Author: korinaka PM
Time is a luxury in the thick of war, and what is sown must always be reaped. As one of only two people alive who can speak the prothean language, Shepard is given the task to learn more about Javik's civilization while she is still able.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Angst - Javik & Shepard (F) - Chapters: 12 - Words: 42,343 - Reviews: 110 - Favs: 153 - Follows: 196 - Updated: 11-05-12 - Published: 05-27-12 - id: 8157442
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The shuttle jostled violently as it entered Rannoch's atmosphere for perhaps the fourth time in Shepard's life, the jerking movements now so familiar that she didn't so much as blink. She swayed with Javik and Tali, who both stood staring out windows and holding onto support cables. The rocking motions did absolutely nothing to distract her from the dread crawling up the back of her throat and clenching claws around her lungs.
"Can I ask you a question, Javik?" Her voice sounded distant.
Javik had not looked at her the entire ride, and now was no exception. He remained staring reticently out the window as thin upper atmosphere clouds rushed past. "Commander?"
"When you knew you were going into battle soon, did you or your people ever have the feeling that you knew something bad was going to happen soon?"
"'Something bad' always happens in battle. It is a fact of wartime."
"No. I mean that you knew. That you weren't just scared, but that you actually knew."
Tali looked concerned through the clouded glass of her mask, her glowing eyes shaped into worried slits. "Shepard—"
"Are you asking if my people could see into the future?" Javik snapped, finally turning to look at her but only so that he could glare.
"You know I'm not."
He scoffed and turned back to his previous position, staring out the window and away from her, settling his shoulder against the side of the shuttle and readjusting his grip on the support cable. "If we could accurately predict events, I would not be here today."
"My people have a word for that," Tali immediately cut in, perhaps in an effort to ease the tension in the air. "We call it 'stomach fear.' It's the feeling of terror that precedes an unexpected disaster, like the destruction of a ship or the death of a loved one. A lot of texts mention it being reported by prominent generals right before the geth rebelled and took Rannoch." She gave a timid, unsure laugh at this, shaking her her head. "But-but those are just tall tales, Shepard. People like to think tragedies could have been avoided or anticipated when they really couldn't have. You're probably just feeling nervous about the war and it's only now catching up to you."
Shepard smiled at her feet and then at Tali. "You're right. But it's good to have that confirmation."
The outline of a smile graced Tali's obscured face. "Any time, Shepard."
The shuttle gave a final jerk as it was brought to a halt in front of the dropoff platform, and Cortez shouted something incoherent behind the roar of the shuttle's thrusters as its doors opened to a warm, breezy mid-afternoon on Rannoch. Shepard stood and walked to the doors, giving Tali a solemn nod as she did.
Immediately upon exiting the shuttle, two very important things happened: One, the geth were upon Shepard and her team; two, the inky tar of terror in Shepard's belly roared viciously to life. Tali dove behind a coil of thick steel tubing to the left and Javik joined her shortly, his bulky armored frame barely leaving them enough room to take refuge from the hail of gunfire. Tali's worried "Shepard!" and angry talking noises that sounded vaguely Prothean and growly erupted in her comm at the same time that her shields fizzled and then dropped. She rolled behind an overturned console just as a few well-aimed shots from a geth prime sailed past her head, wishing for once since she'd become a commander that she could shut off her private comm channel.
Foolish, Javik shouted in Prothean while he grunted and did his best to lean out of cover and shoot, stubborn, arrogant woman. Do you think yourself indestructible? The warbling sound of his biotics lifting a few geth from their covers so that Tali's drone could take care of them punctuated his sentences. Do you want to die?
"I know what I'm doing," she snapped, taking down an approaching geth fighter and then ejecting a spent thermal clip, where it bounced off of her boot with a sizzle. She heard Javik growl from where he now sat alone, Tali having moved to find cover further away from the epicenter of the firefight, but that was the last sound of dissent she heard from him for the moment. The three of them dispatched the fighters quickly enough, and they moved on down the slope of a hill toward a large blast door at the bottom.
As luck would have it, just as they approached, it closed, and several more geth troops filtered in and around them. Tali cursed under her breath and moved behind a steel crate. Shepard and Javik seemed to have the same idea, because they both vaulted over a low wall and behind it, landing on the other side at exactly the same time and knocking their armor together so hard that it made Shepard's teeth rattle.
"Commander," Javik began, his voice tight with the strain of not losing his temper and berating her right there in front of five geth and one quarian admiral, "this is not the best cover for a long-range—"
"I'm not using my rifle." Shepard waved her pistol for emphasis, agitated at their poor unit cohesion and at his sudden refusal to speak familiarly with her. "There's no place for me to settle in and snipe. Just try to avoid me when possible; close-range isn't my forte." At this, Javik lobbed a lift grenade toward a pair of oncoming geth, jaw clenched, and watched as Tali disposed of the helplessly floating enemies. He seemed not to want to argue or otherwise chide her, because he focused his attention completely on what was happening over the low wall—as he should, Shepard reminded herself. But usually he looked relatively calm during battles, as though he had more important things to focus on than the poor excuses for soldiers he faced.
"Not that you haven't been doing that for the past two days already," Shepard said without even processing what this sentence was and why she shouldn't say it, landing a headshot on a geth who had wandered too far out of cover. Congruent with the pattern as of late, she immediately regretted her words—even more so when Javik turned to look at her with a hard expression, the smooth armor plates on his right arm scraping loudly against the kevlar on her left one. Their cover was not very large, and they had to stay pressed uncomfortably close together in order to stay completely out of the path of fire.
He looked down at where their arms and bent knees were touching, frowned, and then said, "If I could avoid you, Shepard, I would."
She tore from the cover without so much as a word, sidestepping as peppered gunfire crackled into her shields and wore them down. She heard the sharp buzz of electricity as her shields dropped for the second time since she'd landed on Rannoch, and she took cover quickly behind a large overturned turbine of some sort.
"Shepard, what the hell are you doing?" Tali hissed immediately over the communicator, her accent making her words sound even sharper than they were.
"Finding new cover."
"You could have died! Your shields were down!"
"I was fine, Tali."
"I was fine," Shepard insisted, incinerating a geth rocket trooper who passed too near her. It did not drop from the pain of being burned, but it did hesitate long enough for her to blow off the arm holding the rocket launcher. Javik's pulse rifle burned bright green holes through whatever was left of the synthetic.
Legion's voice came over her comm channel and Shepard felt her spirits lift. "Shepard-Commander, are you in need of assistance?" He informed them of where they needed to go and how to get there, and then said he would search for transport.
As they continued the firefight, dispatching geth after geth and fumbling to insert heat sink after heat sink, Shepard's blind courage and arguably foolhardy risk-taking only worsened. She darted out from cover, drew the attention of rocket troopers and geth prime alike, and even meleed a couple of soldiers, all to the intense displeasure of Tali and Javik. Tali consistently voiced her worry over the comm and Javik simply sat and seethed, his anger visible by the tense lines of his shoulders and—most surprisingly—his faltering aim. Once, when Shepard's arm had been caught by a geth prime as she was trying to escape from close combat, Javik had actually missed his biotic throw.
Shepard stumbled toward him, her arm aching from where the geth had jerked it backwards, toward his relative safety behind a cluster of servers in various states of disrepair. She collapsed heavily beside him, gasping for air while her heart hammered, and breathed, "You missed."
He shot her a nasty look, all four eyes narrowed and burning gold, lips pulled back around sharp, thin teeth. "Do all human commanders have a deathwish, or is it just you?"
"I like to think I'm unique."
He continued to glare in spite of her facetious comment, rifle gripped tightly and his back pressed firmly against cover. "I have seen men die for lesser mistakes, Commander." His jaw twitched and he looked away. Perhaps you should keep your attention on the enemy instead of elsewhere.
Tali gave a loud shout of pain and Shepard and Javik's heads immediately snapped toward the source of the noise. Tali limped favoring her right leg away from a geth hunter, who had just materialized and was quickly gaining on her. Shepard immediately sprang into action, shooting to draw its attention while Javik rushed to help Tali get into a safe position to apply medi-gel. The hunter turned toward Shepard, its optic bright and calculating as it scanned over her figure, and then aimed its rifle. It fired too late as Shepard activated her tactical cloak and crept behind it, watching it scan the battlefield in open confusion. The omni-blade unfolded as she approached its back, and she shoved it through the geth's spine, pulling a handful of wires in her fist upon removing the blade. White oil splattered her left arm up to the elbow, mocking the taint of organic blood.
"Tali," Shepard said over the comm, looking around the battlefield—at the inactive geth units lying still and broken on the floor—as her cloak fell away, "what's your position?"
"Behind the servers," Tali gasped, voice strained.
Shepard moved toward the servers immediately, noting that for the time being, there were no more geth. "Are you hurt?"
"She will be fine," Javik's voice replied. "But she cannot fight."
"Was her suit ruptured?"
"No," came Tali's voice, frantic. "And I can still fight, Shepard. This is my home. I belong here!" Her voice over the comm blended with her physical voice as Shepard neared where she and Javik took refuge. At her approach, both Javik and Tali looked up at her, at the oily white stains on her armor.
"Don't send me back," Tali pleaded as Javik held her left leg straight and level. "I'll be fine. I-I just need to rest for a second, Shepard—"
"She will hinder us," Javik said simply, quietly.
"Don't talk as if I'm not here!"
"You will hinder us," he repeated firmly, staring straight into her mask.
Shepard knelt beside them, surveying the leg that Javik held aloft and listening to the high-pitched whirring of Tali's suit as it administered what she could only assume were antibiotics and painkillers. Tali watched her, milky eyes wide behind the purple facade of her mask, limbs trembling either from pain or from fear that she'd be dismissed to the Normandy. Javik watched Shepard now, too, his expression seeming bored but his eyes wholly betraying this. They were hard, focused, waiting for her to make another stupid mistake. "You need medical attention," Shepard said finally, slowly. Tali started shaking her head, but before she could open her mouth to speak, a familiar and not unwelcome voice cut her off.
"We have acquired transport," Legion said over the comm.
"And we are ready when you are," Joker butt in, his voice light and joking but undertoned by a telling tightness. At his voice, Shepard reached behind her to touch the laser targeting system strapped to her back, reassuring herself that it was still there.
Shepard nodded at Javik, who helped Tali to her feet and then assisted her in hobbling off toward where a geth vehicle manned by Legion was racing toward them. As the three of them rendezvoused, Shepard moved toward their ultimate destination: a deep pit in the ground about to be targeted and hopefully destroyed by the Normandy. She tried not to think on Javik's words as she approached it—perhaps she did need to draw her attention away from all of her auxiliary distractions—and pulled the targeting device from her back, readying the lasers and steadying her feet for impact.
From the bowels of Rannoch climbed a trembling, jerking Reaper, its movements spider-like as it rose from its tomb. Shepard watched more out of morbid fascination than anything as it righted itself, as its large red eye whined to life and then glowed red, bringing more mobility into its limbs. Its tapered point reached up toward the sky, up toward where the geth and quarians were still fighting. When it finally found stable purchase, it let out a long, mournful bellow that chilled Shepard's veins.
She heard someone shouting behind her as the Reaper turned its attention toward her. It towered above her like any building on the Citadel despite its distance, its sides sleek and smooth but dotted with dust and debris from its ascent to the earth. She felt as though she were being stared at, the Reaper's red eye focusing on her and then glowing brighter, and before she knew what she was doing, she had turned around and run in the opposite direction.
She ran toward the vehicle that Legion had brought around, toward Tali lying helpless inside and Legion at the controls, toward Javik who was heading toward her even as she retreated. He reached her in seconds, barrelling gracelessly and bodily into her and then seizing her by her arm stained white with geth fluids. "What are you doing?" he shouted, words thick with accent and panic, but only when they had continued to run as fast as their legs would carry them toward Legion and Tali and their only escape. Shepard heard the Reaper's beam discharge and cut black marrs into the ground, racing toward them, and she was suddenly and painfully reminded of Javik and Aabim trying to escape from a similar fate. She felt herself begin to trip as a loose rock caused her leg to buckle, but Javik's grip had never yielded on her arm, and he dragged her stumbling body forward until she could manage to find her footing again. She did not want to see what expression Javik wore now, even as his much faster pace forced her to feet to pound against Rannoch's dirt in tandem with the pounding of her heart.
They leapt into the geth vehicle and Legion took off, the Reaper's beam leaving a strip of angry black where they had once idled. Shepard said nothing to anyone but climbed to the top of the vehicle where a turret was perched. Not too far in the distance, the Reaper loomed. It took a step toward them, crying out to a sky red with the fire of war. Shepard put sweating palms on the mounted gun as it warmed, shook, and fired at the Reaper. The great being advanced on them, shrugging off the gunfire, its wide round eye trained on the tiny vehicle that Legion desperately piloted away. The presence of the laser targeting system remained heavy on her back.
Joker's voice came in clear over the comm channel. "Shepard, what the hell is going on down there?"
She took a few more shots at the Reaper, but its steps did not even falter. She saw Rannoch reflected in its eye, tinted crimson.
"I have to fight it," she said, more to herself than anything. "I have to fight it." She began to climb back down the ladder to the inside of the vehicle, earning a startled look from Javik and a groaned "Shepard?" from Tali.
"Legion, stop here!"
"Stop. I'm getting out."
Javik's expression had never been more open than in that moment. The panic that raced across it, the rage, the fear, manifested visceral and feral. He looked about to speak, but Tali cut him off, even as Legion began to slow to a halt. "Shepard, you don't want to do this," she said, her voice pained, terrified.
Shepard took the targeting device off of her back and held it as Legion tapped a few buttons. The door opened with a soft whoosh of air. Sunset filled the cabin and painted Shepard's face in hues of orange and pink. She had expected Javik to speak—to say goodbye, maybe, or demand he come along, but he said nothing. He only stared with a stunned, horrified expression as she lifted a foot to step outside.
Before she could leave the vehicle for good, she felt something grab her arm in a vice grip. She turned to face Javik, closer than she remembered, hand firmly clutching her forearm and lips pressed tightly together. His face was guarded again, features strained and jaw clenched, but still he said nothing. He nodded at her firmly, stiffly, looked as if he were about to reach out his other hand to grab hold of her, but then relinquished his grip and took a step back.
Shepard looked over his face without restraint, eyebrows upturned and eyes wide. She saw some flicker of emotion there, but it was smothered before it could come to a head.
"Stay safe," she whispered, glancing around the vehicle at the friends being left behind before stepping outside and facing down the Reaper.
Running toward a Reaper was probably the last thing Shepard ever thought she would do, but here she was, determination moving her feet forward and callow bravery keeping her from turning back. The Reaper stopped chasing Legion as soon as it noticed she had approached, and it advanced on her instead, moving toward where she skidded to a stop atop a cliff.
Shepard aligned the targeting system with its eye, grinding her teeth, waiting for it to calibrate, before shouting, "Now!" over the comm relaying directly to the quarian destroyer. Without a hitch, the cannon fired, and the Reaper stumbled. Joker yelled at her over the comm, called her an idiot, asked her what she thought she was doing, but Shepard ignored him, lining up another strike. The Reaper's beam passed just over her head, and she felt its heat sear a couple strands of hair, but she held the targeting device still while it calibrated and then gave the signal when it finished.
This time the Reaper fell and its red eye blinked black. As before, though, it rose again, a phoenix rising, its eye glowing hot and bright before discharging. Shepard waited with her heart in her throat and her lungs burning for the targeting system to recharge. Twice more she signaled for the destroyer to fire, and twice more the Reaper fell, returning each time closer than before until it was nearly right on top of her.
If this last hit didn't knock it down for good, she didn't think she'd be going back.
She saw the Reaper's eye glow slowly, saw each individual thread of jagged electricity cover its injured parts, felt the vibration of the targeting system in her hands as the target was pinpointed. The beam began to rush toward her, cutting hot lines in the dirt to her side, but before it could hit its mark, the quarian ships fired. It listed heavily to the side this time, fell, tried to rise again, but then remained still.
The targeting system fell from her hands and clattered heavily to the floor. Joker whooped a victory call over the comm, but the ringing of blood deafened her ears. The muscles in her calves ached from running and dodging the Reaper's attack, and her chest heaved with each labored breath. With quaking limbs, Shepard approached the edge of the cliff to look out over the ruined behemoth.
A moment or two passed before the Reaper stirred, the gears controlling its eye socket whining before artificial lids pulled back and Shepard was bathed in a red glow. It stared at her, unblinking and harmless now, the red glow dying with each passing moment. Behind her, she heard the sound of Legion's geth vehicle, presumably doubling back once it realized that the Reaper was no longer a threat. It stopped, and someone jumped out, moving with slow and heavy steps toward her. Shepard glanced to the side and saw Tali, leaning on her uninjured leg, eyes wide as she stared in open fascination at the dying Reaper.
And then it spoke.
Only a moment's worth of praise and celebration was afforded Shepard after the Reaper went silent for good. "We did it," Tali breathed, shaking her head. "We destroyed a Reaper." Several voices over the communicator echoed Tali's sentiments, expressing equal parts disbelief and joy. From somewhere not too far behind her, Legion added, "We can confirm that the geth are no longer being guided by the Old Machine." And in all of this, in hearing the celebratory words of her friends and allies, Shepard wondered where Javik was and why he, of all people, was not also marveling at their small victory.
Legion appeared pensive as he approached her and Tali, his optic bright but the mechanical flaps on his head tight against his body. "Shepard-Commander, the geth only acted in defense after the creators attacked." There was a pleading in his voice that made Shepard's heart ache despite all that they had just accomplished. "Do we deserve death?"
"What are you suggesting?" Shepard asked, turning, and the dead Reaper crackled with leftover energy behind her. At her side, Tali appeared nervous as Legion walked toward the edge of the cliff, looking out at the landscape of Rannoch, at the defeated Old Machine.
"Our upgrades," Legion clarified, walking with purpose now, still approaching the cliff's edge. "With the Old Machine dead, we could upload them to all geth without sacrificing their independence."
Tali spoke almost immediately, her voice no longer awed or relieved but anxious, desperate. "You want to upload the Reaper code? That would make the geth as smart as when it was controlling them!"
In the span of what felt like a second, Legion explained with a strange tone in his synthetic voice that the code would make the geth individuals, that they would be able to help in the fight against the Reapers. Tali mentioned her people, the war currently raging above them, and the repercussions of this action. Tali's mask was as fogged as it always had been, but Shepard could swear she could see pain, grief, and fear twist Tali's features. The outlines of her eyes were narrowed, her hands balled into tight fists. The feeling of dread in Shepard's gut had been temporarily subdued, but it returned in full swing at seeing Tali.
Shepard turned the decision over and over again in her head, trying to make sense of it, wondering if the geth really would help, wondering how many quarians would die if the code was uploaded. She wanted to make the rational decision—who was more valuable against the Reapers, the geth or the quarians?—but with Legion and Tali both staring at her expectantly, she found it almost impossible. These were two of her closest friends, and choosing coldly, logically, without a shred of emotion, would be nigh impossible.
She began to speak, her eyes drawn to red crackles of energy still rippling occasionally over the dead Reaper, but Legion cut her off at the jump.
"Do you remember the question that caused the creators to attack us, Tali'Zorah?"
Tali was strangely silent at this, drawing her shoulders back and straightening. Tali may not have, but Shepard certainly did, and as Legion turned to face the two of them, the N7 armor on his shoulder displayed proudly like a badge of courage, Shepard made her decision.
"'Does this unit have a soul?'"
She didn't even hesitate. "Upload the code to the geth." Tali made a startled movement beside her, but Shepard didn't take her eyes off of Legion. Legion stared straight back, his optic growing brighter and then darting in quick motions over Shepard's face, to the white geth oil still staining her arm and then back. Maybe he was reassuring himself that she had indeed given him the go-ahead. Maybe he was coming to a consensus with the other geth platforms within him. Or maybe she'd never really know.
Tali put a distressed hand on her face just as Shepard turned to her. "Tali, call off the fleet if you can." She wanted to say many more—"I'm sorry," "Forgive me," "Please understand,"—but for now, this was all that she could manage.
Legion turned away from the two of them again and a spherical blue hologram materialized between his outstretched hands. He turned it over, analyzing it, his body rigid but his hands and fingertips fluid and deft. He knew exactly what he was doing, had probably played this very same scenario out over and over again in his head. "Uploading. Ten percent." As Legion continued to upload, Tali frantically ordered the quarian fleet to retreat. Han'Gerrel undermined her vocally and quite insistently, and Shepard kept her eyes firmly on Legion's back. She didn't attempt to tune out the argument between Tali and Admiral Han'Gerrel; she knew that the fleet would not turn back.
When it became clear that Han'Gerrel was not going to listen to reason, and when Legion announced that the upload was at twenty percent, Tali rushed to Legion and Shepard as fast as her injured leg would carry her, her omni-tool still active. "Please," she said hurriedly, the pain in her voice so unabashed that Shepard had to hold back a cringe with all of her will. "I beg you. Don't do this."
"We regret the deaths of the creators," Legion said quietly, and Shepard was only mildly startled to realize that Tali had been speaking to Legion and not her, "but we see no alternative." He continued his hand movements on the floating sphere, turning it back and forth, studying it carefully. "Forty percent." The omni-tool on Tali's arm disappeared in a whir of orange. She looked to Shepard, the person who was probably the last hope for her and her people.
"I'm sorry," Shepard finally said.
Tali's quiet sob tugged violently at her heart. "No..."
Legion suddenly stopped, the blue sphere disappearing. "Error, copying code is insufficient. Direct personality dissemination required." He turned slowly to her, his optic dim. "Shepard-Commander."
She didn't know exactly what was coming next, but she didn't like it. The dread making her stomach turn heaved violently, making her bite her lip. The tubes and wiring inside of Legion's chest almost hummed as they frantically worked, the lights there and on his head becoming brighter than she'd ever seen them. It was pride. For himself, for his people, for Shepard's ultimate decision.
"I must go to them," he continued. I, not we. It was so tragic, these circumstances, the quarians dying and Legion becoming himself only to give it all away, that she could hardly keep herself from just crumpling to the ground and putting her head between her knees. "It's the only way."
She wanted to reach out to him, wanted to grab Tali, too, but she found she couldn't move from where she stood.
Legion turned away from her, looking down. "Thank you." There was the sound of an electrical current being cut short, just a faint, sedated buzz, and then he fell to his knees. When he at last dropped to his side and his optic dimmed and then shut off, Shepard allowed for a strangled, quiet cry of grief. Her stomach heaved again. She had sacrificed an entire fleet of quarian, and now she had lost Legion. He may have been a being of artificial intelligence, but he was as valid a person to her as she herself was.
Han'Gerrel's voice cut abrasively through both Shepard and Tali's communicators: "What the hell was that?" The sounds of gunfire and panicked voices filtered over the comms, overlayed with static. Tali looked at her omni-tool helplessly, one hand clutched to her head. Her breathing was fast and shallow.
Shepard did not turn away, and she did not attempt to ignore the sounds of Tali's people being massacred. She deserved to be witness to this. She deserved to see the full repercussions of her decision.
From the sky, dots of fire began to rain down slowly, pieces of quarian ships burning in Rannoch's atmosphere. Some sad, sick place in Shepard's mind told her that at least they would all be returning to their homeland.
A quarian captain sent out a frantic distress call as Tali watched the destruction, her body trembling, her back to Shepard. She lifted her head to the sky, watched as the sky of her homeland lit bright orange from the fire of falling gunships.
Again, Shepard was at a loss for words. She, too, watched the devastation, her visor whirring and focusing on chunks of debris, helpfully labeling the falling wreckage: non-organic metallic, non-organic silicon, organic carbon-based. The guns at her back felt heavy. One last time, perhaps in an act of defiance, the inert Reaper discharged a red wave of energy over its collapsed parts.
Shepard heard a soft release of air and a click, and she looked at Tali, watched as she removed her mask. A protest rose up in her throat but then died as Tali turned to face her, perched precariously at the edge of the cliff. Rannoch's water rushed and churned violent and blue behind her.
She was more human-like than Shepard could ever have imagined, and her expression was no exception to this. Her pale lips were drawn tight together and her brow wrinkled from grief. There were dark lines on her forehead and neck—veins, perhaps, or possibly some component of her suit—and her eyes glowed milky and lambent, but other than that, the shoulders-up portrait that stood in front of Shepard now appeared as human as she did.
Tali said not a word. She closed her eyes, the light of them still burning from under her lashes. Her dark hair came loose as her hood slipped from her head. She looked at peace; at home.
And then she began to fall.
All at once Shepard regained control of her limbs. She dashed forward, shouting "Tali!" on a breath. She watched Tali—her friend, her trusted companion—fall down, down toward the angry sea.
She came to the edge of the cliff too late, throwing her arms over it and reaching toward the jagged rocks at the base. Half of her body was over the ledge and the other half was on solid ground, toes of her boots digging deeply into the dirt. She felt her footing give way slightly, and remembering herself and her mission, withdrew. The water crested white and then splashed over the rocks, but Tali—alive or otherwise—was nowhere in sight. Slowly, she inched away from the edge, drawing her knees up to her chin and wrapping her arms around her legs. It was difficult to do so with her bulky armor and her heavy utility belt making her midsection thick, but it was a comforting action, mimicking the countless nights she'd spent just like this, alone and hungry on Earth. She steadied her breathing, her visor flashing orange indications of an elevated heartbeat. Her insides churned so frantically that she thought she might vomit. She wanted to peek back over the ledge and scan what she could for life signs, but she was terrified of what she thought she might find. No, of what she knew she wouldn't find.
She sat like this for a long time, ruined quarian ships falling to the ground, Legion lying inactive behind her and Tali's body somewhere lost at sea. Behind her, the dead Reaper groaned as one of its support structures gave way and it collapsed completely in on itself. The sky was almost completely red now, bright with the weight and consequences of her decisions.
She had lost both of them. In less than ten minutes, Legion and Tali had completely disappeared from her life.
She heard someone approaching from behind her, and her visor sprang to life after having gone into standby, alerting her that it was a non-organic sentient lifeform. Shepard did not turn as the geth approached closer, its footsteps loud and purposeful. It stopped suddenly—195.072 centimeters away, her visor told her—and only then did Shepard stand, not wanting to display any more weakness to anyone.
"Commander, your actions enabled this upgrade." It sounded similar to Legion, but not quite; its voice was deeper, more formal. "Because of you, we are a people. And we are free."
She almost didn't want to ask, but she knew the question would nag her in the quiet hours of the night if she didn't. She watched the geth over her shoulder. It—he, maybe she—was huge, maybe one and a half Legion's size, and was painted red and gold. Its optic was a triangle of small blue dots of lights, its hood much thicker than an average geth soldier's. It was a geth prime. In any normal situation, the proximity of this geth would have made Shepard go into panic mode, and she'd activate her cloak and skulk away, but now, she only felt the cold grip of loss. It seemed to anticipate what she was going to ask next, because it tilted its head to the side and flashed its optic. Shepard glanced down at the glowing tubes adorning its midsection. "And...Legion?"
Its headflaps fluttered gently, possibly in sympathy, possibly in grief over losing one of its own. "Dead." The word sent a chill down her spine. "I am sorry, Commander."
Shepard turned back to look out over Rannoch's churning waters, taking in the distant horizon and the burning sky. She closed her eyes and flexed her toes inside her boots, pretending she was digging her toes into the warm dirt, that her heavy armor was not preventing any breezes from sweeping across her body. She saw an image of Javik on his homeworld, looking at it one last time before departing aboard the Recourse; she saw Tali, admiring Rannoch before her closest friend made the decision to slaughter her people.
When she spoke, it was choked, tight with the strain of holding back. "Me, too."