|The Trouble With Angels
Author: Jord PM
My interpretation of ME3 borrows from the game with an AU-spin. Indoctrination theory will play a big role. Shepard's last push to defeat the Reaper threat will make her a little darker and more flawed. Possible Shepard/Liara or Shepard/Kaidan.Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Shepard (F) - Chapters: 6 - Words: 33,904 - Reviews: 15 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 10 - Updated: 11-25-12 - Published: 05-20-12 - id: 8133217
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N For those who read, please leave a review if you have the time. It would mean a lot and helps me identify inconsistencies, grammatical deviations and areas that need improvement.
A hefty thank-you to Theodur and Zalistra for your reviews! Like I said, having the input is tremendously helpful. Also, thank you for the input on choosing a LI. In the games, I'd romanced Kaidan and came to regret it in ME2 and 3. Boy, did I regret it. At this point, I'm pretty much certain that I will pair this Femshep with Liara. There is so much I'd like to cover regarding past relationships that were not tackled in ME3 that it's mind-boggling.
There are a few things I would love your input on:
1) Vega's insertion - not sure if I want to include him, but am definitely flexible. Would you like to see more of James Vega? If so, in what capacity?
2) EDI-turned-fembot - Honestly, I felt as if this was forced on us. As of this moment, I intend to keep her as more of the Normandy's AI (a la ME2). This would then mean that poor Joker does not get a love interest. Ideas and thoughts on this?
3) Kaidan-Shepard-Liara dynamic - In keeping with my playthroughs of ME 1 and 2, I romanced Kaidan and remained faithful to him in ME2. In this story, I am most likely going to end their relationship and have Shepard's amorous intentions focus on Liara. I would LOVE (note how that word was capitalized and bolded, no less) to know what your impressions of Kaidan in ME3 were. Send it to me in a review, a PM, whatever you like. I am extremely interested. With that in mind, I may - with your permission - borrow your thoughts and interpretations and incorporate those into the story. If you don't want me to do this, let me know, and I will respectfully refrain from doing so.
4) What relationships did you want more of that ME3 was lacking in?
That is it for the moment. Again, thanks much for reading.
She had foregone the opportunity to have lunch, and walked straight back to her room. She entered more frustrated than she had left it, if that was even possible. Her head throbbed slightly with the implications of the crossroads she had come to, and she chose to disregard the advice given to her by both Anderson and the woman. If at least for the moment. Shepard moved towards the door and activated every lock on it. She didn't want to think. Thinking these days had taken the form of circular logic, and it was draining in more ways than one.
She rubbed her temples and walked over to the first aid cabinet near the window. She pulled up two ampules of painkiller, another one filled with an antibiotic cocktail and a few pills for motion-sickness. Now seated at her desk, she gathered her questionable pharmaceutic supply and began taking each glass canister apart carefully. She was very delicate with her measurements; eye-balling and double-checking quantities before combining all four – in varying amounts – into the empty coffee mug before her. With the edge of a blunt knife, she crushed the motion-sickness pills and gently scraped the powdery grains into the mug. She wiped her hands on a paper towel and placed the mug on a hot plate. She started a timer on her watch and when it beeped at her, she took the mug off the plate and stirred its contents together. She picked up a hypodermic syringe from one of the empty capsules and sucked up the mixture with remarkable deftness. After ensuring that no air bubbles were present, she pushed the needle into a vein just below her wrist. She watched with a calm detachment as the narrow conduit submerged beneath her skin. Thumb on plunger, the colourless liquid sank soundlessly into its destination and quickly intermingled with her pulsing blood.
As she let out a breath of anticipation, it was as if her being was replaced by someone else. Someone from the past. Another soldier – a name was present, though not necessary – but the place was dangerously vivid. He had barricaded the remaining few on his team in a lab. Sentry guns had been placed outside – ominously low on ammunition. He was perspiring heavily, although none of them had exerted themselves physically in the last few hours. His hands had begun to shake. He strode purposefully towards an evidently-ransacked first aid kit and took out a few choice items. The two of the other men in the room chose to look away, but Shepard – with bloodshot eyes – looked on, transfixed. He had concocted his dark remedy in the span of three minutes. She caught his attention and mouthed the words, how long, and he responded by holding his palm up – all digits outstretched.
Five minutes. She had around five minutes to spare before the cocktail would take effect. With necessary diligence and in a routine-like trance, she cleared up the evidence of her makeshift lab. She then picked up her worn book and began to read.
The heels of the woman's shoes clicked rhythmically on the stone floor. Her eyes were fixed purposefully ahead of her, but her mind was preoccupied, disturbed, and her stomach churned in response. She was oblivious to her busy surroundings – the comings and goings of other Alliance personnel. Such industrious sounds faded into white noise, as she turned recent developments around and around in her head. She had expected more receptivity on Shepard's part. Essentially, it was Shepard's get-out-of-jail-free card, and she had rejected it. Okay, perhaps it wasn't an outright rejection, but she couldn't help but notice the lack of optimism with which the information was received. Her nose wrinkled slightly in annoyance. This was Anderson's doing. His self-insertion in matters that shouldn't concern him was troubling.
A small fragment of stone tile jutted out from the floor in rebellion, and she inadvertently met it with the toe of her shoe. She stumbled forward and caught herself, at the cost of losing her grip on all her folders and datapads. They scattered about her in noisome chaos and she bent down to restore order. A pair of military boots – more than dutifully-polished – stepped into the outskirts of her vision. Her eyes shot upwards and all her muscles stiffened in recognition. With a disorganized sweep of her hands, she quickly gathered her belongings, tucked them under one arm, straightened up and deftly saluted the man before her with her free hand.
"At ease, Lieutenant." His voice was deep, smooth and level.
"Sir," she nodded as she glanced at her watch, "I thought we weren't to meet until later this afternoon."
"There's been a change of plans," he replied, as his eyes took her person in. "You're to come with me." He began to walk.
She instinctively marched at his side and then faltered. "I – I can't, I have an appointment with – "
" – it's been cancelled. Just follow me."
She marched in step with him dutifully, through familiar rooms and corridors. They walked in accompanying time, but his feet tread a few centimeters ahead of hers. It was purposeful, of course, a subtle nod that acknowledged his superiority, and they were both aware of it.
As they walked, the number of Alliance staff about them diminished as did her familiar surroundings, and with widened eyes that she averted from her higher ranking officer, she recognized that they were crossing into territory that did not befit her military position. She said nothing, however, as he stood at the end of this corridor before an imposing door. And she remained quiet as an expanding light from a panel on the door slid over his face, assessing authenticity. In a few seconds, a dead light came to life in green and approving acknowledgment.
He paused as the door slid noiselessly open, and gestured for her to enter.
With a few tentative steps, and him behind her, she entered a darkened room. Muted lamps illuminated two other persons within, but tendrils of smoke from fresh cigarette butts snaked into the air, adding an unnecessary veil before the situation. She took in her environment with a slight increase in heartbeat. It wasn't a small chamber, but neither was it a large one. There was a table at its center, devoid of any burdens save for the ash tray, one empty cup and a solitary thermos. The lamps stood at the end of the room in an attempt to make the place seem welcoming. It was pathetic at best. To her left lay a closed door.
"Lieutenant Donovan," beckoned one of the two men before her, "please sit down."
She swallowed and did as instructed. He smiled. Both men before her were quite unremarkable in appearance, really. Unlike her superior, they were casually attired. Crew cuts spelled military, but the relaxed rolled-up sleeves of sweaters threw her off a bit. This situation minus her superior would warrant disbelief and impatience on her part, but he seemed to defer to them...and that definitely sanctioned caution.
"Would you like some coffee?" he asked and nodded to the man who accompanied her. "Admiral, would you do the honors?"
The Admiral complied. Donovan brought the cup to her lips, if only for civility's and curiousity's sake, and took a sip. She swallowed the brew in surprise. It was her favourite. Somebody must want her on their side.
"How did day fifteen of the deposition go?" asked the second man.
"Not as well as I'd hoped," she replied honestly.
"As of an hour ago, Shepard is...non-committal. I'm giving her a day to think it over."
"Did you expect this?" asked the first man.
"Not really, no. They're just medical tests. Could almost qualify as your average physical. A free pass to get her reinstated. I would have jumped at the chance."
"But you're not Shepard, are you, Donovan?" questioned the second.
She didn't know what to say to this. "No. I'm not." Deflecting, "But Shepard isn't our only problem. There's something else. Anderson." She shook her held mildly and narrowed her eyes, remembering. "She defers to his judgment and he really didn't seem to take to our offer."
The man issued a knowing chuckle. "Isn't hard to see that one coming."
The Admiral spoke up for the first time. "So he's our fly in the lotion, then?" He scratched his brow thoughtfully and then shrugged his shoulders. "Transfer the fly elsewhere. Keep him busy. I can put in the request." Easy. No big deal.
"Shepard and Anderson have powerful friends, Admiral." replied the first.
"You mean Hackett, don't you?" said Donovan, looking around. "Word is that he was the one who sent Shepard to Aratoht."
"An unsubstantiated rumour. But true at the same time." said the second man, studying Donovan with keener interest than at the previous moment. "Hacket and Admiral are both valid concerns, but it is the loyalty that Shepard commands that troubles me. We can chain her down with whatever devices we employ, but sooner or later, her brigands will come for her. After all," and here he scoffed with unrestrained sarcasm, "galactic civilization is at stake."
"You don't believe that maybe," Donovan swallowed but ventured forward bravely, "...maybe there is some truth to what she saw? What we saw? It did attack the Citadel after all. And that kind of technology, it wasn't – "
"Are you starting to feel sympathetic to your client's position, Lieutenant?"
"Shepard remains my client on paper only, Sir." she assured. "I believe that she believes. And that the physical will only confirm her fragile state of mind. But there are a few outliers in this pattern. The Quarians have in their possession pieces of the destroyed Geth flagship – the one that attacked the Citadel – and even their scientists are stumped as to its origins. The Quarians were their creators. I think...I think they would know."
"It was the Geth that tried to destroy the Citadel, Donovan, and no one else," emphasized the second. "A species that retreats from civilization as we know it for centuries is bound to evolve along its own alien path. None of it warrants comprehension. Sometimes the most obvious solution is the correct one. There are no demi-gods here. There are no Reapers. The fairy tales aren't true."
The first chimed in. "The Reapers are a false by-product. They are a persistent diversion that Shepard employs to keep her in the limelight. It's a very clever one, don't get me wrong. But it's still a diversion from the truth. The only thing that matters here is that – for too long – we've allowed one soldier to get away with everything. One soldier. One."
"Everything, Sir? What exactly did she get away with?" said Donovan.
"Detraction. Shepard as the first human Spectre was supposed to unite humanity. Instead, we had to entertain her dalliances with alien species. You're aware of the implications of that, aren't you? Cooperation is just a diplomatic term for unhindered reconnaissance. The thing is, Shepard wasn't smart enough to make it a two-way street. Are you aware that she shared pertinent information of the Geth with her Quarian crewmember? And what did the Quarians ever give us in return?"
"But you allowed it to continue...you went along with it."
"True, we were blinded by her accomplishments, we were all swept up in her euphoria. It's easy to take that kind of popularity and run with it. But the situation – it was bound to snowball out of our control. Shepard's convictions...they were more than we'd bargained for. And she had the Council on her side! Who could say wrong when Shepard said right? Her relationship with Cerberus is the eye-opener they truly needed. It was, in some sense, a blessing."
"A blessing?" asked Donovan. "How is it a blessing?"
"Shepard's lack of...stability...her true nature, if you will, was revealed. Better than we'd hoped."
"Better than you hoped?" repeated Donovan, perplexed.
"Shepard was a ticking time-bomb. True, only someone with that degree of recklessness and guts could get our species the recognition we deserved...but let's admit," he issued a wry expression, "it was only a matter of time before she flipped the tables on us."
Donovan's neurons fired along multiple tangents. She looked back and forth between the two men. "So you closely monitored her activities? Was she initiating contact with Cerberus at that point?"
"Not Cerberus, no. There was something else on the horizon."
The second man coughed.
And then the gears slid perfectly into place. The Collectors. They were aware of the Collectors well before the SR1 was hit. "Oh my God," she said softly. "You knew."
The men regarded each other and then rested their eyes back on her.
"You knew that the Normandy would be blown up? You knew that Cerberus would recover her body and bring her back?" It seemed impossible.
"Not...quite." said the first. "We were...aware that the Normandy was being dogged by another ship. There were certain transmissions that she picked up – embedded in other signatures. It was quite by luck that we'd discovered it. Normandy personnel never caught onto it and we took steps to ensure that this would remain so. At that point, we didn't even know of the Collectors' existence. We thought that they were trying to establish contact with the Normandy. We thought they were some of the friends Shepard had made along the way during her pursuit of Saren. We decided to see how it played out. After all, the ship never really made an aggressive move." He paused, "Until the Taurus Quadrant incident, that is."
The second gave the first a warning stare, as if cautioning against these revelations. But the first dismissed this visual counsel, and continued.
"The Normandy was a state-of-the-art prototype stealth and reconnaissance vessel. After her success against the Geth ship on the Citadel, we recognized the need for more ships like her. Funding wasn't as hard to come by as we'd expected, so we started constructing a duplicate. We took the Normandy's successor out for a shakedown run – a low-critical mission, minimal crew – and lost her three days out from her launch. Black box emergency transmissions suggested that she was blown up by an unknown and unidentifiable ship. We had no idea how or why."
"They were after the SR1, weren't they..." understood Donovan.
The first turned his palms upward in a gesture of admission. "The only two ships in the galaxy to emit identical signatures. But only one had Commander Shepard on board."
"So you used the Normandy...you used Shepard as bait?"
"Yes." admitted the second. "And don't expect any apologies for it. Shepard was dragging the Alliance – and maybe even the rest of the galaxy – into an imaginary war. Now the Collectors – they weren't fictional. They were real and they were a potential threat. There was no way in hell we saw them coming. Yes, Shepard's ideals were never aligned with our own, and that needed to be fixed. But the insertion of the Collectors onto the scene changed everything. They were after her, and therefore, they were after the human Alliance. We needed to find out why."
"We did not intend for Shepard to die," said the first.
"But you weren't exactly the quickest on the scene either." shot back Donovan.
"The past cannot be reinvented. But you cannot deny that it's brought many things to light."
Donovan fidgeted quietly with her hands beneath the table. "You will have to...illuminate this one for me."
Both men smiled. The Admiral, seated all the while in silence, spoke. "The Collectors were after Shepard. Not me, not you, not any other individual in the Alliance, let alone the galaxy. And after she died, not only did the Collectors race towards a body, but they were competing for it with Cerberus. You've got to figure that after someone dies and their corpse becomes a hot commodity, that there must be something goddamned special to make it worth their time. At this point, Lieutenant, I don't think our motivations could be less clear."
"So this entire..." she deliberated for a second in an attempt to avoid direct insolence, "...procedure – this deposition isn't about dealing with Shepard's defection to Cerberus? It isn't about consequence or facing up to her decisions?"
"Don't you think that if we wanted her to stand trial, she would already be in Vancouver and we wouldn't even be sitting in this very room?" said the second in a smug undertone.
Donovan swallowed, trying to quell surging cycles of anger and disbelief. "While I cannot agree with Shepard's methods or her beliefs, her abrasive response to us – the Alliance – now seems to be justified. Your motivations...quite frankly, are beyond my comprehension. The only thing keeping me in this room is trying to figure out why the hell you're pouring out your souls to me."
"This isn't a moral committee," snapped the first, losing both his patience and the gist of her insinuation for the first time, "we didn't come here to explain ourselves to you."
Of course not, she realized. "Then why did you bring me here?"
The Admiral turned towards her. "Are you aware of how long it's been since Cerberus detached itself from the Alliance?"
She nodded. "Yes. About two decades now."
"Twenty three years if you're counting." he clarified. "And they've drained our resources in more ways than one. We've lost more than a few good men and women to them. Not to mention critical intelligence. They've made tremendous strides in the execution of their operations, Lieutenant. And for the life of us, we can't figure out how."
"Let me guess," said Donovan, crossing her arms, "Shepard is the key."
"We may never find out why the Collectors were after Shepard. That's a trail we've reluctantly allowed to grow cold. But she still plays an important role here. Whoever Shepard was before the Normandy hit...that person is no more. She may be in possession of a few fragments of her personality, sure. After all, Cerberus needs her to put on a front, but – and you take my word for it – the individual you've been speaking with for the past few weeks is not the person we knew four years ago."
"I don't understand. The behavioural tests indicate that Shepard's mind has not been altered. They are, I'll admit, somewhat inconclusive without more physical data, but – "
"The results that are in your file there," the Admiral nodded towards Donovan's belongings, "are duplicates of those taken when Shepard first joined the Alliance."
Donovan stared at the folder as if regarding something alien. "Then where...?"
"The legitimate data is with us, Lieutenant. And it is most disconcerting." remarked the second.
She sat there quietly, transfixed by his words. He continued. "I'll give you the bare facts, shall I?" He began to roll out the evidence rapidly, as if each statement was fired dangerously and deliberately from a gun. "Shepard's IQ upon first joining the Alliance was one-hundred and thirty. Shepard's IQ now is one-hundred and ninety. Physical stress tests given to her now would have snapped her spine four years ago. It certainly would do that to your average Alliance soldier. Her immune system would even humble a Krogan. And her cybernetic implants are state-of-art. It makes what we have here in R&D look like relics. And this, Donovan, is only the first layer of the onion we've begun to peel off."
Donovan shut her eyes and rubbed her temples as if the action could ease her transition into this new and significantly deep pool of knowledge. "Those medical tests we asked her to take. They're not the standard..."
"Standard medical examinations will not tell us what we need to know. Invasive ones will."
"They could potentially...damage cognitive processes, couldn't they?"
"We live in an age where information is power, Lieutenant. And knowledge isn't static, it is alive and continuously evolving. We stand still and we die. We may be the Council's pet for the moment, but how long before they turn on us? And if they do, how the hell are we supposed to counter their knowledge? Their technology? There are too many aliens out there and too few of us. Take the Turians for example. True, we've held them off before. But that was then and this is now. The Turians aren't stupid. You can be certain that they've learned much from our first dead-lock and they won't repeat the same mistakes again. And the Krogans? Our intelligence suggests that some rogue Salarian is halfway towards curing the Genophage. You think we can survive a Krogan onslaught? The Asari and Turians combined barely held their ground. We need knowledge, Lieutenant. We are lost without it." He leaned back in his seat and gave her a grim look.
Donovan raised her hand to her mouth thoughtfully. "I still don't understand. What do you want me to do? I can't exactly force Shepard to take the tests." Nor do I want to, she realized.
"No," acknowledged the first, "but you can sign the papers that will confirm that Shepard is not of sound mind and requires immediate medical treatment. You were an Alliance doctor three years ago, and you are currently her representative should her case go to trial. Which," he added with a degree of smugness, "we are certain it will not."
"You can surely get someone else to do this?" she issued with a dry and nervous laugh.
"We could, yes. But that would take time. And could get messy. For everyone involved." His eyes rested on her for the better part of a minute.
The Admiral appraised Donovan. "Well, what do you say, Lieutenant?"
Shepard staggered stupidly behind Anderson, her mind sluggish. "You owe me an explanation."
His pace quickened and he shot her a look. He took in the bloodshot eyes and the darkened circles beneath them. Now isn't the time, he reminded himself. "Explanations will come later. We need to get you to Vancouver."
"God damn it, Anderson, why won't you slow down?" she accosted him with her raised voice, and this turned heads and cost him his steady pace. "What's in Vancouver?" she asked more quietly.
She stopped dead in her tracks. "My deposition isn't over. We have a day to think this over. That day is not over yet. Are you out of your mind?"
"No!" he replied forcefully. "You are, with your – " he waved, in an expression of distaste at her anemic pallor and haggard eyes, " – whatever you're doing. I'm not a fool, Shepard." He swallowed in an attempt to curb his rising temper. "But we can't do this now. I need to get you to Vancouver."
"All these days, all this time, we've been trying to avoid this outcome. I...don't understand."
He paused for an instant. His features softened and spoke in a kinder tone. "Do you trust me, Shepard?"
"I...yes. You know that I do."
"Do you trust me in the same way that you trusted me when the Normandy was grounded the last time?"
She stared at him. The gears were chugging slowly, but they all worked towards the same conclusion.
"Lead the way." she said finally.
And with a grim smile on Anderson's part, the pair walked steadily on.
The shuttle pilot was unfamiliar to her, and it temporarily threw her off. She was on the lookout for the familiar. He remained dutifully reticent despite her introduction. He headed inside while Anderson stood with her in its doorway.
"What about now?" she asked quietly.
He shook his head. "Not out here. Walls and ears. You know."
"Who're we waiting for?"
Within moments, a familiar figure approached the pair from outside. Lieutenant Donovan.
Shepard pursed her dry lips and made no pretense of the fact that Donovan's presence was unwelcome. She turned to Anderson. "So is she going to Vancouver too, then?" Try as she might, she could not keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
"The Lieutenant is your legal representative and as an Alliance soldier, she is also your escort." Anderson's official spin on the statement fell flat – as he had intended it to. He glanced at Shepard and issued a barely perceptible nod.
"You're not coming?" asked Shepard.
"I can't. There are some things I need to take care of."
"We should get going." said Donovan, her face suffused with anxiety. It was not an expression that Shepard or Anderson were accustomed to.
"Right. Okay." said Shepard.
She moved slowly into the shuttle, uncertainty and anticipation tumbling about in her stomach. Donovan instructed the pilot to begin his ascent, while Shepard stared at Anderson's still figure through a window in the side door. As the shuttle drew further and further away, Anderson became a tiny unmoving speak on the horizon, and it took Donovan's voice to jolt Shepard out of her trance.
"He's sacrificed a lot for you, you know." said the Lieutenant.
"And you? What have you sacrificed?" questioned Shepard quietly.
"As of this moment. Everything."
Shepard regarded her suspiciously. "Is that so."
Donovan met Shepard's gaze with a challenging one of her own. "You may want to believe I'm the enemy, Shepard – and, okay...I'll admit, you'd have called that one right a few hours ago – but not today. Not now."
"You could still be taking me to Vancouver. For all I know, when this thing lands, there'll be press and guards and shackles. I'll be right where you wanted me all these weeks. Convicted and behind bars. I ought to cold-cock the pilot and drop you somewhere where it'll take days for the Alliance to find you."
"If you truly wanted that," said Donovan knowingly, "you'd have done it as soon as the door was shut. But you won't. And you know why you won't? Because of Anderson. If he plays along, you will too." She paused before continuing. "There is, of course, one other reason."
"And what's that?"
Over the radio came forth a clear voice. Familiar. "Normandy to Effugere. What's your ETA and is the package prepped for retrieval?"
Joker, mouthed Shepard.
"Normandy, this is Effugere. Package is a go and we'll be at your location at eighteen hundred hours." responded the shuttle pilot.
"Acknowledged. See you soon."
Shepard stood stock still; her demeanor one of shock and surprise.
Donovan laughed despite herself.