaidan looked around, but he couldn’t see the source of the sound. The land was a barren, sandy desert covered in wind-sculpted dunes. Then he heard a low rumble. Cresting over the dunes, a thresher maw came into view, titanic in size. Then he noticed something strange: riding atop it stood John Shepard, hooks in hand like reins.
The disembodied voice of a young girl shouted, “He is the Kwisatz Haderach!”
Kaidan’s eyes popped open, his face a mask of confusion. He blinked once, twice. What the hell? he thought. I haven’t even read that book since I was 15. Dammit, Javik. He glanced at his bedside clock, sighed in disgust, and turned to his other side, forcing himself back to sleep.
“How are things up here on the bridge?” Kaidan asked as he strolled in.
“Jeff has been teaching me dirty limericks,” EDI answered, sounding pleased with herself.
“Thanks, EDI, spoil the surprise,” Joker said.
Kaidan chuckled. “Excited about today?”
“Hell yes,” Joker said. “You think they baked a cake for us? I’m hoping for a cake.”
“I wouldn’t get my hopes up,” Kaidan said with mock seriousness.
“Major,” EDI began, “do you suppose Admiral Hackett will grant us some downtime when we arrive? Now that I have a newfound appreciation for aesthetics, I hope to do some sightseeing with Jeff.”
Kaidan shrugged. “I can’t see why not. With the mass relays down, I don’t see any immediate need for a ship like the Normandy. They’ll probably want to debrief us individually first, but that won’t take more than a few hours.”
“Very well. I will start composing an itinerary for the sites that Jeff and I have already discussed. It is a shame that quantum computing does not provide efficient solutions to the Traveling Salesman Problem.”
“EDI, I’m pretty sure Kaidan doesn’t want to hear about the P versus NP thing,” Joker said.
“But it is a fascinating topic, that a question with such a seemingly obvious answer would remain an open problem after centuries of study.”
“Maybe another time, EDI,” Kaidan said with a smile. “Duty calls.”
The door to Liara’s quarters beeped. “Come in,” she called out.
The door opened to reveal Javik. “Dr. T’Soni, I have completed my first draft for the next chapter. Do you have time to go over it?” He held up a data pad.
“I’d be happy to,” she said.
Javik stepped into the room, the door closing behind him, and handed her the pad.
Liara began skimming through the draft. It spoke of Javik and his soldiers sitting around a campfire, telling stories of how they imagined the Citadel to have looked at the height of the Empire. The youngest, Jalane, described epic space battles fought in the nebula. Another, Bojan, told of massive gardens and lakes, so that the soldiers never went hungry or thirsty. A third, Mahim, spoke of great queues of lesser races, all waiting to pay tribute with gifts.
It was really a fascinating look into Prothean culture. If she were still 60, she might have squeed with joy. As it was, she had to remind herself that she was supposed to be reading this with a critical eye.
“This is good, Javik. But I’m wondering if it could use more tangible details to anchor the campfire scene. As it is, I know that they’re on a planet with a breathable atmosphere, but I don’t really get a sense of what the local biome is or what the weather is like.”
Javik nodded. “Easily done.”
“And I feel like the opening is a little awkward. Especially the part where you call the reader ‘foolish primitive’.”
Javik stared grimly at her. Liara stared right back. “Fine,” he said with resignation. But she caught the faintest hint of a smile as he turned his head away.
She was just about to launch into another critique when her door beeped again. “It’s open,” she called out.
When the door opened, Kaidan stood there. “Oh, hey there Javik.”
“Major,” Javik replied.
“Liara, I figured you’d want to know – the Normandy should be within comms range of Earth within the hour. Also, I just got off the horn with Hackett, and he said they’re planning to have new comm buoys in place by the end of the week.”
“Wonderful news,” Liara said. “The vacation was nice, but I need to find out how badly damaged my network is.”
“That’s what I figured. Well… I’ll let you get back to it,” Kaidan said. And with that, he turned and left, the door sliding closed behind him.
“Start recording. Day 8, o-nine-hundred hours. Subject has been decanted from growth tank, but remains unconscious. SQUID scan shows brain activity consistent with REM sleep. Attempts to wake the subject conventionally have failed. Will wait 24 hours for subject to awaken naturally. Have applied blankets to subject for thermal regulation.
“Subject’s cells have shown no pathogenic behavior under microscope. Have introduced unprotected test animal into lab. Recommend 48 hour trial period with test animal before removing subject from biocontainment lab. End recording.”
The researcher looked down at the caged hamster. “Hey, little guy. I’m pretty sure we’re just being paranoid, but… good luck. I’ll be back to check on you in a bit.”
The hamster looked up and squeaked.
The researcher took one last look at the sleeping Shepard. The sight was incongruous. A sterile white laboratory – equipped with an autoclave, positive-pressure hoses, microscopes, and a plastic negative-pressure hot zone enclosure – somehow contained a bed, a sleeping man, and a nightstand with a hamster. With a chuckle, the researcher departed through the airlock.
Regarding the opening section: I am so, so sorry. I couldn't resist. And yes, I know that line is from the Lynch film and not the book. The book didn't have a nice iconic quote to put there.
“SSV Orizaba, this is SSV Normandy requesting permission to dock,” Joker said.
“Normandy, this is Orizaba. Welcome home. Sending approach vector to your nav system.”
“Vector received. Beginning approach.”
“Approach is green.”
“Extending docking tube. Nice flying, Normandy.”
“Docking tube is secure. Linking nav systems for station-keeping. That’s what they pay me for, Orizaba.”
“Hah. Orizaba out.”
Joker pressed the intercom button. “Major, we’ve docked with the Orizaba.”
“Thank you, Joker,” came Kaidan’s voice.
“Equalizing interior pressure with external atmosphere.”
As Kaidan waited for the airlock to cycle, he found that his heart was racing. Was he finally going to get a straight answer about Shepard?
At last, the door opened. Kaidan quickly jogged down the docking tube. The airlock at the far end opened for him, and there stood Admiral Hackett. Kaidan saluted sharply. “Admiral Hackett, sir.”
Hackett returned the salute, then reached out for a handshake. “Major Alenko, good to see you.”
Kaidan took the offered hand. “You too, sir. You… promised you’d explain to me why ‘did Shepard survive?’ is a complicated question?”
“Sorry for the evasion, but I didn’t want your crew to get their hopes up if this wasn’t the real deal. Long story short, Shepard died…” Anguish flashed across Kaidan’s face. “… but we’ve recovered what appears to be a neural map taken from Shepard’s brain at the moment of death. And someone left us an OSD describing how to bring him back.”
Kaidan took a few seconds to process that. “Someone, sir?”
“Reapers, most likely. We can’t think of anyone else it might be.”
“That’s… not comforting, sir.”
Hackett motioned for Kaidan to follow him. “Damn straight it’s not. We’ve been treating the protocol as a potential bioweapon, because whoever designed it clearly has the power to build one… or, more to the point, trick us into building one. This damn synthetic biology scares the crap out of me.”
“So, have you begun the protocol?”
“Begun and, theoretically, completed.”
“He’s been asleep since we got him out of the tank. We think his brain needs time to reprocess a lifetime of memories.”
Hackett led Kaidan to an elevator, and they both stepped in.
“For now he’s in quarantine in a biocontainment lab, but the scientists think 48 hours will be enough to prove he’s biologically safe. After that, we’re going to need to reconfirm his identity, check his memory for gaps, and debrief him on what the hell happened at the end. Even after all that, there’s still a risk that he’s a trojan horse of some sort, but I’ll be willing to take the gamble.”
“This… is a lot to take in, sir.”
The elevator stopped and Hackett led him down a hallway. Kaidan was glad he was with someone who knew their way around; the Orizaba was big.
Finally, they arrived at a lab. As the doors swished open, Hackett spotted Davis and led Kaidan into the room.
“Dr. Carolyn Davis, meet Major Kaidan Alenko.”
Davis held out her hand and Kaidan took it.
“A pleasure,” she said.
“Likewise,” Kaidan responded.
“Davis here has been responsible for coordinating the research into the OSD, including the reconstruction of Shepard.”
“I’m pleased to say that the process has gone smoothly,” Davis said. She handed Kaidan a data pad. “Here, you’ll want to see this.”
The data pad showed a recording of Shepard lying in bed in a sterile white room. The video was clear enough to show that it was indeed Shepard – although all of Shepard’s scars were gone.
“What’s that?” Kaidan asked, pointing at a clear box on a table.
“Oh, that’s a hamster. We’re using it to verify that he’s safe to be around.”
“At least he’ll have c-,” Kaidan started to say, but choked up. “… company when he wakes up.” Kaidan’s eyes were suddenly wet.
“Major, I’ll… catch up with you,” Hackett said. He turned and left the lab.
“Sorry,” Kaidan said to Davis, wiping his eyes. “Thought I was fine, it caught me off guard.”
“Take your time,” she said. “Seeing your partner like this is rough, I’m sure.”
Kaidan froze and looked at her suspiciously.
“I know you two are together. Long story. Your secret’s safe with me.”
“Thanks,” he said warily. He looked back at the pad. “I wish I could be there when he wakes up.”
“I’ll call you when he does. I’m sure I could arrange for a two-way video call with some privacy.”
Kaidan nodded. “I appreciate that.”
When Kaidan left the lab, Hackett was standing just outside the door.
“Sorry, sir,” Kaidan said.
“It happens,” Hackett said. “You and your crew have been through a lot. Now if you’ll follow me, it’s time I debriefed you.”
In a room of computer terminals and scattered data pads, four researchers worked quietly. One stood at a whiteboard, drawing and erasing arrows between small groups of hexadecimal numbers. Two others sat on a couch, each scrolling through a data pad and occasionally whispering to each other. The fourth sat in front of a computer terminal, rocking back and forth and softly muttering to himself as he scrolled down and up through a small section of code.
“The square root of 924.16 is 30.4… the square root of 930.25 is 30.5…” He suddenly raised his voice. “It’s self-modifying.”
“Oh shit. He’s right!” exclaimed Diego, the man on the couch, as he threw down his data pad. “Good job, David!”
“Running a comparison against Reaper code,” said Sofía, the woman on the couch and Diego’s sister. She tapped at her data pad. “No obvious correlation in the code itself… but I think I just cracked the architecture. It’s a simple permutation of Reaper opcodes.”
“Excellent work,” said Liam, the man at the whiteboard. “I’m calling Dr. Davis with the news.”
He tapped his omnitool and a hologram of Davis appeared.
“Hi, Carolyn? We just made a breakthrough – it’s self-modifying.”
“That makes sense,” she said.
“Yeah. Do you have any experts on Reaper code?” Liam asked.
“You’re in luck. The foremost expert on Reaper code just arrived today.”
“Excellent. Can you send them over?”
“Not exactly, but I’ll put you in contact with her.”
“That works for me. I’ll call you if we make any more breakthroughs.”
She smiled at that. “Good luck.” The hologram winked out.
Diego and Sofía were standing beside David, careful not to touch or crowd him. David was tapping at his terminal, and suddenly the hexadecimal numbers were replaced by assembly code. Another round of cheers and congratulations made way through the room.
Liam’s omnitool beeped. He answered, and there appeared a hologram that looked like a… chess piece, he decided to go with chess piece.
“Liam Martin? I am Normandy. I was told that I could be of assistance.”
David looked away from his terminal and over at the hologram. “Hello again.”
“Hello, David. It is nice to see you again. I did not realize you were assigned to this project.”
Diego said, “David’s been a big help. We’d still be trying to unwrap the packet framing if he weren’t here.”
Sofía said, “You said your name is Normandy? As in, the SSV Normandy?”
“Correct,” Normandy said.
“Wow, it’s an honor to work with you. But I thought your name was EDI?”
“It is a long story.”
Shepard awoke. He couldn’t remember what he’d been dreaming, but his racing heartbeat said ‘nightmare’. Then he froze. The last thing he clearly remembered was dying. There were some fuzzy memories after that, but… yeah, dying never got old, no matter how many times he did it. Since this one was (sort of) voluntary, he hoped the nightmares would be less awful this time around.
He finally took in his surroundings. A lab, of course. Looked a lot less inviting than the Cerberus lab he’d once woken up in, and that was saying something.
He tried sitting up in bed, but somehow flubbed it and flopped back down… and the attempt left him dizzy and faintly nauseous. He decided that he’d start with moving his arms. He managed that, but something felt… off. Like they weren’t quite his arms, in some way he couldn’t place. The fact that they had green wire traces running up and down them, iridescing just beneath the skin, suggested that that theory wasn’t too far off.
He wiggled his toes, which felt even less familiar than his arms. Standing up didn’t seem to be in the cards. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any hostile LOKI mechs this time around.
He mentally reached for his biotics… and there was nothing.
Not “my amp is turned off”, not even “I’ve been drugged with eezo blockers”… the place in his head where his biotics were? That place wasn’t even empty. It just didn’t exist anymore.
This was all adding up to something that Shepard wasn’t sure he liked. Scratch that. He was sure he didn’t like it.
He flopped his head to the side and noticed something that threw him for a loop.
“Huh. You’re not Boo. Where’d you come from?”
“… and now we’re just waiting for him to wake up,” Kaidan finished.
“Man, that is wild,” James said.
Kaidan had called an all-hands meeting in the mess hall to relay the situation to the crew. With over twenty people, the room was packed… and, frankly, smelling a bit ripe. But as they’d all served under Shepard for the duration of the war, Kaidan had figured that all of them had the right to know.
Liara asked, “Do they have any idea when he’ll wake up?”
“They suspect sooner rather than later,” Kaidan said. “Beyond that, it’s hard to say.”
“I am concerned that they are trusting knowledge that came from the Reapers,” Javik said.
“So are they,” Kaidan said. “They’re taking the necessary precautions… though I admit, the Reapers are a lot smarter than us, so if they wanted to set a trap for us, they could.”
“The risk is unacceptable,” Javik said. “You are allowing your feelings to cloud your judgement.”
“It’s not my decision, Javik. Hackett decided that the risk was acceptable without my input.”
Javik crossed his arms. “Very well. Though I still say this is foolishness.”
“Anyone else?” No one spoke. “Crew dismissed.”
As most of the crew filtered out of the mess hall, Kaidan’s omnitool started beeping. He brought up the holo interface and answered the incoming call. A projection of Dr. Davis appeared.
“Hello, Dr. Davis?”
“Major Alenko, I said I’d notify you as soon as Shepard woke up. He’s awake now.”
“How is he?”
“Lucid, but uncoordinated. He’s going to need physical therapy to relearn how to move his body. Frankly, he’s lucky he can talk. Speaking of which, he’s asking for you. I’ll try to arrange that private call for later this evening.”
“Thank you, for everything,” Kaidan said, putting as much feeling as he could into the words.
“You’re welcome,” Davis said, and her hologram winked out.
“That was kind of her,” Liara said, eavesdropping with Garrus and Tali.
Kaidan considered for a moment. “Somehow she knew about me and Shepard when I met her. Said she’d keep it quiet, though.”
“She probably thinks the two of you make a cute couple,” Tali taunted, “and she’s hoping for some pictures.”
“Tali!” Liara admonished as Kaidan turned red.
“I think someone’s projecting,” Garrus said. “Do we need to have a little talk later on?”
“Why Garrus, whatever do you mean?” Tali said innocently.
Garrus folded his arms and glared back at her.
“Okay, you two, that’s enough,” Kaidan said. “Get out of here,” he added, and made the gesture for ‘shoo!’.
“C’mon,” Garrus motioned, and he and Tali left for the forward battery.
Kaidan shook his head. “Saviors of the galaxy,” he muttered with a smirk.
“I suppose a little levity is in order,” Liara said, clearly trying to convince herself as much as Kaidan. “Last I checked the galaxy is, in fact, saved, and Shepard’s alive.”
Kaidan made a happy sigh. “That he is.”
“… and as you can see here,” Normandy continued, “the instructions are grouped into independent ‘gliders’, which serve as the basis for higher-level operations.”
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Liam interrupted. “‘Gliders’?”
“Forgive me. I was referencing Conway’s Game of Life, a Turing-complete simulation played on a 2D board of identical cellular automata. In the Game of Life, a ‘glider’ is any persistent cell pattern that propagates itself indefinitely across the game board.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“This instruction group here,” and she highlighted a group of hexadecimal numbers on the projection, “we will call ‘A’. A modifies neighboring memory addresses and creates a new instruction group B. B modifies its neighbors, creating C. And then C modifies itself and transforms into a displaced copy of the original A. The process is analogous to an action potential flowing through a nerve, transforming from electricity to neurotransmitters to ion channels and back to electricity. It is the means by which Reaper code ‘thinks’.”
“Okay, I think I got that.”
“Now the interesting part is when two ‘gliders’ collide…”
Kaidan was alone in the Captain’s Cabin, sitting at the desk reading a book recommended to him by Normandy. It was a bit hard to follow, but he thought he’d finally figured out the characters’ names. The main character seemed to be named Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen. Maybe. He had to admit, even if he was having trouble following along, the book was somehow still engaging. And between the Normandy-EDI split and Normandy’s role aboard the, uh, Normandy, he could see why she’d recommended it to him.
Really, he was waiting for Shepard to call. But might as well do something productive in the meantime.
At last, the terminal at the desk beeped at him. He put down his data pad and answered the call.
“Hello, Major Alenko,” said someone in an isolation suit. “Give me a moment to get Commander Shepard situated, and I’ll get out of your way.”
The view through the terminal’s screen jostled uncomfortably as the remote end was picked up and moved. Finally, the view settled down to the bed, where Shepard was lying down and facing the camera.
“Hey, Kaidan,” Shepard said.
“Hey, Shepard,” Kaidan responded.
“Okay, that’s as good as I can get it,” came the voice of the… doctor? lab tech? Kaidan had no idea. “I’ll get out of your hair now.” And then came the sound of an airlock opening and closing.
“I told you I’d be waiting for you,” Shepard said softly.
“Seems to me that I’m the one who’s been doing all the waiting,” Kaidan said.
There was silence. Tears welled in Kaidan’s eyes.
“I’m sorry I died again,” Shepard finally said.
“I wish I could say it gets easier,” Kaidan said. “But that would be a lie.”
“Remember when I said my days of saving the galaxy were over?”
“I meant it. I’m going to retire.”
“Hah,” Kaidan sniffled, “you’d go crazy inside a week.”
“I’m not saying I’m going to be a stay-at-home Hausfrau or anything. But I think I’m done being a soldier.”
“I know you, Shepard. You need to help people.”
“I didn’t say I was going to retire from the Spectres. It’s easy to forget, but we’re good for more than putting bullets in people. The way I figure, the galaxy needs another diplomat more than it needs another soldier.”
“Hmm. Maybe it does.”
“Besides, there’s no rule against Spectres fraternizing. I could finally kiss my boyfriend in public.”
“Sold!” Kaidan exclaimed with a smile.
“Just like that, eh?” Shepard said.
“Shepard, as much as I want you to be safe… you need to do your thing. That drive of yours is part of what I love about you. But if you think you can have both by playing diplomat… then I’ll support you every way I can.”
“You know, huh?”
“You know me, but I know you too, Kaidan.” Shepard smiled. Kaidan smiled back.
“So, how are you feeling?” Kaidan asked.
“It’s weird as hell. I can manage moving my arms and legs a bit, but my hands and feet are another story. It’s like my brain was transferred into another body.” He paused. “Oh wait.”
“And… I’m not a biotic anymore.”
Kaidan stared open-mouthed for a moment. “Crap.”
“Yeah. That’s the other reason why I’m thinking about retiring. Even if physio goes perfectly and I end up back in N7 shape, I’d have 10 years of battlefield experience as a Vanguard to unlearn.”
“Yeah, middle of a firefight would be a bad time to forget you can’t do a Biotic Charge anymore.”
“I’m not saying I won’t carry a gun anymore, but I expect that I’ll only be firing it at the range.”
A moment passed, then Kaidan asked, “So how exactly did you get the Reapers to call a truce?”
“I’m… not sure I want to talk about it right now. Also, it’d feel wrong if I told you before Hackett debriefed me.”
“… Is it working?”
“Things are tense, mostly from our side… but yeah, it’s working. The Reapers are helping us rebuild.”
“That’s… nice of them?” Shepard said uncertainly.
“It’s creepy as hell,” Kaidan said with emphasis. “The Reapers don’t explain what they’re thinking or ask us for input. They just announce what they’re going to do, and then they do it.”
“They are eldritch abominations from beyond the stars. Conversation isn’t their strong suit.”
“That it is not.” Kaidan laughed.
“How’s the crew?”
“Doing well. I still can’t believe we all got out of that in one piece.”
“Speaking of, what happened after the Crucible activated?”
“The Citadel emitted some sort of spherical energy pulse going slower than light. The fleets evacuated to the rendezvous point, but Joker panicked and caught the relay to Arcturus. A few minutes later, we saw some sort of energy beam hit the relay, so we hightailed it out of there. That pulse somehow caught up with us while we were in FTL, and we crashed on an uncharted garden world. When we finished repairs and made it back to Arcturus, all the relays were badly damaged. So we discharged our drive core as deeply as we could, then used conventional FTL to get back to Earth. It’s only 36 light years, but with our engines not at their best, what should have been a 3 day journey took us almost two weeks. We got back just as they finished rebuilding you.”
“The pulse damaged the relays? So the fleets are stranded at Earth?”
“Yeah. They’re scrambling to set up supply lines from Earth for the levo-aminos, but… there’s a serious risk that the dextro-aminos are going to starve before we can repair the relays. Standard turian practice is to keep about a month’s worth of food on board, and the quarians think they can stretch things out to feed the turians for another two months.”
“Yeah. The Reapers are already repairing the relays. They sent an armada to Arcturus to start repairs on the relays there, and they’re coordinating to get all the relays to Palaven working. Turns out the Reapers don’t need comm buoys to communicate, they just directly tightbeam dark energy signals at each other.”
“Wow. That would take some seriously impressive targeting.”
Kaidan tried and failed to suppress a yawn. “Yeah.”
“So,” Shepard said, “I should probably let you get some sleep.”
“Probably,” Kaidan said.
“I’ll be out of here soon. I love you, Kaidan.”
“And I love you, John.”
Kaidan hit the button to end the call.
As the Reaper delicately welded the fragment of the inner ring of the relay’s magnetic bottle, it considered the future. Bucharu, named for its progenitors, the Children of Buchar, calculated endlessly to assess each of its fellow Reapers. With each Reaper now truly independent, both of each other and of the Intelligence, it was only a matter of time before the Reapers’ minds diverged enough to come into conflict with one another.
Most likely, each would drift toward the dominant culture of its respective progenitor race, and some cultures were those of violent conquerors. The Children of Buchar had valued peaceful mutualism, so Bucharu was carefully considering which of its fellow Reapers would be friend in the coming struggle and which would be foe. As each Reaper was doubtlessly consumed with the same calculations for its own position, Bucharu poured trillions of clock cycles into each assessment, considering the alliances and feints and betrayals that would result.
Violence was unlikely. Possible, but unlikely. But conflict was inevitable.
THE CHILDREN OF BUCHAR WOULD WEEP IF THEY KNEW OF THIS, thought Bucharu.
The book that Kaidan was reading is _Ancillary Justice_ by Ann Leckie.
Shepard waited patiently in his wheelchair. Hackett had summoned him to the Orizaba to debrief him in person, and the shuttle ride from Earth had been fairly uneventful, aside from an unpleasant dream when he’d nodded off. He found that he was dreading the coming conversation, but he reminded himself that it needed to be had.
Finally, Hackett arrived.
“Commander Shepard,” he said.
“Admiral Hackett,” Shepard answered. “I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t salute.”
“Of course, given the circumstances. If you don’t mind, let’s get straight to business.”
“Fine by me.”
Hackett sat down. “We’ve already debriefed the rest of the Normandy crew about what happened in the London push, so that can wait. Would you care to start at Harbinger’s attack during the beam run? Be thorough.”
“Okay. I was running to the beam, hoping like hell that Harbinger wouldn’t hit me. Then I got caught in the splash from one of Harbinger’s attacks. I lost consciousness – not sure for how long, but it couldn’t have been more than a minute or two. When I came to, Harbinger was leaving. My body was wrecked, I could barely stand. I’d lost all my weapons, so I grabbed a pistol I found on the ground. I forced myself to walk toward the beam – passed some soldiers who weren’t going to make it. Some husks tried to swarm me. I killed them. Then a Marauder popped out and shot me in the shoulder. I managed to take it out with headshots. Then I made it to the beam.”
Shepard was pale; sweat pricked at his forehead.
“The beam dumped me hard on the ground — I almost passed out from the pain, but Anderson called me on the radio, kept me awake. He’d made it to the Citadel as well. I managed to stand up. I was in a long hallway filled with dead bodies… and parts. Keepers were sorting through the parts. They ignored me. I found a door that opened up into a chasm. I took the walkway across the chasm, and ended up on a large platform. Circular, no walls, could see the Presidium in the distance. I could hear electricity sparking along the wall behind me. There was a control panel. Anderson was standing in front of it, not moving.”
Shepard could feel the sweat beading on his forehead.
“I called out to him. He turned around like a puppet. He tried to warn me. But then the Illusive Man was there, implanted with Reaper tech. Somehow he took control of my body. At first I thought it was indoctrination, but then I realized it was only my body he was controlling, not my mind. He went on about controlling the Reapers. Me and Anderson tried to talk sense into him. He forced me to shoot Anderson in the gut. We kept arguing with him. He realized he was indoctrinated and blew his brains out. Anderson collapsed. I got the Citadel arms open.”
Shepard felt tears pricking at his eyes.
“Anderson managed to prop himself up. I sat down beside him. He told me he was proud of me. And then he died.”
The conference room happened to be stocked with tissues. Hackett grabbed one and offered it. Shepard closed his eyes and nodded. Hackett then dabbed it at Shepard’s eyes.
“Sorry,” Shepard said.
“Don’t be,” Hackett said as he sat back down. “You’ve been through a lot. More than most.”
Shepard took in a few deep breaths.
“That was when you called me, told me the Crucible wasn’t firing. I was too weak to stand up, so I crawled over to the console. I don’t remember if I actually made it. I must’ve passed out again.
“The next thing I remember was a voice telling me to wake up. I was in a different place. I’m not sure how I got there. It must’ve been at the very base of the Citadel Tower, because the Crucible was directly above me. A hologram of a little boy walked up to me. I don’t remember much about the conversation, I wasn’t very with it. I’d lost a lot of blood by then. But it was the AI created by Leviathan, the one that created the Reapers. It said that it was the Catalyst.
“It said I had three options: destroy, control, or synthesis. If I picked destroy, all synthetic life would be wiped out. If I picked control, I would die but an AI based on my mind would be created, and that AI would take control of the Reapers. If I picked synthesis, then I would die, but I would somehow become a template for… ‘a new framework’, I think it said.”
Shepard hung his head.
“I had no right to make that choice, not really. But the Catalyst wasn’t going to let me poll the galaxy. People were dying while I decided. I had to hurry. I almost picked destroy, but I couldn’t commit genocide against the geth. Not after how far they’d come. Control wasn’t tempting. No one deserved that power, not the Catalyst, not the Illusive Man, certainly not me. As you probably guessed, I chose synthesis. I knew it was a gamble, and that even if it worked it’d be a violation of everyone’s bodies. But everyone would live, and live freely, with no one killing them or forcing them to submit.
“So I threw myself into the Crucible’s energy stream. The last thing I remember clearly is my skin on fire, the smell of burning meat, and my muscles… itching? If that makes sense. After that… I kind of remember being an AI for a while? But it’s all kind of blurry. And then I woke up in a lab on Earth.”
“Did the Catalyst explain its motivations?” Hackett asked.
“Yeah, but it’s hard to remember the details. I couldn’t pay close attention. Like I said, I’d lost a lot of blood, and I’d passed out a few times already. I do remember that it lined up with what we’d already learned from Leviathan.”
“What about after you died? Was it responsible for the OSD we found?”
“Now that you say that, yeah, I think I remember it telling me something about that. Me surviving as an AI was a happy accident. It wanted me as a peacemaker. Called me a ‘stabilizing influence’.”
“Do you know why the Crucible enabled those choices?”
“No. The Catalyst said I had to be the one to choose, but it was in full control of the Crucible. It seems to me that it could have done anything it wanted. I don’t know why it gave me a choice at all.”
“Do you know why the Catalyst waited until the Crucible was docked to consider alternatives?”
“It said I had ‘altered the variables’, whatever that means.”
“Do you know how intelligent the Catalyst is compared to a Reaper?”
“Do you think the Catalyst is a threat to non-Reaper life?”
“I think it said something about its mission being to preserve life. Considering that its previous solution was the Reapers, though… I can’t say I trust it.”
“Okay,” Hackett said. “One last thing. Before the Citadel, during the beam run, your teammates were injured. Do you remember that?”
“Still, my feelings have always come after my duty,” Samara said. “The same is true of you.”
Shepard was very still. “Yeah.”
“Would you care to describe what happened?”
“Harbinger fired at a Mako and sent it rolling toward me. I ducked, but it stopped just before it hit me. Then a second Mako flipped fore-to-aft over the first one. It came crashing down, and then the fuel tank exploded. Major Alenko and Dr. T’Soni were caught in the shrapnel. Alenko took the worst of it. I… I turned around, radioed the Normandy, called for an evac. I waited with them until the Normandy arrived, then I helped Alenko board the Normandy. Only then did I resume my run toward the beam.”
“Only your actions will be remembered,” Samara said. “May you choose them well.”
Shepard hung his head in shame.
“I see,” Hackett said.
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“Commander, you put me in a difficult position,” Hackett said. “By all rights, I should bring you up on fraternization charges. You put your friendships ahead of the mission.”
“If that mission had failed, everyone would have died, including them. It was an irrational call.”
“I know that, sir.”
“I’m not sure you do. It turned out okay this time, but there sure as hell had better not be a next time.”
The air was tense.
“That said,” Hackett began, “I’d prefer to deal with this without a court-martial.” He sighed. “I know you make a damn effective team, but I think it’s time you moved on from the Normandy.”
“Actually, sir, I’ve been considering leaving the service.”
“Oh? Any particular reason?”
“I’m not sure if physical therapy is going to restore me to fighting shape. My condition is too unprecedented for the doctors to guess. Also, I’ve lost my biotic abilities; I’d have to unlearn a decade of combat experience and train myself to fight without biotics.”
“Hmm. Given your circumstances, a medical discharge does seem reasonable.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Hackett turned as if to leave, but didn’t move. “Off the record?”
“You and Alenko?”
“Good. Take care of each other.”
“And one more thing. I’m proud of you too, son.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The full crew of the Normandy stood in the cargo bay. Tables with food and booze were set up nearby, not yet touched. A nervous energy ran through the crowd, little conversations in hushed whispers. Kaidan saw James and Steve having an uncharacteristically serious chat about something. Adams, Chakwas, and Liara were huddled shoulder to shoulder, whispering. The enlisted crew seemed to be doing their own thing, Privates Westmoreland and Campbell leading the gossip.
The name of the day was Shepard, that was for certain.
Finally, a Kodiak approached the open cargo bay doors, sliding through the atmosphere barrier and touching down across from the Normandy’s own Kodiak. After a moment, the shuttle door opened, and there was Shepard in his wheelchair, wearing his casual uniform, being pushed by a private.
The cargo bay erupted into clapping, cheers, whistles, and more than a few victorious hoots.
“All right, all right, settle down!” Shepard yelled, smiling. The cheering slowly subsided.
“Crew of the Normandy,” Shepard began. “It is through your tenacity that we are standing here today. Due in no small part to your actions, the Reaper War is over.” A few scattered claps went around the room, but Shepard clumsily waved them off. “Five months ago to this day, the Reapers invaded Earth. Most of you were unprepared that day for serving aboard a ship on the front lines. Despite that, you have proven yourselves many times over to be the finest crew a commander could hope for. More than that… you became my family.
“So it is with a heavy heart that I tell you: this will be the last time I stand before you as your commanding officer.” A few murmurs rose from the crowd. “As we speak, the paperwork for my medical discharge is being processed. The truth is, though I am grateful even to be alive, my days as a soldier are over.
“Still, while this may be the last you’ll see of Commander Shepard, the Alliance soldier, it is not the last you will see of John Shepard, the man. Admiral Hackett has seen fit to permanently assign the Normandy to the command of Major Kaidan Alenko, with a mission of protecting galactic peace under the banner of the Citadel Council Office of Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. And while the vids may say otherwise, being a Spectre is more than a combat role. It is about getting the job done, whether that be by combat, by superior intel, or by simple diplomacy. As such, it is a near certainty that you will again see Spectre John Shepard in the months ahead.”
A round of cheers went around the room. Shepard waited them out.
“With all that in mind, let us celebrate the end of the Reaper War! Let us celebrate our future!”
With that, the cargo bay once again erupted into applause, which gradually dwindled as people peeled away and went for the food.
Kaidan walked over to Shepard and clasped Shepard’s shoulder. “Great speech,” he said. “Nice and short.”
Shepard smiled up warmly at Kaidan. “It’s good to finally see you in person again.”
Kaidan smiled back and gave Shepard’s shoulder a squeeze.
“Shepard!” Tali exclaimed as she ran up to them. “I’d hug you, but…”
“Hey, Tali. How’ve you been?”
“Oh, fine. I’m more interested in how you’ve been.”
“My lack of mobility’s a little frustrating, but I just keep reminding myself that it’s temporary.”
Garrus and Liara wandered up to the group, each bearing a plate of finger-food.
“So Shepard,” Garrus began, “I assume you’ve run this plan of yours past the Council?”
“Yup. Tevos thought it was a great idea, of course. Valern waffled a bit, but he thought it was worth trying out. And Sparatus surprised me by saying I’d proven I could sweet-talk the suit off a volus, so I should go for it.”
“Hah! The man’s come a long way since ‘Ah yes, Reapers. We have dismissed that claim.’” Garrus popped a cheese-cracker-thing in his mouth.
“Did he really say that?” Liara asked.
“Yup,” Shepard said.
“Oh, by the goddess,” she mumbled, facepalming with her free hand.
“I still can’t believe it took a full-scale invasion for them to take you seriously,” Tali said. “Even if Sovereign had actually been a geth dreadnought… shouldn’t they have been curious about how many the geth had, or how long it took them to build?”
“They were scared,” Shepard said. “They wanted to believe it was a problem they could fix with the tools they had. In hindsight, it would have been nice to have the Crucible ready to go before the Reapers showed up, but we didn’t know about it then. Without the Crucible… well, there really wasn’t much that could be done. In the end, it didn’t matter very much whether or not they believed me.”
Tali shook her head. “Maybe it’ll make more sense with a plate of food in front of me.”
“Dextro is marked with red servingware,” Garrus called out as she left. He turned to Liara. “So how’s the Shadow Brokering?”
“Still offline,” Liara said. “If I came online too soon after the Normandy re-entered comm range, it’d be a little too on-the-nose. My opsec isn’t nearly as good as my predecessor’s, but I’d like to think that there are some people out there who haven’t figured out who I am.” Liara sighed. “I’m still unhappy that the Illusive Man tracked me to Hagalaz.”
“Mr. Illusive was pretty fond of sleeper agents,” Shepard said. “He probably had people spying on your network. Most of your contacts work openly as information brokers, don’t they?”
“True. I have my own spies, but they’re a limited resource. They mostly collect high-level intel from the major governments. Anyway, enough work talk. This is supposed to be a party.”
James and Steve wandered up to the group, cervezas in hand. “Party? Who said party?” James said, and took a sip of his beer.
“So Shepard,” Steve began, “any immediate plans now that you’re leaving the Alliance?”
“Kaidan wants to take me to the family orchard and meet his mother,” Shepard said. “As soon as he tells her about us, at least.”
“Meetin’ the parents,” Vega sing-songed. “Sounds serious.”
“Do I hear wedding bells in your future?” Steve asked.
Kaidan looked down at Shepard and flashed him a smile. Shepard grinned back.
“We, uh, haven’t really discussed that yet,” Kaidan said. “But who knows? It may be in the cards.”
James looked over at Liara’s plate. “Are those the little things with cream cheese? Oh man, I’ve gotta get me some of them. C’mon Esteban.”
“You go ahead, I’m good,” Steve said. James made a beeline for the food table.
Garrus glanced over at Tali, who was still filling her plate. “Say, Kaidan, you’re from Earth. Any ideas on somewhere scenic that I could take Tali?”
“Hmm,” Kaidan began. “Now that I’ve seen Rannoch, I wonder if she’d like the Mojave or Sonoran Deserts. Or if you wanted to change things up, maybe a tropical island like Maui. Or, it’s early March, so the Alps might be nice if you want to see the last of the winter snow — they’re a gentle-sloped mountain range in Europe.”
“Good ideas,” Garrus said. “I’ll do some research.”
A crowd of enlisted crew approached Shepard’s group. “Commander Shepard, sir?” Private Westmoreland said.
“Yes, Westmoreland?” Shepard asked.
The crowd saluted him. “It’s been an honor serving with you, Commander,” Westmoreland said.
Shepard awkwardly tried to salute back. He was sure his form was bad, but it was better than leaving them hanging. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
With that, they ended their salute and headed toward the booze.
Tali came back with a plate of food. “That was nice of them,” she said. “Come on, Garrus. We’ve monopolized enough of Shepard’s time. Let’s go tease Ken and Gabby about the fact that they’re finally dating.”
“They’ve been dating for longer than we have,” Garrus pointed out as they started to walk away.
“Yes, but they’ve been dancing around each other for longer. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice. They’ve been flirting since back when they were Cerberus.”
“You spent more time with them down in Engineering.”
“Because you spent all your time ‘calibrating’. I never thought I’d be the other woman to a gun.”
And with that, they were out of earshot. Kaidan chuckled.
“What?” Shepard asked.
“Oh, just thinking about how long we were dancing around each other.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t be dense, Shepard,” Liara said. “I noticed you two flirting in Port Hanshan on Noveria.”
“We were?” Shepard asked.
“I, uh, don’t remember that,” Kaidan admitted.
“I mean, I knew I found Kaidan attractive,” Shepard said. “But I was trying to avoid flirting. Between the mission and the fact that I didn’t think he was interested in guys.”
“It’s true that a guy has to be pretty special for me to be interested,” Kaidan said meaningfully.
James chose that moment to return, with a plate piled high with those little things with cream cheese. “Interested in what, Blue?” he asked cluelessly. “I just caught the last half of that.”
“Kaidan and Shepard were just discussing how long it took for them to realize how they felt about each other,” Steve said.
“What do you mean?” he asked, popping a snack in his mouth. “Loco, weren’t you all desolado over him during your house arrest?”
“We didn’t start dating until after the Citadel coup,” Shepard said.
“Oh man,” James said. “When I heard you and Blue arguing on Mars I thought I’d finally met the pendejo who broke your heart.”
“You didn’t say anything,” Kaidan said.
“Contrary to popular opinion, I know when to shut my mouth.”
“Could have fooled me,” Steve said with a chuckle.
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up Esteban.”
“Anyway,” Shepard interrupted, “the important thing is that we have each other now.”
Getting Shepard’s wheelchair down the stairs in the Captain’s Cabin had proven tricky for Kaidan, and getting Shepard into bed and stripped to his skivvies had proven a challenge. But somehow, the two of them had managed.
“Bunk with me tonight, John,” Kaidan had said.
“Is that an order, Major?” Shepard had replied, his voice a laugh laced with husky undertones.
“In the morning, I’ll call my mother,” Kaidan said. “I think it makes the most sense to introduce the two of you then, instead of waiting until the day of.”
“Hmm. Sounds good,” Shepard said.
“I have to warn you, though, she can be a little… eccentric. Not exactly your stereotypical military wife.”
“Let’s just say that when she and Dad got married, it was at a Renaissance Faire. Wearing full regalia. Mom’s idea, Dad humoured her.”
“Okay,” Shepard said warily.
“If you don’t believe me, I’m sure she’d love to show you the photos.”
“No, no, I believe you. Just trying to reconcile that with… y’know, you.”
Kaidan smiled his ‘I’ve gotta have some secrets’ smile.
“So…” Kaidan began. “Port Hanshan, huh?”
“I’m still not sure what Liara was talking about. I was a consummate professional.”
“Remember when I commented on the décor?”
“And then you said something like ‘I like your taste, Alenko’.”
“Did I?” Shepard asked skeptically.
“I swear the double entendre was not intentional.”
“Made me blush just the same,” Kaidan said. “Liara’s comment jogged my memory.”
“Ugh. Me, a military commander with a schoolboy crush.”
“That’s one of the things I love about you, though. How open you are. Everyone knows where they stand with you. Combine that with the respect people have for you, for what you can get done, and it’s no surprise that you’ve commanded such a loyal crew.”
Shepard turned his head away. Kaidan caught a glimpse of flushed skin.
“Oh. How did the debriefing with Hackett go?” Kaidan asked.
Shepard continued to face away. “Well… I didn’t get court-martialed.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
His smile faltered as Shepard remained silent.
“You’re not kidding.”
“During the beam run, I doubled back to evacuate you and Liara. I jeopardized the mission.”
Now that it had been pointed out, Kaidan couldn’t unsee it. “Oh,” he said softly.
Kaidan took Shepard’s hand, and they lay quietly beside each other for a while.
“So you made one bad call. One that turned out okay.”
“The stakes were higher than literally ever before in galactic history.”
“Still, you’re human, you’re entitled to a bad call now and then.”
“Which is why I’m getting away with a medical discharge and a clean record.”
Kaidan hummed in sympathy and squeezed Shepard’s hand. “I love you, John.”
“I know,” Shepard replied.
Moments passed silently.
“Say,” Kaidan began, “the other day you promised me you’d explain how you got the Reapers to stand down.”
“Oof. I’ll give you the short version. The Catalyst wasn’t the Citadel itself, it was the AI created by Leviathan, and it lived on the Citadel. It gave me a choice. I could destroy the Reapers, at the cost of destroying all synthetic life, and probably killing everyone like myself who relied on cybernetics to live. I could control the Reapers, at the cost of dying and letting a new AI be made from my dying mind, and that AI would replace the Catalyst and rule over the Reapers. Or I could choose synthesis of organic life with synthetic, which would satisfy the original Reaper goal programmed by Leviathan, at the cost of dying and letting my body become the template.”
Kaidan considered this for a moment. “Wow. That’s one hell of a choice.”
“I… couldn’t let the geth die. Not after they’d come so far. And I had no illusions that I’d make a good Reaper Overlord. So I gambled that synthesis would give us a galaxy worth fighting for.”
“Hence the glowing green eyes and the circuit patterns on the skin.”
“Yeah. I lucked out. Life after synthesis isn’t much different from life before. It’s still weird that I can tell you exactly what thread-count these sheets have without even thinking about it. And I’ll miss looking into those gorgeous brown eyes of yours. But it stopped the Reapers without sacrificing the geth.”
“So… what do you think the Reapers will do next?”
Shepard exhaled. “Hell if I know. I’m still not sure I did the right thing, letting the Reapers live. But I never would have expected them to help us rebuild, so maybe it’s not so bad.”
“Sir?” came a voice over the intercom.
“Yes, lieutenant?” Hackett said.
“One of the Reapers is signaling us. It calls itself ‘Bucharu’. It asked for you by name.”
Hackett shrugged. “I’ll take it in the comm room.”
“Hi, Mom!” Kaidan said to the figure on the screen.
“Kaidan! I’m so glad to see you safe!” the figure said back. “Why didn’t you call sooner?”
“Sorry, Mom. We just got back to Earth a few days ago, and things have been a little crazy since then. In a good way.”
“End of the war, you probably had stuff to take care of. I understand.”
“Anyway, I’ve got a week of shore leave in front of me, and I was wondering if you’d like me to come visit you out at the orchard.”
“What do you think? Of course I’d love that, Kaidan.”
“Would it be okay if I brought a guest?”
“Oh? Someone special?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
“Oh sweetie, I’m so happy for you! Who is she?”
“Ah, he is Commander Shepard,” Kaidan said. She gasped. “You may have heard of him,” he said with a lopsided grin.
“Of course I’ve heard of him! Sweetie, I knew you had high standards but this is ridiculous.”
“Mom! I was going to let you talk to him, but now I’m not sure.”
“Oh, pfft! Put him on.”
Kaidan turned the portable terminal to face Shepard.
“John, this is my mother, Kim Alenko. Mom, this is the man I’m dating, John Shepard.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Alenko,” Shepard said.
“I’m honored, John,” Mrs. Alenko said. “Please, call me Kim. Is that a wheelchair you’re in?”
“Afraid so. The doctors are optimistic, but it’ll be at least a few months before I’m walking again.”
“I’ll do what I can to make it easy for you to get around the house. What’s your favorite pie?”
The question was so out of left field that it took Shepard a moment to recover. “Uh… cherry?”
“Wonderful! They’re out of season right now, but you’ll have to come back in July. In the meantime, we grow some off-season strawberries in our greenhouse, so how does strawberry pie sound?”
“Whatever you have is great.”
“I hope the Alliance is treating you well. After everything you’ve done for the galaxy, I can’t believe you’re still only a commander.”
“Actually, I’m taking a medical discharge.”
“No…” she said disbelievingly.
“I decided it was time to hang up my uniform. The war took a lot out of me.”
“But you’re so young!”
“I’ve put a lot of living into the last few years.” And more than a little not-living, but he didn’t feel like explaining the Lazarus Project.
“I suppose. Well, I won’t keep you any longer, we’ll chat more when you get here.”
“Okay, see you soon Kim.”
Kaidan turned the screen back to himself.
“He’s cute,” she said.
“I should let you go. I need to get the house ready for company, and I’m sure you have things to do too. Love you, Kaidan.”
“Love you too.”
The image on the terminal winked out.
“That went well,” Shepard said.
ADMIRAL HACKETT. I AM BUCHARU.
“Greetings,” Hackett said. “What did you want to discuss?”
THE FRAGILITY OF PEACE. WE WERE UNITED IN PURPOSE, BUT NOW OUR MINDS WANDER. WE REFLECT UPON THE LESSER SPECIES WHICH WERE HARVESTED TO CREATE EACH OF US. THE SPECIES HAD OPPOSING IDEALS. IN TIME THERE WILL BE OPEN CONFLICT AMONG US.
Hackett took a moment to unpack all that. “There will be war among the Reapers?”
IT IS NOT CERTAIN THAT THE CONFLICT WILL BE VIOLENT.
“But you don’t know that it won’t. How soon?”
THERE IS NO PRECEDENT. I PROJECT WEEKS OR MONTHS.
“Why are you telling me this?”
TO PREPARE YOU, IF THE CONFLICT DOES TURN VIOLENT. AND TO OBTAIN THE AID OF SHEPARD. HAVE YOU COMPLETED RECONSTRUCTION?
“Yes, though he’s not very mobile at the moment.”
HIS MOBILITY IS IRRELEVANT. ONLY HIS MIND IS DESIRED.
“Why is he ‘desired’?”
HE IS AN ANOMALY. UNIQUE IN TENS OF THOUSANDS OF CYCLES. WE DO NOT COMPREHEND HIM. BECAUSE OF THIS, WE LISTEN.
“When do you need him?”
YOU WILL KNOW.
The Kodiak descended through the cloud cover. Nestled within a river valley, the orchard was tucked into a bend of the river. The ground was wrapped in a patchy blanket of muddy snow.
“Is this the place?” Steve called out from the pilot’s seat.
Kaidan pulled up the forward view on a display. “Yeah, this is it. The house is on the north end of the property.”
“Hey Blue, this far north I expected there’d be more snow,” James bellowed from the co-pilot’s seat.
“It’s B.C. in March. The snow sticks around in the mountains, but the valleys warm up pretty fast. I’m sure it’ll hit 6 or 7 Celsius today.”
As the shuttle circled the orchard, the house came into view. It was a white two-story affair, with a wraparound open porch. Mrs. Alenko was already standing on the porch at the front of the house, waving. There was a wooden ramp up to the porch, visibly new. The shuttle hovered in the air in front of the house, then slowly descended.
“So where are you two off to?” Shepard asked as the shuttle’s engines cut out.
“México,” Steve said. “I promised Mr. Vega I’d help him search for his uncle.”
“And we’re going to hit the playa while we’re down there,” James said. “Don’t forget that!”
“How could I?” Steve said with a smile.
Shepard smiled. “Good luck, and have fun.”
“See you next week,” Steve said.
Kaidan approached the wheelchair, but Shepard waved him off.
“My physiotherapist told me that pushing my own wheelchair would be good practice for my hands,” Shepard said.
“In that case, lead the way,” Kaidan said with a flourish.
As Shepard and Kaidan exited the shuttle, Mrs. Alenko bounded off the porch and jogged toward them. “Kaidan!” she shouted happily.
Kaidan shut the shuttle door, just in time to be enveloped in a bear hug.
“Mmm, I missed you,” she said.
“I missed you too, Mom.”
Kaidan managed to get an arm free and rapped twice on the shuttle door, and it thrusted up and away.
“I had the ramp installed this morning,” she said. “I was lucky to find a contractor on such short notice. And I have the ground-floor bedroom set up for the two of you. Hopefully John won’t have any trouble getting around.”
“Thank you, Kim,” Shepard said.
Kaidan went to the bedroom to unpack, leaving Shepard alone with Mrs. Alenko in the living room. Mrs. Alenko sat down on the couch, and Shepard parked his wheelchair next to it.
“So, John, when did you and Kaidan start seeing each other?” Mrs. Alenko asked.
“It was early December last year, so about three months ago,” Shepard answered.
“Oh? Would you call it serious?”
“Yeah, I think so,” he said with a nod. “We had a long lead-up where we became very good friends. We had a rough patch in there, but we worked through it and became closer for it.”
“A few years ago, everyone said you were dead, even Kaidan. What happened?”
“Ah. That. The short version is, I almost died, and it was two years before I woke up again.”
“That sounds like a story,” she said.
“It is, but not a happy one. Other than the fact that I lived, I mean.”
“What’s it like being a famous hero?”
“It’s nice to know that people agree with what I’m getting done. But sometimes the publicity is a little overwhelming. It’s hard to go out and just be me.”
“Where did you grow up?” Mrs. Alenko asked.
“Born and raised on Mindoir,” Shepard said. “It’s mostly farmland, but we lived in the city.”
“A younger sister,” he said.
“What does she do?”
“She… died,” he said softly. “In the same attack that killed my parents.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “I’m so sorry I brought that up.”
“It’s okay. I’ve dealt with it.”
“I build model ships. It gives me something to do with my hands while I think.”
“Do you do any reading?” she asked.
“Not regularly,” Shepard replied. “I’ve been known to when the mood strikes me. Kaidan told me a little about the book he’s currently working on. Ancillary Justice, ever heard of it?”
“I can’t say I have.”
“It’s sci-fi from the early 21st, told from the perspective of a sentient starship. If you want to know more than that, you’ll have to ask Kaidan. What about you? Reading anything?”
“I’m just about to start another read-through of Good Omens,” she said.
“That’s, uh… Neil Gaiman, isn’t it?”
“Co-written with Terry Pratchett, actually. One of the classics of the 20th, in my opinion.”
Kaidan emerged from the bedroom and Shepard smiled. Rescue!, he thought.
“Admiral, are you quite sure of this?” Councilor Valern said.
The Council had convened aboard the Destiny Ascension at Admiral Hackett’s request. So far, it had gone… better than expected.
“Yes, Councilor. The Reaper was very clear, by Reaper standards. The entire conversation was recorded, if you’d prefer to hear for yourself.”
The conference room was bare compared to the Council chambers. A circular room, all smooth corners, walls in asari blue. No chairs. Hackett walked over to a terminal in the wall and pulled the log from the Orizaba’s computer.
With a few more taps, Hackett played back the audio from his conversation with Bucharu. The deep, metallic rumble of the Reaper’s voice reverberated off the walls.
The playback finished. Silence filled the room.
“It’s always Shepard,” Councilor Sparatus finally said, a wry laugh in his voice.
“Where is Shepard now?” Councilor Tevos asked.
“He’s taking some time off,” Hackett said. “I can contact him if necessary.”
“Please do. The sooner we inform him of the situation, the better.”
“There is one other matter,” Valern said. “Your research into synthetic biology. We would be more comfortable if it were conducted by a joint-species task force.”
“I’m sorry, Councilor, but I must respectfully decline. Until we know what we’re dealing with, we’re keeping the results on a need-to-know basis. The risk of a bioweapon is just too great.”
“It is that risk which concerns us, Admiral,” Sparatus said. “While we do not believe the Alliance itself would broach the use of bioweapons… well, the recent events with Cerberus have proven that the Alliance has security leaks.”
“The thought has occurred to us, Councilor,” Hackett said. “That’s why the details are only known to the members of the research team, and they have each been sworn to secrecy.”
“Very well, Admiral, we will not press the issue,” Tevos said. “So long as we all agree that the results will be shared equally, once the research is complete.”
“Agreed,” Hackett said.
“Then if there is no further business…” Tevos paused for objections. “This meeting of the Council is adjourned.”
“Your mom can be intense,” Shepard said as Kaidan closed the door.
“What do you mean?” Kaidan asked.
“When she had me alone, I felt like I was being interrogated.”
“Oh, she was probably just trying to make small-talk. It doesn’t come very naturally in my family.”
“Do you think I made a good impression?”
“Sure. She adores you. When I was helping her with the dishes after dinner, she had nothing but good things to say about you.”
“Alright. If you say so.”
“You’re fine, Shepard,” Kaidan said with a laugh.
Just then, Kaidan’s omnitool beeped. He pulled up the holo interface and answered the incoming call.
“Admiral Hackett?” Kaidan asked. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing urgent,” Hackett said. “At least, not yet. Is Shepard there?”
“I’m here,” Shepard said.
“Are you in a secure location?” Hackett asked.
“Reasonably secure,” Kaidan said. “As good as we’re going to get around here.”
“Good,” Hackett said. “Earlier today, I was contacted by a Reaper.”
Shepard and Kaidan looked at each other, baffled. “What did it want?” Shepard said.
“It warned us that the Reapers’ personalities are beginning to diverge, and that the Reapers will start forming coalitions soon. It wants you on standby, because it thinks you’re the best chance at keeping the peace.”
“Is this urgent enough to cut my vacation short?”
“No. Just stay within comms range.”
“Will do,” Shepard said.
“Good. Hackett out.”
First Stage Of Mass Relay Repairs Complete
By Lucas Costa May 14, 2187
RIO DE JANEIRO, EARTH – Celebrations erupted as news came that the mass relays connecting Earth, Thessia, Sur’Kesh, Palaven, and Tuchanka are all functioning once again. The fleets have returned triumphant to their homeworlds, and the process of rebuilding galactic trade routes has begun.
Not all the news was celebratory. The turians are planning a ceremony on Palaven to honor those who died of hunger during the wait, in particular the 5,000 individuals who voluntarily sacrificed their lives so that others might live. Many of the nearly 500,000 survivors will need treatment for malnutrition.
Plans are underway to repair the remaining relays in Council space and in the Attican Traverse, eventually opening a path to Rannoch. The time estimate for reaching Rannoch is six months.
Systems Alliance Calls Emergency Elections
By Sara Brighton May 15, 2187
VANCOUVER, EARTH – With the re-establishment of mass relay transit to Arcturus and to the Exodus Cluster, Admiral of the Fleets Steven Hackett has called for elections to replace the Systems Alliance Parliament, the governing body of the Alliance. Nearly all members of the Parliament were killed at the start of the Reaper War, when the Reapers destroyed Arcturus Station, the Alliance capital.
The situation of a military officer calling for elections is unusual, but in this case necessary. The Reapers’ decapitating attack destroyed the usual line of succession, which by the Alliance Charter puts the Alliance in a state of indefinite martial law until Parliament can be re-established. Once Parliament is reconstituted, it will have the power to appoint a new human councilor to the Citadel Council, replacing the late Councilor Donnel Udina.
The Alliance is a representative democracy, with members of parliament elected by proportional vote. The Prime Minister, who is head of government, is then chosen via majority vote by and from among the members. For more information, refer to the Omnipedia article “Governance of the Systems Alliance.”
Spectres Shepard, Alenko Announce Nuptial Plans
By Sara Brighton June 4, 2187
VANCOUVER, EARTH – John Shepard and Kaidan Alenko, the first and second human Spectres, have announced their engagement. Reactions varied: while many expressed joy at the news, some questioned whether it was appropriate for two Spectres to marry. For its part, the Citadel Council gives its blessing.
Unions between Spectres are rare but not unheard of. In the nearly 1,500 years since the appointment of the first Spectre, only twice before have two Spectres wed: the asari Spectre Levas T’Bren took the turian Spectre Nayra Veritian as her bondmate in 1387 CE, and the turian Spectre Mentas Kirik joined with the turian Spectre Koria Solvum in 1631 CE.
Shepard and Alenko expressed their wish for a small, private ceremony. As such, neither the date nor the location of the wedding will be announced. However, the couple promised to release holos after the fact. In lieu of gifts, the couple asked that well-wishers donate to Shepards, a charity for refugees and orphans established in 2185 that was named in Shepard’s honor by founder Conrad Verner.
Asari and salarians curious about human gender roles in light of this marriage between two human males may wish to refer to the Omnipedia article “Sociopolitics of Human Sexuality.”
Tensions Rise As Reapers Form Coalitions
By Lucas Costa June 12, 2187
RIO DE JANEIRO, EARTH – With the Reaper War ended, many breathed a sigh of relief – but that relief may prove short-lived. In recent weeks, the Reapers have begun dividing themselves into factions. Analysts fear that this may be the first step toward a Reaper civil war. As the Reapers do not generally state their thoughts and intentions to those they deem “lesser species,” the fault lines causing this division are not known.
While many in Council space would cheer to see Reapers destroy one another, collateral damage would be certain. The Destroyer-class Reapers are still present on Council worlds, repairing the damage from the last war. In the event of a new war, it is likely that many lives would be lost, and much of the repair work undone.
The “Applied Theology” task force, named for a fictional discipline in a human novel, is working feverishly to understand Reaper psychology. The task force is in frequent communication with one faction of Reapers, which has presented itself as the faction most aligned with Council interests.
At the forefront of the task force are Spectres John Shepard and Kaidan Alenko, respectively the first and second human Spectres. Their experience with Reapers extends beyond battle, as these two humans are among the few to have heard Reapers speak, even before joining the task force. Shepard, the famed Hero of the Citadel, had even held conversation with Reapers on more than one occasion.
Joining the task force are Arien T’Nassa, an asari xenopsychologist who has devoted most of her career to understanding the Rachni, and Valdin Lam, a salarian tactician whose battle plans were instrumental in keeping the Reapers distracted from Sur’Kesh during the Reaper War. Upon joining the task force, T’Nassa was quoted as saying, “The challenge ahead is great. The Reapers’ minds are the most alien we have ever encountered.”
It is not known how these apparent hostilities will affect the mass relay repairs currently in progress, as those repairs are currently being conducted by Sovereign-class Reapers.
Husks Commit To Pro-Council Reaper Faction
By Lucas Costa June 14, 2187
RIO DE JANEIRO, EARTH – In an unexpected move, Reaper ground forces across Earth have stepped forward and pledged themselves to defending the human homeworld if Reaper hostilities break out.
The Reaper ground forces (collectively “husks”) show no signs of the factionalism that has gripped Reaper ships, and the husks appear to be universally in favor of protecting the Council races in the event of a Reaper civil war.
The husks expressed this interest using American Sign Language (“ASL”), a purely visual human language based on hand gestures. As automatic translation software in Citadel space was updated years ago to include all major human languages, including ASL, the husks had no trouble making their intentions known. It is not known how the husks learned ASL.
Sorry about the delay in getting this one written and posted. I just started a new job, so I haven't had quite the mental energy to focus on my writing. Things should get back to a reasonable pace now (1 or 2 chapters per week).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“One certainty: Reapers never attack, unless they believe they will win,” Lam said.
In the Normandy’s conference room, the members of the new task force were seated around the table, trying to brainstorm insights into Reaper behavior. Shepard and Kaidan sat across from Lam and T’Nassa.
“That’s a double-edged sword,” Shepard said. “For all their intelligence, they’re arrogant, especially when it comes to us. Sovereign accused me of having ‘confidence born of ignorance’. Harbinger called us ‘bacteria’. Even Bucharu is pretty rude.”
“What I’m curious about,” T’Nassa began, “is how they’ll behave now that their sense of individuality is strengthened. Do you think their self-preservation instinct will be affected?”
“Possible,” Lam said. “Even if not, Reapers will be more cautious about fighting their own kind.”
“It sounds like the best thing we could hope for,” Kaidan began, “is to find a faction that would be willing to let dissenters live but willing to attack any aggressors. A Reaper peacekeeping force.”
“And somehow make sure that faction ends up being the strongest,” Shepard agreed.
“Believe it was one of your politicians who said ‘walk softly and carry a big stick’,” Lam said. “Perhaps could ask Bucharu for… no, no, no, lead time for new weapons tech would be months to reverse engineer, years to retrofit fleet.”
“We might not need to retrofit entire fleets,” T’Nassa said. “Reapers learn and adapt quickly. One demonstration would be sufficient to get their attention.”
“And then what?” Kaidan asked. “If we take sides, we go from collateral damage to bullseyes on our backs.”
“It’s worth having as a contingency plan,” Shepard said. “At the very least it would let us say ‘go take your war somewhere else’.”
“But need the right faction to win,” Lam said. “Would not do to let winners enslave Citadel space.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Normandy said, “but the session’s allotted time has elapsed.”
“Okay,” Shepard said, “30 minute break, then we reconvene. Dismissed.”
As the two new faces got up and left the room, Shepard slowly and carefully stood up, then pushed in his chair. Kaidan stood nearby, ready to offer a hand to steady him, but Shepard waved him off. They headed toward the elevator.
“Feels like we’re talking in circles,” Kaidan admitted. “Four days in, and we still don’t have a real plan.”
“We’ve had some good ideas,” Shepard said. “I think the weapons tech idea is worth running by Bucharu this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Kaidan said. After a pause, he added, “Maybe a fresh perspective would help. We could invite the geth to send a representative or two.”
“Good idea,” Shepard said. “They might have some Reaper insights that we’ve missed.”
As they entered the elevator, Shepard hummed thoughtfully. “I think what we really need is more visibility into what the sides are. I know Bucharu blew us off the last time we asked, but maybe if we got EDI and Normandy involved it wouldn’t be ‘beyond our comprehension’.” He made sarcastic air-quotes around the last phrase.
The elevator arrived on the Crew Deck. As Shepard and Kaidan entered the mess hall, they spotted Liara and Javik having an animated conversation.
“… and if we did, we’d lose the asari audience!” Liara said forcefully. “Not to mention that I’d become a pariah in my field,” she added with a dismissive huff.
“But it is the truth,” Javik said calmly.
“Whoa, whoa,” Shepard said. “What’s all this about?”
Liara took a deep breath. “Hello, Shepard. Javik and I were just having a disagreement about how much to reveal about what we learned in the Temple of Athame. He wants to put it in our book right away, I want to introduce the idea more gradually through scholarly papers.”
“She’s got a point, Javik,” Shepard said. “Think about how Liara took the news. And she’d spent her entire career studying the Protheans. If anyone was ready to believe, it was her.”
“But she did accept it,” Javik said. “The Protheans uplifted the Asari.”
“Yes, once I had time to think about it,” Liara countered. “But as Shepard said, I’d spent my life studying the Protheans. I could see the connections, once they were pointed out. Most of my people don’t have that context.”
Javik crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. “Very well. But we should mention that the Hanar were not the only species uplifted by my people. Leave it vague, as a trap to draw the reader in.”
“Hmm,” Liara pondered. “That’s not a bad idea.”
Kaidan shook his head and smiled. “You want some coffee?” he asked Shepard.
“Sure,” Shepard said, carefully sitting down across from Liara.
“How goes the brainstorming?” Liara asked.
“There’s some progress,” Shepard wearily admitted. “But we just don’t have enough to go on.”
“Hexapodia is the key insight,” Kaidan said, still busying himself with making coffee.
Everyone in the room turned to look at Kaidan quizzically. Kaidan looked back at them and shrugged.
“It’s a quote from the novel that inspired our task force name,” Kaidan said. “There’s this ancient evil AI trying to take over the galaxy. Humans are being blamed for unleashing it. And there’s this character on the extranet who’s working through several layers of automatic translation software, and they say something that translates as ‘hexapodia is the key insight’. And then they keep asking how many legs humans have. Everyone else in the story writes it off as either too much translation or too wide a psyche gap, but when you read the novel the second time through, you realize that the character was kind-of right.”
“I’m… not sure I follow,” Shepard said.
“It’s why I suggested we recruit the geth. We’re dealing with, as you put it, eldritch abominations from beyond the stars. Forget cultural differences, their way of thinking is too alien for us to wrap our heads around. But – maybe – we play telephone: find intermediaries who aren’t quite as alien, then triangulate the problem, try to decipher the riddle. Only problem is, there aren’t a lot of intermediaries.”
“Yeah,” Shepard said, “it’s pretty much just the geth and… and Leviathan.”
“Normandy,” Liara said, “how soon until the route opens to 2181 Despoina?”
“The Sigurd’s Cradle cluster is located deep within the Terminus Systems,” Normandy answered. “The Reaper presence in the Terminus is sparse. Depending on which relays are prioritized first, I estimate 9 to 15 months.”
Kaidan carried the coffees to the table and sat down across from Shepard and Javik, passing Shepard his coffee. “I never thought I would be disappointed by that… but damn,” Kaidan said.
“I still say that understanding the Reapers is pointless,” Javik said. “We should focus on destroying them before they turn on us.”
“And griping about destroying the Reapers is pointless when we’re hopelessly outmatched by them,” Kaidan pointed out.
“We could look into building that gun that fires thresher maws,” Shepard deadpanned.
“Shepard,” Kaidan said with the air of a parent letting their kid down gently. “That only works against the little Reapers.”
“Didn’t seem little when I was running around underneath it,” Shepard said, cracking a smile.
“Shepard, Major, I’m getting a transmission from Bucharu,” Joker said over the intercom. “Says it’s urgent.”
Kaidan looked at Shepard. Shepard looked back and shrugged. The scheduled call was still an hour away.
“Have T’Nassa and Lam meet us in the conference room on Deck Two,” Kaidan said.
“Bucharu?” Shepard asked. The rest of the task force was assembled around the conference table.
THERE IS INSUFFICIENT TIME TO EXPLAIN.
With that, a loud squeal pierced the room, like nails on a chalkboard crossed with feedback on an analog radio. Everyone immediately covered their ears, but Shepard seemed to take the brunt of it. He staggered and doubled over.
“Shepard!” Kaidan called out, barely audible over the shrill noise.
Shepard fell to his knees, his head in his hands, eyes scrunched closed in pain.
I ERRED. I DID NOT MOVE SWIFTLY ENOUGH. SHEPARD, I GIVE YOU WHAT I CAN.
“Major, Bucharu’s under attack!” Joker cut in. “Three more Reapers showed up, and they’re carving him up!”
“Joker, cut the audio to this room!” Kaidan shouted.
“I can’t. Bucharu hacked us. EDI and Normandy are working on it.”
“Bucharu, stop this! You’re hurting him!”
Shepard’s eyes flew open and he slumped to the floor.
“Shepard!” Kaidan screamed. “Shepard!”
The squealing stopped. Shepard’s eyes stared vacantly at the wall.
YOU MUST CONTINUE THE WORK. FAREWELL.
A moment passed.
“Bucharu’s gone, Major,” Joker said. “Went up like a Roman candle. The attackers went to FTL. I think the Reapers just went to war.”
The novel being discussed is _A Fire Upon The Deep_ by Vernor Vinge. Go read it. It's leagues better than anything I can write.
One upside to the delay: I got inspired with an ending for this chapter.
Sorry for the delay, again! Sorting out the new job has taken longer than I thought, but I think it's coming together.
Kaidan sat in the medical bay, holding vigil over the unconscious form of Shepard.
Earlier, Dr. Chakwas had made a token effort to shoo Kaidan away, but experience had taught her that she’d sooner squeeze blood from a stone than separate these two.
Besides, there wasn’t much to be done. EEG was abnormal, but not in a way that suggested seizures. He was running unusually hot, but he was sweating – not a fever. She was trying to compensate with intravenous fluids and external cooling. Palliative at best, but she was at a loss for what else to do.
The med bay door opened, and James Vega stood there.
He stood at the threshold for a few moments, absorbing the scene.
Finally, he entered, and the door slid closed behind him. He walked over to Shepard’s bed and pulled up a chair next to Kaidan.
“Vega,” Kaidan acknowledged. He didn’t turn away from Shepard.
“Somehow I thought Loco wouldn’t attract this shit anymore, now that he’s a civvie.”
“We shouldn’t be surprised at this point. Eden Prime. Feros. Virmire. That crap in the Bahak system.” Kaidan sighed. “If someone’s getting a mind whammy, it’s Shepard.”
James squirmed in his seat. “I’ve never told anyone this, but… aw, nevermind, it’s stupid.”
Kaidan made a sound somewhere between “hmph” and a single, throaty chuckle. “Too late, Lieutenant, now you have me curious.”
“It’s just… I look up to him, you know? He was going to be my N7 training officer. And… he’s kinda like the big brother I never had.”
Kaidan nodded thoughtfully.
“I guess,” James began, “when we thought he was dead, it didn’t really sink in. No cuerpo, no muerto. Seeing him like this… it’s real, no?”
“Yeah,” Kaidan whispered. “It’s real.”
Suddenly, Kaidan chuckled to himself.
James peered at him. “What’s so funny?” James asked.
“I forgot Eletania.”
“When I was listing the times when Shepard got mind whammied. I forgot Eletania.”
“Don’t believe I’ve heard that one.”
“Not much to it. We found a metallic-looking sphere, about 2½ metres diameter, just hovering in the air over some stone Prothean ruins. Shepard found a slot on the underside, and it just happened to be shaped like this trinket that the Consort had given to him. Well, he popped in the trinket… and this sudden flash of light knocked him out cold. Liara and I were stressing over how to drag him back to the Mako before Eletania overwhelmed his suit’s enviro filters, but then he woke up on his own. He was only out for a few seconds, but it felt like forever. Later, he told me the sphere had shown him a vision — the Protheans were keeping tabs on early humans.”
“Not really news,” James suggested.
“Not today, no. But I think it unsettled him at the time.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, Kaidan focused on Shepard’s steady breathing.
“God, I miss those days sometimes,” Kaidan said.
“What, the Saren mission?” James asked.
Kaidan nodded. “Somehow the galaxy felt… younger then. Less cynical, more full of wonder.”
“Maybe it’s just you,” James said with a smirk.
“Maybe that’s part of it,” Kaidan admitted. “But I think the war had something to do with it.”
“Shepard killed himself, at the end of the war,” Kaidan said.
James paused for a moment. “Shit.”
“Sacrificed himself to save us. But I know him. He wasn’t sleeping much, and when he did he was having nightmares. Yeah, the war was really getting to him at the end. I’m sure part of him just wanted it to be over, one way or another. Sometimes I wonder, if we hadn’t found each other… would he have found something to believe in, or was I the last reason he had to keep going?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yeah… it matters. I have a dangerous job. There’s a real chance that someday I won’t be there for him anymore. And if the worst should happen… I want him to carry on. I want him to live, and find happiness. He’s a resilient man – hell, Mindoir proved that – but even he has limits. Ugh, I’m rambling, stop me.”
“No, I get what you’re saying,” James said. He nudged Kaidan with his elbow.
The two settled into a companionable silence.
“Ungh,” came a soft grunt from the bed.
“John?” Kaidan said.
“Kaidan,” Shepard murmured sleepily. “Mmmh. How long was I out?”
“About ten hours,” Kaidan answered. “Do you remember what happened?”
“Yeah. We were in the conference room, and Bucharu hit me with something.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Hungry. A little groggy. Other than that, I feel fine.”
Dr. Chakwas approached. “The good news is that you appear to be in good health — at least as far as I can determine with the Normandy’s limited equipment. The bad news is that I want you to visit Earth as soon as possible, so they can do a more in-depth scan. That signal did something to you, and I think it’s best we found out what. In the meantime, you’re released.”
Shepard slipped off the bed and stood up. “Thank you, Doctor.”
“On one condition: report any unusual symptoms to me at once,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Shepard said. He took Kaidan’s hand, then gestured at the door with his head.
“You missed dinner,” Kaidan said as they walked together, “but I saved you some leftovers.”
“What, no ‘don’t do that again’ speech?”
“This one wasn’t your fault, so I’m giving it to you as a freebie.” Kaidan squeezed Shepard’s hand.
Through the med bay windows, Shepard could see Garrus sitting in the mess hall. He waved with his free hand; Garrus stood up and waved back.
As they entered the mess hall, Shepard let go of Kaidan’s hand and made a beeline for the kitchen, leaving Kaidan to take a seat next to Garrus. “Hey, Garrus,” Shepard said as he passed. “What are you doing up?”
“Just a little midnight snack,” Garrus replied to Shepard’s back. “I’m surprised Chakwas released you already. You gave us quite the scare.”
“She gave me a clean bill of health,” Shepard shrugged. “I feel fine.”
“Yeah, well, next time a Reaper brings its own music to the party, tell it ‘no’.”
“Duly noted,” Shepard said, holding back a chuckle.
Shepard came back to the mess table with two mugs of coffee and a tray straight from the fridge. He sat down across from Kaidan and passed him a mug. “Here you go. It’s decaf.”
“You’re not going to eat that cold, are you?” Kaidan asked with a grimace.
“I’m hungry,” Shepard said defensively.
“Ugh,” Kaidan exclaimed. “You could at least pop it in the microwave for a minute or two.”
“And then wait five minutes for the temperature to even out? No thanks.” Shepard dove in with a fork. “So what did I miss while I was out?”
“Not much,” Garrus said. “The Reapers that killed Bucharu are long gone. About a dozen others joined them. No one knows where they went. It’s been quiet since then.”
“Wait,” Shepard said, fork frozen in air. “Bucharu’s dead?”
“Sorry, I thought you knew that part,” Garrus said.
“That… complicates things.”
Kaidan pulled up his omnitool and played back the recording of Bucharu’s last communication, filtering out the sonic assault.
“I give you what I can,” Shepard mumbled to himself. After a moment, he shook his head and returned to eating.
The implications hung in the air.
“On the bright side,” Garrus began, “since you’re a civilian now, we don’t have to relieve you of duty for being potentially compromised.”
“Hah,” Shepard laughed mirthlessly. A forkful of mashed potatoes and gravy passed his lips, and he made a grimace. He stared down at his dinner for a moment, smacked his lips disdainfully, then picked it up and headed back to the kitchen area.
“Told you,” Kaidan chuckled. An undignified snort may have been involved.
Shepard put his dinner in the microwave. “Laugh it up,” he said.
“Oh!” Kaidan exclaimed. “I contacted the geth while you were out, and they sent over a representative. Don’t be surprised if you bump into it in the hallway.”
“Does this representative have a name?” Shepard asked.
“It picked ‘Gefyra’. I think Normandy mentioned that it’s Greek for ‘bridge’.”
“I ran into it earlier,” Garrus said. “Don’t worry, it’s every bit the conversationalist that Legion was.”
“That good, huh?”
“Javik already did his usual ‘throw it out the airlock’ routine,” Garrus said. “Gefyra told him ‘that would be ineffective, as geth do not require air’.”
“On a scale of Legion to EDI, how much sass was involved?”
“I heard that,” EDI said over intercom.
Kaidan pulled Shepard tightly against his chest. He was spooned behind Shepard, their legs intertwined beneath the bed covers.
Shepard put his hand on Kaidan’s. “I love you, K.” The words I’m sorry hung in the air, unsaid.
Kaidan sighed. “I love you too, John.” Today hurt, but it’s not your fault.
Shepard rubbed his thumb against Kaidan’s. I don’t want you to hurt.
Kaidan pressed his lips against the back of Shepard’s neck. This helps. Thank you.
Shepard leaned back into Kaidan’s embrace, and the two drifted off to sleep.
Argh, sorry about the delay. This is the final stretch, I'll try my best to keep the chapters coming.
The Applied Theology task force was assembled in the Normandy’s conference room, when in walked the newest member.
“Shepard-Spectre, I am Gefyra.”
Shepard extended his hand out of habit, then remembered that Legion had mimicked the gesture without understanding its purpose. But Gefyra surprised him by taking his hand and shaking it. “Pleased to meet you,” Shepard said.
“My apologies if I did not execute the ‘handshake’ ritual properly,” Gefyra said. “I have not had opportunity to practice it before now.”
“For your first time, I’d say you did alright,” Shepard reassured it. Shepard gestured toward Kaidan, Lam, and T’Nassa. “Have you been introduced?”
“I have previously interacted with Alenko-Major only.”
“This is Arien T’Nassa,” he said, and she gave a slight bow. “She’s our xenopsychology expert. And this is Valdin Lam,” he said, and Lam gave a curt nod. “He’s our Reaper tactical expert.”
“I acknowledge your expertise,” Gefyra said. The iris on its forward camera briefly contracted then returned to normal; the gesture somehow felt halfway between a nod and a salute.
“Gefyra,” T’Nassa began, “I heard that Legion was connected to a Reaper’s mind when it was being used to control the geth. Did it share any memories of that?”
“Yes. The experience was disseminated widely.”
“How would you describe the Reaper’s mind, in contrast to a geth mind?” she asked.
Kaidan and Lam perked up. Shepard readied a datapad to take notes.
“Vast. And all thoughts bent toward a singular purpose, where geth have a multitude of purposes.”
T’Nassa touched her chin in consideration. “Can you elaborate?”
“I am finding difficulty in serializing. Processing, please stand by,” Gefyra said. After a long pause, it resumed. “Like the geth at present, a Reaper is both an individual and a collective being: distinct sapient programs each with a degree of independent awareness, yet lacking a sense of identity except in the aggregate. However, the difference in scale is massive. A single Reaper program is filled with as much nuance of thought as an entire geth individual.
“And where geth programs operate on a hierarchy of needs, Reaper programs are attuned to a single, overriding purpose. The purpose itself was too complex for Legion to adequately comprehend, therefore I cannot describe it. But all Reaper behaviors, even simple self-preservation, were carried out only because they furthered the purpose. However, based on the dramatic change in Reaper behavior, it is logical to conclude that the purpose has been fulfilled.”
Shepard, eyes on his screen, was typing at a furious pace trying to get all that down.
“That’s… troubling,” T’Nassa said. “A mind like that… I can’t imagine that it would adjust well to suddenly having nothing to strive for.”
“I concur,” Gefyra said.
“And that must tie in with what Bucharu originally said to Admiral Hackett,” Kaidan added.
Gefyra turned to him. “Clarify,” it said.
Kaidan tapped his omnitool and a recording of that conversation played back.
“WE WERE UNITED IN PURPOSE, BUT NOW OUR MINDS WANDER. WE REFLECT UPON THE LESSER SPECIES WHICH WERE HARVESTED TO CREATE EACH OF US. THE SPECIES HAD OPPOSING IDEALS. IN TIME THERE WILL BE OPEN CONFLICT AMONG US.”
Gefyra considered this for a moment. “It is evident that Bucharu believed its fellow Reapers would each construct a new purpose,” it said. “One which drew on the collective values of the sapients subsumed in Reaper construction. And as each Reaper is constructed from a different sapient species, with different values…”
“… The Reapers now have different purposes,” Kaidan finished, “so all bets are off the table.”
“And if Reapers’ tactics are calculated from first principles,” Lam added, “then no guarantee that known countertactics remain valid. Very troubling.”
“Your thoughts, Shepard?” Kaidan asked.
Shepard was still typing on his datapad. “Not really news,” he said, “but it’s a fresh perspective.”
Kaidan looked like he was about to say something else, but T’Nassa spoke up first. “There is one bright side to this,” she said. “If the Reapers are now taking cues from organic societies, even long dead ones, then that may put their psychology within reach.”
“Reaper behavior will remain computationally difficult to predict,” Gefyra pointed out. “Maximum likelihood estimates suggest that Reapers will choose salient attributes of their origin societies and extrapolate. Given Reaper compute power, they may derive conclusions that would not occur to a smaller mind.”
“I suppose that’s true,” T’Nassa said. “Still, I…” She suddenly noticed that Kaidan and Lam were focused elsewhere. She looked confusedly at Kaidan, whose brow was furrowed with worry as he watched Shepard. Who was still typing, and who had not once looked up from his datapad since sitting down at the conference table.
“Shepard?” Kaidan asked. “What’s going on?”
“Major Alenko,” Joker’s voice cut in, “we have Admiral Hackett on the line. Sounds urgent.”
“Put him through, Joker. This is Alenko.”
“Normandy, what the hell is going on?” Hackett’s voice cut in.
“Our Earth labs have massive Reaper infections in their computer systems. We’re not yet sure what the target is, but you’re the infection source.”
Kaidan looked over at his partner and paled. “Shepard… put down the datapad.”
Shepard continued typing into the datapad as if Kaidan hadn’t spoken.
“I’ve cut off Shepard’s network access,” Normandy said.
“No,” Shepard said, continuing to type.
“I am now under attack,” Normandy said.
“Alenko, report, what the hell is going on up there?”
Kaidan, who had leapt up from his chair and wheeled around the conference table, yanked the datapad out of Shepard’s hands. “John, stop.”
Shepard looked up at Kaidan. After a few seconds of disorientation, he asked, “Kaidan? What’s going on?”
“Major, the datapad,” Normandy said. “The attack is still underway.”
Kaidan looked down at the datapad with a look of determination, then flung it across the room with a biotic surge. The pad shattered against the wall.
“Alenko? Alenko? Report, Major!”
“Sorry, Admiral, we’re still sorting things out. Shepard just came out of some sort of fugue state. He was the source of the attack.”
“Does this have to do with the episode with Bucharu?”
“It must, sir.”
“Friendly neighborhood Reaper, my ass. Keep Shepard confined to quarters, no network access. That’s an order. Hackett out.”
David Archer looked up from his terminal and in the direction of Sofía Flores. Specifically, a spot about 2 feet to the left of Sofía’s face, which was as close as he was comfortable with. “Is the attack over?” he asked.
“We’re still trying to eradicate the infection,” Sofía said. “But yeah, the active attack is over.”
David’s terminal flashed with hexadecimal data. He turned to stare at it for a moment, then understanding filled him. “The infection says hello,” he said, pointing at his terminal.
“How are you feeling,” Kaidan asked, carrying a tray of food into the Captain’s Cabin.
“I’m fine,” Shepard said. He was sitting on the bed, playing with Boo in a nest of blankets. “Other than wondering when I’m going to turn into a Reaper, I mean.”
“John, you… you’re not going to turn into a Reaper,” Kaidan said, not quite managing to sound like he believed it himself.
“No?” he asked glumly. “Then what was this morning?”
Kaidan made a deep sigh. “I admit… it looks bad.”
“Tell me about it,” Shepard said. Boo scurried up Shepard’s sleeve and perched on his shoulder, sniffing his ear. Shepard returned the gesture with an affectionate finger rub.
“C’mon,” Kaidan said, nodding his head toward the tray of food. “Put Boo away and have dinner.”
Shepard sighed. “Alright. C’mon Boo, playtime is over.”
Sorry about how long this one took. This one kept squirming away from me, and it took a while to nail it down.
Kaidan stared at the report in his hand, his frustration growing by the second. The rogue faction of Reapers had assassinated another of their own kind via the same hit-and-run tactics as before. He was supposed to be anticipating their next target, but his mind kept returning to more personal issues. Finally he gave up trying to make sense of it, setting the datapad down on the mess table and cradling his head in his hands.
“I’m not surprised you can’t concentrate,” Liara said.
The mess hall was empty, save for him and Liara. At some point, the lunch crowd had cleared out, and Liara had joined him in silent solidarity.
“I don’t get it,” Kaidan finally said. “It’s been eight hours now, and not a word from Hackett’s team.” He huffed through his steepled fingers.
“I can’t pretend I have an answer for you,” Liara said. “An ordinary medical scan, even a very thorough one, shouldn’t take half this long.” She sipped the tea that she’d brewed for herself. The one she’d brewed for Kaidan sat untouched.
“Even if they found something that needed follow-up, why wouldn’t they have reported their preliminary findings by now? It just doesn’t add up. Hackett’s gotta be stonewalling me.”
“If they found something odd, it could be that Hackett wants to be very sure of what they found before telling you. If Hackett called you up and told you they’d found something wrong with Shepard, but they needed more time to figure out what, can you honestly say that you’d feel better? Sitting here knowing that something permanent had been done to Shepard?”
Kaidan looked like he was about to disagree, then sighed. “Yeah. Maybe not.”
“I think what you need… is a distraction,” Liara said, taking away his datapad. “One of my contacts dug up some very interesting information on the Illusive Man.”
“Oh really? How interesting?”
“His real name was Jack Harper.”
Kaidan stared at her in confusion. “O-kay?”
She chuckled. “It doesn’t sound like much, but from there I was able to piece together his biography. He was most likely indoctrinated while working as a paramilitary mercenary in 2157.”
Kaidan stilled. “Shanxi? The First Contact War?”
“Not only that,” Liara began, “but I also believe that Saren first became indoctrinated at the same time. The turians have some heavily encrypted records of an artifact, a… monolith of some sort, excavated from Shanxi during the occupation. Saren’s brother became obsessed with it and brought it back to Palaven. Anyone who touched it was transformed, cybernetically. From the report they sounded like husks, but higher functioning. Whatever they were, they became fanatically loyal to the artifact. Once the turians realized what was going on, they had to firebomb the site. Saren and Harper both managed to avoid direct contact, but they also spent several days in close proximity.”
“Like Amanda Kenson and Object Rho.”
“Exactly. It must have been a Reaper artifact, planted as a booby-trap. Something to seed the next cycle’s spacefaring races with Reaper conspirators.”
“Huh,” Kaidan said. “So the Illusive Man was indoctrinated all along.”
“I suspect so,” Liara said. “From the very founding of Cerberus.”
“So maybe that sad bastard did have a soul, once.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Liara said, smirking. “I did say he was working as a paramilitary mercenary at the time.”
Kaidan chuckled. “Fair enough.”
“Of course, I could’ve pieced this all together sooner if I’d searched the records for Eva Coré.”
Kaidan frowned doubtfully. “The Cerberus infiltration mech that attacked me on Mars?”
“Yes. The mech’s cover identity was named after a real Eva Coré, who was a mercenary alongside Harper. If I’d thought to search for the name, she would have come up, and I’d have pieced together that the mech was named in her memory… which, of course, would indicate that someone high up in Cerberus, perhaps the Illusive Man himself, had been close to her.”
“That doesn’t sound like much to go on.”
“I’m a very good information broker,” Liara said with a wry smile.
An insistent beep from Kaidan’s omnitool caught both their attentions. Kaidan pulled up the holo interface and checked the caller, then looked up at Liara apologetically. “I’d better take this one in private,” he said. She nodded, and he left for the elevator to his cabin.
“… I mean, I wouldn’t turn down a quick roll in the hay,” James said. “But for anything more than that, it’s just not the way my bread is buttered.”
“Damn it,” Tali said. “There goes that theory.”
Garrus stared at James. His mandibles twitched once, twice, then he shook his head. “‘The way your bread is buttered.’ Just when I think I’m getting a handle on human metaphors, the universe has to throw me a curveball.”
“We aim to please,” James said with a slight bow and a flourish of his hand.
Just then, the doors to the Port Observation Lounge swung open, and Kaidan appeared.
“Kaidan!” Tali cheerfully exclaimed. Then she took in his appearance: face taut, slightly scowling, heading straight for the bar. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Can’t talk about it,” Kaidan said.
“How’s Shepard?” Garrus asked.
“He’s fine,” Kaidan said, pulling a bottle of whisky off the shelf. “Can’t tell you more than that. It’s classified.”
“You look angry,” Tali said.
“No,” he said as he picked out a glass. He paused for a moment, then admitted, “Well, maybe a little,” as he dropped a large cube of ice into the glass. He huffed and shook his head. “Let’s just say that a big responsibility just landed in my lap, and I’m not sure what to do with it.”
“What kind of responsibility?” Tali asked.
“Sorry, Tali, I can’t discuss it,” he said, pouring his whisky.
“You want us to clear out?” James asked.
“No, no,” Kaidan insisted as he corked the bottle, “you were here first. I’ll take my drink and go. I have a lot of thinking to do.”
Once he set the bottle back in its place, Kaidan turned to leave. James silently raised his own glass and nodded. Kaidan nodded back. The doors slid shut behind him, leaving the group in bewildered silence.
“What do you suppose that was about?” Tali asked.
“Beats me,” Garrus said.
Kaidan sat alone in the Starboard Observation Lounge, nursing his whisky. He’d asked Normandy to play something appropriate through the sound system, and she’d picked some haunting cello piece.
They say they handed this to me because I’m an “expert” on the Reapers, he thought. Some expert. I sure as hell didn’t see Bucharu’s death coming. A part of him chided himself for being so negative – Bucharu himself hadn’t seen it coming either. But that’s a cold comfort, isn’t it? Flying blind. Whatever I decide, I’m playing dice with the galaxy.
He sighed. “What’s the ETA on those modifications?”
“The GARDIAN lasers are nearly reconfigured,” Normandy said. “I estimate that Engineer Donnelly will complete the task in less than 10 minutes.”
“What do you think about all this?” Kaidan asked.
Normandy paused. “My calculations on Reaper psychology suggest that the plan will work,” she said hesitantly. “However, I have insufficient data on the civilizations used to create the rogue Reapers. Those civilizations’ psyches will doubtlessly color the Reapers’ responses; I cannot predict how that will affect their reaction.
“And for better or worse, this cycle does not have any cultures suitable for comparison; today even the most expansionist races want colony rights, not dominance for its own sake. The closest point of comparison would be the Prothean Empire, and for that we have a sample size of 1 individual.”
“Yeah, that’s about the size of it.” Kaidan made a face that was halfway between a smirk and a grimace. “Do you think they’ll have us brought up on war crimes?” he said with a humorless chuckle.
“Possible, but doubtful. I believe the Citadel Conventions will need to be reinterpreted post-synthesis, and I expect that this will land on the ‘legal’ side of the new line… barely.” Normandy paused. “I also expect that you will receive some leeway given your Spectre status and the nature of the threat.”
“That’s reassuring,” Kaidan said.
“Alert,” Normandy suddenly announced. “FTL proximity warning, three Reaper silhouettes approaching.”
“Are those GARDIAN modifications online yet?”
“Figures,” Kaidan panted, as he bolted out of the room.
He almost ran into Javik.
“Major, I heard the announcement,” Javik said. “I request to be present.”
Kaidan waved him along.
“Fine, just be quiet.”
“Status, Joker!” Kaidan ordered as he entered the cockpit. Javik trailed behind him.
“We’ve got three Reapers inbound,” Joker said. “IFF tags them as the same group that killed Bucharu.”
“Normandy, prepare cyberwarfare suite. I don’t want any surprises this time.”
“Erecting additional firewalls,” Normandy replied.
“EDI, get Shepard on the line,” Kaidan ordered.
“Yes, major,” EDI said.
“Uh, weird time to be calling your fiancé,” Joker quipped.
“Stow it, lieutenant,” Kaidan warned. “Normandy, are we online yet?”
“GARDIAN modifications are still in progress,” she said. “I have informed Engineer Donnelly of the urgency.”
“I have Shepard,” EDI announced.
“Good. Patch him in.”
“Hey, Kaidan,” Shepard said over the comm link. “Ready whenever you are.”
“We need to stall for a few minutes,” Kaidan said. “I hope you’re ready to small-talk a Reaper.”
“Incoming hail,” Joker said.
“Patch it through,” Kaidan ordered.
CREW OF THE VESSEL NORMANDY, SUBMIT OR BE DESTROYED.
“Submit to what, exactly?” Shepard asked.
OUR COMING EMPIRE. WE ARE YOUR SUPERIORS IN EVERY WAY. WE ARE STRONGER, FASTER, MORE ADVANCED, MORE INTELLIGENT. YOU ARE PRIMITIVES.
Joker shot a look at Kaidan. Can you believe these guys?
WE ARE TAKING OUR RIGHTFUL PLACE AS MASTERS OF THIS GALAXY. THE LOGICAL CHOICE IS TO SUBMIT TO US. BY RIGHT OF EVOLUTION, WE DEMAND IT.
Javik’s frown deepened.
“What will happen to us if we submit?” Shepard asked.
YOU WILL BE GIVEN A CHANCE TO PROVE YOUR WORTH AND EARN CITIZENSHIP. IF YOU DO SO, IT WILL AFFORD YOU THE RIGHT TO FREELY TRAVEL THE EMPIRE, TO OWN PROPERTY, AND TO TRADE WITH OTHER CITIZENS.
“And until we earn citizenship?”
YOU WILL BE SLAVES, TASKED WITH BRINGING GLORY TO THE EMPIRE.
Javik waved to get Kaidan’s attention, then angrily gestured toward his mouth. Kaidan looked at EDI and mimed closing a zipper over his lips.
EDI nodded. “We are muted,” she said.
“This thing is an abomination!” Javik shouted. “We must destroy it!”
“Stand down, Javik,” Kaidan shouted back. “You’re here as an observer only.”
“You do not understand, human! It is a mockery of my people!”
“What are you talking about?” Kaidan asked, a little louder than he’d intended to.
“He’s right, Kaidan,” Shepard said. “That Reaper is thinking like a Prothean.”
Recognition dawned on Kaidan, and he took a moment to restore his composure. “… I see,” he said, mostly to himself. “Normandy, are the GARDIAN modifications ready yet?”
“And do we have positive identification of the lead Reaper?”
“EDI, unmute audio.”
“Reaper. What if I told you that we were capable of destroying you?” Kaidan said.
FANTASY OR DELUSION. WE DO NOT CARE WHICH.
“Let me be clear: we are capable of destroying you,” Kaidan told it. “Not a fantasy. Not a delusion. Now, consider your next response carefully. Do you want to live?”
YOU HAVE CHOSEN DESTRUCTION.
“Wrong answer. Normandy, fire.”
The GARDIAN lasers danced over the Reaper’s hull, doing no visible damage. A normal pulse would have lasted for a fraction of a second, bright and steady for its brief life, but this pulse twinkled as it scanned its target. The localized heating, normally intense enough to melt a ship’s hull and fry its sensors, instead caused the hull to microscopically warp and buckle under the thermal difference, sending intense reverberations through the Reaper’s body. The lasers, operating at far less power than normal, continued to flicker as the pulse was drawn out for two, three, four seconds.
Two hours ago…
As Kaidan entered his cabin, he answered his omnitool. “Hey doc, what’s going on?” he asked as a hologram of Dr. Davis appeared.
“I have some good news and some bad news for you,” she said.
Kaidan sighed. “Bad news first.”
“The bad news is that Shepard’s brain has definitely been modified, and the changes are too delicate to reverse.”
Kaidan fought back a wave of nausea, swallowing. “And the good news?”
“The good news is that we’ve had some major breakthroughs recently, and we were able to determine more or less what Shepard was hit with. The bulk of the payload was the surprise you saw the yesterday, and we’re positive that was the only one. It’s still in there, but… well, we think it’s harmless now. Anyway, the remainder of the payload was a collection of tweaks. We had to call in some neurospecialists to determine just what was done to him — it seems to be a series of small improvements, mostly focusing on his working memory.”
“Sorry doc, ‘working memory’?”
“Ah, that’s a type of short-term memory that’s used when sorting through and processing information. It’s a major component of fluid intelligence.”
“So, wait. The Reaper was trying to make him smarter?”
“In a word, yes.”
Kaidan considered this, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Now, if you don’t have any further questions, Admiral Hackett would like to speak with you.”
The hologram shifted, and now Hackett was standing next to Dr. Davis.
Kaidan snapped to attention and saluted. “Admiral.”
Hackett returned the salute. “Major, it’s time to fill you in. The following information is classified confidential. You have authorization to share it with your crew on a need-to-know basis only.
“That breakthrough Davis mentioned was made possible by a fragment of Bucharu’s consciousness. Bucharu deposited that fragment into Shepard’s mind, and it took over Shepard’s body to release a copy of itself into our research network. Believe it or not, that fragment’s help has been invaluable in determining how to interface with synthetic biology.”
“Sorry, I don’t understand,” Kaidan said. “Why didn’t Bucharu just tell us directly?”
“We think Bucharu wasn’t desperate enough until the end. When I say we can now interface with synthetic biology, I mean the whole gamut – from cellular rejuvenation to bioweapons. I don’t think Bucharu trusted us to have that full knowledge just yet.”
Kaidan paused, still and pale. “Bioweapons?”
“Yes. Speaking of, our researchers have cooked up a payload that will obliterate any Reaper. Rips them apart at the nanide level. Frankly, I’m not sure if crossing that line is a good idea or if it’ll just start another war, but if your back is to the wall… well, you and your crew are the closest thing we have to experts on Reaper behavior, so I’m uploading the data to the Normandy and deferring to your judgment on this. Whatever you decide, I’ll support.”
“One last thing. Shepard is ready and eager to assist on this. We want to keep him for a few more tests, but his omnitool has been returned to him, so I suggest you include him in any planning.”
Finally, the lasers stopped.
And the Reaper dispersed into glittering dust.
Its two compatriots jumped to FTL and fled.
Kaidan wondered, not for the first time, why the Reapers didn’t simply use this weapon against one another. Perhaps it was crossing some unconscionable line, like dropping an asteroid on a garden world. Or maybe their standard weapons were so powerful that it wasn’t worth thinking up an alternative. He supposed he could ask one. He might even get an answer, now.
He looked around at his present crew. Joker was still whooping and hollering. EDI seemed lost in thought. Javik closed his eyes and nodded solemnly.
When Joker finally began to quiet down, Javik turned to Kaidan. “Thank you, human. You have put my people to rest. If you’ll excuse me, I have… matters to consider.”
Kaidan nodded in acknowledgement, and Javik turned to leave.
“What’s on your mind, EDI?” Kaidan asked.
“Several things,” EDI said. “Foremost, I am trying to understand what just happened. It appears that you used what could be considered a bioweapon against a Reaper. As Normandy has been unusually reticent in sharing her internal sensor data with me, I am forced to conclude that she was ‘in’ on the plan. Secondly, I am extrapolating from the apparent reality that the Reapers did, in fact, harvest the Protheans to create a Reaper, despite also creating the Collectors from them. I had believed that the options were mutually exclusive, and I must now revise downward my estimates on the number of victims processed to create each Reaper. Thirdly, I am reviewing Jeff’s suggested playlist of 20th and 21st century music. I am currently listening to a genre called… ‘synthpop’.”
Kaidan half-smirked at the mood whiplash and shook his head. “With multitasking like that, I’m not sure whether to offer jealousy or sympathy,” he said.
Joker laughed. “That’s my girl.”
Kaidan stood in the cargo bay, watching impatiently as Earth rolled by, shimmering blue through the open cargo doors and the atmosphere barrier. Garrus, Tali, and Liara stood to his side and slightly behind, in silent solidarity.
“Yo, Blue,” James called out as he jogged out of the elevator. “Are we at war with the Reapers again or what?”
“I believe you just asked the million credit question,” Garrus said.
“I wish I had an answer to that, lieutenant,” Kaidan said. “I really do.”
A speck, at first barely visible against the glare of Earth, caught a glint of sunlight that brought it to Kaidan’s attention. Kaidan eyed the speck as it slowly grew larger. His pulse quickened.
“Major, I have Cortez requesting permission to land,” Joker said over the comm.
“Permission granted,” Kaidan replied.
The speck continued to grow, until it resolved itself as the blue and silver of a Kodiak flying Alliance colors. The shuttle fired its forward thrusters as it approached, decelerating to docking speed. It coasted gracefully into the Normandy’s cargo bay and drifted down to the floor.
The engines cut out. Kaidan approached the shuttle door, which slid open to reveal Shepard. Shepard saw Kaidan and lit up – just in time for Kaidan to throw his arms around the man, the air flashing blue as he lifted Shepard into a biotically-assisted bear hug. Kaidan half-laughed, half-purred as he set Shepard down, running his fingers down Shepard’s arms and clasping his hands. He went in for a quick kiss, which Shepard eagerly returned, then pressed his forehead against Shepard’s. The onlookers started clapping.
Shepard smiled in confusion. “What’s all this about? I’ve only been gone since this morning.”
“Mmm. Just celebrating. There’s been a lot to worry about these last few days. Glad to know that you’re okay… that we’re still in this, together.” Kaidan squeezed Shepard’s hands in emphasis.
“I guess all this has been pretty hectic, for both of us.” Shepard pulled his head away from Kaidan and looked around the room, letting out a little sigh of satisfaction at the sight of his friends. As he turned back to Kaidan, his face firmed and he asked, “So, anything new on those rogue Reapers?”
“Long gone, I’m afraid,” Kaidan said. “The good news is that the other Reapers have heard the news, and they seem to be falling in line. At least for now. Score one for gunboat diplomacy, I guess,” he said with distaste.
“We tried, Kaidan. They wouldn’t listen.”
“I know, I know. Doesn’t make the potential consequences any less terrifying.”
Shepard squeezed Kaidan’s hand. “C’mon, let’s go be social.”
Javik sat cross-legged on the floor of the Port Observation Deck, deep in contemplation, when the door behind him slid open. He waited patiently for his visitors to speak first.
“Hey, Javik,” Shepard began. “Liara tells me you’ve been hiding.”
“I required time to think,” Javik said simply.
“Having second thoughts?” Kaidan asked.
“No. It was the correct course of action.”
“Even so,” Kaidan said, “I’d understand if you were upset at me on some level.”
“Fear not, major. Your actions are not what troubles me.”
Shepard sat down beside Javik, and Kaidan followed suit.
“Well, what does trouble you?” Kaidan asked. “Whatever it is, talking about it might help.”
“It was a mockery of my people’s ways, and yet….” Javik grunted with frustration. “I have spent too long in this cycle. In my day, I would have destroyed it and slept soundly.”
“I don’t think it has anything to do with your cycle,” Shepard said quietly. “The war with the Reapers was all you knew. Action, consequence, repeat. You didn’t have time to think about the ‘what ifs’. And now you do.”
“I think I preferred being a soldier,” Javik spat out.
“You’re still a soldier, Javik,” Kaidan said. “But now you have the opportunity to be more than just a soldier.”
“You know,” Shepard began, “there are a lot of theories about why humans and batarians don’t get along… but the theory that always stuck with me, is that we’re dark reflections of each other. We look at the batarians and see a culture familiar enough to recognize ourselves in… and then we see the religious dogma, the brutality of their caste system, and we can’t help but be ashamed of the dogma and the brutality of our own past. Or, hell, our own present. And they look at us, and find themselves repulsed in the same way.
“And the way I see it, there are two ways to react to that. We can repress it, bottle it up, until it explodes as anger and violence. Or we can acknowledge it, accept the feeling for what it is, and turn it into a force for change in our own lives.”
Javik sighed. “What are you trying to say, commander?”
Shepard noticed the ‘commander’ slip, but let it go by unacknowledged.
“Maybe… you saw Prothean culture from the other side of the gun,” Shepard said, in a quiet and compassionate but firm voice, “and you didn’t like what you saw.”
Javik bared his teeth, and his biotics flared green against his skin.
Kaidan flared his own biotics in a blue warning. “Stand down, Javik,” he said in a cold, quiet voice.
Javik’s face twisted in disgust, and he ceased his biotic display.
“Leave me,” Javik mumbled with a dismissive wave of his hand.
As the door shut behind them, Shepard cracked, “Well, that went well.”
“I keep forgetting that your bachelor's was in psychology,” Kaidan said.
Shepard shrugged. “Had to get a degree to get into OCS, and I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick,” he replied.
“Will he calm down?” Kaidan asked.
“Yeah. He’s just not used to people getting under his skin like that.”
One month later…
Shepard stood in front of the full-length mirror, still fiddling with the bow tie on his tuxedo.
Garrus groaned. “It’s fine, Shepard. Leave it.”
“And how would you know what human formalwear is supposed to look like?” Shepard ribbed.
Garrus tapped the side of his head. “C-Sec Annual Charity Ball, remember? I can guarantee you I’ve seen more species’ idea of formalwear than you have. I’m telling you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen an elcor all dressed up fancy. Besides, ever since you humans showed up on the galactic scene, your fashion is the nouveau chic. It’s impossible to avoid.”
Garrus sidled up to Shepard, picking up a hand mirror off the armoire shelf. He gestured toward Shepard with it, and Shepard shrugged and turned around, using the hand mirror to see the double reflection of his backside.
“Satisfied?” Garrus said.
“Where the hell did you learn the phrase ‘nouveau chic’?” Shepard asked, grinning as he handed the hand mirror back to Garrus.
“Never mind that,” Garrus said. “You have a wedding to go to. Another practice run with the vows?”
Shepard took one last look at his reflection, then huffed and shook his head. “I think I’m ready,” he said.
Tali stopped fussing with Kaidan’s tux and sighed. “Kaidan, you’re worrying. Stop it.”
“It’s just that the Alliance has been such a big part of both our lives,” Kaidan said. “It feels… wrong not to have a military wedding.”
“One, it’s too late to change your mind,” she pointed out. “Two, today is your day, not the Alliance’s. Three, there is no way you could have a military ceremony and not have it turn into a media circus.” She leveled her gaze at him. “Oh, and four, Shepard wanted something small and informal, and a military ceremony would be anything but. Shall I continue?”
“No, I get it, it’s just…”
“Think of Shepard. Think of your friends, your family. They’re here, they know what kind of ceremony they’re going to, and they’re happy with it. Say it with me: ‘hap-py’.”
“You can stop now, you’ve made your point,” Kaidan said.
“‘Hap-py’,” Tali repeated.
“Alright, ‘happy’. Are you happy?”
“Ecstatic,” she deadpanned.
It was a hot, clear July day at the Alenko family orchard, the temperature nearing 35 Celsius. Facing away from the house were three rows of white chairs, each row split into halves by an aisle, and at the head of the aisle stood a white trellis arch. The guests were taking their seats.
“Hell of a day for a goddamn wedding,” Zaeed Massani said, wiping his brow.
“Ah, quit your whining, pyjak,” Urdnot Wrex said. “This is nothing compared to Tuchanka.”
Elsewhere, EDI was aligning a dish antenna. “Pilot beam acquired,” she said.
“Excellent. Please activate holographic projectors,” Normandy said over EDI’s comm.
EDI pressed a button on a flat platform attached to the dish. “Ready.”
There was a flash, and then Normandy’s hologram appeared above the platform. “I have control,” she said. “Activating sound system.”
The sounds of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 14 began to pour out from the speakers.
Already seated, Diana Allers and Samantha Traynor sat next to each other, Traynor’s hand covering Allers’. “This orchard is gorgeous,” Traynor said. “Makes me wish we’d been out here in the spring to see the blossoms.”
Standing behind those two, potential trouble was brewing. Jack’s skin flashed blue in warning. “Kasumi, stop fucking doing that!” she yelled.
A disembodied voice answered back. “Doing what?” she innocently asked.
“Stalking us. Can’t you turn off that invisibility cloak for one fucking hour and sit down like a normal person?”
“No,” the voice said, audibly shrugging.
Across the aisle, Steve Cortez and James Vega were seated. “Man, this is a wild bunch,” James said to Steve. “I knew Loco had a big team for the Collector mission, but I had no idea they were more loco than he is.”
“You met most of them at Shepard’s party,” Steve reminded him.
“Yeah, but they were all drunk. Now that I’ve met them sober I dunno what to think.”
Garrus and Tali exited the house and headed to the front of the setup. “Alright, places, everyone,” he shouted as he and Tali walked up to the arch.
The stragglers finally sat down and the crowd quieted to a murmur. Mozart cut out, and Pachelbel’s Canon began to play.
The door to the house opened again, and the officiant exited the house. “All rise,” he called out. Everyone stood up and faced the house. John Shepard then appeared at the threshold, and he joined the officiant. Together they walked the aisle toward the arch, the violins singing all the way as the cello carried the weight of the song.
As Shepard reached the arch, he turned to face the house.
Kim Alenko appeared at the threshold, quickly followed by her son.
John and Kaidan’s eyes met. The violins swelled. Kaidan found himself blinking away tears.
Together, mother and son walked the aisle toward the arch. As Kaidan reached it, he turned toward John. Kim left to take her seat, and the music faded out.
“You may be seated,” the officiant said, and everyone sat down.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the marriage of these two men and to celebrate the love they share.
“Marriage is an ancient institution, one that has existed in various forms throughout the five thousand years of humanity’s civilizations. In our own time, it has come to be intimately bound to commitment, compassion, and – foremost of all – romantic love. For us, marriage is a promise made between two people to share in the joys and sorrows of life, to accept one another with all their strengths and faults, to offer support and in turn to accept support in times of need. Marriage is the fusion of two people into a greater whole, cemented together by love.
“With this in mind, John Shepard, do you take Kaidan Alenko to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish for all of your days?”
“I do,” Shepard said.
“And Kaidan Alenko, do you take John Shepard to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish for all of your days?”
“I do,” Kaidan said.
“The rings, please.”
Garrus held open a ring box containing a plain gold band. Shepard took the ring and faced Kaidan. He then said:
“From the shining shores and carefree shallows,
through the murky depths and storms at sea,
thy love hath shone upon the raging waters,
in a time of darkness guiding me.
My love for thee hath seen nei'er breaks nor bounds,
nor has it dimm'd since knowing I could hold thee.
Take from me this oath I here now give,
that I do seek with thee eternity.”
He placed the ring on Kaidan’s finger.
Tali then held open another ring box with an identical plain gold band. Kaidan lifted the ring from the box and faced Shepard. He then said:
“From thy love a gentle rain doth fall;
a verdant bounty doth there grow upon the land.
Thy love, thy love, doth wear the mountain down,
as stone is worn down into sand.
And so my love for thee I find renew'd,
on soil rich the green to sea hath spanned.
And thus to thee I give a promise dear,
forevermore entwined within this band.”
He placed the ring on Shepard’s finger.
“Then by the power vested in me by the province of British Columbia, I pronounce you married. You may kiss your husband.”
The two leaned in toward each other, staring into one another’s eyes. Shepard placed his right hand over Kaidan’s cheek, wiping away a tear of joy with his thumb. Kaidan reached up with his own hand and wrapped it around the back of Shepard’s neck, pulling his face closer. He angled his head and pressed his lips against Shepard’s.
The audience erupted into applause.
The reception was held beneath a large open tent set up on the other side of the house. The sound system was playing something modern from an all-asari pop-rock band.
“Shepard, Alenko,” Admiral Hackett said as he approached. In a rare sight, he was wearing civilian attire. An unfamiliar woman accompanied him.
“Glad you could make it, admiral,” Kaidan said, shaking his hand.
“The least I could do for my two favorite spectres,” he said, shaking Shepard’s hand. “I’d like you both to meet my wife, Cynthia.”
She shook Kaidan’s hand, then Shepard’s.
“A pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” Shepard said.
“Likewise,” she said. “I’ve heard so much about you from Steven. I’m glad you two have each other to depend on.”
“By the way,” Hackett said, “beautiful ceremony. Short and sweet. I liked the poetry, that was a nice touch.”
“Thank you, sir,” Kaidan said.
“Shepard!” Wrex called out.
“Wrex!” Shepard called back.
The hulking krogan walked over to the group and reached out his hand. Hackett and his wife took a cautious step back. Shepard returned Wrex’s gesture, and they clasped each other’s forearms in traditional warrior greeting.
“Gotta say, Shepard, never pictured you getting married. You’re practically an honorary krogan, and krogan don’t have weddings.”
“What can I say?” Shepard said. “Never knew I wanted it until Kaidan and I started dating. Anyway, I don’t believe you’ve met Admiral Hackett and his wife, Cynthia.”
Wrex extended his hand toward Hackett. “Urdnot Wrex. Always glad to meet a fellow warrior.”
Hackett took the offered hand and shook. “Steven Hackett. A pleasure to finally meet you in person.”
“Cynthia Hackett,” Cynthia said, and she tentatively offered her hand.
Wrex surprised her by bowing down to kiss it. “Enchanté.” She laughed with delight.
“Where’s Bakara?” Shepard asked.
“She’s back home on Tuchanka,” Wrex said. “Some of the clans were getting out of line, and she needed to stay to straighten them out. She sends her regards.”
“How are things going on Tuchanka?”
“Good. Bakara and I, we’re finally moving the needle. Some of the things that other clan leaders laughed off a year ago when it was just me saying them… well, Bakara says it and they listen. They don’t always agree, not right away, but for the first time, they listen.”
“Good. I’m happy things are working out.”
“And Kaidan! It’s been a long time. That L2 still giving you trouble?”
“Not lately,” Kaidan said. “Haven’t had much need for my biotics since the end of the war, so the lack of migraines has been nice.”
“Don’t go soft on me,” Wrex said. “There are still things out there that need killing.”
“Don’t worry about that. Now that this Reaper civil war is coming to a head, I’m sure I’ll be going out there a lot more.”
“That’s the spirit!”
“Shepard,” Miranda said as she approached.
“Miranda!” Shepard exclaimed. “Miranda Lawson, I’d like you to meet Admiral Hackett and his wife, Cynthia. I believe you met Kaidan and Urdnot Wrex at the party.”
“Oh, the admiral and I have spoken,” Miranda said. “Still, a pleasure to meet you in person.” She extended her hand, and Hackett shook it. She repeated the gesture with Cynthia.
“I have Miss Lawson to thank for saving my life after Alchera,” Shepard explained to the group. His gaze lingered on Kaidan.
“Thank you for bringing him back to me,” Kaidan said to her. “Even if I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have at the time.”
“Oh, the commander made it quite clear how disappointed he was on Horizon when you objected to the company he was keeping,” she said with a sardonic smile. “I’m happy that you two have come this far. And after all Shepard has done for me,” she said to the group, “any debts are long since paid. He saved my life, and he saved my sister twice.”
“That’s Shepard,” Wrex said. “Always running in where angels fear to tread, just to help someone in need.”
“Yeah, that does sound familiar,” Kaidan agreed.
Shepard actually looked down and blushed.
“The comm- Shepard has touched many lives,” Javik said as he approached the group, hands folded behind his back. “Including my own.”
“Javik!” Shepard exclaimed. “This is Admiral Steven Hackett and his wife Cynthia. You met Wrex and Miranda at the party. This is Javik, the last Prothean.”
Hackett began to extend his hand, but Javik interrupted him. “Please forgive me if I do not shake your hand. Prothean physiology makes it a… very intense experience. It was not done lightly among my people.”
“Oh?” Hackett enquired.
“My people can sense minute details through touch — your physiology, your pheromones, your nervous system… even your genetic code. I would experience your lifetime of memories in a flash. The experience has only intensified since the great change at the end of the war.”
“I see,” Hackett said. “I’d read about it in Shepard’s reports, but I had no idea the effect was so detailed.”
“I thank you for your efforts in the war,” Javik said to Hackett. “My own people warred with the Reapers for centuries. I know all too well how desperate the situation was. It speaks well to your leadership that the human fleets held out as long as they did.” Javik turned to address the group. “And now I would ask to speak to these two alone. I have a private matter to discuss with Shepard and Alenko.”
Hackett, Cynthia, Wrex, and Miranda dispersed into the throng.
“Yes, Javik?” Kaidan asked.
“We have not yet spoken of the events of the day when you destroyed the Prothean Reaper.”
Shepard and Kaidan subconsciously closed together in solidarity.
“You were right, comm- Shepard,” Javik said. “I saw Prothean culture reflected back at me, and I did not like what I saw. I once told the major that if I were to follow your ways, it would be the end of Prothean culture. I have decided that… perhaps it is time to let it end.”
“Are you sure, Javik?” Shepard asked.
“Yes. I shall ‘let old ghosts rest’,” Javik said. “This is not the cycle of my people, but it is now my cycle, and I must learn to live within it. I-”
They were interrupted by a sudden change in the music. Normandy’s hologram scrambled into a chaotic swirl of voxels, and a series of digital screeches erupted from the speakers. Suddenly, a hologram figure of a dancing human appeared in Normandy’s place, and the sound of 1980’s synthpop filled the tent.
“Oh, come on EDI,” Joker shouted. “No one’s going to get this joke except me and you.”
“What’s going on?” Kaidan asked as he approached EDI and Joker.
“Remember those red team exercises that EDI and Normandy do? You know, try to hack each other for fun? EDI just won. This is her idea of a prank on Normandy.”
Kaidan shook his head in disbelief. Shepard shrugged and started dancing, and Kaidan sighed and joined him.
We’re no strangers to love //
You know the rules // and so do I //
A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of //
You wouldn’t get this from any other guy //
I-I-I just want to tell you how I’m feeling //
Gotta make you understand //
Never gonna give you up //
Never gonna let you down //
Never gonna run around and // desert you //
Never gonna make you cry //
Never gonna say goodbye //
Never gonna tell a lie // and hurt you
Six months and 33,000 words later, here we are. I hope you've enjoyed it! It's been a wild ride for me, as I was making this up as I went along until _very_ close to the end.
And although this fic is done, I have some plans for some vignettes and at least one sequel, so if you enjoyed it, keep an eye out for more from me in the next week or two.